Gardening where the sidewalk ends

Winter’s Late Arrival December 10, 2009

Filed under: my garden,Seattle,winter — greenwalks @ 12:52 pm
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Seattle’s fall was warm and wet, with way more rain in the month of November than is normal. I am trying to wrap my head around winter now that it is here for real, and although I should have known it was coming, I didn’t really get the garden ready.

So, new phormium and fig, rosemary and raspberries, welcome to the place where you are probably going to have to learn to live with your own resources and no more, or you will not be survivors. I will be sorry to see any of you go, but I’m just not together enough to get little houses and wraps and other coddlings ready for you at the exact right time. I will have to rely a bit on hope that you are going to be okay with some dips into the 20s and go with that. Well, okay, the teens. It was 14 on our side porch this morning!?! We don’t get that a lot, or at least we didn’t used to. Now maybe it’s the new norm.

Before the really bad cold set in (you know it’s cold when your relatives in Massachusetts are cracking up that it’s warmer there than here!), we had one really great foggy morning. It was so thick, we could barely see across the back garden or across the street. I didn’t think to try a photo until it was partly burned off, but still enjoyed the view of the neighbor’s plum tree hovering in the mist.

Plum tree in winter fog

After that, the mercury plunged and hasn’t really been up much above freezing for almost a week, at least at our place. We are on a little hill and it seems to bring the temp down a few notches vs. what the forecast says. The birdbath froze and has yet to thaw out:

Frozen birdbath in half light

I guess candied sage is probably not something I’d eat, but frosted with ice, it did remind me of something sugar-encrusted:

Frosted sage

There are plenty of plants I don’t have to worry about at all, who in fact seem to be happier the colder it gets!

The first blossom appeared on my Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’ last week. The flowers do tend to get frost burn sometimes so I hope it waits to put out more blooms until a little later.

Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' - first blossom

I dug up a huge, mature Sarcococca confusa in the summer, it was turning yellow from too much sunlight. I put it in a big empty mulch bag and dragged it over into the shade, and completely forgot about it. Now it’s putting out its shiny black (poisonous!) berries and soon will do the super-scented flower thing. Anyone in/near Seattle want to take this one home for some TLC in a shady spot? Please leave me a comment or email me at It’s a great plant, but I just don’t have the right place for it (a garden with no shade – you’d think I wouldn’t complain but there are definitely some plants that I’d like but are off the list because they’d get burned to a crisp!)

Sarcococca berries in late November

The red-twig dogwood dropped a lot of leaves this summer in the super hot spell (105F, I’m still not done moaning about it yet) but seems to have survived. I am working up the nerve to pollard the heck out of it this year, on the recommendation of a few experts. Having decried similar pruning efforts I’ve seen elsewhere, I am hesitant about giving mine such a severe “haircut” but have heard it will produce more new (i.e. red) twigs and then I’ll be happy. Anyone with good/bad experiences on this score to share?

Red-twig dogwood in winter

What about you – did you get your garden all ready for winter? Or, like me, are you going to have to wait and see what managed to survive on its own?


15 Responses to “Winter’s Late Arrival”

  1. Oh Karen…your comment “We don’t get that a lot, or at least we didn’t used to. Now maybe it’s the new norm.” sent chills up my spine. I’m afraid you might be right. I posted on Monday ( with pictures of my silly looking attempt at saving some of my garden. We’ll see if it did any good. I wasn’t expecting 3 nights in a row at 13!!!! This is insanity!

  2. fenugreeklove Says:

    yes, it is cold. Haven’t see like this here in puget sound. Winter cold is trying to top over all the heat we had in summer. Stunning pic of frozen birdbath.
    I absolutely did nothing to cover any of my plants. I hope berry bushes and roses are safe. I still have beets and carrots in ground, they are frozen solid. I didn’t even cover Dahlia tubers in garage, need to do it tonight. brrrrr be bye bye.

  3. Grace Says:

    Hi Karen~~ This weather sucks. I don’t mind the sun and I don’t even mind being out in it for short periods of time. It’s the duration of the cold that is disconcerting. Like you, I didn’t get my garden ready, heck no. I’ve got shredded leaves sitting in two piles awaiting distribution. There will be casualties, I’m sure of it. My container plants [of which I have a shamefully gluttonous supply] are stacked under my covered deck as close to the sliding glass door as possible. In years past this has been enough protection but this year? I doubt it. The soil is frozen solid on every single pot which means there will be container casualties too. One pot has already cracked.

