Ask the Clark Gardener

Dear Fellow Gardeners:


December 21, 2010. Happy New Year!


Years ago, sometime in the early ‘70’s, I was driving to an early Saturday morning class with my car radio tuned to a gardening related talk show. As I recall, it was a cold and dreary December day and the class I was headed to did not promise to be very exciting. The hosts of the radio show seemed quite happy and excited about something, and I soon started to pay closer attention to what was being said.

 

It was December 21, and I had tuned into a celebration of the winter solstice (marking the beginning of winter). Now I was really interested. Why were these crazy gardeners celebrating the beginning of the coldest, snowiest, and most bleak time of the gardening year?

    

The reason for celebration was soon clear. As the radio hosts explained, the winter solstice marks a turning point in the lengths of days and nights. It marks the day after which daylight start getting longer instead of shorter. Light, and later warmth, will soon again be on the gardener’s side. Day to day, subtle and almost imperceptible changes in the environment begin to send cues to plants to get ready to initiate growth (or regrowth) and development.


So, for me, ever since I heard that radio broadcast, I note the winter solstice as New Year’s Day for the garden. And this brightens all those wintry days ahead. I know things are happening – roots are spreading, leaf (and some flower) buds are maturing, and small green shoots will soon appear here and there.


Since the winter solstice marks a new beginning, I thought it an appropriate date to kick off this new section of the Clark Botanic Garden website. Called “Correspond with The Clark Gardener,” I hope that it becomes a medium to communicate some of what goes on at Clark throughout the growing year, to focus on particular plants at Clark, and to respond to questions and comments from those viewing this website. If you have questions about Clark Botanic Garden, about what is growing here, or even gardening questions of a more general nature, please address them to CBGardener@optonline.net. I anticipate updating this section of the website monthly, initially, and more frequently as interest grows. Questions that have the widest potential interest will be answered here.


On December 11 and 12, 2010, Clark Botanic Garden had its annual Winter Wonderland weekend. This event, with its festive lights, decorated grounds and Clark house, participatory cookie making, and more, was well attended and enjoyed by many. With the end of the holiday season, all the manmade decorations will be put away, but Clark Botanic Garden will still be a winter wonderland.


Clark’s winter wonderland continues until spring. Where? It is in the Harry Lauder’s walking stick (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’) with its strongly twisted shoots, only fully visible in winter without their foliage. It is in the Golden larch tree (Pseudolarix amabilis) with its branches lined with odd, spur like growths from which new leaves will emerge. It is in the ducks swimming in Clark’s icy ponds. It is in the unusual tree bark of the Crapemyrtle (Lagerstroemia indica), the River birch (Betula nigra), and the Stewartia (Stewartia pseudocamellia) which are celebrities of the winter landscape. It is in the cactus which winters over in the rock garden, defying its stereotype of being only for dry, hot, desert like areas. It is in the leaves of rhododendron that curl upon themselves as a defense against the cold. It is in the fading flowers of the late fall blooming camellias, and the buds of the early spring blooming camellias just seeming to wait for the slightest excuse to burst open. It is in the very debris on the ground, where one notices leaf shapes and sizes that were too high to observe in the summer. It is nearly everywhere you look.


Come, visit Clark Botanic Garden’s season long winter wonderland. Clark Botanic Garden will be closed on weekends from Christmas until March 12, 2011, but it will be open on most weekdays. And if you have a comment or question, remember to send them to me at CBGardener2@gmail.com.


The Clark Gardener

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