Mid-Winter at Chickadee Gardens

 Landing right in the heart of winter, February is often the most brutal of months when it comes to crummy weather. Case in point: We've had flooding in Columbia County along with countless dreary, dull gray days and a lot of very cold rain. Even still, I count ourselves fortunate this year (so far) with mild temperatures and just a little snow. Getting out there and enjoying the garden can be challenging right now, but I carry on with the goal of a year-round garden so crazy as I am, I strap on those galoshes, three layers of sweaters and two pant-layers and slog on in the mud. With that in mind, let's to see what we've been up to this month. Let's also take stock to see what my efforts have amounted to and then take a tour of Chickadee Gardens, three years in the making. 

Here is the top of the driveway and start of the gravel garden, photo taken on Sunday, February 17. What pleases me about this is that even now evergreen shrubs and small trees have filled in considerably, so I don't have to wait until perennials appear to enjoy the garden.

 But earlier in the month we had a bit of snow and a little ice. It was set up to potentially be a whopper of a snowstorm, but thankfully we only received 2 inches at most and that melted within a few days. 

Moments of it were quite lovely, but I must admit I am not naturally drawn to snow after the big 2016/17 winter storms. 

The veggie garden. 

Cupressus arizonica 'Nathan's Gold' with a dusting of snow.

 How about a little fun - a few critters in the garden. Miss Annie has adapted well, looking to Hobbes to teach her the ways of Chickadee Gardens. She's pretty confident and stays with us, especially keeping close to Hobbes' side.

And Hobbes. He's always good for a romp around the garden with Dad. 

On the chicken front, it should be noted that we adopted four new gals! As you can see here, only three are pictured. The first day we got them, a second golden-brown one just like the one in this photo, dug under the fence and ran away. We've been out pretty much daily trying to find and catch her - two very difficult things in the many acres of open and wooded land beyond our borders. Our neighbors have been helpful in letting us know if they spot her, but even if we see her, catching her is another story especially as she can fly. We won't give up, but she may have found a home in a neighboring farm.

 Two of our original old gals having a bit of a sun bath.

 Chores: It is the time to cut back old perennials and grasses, a task which has filled the last few days for me in the garden. Here is where four rather large Miscanthus sinensis 'Cabaret' are planted, we finally figured out that the easiest way to hack those monsters back is to tie them up with a bungee cord and take a chainsaw to them. So much easier than using my Felco pruners. Facilities Manager sends a kiss out to whom first thought of another use for a chainsaw!

 The very ratty Carex comans got haircuts too. I abandoned the use of the Felco pruners on these based on last year's massacre that FM and I endured. It was awful. This year, I used my new Japanese-style sickle to make quick work of this.

 Many of the carex look fine and do not need a haircut, so I left those.

I have all told about 15 Santolina virens and S. chamaecyparis 'Lemon Queen' or lavender cotton in the garden, four of which grew to rather large proportions and needed to be cut back hard. Here are two in the Labyrinth Garden, photo from November. They got rather large and flopped open. Apparently a good, hard pruning in late winter will keep them in bounds.

 Pictured here among Sedum 'Angelina' are the same two that look fairly unsightly right now but are supposed to grow out of this stage quickly and be a nice neat mound come summer. We'll check back with these in a couple of months.

 This had two large Paniucm 'Cloud Nine' grasses that were also cut back with the chainsaw. The silvery Atriplex halimus behind the Callistemon viridiflorus was also cut back fairly hard as it had reached an enormous size and takes well to pruning.

I have many Festuca rubra 'Patrick's Point' grasses from Xera Plants. Having been in the garden about 2-1/2 years now, they have spread and also flattened out with the winter moisture. I know this grass will grow out of it come summer, but to give a bit of a head start and aerate them a little, I ran a rake through the foliage to pull out the wet, matted, dead blades. In a few weeks, these will be gorgeous.

This area informally known as the meadow had many perennials and grasses that were cut back hard. What remains are the evergreen elements - a few lavenders, a Halimium pauanum, three Stipa gigantea, cardoons and a few other grasses. Winter is a great time to evaluate whether I need to add more evergreen elements for balance.

This is the pile of debris from the perennials I cut back. The grass debris all went up to the chicken yard to help keep the muddy areas less so. In sum, I'd say if you doubled this pile that would be a representation of this weekend's pruning work.

The hydrangeas all got their fluffy pom poms chopped off. Finally. I'll just leave them where they are to blow around the garden for the next four months.

The Muhlenbergia rigens are all looking like this, quite stunning but turning buff colors. To cut back or to leave? 

 The "prostrate" rosemary needed its tops cut off to encourage the downward growing branches to grow. I'm still not convinced that this is actually the prostrate cultivar. But, it's filling in and softening the edges of this bank.

In the gravel garden, many colors and textures of shrubs create a tapestry look, even in winter. I'm sure as they grow and fill in, some will need to be removed or moved, and that is how it was planned.

Two years ago we bought this Quercus hypoleucoides or silver oak from Gossler Farms Nursery. It has grown nicely, I'd say! The undersides of the lance-shaped leaves are silver-white, so when it rustles in the wind the effect is gorgeous.

 The yuccas, now that they are growing taller, have less of the yucca acne that they have suffered from so much the last several years. I think it must be a soil-borne disease, splashed up when it rains.

The Azara microphylla, now almost 2 years old, is putting on a lot of new growth. 

Melianthus major or honeybush has suffered no ill effects from snow and ice. It just keeps growing.

