Decorations in Holiday Containers with Evergreens

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Yesterday I went to my supplier to get holiday decorative items for an upcoming class.  I love going to this place, it feels like Christmas there.  There are aisles and shelves filled from top to bottom with everything you need to create amazing decorations for the holidays.  Ribbons styles by the hundreds are lined out and tons of other items for floral crafting are available.  Everything from glittery holiday picks with berries and cones to shimmering embellishments are abundant.  Laid out on tables are orders of fresh cut flowers waiting for pickup by floral designers.  You can smell the fresh evergreens in the warehouse packed for deliveries and the staff is as busy as ever preparing everything needed during this busy season for their customers.  It feels almost like entering a winter wonderland for crafters, designers, and business owners that sell décor to the public for the upcoming holiday season.

I really have to hold back from going crazy there.  Once again, I daydreamed about owning my own store where I could sell these items.  But for now, I have to focus on what is perfect to offer at one of my upcoming DIY classes, being offered on December 3 at my home.   We will be creating three holiday items with fresh evergreens and decor, and 13 ladies have signed up so far.  I can’t wait.

This particular class is becoming more than a ‘how-to’ event.  It feels like a tradition being created in my home.  Holiday cheer and food is shared as the attendees take the class and create their item of choice.  We get to relax and chat before the onset of the holiday rush when other commitments such as shopping to get presents and making food for gatherings consumes our free time.  This class is a bit of “me time” for the attendees.  There is something magical about working as a group.  Our minds are distracted from other busy thoughts as we use our senses to express our underlying talents.  By the end of class, everyone takes home their own creation using the materials provided in the class.

Another benefit of this class, for me at least, is I get to see everyone’s own unique style and preferences revealed as they work on their product.  Everyone has a different appreciation of colors and textures which results in an individual piece.  And I’ve been spending some time recently getting ready to teach this class and collect the necessary tools, embellishments, and décor of various types.  Yet going to a supplier is not the only avenue for materials.

White Branches

Over the weekend, on Sunday, I spent the day dipping long branches donated to me by Mother Nature’s last snow storm (you know the one in October), in white paint.  Stringing a cord from one pine tree to another, I dipped, painted and hung them out to dry.  Next on the list is to do dip other branches in bright red paint.  These will be used as natural elements in container gardens stuffed with a mix of evergreens using Fraser Firs, Boxwood, Junipers and White Pines during class.  Balsam is one we won’t be using for many fields up north have been effected by a needle rust and gall midge due to three years of climate changes, warmer winters and cold damp springs.  But this doesn’t concern me for we have so many other evergreen choices.  And I will have them all ready for the class attendees.

I also collected pinecones and seedpods recently, and began to cover them with glitter paint.  I have a secret spot where I collect the pinecones every fall, and some pods I found by a big Kentucky coffee tree during a walk.  Where I get the cones is a restful place, quiet and peaceful.  I feel when I gather them up from the ground my presence is known only by those that may notice me there, or those resting there.  Regardless, I feel lucky that I can take time out of my day to gather up items from nature as I look forward to the holiday season of creating with evergreens.

If you pay attention, you can find items in your own yard or during a hike in the woods to use as décor.  Fronds of ferns standing in dry state now in the woodlands, stems of tough plants that hold up well, acorns dropped from oak tree tops, even strands from ornamental grasses can be used as embellishments.  One year, I saved the stalks from an invasive purple loosestrife plant to use; they were as hard as bamboo and perfect to stake items in container gardens.  Grape vines are also very useful and other items such as rosehips if you have roses in your gardens.  Mature seed heads from your perennials that became hard and dry are perfect.  Berried branches obvious choices too, just make sure they are not exposed to children or pets if they are poisonous.  Many red berries are, so be sure to research or ask about anything you are unfamiliar with as you gather nature’s treasures from the great outdoors.  Even sections of torn bark, dressed up right, are nice touches to container gardens, adding that natural feel to the design.  Just use your imagination and look for items that are dry and easily painted or modified.

Because our recent October snowstorm, which I referred to as Snowlloween, many good finds are littering the grounds in the woodlands or near your home right now.  Thin birch limbs are beautiful when cut and grouped just the right way with twine, add a red ribbon – and you have a décor element to work with.  Or you could paint some small limbs of other trees white as an alternative.  There are many choices, and you just have to look around.  Take a look right now before our next snowfall covers them up or they get too wet.  That is if you have time before your Thanksgiving gathering.  And if not, sign-up for my class on December 3.  There are just a few seat remaining.  Cathy T

Day 9 – The Scariest Day of All

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Day Nine – The Scariest Day of All – Sunday; Nov 6th

Pumpkin

As if adding insult to injury, daylight savings time ends today.  It is already an adjustment dealing with bedtime at seven or eight pm due to no lights in the house and waking up anywhere between two am to six am to load wood in the woodstove, now we have to fall back on our clocks with days getting darker earlier.

