Posted on 16 Comments

Mid-December Miscellany

Ilex verticillata 'Winter Gold'; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield

Forget what the calendar says: Like many of you, I’m already thinking about spring. The fall spectacle is over, I have almost everything cut down, and there’s a whole box of seeds holding treasures for the upcoming growing season. In a “normal” year (whatever that is), we’d have likely been stuck inside for weeks by now, dealing with below-freezing temperatures and spells of snow and ice as well. This year, however, the seasons have been turned upside down: Our temperatures have been well above average for the last six weeks, feeling more like April and May than December. It was tempting to call this a Bloom Day post, but I don’t have any open blooms to share at the moment. There are still some nice-looking things, though.

Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) winter color; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus)
Tanacetum parthenium 'Aureum' and Artemisia 'Powis Castle'; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Golden feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ‘Aureum’) with ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia (Artemisia)
'Cream Variegated' Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum); Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
‘Cream Variegated’ Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum)
'Ray's Winter Cream' campion (Silene dioica); Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
‘Ray’s Winter Cream’ campion (Silene dioica)
'The Flasher' Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica); Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
‘The Flasher’ Maltese cross (Lychnis chalcedonica)
'Honey Rose' foamy bells (x Heucherella) with 'Tiramisu' heuchera (Heuchera); Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
‘Honey Rose’ foamy bells (x Heucherella) with ‘Tiramisu’ heuchera (Heuchera)
'White Pine' strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) winter color; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
‘White Pine’ strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa)
Euphorbia palustris 'Zauberflote' (or E. oblongata, or E. coralloides); Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Euphorbia palustris ‘Zauberflote’ (or E. oblongata, or E. coralloides, depending on who you ask)
'Bill Archer' borage (Borago officinalis); Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
‘Bill Archer’ borage (Borago officinalis)
'Britzensis' willow (Salix alba); Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
‘Britzensis’ willow (Salix alba)
Ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus); Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Ghost bramble (Rubus thibetanus)

New Adventures

Nearly all of the seeds from last month’s giveaway are on their way to new homes; I’m just waiting for the last few SASEs to arrive. If you asked for seeds and they still haven’t arrived, please don’t hesitate to leave a note here or email me directly (nan at hayefield dot com). I really want to make sure everyone gets their seeds before the end of December.

As of January 1, I’ll be officially licensed as a Seed Dealer in Pennsylvania, so I’ll be able to start selling seeds in my Etsy shop. There won’t be a huge amount, seeing as how I’ve already given away a lot of what I collected this fall, but I do have some nice things left and have collected more of some favorites over the last two weeks, and I’ll be adding them to the shop as I get them packed and labeled. This doesn’t mean the end of my giveaways; in fact, I’m hoping that the seed sales will cover the expenses of the seed envelopes and stamps, so I’ll be able to cover the postage as well next year and we won’t have the hassle of SASEs to deal with.

'Ping Zebra' lima bean; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
A new-to-me gem that I hope to share next year: ‘Ping Zebra’ lima bean

In my “free” time this fall, I’ve been working on two new projects as well: One will likely be the topic of my next post, and the other is learning how to make felt from alpaca fiber. It’s taken me long enough to get around to it, but now I’m very much regretting having spread previous years’ shearings on my garden paths (even though it looked neat and was a treat to walk on with bare feet).

Alpaca fleece path; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Ooh, so soft!
Alpaca fleece path; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Alpaca fleece path

Fortunately, I still have the last two years’ worth of fiber to play with. Felting is actually the fun part; learning how to clean and card the fleece (pulling it between two brushes to align the fibers) is a lot like cleaning seeds, requiring a fair bit of time and patience.

Alpaca felt; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Alpaca felt

Even more interesting than making flat felt has been learning how to make felted soap. Basically, it’s like having a washcloth permanently wrapped around a bar of soap, helping the soap last longer, making it easier to hang onto, and providing a gentle scrubbing action.

Felted Alpaca Soap; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Felted soap

Daniel’s fleece is so soft that it’s working out well for a shower or bath soap, while Duncan’s slightly coarser fleece has been fantastic for a hand soap for post-gardening cleanup. The challenging part has been finding the right soaps to work with. Once I do, I may be offering some of my best results for sale: finally, a way for the boys to earn their alfalfa! (Besides looking cute, and taking me for regular walks, and providing a steady supply of wonderful manure, of course.)

Duncan the Alpaca; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Oh, so we’re expected to be useful now?

New Looks

The freakishly warm weather has provided a fantastic opportunity for tackling garden projects that have been on my to-do list for ages. First was reworking the path to the barn, to provide a more direct route. It doesn’t look all that different, I guess, but shifting many of the stones just a few inches one way or the other and removing some of the plants along the edges have made it much easier to negotiate the path in the dark and carry out buckets of warm water for the boys. So, that’s something I’m appreciating already.

