The accountant mails forms to review my financial year. Credit card companies send a summary of my charges (did I really buy that?). A gardener, too, can evaluate the previous year, an activity that makes sense (especially for those who try every new plant).
Looking back at plants can be painful as well as joyful. What did not survive? What was too much trouble? What disappointed? What enchanted? What brought a smile? What do we want to see blooming every single year? What we never want to see again?
2018 was a turbulent year in the garden: a practically non-existent fall and spring, terrible cold, heat, too much or too little rain and, of course, the big bad tornado. It tested the mettle of gardeners.
The inveterate gardeners are, however, already studying plant catalogs and planning for 2019, and wondering what new treasures might be found at area spring plant sales.
January 2018 was a month of contrasts. Lows in the single digits left gardeners inside looking at seed catalogs and staring out the window at frozen birdbaths. Days in the 60s encouraged us to do some winter chores. The Ilex latifolia (‘Lustre Leaf’ Holly), a graceful evergreen that belongs in every garden, was covered in brilliant red berries. On the last day of the month, the crocus stuck their dainty heads out of the pine straw. The quince began blooming at the end of the month, adding a vivid touch of color to an otherwise quiet landscape. Prickly leaves on the mahonias framed intense yellow spikes of flowers.
A banner month for the magnificent camellia japonicas, also coaxed the early daffodils into bloom. The bare branches on the ‘Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick’ resemble a contorted sculpture. Lenten roses, a delightful groundcover for a shady spot, nodded their heads in the winter breezes. Several days in the high 70s gave gardeners a case of spring fever, and many of plants followed suit. The temperature reached 83; had spring actually arrived prematurely? Really not; gardeners are not easily fooled, but we relished the sight of gardens full of “look at me” blooms, knowing their time was limited.
March can be a changeable month in the garden. As flowers blossom and small trees sprout delicate green foliage, a sudden freeze can zap them. March 2018 was a terrible month as two F-3 tornadoes came through my Jacksonville neighborhood. Monday the 19th we were wearing our shorts on a 73-degree day, only to wake up Tuesday morning to discover the destruction around us. Hundreds of trees lay across driveways and streets. Homes and lives were crushed. We were in shock. The days warmed, encouraging the landscape to come to life,lifting our spirits. The pansies were flourishing, the early azaleas were in bloom, the camellias continued their fabulous show and, like magic, the clematis flowered.
Despite the horror of March, April plants appeared on schedule. The lovely leaves of the hostas emerged from their winter sleep. The azaleas were amazing. The dogwood trees assured the battered folks in Jacksonville that life goes on. The air was perfumed with the gorgeous blooms of native azaleas. The delicate ivory blooms of the banana shrub radiated the delicious smell of bananas. We registered a high of 84 and a low of 32 (there is that pesky late frost we worry about).
May is a divine month in the garden. The last frost is over and gardeners can relax, knowing that the plants can shine without fear of cold. Hydrangeas brightened the garden. Heuchera leaves dazzled. Caladium bulbs began to sprout like small colorful flags. My old-fashioned climbing rose was, as always, covered with hundreds of fragrant pink blooms. Every day brought a new bloom or a new leaf to the garden. May 2018 saw a high of 90 degrees, causing us to reach for our hoses. We had a short spring and dove quickly into summer.
Although summer had not officially arrived, we saw highs in the 90s day after day. Gardeners began to fret about what the rest of the summer would bring. Sprinklers and hoses ran overtime keeping our newly planted trees, shrubs and flowers well watered. Lilies bloomed. Sunpatiens annuals glowed. The milkweed, covered with orange flowers, attracted the butterflies. The glorious smell of gardenia blossoms captivated us. We were entertained by the antics of the hummingbirds.
I actually love July even though it can be outrageously hot. We had a drought, going weeks with nary a drop of rain. I enjoyed early morning time in the garden providing the care my plants needed to survive the heat. The garden is still at that time of the day except for the bees buzzing and the birds chirping. Seemingly fragile flowers (purslanes, pentas, coneflowers and lilies) showed their spunk. ‘Bobo’, a later-blooming hydrangea, was beautiful and shimmered in the summer heat. Standing in the July sun, sweating and swatting mosquitoes among the riot of color that defines summer, taught me the calming power of my garden.
August was miserable. Days still reached the 90s; we had another period of drought with no rain for weeks at a time. ‘Little Gem’ magnolia, a wonderful evergreen, had iridescent, white, fragrant flowers. The diminutive drift roses seemed untouched by the heat. Zinnias smiled at the hot days, and huge leaves on the caladiums reminded me of colorful paintings. With plenty of water, the coleus was a pop of color.
Although fall officially began Sept. 22, the days certainly did not feel fallish. We remained hot and dry; temperatures soared into the 90s almost every day with only two inches of rain for the entire month. We were as weary as our summer annuals, but gardeners and plants can be stubborn. Fall-blooming perennials were in full color despite the heat. As a result of the tornado’s wrath, I had a new sun garden. Between the newly gained sun and the new watering schedule, my perennial Japanese anemones in pink and white, which had never really performed, became stand-outs. They multiplied like crazy and filled in empty spots. The scent of the ginger lilies perfumed the garden. The beauty berry had a bumper crop of purple berries. The surprise lilies — the naked ladies — appeared.
October remained dry with no measurable rain for weeks on end, and temperatures again reaching into the high 80s and 90s. The summer annuals finally gave up to be replaced by brightly colored chrysanthemums. The camellia sasanquas mixed shades of pink with the changing fall colors. The dogwoods were bright with their shiny red berries, a treat to the birds. We had a nice rain on Oct. 20, the day volunteers handed out free trees to Jacksonville residents who lost their trees last March. We were so happy to see the rain we smiled through the drops.
The temperature dropped like a rock; a few frigid mornings in the 20s caused our perennials to collapse, leaving the gardener with clean-up jobs. The Japanese maples were spectacular, coloring the landscape with bright oranges, reds and yellows. I could not take enough pictures. The early camellia japonicas were so beautiful they took my breath away. The pansies enjoyed the respite from the heat. The gingko trees were in their glory. Instead of a hose I was carrying my leaf blower. Bare trees exposed beautiful bark, texture and interesting limbs.
Some days were freezing cold (even forming frozen fog one day) and others just chilly. The winter sky was so bright it was almost blinding at times. Continual rains hampered yard chores. Spring-blooming bulbs were buried safely in the ground. Despite bare trees and shrubs, December was not boring. Evergreens brought shades of green with different textures and shapes. The leaves of the oak leaf hydrangeas were a mixture of reds and purple. The evergreen tea olives still had scattered tiny, fragrant blossoms. ‘Yuletide’ camellias sported bright red flowers. The blooms on the Japanese fatsia added interest to the tropical looking leaves. The dependable evergreen rohdea provided a nice contrast to the bare trees.
December was also a time for inside miracles: amaryllis, paperwhite narcissus, Christmas cactus and cyclamen kept the gardener growing. If caring for these holiday delights was not enough to occupy our hands, raking leaves had become a full time job.
We prepared the garden for a new year. And now we start again.
Sherry Blanton writes about gardening for The Anniston Star. Contact her at email@example.com.