A Project For the Pandemic

I’m extremely lucky.  Both my wife and I are able to work from home, while this health crisis spreads across the land and attacks our healthcare system, and our children are home here with us.  Our immediate family can afford to do the same.  Only a few of our closer friends are on the front lines as healthcare providers, and the area we live in has yards, streets to walk, and woods to wander.  I wish it were the same for everyone.

pulsatilla vulgaris

The first pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) opens.  I love their furry sweaters and the saturated color the cool weather brings on.

It’s not though, and the beautiful, early spring is a bit surreal alongside the news headlines and overall concern.  So we stick to home and the garden.

corydalis solida seedlings

Blue Scilla siberica and the red tones of Corydalis solida seedlings have officially taken over the front foundation beds.

Working from home frees up about two hours worth of commute each day, and with lunch and breaks it easily adds up to an extra three hours of spare time each weekday.  Sometimes I even stretch my lunch a little, but please don’t tell.

potager remodel

The potager is getting raised beds.  The old edging is coming out and the new layout is being planned.  I have no idea where all the soil to fill raised beds will come from but I’m sure something will work out.

After an ordering fiasco and delivery disaster the wood for the beds has arrived.  Normally I’d make a thousand trips to piecemeal and nickel and dime the entire project, but for once I planned a bit and will hopefully have most of what I need.  We will see.  As projects go it’s fairly simple and straightforward except for two things.  (1) The site is not all that level, and (2) Thousands of plants are in the way.

flower bulb bed

The zucchini and gooseberry bed…. but then underplant the berries with colchicums.  Edge the beds with chrysanthemums.  Tulips came in with the compost.  Daffodils will die down before the zucchini needs room.  The rose is so small… oh I need a spot for these snowdrops…

Common sense would say dig it all under and buy a few new bulbs in the fall.  This was considered, and then considered again, but of course by Thursday I decided to save as much as I can.  How can I dig under tulips just a few weeks away from blooming?  Things are now being moved if possible, or just plain potted up with hopes for a miracle in space becoming available.

spring bulb border

The front border starting to look less sloppy and more flowery.

The potager is going to be a mess for a while so I’ll leave you off with a view of the front street border.  The mowed up debris of last year is starting to become less noticeable as spring bulbs come up green and burst into flower.  Surely some good must come of this.

Have a great week, and all the best.

A Down Day

I don’t know how non-gardeners do it.  Today was a sloppy, sleety, chilly day and after just a few hours of being cooped indoors I’m almost ready to try doing the taxes on my own.  We are hunkering down for our second week at home and although the yard doesn’t look much better for it, at least the open air and sunshine was a nice distraction.  One day inside and I can’t imagine what the rest of our neighbors do to fill the time.  I wonder if they even know the birds are singing and the buds are bursting in spite of the messy weather.

pussy willow

Pussy willow just starting

Things weren’t perfect before, but it was good enough with a coat on and decent mudding shoes, and considering it was still mid March I consider that to be excellent.  The sunshine and warmth ended the snowdrops but there’s always more on the way.

'Tête à Tête' daffodil

The first daffodils are coloring the front beds a springtime gold.  ‘Tête à Tête’ in front, ‘Tweety Bird’ towards the street. 

Corydalis solida and the first daffodils are leading the next flush, and in spite of the snow they’re a sign of real spring.

Tweety bird daffodil

‘Tweety Bird’ is my favorite early daffodil.  It handles the weather well and I love the form.

Maybe a down day is a good thing.  I’ve been pruning, trimming, transplanting, and fixing and after being inside for winter and work, I’m a little short of the normal gardening endurance levels.  Nothing a little a dose of Tylenol can’t fix 😉

corydalis purple bird

Corydalis solida ‘Purple Bird’.  Many of the named corydalis just abruptly disappear in this garden, but their many seedlings are often just as good (or dare I say better?)

I won’t bore you with the less than impressive transplants and prunings.  Most are just balls of mud in new positions which only I will notice, but one thing which may be noticeable is that plans are afoot.

potager

The work never strays far from a convenient rest spot.  It’s always good to reflect on any progress.

