Into the Woods 2017

I happen to be one of those people who loves looking at vacation pictures.  Since I know that’s not the case with everyone (and this is still just a garden blog) I’ll try to keep it quick.  Last August we headed out for the annual camping trip and although our base camp was in the woods, we spent nearly all our time exploring the beautiful maritime region where Maine ends and Canada begins.


On the lookout for whales at Head Harbour Lightstation, at the very Northern tip of Campobello Island.

Campobello Island, New Brunswick was our home, and besides the scenic coastline and cool northern air (and water!) the island is also the site of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park, a joint operation between Canada and the US which operates the park and curates the summer cottage of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

My first visit to Campobello was over 30 years ago but one of the things I remember best were the immaculate flower beds which decorated the FDR visitor center and cottage grounds.  They’re still there and they still contain all the bright annuals which seem to do best where summer temperatures rarely break the 80F (27C) barrier, and ocean fog is a weekly occurrence.

The kids are still young enough to enjoy just about everything about roughing it.


In charge of the breakfast dishes.

Herring Cove Provincial Park Campground was our base camp and in addition to an exceptionally friendly and thoughtful camp staff, it’s also just a short walk from the beach.  The cold Atlantic water is only for the most desperate or daring of swimmers, but there’s always a whole outdoor world to explore and plenty to do along the coastline.

Another memory is the exceptionally collectable stones of Herring Cove beach.  They’re all so perfectly polished and there’s such a range of colors and types.


Herring Cove beach

Although Campobello is part of Canada the only bridge to and from the Island connects to the US mainland.  To avoid crossing the border and making the two hour roadtrip to the next border crossing, the locals travel back and forth via ferry.  Just for fun one of our days was spent riding the ferries between Campobello, Deer Island, and then the Canadian mainland, and of course it’s an extremely scenic trip this island hopping through the wildlife rich waters of Passamaquoddy Bay.

We had exceptionally warm and sunny weather for the first part of visit, but a trip to Campobello wouldn’t be complete without fog.


Back in the US at West Quoddy Head lighthouse.  West Quoddy is the easternmost point on the continental US and an excellent site for some of the easternmost calisthenics in the United States.

Lubec Maine’s harbor is as scenic as Maine gets with its lobster boats and fog shrouded islands, and the rapid tidal currents swarmed with gray and harbor seals as bald eagles cruised the air.  Of course there were plenty of seagulls as well!


The docks just off commercial street in Lubec Maine.

Hopefully we made a few memories on this trip, ones which are strong enough to hold up to a return to wifi, but if anything the kids were just excited to visit their first foreign country… and collect what seemed like hundreds of dollars worth of ‘souvenir’ Canadian change.


A foggy Mulholland Point Light with pink fireweed and yellow rudbeckia.

We will see where we drag ourselves off to next summer!

Spending Money (or so it seems)

With snow and ice and freezing temperatures outside, the winter garden has again become my refuge from the cold.  For those who aren’t in the know, the winter garden is a workshop just off the garage which is slowly becoming less and less workshop and more and more a potting and growing area.  I was back there a week ago (which is typical for this time of year) and decided it again needed some sprucing up.  The walls in particular stood out as less than hygienic and as I sat there with an appropriate beverage, pondering the situation, I remembered all the leftover paint taking up space in the garage proper.  It’s that little bit which you keep for ‘touchups’ but then never actually use, so why not put it to use on the walls of the winter garden?

Of course in order to paint the walls I needed to see the walls, so away came all the years of stored plastic pots, and out came the the ledge which was buried underneath.  “Not bad”  I thought (as I briefly considered how every one of the empty pots most likely contained a three or four dollar plant at one time).  The ledge would probably make an excellent spot for a fourth growlight setup, and for a fourth light we might have to dip into the gardening budget… or not.  It depends on how shady the accounting gets.

potted snowdrop

The first of the wintergarden winter-flowers are starting to open up.  Here’s an unnamed giant snowdrop (G. elwesii) with a few Cyclamen coum behind. 

