Then a desperately needed business deal fell through and sent me back to the drawing board. So I didn't take it gracefully when a new worm trashed my computer (insight: there's no protection against new worms, viruses, etc.). I grimly reinstalled my defect ridden Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system, applications, patches, hot fixes and updates. Less than a week later I was hit again. What a rotten way to start a new year.
I cussed, cursed, cried and moaned. I grew gloomy, glum, sullen, moody, fretful, saturnine, surly and peevish and later became melancholic, depressed, wretched, dejected, hopeless and tired of reading the Thesaurus. Ennui is boring so I decided to just ignore reality by escaping into work and ignoring everything else.
To save time I didn't bathe much, or cut my fingernails (which are getting pretty long) and by mid month my hair was so shaggy that crapemyrtle seeds and insects were getting trapped in it. I had bought the wrong version of Pantene shampoo ("extra body") and it made my hair too big and fluffy with an electrostatic attraction to bugs and seeds. It tickled the inside of my ear and kept making me think a tick was crawling there but usually it was just the hair. It had to go.
The next day the weather turned cold and I discovered how useful hair is in keeping your head warm. It was so cold my scalp turned blue and I had to wear a stocking hat for the the next two weeks as gray rainy weather set in. After a couple weeks some fuzz has grown back providing welcome thermal insulation. It's amazing how as little as 10 mm of hair can protect from cold.
So hairless, motivated and extensively finger-nailed, I slipped a clean pair of Kleenex boxes on my feet and got to work. I updated Plant Profiles, took pictures, analyzed, designed, prototyped and programmed. It was fun because I got a lot of things done, had great snacks and drank an incredible amount of coffee.
At this time of year, when it's cool and there are few bugs, a good place to take breaks is up on The Hill where each evening the local wood ducks conduct their daily flyover. There's always a pair of them that flies a few fast laps around the place before retiring for the evening. Sometimes they bring the kids and I get to watch five or six of them flying in formation. The best time though, is about once a week, when the entire local wood duck clan gathers and at least two dozen of them are buzzing around. These amazing ducks are lean and agile and fly fast and furious like fighter jets. They perform complicated maneuvers in formation right at treetop level and if they had red, white and blue smoke shooting out of their butts, it would be more fun to watch than an air show. These are not your typical chubby Long Island White Pekin eating ducks - they're winged rockets! My neighbor JM has several nesting boxes set out for them that I believe are responsible for the increase in wood duck population here. I'm trying to help by optimizing access to the trees they use for nesting in the Cypress Pond. It looks like 2005 might be another banner year for wood ducks - and I love ducks!
Oddly enough the computer virus crash had an upside for my garden projects. The weekend it happened I was really peeved so I took off a few hours and vented my frustration by hacking out another huge clump of pampas grass. This was the second clump that I've dug up this winter and there's three more there that will eventually be moved (maybe next winter - or sooner if I get another computer worm).
Now that the pampas grass is gone and the bed is clear I'm going to transplant a bunch of angel trumpets (Brugmansia suaveolens ) there. All that's left to do here now is fill in the holes, mulch and when it warms up I'll put in the angel trumpets - and a bunch of other cool stuff that I haven't decided on yet.
This is the best time of year to transplant woody species and there's two crapemyrtles ( Lagerstroemia indica ) out back that I've wanted to move for a long time. They were planted along the fence line ten years ago but failed to flourish because it's too dry and shady there. They have deep rosy red flowers and might be the cultivar 'Tuscarora' and I paid $4.95 for each of them and I didn't want to lose them because I'm cheap. I dug them up one drizzly weekend and planted them out in the front field near the new pampas grass starts and flanking a struggling chaste tree ( Vitex agnus-castus ). I've already promised myself that I'm going to regularly irrigate this hot sunny area this summer so that all of the recent transplants there - junipers, crapemyrtle, European fan palms, pampas grass and agaves - will settle in and grow into a sizzling summertime show of stunning shape and color - or at least not die.
One of my favorite winter flowering shrubs is the leatherleaf mahonia ( Mahonia bealei ). It has bright blue leathery hollylike leaves that are arranged at the top of tall spindly stems. Each new year brings the appearance of drooping clusters of bright yellow flowers held at the stem tips. Although there hasn't been much activity this January because of the low temperatures, these semi-fragrant clusters will become busy hangouts for bumblebees as it warms up.
The tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) shrub is one that didn't need to wake up because it never went to sleep. They began blooming back in October and reached a peak in January when they're covered in tiny flowers that scent the garden with a fine fruity fragrance. The strawberry tree ( Arbutus unedo ) is likewise still abloom and the camellias ( Camellia japonica ) start and stop blooming depending on the freezes.
Near the end of the month, right after a nasty nighttime freeze, I was happy to see the star magnolias ( Magnolia stellata ) bursting from their fuzzy buds. Over several days the petals wiggle free and the fragrant flowers burst open to cover the leafless branches of this picturesque little tree. The star magnolia is the earliest blooming magnolia and a real treat to encounter in full bloom on a crisp late winter day. The saucer magnolias ( Magnolia x soulangeana ) looked about to bloom too but a cold snap near the end of the month caused them to reconsider and their buds remain tightly closed. If we remain frostfree they'll begin their show in a week or two.
Two viburnums are blooming here now. One is the Prague viburnum (Viburnum x pragense ), a handsome evergreen hybrid with striking textured foliage that has a metallic sheen. The small, white waxy flowers are held in clusters and have a slight fragrance. The more tender Sandanqua viburnum (Viburnum suspensum) is the other. Its flowers are very similar to the Prague viburnum but with a slight fragrance that isn't very appealing. My sandanqua is sheltered under a sabal palm but even there the cold temperatures from the mid-month freeze burned some of the foliage. Affected leaves turned dark red and will fall off in a few weeks - this often happens to this species here in Zone 8 which is why it doesn't make a great privacy hedge here like it does in warmer climates.
The coolest and most interesting plant blooming here now is the coontie ( Zamia pumila ). It's a cycad that's native to Florida and at this time of year the male and female cones appear (on separate plants). If you download the large version of the picture you can see both this season's new female cones at the bottom and upper right as well as some of last season ripe cones. The cones burst open (see one just beginning at upper middle) to release the shiny light pink seeds that age to dark orange. One project for this year is to see if I can get any of them to germinate (write me if you have any helpful tips) - you can't have too many coonties!
Thank you for your visits and support. I'm looking forward to 2005 (despite its bad start) and to bringing more plant info, pictures and services to the Web. Visit us often and be good and grow.