    Your birdbath photo is amazing. Your use of light and texture is genius.

    I can vouch for the coppicing of the Red Twig. It seems like a horrible case of plant abuse but it really does keep the plant looking its best. I do mine in late winter. Aren’t Sarcococa delightful plants? I just love the scent. I hope yours finds a good home. Stay warm!

  4. Catherine Says:

    This has been one crazy year of weather hasn’t it? I didn’t get my garden ready either other than to bring my little lemon tree in. I planted quite a bit this fall and transplanted a small dogwood, never expecting it to get this cold so soon. I can’t wait for it to get above freezing again.
    Your Viburnum is so pretty! It’s nice to see that something is blooming around here.

  5. Georgia Says:

    The bird bath photo is amazing!

  6. Deirdre Says:

    I’ll take the sarcococa. I live just north of Northgate. You can’t have too many sarcococas. They’re definitely on my “must have” list. They’re wonderful for dry shade, and look good year round.
    I got my garden set for winter as best I could, but there are limits to what one can do. I had several broadleaf evergreens die to the ground last year, but they were newly planted. If they do it again, I’ll just have to give up on them. I really, really want the Arbutus ‘Marina’ to make it. I did put a few umbrella greenhouses over some newly planted babies, but with the temps as low as they got, all they do is help with the dessication factor. I have a few pots I moved into the laundry room for the week. I’ll be happy to get them back outside this week end.
    I love the sun at this time of year, and at least the cold wasn’t accompanied by snow this time. I know snow insulates the ground, but it also makes hard to get out of my driveway.

    • Janet Butts Says:

      Sarcococca loves dry shade?? I’m always on the lookout for something under the extensive boughs of my neighbours’ Douglas fir, and I have a small S. humilis where it’s not as happy as the one right beside it–go figure! But I’ve wondered if the one right beside it actually gets more rain…

      Should I move it??


      • greenwalks Says:

        Hi Janet – Not sure that dry shade is the best spot, moist-ish is probably better, as it seems like you observed. No expert here but the one I yanked out didn’t seem to mind its poor treatment much, so you might be able to move yours without incident. I think I was mistaken in my original post, the ones I have are probably S. confusa since they have black berries, according to my plant guide. Whoops! Thanks for causing me to go back and take a look!

  7. Jen Says:

    I also love that birdbath photo! The red twigs are perfect for this time of year and would look so pretty against the snow – won’t be long now. We’re expecting some this weekend.

  8. Christine B. Says:

    I think some of Seattle’s fog drifted north to Alaska. We are having unseasonably heavy fog along with quite cold temps. Looks a bit like a fairytale: all the trees encrusted in hoarfrost, some branches so coated they look entirely white. My winter prep consisted of putting the tools away. I’m too lazy to cut stuff back anymore, I save it all for spring. Good luck with your cleanup.

    Christine from Last Frontier Garden

  9. easygardener Says:

    My Dogwood never produced as many shiny new branches as I expected after pruning. I did wonder if it was because it was overgrown and woody when I started and I didn’t prune every single year after I started. It eventually died. I blame myself but I’m sure you will do a better job!

  10. Alice Joyce Says:

    I do hope the winter progresses in a civilized manner…
    Impossible for me to do anything in terms of protection this year. Have to hope for the best,
    warm wishes for the holidays xo

  11. banner6 Says:

    I must be one of the few people in the world to hate the scent of sarcacocca…love the berries, though, so mine go out in the deep woods. Took a bunch of photos this morning in the fog…love, love, love it, but find it hard to capture as much of the mood as the eyes see. Kudos to you. Your photos are great.

  12. Aerie-el Says:

    Thanks for documenting what was happening here during the brutal cold while I was enjoying the balmy weather in Massachusetts. I came back to WA to many wilted, flat, mushy plants…and will wait to see what survives come spring.

  13. Deirdre Says:

    Any plant needs moisture for the first couple of summers, but sarcoccoca does well in dry shade once established.

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