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Winter nipping at the heels of an almost put-to-bed garden in Roland Park (Hudson's Corner Column)

Hudson's Corner

12:03 PM EST, November 22, 2013

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Again, it's time to put the garden to bed. I began months ago, but I am not quite finished.

In late August, a nasty, but good-looking little red bug chewed into my phlox. This phlox bug left all of the leaves on the plants splotched and faded, and the blooms shriveled. I could not stand to look at these sad stalks, so I cut them down. Next spring, I will treat them early, so we do not have a repeat ugliness.

Later in September, I cut down most of the spent peonies, asters and other perennials. I did some transplanting and dividing. I planted three new roses and mulched them. The leaves on the cherry trees turned yellow, and those on the dogwoods a deep crimson. They dropped and we raked, but nothing like the raking that we still have to do now that the massive zelkova has shed its leaves.

I am no longer one who has to have everything cut down and every leaf raked before December. I like keeping some zelkova leaves on the flowers beds as winter mulch. I let the fallen pine tags from the neighbor's white pine stay on the border below it. My mother used to ask my father to mow up the oak leaves from that neighbor's tree as winter mulch for the boxwoods. They must have been what kept those billowy bushes healthy for decades. The oak trees are long gone now, as are half of our boxwoods.

The old chrysanthemums my mother loved to clip and bring inside still stand with color — lavender, white, gold and maroon. I'll leave them until they turn brown in the next cold snap. As always, a few roses are in bloom, each blossom a shining jewel in an empty garden.

The oxalis plant that survived five months in a friend's car without water came to me. It bloomed all summer under a dogwood. Recently, I moved it indoors to the sunny window by my husband's work bench. Outside that window stand three new 'Pearl Maxwell' camellias with fat buds that will bloom pale pink in early spring. Five new leucothoe bushes near them still show rust and fungus and may need replacing. The new tiarella plants around them are spreading mats of variegated crimson leaves.

I just watered all of those new plants, along with a new oak leaf hydrangea, nine rhododendrons and a native azalea. Late summer and fall has been dry. One day we have the outdoor water turned on, and the next, when temperatures drop, we rush to drain the pipe and turn it off. I don't remember this ever being the case, but we are afraid for new plants to go into winter so dry. Our neighbor has been dragging hoses around his yard for his new hollies, spruce trees, viburnum bushes and hedges all November. Ours are rolled up in the garage, so we carry big watering cans to the plants.

In one afternoon we moved the ceramic, stone and terra cotta containers and birdbaths under the house. The amaryllis pot had already cracked. I need to remember to bring in one last blue ceramic pot that has brightened the kitchen porch since summer. 

Five fiberglass planters all have upright dracaena that frost has not yet killed. I need to pull out the long-gone New Guinea impatiens around them and replant miniature spruce trees in two pots for front porch Christmas trees. Maybe a strand or two of battery-powered lights would be a nice touch this year.

The bird feeder is still empty. My husband saw a sparrow beside it looking for food. I guess it's time to fill it with sunflower seeds and admit that winter has arrived in our almost-put-to-bed garden.