The plans are the byproduct of too much sitting around and thinking, and when it gets bad the gardener decides change for change’s sake might sound like progress, so giddy up!

So wood has been ordered for the construction of raised beds.  Someone here thinks the vegetable component of the potager will be much more productive if the beds are raised… I think planting fewer flowers might help… we will see.  In any case I’m sure it will turn into much more work than it should be, and take far longer.  That makes sense since it’s already cost more than we’ll ever make back in fresh produce.  In any case, have a productive and healthy week!

Panic Buying

We stocked up on a few things during our last trip to the store, things like chocolate chips, cheese, and icecream, all the essentials you’d need to live on cookies and pizza for the next few weeks, but we were happy enough to skip the toilet paper aisle.  My wife has been hoarding toilet paper since before it was cool, so even with the current demand for paper products we still have at least a month before we need to crack open the paper towel vault.  We all have our panic point though, and mine was warming weather and a lack of any decently sized camellias in the garden, so Friday order, Wednesday ship, and Thursday a sigh of relief.

“Hardy” camellias from Camellia Forest Nursery.  Huge plants, awesome quality… much better than I could ever have imagined!

Panic buying is not based in rational thought, and camellias are not hardy in my zone, but… I’ve been dabbling with a few seedlings.  They’ve survived.  I spoke with Charles Cresson who grows many camellias in his Swarthmore Pa garden.  He suggested I look into the Korean forms of Camellia japonica.  Things were researched, plants were purchased 🙂

When I say camellias are not hardy in my area I mean to say most camellias are not hardy here.  Charles knows a thing or two about camellias, and has been growing them for decades a zone or two south of here, and he pointed me towards the Camellia japonica genetics collected by Barry Yinger in the late 70’s to early 90’s from islands off the Korean Peninsula.  To hear the story of seed collecting under armed escort within sight of North Korea sounds like quite the adventure, but the more restrained Morris Arboretum version is available here.  I’ve heard the hardiest of the seedlings have survived -29F.

So we will see.  Obviously I don’t know where they will be planted.  The two magnolias don’t have a home either, but it’s good to be prepared.

A New Season

Last weekend was David Culp’s Galanthus Gala.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and the flood of friends and early season plants and rare goodies that filled the Downingtown Friends Meetinghouse were a treat as the new garden season begins to rev up.  What a difference a few days makes.  I’m sure you see the news so I won’t rehash, but I just want to wish all my friends the best and hope they stay healthy and safe.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum doing better than ever thanks to the relatively mild winter.  Over the last year about half the plantings here disappeared as a result of wet and rot, but this cyclamen is spectacular.

In just a few days spring has arrived and fortunately it’s a white fever which has infected this gardener.  Eleven years of planting and tending is finally starting to pay off, and the tiny handfuls of begged bulbs and lonely singletons are becoming puddles and pools.  I finally have hope that there will one day be a sheet of snowdrop white in this garden, maybe not a California King sheet, but possibly a twin, and that’s excellent enough for me.

nivalis x elwesii

My first handful of snowdrops is up for some more division this year.  I believe it’s a nivalis x elwesii cross.

The non-winter has been a new experience, with some things up early and others holding back.  Restraint payed off for those who held back, since there were a couple harsh nights in February, but for the most part the garden has escaped the usual damage associated with gambling on a winter garden in zone 6.

freeze damage snowdrop

Some drops had their tender stems turn to mush when temperatures dropped into the single digits, but over the years I’m learning who these tender drops are, and am moving them to more sheltered spots.

With the right attitude the good always outweighs the bad, and I like to think there’s a lot of good.  New snowdrops are good, and I can’t believe I have ‘E.A. Bowles’ in the garden this year.  I love it.  When I first saw this drop five years ago on a visit to Hitch Lyman’s Temple Garden,  I thought for sure it would be many years before I would have a chance at it, but here it is.

galanthus ea bowles

‘E.A. Bowles’, a pure white snowdrop which has replaced the three short inners with another set of pure white outers.