On the way back from work I stopped by the DIY store and spent about $63 for the odds and ends which I might need for a fourth light in the winter garden.  That may seem like a straight forward gardening charge, but it’s not and let me explain why.  I didn’t need a fourth light.  I already had one which had been evicted from the house, so it was actually a surprise that a fifth one ended up in my cart.  They were on clearance of course so better to get one and save $10 in the process and who knows, maybe some day I’ll use it to illuminate a work area so it’s clearly not a gardening expense.  The screws weren’t either.  I only needed to buy them because the boy got off with all the ones we had in order to build some boy project last summer.  That was just the cost of having children.  I bought a chain which could hang the light but that’s structural, just like the scrap wood which makes up the shelf and hangers.  All in all I guess for now I’ll just count the $6 worth of S hooks which I bought to hang the actual light.

winter garden

Still not a winter paradise but at least things are cleaner and there’s more growing space.  Please ignore the pumpkins, they and a few gourds have been waiting since Thanksgiving to have their seeds removed and cleaned for next summer.  

Once the light was up I ended up using leftover chain links to hang the lights, so I’m going to cut that last $6 charge right back off the budget.  You will probably agree that at zero dollars this was a very economical upgrade.

But I will add a $2.50 charge to the tally.  A child was given a fish tank for Christmas.  A trip to the store and $70 worth of fish, aquarium decorations (and mostly snacks and food items) left me with a mostly unused, yet already-opened, bag of aquarium gravel.  Aquarium gravel makes an excellent soil covering for potted cacti and succulents so I’ve made an executive decision to accept the gravel into the gardening inventory… although I’ll have to discount the 5$ bag by 50% for already being opened. 🙂

$2.50 for aquarium gravel

$155 total so far for the 2018 gardening year.

Everything According to Plan

Someone here has accused my side of the family as being carriers of the gene for hoarding.  I disagree.  We do like to hold onto things, but we’re not big spenders and the things which come our way are either still eventually used, or have some other end in mind.  A further defense point is that if something sits for more than seven years we’re more than willing to get rid of it… although it still hurts putting it to the curb and I far prefer giving it away.

My parents must be at the giving away stage.  For the last few years they’ve been making a serious effort at putting their affairs in order and working their way through the mountain of things which a lifetime will accumulate.  I’m in complete denial as to why they’d want to do this, so it’s been fun seeing all these memories come back to life and having a chance to look back on the tender beginnings of this world famous garden blogger.

garden records

The early gardening records.  I’m guessing I had to stick to a budget of about $20, an easier task when shipping was under $1 and seed packets sat in the same price range.

I always thought they wanted to hold onto this stuff for when they open the museum, but apparently even they didn’t realize what real treasures they were holding on to.  I’ll stick to the ordering side for now but maybe some day I’ll bore you with some of the detailed flowering and growth records I kept for years and the tedious development plans I had for most every corner of the yard.  Obviously my obsession started early and rather than throw around terms such as ‘just like Thomas Jefferson’ and ‘coulda been president’, today we’ll just stick with that winter treat of all gardeners, the catalogs.

vintage garden catalog

I’d call it vintage, but I’m afraid that would date me more than it does the catalog.  A 30 year old White Flower Farm catalog is still a pleasure to read but was way outside the budget of a certain 17 year old.

So maybe I do horde favorite gardening catalogs and magazines.  I could have worse faults I think and as I look out at blowing snow and bitter windchills it’s got me thinking about this year’s plant budget.  Steve over at Glebe House Garden has a weekly running tab of hours spent working in the garden and it gives an eyeopening look at how much work a perfectly maintained garden can take.  My garden is neither perfectly maintained nor do my hours in the garden accurately reflect any amount of real work being done.  I think if I attempted the same I’d just be embarrassed by any attempt to explain why it took me two hours to plant six tomato seedlings… even if I only spent half that time staring at the clouds or pondering an iris flower.  I won’t try that.

What I will try is to keep a tab of how much I spend on the garden, and before you get all fine print on me I’d like to say up front I’ll be excluding several gray area costs from the tally.  Gas prices don’t count even if I drive two hours one way for a plant.  Gardening magazine subscriptions don’t count.  Garden construction projects probably won’t count.  Postage on a plant trade doesn’t count even if it’s an eight pound box of lilies from Utah.  Of course snowdrops don’t count, that’s still just my midlife crisis.