And today, is turning out to be one of the scariest days of all during our power outage experience from Snowlloween.  Although the power company insists they will reach their goal of 99% restored with power by midnight tonight, my husband is determined to take down a dead tree in our backyard in case this doesn’t happen.  We are out of fire wood.

This dead tree was not a victim of Snowlloween, but has been dead for two years, standing there by the east side of our yard’s edge.  We did not take care of getting it taken down, like we should have, and were lucky it did not fall down during the storm.

Situated very close to our house and pool, I didn’t want to think about Steve’s attempt to take it down alone.  So at my insistance, he called an expert, my Dad, who worked as a forester in his younger years in Canada. With my younger brother tagging along, the three of them got together to tackle this project together on day nine of our ordeal.

As they discussed the project outside, I was starting to get really worried and began yelling out the door to them to please be careful.  My heart pounded a bit when I saw the tree wobble and finally fall in the correct, intended direction.  After that happened, I could tell the three of them breathed a sigh of relief as well.  They all started laughing and patting each other on the backs.

Dad with Steve

Was this the right thing to do?  Probably not.  It is best to get a professional if you are dealing with a situation like this one, especially during a disaster situation.  I didn’t want to consider another problem during our last planned day of the outage.  Thankfully all went according to their intentions.  And again, with the help of someone, my Dad, that did this in his former career days as a forester.

When seeking a professional, make sure the tree removers are fully insured and ask of their experience.  And ask for a trusted references.  Get more than one estimate if you are not in a hurry, which most of us are right now, and be wary of people doing this job just to make a quick buck due to the devastation.  Unfortunately, they are out there.

And be patient – unlike my husband was that last day without power.  It is those moments when we can make costly mistakes.  Last night, I read a house that blew up in Coventry, CT.  They said the blast could be heard for miles, and people lost their lives.  Things can go wrong.  This storm was and is no joke and the effects and lessons will last a long time.

Steve and Jim

Our power returned at six pm on this day; but we still had no phone, internet or television due to one detached telephone wire.  After the house was clean, laundry done, food stocked in fridge, plants previously stored in basement cared for, and my mother in law cozy on the couch recovering from her own ordeal in her town, the power went out again – briefly, for 45 minutes, three days later.  So we brought out the candles, put on the headlamps once again, and said, ‘Oh-no.’ Fortunately, it was a short down period, and the internet repair guy showed up right after the lights came back on.  He was here for two hours working in the dark.  And we let him.  Cathy T

 For information — see these links:

www.arborday.org     www.isa-arbor.com     www.treesaregood.org    www.americanarboristsCT.org

The next three days

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The next three days; Thursday;11-3 thru Saturday; 11-5

My laptop has no battery power remaining, and a pen and paper by candle light are used to write my thoughts early in the morning before sunrise.  Again, sleeping late was not happening.  I decided to not type over or edit the handwritten thoughts.

On Saturday, we began our extensive project cleanup in the yard.  I used loppers specifically used to prune twigs and small branches to clean up large limbs, while Steve had the chainsaw for bigger projects. We saved the big limbs for future woodstove needs and fire pit parties in the backyard.  And, of course, I collected pine cones attached to branches that fell from the tops of the trees, and acorns for use as decorations in only one more month’s time for the holidays.

I kept thinking of how I’ve never experienced something like this before. When an unexpected storm strikes, it gives us lessons for the future about how to care for our new trees, often planted in the fall because it is an ideal time – when cold weather slows growth above ground, but roots underground still grow well, and there is usually less stress compared to summer’s hot weather.

Planting in the fall also gives you a jump start on spring, but for this year’s fall and winter, I suspect the clean-up required for many of us will set us a step back as we focus how to deal with torn limbs and broken leaders or tips of trees, and accept those that can’t make it as losses to our landscape.

This storm also prompts thoughts on how to deal with future issues in our yard’s landscapes to prevent more damage should another storm come to pass in our future.  Like planting large trees in spaces with plenty of room and based on their mature sizes, avoiding brittle trees and not planting trees by power lines or valuable structures.  Another important step is keeping trees healthy by pruning when young so they are strong when older facing storms.  And last but not least, watering, fertilizing and protecting trees as they grow.

