Tuesday, January 04, 2022


I write about gardening in Vermont for the North Star Journal in Danville, Vermont. Somehow my post for January didn't get published so here it is for you. Slightly dated but still some good information for gardeners. As I write today, I woke up to -7.2° and the temperature dropped to -11.2° before the sun began to warm things. Heading for 2 PM now and we are up to +18.3°. What a pleasure. Read on!


It’s almost noon on December 7th and even though you are probably reading this days or weeks later, I am happy to report that it has turned out to be a wonderful, bright sunny day after the terrible night of wind, snow squalls and power outages. Clouds are coming in but at 30.9° it’s far better than last night’s 10.2° which was accompanied by 28 mph winds. It’s days such as today when I ask myself what kind of winter we should expect.


Back in my early years, I remember asking Warner Townsend, a farmer who lived and worked down the road from us in Woodstock, how you could tell what kind of winter it would be. It was late autumn at the time and the leaves had mostly left the trees. He wasn’t a large man but he was big on worldly intelligence and over the years I spent lots of time with him around the barn, in the fields, with the workhorses, and in the sugar house. He always taught me important things.

Warner looked up into the trees and turned around, finally stopping and pointing upward. “There’s your answer,” he replied, pointing to what I learned was a bald-faced wasp nest high up in a maple tree. I’m thinking back on it now and trying to remember how high it was in the tree but I am sure it was at least 15-18 feet up and was a very large, grey paper nest. Warner explained what that meant and many years later I remember reading a couple lines that echoed his explanation. “See how high the hornet’s nest. ‘Twill tell how high the snow will rest.” My assumption was that the snow would never be 18 feet deep but the nest would be high enough to stay above deep snow. I watched that nest all winter and the snow did get deep but the nest was always safe.


So as the snow deepens in Vermont, our ability to garden outside ceases but that doesn’t mean we cannot continue with some garden-related tasks. In December when there are some warmer days and there are still some snowfalls where the snow clings to trees, it’s a good time to take pictures of all your gardens. The snow on trees and shrubs delineates the bones of your gardens and offers reminders to what perennials and bulbs you have planted nearby. Enlarge the pictures and print them off from your computer and you’ll have the basis of a map of your gardens. Sketch on critical dimensions and the names of plants of concern or places where there’s space for additional plants and you are on your way. Print a couple-three pages of each picture and start a file just in case you misplace the maps before springtime. They will be useful for the life of the garden. With the prints, you’ll amaze yourself what a great garden designer you really are. The maps will help you remember plant color, height and width, and perhaps even bloom time. Never forget what a benefit to gardens plants with height become even if they are under 5 feet tall and slender. Height in a garden has a way of making the overall garden look bigger even if it looks small to the eye. Start a folder, add lists of plants you want to incorporate (or remove) and try to broaden the bloom times your gardens cover. It’s not difficult and certainly is rewarding.


Not everyone has construction skills but if you even think you do, winter is a great time to try building hypertufa plant containers, birdhouses or pollinator houses. The internet has a plethora of recipes for hypertufa and DIY instructions. It’s messy but it’s inexpensive and you can produce all sorts of shapes and sizes of planting containers to fill with favorite plants come spring. We always have some at the flower farm that friend Jody makes for us and we always try to share how to build these. Give them some thought.


Birds and pollinators go hand in hand with good gardens and houses for each of these. As for birds, The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology is a wonderful website for everything from bird identification, bird voices, nesting habits and it includes directions for building birdhouses specific to the birds you see. Take a look and if you’re up to the task, try to build birdhouses to match your birds or birds you want to see in your gardens.  Here’s a place to start. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/. As for pollinator houses, these are easy to build and once again, there are many plans available online.


Between now and spring seek out new gardening magazines, buy subscriptions or read online, attend lectures and join related groups. It may be cold and snowy but there are plenty of ways to enhance your property and bring in more birds, butterflies, bees, and moths. I know you’ll enjoy it all!


Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the wind has slowed and the birds are asking that I fill the feeders….again.





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