True blue, rare in flowers, is easily obtainable in bog sage

Jimmy Williams

Hail and farewell. In a few days a new year will emerge on the scene, one that has never been seen before. A day before that, it will be farewell for 2021, a year that will never be seen again. Tempus fugit. Time flies when you’re having fun.

I read once of a man who went into the woods and found a yellow poplar — or willow — tree and decided he would whittle a branch into a whistle, as he did when he was a lad. 

So, he carefully struck a six-inch piece of a branch with the back side of his jackknife until the bark slid easily from the inner part. Then he whittled out three holes in the bark and hollowed out a two-inch part of the inside of the twig for a sound chamber. He blew on the whistle, and sure enough it produced the same shrill toot he remembered from many years ago. But, he asked, where was the ecstasy when he blew it?

Yes, it was not the same. Intervening years had conspired to so dull his appreciation for his accomplishment that the whistle had not offered even a mere semblance of the thrill he had felt so many years before.

Does a freshly opened daffodil still lift you up as it did when you were a child? Or, take a more resplendent test. What about a rare Japanese maple tree, say, when its brilliant red leaves unfold in April or turn that same red again in October? Is your thrill the same as it was when you first owned one of these jewels?  

Hopefully yes, but perhaps no. Familiarity breeds, if not contempt, at least indifference. It happens to all of us at times. At other times, however, the old rush of a thrill is still there. Hopefully, your, and my, thrills do not wane with the years. 

What in the heck am I talking about? Well, I am, or am going to, talk a bit about the year just waning and see what score it leaves us with as far as our gardens are concerned. A quick glance leaves me with a “pretty good” score and, compared with some disastrous low scoring years, it might rate as one of the best. Might.

January, the month of the Roman god Janus, was not seriously damaging, and. in fact, offered up the first white flowers on a star magnolia at our front drive, a month early. An omen?

February showed no let-up in the COVID pandemic, and our shots were taken on time and didn’t cause enough side effect to keep me out of the garden. Cold did, however, and on Feb. 14, the high temperature was 17 degrees. The night temperature sagged to near zero and thousands of starlings took up residence in our pines. A shower of bottle rockets scattered them. The cold hung around most of the month, and the ground was frozen deep enough to prevent any cultivation. 

March, mercifully, was, well, merciful. Shrub, and even some perennial, planting was the order of the month.

April ditto.

May, my mother’s favorite month: another ditto.

June, as its wont, brought the first heat wave of the year and the horned rats with it, as deer damage exploded. Hostas were mowed down, then hydrangeas, then some other things, in the order of their preference. This continued until the last month of the year. 

July was scalding as usual, with the heat index reaching 117 degrees once or twice, and the 90s were almost daily. 

August, ditto. Rain was adequate, and irrigation was not needed but a couple of times. The heat went on, of course, with the index at 115 degrees once or more in August. 

Weather breaks came early in September with cooler temperatures making outside activity less trying. Two notable plant losses were a 20-year-old “Jelena” witch hazel and a nearby wintersweet tree. Why? Who knows?

October was its usual happy self, and right at the last of the month the leaf color change began and turned into one of the most colorful autumns in memory. 

The color continued well into November, and the weather stayed amenable.

December provided still more color, but this time in the berries and other usual colors of the season.

New woody plants set during the year numbered 60 or more. Not too bad, but partly it was because of some deaths in the past few seasons. 

I give 2021, notwithstanding COVID, a B-plus.


JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.

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