Many of us will be removing those old, diseased, or insect infested problem trees going forward to avoid future damage. Of course hiring a professional to mend any weak or split trees with cabling or braces as needed is recommended for those that were damaged, or perhaps are vulnerable.

But among all those tasks created by Snowlloween, one to look forward to will be replacing any treasured lost trees with new exciting candidates when you are ready.  Just take the time to select the best size for the location, check if there are overhead or underground utilities before planting, have the soil tested to ensure it suits the species, and think about the type of maintenance you are willing to do to keep the trees thriving.

Almost all of the damage to our power lines and homes was the result of trees or limbs crashing onto them.  In East Windsor alone, the J.I. newspaper stated there’s an estimated 25,000 cubic yards of debris piled up around town from this storm.  People have been piling it up at the designated town garage on Woolam Road for days, which is very near my parent’s home. As I drive by it, the pile grows larger every day.

Trees have so many economic and social functions.  They can increase the beauty of your surroundings, provide wind breaks or privacy, improve the air we breathe, provide a home for birds resting and feeding, control the climate around our homes, offer shade in summer and protection from harsh winds in winter, and overall increase the value of our landscape.

The spring flower display of many trees and autumn colors give us a sense of renewal each time it occurs.  Some trees have a symbolic meaning to your life – as with my dawn redwood, planted on the day we celebrated my parent’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. We all know how bitter sweet the loss of a special tree is, but nature allows us to replace it with a new favorite in time and with patience.

Over the next few days, our focus is getting the yard cleaned up bit by bit, piece by piece, and waiting for restored connectivity. But before our power returned, something else interesting took place…, and of course, what this is, is “to be continued.”

P.S.  Tomorrow evening, 11/17, the CT Hort Society hosts its monthly program meeting in West Hartford. Before the featured speaker begins, a discussion on how to handle damage by the storm and what to expect in your gardens next season will occur with experts.  For more information, visit:  http://www.cthort.org.

Day 5 – The Water Woes

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Day Five – The Water Dilemma – Wednesday; 11-2

Steve, my husband, is off to work again.  He began his traveling on the third day of Snowlloween, using a branch office in another state not affected by the power outages to serve as his temporary office.

I, alone in dark this morning, awake this fifth day since the storm, and can’t sleep due to an early-to-bed routine.  Using the last remaining battery charge on my laptop to record this diary to post later on my blog, I can hear a train in the next town, Windsor Locks, traveling by.  This sound, and the generators running in neighbors’ yards, is the only thing I can hear.  It is a silent morning as I wait for the sun to rise to warm up the house some more and provide some light.

I feel more trapped than usual today, with no power, no cell, and no one around in the house.  Steve took my vehicle to work because his car was completely out of gas. The lines at the gas stations were so long, he didn’t think he could wait in one as fuel would run out in his car before getting there.  We still had another old car in our garage, on its last leg, which is what I decided I would use later to take care of the beef in the cooler if I needed to do so.  It has sat on the northside of the house long enough.

A week before Snowlloween I purchased this stock of local beef from a butcher by way of a friend.  This meat has been in my coolers, reloaded daily with more snow and ice, but now on day five, I feared what we hadn’t cooked up yet, would not be safe to eat anymore.  Checking the packages, I decided I would take ½ of them out that were still frozen, and try to put them in my brother’s freezer.  I took the chance with the old car in the garage and drove to his house.  He wasn’t home, and neither was his generator.  Pickles and milk jug sitting in the snow by his doorsteps, I figured something must have happened to his temporary power source.

Now what? I sat at the end of his long driveway for a few minutes trying to decide if I should try somewhere else.  Taking a right to continue in another direction, not knowing if the roads would be clear from trees and wires, I headed to my friend’s house, the one that got me the beef connection in the first place.

Fortunately, she was home and a generator was running.  She said she didn’t recognize me when I came to the door.  I had a bandana in my hair and looked quite frumpy, and I was feeling that way too. She could take the meat in her freezer, thankfully.  And even more appreciated was her offer to take me to her sister-in-law’s house for my first hot shower in five days.

To be honest, I almost cried at that gesture.  Of all the things we were doing without during this outage, an outage we realize would last for more days, a hot shower was the item I was craving most.  I can whip up good dinners with limited ingredient, plunge my hands in icy-cold pool water for a water supply for bathroom flushes, read the newspaper by candle light in a cold room, and get up every few hours to load wood in our small woodstove in the night to just barely cut the chill in our home, but going without a shower for a few more days was going to emotionally bring me down.  The grunge thing was not working for me.  And the lack of communication channels with others wasn’t helping either.