 I enjoy the winter coloring of Sedum ruprestre.

Victims of the recent snow, Polystichum s. 'Bevis' are flattened. I'm sure they will rebound, but poor things.

Spring surely is on its way. Here, buds and leaves of Spiraea t. 'Ogon' lift my spirits.

As does the new growth on this Lonicera - probably L. periclymenum 'Late Dutch'. It was a throw away from work and hasn't bloomed yet, so time will tell who it is.

Foresty things are happening in the shade garden.

This bird feeder collected water and reflections.

A wider view of the entry to the gravel garden and labyrinth garden.

 My mother is downsizing her "stuff" and wants less to take care of. She gifted us these four pots and what I think are three Chamaecyparis obtusa 'Nana'. Chime in if you can i.d. them for me.

Another wider shot of the gravel garden as seen looking southwest. I am most pleased with this view and the new path which creates organic shapes in the grass and helps defines garden beds.

 The Labyrinth garden after all the old perennials were cut back, except for the upright Sedum 'Matrona' which still looks good. I'll wait a couple more weeks to trim those brown structural bits off.

Winter sun on the trees.

There's much more than this - the berm garden, the shade garden, the western swale garden - I'll save those for another day. This garden is much less work now than it was three years ago, to be sure. Still, I have plans and dreams to make it even better. But for right now, smack in the middle of winter, I am really pleased with how well plants have adapted and filled in, it's exciting to see what a plant will do when you take a leap of faith and put it in the ground. New vistas are created, new corners and niches - vignettes are created everywhere that I could never have thought up on my own. They just happen. Even in winter I can see evidence of a garden that is happily filling in. Mission accomplished, for now. I'm ready for spring.

That's a wrap for this week at Chickadee Gardens. As always, thank you so much for reading and commenting, we love hearing from you! Happy gardening!


  1. Your garden looks well established and only 3 years old, amazing. You many grasses keep you busy this time of year I see. I like all the evergreens too. Always something to see. You new collection of pots from Mom will come in handy no doubt.

    1. The grasses, yes, they keep us very busy this time of year. I love them, though - super easy the rest of the year. I do hope the new mom pots will do well, I think they will need a little t.l.c. - but I like the eye-shape, as they can easily tuck against a wall.

  2. Your winter pruning efforts make my own look paltry. I always hesitate about cutting the ornamental grasses back as losing their volume makes my garden look a lot emptier but I know it has to be done. I love seeing the critters. Miss Annie is a real beauty.

    1. Oh, Kris...remember, I have FM to help me! I know...the grasses thing. I struggle with it, I almost would rather just leave them but after experimenting with cutting back or not, the ones that are cut back generally look so much better. **sigh** but so much work.

      Annie is a sweetie to match her good looks, too! We got lucky, very lucky.

  3. You've helped me decide this is the year I'm finally going to bungee up the Miscanthus and go at it with a chainsaw. Partly because it's going to be later than usual before it dries up enough to get in/on the beds (We've had a year's worth of precipitation since Labor Day.)

    1. Woo hoo! Go for it, Nell. I can't believe HOW MUCH EASIER it is. I hope you dry out and spring comes soon for you so you can get out there and enjoy your garden.

  4. Everything is looking amazing! Chainsaw on grasses is the way to go -- until it jams up. Urg.
    I know it's not funny to you, but a real-life Chicken Run makes me smile.

    1. Ah, yes, Alan! The chainsaw jam-up. We were anticipating it but it didn't happen this time. Yay! FM was very grateful, he was sure it would jam up.

      Oh, you can smile all you want about the Chicken Run (I love that movie), wanna come out here and help us track her down? Ha! Finding a chicken that has no idea who you are is - well - I think we've given up. She took off with a couple of deer and I think she lives a wild life now with her new posse. **sniff** we hope she's happy with her new life.

  5. Wow, we got so much more snow than you! And yes, memories of 2017 were definitely playing with my sense of well being.

    So glad you got a Japanese-style sickle for going after those grasses, they’re the best!

    1. Did you get more snow? We have such micro-climates around here!

      I take it you have a sickle too? Evan turned me on to them, I'm so happy he did.

  6. Yes, I cut my grasses using a bungee and a heavy-duty hedge trimmer. I might use a chainsaw if I had Miscanthus, but my big grasses are all Panicums. Sorry about your new chicken.

    1. See? All the cool kids knew about this long ago. Well, it takes us a while to catch up. D'OH! Thanks for the chicken sentiments. :( I just hope she's safe and taken care of wherever she is.

  7. Even though winter cut-backs are a lot of work, it will pay off big time later in the season when there's so much other stuff to do 😁.
    Beautiful new chickens! Just wait...in about 3 weeks your little escapee will return with a brood of 11 babies-- It happens all the time on the chicken forums.
    Glad you didn't get too much snow- we got 18-20" at my house! Lots of flattened plants. At least they're all still real young so they should recover quickly.
    Yucca acne...LOL'd on that one!

    1. Oh, yes, the cutting back is one of those chores that really pay off come summer, for sure.

      So...you think that might happen with our lost Dottie? I hope so! That would be VERY cool. But how to get her into the property? Hmm...I need a chicken consultant. Want a job? Ha ha....

      You had a LOT of snow, Gina! Sheesh! What zone would you technically say you are in? 7a? 7b? But so beautiful up there in the woods.

      The Yucca acne. It's a thing. An icky thing. Bla.


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