Here’s where 2018 is at.  Plant society memberships do count since they give me access to bunches of excellent seeds, and those are our first yearly expenses.

$40  membership renewal for the NA Rock Gardening Society
$15  for 25 packets of seed exchange seeds
$25  membership renewal for the American Primrose Society
$18  for 18 packets of seed exchange seeds
$35  membership renewal for the Mid Atlantic Hardy Plant Society
$20  for 35 packets of seed exchange seeds -10 extra for being a donor 🙂

$ 153 so far.  Off to a rocky start and I haven’t even made a definite decision on the Historic Iris and American Daffodil Societies…

Welcome 2018!

Another year is upon us, and here in the Northeast it’s off to a slow and frigid start.  On the day before Christmas I was poking around looking for snowdrop shoots, now just a little more than a week later I’m watching the birds huddle around the feeder while the rivers and lakes freeze over.  It’s a bit of a shock to have actual winter weather after years of lackluster cold, but I’m pretty confident it won’t last.  The weather is still all over, and when I randomly checked the Nome Alaska forecast it looks like just outside the arctic circle they’re enjoying high temperatures just below freezing while we’re developing our own permafrost here to the south.  My best bet in scenarios like this is to head for the warmth of a decent conservatory to enjoy a little warm indoor gardening stability 😉

planting fields arboretum

Camellias flowering under glass, safely sheltered from the single digit weather outside.

My choice was the glass houses of Planting Fields Arboretum, located just east of NYC on Long Island.  Built in the 1920’s it’s the former Coe Estate, an old Gatsby era Gold Coast mansions which rather than face the wrecking ball or subdivision like so many others, was donated to the state of NY which has cared for it ever since.

planting fields arboretum

Looking through the Camellia house.

My pictures really don’t do the estate credit, I was working with an older cell phone camera and the cold outside caused the battery to shut down for most of the visit (thanks Apple)… so only a few photos… but hopefully someday soon I’ll be back for better.  The not-yet-full-of-flowers camellia house is where I did get a few pictures, and although the peak is still two or so months off (late February/early March) the contrast between this and  icy walks with cold-curled leaves of rhododendron was perfect.

planting fields arboretum

Get a deal on a couple hundred camellias, build a massive greenhouse to protect them, enjoy the blooms each winter.

I seem to recall reading that this camellia house is the largest under-glass collection of camellias in the Northeast, but there are even more extensive greenhouses on other parts of the estate.  They’re full of holiday poinsettia displays, tropical fruit and blooms, cacti, orchids, bromeliads… but of course camera issues will spare you from all those photos today.  We did manage to make a quick tour around Coe Hall before our noses froze completely (and the phone shut down).

planting fields arboretum

The front door and approach to Coe Hall.

It was a shame to skip the holly and conifer collections, but we weren’t up for a long walk and didn’t have the time regardless.  Better to linger during magnolia season or when the azaleas are in bloom, or the rose arches, peonies, perennial borders, annual displays, lilies, dahlias….. 😉

planting fields arboretum

Round back.

Since the camera died at that point, and in retrospect the photos aren’t all that great in the first place, I’ll move on to another more local winter conservatory… my own winter garden of fluorescent shoplights and workshop benches.  It may not have overhanging boughs of fruiting citrus, or banks of multicolored poinsettias (the variety of which rivaled much larger gardens) but it does have my absolute favorite plant, a returned from the dead Australian Tree Fern.

overwintered tree fern

After three months of ‘will it live?’ the Australian tree fern has said ‘yes!’ and has earned itself pride of place under the winter growlights.

Don’t ask me why but I’m this excited about a stupid fern.  As you know they just sit there being green, but there’s something extra special about it, maybe it’s the accent.

primula obconica

The other end of the growing bench.  My only primrose this year, Primula obconica, is in full bloom.  It’s a sad, malnourished example of this non-hardy species, but it’s all mine and of course I’m overly proud of it.

It’s still another week or two before snowdrops and cyclamen show up under the lights, but rather than go outside again to take pictures of frosty dead things, I’ll leave you with a bright reminder of the hot colors of summer.

overwinter geranium

The geraniums (pelargoniums) are still blooming well in spite of the cooler temperatures.  I believe this dark red is ‘Caliente Fire’.

