Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
January, 2006
Regional Report

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Named after Ben Franklin, the Franklinia alatamaha tree, with its lovely white flowers, is the most famous discovery of American botanists John and William Bartram.

January: An Exciting Transition

True to the myth of Janus, Roman god of gates, doors, beginnings, and endings, this January is a time of transition. Besides stepping in as mid-Atlantic editor for NGA, I recently moved from a row house in Philadelphia to a quaint stone country cottage in Radnor, PA. Me and dozens of perennials and shrubs I potted up and then enlisted friends to truck to the backyard just before early December's first snowstorm.

Janus is said to have brought to his people the Golden Age of peace and welfare. He introduced agriculture, money, and laws. Romans worshipped Janus at harvest and planting times, marriages, births, and other beginnings. They looked to him as the protector. He still represents the transition between the countryside and the city, peace and war, primitive life and civilization, the maturation of youth. I'm happy for the windfall of any benevolence. With an eye on heralding my own Green AND Golden Age of Peace, I'm on the lookout for a two-faced replica of the bearded god.

Ben Franklin's Birthday and Bartram's Garden
For those of us who flick on electric lights, borrow garden books from public libraries, or peer through bifocals, January is cause for celebration. A hearty thank you to Benjamin Franklin, whose 300th birthday is January 17, my birth date as well. For a birthday treat, I plan to join a procession from Bartram's Garden in southwest Philadelphia to Franklin's grave and then luncheon at the Down Town Club in Philadelphia. Bartram's -- the oldest living botanical garden in the United States -- is home to the rare and beautiful Franklinia alatamaha tree. John Bartram, who founded the garden, and his son William discovered this heretofore unknown tree in Georgia in 1765. William returned for seed and named the tree after Ben Franklin, a good friend of John's and a garden visitor. Though the Franklinia hasn't been seen in the wild since 1803, cultivated species exist as descendants of the Bartrams' conservation efforts. See for details.

Birds at the Cottage
Here at the cottage the snowy December blanket has melted. For winter life and color, feeding the birds is a win-win opportunity. From my kitchen window and rear door, I watch as dark-eyed juncos, Carolina chickadees, nuthatches, cardinals, tufted titmice, white-throated and song sparrows, house finches, and downy woodpeckers land, nibble, and dart in turn from newly hung feeders. They feast mostly mid-morning and before sundown.

Though the property has native trees and shrubs, by January the overwintering birds have eaten the choicest fruits that nature provides, explained Dr. Janice Gordon, Fellow and Chair of the Conservation Committee of the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club and Section Five Head of the Valley Forge Audubon Society Christmas and Breeding Bird counts. We can step in and fill up feeders with hull-less sunflower seeds, millet, milo, suet, even squash seeds. Birds may take time finding a new feeder; so place seeds on the feeder top or a nearby surface to give them a clue.

Hull-less sunflower seeds are preferred because black-oil sunflower seed hulls are allelopathic; they contain a chemical that inhibits seed germination in other plants. That's why plants don't grow where sunflower hulls touch the soil.

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