What Are the Hardiest Gardenia Varieties?

Since January is the month Alexander Garden was born, let’s take a timely look at the popular shrub that commemorates him.

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a photograph of a gardenia plant growing in the snow in January

The Frost of Death was on the Pane—
“Secure your Flower,” said he.
Like Sailors fighting with a Leak
We fought Mortality—

In the past few years, many people who have grown gardenias outdoors have shared Emily Dickinson’s lament for the unspecified vegetable victim from poem F 1130. You may wonder just what the hardiest gardenia varieties are. The answer is developing, so let’s consider what we know about what’s available. Read more

French Cantatas for Winter Winds: Discover Boismortier’s Four Seasons

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The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler's cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).
The North Wind attempts to blow the traveler’s cloak off him. Illustration by Milo Winter from The Aesop for Children (1919).

People frequently declare our time the Social Era. You’ve heard that term before, haven’t you? We won’t find naming winter storms among Nilofer Merchant’s new Rules for the Social Era, but lately our human tendency to personify everything inanimate has been applied in yet another way.

We’re far from the only culture with this tendency to look at the world around us and create characters. Every culture has! If we look back in time, the wind and weather provide good examples. (Pssst! Would you like to add a word to your vocabulary? There’s a term for making characters of wind and weather. Doing this is called physitheism.)

I hope that crazy word didn’t blow you away! It is pretty abstract, and might leave you groping for examples. So what were some of these breezy, gusty epithets, and how far back in history do they go? Read more

Use These Strategies and Resources for a Fantastic Garden Year After Year

Books to Read, Things to Do, and LOTS to Look Up and Learn About!

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grey twigs of a magnolia tree covered with snow Our first item is brought to you by the department of obvious department. January makes an ideal time to assess the need for Read more

Improve a Dismal, Off-Season Yard With the Easy, Shade-Loving Evergreen Bush Almost No One Grows and Appreciates

a view of leafy bushes even in late winter or March: the dwarf evergreen plant sweet box

The reason this is called Sweet Box is it’s related to boxwood, which is the evergreen shrub people customarily make into balls and hedges. I knew about boxwood since I was young but I only saw the connection made last year. I never would have made it myself because the leaves and growth habit differ so much. I never would have thought of this plant as a boxwood (relative) for shade or a boxwood (relative) with fragrance. By the way, actual boxwoods stink. Smell one in case you never noticed! Read more

“If That Isn’t Enough, Then What Is?” Vincent van Gogh’s Passionate Letter to His Brother From London

a watercolor of an Indiana wildflower called Dentaria painted around 1915 by Hannah Overbeck
Dentaria laciniata (around 1915)
Hannah Overbeck

In January 1874, Vincent van Gogh would write from London to his brother Theo,

How I’d like to talk to you about art again, but now we can only write to each other about it often; find things beautiful as much as you can, most people find too little beautiful.

. . .

Always continue walking a lot and loving nature, for that’s the real way to learn to understand art better and better. Painters understand nature and love it, and teach us to see. Read more

Sound of the Season: Music for a February Sky

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a painting of a city street lined with trees called Night in February (1901) by Charles Conner
Night in February (1901)
Charles Conner

In England, there’s a group of contrarians who oppose “blue-sky thinking” by helping people appreciate the beauty of clouds, which makes you realize a curious aspect of our language. Although we commonly use the term “landscape,” we only rarely encounter the term “cloudscape.” Yet we look up all the time, and gardeners in particular often look skyward and spend time thinking about what kind of weather will come. And all this means Read more