Now that we (I) have adjudged the year 2019 to have rated a crummy grade of D as a gardening year, we should, I guess, give a token of time and ink to what was good about it, if anything.
Well, there were a few anomalies of some questionable value squeezed within the sorry year as a whole.
The record-smashing freeze of 12 degrees on Nov. 13, way out of synch with average for that date, scalded leaves on most trees, which were still sapped up from summer and fall. The result was that some trees, notably Japanese maples but also a few others, hold their leaves to this day in a parchment color. In “normal” years they would have long since shed by now.
In fact, I resorted to stripping off the leaves of a couple of my smaller specimens so that I could see where to prune. I like to prune Japanese maples before late winter when their sap will already be rising again.
At any rate, the leaves that yet hang on to this day offer something of an attraction, anomaly or not, in their pale ecru color that stands out against most backgrounds, whether evergreens or the dark side of a house. I dare say they will hang there until pushed off by new ones in spring.
Likewise young beeches. Though not a rarity (actually it occurs every winter on young trees) young native beeches can be spotted in the landscape at quite a distance. Where thickets of them abound, several acres of young trees are still clad in their winter parchment garb. Older trees do not hold their leaves that way, but trees up to, say, about 10 years old, do. A fine stand of young beeches is visible on the Highway 218 Bypass as one turns south off Highway 79 northeast of Paris. About a quarter of a mile from the intersection they will appear to your right, on the west side of the highway.
A few other deciduous trees have the habit of holding their leaves late into winter. Among them are some of the maples, particularly sugar maples, of which, alas, few are extant this far south.
Then there are the usual winter attractions that nearly every year brings. Our garden managed to produce a few snowdrops that barely arrived before the year was out and hold forth to this day. More recently a few crocuses accompany them.
There are always the evergreens that slip into view from the midst of their deciduous brethren after the latter’s leaf fall. If familiarity breeds contempt, then our native red cedar, which is actually a juniper, would be contemptuous to the extreme. Not with me. Old cedars have an aura all their own, and under cultivation they are not as slow as one would imagine.
These trees make excellent large scale screening material, and, as with most natives, are adapted to the vicissitudes of our fickle weather extremes of heat, drought and cold, not faltering a whit. This is unlike some of the more popular evergreens.
Take the widely grown Leyland cypress, for instance. I have had the opportunity to compare both. At about the same time some 20 years ago, I planted some homegrown little native cedars dug from the wild, alongside some boughten Leylands. The cedars have kept up with the Leylands in growth rate and now the Leylands are browning and dying, one by one, as a canker disease takes hold. A couple of weeks ago, as a matter of fact, I had a heck of a time ridding myself of another dead Leyland. Meanwhile, the native cedars chug merrily along, and even provide crops of blue berries some years.
Arizona cypresses beat Leylands 10 ways to Sunday. Their steel gray foliage is evergreen and they are the most fragrant of conifers for cutting for Christmas decorations. They will grow as fast as a Leyland cypress and are virtually immune to drought.
JIMMY WILLIAMS is the garden writer for The Post-Intelligencer, where he can be contacted on Monday mornings at 642-1162.