None of my family members had power either so going to their houses was out, so earlier, I had written down three sources for hot showers per the newspaper – a church, an Enfield school, and a shelter.  I was determined to go to one, but now, with the help of a friend, I didn’t have to.  And believe me, I drove over there the moment I could.  I felt it was a generous offer by this woman, a relative of my friend, who barely knew me and had a house filled with kids and family of her own, but she didn’t give me a second glance when I headed to her bathroom, saying thank you so much.

Water, it was turning out, was becoming a problem for many in surrounding towns. Boil water advisories started appearing in the newspaper, as public drinking water systems were at risk. As for us, every day, my very comical and half-full glass attitude husband would boil a huge pot of water (either from melting snow or using pool water) to take a sponge-bath in the shower before work.  He joked about it constantly, but this is something I was not willing do to in the chilled morning air of our home, and thankfully I didn’t have to!  For him, he found the experience amusing.  His coworkers did too.

As for me, I was tired of the lack of usable water, and frustrated of not having water from the faucet to do daily clean-ups in the kitchen and house or water my plants.  I missed water the most, and my houseplants were missing it too.  Some started to show the lack of moisture as the soil dried up and a couple looked thirsty.  Others were fine as they are the type that can handle some drought, like cacti and succulents.  Yet, I knew and plants know this too, that without water, survival is challenged and limited.  While some plants can adjust to temporary periods of drought by way of plant adaptations, many cannot go without water for long.  Water, only second to temperature, is needed to continue growing and staying alive.

Yet, give them too much and they suffocate from lack of oxygen to their roots.  And in cases where soil is water logged, plants may expell water from their leaves, as they attempt to survive.  This process is something I witnessed on a plant outdoors this very day.  It was growing on my greenroof with other succulents.  Not having the time to attend to these plants before the storm arrived, they were covered in snowcone like ice.

While taking photos of icy covered foliage, I noticed an Echeveria, not designed for snow or the cold, had a droplet of water coming out of its leaf tip.  This process, referred to as guttation, is the result of water moving up in a plant due to root pressure.  It was attempting to cope with its current situation, and I’m sure the plant as well as I, hoped our current situation would not last much longer.

“To Be Continued…”

Day 4 – The Woodlands Walk

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Day Four – The Woodlands Walk – Tuesday; 11-1

Every morning since the storm hit, we could hear a wild animal in the woods crying.  We decided to walk around to see if we could find and help it, but of course, it quieted down in fear so we had no luck.  As we coutinued our walk, I came across pine boughs with cones scattered on the ground. I decided I would collect those later for use in my winter container gardens as decor. There were trees and limbs broken everywhere and one big tree uprooted completely.  This  wetland area is often flooded by the Scantic River so our little journey was kept short, but we could see people beyond the river inspecting the other side, a rare sight in our woodlands.  They must have been as curious as we were, walking the area to see what impact the storm had beyond their yard. Or perhaps the river was a source of water much needed in homes as the snow was pretty much melted by now.  Whatever the reason, it was odd to see people out there.

Uprooted tree

After our woodlands walk, we decided to try the roads again to go visit my parents five miles away.  These are times when I am really glad we ended up living close by.  They were still without power but my younger brother, Jimmy, got them a generator which was a relief.  Having 80 year old parents sleep in the cold had worried us.  My mother said Dad was pulling the covers over his head to stay warm, and she wore four layers of shirts, but now the house was warming up a bit.  I was less concerned about my father.  He has been a resourceful farmer his entire life, and nothing stops him to this day.  He is always outside doing a chore of the land.  And for this week, on his agenda was cleaning up some fallen limbs from an old, large Catalpa tree in their backyard.  It has brittle wood and small branches break from it anytime a windy day comes along, but this time, the torn pieces were rather large, and made the tree look a bit ugly – or should I say uglier?

Capsules

Catalpa trees are not typically valued in landscapes from my experience, but at our family’s home, we valued it very much because it has been growing there since we were kids.  It is situated infront of a large hay field framing the view, and it was also a tree I climbed as a kid, and fell out of once, telling no one.  We took many photos under it during special occassions.  I remember one photo with Rosalie, my kid sister, holding her saxaphone when she was very young; a great photo taken by Louise under that tree.  When we celebrated my parents’ anniversary, we took group photos in the yard with the Catalpa in the background and the field with farm equipment beyond that.  We also would have to clean the lawn of its littered seed pods, shaped like long capsules resembling giant green beans, every season when we were kids growing up there.  Sometimes I would split them open to see the fringed seeds embedded in soft fleshy white tissue.  I never cared for the flowers’s scent in the late spring, that to me, had a pungency to them.  The white corolla flowers would fall easily onto the lawn every year before the seed capsules grew.