Courtyard Path from house April 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Courtyard path from house — April 2015
Courtyard Path from house December 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Courtyard Path from house — December 2015

Since I was moving plants out anyway, I decided to clear out some of the older things that the weeds and voles had gotten into, to make way for some new plants. I’d been happy having the courtyard be primarily perennials and grasses for many years, but gradually, I realized that it would be a great place for higher-maintenance plants, as it’s one of the few areas I can easily reach with hoses if watering is needed. Keeping all of my tender bulbs in this one area makes it much easier to maintain them and to dig them up in the fall, and adding some annuals has made the view from my office window much more colorful. Thanks to unexpected seed gifts from many of you, I’m going to have a lot of new plants to grow out this coming year, and now I’ll have a space where I can keep a close eye on them and pamper them as needed.

Courtyard Path from barn May 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Courtyard Path from barn — May 2015
Courtyard Path from barn December 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Courtyard Path from barn — December 2015

I’m already really enjoying the winter look of the front and side garden, thanks to the grass paths I planted last spring. As much as I liked the bark paths, the overall “blank slate” effect in the off season was kind of boring.

Front Garden April 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Front Garden — April 2015
Front Garden December 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Front Garden — December 2015
Front Garden Middle Path April 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Front Garden Middle Path — April 2015
Front Garden Middle Path December 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Front Garden Middle Path — December 2015

The green paths make the whole area look a lot more garden-y and less of an all-brown expanse. Now that they’re starting to fill in and look less spotty, I’m very much looking forward to seeing the effect in spring.

Admittedly, in my rush to get the grass seed sown last spring, I didn’t do a very good job on making sure the edges of the paths were straight. One major problem area was the diagonal path between the corner of the house and the Japanese emperor oak. So, another recent project involved marking out the edges and digging out the ajuga, lamb’s ears, and other perennials that had crept into what was supposed to be path.

Diagonal Path May 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Diagonal Path — May 2015
Diagonal Path December 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Diagonal Path — December 2015

While working on the oak end, I got carried away digging some large patches of orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida). I appreciated the way they filled in those areas with easy-care color for many years, but they were getting a bit out of hand, and they weren’t flowering all that well now that the oak is large enough to cast a good bit of shade. I moved some of the plants from the courtyard project into the newly opened spaces, then filled in around them with a few dozen Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus), and some divisions of epimediums, and a bunch of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) that were starting to pop up in various areas. Mind you, I’d never recommend moving or dividing perennials in December (in Pennsylvania, anyway), but needs must. If even half the plants make it through the next three months, I’ll have made a big step toward adding more spring interest out front.

Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus) along the Diagonal Path December 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Lenten roses (Helleborus x hybridus) along the Diagonal Path — December 2015

Yet another bit of progress on that front: While clearing the edges of the courtyard path, I discovered some huge clumps of daffodils that I’d forgotten about. You know that sickening sound you hear when you drive a spading fork into a clump of dormant bulbs–and then you see the white gleam of sliced-through bulb when you lift the tines? Awful, isn’t it? Fortunately, I was able to salvage many of the bulbs and divide them into dozens of smaller bunches. The only place I could think of inside the fence that didn’t have any bulbs yet was the Aster Path in the side garden, so that’s where they ended up. And while I was doing that, I figured I’d clear out some of those rudbeckias as well, and mark the straight edges of the path so I could sow more grass seed there when the time is right. There are going to be a lot more photo opportunities for Bloom Day posts this coming spring!

Aster Path October 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Aster Path — October 2015
Aster Path December 2015; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield
Aster Path — December 2015

After all that, well…the last week or so has been kind of a blur. I do remember tackling the troublesome steps in the side and back garden: filling in next to the former to create a bit of a slope, and completely removing the timber steps out back. Those two renovations have already made life much easier when zooming around with a wheelbarrow. Beyond that, I recall transplanting and dividing loads more things, to the point where I lost track of what went where. So, I fully expect to be surprised at the new combinations that show up next year.

New Books!

While the weather outside may be delightful, winter still needs to arrive and depart before the plants start doing their thing. Before then, I have two more things to be excited about: the release of my two new books: Container Theme Gardens, which will be out in January, and The Perennial Matchmaker, which will be out in March.

Container Theme Gardens by Nancy J. Ondra; photography by Rob Cardillo

Though they have close print dates, I didn’t write them simultaneously. The containers book, which is published by Storey, took two years of writing and photography (once again by Rob Cardillo) and spent over a year in the production process. The original concept called for 52 containers, so I had to spread them over two growing seasons; even two dozen containers a year is a lot to handle, particularly when you’re trying to keep them all looking lush and lovely.

