Welcome Stick Season: In Praise of Beautiful Bark & Colorful Twigs

January 7th, 2019 § 2 comments § permalink

Cornus sericea : Fire in Ice

In New England, winter is often referred to as stick season. It’s not a term of endearment. November, December, January and February are long, dark months, and by March we are truly longing for the green leaves that won’t appear ‘til May. Six months is a long time to live without color and for this reason alone, planning a winter garden is important.

Betula papyrifera: Chalky White Beauty from a Distance and Peachy Peels Up Close

Why do so many gardeners overlook this long season when planning and planting in springtime? My guess is that by May, when garden centers finally open, it’s just impossible for for twigs to compete with flowers! Perhaps anticipating the distraction will provide incentive to design a four season garden in January!

The Backlit Beauty of Acer griseum’s Auburn Curls

Feeling bit of mid-winter cabin fever? Travel back to my winter garden design posts —such as this one from last year— for a little insiration, then take a stroll around your yard with a camera in hand. Now come back inside where it’s warm, pour a hot cup of tea, and pull out your photos and a notepad. How could you add to the picture? Cornus sericea twigs for vertical red or chartreuse lines? Betula papyrifera for peeling, peachy cream scrolls or Acer griseum for curls of orange and rust? Perhaps the multicolored exfoliation of Stewartia pseudocamilla, Cornus kousa or Halesia tetraptera, among others. And remember the many flowering beauties with hidden, winter interest: Heptacodium miconioides, Hydrangea quercifolia and Physocarpus opulifolius to name a favorite few.

I Enjoy the Brilliant Bark of Cornus sericea and Cornus alba Cultivars on Garden Walks as Well as from Windows, Throughout the Winter Months

Article and Images copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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Early Spring’s Sweetest Things…

March 30th, 2011 § 8 comments § permalink

The New Sugar Shack at Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford, Vermont

Spring, oh spring, where are you? You certainly are a bit coquettish this year; teasing us with early catkins on willow, then snapping us with a sharp, cold sting. Yes, Spring has been withholding many early-season pleasures here in New England, but she always shows us just a bit of sweetness at this time of year in the form of maple syrup. Cold nights and warm days are part of the swing-season magic responsible for sap production here in the Northeast. And this year —with the chilly weather lingering a bit longer than usual— the maple sugaring season has been starting, stopping and sputtering along. Some days it’s too cold for sluggish sap to run —buckets sit frozen on trees— but on warmer days, the percussive sound of drips echoing along the road makes my morning walk something of a maple dance. And I think it’s always fun to end an early spring walk with a hot stack of fresh blueberry pancakes or lemony French toast, smothered in sweet maple syrup. Yum…

Though less efficient than modern methods of sap collecting, the classic tin sap-buckets are still my aesthetic favorite

The Scenic, Seasonal View Along the Road in My Neighborhood

This sugar maple has three buckets. What’s the largest number you’ve ever seen on a tree?

Though I have participated in the maple syrup-making process many times, I don’t boil sap here at my place in Vermont. However, locally made maple syrup is one of my favorite sweet treats, and since many of my friends and neighbors produce and sell maple products every year, I have access to some of the best syrup in the world. In fact, driving up and down the mucky roads in Vermont and elsewhere in the Northeast this month, it’s impossible to go far without seeing the familiar, early-spring sights of tin buckets hanging from maple trees (Acer saccharum) and steaming sugar shacks. Here are a few photos of the maple-syrup-making process, which I shot at local Deer Ridge Farm over the past couple of weeks (many thanks to Jerry Smith for allowing me in to the sugar shack during this busy season). Learn more about how maple syrup and other products are made from maple tree sap at the official Vemont Maple Syrup website, and for more links and resources on sugaring season in Vermont, be sure to check out this excellent post at the lovely Traveling Near and Far blog.

The heat necessary to boil maple sap down, creating sweet syrup, is usually generated by a wood burning stove or furnace

Jerry Smith of Deer Ridge Farm in Guilford, Vermont is Busy at Work, Boiling Sap He Collected from Local Sugar Maples

Sweet-scented steam fills the air inside the Deer Ridge Farm sugar shack

It takes an average of 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of maple syrup*. Just imagine how much time & work goes into that sweet topping, next time you take a bite of your Sunday pancake, waffle, pop-over, French toast or a sip of your Sugar Moon cocktail!

