The Tallest Trees in Africa

note: Although this is a little off our usual topic, I thought it would be suitable enough for a plant-oriented audience since it was not widely reported and since there’s not much plantwise in winter.

a view of Mount Kilimanjaro off in the distance, with clouds both above and below the peakThere’s nothing new under the sun, goes the familiar Bible verse, but scientists keep discovering things that have been there all along. After all, it’s their job, and someone’s got to do it! One of the most dramatic of these discoveries took place last year under the equally clichéd snows of Mount Kilimanjaro. Read more

Korea’s Breathtaking Garden of the Morning Calm

A splendid public garden in a scenic valley near Cheongpyeong adds to the culture of Korea. In recognition of the Lunar New Year known as Seollal, enjoy this nighttime tour.

a nighttime view of trees lit with colored lights at a public garden in Korea

Over the centuries, the country and the culture of Korea have had many names, including “Rooster Forest”, “Azure Hills”, “The White-Clad People”, “Eastern Plains”, “Land of Scholarly Gentlemen”, “Hibiscus Territory”, and “Land of Splendid Rivers and Mountains.” Outside the country, its most famous sobriquet is certainly “The Land of the Morning Calm.” Although this phrase describes what sounds like a pleasant place to visit, Read more

Under a Blanket of Snow Lies the Unseen Conviction to Endure

the painting After the Sleet Storm ( 1915-6) by Tom Thomson
After the Sleet Storm (1915-16)
Tom Thomson

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger–something better, pushing right back.”

Albert Camus
Return to Tipasa (1954)


Death, Winter, and Taxes: How to Avoid the Middle One! (Or at Least Deny It As Long As It Lasts . . . )

a rather grim wintry view of a side and back yard in JanuaryWhen it’s winter, many of us are content to let the garden rest. Even though some people like skiing, hockey, or ice skating, almost everybody spends a lot more time indoors. When it’s less than 20 degrees, often your goal is to get as quickly as possible from the car to the house with NO unnecessary detours and NO gazing at the yard, except once inside, through a window!

It’s certainly true that Read more

A Damn Good Guide to Growing Magnificent Rhododendrons Through the Year

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most links are independent, but some help support this web site. If you prefer, feel free to donate instead.

A young plant of Rhododendron 'Maruschka', showing the black leaves it has all winter.
Some varieties, such as this young plant of Rhododendron ‘Maruschka’, have black leaves all winter.

“Things reveal themselves passing away.” Although this quote is often attributed to William Yeats, I couldn’t trace it to him. Whenever a plant dies on you, however, there has to be a reason, and this group of plants is notorious for not being durable and adaptable.

The primary reason rhododendrons die on people splits into two related factors: unsuitable soil and inadequate drainage. Keep in mind that in the wild, rhododendrons grow on the sides of mountains and the banks of streams. People who fail often plant them on flat ground. Try a slope, and remember they need loose, fluffy soil like you find under trees in the woods. Since the roots are shallow, mulch lightly if you do.

Second point: If a plant lives but doesn’t flourish, try moving it to a sunnier spot.

January: Appreciate varieties that have black winter leaves, such as ‘Black Satin’, ‘Ginny Gee’, PJM types, and ‘Maruschka’. Take advantage of warm beverages needed on cold mornings: Collect coffee grounds to distribute around plants once winter ends. Coffee grounds are good as a source of nitrogen that isn’t too strong, but note that they don’t make the soil more acidic. Pay your American Rhododendron Society membership dues or join a chapter. Browse nursery web sites and catalogs for inspiration. Read more

Consider the Value of Reading Wind Patterns in Snowfall

an untitled winter landscape painting by Jose Salis Camino
Untitled Winter Landscape (no date)
by José Salís Camino (1863-1927)

If you live where it snows and you’re not a kid, dealing with snow is mostly a chore–one some residents dread so much they resolve to retire in a place where they will never see snow again!

The Japanese have a saying karo tosen, or “Summer heater, winter fan.” The point is that Read more

The Economist Who “Taught Us To Build Bridges and Plant Trees”

a large yellow backhoe sitting on a plain dwarfs a tree right under the bucket where it's about to scoop

Yet such is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.

John Tolkien

Since it’s winter (meaning there’s not much to do outside) and since it’s time for a new president to assume office, everyone’s thinking about politics and policy. Not everyone’s thinking the same thing. Since we had a very divisive campaign and the opposing candidate got more votes, many Americans are [go ahead and mouth it along with me . . . ] “concerned about the direction this country is headed.”

Whether you share that concern or not, I hope you’ll check out a fantastic talk Read more

You’ve Never Heard the Seasons in Sonic Panoramas Like This

In 1799, William Blake wrote “The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way . . . But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.” In 1816, John Keats wrote that no matter how still a summer day or winter night may be “the poetry of earth is never dead.” If you’re an avid gardener or a lover of the outdoors overall . . . and you’ve never heard Haydn’s large-scale treatment of the seasons for chorus and orchestra . . . isn’t it about time to find out what you’ve been missing?

This is a piece as much of our time as it was of its own. Long before Keats and Blake were alive, and in a culture far different from theirs, Confucius famously observed, “Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.” Versions of The Seasons are available in German and English, so you can’t use the language barrier as an excuse! For recommendations, skip to the bottom, or keep on going if you’d like to find out how early The Seasons became famous, when the oratorio crossed the Atlantic, what it was like to write, or why this piece represents the epitome of Enlightenment values.

note: Often the purpose of links is to indicate further information is available on related topics. Most are independent, but some help support this web site!

images of country life during the four seasons from Flemish baroque painter Sebastian Vrancx
Allegories of the Seasons, date unknown
Sebastian Vrancx (1573-1647)

On June 12, 1799, while working on this oratorio, one of the greatest composers in history wrote to his German publisher about–would you believe?–his concern that he was losing it: Read more

Learn the Lesson of the Season: Rest and Practice Dormancy

a wintry forest scene from early 20th Century Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin
Father Frost and the Stepdaughter (1932)
Ivan Bilibin

Of all the seasons, winter is the most conducive to the great art of dormancy. This art requires an appreciation of semi-consciousness: the beautiful and necessary prelude to sleep – a special pleasure in itself that is all too often neglected, under-valued or looked down upon.

Michael Leunig (b 1945)