pruning hydrangeas

I got to follow along as Mike (co-owner of Joy Creek) did his pruning workshop. A question that comes up a lot is how to care for Hydrangeas, so I thought I would share the pruning tips I picked up along the way. In the spring, your shrub should look like this, having left the blooms on the plant through the winter. It may run counter to certain neatnik tendencies but is better for the health of the plant.

The flowers darken, then fade and even skeletonize with the winter weather and can be beautiful, even bouquet-worthy, at every stage.

Early in March, a mature plant can benefit from taking out the oldest branches. Look for the oldest wood (it will be gnarlier) and cut it out at the base. This provides air circulation and reinvigorates the plant.

Leave the faded blooms on the remaining branches until mid-April. In Portland, we still run a risk of a late freeze and the flowers protect emerging buds if that should happen.

When the time comes (danger of a late frost has passed) snip the flowering stem just above the first set of green buds like the ones you see above.

By refreshing your Hydrangeas in this way every few years, you can look forward to stunning displays year after year.

finally, a day pruning

Good tools make all the difference. The loppers cut through branches in the 2″ range like butter. I finally wised up and started using them to cut back grasses too, saving a lot of wear and tear on overworked wrists. I had my old standby secateurs sharpened at Garden Fever and bought another, smaller version to stand in while waiting (their sharpener works in batches, so there’s a gap between dropping things off and picking them up). Between the two sizes, sprigs and twigs (ha ha) are a snap. A collapsable rake gets into tight spaces to clean up fallen debris. I’ve been searching for the right gloves to wear at work (more on that later). These didn’t work in that situation but are great for pruning protection. Finally, that little retractable saw is surprisingly effective in encounters with branches too big for the loppers.

Ceanothus ‘Blue Jeans’ was afflicted with several split limbs. Once I got started on it, the chaotic scramble of crossed or gangly branches kept goading me on to create a significant brush pile. In the process, many buds were sacrificed. I hate to think of a spring without the welcoming sight of the big blue bush. Maybe that bucket of branches will come through with a forced show to make up for it.

Meanwhile, over at Joy Creek, this Magnolia dresses up a stormy sky.

It’s furry buds are swelling with the promise of the spring show we know is coming, even if it sometimes seems a bit tardy.

called the witch doctor for iavom

Hamamelis ‘Diane’

Jumping the gun a little bit here. The blossoms on ‘Diane’ will elongate and become more of a presenceĀ butI was desperate for a bit of color, even if it is still doing the red and green thing.

Interestingly, there were some broken branches that were flowering as much as the branches left intact. The shiny leaves of Magnolia grandiflora are from downed branches too, as are a couple of cherry branches with lots of buds (we can hope). I don’t usually do props but the Witch Hazel suggested a theme and I did have a Witch Doctor’s rattle (Shaman) and a witchy candle holder on hand so they’re in there.

It’s always fun to see what people find to put in a vase during what is essentially most gardens’ down time. You can do that by visiting Cathy at Rambling in the Garden, where she hosts In a Vase on Monday every week without fail.

greens in a vase

Might as well put some of those downed limbs to work, so into the cut glass rose bowl went some of the ‘Thunderhead” pine, giant sequoia, Ozothamnus and Cotoneaster with a few red berries. The Euonymous fared pretty well but I added a branch of it to lighten things up a bit.

As you can see, the back side is pretty dark but I like the way the “candles” of the pine and the silvery Ozothamnus pick up the silvery tones of reflected light off the vase.

I’ll be glad when the spring ephemerals start showing up and I can move away from this red and green theme but for the dead of winter, this is not half bad. See what’s finding its way into other vases this week by visiting Cathy at Rambling in the Garden…spring seems a lot closer in some parts of the world.

after the storm

R has his hands full, cleaning up the storm damage.

It was plenty beautiful. Our house is completely hidden at the end of that little trail through 18″ of snow that lingered for a week.

