Creating Beautiful
Whidbey Island Landscapes


that celebrate the unique history, ecology and character of our island home.

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Christmas Wreath, 2015

We gathered greens for wreaths the weekend before Thanksgiving.  It was especially important to do it early this year as our daughter Amie and family were due to go out of town the week before Christmas and I like to send a bit of home to her in Utah.  We loaded the tractor bucket with pruners, hand saw and loppers and came back with grand fir, spruce,  salal,  evergreen huckleberry and red huckleberry – all from our own five acres.  We also cut some branches of our ailing corkscrew willow.  I keep saying I’m going to take it out since it’s so unsightly most of the year, but at wreath-making time I relent since the yellow twisting branches are fabulous for accent.   I also love the red huckleberry because the new buds remind me of tiny red Christmas bulbs and the chartreuse stems are a nice contrast to the dark conifer greens.  Thanks to a fierce storm earlier that week we were able to pick up fallen limbs of Douglas fir that I use as the base material and the lichen covered alder branches I covet for accent all along our little dirt road.   The deer also did me a favor and thrashed the bottom of the neighbor’s giant sequoia into just the right sized branchlets.

Amie's wreath.

Amie’s wreath.

Amie got her wreath in enough time to enjoy it and Alison, our younger daughter who lives closer made two wreaths.  But my own wreath just sat on a list of to-dos the whole month of December, and the wreath-making machine glared at me every time I went out the laundry room door.  I finally set aside some time Christmas Eve day.  I was a bit dismayed to find that the greens I had efficiently cut into smaller branchlets and stored in the garage a month ago had dried out.  So had the promising garrya with the silvery tassels.  But I still had some very large branches left and the cuttings from those were nice and fresh.  Good to know.

 

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As I worked, part of me wondered if I should put my feet up for a long winter’s nap instead.  The scent of those greens however took me back to a favorite memory.  Every year – together –  my too-busy, bickering  parents decorated the outside windows and doors of our house with C-9 lights and greens. To gather material, they tromped into the forest that surrounded our house and left me at home in charge of my younger sister and brother.  The “woods” where we and our neighborhood friends built forts, damned creeks and picked berries seemed a kids-only kind of place so their going there was temporarily confusing to me – as if they wouldn’t be able to find the magic door.  An hour or so later they would come back, red-cheeked and laughing.  Mom would make a thermos of coffee and they would spend the next few hours – together – somehow attaching those greens to a brick house.  Not without a few choice words from my father.  Santa always brought an embarrassment of riches to my brother and sister and I.  But one of the sweetest gifts is this memory reopened every year by the scent of Christmas greens.

 

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Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

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Witch Hazel

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida'

Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’

The exquisitely fragrant, spidery flowers of witchhazels are a welcome winter surprise . Here is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ now blooming in my garden.  The bonus of planting a witchhazel is that it also has beautiful fall color.  The wide shape and relatively high branching habit of witchhazels allows and calls for a primarily evergreen underplanting of  lower companion plants –  late-winter-interest ones  such as hellebore,  sarcococca, cyclamen coum, gladwynn iris  or summer-interest foliage such as ferns or grasses. Witchhazels thrive in rich well-drained soil, but also tolerate sand and clay if drainage is adequate. They like  a location with full sun to light or open shade.  The best flowering is encouraged with regular water during dry spells, but they can also tolerate less water after they’ve established.   Minimal pruning is needed and is preferred to maintain its graceful  form.

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Sarcococca

Sarcococca

Sarcococca

I stopped at Bayview Farm and Garden Nursery this week just to walk down this covered walkway where Sarcococca or Sweetbox is traditionally on display this time of year.  This is a perfect spot for it –  shaded, cool and right near the doorway where all can enjoy the intoxicating fragrance.

The three species most commonly available are Sarcococca confusa, Sarcococca ruscifolia and Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis.  Sarcococca confusa and ruscifolia mature into evergreen shrubs about 4 feet tall and wide. S. confusa has blue-black berries and S. ruscifolia has red berries.   Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis is a slowly suckering shrub, also evergreen, that matures to about 18″ tall and makes a nice little hedge.  A new species in my garden,  Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna ‘Purple Stem’  has paler and longer leaves, more noticeable pink in the flowers, a purple cast to the stems and is stol0niferous (spreads by underground runners).   All like shade and must have protection from direct sun. Sarcococca prefers rich, moist soil but will  tolerate drought – even under eaves once  established –  which can take a few years.  All should be perfectly hardy in our climate.

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