Year’s End Walkabout

I spent an hour or so yesterday morning walking around our five acres with my camera to record the state of things as this year draws to a close. The weather here in central North Carolina has been alarmingly warm and we are struggling with moderate drought. However, a bit of rain fell the previous day, and gloom persisted yesterday as rain fell to our south. Winter, the forecasters say, will return on the second day of the new year, shocking plants, animals, and humans alike, I imagine.

Winter vegetable garden beds with row covers tucked beside them.

The warm spell has been a gift to our winter vegetable garden. In past years, I have kept them tented all winter beneath row covers to protect them from freezing temperatures. Severe cold will turn the greens and broccoli to mush, but beneath row covers, lows into the mid-20s for a few hours do the veggies no lasting harm. This latest warm spell has been so prolonged that I’ve been able to remove the row covers to give the veggies access to full sun. I even gave them all a dose of fish emulsion/seaweed mix this week. Winter fertilizing is not something I am usually able to manage, because I don’t want to expose them to prolonged cold.

Beauteous Emerald Crown broccoli

We harvested several heads of broccoli — I’m trying Emerald Crown this year — which we will be enjoying with tonight’s dinner. Broccoli doesn’t do well here as a spring crop anymore. The days warm up too quickly. But winter’s chill sweetens them as they grow beneath their row covers.  The row covers also protect them from cabbage moth caterpillar damage without the need for any pest control substances.

The greens are all doing great. I’m averaging one salad a week by picking individual leaves. Beet greens provide a bit of zip to the mix of lettuces and spinach. The warm spell accelerated the growth in this bed visibly. I may get two salads out of it next week.

Winter-blooming flowers — all but one non-native — are opening. Pink blooms of one flowering apricot were scenting the air yesterday. Today, the other one also began blooming. I look forward to the perfume from these flowers every year.

A stink bug — alive and well at the end of December!

January jasmine, which has no fragrance, is also beginning to open its bright yellow flowers that are often mistaken for forsythia. When I leaned in to photograph this flower, I was surprised to find it occupied.

Today, I noticed that my non-native Persian ironwood is beginning to bloom. This tree is in the witch hazel family, and the flowers are not showy, but I have observed honey bees visiting them.

My native witch hazel ‘Amethyst‘ has already begun to bloom. Typically, it waits until middle-to-late January. This shrub insists on holding on to its leaves, but it’s still quite lovely in bloom — and its fresh scent never fails to lift my spirits.

Most of the berry-producing shrubs in our yard have long been picked clean, but the red berries of native deciduous holly and the deep purple berries of native greenbriar vines were still visible when I walked around yesterday.

A few shrubs are still holding on to their autumn-colored leaves, including my  native oakleaf hydrangeas. I grow the smaller form, ‘Pee Wee,’ and I recently added a full-sized one, cultivar ‘Alice.’

Dried seed heads of cardinal flower and goldenrod also caught my eye, as did an ever-increasing abundance of bald cypress knees emerging from the muck where three trees I planted three decades ago have now attained heights between 40-50 feet.

Bared tree branches reveal their complex beauty during this leafless season. I was especially enthralled yesterday by a young winged elm. Its corky extrusions along its trunk and every branch made its silhouette quite striking.

Even during this time of moderate drought, the new channel that cuts through what was for 25 years dry, flat floodplain merrily chuckles its way toward a growing wetland pond, home to at least two dozen ducks. I have accepted the fact that this part of the floodplain is now a wetland. And, I must admit, the permanent streamlet that now traverses that area adds an air of tranquility to the landscape.

Never have I been more grateful for my lifelong passion for gardening and the natural world. I am certain the dirt perpetually beneath my fingernails is largely responsible for the retention of my sanity during these challenging times. I know that you, my readers, understand this. Here’s to a new year filled with fruits, vegetables, flowers, pollinators, and ever-dirty fingernails.

Happy New Year!







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  1. #1 by Diane on January 1, 2022 - 1:21 am

    Happy New Year to you!! I so enjoyed your post! Love your pictures of the flowers, trees and wet lands.

    Thanks! Diane

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. #3 by Joan Brasier on January 1, 2022 - 7:02 am

    Happy New Year. I miss you over on facebook and I’m always thrilled when I find a blog posting waiting in mail.

    • #4 by piedmontgardener on January 1, 2022 - 7:29 am

      Hi, Joan! I miss Facebook interactions too, but the interface is … problematic … for me, alas.

      I’m delighted to learn you are continuing to enjoy my posts.

      Happy New Year!

  3. #5 by James on January 3, 2022 - 10:24 pm

    As always, I would like to thank you for the time you graciously devote to developing a narrative along with photo documentation. I was personally enjoying our record-setting 70 degree plus temperatures prior to the snow showers showing up last night just after 10. The flakes were beautiful, but springlike temperature will always hold my heart. Y’all take care and keep us posted as always.

    Best Regards, James

    • #6 by piedmontgardener on January 4, 2022 - 7:39 am

      Hi, James! Spring is a wonderful season, but our plants and animals need the rest and recovery provided by our winter season, and, frankly, so do I. Plus, I love the near-absence of mosquitoes and other pests, and the bonus of being able to do heavier yard work without melting. However, the magic of a spring morning filled with bird song, frog calls, and perfumed air is undeniable. Best wishes to you and yours this new year.

  4. #7 by Bill Consoletti on January 7, 2022 - 4:52 pm

    I attended the National SAF Convention virtually and just finished a session on woman-focused forestry education. An organization called ForestHER assists in educating women who manage and/or own forested land. There are chapters in 20 states, including N.C. I thought you would like to know.
    I really enjoy your blog.


    • #8 by piedmontgardener on January 7, 2022 - 5:05 pm

      Hi, Bill! Yes, I know about this organization. One of the wonderful agriculture extension agents in my county always heavily advertises classes offered by this group when they are offered. My understanding is that these classes are designed to help women who own tracts of forest land larger than my five-acre yard, which, although it contains some nice trees, is not really forest land as we usually define it. I’m delighted to hear you enjoy my blog. Give my best to Christine!

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