In college, I used the seeds from this tree for a propagation lab assignment.  I remember my professor saying the trees were practically weeds when I asked if I could select this tree for my project.  However, he allowed me to use this tree’s seeds for the project even though the seeds germinate easily without any pretreatment. I guess he figured if I was so attached to the tree, I would be attached to the project’s objectives.  Part of being a nature lover is understanding these attachments.  Laying the seeds on moistened peat, they grew with practically no effort in the greenhouse.  The little seedlings popped up quickly and we pricked them out for transplanting into pots later.

Parents

When I went with my sister, two months ago to look for her magnolia candidate in a nursery of trees grown by a landscaper, I was surprised he had a Catalpa in his stock.  This guy had all kinds of large and mature prized trees growing in a nursery field, not in pots, which he digs up for his landscape projects.  So when I saw it among beautiful ornamental trees from magnolias to speciality Japanese maples, I though perhaps there are other people who appreciate Catalpa trees, or maybe it was just growing there from years before.

My parent’s tree survived a storm yet again, and as we sat now at my parent’s kitchen table, we continued talking about stories we’ve heard of long gas lines and the storm’s damage to roads.  My sister, Lisa, arrived with Doris, her  mother in law.  Doris said she felt guilty about getting her power back on today.  Only a handful of houses in her neighborhood off Route 5 had it, while all others were dark.  She had brought over a batch of cooked food for my parents and we all continued to sit and talk some more.

After a couple hours of talking, I eventually suggested we should head back, but my Dad asked us to stay a while longer. This request is something I never heard him ask before.  It wasn’t for lack of caring or anything like that – it was only because we always would have something “to do” – to get back to doing, or something distracting our attention to limit time just sitting around talking.  But today, we had no reason to rush.  So, as a bit of bribery to get us to stay a bit longer, he pulled a bottle of Porto from their cupboard for us to sip. We toasted to surviving Snowlloween on our fourth day of the week.

When we finally returned back to our house, I checked the meat packed in two coolers with snow and ice on the north side of the house where shade is constant and temperatures stay the coldest.  Then I saw my ‘Bloodgood’ maple tree at the front corner of my house.  I had completely forgotten about it until now. This Acer plamatum Japanese maple tree has never given me a second thought with its small and neat habit.  It grows upright and has pretty red-purple summer foliage that turns a brighter red in autumn.  The fine textured leaves were now all shriveled and torn.  Some of the branches were still attached to the ground from the frozen snow.  So again, I tugged at the branches and hoped for the best.

After accepting my Japanese maple tree’s current condition, I returned inside and started to read my latest issue of Horticulture Magazine (www.hortmag.com).  Sitting in silence and accepting our non-power situation would continue for an evening more, I came across some very interesting articles.  One about plants’ functional uses beyond their beauty, which covered research on uses of canna lilies.  It was interesting to read tender shoots have been used as a vegetable source, seeds for making tortilla flour, and rhizomes for starch.  But even more surprising is cannas have been planted in mass to test the “…removal of pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants from wastewater runoff” in wetland areas, and it worked.  Cannas love moisture, so they are a perfect candidate, plus they grow fast.  (Hmmm, this is all good news, I thought, I’ll have to share this with my younger sister, Rosalie, an environmental engineer.)

Another article published in this issue featured …”bold, bright tropical plants with a twist” highlighting a garden artisan in Springfield, Ill, by the name of Adam Woodruff.  As the article states, his design style includes “blending soft grasses and perennials with punchy tropical plants.”  It covered everything from ornamental grasses to elephant ears with some beautiful photos of his work.  See adadmwoodruff.com or gardensBOS.blogspot.com for more about this designer. It drew my attention, for those that know me, know I love that mix of tropicals with perennials in my container gardens too.