Even when the sun came out, the snow stayed…it was so cold.

The ancient cherry tree in front had two huge limbs shatter.

They were kind enough to descend slowly to rest gently on the roof of the deck.

Limbs came down from many of the large evergreens that circle the property.

The little birch grove along the drive is sadly depleted.

The devastation to the ‘Thunderhead’ pine was, to me, the greatest blow. I’m pretty sure it will recover but it had reached a configuration that I had been working on for 10 or more years. Other things that got some extreme pruning from Mom Nature were Ozothamnus several Ceanothus and a mature Cornus kousa. The sun is shining today, Joy Creek will open soon and spring gets closer every day. Time, indeed to keep clam and carry on.

Wednesday Vignette

I am extremely fond of snow so we have tons of snow shots. This one made the grade as a vignette because of the way the new shoots on the fruit tree acted like little bowls, holding the snow. If you check in with Anna at Flutter and Hum on Wednesdays, you will get some very astute social commentary to go with her vignettes, plus links to others who participate in Wednesday Vignettes.

a vase, a fave & a happy new year!

I have to go off subject a little bit to share something with you. Richard tends to be a creative speller (a source of some good belly laughs from time to time). He also leaves little notes. The day after the election, I found this one on the kitchen counter: “Keep clam and carry on.” It has become our anthem with every new preposterous event.

Picea o. 'Barnes'

Now back to the business at hand. I shared this little cutie last month here, as part of Danger Garden’s last Friday of the month party. I bought it with the intention of using it as our Christmas tree and here it is, all dressed up to help us celebrate the season.

I didn’t want to overburden it with baubles so only the red ornaments (most of them tiny) and lightweight tin icicles made the cut, with the addition of a few clip-on red birds. It is planted in a favorite big red pot, where it shall remain for a couple of years, at least. It would have been moved back outside by now but I fear the shock of the coming cold snap might do it in. We keep our house pretty cool so I think it will be OK inside for another week. Anyhow…consider this our belated Merry Christmas to you.

Our house has a split personality at present. While the Christmas tree remains, over on the dining table Monday’s vase strikes an entirely different mood. Cathy, at Rambling in the Garden keeps us on our toes by inviting us to forage for something to put in a vase every Monday all year long. The idea, of course, is to find material in our own gardens but when a lunch guest showed up bearing these lovelies, I knew I had to share them with you. At first, I plonked them in a tall cylindrical vase. It didn’t come close to doing them justice but I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of lunchtime chatter.

Roses, Stargazer lilies and Eryngium are more like something we would put together from our gardens than coming from Safeway.

Richard came to the rescue, arranging them in this big glass bubble with room to breathe. Brook, I do hope you see this and know that your spectacular flowers finally got the treatment they deserve.

And with that, I would like to wish you a very Happy New Year and to remind you, when things get rough, to “Keep clam and carry on”.

wednesday vignette

This little pop-up scene came as a hand delivered card. I don’t know how well it would have fared had it gone through the post.

It isn’t easy to capture the intricacy of the design in a photo. I was both charmed and impressed, displaying it in a place of prominence through the holidays. I hope your holidays are progressing merrily. You can always count on Anna at Flutter and Hum to have a philosophical slant to go along with stunning imagery inĀ her weekly Wednesday Vignette.


Christina is reeling from a family loss, so will not be hosting Garden Bloggers’ Foliage Day today. I hope my foggy photos (they seem ethereal to me) will ease her heartache ever so slightly. The above is the view entering our lane, with the Italian Cypresses lining the drive.

I love the way the ghostly line of tall cedars retreats into the background.

Up close, the Ceanothus ‘Blue Jeans’ forms a scrim through which to view the scene.

At which point, if you turned around to look back the way we came, this is what you would see. Be well, Christina, and we will do our best to carry on this tradition of celebrating our gardens’ foliage on the 22nd of each month while longing for your return.