So now I shall continue with way more snowdrop pictures than good company should have to endure.  You are more than welcome to scroll down to the end and I won’t take a bit of offense  🙂

galanthus moortown

Another newer to me drop, galanthus ‘moortown’.  Thumbs up for me on these big blooms with a strong mark that bleeds up.

Only a few drops here can claim to be new and exciting.  They might seem that way to me but fancier people will turn their noses up at the plain white and green things I’m obsessing about.  No problem I say.  Social distancing is so much easier around here when your day revolves around tiny green markings on a tiny white flower.

galanthus alans long ovary

I’m not sure who Alan is, but here’s galanthus ‘Alan’s Long Ovary’ looking nice with a growing clump of ‘Winifrede Mathias’ in the background.

Before anyone gets the wrong impression, let me again clearly state that my garden is not as impressive as closeups and heavily cropped photos might imply.  Snowdrops are tiny, and one drop does not a garden make, so I think I still have plenty of time to consider charter bus parking and garden visitor handouts.

american snowdrop garden

A blank lawn is slowly giving way to planting beds and a garden design.  This is the bulk of my snowdrop garden, and notice that the glare of white is still far from overwhelming.

Even without visitors it’s a fun obsession.  It makes the next few weeks less painful as we shelter in place and face the waiting game.

galanthus kew green

A late galanthus ‘Kew Green’ backed up by an early hellebore.  I like when the drops open alongside other spring color.

Hopefully the garden is enough to wear me out and keep me safe from online plant shopping.  February has already seen magnolia and “hardy” camellia purchases and there’s no plans to where any of it will go, so if we stop there it’s probably a good thing.

galanthus greenish

A souvenir snowdrop from another Temple Gardens visit, galanthus ‘Greenish’.  It was beautiful in the gardens and I was thrilled to see it for sale at the exit.

There’s plenty to do without adding anything new, so let me remind myself of that.

rabbit crocus

Rocks thrown down for a new (and yet unfinished) bed edging have kept the rabbits away from the crocus they normally destroy.  I wonder if I can expand on this idea…

Moving plants comes first.  In the earliest days of spring I can pop stuff up and plop it elsewhere without water or worry and that’s perfect for the laziest of gardeners.  Today I shall finish the snowdrops and begin shrubs… according to the plan I never follow…

galanthus sutton courtney

One of my favorites, galanthus ‘Sutton Courtney’ with a few tommy crocus behind.  Fyi the snowdrops still looked nice a few hours later after the bunnies ate all the crocus.

Hope these days treat you well and you’re able to find your own retreat in the garden.

Darn Leap Year

Even though most of the long range forecasts hinted at a shift to colder weather, I’m 99% sure it’s because of the leap year.   I haven’t filled in all the gaps in my new theory but Saturday was much colder than I think we deserved and I bet it would have been a much nicer day if it were March 1st rather than February 29th…. unless that’s not the case.  Come to think of it February wasn’t all that bad this year, with a couple days in the 50’s and plenty in the 40’s to counteract the odd 4 degree night.  Much warmer than normal and practically snow-free, and that made for some wonderfully early snowdrop visits.

galanthus rodmarton arcturus regulus

‘Rodmarton Arcturus’ to the left of ‘Rodmarton Regulus’.  Two stand out snowdrops in a stand out NY snowdrop collection.

First on the list was a visit to an open garden on Long Island NY.  I was in the area to visit my parents and with beautiful sunshine and warm weather in the forecast it just made sense to drag mom out to look at drops.  Dad has learned his lesson on previous colder visits so he wisely stayed home, but even he would have enjoyed the location and warmth.

long island snowdrop garden

The garden’s host leading a group around to admire the drops.    

This is the same garden my friend Paula and I visited last year (nearly a month later btw), and this visit made me realize how spoiled were were the first time.  We had our host nearly all to ourselves that time, and all the stories and tips and conversation made the time fly by too quickly.  This time even though we had to share him with the other groups flowing through, we were still able to catch a glimpse of several treasures and check out what the new season brought.

galanthus joe spotted

Galanthus ‘Joe Spotted’ was looking much finer than my overexposed photos show.  Pity that we were forced to endure such strong sunshine and warm breezes during our visit.