Maple Syrup is My Favorite Breakfast Topping, and I Particularly Love it on Lemony French Toast (click here for recipe)

My Sugar Moon Cocktail (click here for recipe) is Made with Locally Produced Maple Syrup

Blueberry Breakfast Popover (click here for recipe) is Absolutely Delicious with Fresh Maple Syrup


Special thanks to Jerry Smith and Deer Ridge Farm. Maple products and other produce from Deer Ridge Farm may be found at the Brattleboro Farmers Market (click here for more information).

*Thank you also to Traveling Near and Far for links, resources and fun facts!

Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

Do you enjoy visiting The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through the affiliate-links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to The Gardener’s Eden, and will help with site maintenance and web hosting costs. Thank you!

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Autumn Brilliance Part Two – Plants for Spectacular Fall Color…

October 13th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

Callicarpa dichotoma ‘Issai’ (Purple Beautyberry)

Could a gardener be diagnosed with OCD if she compulsively checks her ornamental shrubs for changing berry color? Can a collector’s passion for a particularly beautiful cultivar cross the line, where she becomes a stalker of plants? Sometimes I fear I’ve gone too far; slipped off the raft; teetered past the point-of-no-return. But I think you are with me, aren’t you? We can’t help ourselves. The itch simply must be scratched.

I am obsessed with Callicarpa dichotoma, (Purple Beautyberry). Truly, I am. And who wouldn’t be? Her fantastical berries are pure, poetic inspiration; begging to be written into myths and fairy tales. Just look at all that temptingly plump fruit, beckoning the unsuspecting in a glorious shade of shimmering purple. Why I can hear the old witch now… “Come sample the sweet violet berries my pretty.”  *POOF*  Deep sleep for decades. The gullible heroine slowly becomes enmeshed by lacy vines, lost in a trance, awaiting her handsome prince.

For years I have coveted the bright purple fruit of our native American Beautyberry, (Callicarpa americana), but this autumnal prize is hardy only to zone 6. In my desperation, I have killed several plants while attempting to over-winter them here at Ferncliff. Undaunted, I also tried my luck growing Japanese Beautyberry, (Callicarpa japonica), with similar, necrotic results. But last year, just south of here, I was visiting a nursery display-garden when I spotted something that stopped me dead in my tracks. Yellowing leaves, cobalt violet fruits – my heart raced as I rounded the corner and pushed past the browning hydrangea – could it be… ?

Indeed, it was the elusive Callicarpa. Only this time, the shrub I encountered was a hardier member of the family, Purple Beautyberry, (Callicarpa dichotoma). Graceful, arching, elegant in habit, the leaves of the Purple Beautyberry were just turning gold when I met her, highlighting the candy-like quality of her glossy, purple clusters of fruit. There are two excellent C. dichotoma cultivars, ‘Issai’ and ‘Early Amethyst’, both reliably hardy to zone 5. I have been warned to expect a bit of die-back; to be pruned in spring when I fertilize to encourage new growth. I snatched the last ‘Issai’ from my wholesaler’s lot, and placed it carefully in the garden, protected from wind by the American cranberrybush Viburnum, and alongside the blazing fall foliage of fragrant Abelia, (Abelia mosanensis). The color combination is delighting me this October. Will she survive the brutal winter? Only time will tell if Purple Beautyberry is a permanent addition to my garden. But for now, the fantasy is all mine.

So today I will leave you with images of some other bewitching favorites here in my autumn garden. I will elaborate on some of these woody plants over the coming weeks, as I continue to share my favorite design recipes for fall color …

Acer griseum  (Paper bark maple)

The Hay-scented fern, (Dennstaedtia puctilobula), after hard frost

Buddleia davidii, (Orange-Eye Butterfly bush), blooms past the first frost

Abelia mosanensis, (Fragrant abelia), autumn color

Cotinus coggygria, (Smokebush), with a rosy leaf-glow

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Grandiflora’ (Peegee Hydrangea)

Hydrangea paniculata, ‘Limelight’, turns mauve-purple in cool weather

Hydrangea quercifolia, (Oakleaf hydrangea), foliage variation

Hydrangea quercifolia (Oakleaf hydrangea), drying flowers

Oxydendrum arboreum, (Sourwood tree), a coveted autumn red hue

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Seiryu’, (Blue Green Dragon), begins to color

Acer palmatum ‘Bloodgood’, all ablaze in backlit orange and scarlet

Vibrant Stewartia pseudocamellia with gilded Rodgersia aesculifolia

Stewartia pseudocamellia, (Japanese stewartia)

Article and Photographs copyright 2009, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden 

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