The Garden Life: Gardens offer much to be thankful for

By Robb Rosser, Columbian Gardening columnist

Published:

 
photoRobb Rosser

Even the sound of the word, Thanksgiving, appeals to me. My penchant for searching the dictionary to help me understand the true meaning of a word leads me to the following definitions. Thanksgiving: 1. the act of giving thanks; grateful acknowledgment of benefits or favors, especially to God; 2. an expression of thanks, especially to God; 3. a public celebration in acknowledgment of divine favor or kindness.

In a mild winter, the Sasanqua camellia will begin to bloom within in December. In the coldest of winters, I have found that the buds refuse to open quite so early, as if holding out for a sign of mercy from Mother Nature. Either way, these winter-blooming camellias will grace us with their richly textured flowers long before most other plants dare to bloom. Yuletide is a wonderful variety for the entry garden. With single red flowers, bright yellow anthers and deep evergreen foliage, this plant fits perfectly into the holiday decorating scheme.

Viburnum Pink Dawn will flower in early winter, even after every leaf falls from the shrub. The tiny clusters of reversed, bell-shaped flowers pop directly out of bare branches. The sugary scent reminds me of cotton candy and the flowers are the exact color of that same pink concoction. The Witch Hazel (Hamamelis intermedia or mollis) also blooms in winter. I remember the common name because of the shape of its metallic, bronze-yellow flowers. Like gnarled witches hands, the spindly finger-like petals reach out of bare wood in defiance of the coldest weather of the year.

If you have a collection of plants in pots, especially large plants such as trees, shrubs and mixed perennial plantings, invest in a durable, heavyweight furniture dolly. I find this item an indispensable tool in my garden, especially in this season when plants are moved from porches and decks to a more sheltered location. It's the safest way to move over-sized ceramic pots. Not only do you avoid lifting heavy pots and planters off the ground and into a wheelbarrow or wagon but you can maneuver into tight spaces easily.

Folk legends

Here are a few traditional folk legends and old wives' tales for the season from numerous sources including the Old Farmer's Almanac and the collections of the North Carolina Folklore Society:

• A warm November is the sign of a bad winter.

• If animals have an especially thick coat of fur or seem to be storing fat, it will be a cold winter.

• When hornets, wasps and bees start building their nests higher in the trees, expect a severe winter with lots of snow.

• The more black than brown a Woolly Worm has and the narrower the central brown stripe, the worse the winter. (Does anyone know the normal size of the Isabella tiger moth caterpillar's brown stripe?)

• If berries or nuts are plentiful, it will be a hard winter. Mine are prolific this year.

• Conifers will produce a greater quantity of larger cones than usual before a severe winter.

• If a cold August follows a hot July, it foretells a winter hard and dry. Can you remember that far back?

• Squirrels gather up greater quantities of acorns and nuts as quickly as possible before a big storm.

George S. Kaufman, the playwright, was invited to visit the Rockefellers' Hudson River estate at the time he was writing his most popular plays and the Rockefeller family was floating in money. They had recently created their compound as a series of estates, connected by gardens and surrounded with statuary, follies and a vast array of plants. The best landscape designers of the day fashioned the most fabulous gardens they could conceive. After his visit, a reporter asked Kaufman for his comments on the gardens. His response, "It's exactly what God would have done, if he'd had the money."

Every year, a few days before Thanksgiving Day, an interesting ceremony takes place in the White House Rose garden. This ceremony is called "The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation." In the ceremony, the President of the United States "pardons" a turkey and saves it from its destiny of becoming Thanksgiving dinner. The lighthearted ritual was formalized in 1989. Since then, presidents have granted presidential pardons to many a turkey and these lucky birds enjoy a life of comfort on a farm for the rest of their life.

The year has turned its circle,

The seasons come and go.

The harvest all is gathered in

And chilly north winds blow.

Orchards have shared their treasures,

The fields, their yellow grain,

So open wide the doorway-

Thanksgiving comes again!