Friday, March 11, 2016

Hot and Unsettled

Unbelievably, Wednesday hit 81 degrees F and Thursday was in the 70s.

It's still early March. I thought it would be wonderful and couldn't wait to get outside in the warm breezes, but it was unsettling. I felt deeply at odds all day.

First I thought I'd do some pruning, and took the loppers to the redtwig dogwoods to do the long overdue rejuvenation pruning these overgrown shrubs need. But it was messy and hot work, and I ended up feeling exhausted rather than invigorated. There was so much tangled brush to deal with.

Then I thought seeing our old deck get removed and the new steps put in would be exciting, but it turned out to be a bigger project than I had understood, and I was just not prepared for heavy machinery running over my plants and scooping dirt outside the porch all day.

I don't know why I thought it would be a simple tear down and replace process. I didn't know there would be so much digging and trampling and destruction. They're doing a careful and thorough job -- I have no complaints -- I just didn't expect all this.

I used the warm weather to clean out the small storage shed where I keep tools and supplies at hand on the patio. When I opened the hinged top I found standing water in the tool buckets, soggy gloves, and pools of water in the trays of miscellaneous supplies. Everything had been standing in dirty water over the winter. Fail.

I took everything out, dried off what I could and turned to my plants instead. Surely winter plant damage would not be too bad this year. It was a mild winter with just a day or two of below zero temperatures, and very little snow. But when I walked past this 'Gold Cone' juniper that anchors the corner of the garage, I was startled. It's a little browned from winter, as junipers typically get until they green up in spring, but that wasn't the issue.

It was this -- the juniper has a severe list to the left. Thinking its dense tall shape had simply been smacked about by the wind at some point, I tried to straighten it up, but it's tilted at the roots.

I tried everything to pull it back upright, but the rootball is not loose, it's just shifted and now solidly and firmly tipped over.

That was discouraging enough, but I then saw the dead winter heaths right next to the juniper. They are Erica darlyensis 'Ghost Hill', and have been in my garden since 2005 -- this was one of the first plants I ever put in. I had two mounded evergreen heaths along the front walk that burst into pink blooms when nothing else was out in March and April. Delightful. Often they rebloomed in December too.

Sometimes at the end of winter there would be a little browning but then they would green up in summer and make tidy round deep green buns that were the perfect size for the narrow strip along the front walk.

This year, after eleven winters, both seem to have died. I can't see any sign of life, and they should be starting to put out their late winter pink blooms right about now.

After all this time, both these 'Ghost Hill' heaths gave up the ghost at the same time. Ha! A pun.

But wait, my unsettled day got worse. I looked out at the back hill and saw another casualty. A large Pinus strobus 'UConn' was lying on its side.

This white pine was another early citizen of my garden. I planted it on the back hill in 2007 for dense screening of the road. It's a variety that stays smaller and rounder, not as tall and rangy as the typical Eastern white pine. For nine years it has grown well, and had quite a crop of pine cones last fall.

It broke off at the base. All the pine cones came loose when it fell and were scattered on the ground next to the corpse. This just looked so sad.

There was nothing left of the roots at all. They had all withered away, the inside of the trunk was gone and there was nothing to hold this tree upright. It had looked so good, but it was apparently dying from the roots up for a long time.

Normally I would be energized by such unusual warm days, and I would relish feeling tired and a little sore after a day outdoors working. I would jump at planning new things to plant to replace any losses. I would love being outdoors in early March so unexpectedly.

Instead, trimming the redtwig dogwoods utterly exhausted me, the deck reconstruction work is overwhelming me, finding a dry place for tools thwarts me, the tilted juniper discourages me, and the desiccated winter heaths are a real loss. It was strangely hot, one of my trees toppled over dead, and I am trying to deal with how this all dismays me so very much.

I feel flustered.


  1. I'm sorry. This weird weather is hard to enjoy when you're a gardener and realize how vulnerable plants can be. It's returning to more normal spring temps here and I hope there as well.

    1. Thanks, Larkspur -- I needed a little bit of sympathy!