So with those article prompting thoughts to fill my imagination, I again headed off to bed early.  By this point, I was starting to feel really grungy and hoping a hot shower would be coming my way.  I wrote down the name of places from the newpaper to take showers and decided tomorrow I would go to one of them.  A local church, a school in Enfield, or a shelter were three choices.  And perhaps I would take my parents to one of the free dinner places I saw posted on signs.  One was a new place in Broad Brook, a catering reception hall, called Merlots.  They painted a wooden board with the words, “free pasta dinner tonite”, and I heard through another sister, LaNotte’s Restaurant, a local favorite was offering free pasta dinners too.  Soon the meat in our coolers would not be safe to eat.  And again, the generosity of local businesses was nice to see and appreciated by many.  Hopefully, our power would return by the end of the week, we could only hope and wait.

To be continued…

Day 3 – The Drive Around…

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Day Three – The Drive Around – Monday; 10/31

House View

We knew we needed to get more bottled water for cooking and drinking so we attempted to travel.  It was very apparent damage was going to be extensive just based on the trees we saw fallen and torn by their roots in our yards and those around us.

Fire and police sirens continued in the distance, and we would hear them “every day” from the start of Snowlloween to well after power returns.  And my husband’s first attempt to drive to work yesterday failed, as I expected. As he exited our driveway to the west, it was impossible to pass due to downed power lines, trees dangling from wires, and fallen limbs.  And the main route closest to our home, Route 140, was a complete mess, all unpassable.  It was the first time we literally could not get to the highway.

So when we decided to hit the road on day three, we drove east to head through the center of Broad Brook down Main Street. A local convenience store had its doors open with an alarm loudly ringing inside.  I was quick to run in and request the last two six packs of water for I was worried about those non-emergency supplies lacking in our home.  The store’s owner said he was not technically open but he would sell them to me.  I think he had no choice, for I would have begged, and he knew it.

After getting water, we decided to go see if my brother and family nearby in Ellington were okay.  Generator already running in their driveway, they offered us a much appreciated hot cup of coffee.  I asked to plug in my cell phone to charge it.  When I unplugged their loudly playing radio boom box – the radio kept on playing!  We all laughed.  It was all running on the internal battery versus the hook up to their generator all morning.

These small funny moments kept occurring as the days continued here and there. We were lucky, our family – all residing close by – were here for us.  We all were without power, but not out of humor as we would go visit each other in the coming days.  We managed to keep our cool, most of the time, by sharing our stories and offering help to each other.  This was a family bonding experience, one I’m sure we will continue to talk about over the coming holiday gatherings.

Knowing we had plenty of wood stacked at our home from August’s tropical storm – but all unseasoned, we had to find some in town to make it through the week to come. I remembered a home where it is sold by a local fellow, so we headed there for a supply.  The guy selling the wood had told us a woman came by in her car with kids, saying she had no money – so he loaded her vehicle up with wood for free.  It was nice to hear of generous spirits.  After my truck’s bed was loaded with wood, we drove back home.

As we pulled into our driveway, I noticed our three Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Early Amethyst’ beautyberry bushes by the base of my deck were crushed to the ground. The long slender branches were full with clusters of purple berries at the leaf axils and still holding strong even after Snowlloween.

Prior January

These deciduous shrubs, native to China and Japan, offer one of the best falls shows.  The purple berries – a unique color for berries in my opinion – hang on in groupings on arching stems following their blooms in late summer through August.  They are a sight to see – even if they are surrounded by snow.

Before early spring, I had pruned them hard because they were damaged by a heavy snowfall in January (as shown in this photo).  As a result, this year, they gave me the best abundant show ever as the new growth produced an amazing flush.  These shrubs look great massed. Yet now – in October – they were a mess again.

At this point, what is the best course of action to deal with my ‘yet again’ damaged shrubs?  Pruning trees or shrubs in the fall is not recommended because the pruning process itself can induce more growth if we get a warmup before winter.  The new growth won’t be hardened off; it won’t be accustomed to the new climate of the winter season approaching, thus its vulnerable. Plus these shrubs, which bloom in the summer on new wood, should be pruned before new growth begins, in the winter or early spring.  Technically we are not talking a routine pruning process here – but a clean up process from damage.

Our calendar says the first day of winter is not until the end of December, but Snowlloween tricked us into one big winter burst.  Should I wait for our real winter to arrive in a few weeks to clean these shrubs up or can it wait til spring?  For now, on this day, I’ll just give them a chance to recover – just like we need a chance to do so as well.  My shrubs are probably just as confused as I am.  Mother nature has again reminded us that dealing with her mood swings is the beauty and beast of being a nature lover, plant enthusiast, or gardener.

