Irene Virag's Garden Party

I'm Irene Virag -- a writer, a gardener, a cancer survivor. I think ideas are like plants. They need nurturing to grow. And gardeners share both. So welcome to my blog. It’s all about what’s happening in my garden and beyond.

Thursday, December 31, 2009


Should last year's garden be forgot and never brought to mind . . .

Now that would be a sad state of affairs indeed. As for me, I'll toast the blooms of yesterday and pamper my orchids and plan this year's beds and heed this quote from Vita Sackville-West:

"The most noteworthy thing about gardeners is that they are always optimistic, always enterprising, and never satisfied. They always look forward to doing better than they have done before."

And so, here -- in no order of priority -- are my garden resolutions for 2010:

Buy plant labels and use them
Plant more hellebores
Create a "rain garden" in my backyard
Replace the Daphne Carol Mackie I lost years ago and still miss
Repot my orchids
Design a tree and shrub border that includes callicarpa and a Stewartia
Use sunblock religiously
Start vegetable seeds on time
Take more photographs
Build a cold frame for year-round veggies
Set up a rain barrel
Organize my garden tools
Keep up with my garden blog
Plant more alliums
Find the perfect climbing rose for my arbors
Be more conscientious about storing my dahlias
Transform my back-40 into a native plant habitat
Turn my mailbox area into a xeriscape
Weed out the clutter -- in and out of the garden
Stop and smell the roses -- the lilies too

Of course, what's really important is how many of these things I actually accomplish. But I'm a realist -- I make no promises. I'll do the best I can. It's fun just making the list.

I'm sure you have your own resolutions. I'd love to hear them.


Sunday, December 27, 2009


From the questions I’ve been getting, I can tell there’s a lot of confusion about the real reason we mulch in winter. As tempting as it is to think that we’re tucking our cherished perennials under a cozy blanket of mulch to keep them warm through the Big Chill, that’s not the case at all.

Our plants don’t need protection from the cold. After all, the perennials in our gardens are hardy for our winters – that’s why we plant them. They require the period of dormancy that comes with the cold. By the way, it generally takes two or three hard freezes for plants to become fully dormant.

No, what our plants need protection from is the cycle of freezing and thawing that temperature fluctuations bring. These shifts can heave perennials from the ground and expose their roots and crowns to fatal damage when the weather turns cold again. That’s why we actually cover perennials with mulch in winter, unlike in summer when we spread the stuff around plants, but not on them. Summer mulch is another matter. But there’s plenty of time before we have to talk about that.

So, contrary to popular belief and maybe even logic, winter mulch is not intended to insulate plants from the cold. The true meaning of winter mulch is to hold in the cold.

Which is why you shouldn’t put it down too early – if the soil’s not cold, the mulch will only foster fungus and diseases. Besides, voles and mice and other creatures may still be on the lookout for warm winter digs. And if you mulch too soon, you won’t just be providing them with housing, you’ll be providing them with food as well.

And despite last weekend’s storm, you really can’t rely on snow – AKA “the poor man’s mulch” – to take care of things. In our parts, we just don’t get that much of it anymore. I mean, think back to when you were a kid – there was snow on the ground practically all winter long. Now that the white stuff has melted, tuck in any perennials that might have pushed out of the muddy muck. But don’t be fooled, it will get cold again. So cut a few branches off your Christmas tree and lay them over the garden beds. You'll be helping your perennials chill out.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

UNPLUG THE HOLIDAYS -- There's Still Time

In the spirit of the season, I'm extending the deadline for my "Unplug the Holidays" contest. So gather your greens and deck your halls and send me a photo of your favorite homemade decoration. In honor of the new year, the deadline is now January 1, 2010.

You have until midnight to submit your entry. You should include your name, mailing address, email address, daytime phone number, a brief description and the name of the person who created the decoration, if it’s not you. Photos will be posted on my blog.

Send entries to me at or 1019 Fort Salonga Rd., Suite 10 – #302, Northport, NY 11768.

First prize is an autographed copy of my sold-out book, “Gardening on Long Island with Irene Virag.” Second prize is a copy of "Christmas on Long Island," a collection of 25 postcards featuring holiday-themed photographs.

Have fun.