May your 2018 be filled with joy, friendship, and success, and thanks to all who take the time to visit this blog and entertain my ramblings.  All the best!

That Wasn’t Smart 8.0

In hindsight this is the time of year when winter interest should take center stage, and the addition of conifers to the winter garden is probably the best way to keep the yard attractive during the bleakest of winter months.  I’ve heard that and have seen it in print as well, and even the most reluctant gardener will throw a few evergreens around the house as the first step in crafting an attractive landscape.   The message is out, and the majority of houses around here have a sensible foundation planting filled with neatly trimmed yews and junipers and whatever else can snuggle up to the house for year round appeal.

foundation border

Our own slightly less neat foundation plantings, with respectable holly, juniper, and chamaecyparis plantings lined up along the foundation. 

Why this gardener would chose December to remove a large juniper from a prominent front-of-the-house location is foolish enough, but to replace it with a small ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Amber Jubilee) is over into the not so smart category.  Reliable evergreen replaced with small clump of deciduous twigs… maybe you can understand that ‘uh-oh’ feeling I had as I stood there holding the saw and staring at a pile of juniper branches.

foundation border

If you look closely you might be able to see the newest addition to this foundation planting.  It’s right there at the center of the gaping hole which was created when the juniper was removed. 

In all honesty I never liked the juniper.  It made me itch and bored me and even though there were a thousand better things which I could be doing I suddenly needed to plant that ninebark at that minute even though I was right in the middle of putting up the Christmas lights.  As long as we’re opening up here, the Christmas lights were turning into a whole other project in themselves.

Christmas porch decoration

A Longwood inspired twig archway with lights.  Lots of lights.  

The reason I had the saw out in the first place was because I needed to take a walk in the woods and cut down and drag back enough birch trees to make a decent arch leading onto the porch.  I’m pretty sure a twig archway was what our holiday decorations have been lacking.

Speaking of things lacking, this blog has been lacking a snowdrop photo for months and since so many of you have been asking how the snowdrops are doing I guess it’s time to jump back into that world.  Here’s a batch of fall bloomers which my friend Paula shared with me a couple years ago.  They’re out on the driveway for this photo but have since moved into the garage in anticipation for the approaching cold… lows for next week show numbers around 10F (-12C) and that’s just not appropriate for such an innocent little flower… or for the box of tulip bulbs which just showed up on the doorstep this afternoon.

fall snowdrops

Fall blooming giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) with a nice green pattern to the inners.  

If pushed I’d have to admit that no one has actually asked about the snowdrops, but I’m sure they were wondering and I didn’t want to rudely ignore that.

Now I’m off to check out something I can’t even ignore for a minute.  Pamela at Pam’s English Garden has put up the post detailing her own recent visit to Longwood Gardens.  I knew she was there within a few days of my own visit and I’ve been looking forward to seeing her own impressions of the decorations.  I hope she doesn’t point out a bunch of cool things which I missed!

A Longwood Christmas

A few years ago we almost gave up on holiday visits to Longwood Gardens.  We’re lingerers after all and the crowds and hustle bustle of hundreds of visitors can put a lot of pressure on ‘that guy’ who’s holding up the line because he wants to give all the gardenia flowers a sniff.  We kept at it though because for as nice as Christmas and good cheer are, a few whiffs of the tropics can also go a long way bringing some jolly to a cold winter night… and these are the long nights and stressful days which can really use some tropical relief.

longwood christmas

The orangery decked out for the holidays.  Warmth, humidity, and sunshine made the display even better.

Who would have thought the answer to our crowded visits could be as simple as going on a less crowded day?  For the second year in a row we visited on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and for Christmas diehards that might be inappropriately early, but for us it’s been working perfectly.  The weather was beautiful and we nearly had the place to ourselves (relatively speaking of course).

longwood christmas

This year the apples are back, this time keeping company with thousands of floating red cranberries.

