THE COLD wind doth blow. And we shall have snow.
The gardener must grid himself now to survive the winter, and I do not think there is any longer any point pretending that the next 3 1/2 or 4 months are going to be fun.
It is the immoral equivalent of war. Nevertheless, there is nothing whatever we can do about it, except keep in mind that Christmas Day may well be shirt-sleeve weather, and we are entitled to several nice days in January and February in which everything melts and the witch hazels come out.
Most plants we cherish have actual requirements for cold. Even the melting peach will not flourish in the far south.
After two outrageous winters, I am certain we shall have a mild one. It is not expected, here, that the first figs will be killed back. Nor do we expect ice to be 24 inches deep in the fish pool.
This is the season, by the way, to admire holly and box and leucothoe, the season of juniper and hawthorn. It is worth a detour to observe the pigeons eating the berries of the Washington thorn on M Street, just west of 16th, along the north boundry of the National Geographic parking lot. If we saw it in China, we would write everybody and say that it was one of the grand sights of our life.
The only use I ever heard of for the Norway maple, if you cursed with the possession of one as I am, is to rub suet in the bark for the flickers and woodpeckers. They like it well.
Somewhere I read an asinine comments by a person associated with weather prediction that daffodils and tulips will be killed if they emerge above ground before the winter is over. This is, of course, incorrect.
Most gardeners have seen daffodil bulbs left on the surface of the ground all through the winter, blooming in March. Surely the gardener has enough sorrows in the winter without fetching in disasters that are not going to occur. This may be as good a place as any to inquire if the nation would suffer any loss whatever if the entire Weather Bureau were dismissed. And yet I realize my continuing annoyance with them is merely a projection of my displeasure with the weather, about 67 times a year.
Bricks will soon become slippery. Watch out for your backs on garden walks until April 12.
The remedial painting the gardener intended to do on arbors, wooden pillars for vines and so on has not been done, if I may read the tenor of this city. September and October were the months. It is best, I think, to persuade oneself that emergencies prevented this, and forget it.
Plants that I intended to protect, personally, are the Glasnevin potato vine (Solanum crispum), the little palmetto (Sabal andersonii) and the creeping fig (Ficus pumila) - a vine I am such attached to. These all get deep mulches of strawy horse manure. Everything else will be left alone. Except possibly Rosa semperflorens, the red Bengal rose, which is not established very well yet.
Recently I noticed some odd white roots shooting about just below the surface and could not quite place them. My theory is that if I don't recognize it, pull it up.
What a shock to discover, at the end of this operation, that it was a plant I have been nursing for three years.
It is (or was) the little gold-variegated miniature euonymus that turns cream and rose and gold in its tiny leaves as it creeps up the side of the lily-pool wall. Only this September it struck me that it was not growing as rapidly as it should. The unfortunate creature has sent out sturdy little runner below ground, preparing for a burst of growth nex spring. Well, live and learn.
My Japanese anemones were not as good as everybody else's this fall. This was unfair.
On the other hand, I had to move a favorite rose, Chinensis mutabilis, in full leaf in hot weather, and it never so much as wilted (of course, I pruned out a lot to reduce the shock). So things even out.
Since I gave the young pansies superb treatment early in October, doing everything quite perfectly for a change, I had great hopes for an uncommonly fine display this spring, and off and on through the winter.
The new bound, however, is more athletic than we expect of bassets (s slight wire barrier has always proved ample in the past) and has not only lept like a gazelle over the barrier but also has taught the crippled dog to follow. The crippled one formerly could not even manage the height of a curbstone. These two animals have found the pansy border ideal for sunning and gnawing bones and so on.
In other place, I see that several wooden laths, spaced a couple of feet apart, flat on the ground in a vaguely diamond pattern, have deterred the dogs. At least the new hound is too dumb to burrow, as a former hound did. It is not to be believed how much dirt a hound can throw up in these exercises. Theoretically, the gardener can take measures of protection, but in reality the damage is usually done before the need is noticed.
Into this general gloom I see few rays penetrating and I do not expect much comfort until Crocus ancyrensis blooms in fiery orange at the end of January.
And yet - for all is not lost, once you get your head on right - I see the first leaf emerging from the Italian arum. A friend of mine, knowing I had been searching for this plant, baldly stole it from a famous garden in a distant city. I am very much ashamed to posses it, the only hot arum in the capital probably. I lectured my friend at length, took extremely good care of the arum (the smallest rootstock I ever saw) and now see the first leaf emeging.
If moral doubts nag me too much - and this has bothered me greatly - I shall have my friend put in jail. In the meantime, the arum is coming on slowly but satisfactorily, for a criminal, and I hope to make a Christian of it.