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Green Acre #75: Make Way for the Winter Garden

Pansies at Frager’s Hardware Garden Center on Capitol Hill in DC. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

IT’S PANSY PLANTING time again. This is unfortunate.

The cooler, wetter weather has just breathed new life into the window-box geraniums and sent the sweet-potato vine into a Galliano spasm of ruffles, the lower boxes spill onto the front porch floor, the upper boxes drape down past the tops of the first-floor windows.

This is not a sight I wish to disrupt—but . . . it’s already past time to buy and plant pansies and seek out smaller ornamental cabbages, the ones whose roots are still small enough to squish into the boxes without disrupting the ivy and other perennial mainstays that will surround them.

Mother Nature is being particularly vindictive this fall: With last week’s rain and lovely chill, the plants in the boxes and the garden are as perky as they were mid-spring—right when I need to start yanking them for a wintry guise.

Invariably, I buy pansies early in flats, fully intending to keep them watered until I’m ready to

Rows and rows of pansies at Frager’s Hardware Garden Center on Capitol Hill in DC. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

plant and invariably fail to do so, ending up with $14 or so of limp frizzle and finding myself racing around for replacements when the garden centers have moved on to poinsettias.

I didn’t bother this year, so am left with a chase.

In tragic news of the gardening variety, one of my lollipop plants, which form the centerpieces of my lower boxes, some sort of yew, I think I recall (see various tales of not keeping tags or making notes) went belly up.

I will not go into the discussion I had with My Prince about this unexpected demise; it was tiresome in the extreme. Lots of whys from him and sighs from me. It’s like dealing with a 3-year-old (although, to be truthful, my sighs often mean I’m simply clueless).

The one on the left is just fine, lovely and fluffy and green. The one on the right is a depressing dried mop. I’ve been exploring Amazon for the appropriate color green spray paint: A spritz of the approximate shade would carry us over the winter months, until it is safe to plant something else. Again.

On second thought, I could yank them both, stick the healthy one in some (possibly clever) arrangement and substitute two new somethings now.

Perhaps rosemary. The rosemary I planted in the upper boxes several years ago is performing heroically; growing (for once) just as I wished, tall and green and fragrant. The plants are now at a fine size for my holiday display, which I’ll have to attend to shortly. I do like things to be jolly from Thanksgiving on.

Oh my, the window for planting anything grows shorter by the minute. I am talking to myself.

That the tulip bulbs are still waiting for me to move or remove the still-thriving summer plants from the main beds is not such an issue. Due to one or another of my Near Death Experiences, I’ve several times had to delay planting them until December and they’ve been fine. They can just wait in the closet until I get around to them.

Of course, then the problem is when you want to plant pansies on top of the bulbs so the bareness is covered in some colorful fashion over the winter. It means the bulbs need to go in first so the pansy roots are not disturbed.

If done right, the tulips will emerge from nests of blue and yellow and aborigine, or whatever mood overtakes me at the garden center, a potentially lovely sight.

I’m so often wrong about color selection as well. It’s like going out to dinner and angsting over my menu choice only to realize that I envy whatever it is The Prince was served. The grass is always greener, and so is the lasagne. Or whatnot.

—Stephanie Cavanaugh

LittleBird Stephanie, a/k/a/ “Stephanie Gardens,” maintains over her Capitol Hill garden . . . sometimes. To read earlier columns, type Green Acre into the Search box at the top of the page.

Pansies at Frager’s Hardware Garden Center on Capitol Hill in DC. / Photo by Stephanie Cavanaugh.

4 thoughts on “Green Acre #75: Make Way for the Winter Garden

  1. Michele P says:

    Stephanie, I think your Lollipop plants might be Arbor Vaiti, (not so sure about the spelling) that have been pruned into this “standard” shape. You might try boxwoods on your boxes instead–doesn’t that have a ring to it!
    I always loved your boxes–they reminded me of England and my Springtime visits there.

    Ed. note: Perhaps arborvitae is what the Commenter means?

    1. Thanks Michelle! Glad boxes remind you of England – that’s what inspired them. We originally had jolly little round box woods as the centerpiece of each and loved them… but one or another kept dying and we gave up. For a couple of years i had (gasp!) plastic boxwood balls (fine ones though, I assure you. the very best plastic) but we keep trying for something real. The rosemary in the upper boxes is doing well, I hope that is not just because we’ve had a few mild winters. If it makes it through this year I’ll add it to the lowers.

  2. Carol says:


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