This garden has clump after clump of rare and special snowdrops, so it takes a while to inch through the plantings, but as we got around to the end the healthy clumps of “wild” ‘viridapice’ scattered all through the hedges and shrubbery reminded me that the tried and true also has incredible value.

galanthus viridipice

Patches of Galanthus ‘Viridipice’ around the garden’s edges.  

Come to think of it I may have to order a few more ‘viridapice’ this year when I send in my wish list.  Earlier orders are well on their way to clumping up here and if you’d like to do the same, check under sources on my snowdrop page for the owner’s email address.

winter beach long island

It’s a shame to be less than a mile from the ocean and not stop by.  I miss the winter beach.  

For as pleasant and warm as our February snowdrop visit was, the fake February visit I made yesterday was a far different experience.  On a day which should have been March I set off to the Philly area to meet with my friend Paula for our traditional snowdrop tour.  Cold it was.  And windy.  It was ridiculous to stand out in the wind and cold for nearly three hours but we did, and I’m not sure who was to blame.

winter garden northeast

The garden looked March-ish with witch hazels, snowdrops, and hellebores.  The green of winter aconite looked awfully fresh for a day hovering just above freezing.

Normally Paula and I have much more adventurous spring snowdrop agendas but this year she abandoned me to take on a big overseas adventure in the UK amongst more ancient and vast snowdrop gardens.  Just catching up on that alone took most of the afternoon!

leucojum vernum

Spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) and some yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) carpet the mossy ground under the central cherry tree.

The garden was filled with enough other distractions to compete with the trip stories.  Snowdrops are nice but the hellebores were also coming up all over, and the mix of colors made me grateful there are plenty of fantastic gardens on this side of the Atlantic as well.

winter hellebores and snowdrops

A real winter garden with awesome hellebores and snowdrops seeding and sprouting everywhere.

I also had an experience which shook me a bit.  There’s a leafy evergreen perennial called the Japanese sacred lily (Rohdea japonica) and although some people go absolutely nuts for them, paying thousands of dollars for special forms, I have remained entirely immune to any desire to grow them.  Then I saw Paula’s.  It was kinda nice.

winter hellebores and snowdrops

More snowdrops and hellebores plus a nice clump of Rohdea japonica.  Hmmmm.

I’ll have to be careful the next time I’m around Edgewood Gardens.  John Lonsdale has a nice variety of them scattered across his hillside and what harm could a second look do, but in the meantime let’s think about cheaper plants.  Galanthus worowonii is a species snowdrop which can be had for a few bucks a bag and in general is nice enough, but not much of a bloomer for me.  Then I saw a nice bunch at Paula’s.  Out of all the many goodies this is the one I was interested in, and I think you’ll see why.

galanthus woronowii

A good blooming, nicely formed Galanthus woronowii on the right, and a regular one on the left.  As you would expect most of what I have in my garden are leafy and floppy like the ones on the left.

So now I’m thinking of more unnecessary plants to try,  Might as well add another.  Winter jasmine (Jasmine nudiflorum) is a floppy, messy, wanna-be shrub that sometimes identifies as a vine.  Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s as fragrant as its cousins (it’s not), but it is a surprisingly floriferous late winter bloomer that doesn’t mind freezing more than it thaws.  I see it listed as hardy to zone 6, so I may poke a stem in here (it roots easily wherever a stem touches down) and give it a global warming try.

winter jasmine

Winter jasmine artfully slung over the perfect boulder.  I’m sure it takes a little trimming to keep in check, but the effect is worth it.

Hmmmm.  It seems like I’ve mentioned quite a few new things to try out this year, and there have only been two garden visits so far.  Luckily it’s March and even though the month is a day late in coming, flipping the calendar means one really important thing which you may or may not know about.  It’s the month of official snowdrop events, and next Saturday, March 7th is David Culp’s Galanthus Gala.  From 10-3 Downington Pa shall transform into the epicenter of rare snowdrop sales, hellebore offerings, uncommon plants, and a celebration of all types of plant nerdery in general.  Alan Street of Avon Bulbs will be offering two lectures and I suspect many plants will find new homes that day.  Admission is free, but pre-sale entry and the lectures will require ticket purchase.  All the cool kids will be there and hopefully I can sneak in as well.