P.S.  The Connecticut Horticultural Society is going to discuss how to help plants damaged by the storm next week at their Thursday meeting in West Hartford, CT.  For more information – visit their website:  www.cthort.org.  Non-members are welcome for a small entrance fee.  The talk on damage control will be followed by their featured speaker as noted under “PROGRAM MEETINGS” on their website. 

And yes – my Snowlloween diary is…”To Be Continued…”

Day Two – The Day After…

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Day Two – The Day After Snowlloween – Sunday; Oct 30

After getting the woodstove in the basement refueled with wood and bundled up for outdoors, the first thing we did was look out the windows in disbelief. We walked our front yard to access the damage. This is always a good first step following a disaster like this one, providing there are no live wires in the area or nearby.

Luckily many weak locust trees located along our long driveway, once adjacent to our power lines, had been recently taken down by our neighbors after our August tropical storm.  The timing was very useful for they surely would have crashed onto the power lines again with this new storm, and possibly onto our neighbor’s house.  We were thankful.  Our lines were still attached to the house and poles.

Returning to go see our back yard, as we guessed, a big limb from our maple tree on the southwest side of house, which provides perfect shade in the summer on our deck, had partially crashed onto the edge of our pool.  Another limb from an oak tree crashed on the east side.  Ironically nothing appeared punctured in the pool’s cover or sides.  Mostly the tops of the limbs hit the pool.  It was another stroke of luck.

Our chicken-coop in the back, no longer housing chickens, was littered with oak branches, so much so that we could not see if any holes were made in the roof.  A bit of damaged occurred on the outdoor pen part, but nothing too major.  This chicken home is situated by a huge mature oak.  Looking above, we could see more broken branches resting on other branches, just waiting to eventually fall.  We would have to be careful here.

Continuing our inspection, we realized it was still very dangerous near the edge of the woodlands as branches continued to split and fall from the snow rapidly melting in the morning’s warming sun.  It was rather pretty as the melting drops glistened and seem to wash away the tears of the trees.  I wondered how the wild animals, such as the turkeys we see in our yard this time of year, dealt with the ordeal of the evening’s crashes.  Where did they go for cover?  And just as I thought about them, I started to the west side to inspect my two prized ornamental trees planted at the base of a slight hill in my backyard.  As I approached, a bird was perched on the curve of the bent over limb of my river birch.

This Betula nigra ‘Heritage’ has been a favorite.  I saved it from a badly root-bound situation in a small pot a few years ago at the end of summer from a local nursery.  It adjusted to its new home of moist soil and thrived in the years following. It’s creamy like soft salmon colored bark – reminding me of the color of a creamsicle pop, is a feature to adore.  And its sharply pointed and serrated leaves are also attractive and delicate. I was relieved to see that so far, there was no major breakage, and that I may be able to save it once again from the trappings of nature.  But before doing so, I went to go look at my dawn redwood tree along the same ridge.

This dawn redwood tree was planted in honor of my parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary several years ago.  I often joke to my friends when they visit that I planted it just so I could say, with an amusing tone, “Don’t you just love my Metasequoia glyptostroboides?”   It has reached over twenty feet tall in my landscape with a pyramidal habit and feathery needles lined up as opposites along its stems and branches.  So pleasant in texture yet grows up to an impressive seventy feet tall or more at maturity, providing a tall stature with unique reddish brown furrowed bark even more visible when the needles drop each winter – a sight many don’t expect for it looks like an evergreen fir tree but is deciduous.

These two trees have made my landscape, and frankly my life, more pleasant because their peaceful grace offer tranquility in that space, plus the dawn redwood reminds me of my parents’ solid marriage of 50+ years.  I did not want to lose it.  My older sister, Lisa, had planted one too at her home in Granby, CT on the same day as I.  We had shopped together at a nursery, and I told her about this unique tree.

As I gently tugged on the arched tips of both trees to release their entrapment from the snow, it appeared that there were no damaging cracks in their trunks for these would most likely kill them over time. Trunk damage can destroy the tissue that transports water and nutrients from the roots to the tops, while cracks or wounds can invite diseases and insects in warmer seasons later.  So my hourly shaking wasn’t so silly during the storm, because I believe it did help the limbs from tearing or the tips from ripping off completely (which I discovered later occurred on my sister’s redwood.)

My plan was to allow the day’s sun to warm up the exfoliating bark and branches on both trees while hoping their central leaders would slowly rise to the skies again.  A few more days’ patience would be required to see how they may react before taking action to correct their posture.  Thankfully they survived their evening of torture, the birch faring a bit better than the redwood which has one tip dipping more than the other.  Perhaps it would need the help of a splitter or some type of roping for more support.  The tip was not torn, as with my sister’s tree, but other naturally growing pines and conifers in my woodlands did loose their central leaders.  However, these could be fixed by taking an adjacent whorl to serve as a new leader with a splitter to redirect its growth.  All of this would be done in time.