Container Theme Garden containers in progress; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield

Container Theme Garden containers in progress; Nancy J. Ondra at Hayefield

Staying within the original mandate of five plants per container, and fitting them into containers that were still of a size that Rob and I could move for him to photograph, added an extra level of challenge to the project. Advance copies of the book arrived earlier this month and are very colorful. As in Five Plant Gardens, each container includes a shopping list, planting plan, and seasonal care calendar.

The Perennial Matchmaker by Nancy J. Ondra

The Perennial Matchmaker,  published by Rodale, had a much speedier production schedule: writing from last September to this April, then production from May into January. Though the schedule was intense, the writing process went quickly because I’ve been making notes and gathering photographs for many years, ever since I came up with the idea for the book and started looking for a publisher. Advance copies won’t arrive until late January, but the final pages I saw in October looked fantastic, so I have high hopes for the finished book. I’m particularly pleased with the nearly 400 photographs of perennial combinations. Those of you who regularly read garden blogs will see lots of familiar names in the list of photographers! If you’re interested in a sneak preview, you can see a couple of spreads on my Pinterest board for the book and even more with the “Look Inside” feature on the book’s Amazon listing.

Though they’re not out yet, both books are available for pre-order from major booksellers. I also plan to have them in my Etsy shop once they’re released, since I’ve had a number of requests for signed copies (woohoo!).

Well, that’s enough rambling for now; there’s still plenty of puttering around to do in the garden before it gets too cold. I have a long list of blog topics I’ve been saving up for winter proper, so I look forward to posting more frequently over the next few months. Until then, all the best to you, my friends!



Posted on 16 Comments

16 thoughts on “Mid-December Miscellany

  1. Oh Nan, I am so excited for you! The Etsy shop will be a huge success and I promise to be one of your best customers. Your generosity with the seed sharing has been above and beyond and to be able to buy seeds in a larger window of time, not having to decide quickly what we want will be very helpful. The books look informative and beautiful. The felting with the soap makes me want some right now! You are a gift to us in many ways. Best of wishes to you for the holidays and always.

    Hi Frances! Yes, I’ve realized that having the giveaway in mid-November seems to be problematic for a lot of folks, what with getting ready for Thanksgiving and all. I might do it in January next year, to have something to look forward to after the holidays. And, with the shop, I’ll be able to offer things as I collect them: a big plus for seeds that like to be sown fresh. Merry Christmas to you and your family as well!

  2. What tree or plant, with the red berries, is in the first picture? Is that common to Southern New England area?

    That’s winterberry (Ilex verticillata): specifically ‘Winter Gold’ in the foreground and ‘Winter Red’ behind it. I don’t know how common it is where you live, but the species is native to eastern North America.

  3. I can’t believe how much work you got done in the garden, it looks fantastic already! We just put our gardens to bed finally with brush hoping that all the new fall changes stay in place. It’s going to be a fun spring and summer to see all our and your changes. Can’t wait for the pics! Congrats on 2 books coming out, labour of love for sure! I’ll be watching for them. Got my seeds, thanks very much and have put half the Lauren’s grape around one of the gardens without poppies experimenting to see if they act like my other annual poppies that are in a different garden, this way I won’t weed them out not knowing which one is which. Good luck with all your projects! Your days must be very full. Let’s hope this winter goes quickly and we get an early spring. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! TTFN…Sue

    Hey there, Sue! Good to hear that the seeds arrived; I hope they thrive for you. I know you’ll be dying to get out in the garden again after the autumn you’ve endured. May spring come soon!

  4. Hi Nan –
    Could this be the one and only time I have a bloom (one dandelion) and Nan not?? Oh, and the Kenilworth ivy is blooming, too!!!!

    Welcome to the felter’s club! and be careful, it’s VERY addicting. Come visit and I’ll card all that fleece in no time at all on my fancy-dancy Patrick Green electric carder. It’s quite bored having been out of work for several years while I take on new projects.

    Merry holidays,

    Well, I do have one bedraggled viola flower, and a dianthus with several buds nearly ready to open, but neither was worthy of a photo. So you’re into felting too, huh? I’ve developed a much greater appreciation of the boys’ fiber after handling it so much. For one thing, I will be much more careful during shearing to not just let it drop on the ground and pick up hay. Think of me carding by hand with two small slicker brushes as you zip through your next batch of fiber with your machine!

  5. It’s a while since I left a comment but that’s not because I haven’t been following your posts. I always look forward to them even though I am not an avid gardener like most of your followers. I did have success with late summer sowing of leftover spinach and arugula seeds in my 4x4raised bed garden. Imagine harvesting salad greens in December! In PA!
    Your book on container gardening is at the top of my list. Is it available for pre order from indie bookstores? I like to support them when I can.
    Living in a retirement community limits the gardening we can do. Container gardening is the perfect solution. Also, I’ll look for your felted soaps for my next year’s gift list.
    Thanks for all your wonderful images!

