Is It Spring Yet?

The vernal equinox is Monday, March 20 (today) at 21:24 UTC which is 5:24 p.m. EDT.

Of course, for those of following meteorological seasons, Spring began March 1st. And, as I am fond of saying, for those of us living here in Connecticut, we have no spring–just winter and July. We’ll see if the predictions of a warm spring will play out again this year (which would be lovely since it does happen so rarely). Of course, the predictions are also for an extra warm summer–and I will take that as well. Heat never bothers me, but I am a baby about the cold.

Still for all our writing and predicting and talking about it, weather is one thing that we absolutely cannot do one thing about. We can try to plant sustainably with natives to survive the variables that nature produces, but we cannot control those variables.

We can try to extend our seasons–in both the spring and the fall–with any number of measures like floating row covers, cloches, “wall-o-waters,” and other “mechanical” devices that cover or otherwise insulate our tender plants from temperatures that they otherwise would object to.

Or we can get less garden-y and just throw a sheet, towel or whatever is to hand over a container or a large potted plant if frost threatens.

Or, we can throw up our hands and say, okay, season’s over–let nature do its thing (which is generally my approach!) By the time fall comes, I am more than ready to tend to my overflowing collection of house plants–but I do understand not everyone feels that way.

But isn’t that what’s best about gardening–that we don’t all have to do it the same way?

A Little Fragrance Goes a Long Way

As I was dusting and changing clocks Saturday morning in my living room, I suddenly realized that there was a new fragrance in the room.

Sure enough, my jasmine officinale has begun to bloom. And as you can see from this crazy photo, (the jasmine blooms sandwiched between a couple of amaryllis leaves), there are just a few blossoms open.

Here’s the whole photo so that you can see how few blooms–and how many are yet to open.

Sometimes with very fragrant plants like this it’s best that the blooms only open a few at a time. Especially indoors, with no pollinators, and just me to enjoy this, small doses are best!

Who’s Been Chewing My Plants?

The holes in the end of this strelitzia leaf just fascinate the Spoiler.

It may be that he has to look past it (as well as several other plants) to see out the window. But he has remarked on them several times and wondered about them.

I am fairly sure about them. I just presume that when the leaf was still furled, some critter came along, took a bite, decided that the leaf wasn’t to its liking and moved on. But the teeth marks remained and became more pronounced as the leaf grew.

Still, the Spoiler rarely wonders, so it’s an interesting thing.

I am more focused on the plants behind the big Bird of Paradise. Some of them are beginning to show signs of different insect infestations. Ah, the signs of spring!

How Many Words for Snow?

So it’s been a couple of weeks. The President’s Day weekend, which was the third weekend of February this year, was so unseasonably warm that I was outside pruning my Japanese maples.

The forecast for the next day was for snow but it had been 62 the day before. Even I thought, really? Is that possible?

Well, it was. And of course, because it had been so warm for the prior few days, the snow didn’t appear to be sticking to the pavement. Nevertheless, I took the safe route down the lawn as I always do when it snows.

Except that in this particular instance, that wasn’t the safest route. Because it had been so warm, the snow was extremely wet–wetter than in my photos on Friday. It caked into the treads of my boots and turned them into skis and down I went onto my hip. The dog looked at me like “why are you playing? I thought we were going for a walk .”

Anyway, again, because it had been warm, the ground wasn’t frozen, so I was just a bit bruised and sore.

The next few days gave rise to our next few words for frozen fun: black ice and freezing fog. For the uninitiated, black ice is where the pavement looks wet but is actually frozen.

Freezing fog is different. It’s like dew, or fog that comes down from above and freezes on the surface. Same effect as black ice–a skim coating of ice almost invisible to the eye–but black ice is usually residual moisture freezing on the pavement whereas freezing fog comes down from above.

There’s definitely more but we rarely experience them here in New England. We do get dry, powdery snow on occasion. Not the lovely dry champagne powder like they have out West, but soft, and light and flaky nevertheless. It’s rare, but it does happen.

But we more often get heavy, wet snow, especially this time of year, that has the consistency of wet concrete or mashed potatoes–lumpy mashed potatoes at that.

So you can see that although this isn’t a place like Alaska where they say the Native peoples have 40 words for snow, we do have quite a vocabulary to describe our winter weather here–and I am sure that I have left some of it out (particularly the colorful cuss words!)

Snow Daze

The way that the weather people have been carrying on about the East Coast, you, might think that this is the first snow of the winter. It isn’t. Nor is it particularly unusual for us to get snow this time of year. We regularly get snow in late February and early or even mid-March.

What is unusual is that this is almost half the snow that we have received for the whole season. This is about a 6″ storm. We have had another 7″ or so over the whole rest of the winter. That’s what’s crazy. We should have had at least 40″ by now.

And it was a pretty storm too. Not wet enough to do damage but heavy enough to cling and be pretty.

I should have gotten a little closer here but I didn’t want to ruin the snow with my footprints (does anyone else think about that? ) That’s my new bench that my sister gave me for Christmas looking pretty in the snow.

A Little Plant Help

Yes, that is a canister vacuum. No, I am not suggesting that you vacuum your plants.

But I find that each week, as I clean up the house, I use either the wand on my vacuum, or just the hose, as shown here, to clean up around my plants.

Do I have that many messy plants? Oh yes!

This is just one example. This is my pittosporum tobira variegata. It’s a lovely plant and in mid-to-late spring for me it blooms with lovely small white flowers that have a wonderful fragrance.

But by this point in the season, it wants to be back outside. It’s a shrub. It really doesn’t want to be a houseplant, except that it’s not hardy in my region. So it gets finicky and starts dropping leaves. Sometimes a lot of leaves all over the place and on top of those other plants.

So once I clean the plants off (I repeat, I don’t vacuum plants–vacuums have too much suction for delicate leaves), I vacuum all the leaves up.

Then there’s my osmanthus fragrans–another plant that would be a shrub someplace else.

It’s a fairly good houseplant for me and it’s almost continually in bloom all winter with those tiny white flowers. They can perfume the whole room.

They can also make quite a mess of the windowsills, nearby plants, and anywhere else that they fall. But the vacuum keeps things neat and tidy with very little work.

Of course as you can see from the pittosporum photo, my plants are placed fairly close together so this technique is not for the faint of heart. If I am not careful, I can make more mess than I am trying to clean. But that hasn’t happened lately. I am becoming a pro at this technique.

Seeing Double Ficus?

After I lost my grandmother’s ficus, I was happy to find this sort of substitute. This is a benjaminii type but obviously it’s variegated. We’ll see how that works out.

Generally benjaminii types were known to be finicky. In fact, what used to happen when you moved the plant at all was that it would lose a good portion of its leaves. So far, I have brought this from a nice toasty greenhouse to my cool home, and then moved it within my home and it’s doing just fine–very little leaf loss. Maybe the breeders have somehow figured out a way to improve on these.

Yes, this looks just like the plant above but it’s a different plant, I promise. This is a ficus triangularus, and I can tell you that the breeders haven’t managed to improve much on this one!

Actually, I am not being fair. I got this in December so it has had to put up with nothing but low light and cold temperatures in my house since it arrived. It looks good but it has lost a decent number of leaves.

It has much thicker, leathery leaves than the benjaminii type.

I had been keeping both of these where they were getting light from my hydroponic garden. I just moved them into bright indirect light at the other end of the house.

With any luck, none of the plants in that area will turn out to have been infested with the scale from the discarded plants and all will be well. But I am going to have to maintain careful vigilance for quite some time, especially as it warms up. Generally, as the days grow longer and the sun gets stronger, all sorts of pests start to appear. I have learned that from years’ past.