Winter Havoc in Halcyon Garden

Two years ago today, I posted a photo tour of Halcyon Garden.

What a difference a brutal winter makes.

You’ll see two versions of the tour: First, a photo from 2012 with italicized description of the day, followed by an image of the same spot in 2014. I didn’t include any photos of Otis the Cat this time around, because she refuses to go outside in this craptastical weather.

March 29, 2012

Enter via the East Gate.

Morning sun filters through a light Forest Pansy redbud canopy, already leafed out. There’s lots of color, but not from blooms. It’s the foliage, stupid: brilliant purple Forest Pansy leaves, creamy green and white variegated Cornus kousa “Wolf Eyes” leaves, green and gold flecked Aucuba japonica leaves, watercolor striped hostas, and the many greens, golds, and purples of countless Japanese maple cultivars.

March 29, 2014

It’s not early spring here yet; it’s late winter. And the Japanese maples, heuchera, and miniature dogwoods so enthusiastically ufurling two years ago are just barely budding today:



March 29, 2012

Turn west and follow the flagstone path around toward a circular brick patio and a profusion of purple and gold foliage—more Japanese maples and Forest Pansies, a redbud with striking gold new-growth leaves, and a host of purple, peach, gold, and lime-green cultivars of heuchera (coral bells) along the path. (I have a slight heuchera addiction.)

Head towards the brick patio:

We gave up long ago on keeping the fountain running. Hal was thrilled when Mom and I dumped the water, filled the cursed thing with garden soil, and planted an assortment of sedum—the most carefree, sun-loving plant imaginable. Sedum never whines or wilts. Beyond, Mom and I are slowly converting a sun bed to a part-shade bed, digging out blooming sun-lovers like garden phlox and planting hostas and ferns under the redbud and Carolina silverbell. Sedum “Autumn Joy” fills the dappled-sun space between shade and full sun, just behind the old millstone from Hal’s family farm. Also, more heuchera. Of course.

March 29, 2014

Halcyon patio

This winter destroyed the myth of indestructible sedum. It whined, wilted, and died. I’ve watched miniature sedum smile through winter after winter, but this season was a gardener’s nightmare: blast after blast of ruthless polar violence, interspersed with warm stretches that confounded all things botanical. (And feline. And human.)

The magnitude of plant-murdering havoc this winter wreaked has yet to be seen. Today, Halcyon Garden is a graveyard of withered shrubs and dead limbs, and the coral bells look deeply unhappy. Unhappier, even, than Otis the Cat. “With some plants, it could be mid May before you start to see green and find out what parts are truly dead,” horticulturist David Cook told WPLN. Pruning before then, he says, is ill-advised.

March 29, 2012

Turn back east and north to a small stone patio: (This bench is one of Otis’s favorite snooze zones.)

This shady bed gets all its color from foliage—brilliant lime heuchera, coral-red Japanese maple leaves, golden hakone grasses, and (see the bottom left corner), a tiny Cornus controversa tree, newly planted, with gorgeous creamy variegated leaves. It’s a graceful, lovely thing, and it’s fortunately becoming slightly less rare in American gardens; because full grown, at 30 feet of delicately tiered, creamy-white perfection, this plant is a heart-stopper. To me, worth the decades-long wait.

Sure, it’s an investment. But look at it this way: ten years ago, the garden you see here was nothing but a bare expanse of weeds, stacked high with trash. A gardener’s sense of time is old-school.

March 29, 2012

Halcyon bench

The heuchera here has mostly soldiered on, but the Japanese maples are barely budding, the aucuba is deeply pissed, and the cleyera is now an ex-cleyera. It’s not pining, it’s passed.

I realize: I’m whinging. It’s hard to see that 10+ year investment mentioned above stomped on by the mighty, icy boot of Old Man Winter (or razored to death by the a$$es of ten billion cicadas). This is what I get for typing, “A gardener’s sense of time is old-school.”

My mom is more philosophical about such things. She’s seen a lot of killing winters, and just as many gentle springs. She doesn’t fret over the plants lost to winter, cicadas, drought, bike accidents, theft (yes, this actually happened), or sheer neglect.

“They make more,” she reminds me, as she turns up with pot after pot of rosemary, heuchera, sedum, and acer japonica to replace the crisp skeletons scattered around the Halcyon Garden. And by March 29, 2015, most likely, we’ll hardly remember this winter’s massacres.

Related post: 2011 garden tour

Related post: A compendium of my favorite small garden trees

Related post: Coral Bells Ring True

8 thoughts on “Winter Havoc in Halcyon Garden

  1. My poor garden is looking somewhat like your garden at the moment. Other years I would have crocuses and daffodils etc. out by February. They are just beginning to make a move (not flowering yet). Hope my roses didn’t get it. After all I was promised a rose garden.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s