Hope you have an excellent week.  March does have its benefits, and hopefully one of them is warming temperatures.  Not an insignificant point since it took me about 8 hours to warm up again after trying to pull off a garden visit in Fake February.

A Touch of Spring

Early February is not spring but the plants don’t seem to know, and even if the weather has drifted cooler since these photos were taken, it’s still an unusually mild “winter”.

pale yellow eranthis hyemalis

The first winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) have opened.  These are a pale yellow version which is always a bit earlier than the straight species.

Although the days are getting noticeably longer we’re still just barely into the upswing of winter.  It takes a while to shift from cooling to warming and these should still be some of the coldest days of the winter, but they’re not, and the weird season has some plants behaving oddly.  Some are ahead, some are unconvinced, and others still think it’s fall.

galanthus elwesii green tip

Up and blooming earlier than ever, these giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) are showing a bit of green on tips which have never shown green before.  In 14 years of growing this one, I think I would have noticed.

In the end it’s out of my control so no sense in too much hand wringing.  Saturday morning I threw on a sweatshirt, pulled out the hedge trimmers, chopped down and raked out the front bed, mowed it all up, threw it back on to the bed and called it ready to go for 2020.  Spring cleanup before getting any advice from the groundhog is unprecedented but the spring bulbs do need a clean slate to show off against!

perennial bed cleanup

Not the neatest look, but by May it will look fine and I’m sure I’ll find plenty of other things to do now that spring cleanup here is complete! 

It was a slow start.  A head cold had me second guessing the work, and the weeks of couch sitting didn’t exactly have me feeling any younger, but it was nice to finally burn off a few Christmas cookies.  That and there were snowdrops to enjoy 🙂

 

galanthus godfrey owens

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’ is usually up and blooming during our first warm spell.  It’s a favorite of course.

So now begins the usual forecast watching which has me worrying about every ice storm and polar blast which could stomp these early joys.  Fingers crossed it’s not the usual flower frying blast in March and instead is a gentle and gradual warming that encourages the most amazing show of spring bloom that we have ever experienced.  One can hope.  If all else fails I’d like just one sunny dry perfect day to enjoy the drops.  Having it happen on a Saturday wouldn’t hurt either 😉

You Call That A Cleanup?

So here we are in late January and winter still hasn’t put up much of a fight.  I fought the urge last time and took the Christmas lights down instead, but this weekend’s rain and above freezing weather was too much and it broke me down.  The snowdrops are coming up all over the front foundation beds and of course I need to see them clearly… plus the ski season stinks.

late winter garden cleanup

This is the after picture, and is probably as good as cleanup gets for this bed.  The keenest eyes may spot a few snowdrops 🙂 

I have a tendency to do my spring cleanups early but this winter you barely know if it’s a really late fall job or if this already qualifies as spring.  Time will tell.  One thing you can be sure of is that my need to tidy up every last stray leaf and twig has evaporated as I get older.  Older and wiser maybe?  The leaves disappear quickly as new sprouts come up and hide them, and they’re small enough that they break down into the soil again before summer is too far along.  If they were bigger and tougher leaves like oak or sycamore I’d rake them off and run over them with the mower before throwing them back on the beds, but they’re not and that makes for a quick tidying up.  The twigs and stems and cut back hellebore leaves were carted off to the back yard,  I didn’t want to attract too much attention running them through the mower in January since I just recently made fun of my neighbor for doing the same.

overwintering lettuce

Verbena bonariensis and lettuce seedlings, both surviving the cold just fine.  It will be interesting to see what all makes it through the winter this year… assuming we don’t get slammed in March.

Maybe I’ll run all the trimmings through the mower in February.  The ten day forecast shows a dip in to the teens and then another warming trend through Groundhog Day and beyond, so early February doesn’t look any more promising for snowy slopes than January was.  I’ll try to cope 😉