For the rest of this day, more important tasks were at hand – like boiling snow water and figuring out a plan of action for food, warmth, and light.  I had a feeling it would be a while before we would get any power back, especially because our house is situated far from the road.  It was time to get busy, and check on our family and friends.

Snowlloween may have passed but the after effects were just beginning for many in our area, and it was something I was sure none of us were totally prepared for.

“To Be Continued…”

Day One – The Day of Snowlloween

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Day One – The Day of Snowlloween – Saturday; Oct 29th

Under cold gray skies, I hurriedly worked on cutting down the tall upright stalks of my cannas and removing the flopped foliage of elephant ears, then dug out damp soil balls from the large containers to get to the rhizomes and tubers for storage.  My gloved hands got cold fast as I recorded my first quick how-to video of the tools and materials used so I could post the process on my blog for my container gardening clients.

All the while, the calm quiet air was a bit eerie.  Sensing this snowstorm was on the way, I began to regret putting off this chore.  We experienced nice warm days this year in October which resulted in busier work activity for me compared to July.  Clients were still calling to request landscape designs as the delightful days kept them inspired, and I was really enjoying installing festive Halloween and fall décor in containers at store front businesses.

Even our  deciduous trees seemed to be late at doing their yearly leaf drop.  Not yet experiencing the true cool onset of fall, many were slow to cut off the flow of nutrients to their leaves in preparation for winter. The chlorophyll green pigments of leaves, responsible for absorbing sunlight for photosynthesis, had yet to reveal the underlying orange, red and yellow colors of autumn.  And suddenly, today, the crisp autumn air of the past month was feeling like the beginning of a fast approaching winter day.

Just as predicted, the snowflakes arrived exactly at noon time. They transitioned to cotton ball sized clumps fast and clung onto the leaves of trees while blanketing the ground.  Within the hour, the leader tips of my river birch and dawn redwood trees began to slowly arch to the ground from the weight.  I decided it would be best to gently shake off the snow from these two favorite trees every hour, and hopefully prevent any cracking or breakage.

Louise, my sister, was doing the same.  She called before the power went out for both of us to say she was shaking her newly planted magnolia tree. She was concerned.  It was a highly sought magnolia she had installed in September to replace a mature, majestic magnolia sadly lost by the effects of our August tropical storm.

I remembered my statement to her when she searched sources for just the right one only two month ago.  “Remember, Mother Nature has a mind of her own,” I said, as she pondered her new investment. We vowed to continue shaking our cherished trees until nightfall.  This would give them some help.

Later that evening, with power out since late afternoon, my husband and I peeked out into the darkness to barely see a big split in a maple tree limb leaning towards our pool in the backyard.  It was only a matter of time before it would peel away and crash.

In the woodlands surrounding us was only the sound show of cracks, booms, and bangs to be heard throughout the night.  We could only hope for the best and prayed for the safety of others before heading to bed.

It was not a restful evening.  Snowlloween was planning to stay awhile.

To Be Continued…

Snowlloween, Our First October Snowstorm

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Day Before – Friday; Oct 28th

Standing in-front of the television listening to the forecasters say there was a big nor’easter on the way, I thought, “This can’t be happening.” It was disheartening.  We were still cleaning up yard debris from the unusual tropical storm that hit our area in August.  Choosing to ignore the warnings of this new storm, I spent the day before doing other activities, and looking forward to a party that evening. I didn’t bother to get emergency supplies as recommended, nor did I take the time to work on my outdoor container gardens of tropical plants that were just hit by our first frost on Thursday. My cannas were holding onto a few last blooms and my large elephant ear plants were flopped over like wet heavy noodles from the cold.  They technically weren’t dead or lost yet, but it was now or never for a drop in temperature to freezing was eminent with this storm.  The rhizomes and tubers started to go into a rest of sorts, as if it hit by a sudden cool spell of the tropics, but they would not survive tomorrow outside and must be stored immediately. Instead of having the option of doing my yearly container garden breakdown process on a sunny warm autumn afternoon of my choice, I would have to work on them before our first ever October snowstorm.  Two days before Halloween, we (and our plants) were to experience and hopefully survive, what I coined, Snowlloween.  And it was about to get spooky.

To Be Continued

Day One