The Kiss of the Sun for Pardon

Magnolia buds

Buds on a star magnolia offer promises of brighter, warmer days ahead.

 

By Michael Leach

Winter brings special magic to the garden. Visions of snowy branches, frosty twigs and bluish moon shadows on clear frigid nights come to mind. But sunshine is part of the potion.

Sea oats

Seeds of northern sea oats glow in morning light.

 

In this part of the Midwest, winter sunlight can be a rare and fleeting phenomenon. Weeks of gray skies are not unusual. So there is delight when the sun makes an appearance. When those welcome rays appear in early morning and late afternoon,  the garden glows softly with the burnishing effects from the sun low on the horizon.

ornamental grass

Plumes of ornamental grasses stand out against the somber backdrop of evergreens.

The poem on a garden plaque I keep meaning to buy starts, “The kiss of the sun for pardon … .” That kiss in winter, no matter how brief and infrequent,  warms my heart regardless of the temperature.

 

sycamore

Sycamore branches are tinted with the first rays of a February day.

In recent weeks I collected images of this warming touch. Perhaps they will inspire you to go forth in the remaining days of winter to look for special effects and golden vignettes before becoming overwhelmed with all the work that lies ahead.

Prairie dock leaf

The withered giant leaf of a prairie dock wears the gilt of sunshine on a winter morn.

 

yucca

Love ’em or hate ’em, yuccas seem magical at dawn on a clear winter day.

 

A walk in the woods in late afternoon brings enchantment and the voice of the woodland.

 

 

Winter Shadows Fire the Imagination

Feb-09 animal tracks resizeFinding ways to celebrate a difficult season

By Michael Leach

Winter sun turns a snowy lawn into a giant geography map. At least it seems so to me. My imagination transforms the shadow of a gnarly old tree into the Nile Delta. On the flip side, it could be the tributaries of the Mississippi River.  Sometimes I imagine the snow is a sea dotted with islands (footprints). Sled tracks suggest railway lines running hither, thither.

Those pale blue shadows of shrubs, poles, fences and more on a brilliant sunny day make an abstract pastel watercolor sliding silently, imperceptibly across the whiteness.

And on a full-moon night comes a jaw-dropping view from the bedroom window upstairs. Deltas, islands, roadways, all faintly visible in the silvery glow.

Is cabin fever getting the best of me? Is it time for a change of scenery? Possibly, but I prefer thinking of this coping tactic as a way of making winter — my least favorite season — a more pleasant time. These and other little mind games help me look forward to more than the rest that dormancy and bitter weather force me to accept. Perhaps you, too, find reasons to welcome winter.

Because winter sun is rare in my part of the Midwest, any appearance is cause for excitement.

Tree leaves, not to mention frequent haze, obscure sunrise and sunset in summer, when the sun is taken for granted and sometimes cursed. In barren winter, things are different. The first sliver of orange disk can be seen through distant trees as I gaze from that bedroom window, a mug of steaming coffee in hand.

Some evenings, depending on weather, I walk in a nearby park, one on the edge of open farm fields. The sun reverses itself. Sliding silently behind bare trees on the horizon, the sun ripens into an ever-larger orange oval. For a moment or two, the distant woods seem to be aflame. Then only an ebbing campfire burns before the sky darkens.20150120_072356_LLS

Because cloudy skies are the norm, I decided to “celebrate” winter a few years ago by stringing white Christmas lights on a volunteer cedar I see from the kitchen sink window. Suddenly winter sparkled with a festive air. The little tree is especially handsome mantled with snow. A greeting card I send to myself.

Incomplete Garden To-Do List?

20141119_161059Don’t Fret!  Think about what you accomplished.

By Michael Leach

Even as the last leaves cling stubbornly to the trees, snowflakes twirl to the ground. Ah the mixture of seasonal icons that is November, one day autumn, the next winter, sometimes both in the same 24 hours.

Indoors the winter “look” is back, as the houseplants, gathered from their summering grounds on porch and in the garden, recover from their sulk of yellow leaves. As they find a new equilibrium, so shall I. Soon their green leaves and occasional blooms will be pleasant reminders that the gray world beyond the windows will awaken — eventually — from dormancy.

For now, however, the fatigue of a long, challenging growing season makes me more weary than usual at this time of year. A summer of seemingly endless weeding, mowing and trimming back has me thinking nothing new and fresh happened. But a few moments of recollection show this is wrong in several ways. I’m actually ahead on a few projects and you probably are too.

For instance, in the last, desperate acts of cleanup and shut down before the snow, I managed to scrub the pair of recycled-plastic Adirondack chairs to a reasonable whiteness. Instead of dragging out dingy, grayish furniture next spring, they’ll look almost new. Never done that before.

Then there’s the waterlily. Growing in small pool, this plant is perhaps a half century old. Hmm, when was it last repotted?  Reagan may have been president. An undemanding plant to say the least.

Hardy pink waterlily from Lilypons

Hardy pink waterlily from Lilypons

Its ability to remain so long in the same quarters was due to the gradual transformation of the pool area into a deep shade alcove. A mere sprig of bamboo turned into walls and partial ceiling of dense privacy. (Bamboo was a less than perfect solution to screening the unsightly mess of dented cars and attendant debris at the auto body shop that went in next door. Over the years, the business cleaned up its act considerably, while the bamboo continued to grow ever more thuggish.) By the time I hired a crew in the spring of 2013 to cut down a swath bordering the pool, barely enough light penetrated to produce a handful of pitifully small lily “pads” each summer.

Suddenly sunlight poured in much of the day and the grateful lily bloomed repeatedly last summer and again this year. Not surprisingly, the plant outgrew its venerable clay pot. Instead of waiting until frenetic spring 2015, repotting was one of several chores tackled on a busy September afternoon. Viola! I was done with that.

Another revival. Among the bamboo stumps a semi-sunny border is developing. A flat of wee perennials, a few transplanted hostas and three baby variegated red twig dogwoods were IMG_7994wedged in amongst  old bamboo roots, the rebar of the plant world. The newbies are all mulched for winter. I’m done with that.

I’m also done with the fall planting, which included a paltry 200 or so spring bulbs, a flat of pansies that should survive winter for early color and a half dozen or so small shrubs.

There’s more to do this fall, weather permitting, as always. But why fret and stew about an incomplete to-do list  when there’s so much to take pleasure in having accomplished?  I’m done with that. And I hope you are, too.

IMG_3435Share your “done with its”. What accomplishments are you taking pride in? Please tell us.

 

 

 

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