The conservatories are always perfectly decorated with the colors and sounds of the season.  I think my favorite part this year was the bright sunshine streaming in through the glass when we first arrived.  Walking through the doors and into the sunny, humid warmth was an instant escape from weeks of static and dry skin.

longwood christmas

Walls of windows, tree ferns, and fountains… I could get used to this 🙂

Flowers, greenery, and holiday decorations.  You can imagine I took plenty of pictures but since they’re not snowdrop photos I’ll spare you from the bulk of it.  Click >here< for last Christmas or >here< for last summer if you need more, or better yet visit the Longwood website for the real stuff!

longwood christmas

My favorite view this year, a courtyard scene off the back of the music room.

Since the kids ditched us this year there was plenty of time to admire the boring flowers without anyone tugging a coat sleeve.  Longwood always has orchids and I suddenly had the time to admire them… although I’m still far from being an orchid person (mostly due to their habit of dying on me).

I won’t go on and on about every conservatory flower but I did find something which I thought was even more special than their regular.  In one of the back greenhouse passages was a display of a few of their ‘on trial’ poinsettia, and I thought is was an interesting glimpse into some of the variety which this humble plant from Central America has been bred into.  This is also where I met some of the ‘golden’ poinsettias which carry names such as ‘Autumn Leaves, and ‘Gold Rush’, and came in colors more traditionally associated with the end of summer.  What do you think?  At least there’s no blue dye or glitter in sight!

…and then night fell.  We grabbed a bite to eat, toured the grounds, enjoyed the fountains (not the main fountains, they’re off for the winter), took in some Christmas songs around the organ, warmed up around the fire, and then closed the place down with one last tour of the conservatory.  It was holiday-magical in the late evening, with most visitors having already headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

A Longwood Christmas with a French feel.  The symmetry and apple-cranberry patterns surrounded by box are chateau parterre inspired.

Then we were the ones headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

The stroll back out to the car.  A two hour drive home awaits 😉

As usual we enjoyed our visit, and it must have been somewhat inspiring since I spent a few hours this weekend out in the cold putting up our own lights.  So far the reviews have been less than flattering, and there’s no talk of admission tickets, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

If you decide to make your way to Longwood this year for the displays be sure to buy your tickets online before you go, just to make sure they’re available.  Also if you want to take in a quieter visit, try to avoid Saturdays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Those might be the nights when you’re better off hitting the eggnog at home.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 11.21.17

It’s been three weeks since my last Tuesday View with Cathy so I guess it’s about time to check in again.  Winter is getting real and to sum up the passing weeks, the days are shorter, the first freeze has hit, winter cleanup has begun (and been finished), and we even woke up to our first inch of snow yesterday.  I hate the gloominess of this time of year but miraculously the sun came out just enough to capture a highlighted Tuesday view of the border.  And then it was gone again.

front border

The Tuesday view.  Nice enough but I already miss the flowers of summer.  A keen eye will pick out the mushy, frozen lump of my precious cardoon about mid border….

It could look worse.  Right now there’s still some contrast between dead-brown, dead-black, and dead-grey and the different forms and textures could be considered ‘winter interest’ to the more optimistic.  My opinion on winter interest leans more towards the warm shores of a tropical beach so I’ll have to trust others on that.

mailbox planting

The sunflower skeletons have finally been cut down, but that’s as far as the winter cleanup will go

Maybe evergreens are the way to go.  I of course love the too-bright yellows, but I’m sure there’s something more refined for those of better taste.

winter interest

The pink muhly grass has faded so now it’s up to this juniper to carry on for the winter.  I believe the juniper is ‘Old Gold’.

Coniferous color could carry the border through the lean months but for now (and hopefully the next  few weeks) the healthy green hellebore foliage is making the inner parts of the border look healthy and full.  During the heat of summer the taller perennials and shrubs shelter the hellebore leaves.  Now that they’ve died back again the hellebores can shine.

hellebore foliage

The giant reed grass (Arundo donax) has been trimmed back for the winter and the ten foot tall canes lugged away to the compost.  Without the grassy mess the red twigged dogwood ‘Midwinter Fire’ and the green of hellebores are back on stage.

I saw that this week Cathy has devoted her post to a recap of the year’s views.  I love it.  Being able to follow the whole year in just a few minutes is a fun way to spend these waning days of 2017… even if it does mean you’ll miss the garden and maybe get a little excited already for 2018!

Have a great week 🙂