    Greetings, Mrs. Colliver! It’s so good to hear from you again. Yes, enjoying fresh greens in December is really a treat. Both books will definitely be available through independent booksellers. Under the pictures of the covers on the right-hand margin of this page, you should find links to each on Indiebound.

    1. Thanks for your response and for the tip on Indiebound. I found my local bookstore, Harleysville Books!!
      Merry Christmas!

  6. Congratulations on the two books, Nancy! That is terrific. Will be eager to see them.

    Loved the before and after photos of your path enhancements and changes. Thanks always for takin the time to write up and share your garden adventures.



    Hi Barbara! Thanks for stopping by. I imagine you’ve been outside a good bit yourself–or maybe busy playing with seeds.

  7. Thanks, Nan, for this exciting and inspiring post. Congrats on your new books. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on them. Loved the fleece snow shot. Happy Holidays! Barbara Dashwood, Victoria, B.C,

    Thanks for checking in, Barbara. It’s going to be a busy winter around here, which is a good thing. Have a wonderful holiday season!

  8. I am so into “Spring Mode” already, I also am looking at catalogs and thinking about what to plant…It has been unusually warm here as well, I’m starting to worry about the buds on my lilacs breaking in December.

    Thanks for checking in, Charlie. Yeah, who knows what will happen if the mild weather continues into January, as they predict. The ‘Arnold Promise’ witch hazel at my parents’ place already had a full bloom display earlier this month, so no buds left for spring!

  9. Hi Nan, gosh you have been busy, all that work on your garden, plus the felting. I guess that the very mild weather has helped. Its crazy weather here in the UK too, we have only had about 2 or 3 nights frost, it has been very mild, but, very heavy rain with some parts of Northern England flooding. I beleive that daffodils have started to bloom in Southern England. In my own garden Ceanothus has come into flower again, roses still in bloom, primula vulgaris flowering and bulbs coming through. Congratulations on the 2 new books. I have added them to my Christmas list (something to look forward to in the New Year) I already have the 5 plant gardens book. I would just like to thank you for all the pleasure you have given throughout the year with your bloom day and associated blogs. I hope you, Daniel and Duncan have a very Merry Christmas.

    I heard about the terrible rains in the U.K., Allan. I’m so glad that you got through all right. Your kind comments mean so much; thank you. The boys and I wish you and your fluffy ones a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year too!

  10. Wow, you’ve been busy! Best wishes with the new seed and felt ventures. I’d never heard of felted soap before but I’m very intrigued by your description – it sounds like just the ticket for an unusual gift for gardening friends (and non-gardeners too, I expect). I didn’t know you had 2 books coming out in the 1st quarter of the year but I look forward to adding both to my collection of garden resources. Best wishes for a merry Christmas and a wonderful new year!

    Hey, Kris! Working on the books was very absorbing, but it’s been fun having a bit of time to try out some new indoor projects too. And outside projects as well: sounds like we’ll be in the upper 60s again for Christmas. Best wishes to you for a great growing season in 2016!

    1. Hi Nan, Thank you for the wonderful post…especially the photo of the Dboy…my gosh, they are so darn cute. Looking forward to your new books and wishing you a very merry Christmas. Sandy

      They would agree with your assessment, Sandy. They are fluffier than ever this year, and Duncan’s ear fringe, especially, is quite spectacular; any Papillon would be jealous. They’ll probably appreciate the cooler temperatures coming this weekend; I think they’re almost too warm. Our good wishes in return for a delightful Christmas!

  11. The warm start to winter has enabled me to get stuff done I never thought I’d have time for, too. Some paths are meant to ramble, but a straight path looks much better when it’s really straight, so I’m glad you got to do that!

    I’m glad you’re getting a chance to tackle some garden projects too, Kathy. It’s the best December EVER!

  12. Excellent photos as always. Thank you for the inspiration. I’ll be moving to a new home with lots of room to plant and will use your “before and after” images as inspiration.

    Congratulation! Good news about becoming an official seed seller; I’ll send folks to your Etsy shop!

    A new garden–how exciting for you! I have no doubt that you’ll fill up that “lots of room” in no time: one of the many benefits of growing from seed. Have fun!

  13. As a landscape architect who does work on college campuses, those winter months are important! I always think that just when things are turning bleak, they are headed to fall semester finals, or coming back from fun holiday breaks–I try to make sure that there is enough, not just evergreen foliage, but early season bloomers like witchhazel so that they can see that winter IS passing and Spring will come!

    Attention to details like that is a real gift to the people who get to experience your work, Sarah. Good for you!

  14. Hi Nan,
    You make me tired just looking at all of the work you do. Looking forward to buying your two new books.Happy New Year.

    Happy New Year to you too, Sandy!

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