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Gardening in the Sierra Foothills with Carolyn Singer

The seasoned gardener

published in The Union in Grass Valley CA

January in the garden
Inside looking out

by Carolyn Singer
January 14, 2012

Thymus serpyllum 'Minus'Last winter I worked in between storms on a small landscape project just outside the living room window seats. The windows face south, more than twelve feet wide, a panoramic view of my meadow and native trees beyond. No plants block the winter sun from warming the room and my small writing cubbyhole nearby.

Because the long bench at the window seats is only a couple of feet above ground level, the area is viewed closely. I wanted a garden with more detail and year-round interest. And perhaps even a bit whimsical.

I stacked rocks from my property to form a low wall about two feet from the house. Some of the rocks were used to create planting pockets for small, compact plants. I allowed a gap in the wall in one spot to place a deep bird bath. The wall curves, at one point allowing a bench a few feet from the wall for lingering.

Small pieces of stepping stones form an irregular path to direct foot traffic, allowing for planting close to the path. This is not a high-traffic path, though it has brought a surprise visitor: sitting in the window seat one early evening, I looked down on a skunk ambling along the path.

Some of my favorite plants from my rock garden were added. Compact species of snow-in-summer (Cerastium Bierbersteinii) and thyme (Thymus serpyllum 'Minus' - background plant in photo above, right) are the dominant groundcovers. Both are evergreen. The silver foliage of the snow-in-summer contrasts beautifully with the rich green of the low-growing thyme. The smallest yarrow I grow, woolly yarrow (Achillea tomentosa 'Moonlight'), has a place above the wall. Each plant grows to about two inches in height and five inches in width. Pale yellow flowers in June and July bloom on short stems above the fuzzy tufted foliage.

Dwarf blue fescues are perfect for year-round interest. In bloom (photo,left), this tidy grass dwarf blue fescueis effective played against rocks. Nearby dwarf bearded iris offer contrast in foliage. Even after bloom fades, stalks are delicate (photo below, left) until winter storms break them down. Even then the evergreen mound of silver-blue foliage adds to this close-up garden viewed from my window seat.

I've always been partial to rock garden specimens ever since I lived in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. There, the fierce winter storms and long months of snow pack end in late spring to reveal compact plants of unbelievable beauty, rugged plants that have endured to bloom in the summer months. Arabis fernando-coburgii, a variegated rockcress (photo, right) is one of my favorites.variegated rockcress

This small garden area would have been interesting with a snow cover, but that has not happened so far this year. In fact, the winter has been so mild that the Santa Barbara daisy (Erigeron karvinskianus) planted to spill over one of the large rocks and provide months of bloom, still has a few blossoms I can see from my favorite reading spot. It's time now to cut back this low perennial, but I just cannot do it as long as there are a few flowers.

At the base of the wall, where there is a bit of cooling shade, I added sweet violets. These are the small purple violets, remnants of the Sonntag homestead, that were growing here when I arrived in 1977. January is when they start blooming. Since my grandchildren are now teenagers, they are more inclined to photograph the flowers than eat them, so seed will certainly increase the violets in the years ahead.

Near the violets I have planted areas of small bulbs: Crocus, Galanthus, Allium moly and the smallest of the species Narcissus. Compact fescues add a light texture with their delicate blooming stalks. Native pussytoes (Antennaria dioica - photo, right) pussytoes spreads between the stepping stones.

Sitting in the window seat recently, I enjoyed a pair of bluebirds at the birdbath. Everyday, dozens of robins and sparrows are flying into this part of the garden for the water. Quail scurry across the meadow to scratch at the edge of the garden. And, of course, the deer wander through.

And the whimsy? Four small gnomes have moved into this wonderful garden area. If you look closely, you can see a tiny wheelbarrow they must use. It's filled with smooth rocks that form one of their paths. A work in progress. It's a wonder that I can concentrate on my writing with all the activity out there! Special note: The gnomes and intriguing miniatures actually traveled from Enchanted Gardens in Cambria CA. Their toll-free number is 888-642-5122.

dwarf blue fescue

©2012 by Carolyn Singer. All rights reserved.

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