The Winter Garden 2014/15

My winter garden is having a good season so far.  Usually I don’t bother setting things up until around New Year’s but this season the shop lights went on in October for some special cuttings, and things have been humming along since.  The hardy cyclamen coum which I keep potted up are just starting to put on a show, and now that I’ve dispatched Mr. Mouse the blooms can open in peace.

winter garden under lights

The “Winter Garden” with cyclamen coum in bloom. I love the flowers alongside the bright variegated leaves of the plectranthus (probably ‘Troy’s Gold’).

For those of you who might not be as up to date with my garden as you’d like 🙂 here are a few statistics on the tiny little patch of plants which serves as my winter garden.  Basically it’s a four tube fluorescent shop light set up in an unheated workshop just off the back of the cool (never freezing) garage.  The bulbs are a generic T-8 type, usually in the ‘daylight’ or ‘natural light’ category but it really just depends on what I grab the day I’m shopping for lights.  That’s it.  Not quite a citrus filled orangerie or a warm, sunny conservatory, but it does the trick on a dark January evening.  I’m considering buying a few more and lining the side of the room with them in order to grow something bigger and fragrant.  A little goldfish pool back there wouldn’t bother me much either, might as well put a fountain in while I’m at it.

hardy cyclamen growing indoors under lights

Another two or so weeks and the cyclamen should really put on a nice show.

Last year I had a bunch of snowdrops and some early spring blooming perennial purchases from Far Reaches Farm.  They were awesome but this year I spent my winter treat money a few months too early and had to improvise, so on a warm December afternoon I went out and dug up a clump of almost completely frozen primula vulgaris for forcing.

forcing primrose

They needed dividing anyway, which eventually I did…. after letting them thaw out and sit in the dark for a week or so (not a recommended of course, but you know how things can get away from you during the holidays!)

A month later and they’re starting to wake up.  They probably won’t have as long a bloom season as some of the newer hybrid types, but I love their soft yellow color and big clumps of blooms.

primula vulgaris forced

One of the primula divisions coming along.  Fingers crossed for a good show!  (please ignore the dying coleus next to it.  Cold weather, overwatering and coleus are not a good mix)

I have a new favorite celebration.  As any Northern hemisphere gardener will know, the winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the point beyond which days lengthen and the march into spring begins.  But gardeners also know we don’t rush out in January and start planting.  It takes a while for the sun to catch up, shake off winter, and get things going again.  According to the ever interesting blog at MacGardens, the turning point for this is the January 21st celebration of ‘post-solstice’.  One month after winter solstice and the sun is starting to turn the tide of winter, bringing soil temperatures back from their lowest point (happening somewhere around Jan 21st) back up into the civilized range.  Speaking of civilized, check out MacGardens for a special treat of cool plants, exotic alpines, and just plain old interesting gardening.

cyclamen coum potted

I’m always trying to get out of the ‘average’ category of photography. Here’s one of my favorite cyclamen coum which I attempted to set up for a nice portrait.

Until post-solstice kicks in and we can again search for signs of life outdoors I’ll stick to the indoor garden.  With more snow on the way tonight I think that’s the best plan.  Here’s another plant making me happy sheltering from the storm under lights, it’s a variegated ice plant (dorotheanthus bellidiformis, probably ‘mezoo trailing red’).  Not to ‘out’ my slacker gardening, but the cuttings might have been hastily thrown on a workbench back in November when the first hard frost hit.  They sat there unplanted for at least a month until I got around to potting them up and don’t seem to have minded at all.  Surviving rootless on a table for over a month ranks well on my plant-o-meter.

dorotheanthus bellidiformis 'mezoo trailing red'

Variegated ice plant finally living the good life with soil and water (and plenty of roots- I checked)

A few snowdrops weren’t stolen out of their pots or had their heads nibbled off by the late Mr. Mouse, so February should be off to a good, post-solstice, start.  In either case I’m just happy that there’s already a bit of light on the horizon when I pull into work, and a rosy glow to the sky when I walk out!

32 comments on “The Winter Garden 2014/15

  1. Pauline says:

    You have certainly solved the problem of having a winter garden when your plot is covered in snow. Ingenious! They all look very healthy and are obviously enjoying the conditions you provide them with.

    • bittster says:

      To tell you the truth I’m surprised by how well they do under the light. Most plants don’t seem to mind at all and many just go on as if they’re basking under the real thing.

  2. Great to have somewhere warm, dry and bright to spend some time in. Spending a lot of my time in the greenhouses at the moment – it’s just too cold or wet outside. I’m impatiently waiting for your ‘march into spring.’ Cyclamen coums are a true favourite of mine. D

    • bittster says:

      I hope the march starts soon. I’d like to see how your dogwood/snowdrop border looks in its first year. I of course would add cyclamen too and then be scolded when the dogwood stem clash with the blooms….
      Enjoy the greenhouse. A dry spot with a bench to place your coffee or tea isn’t the worst thing.

  3. johnvic8 says:

    You obviously have a very successful four-bulb garden solution. Congratulations.

  4. The cyclamen are fabulous! Poor Mr. Mouse. I’ll never forget the year we had one creating havoc in the Green house. Mouse was elusive , escaping every trap we set, but then one morning I found him drowned in the watering can.

    • bittster says:

      Ah. The fast life finally caught up to him.
      Funny how you too only had one. Someone told me they always come in pairs, and usually that’s been the case, but this year it just seems to be the one.

  5. Speaking of digging things up from the garden to force, have you ever forced lily-of-the-valley? Pips for forcing go for a king’s ransom at White Flower Farm, but Matt Mattus digs them from his garden and forces them indoors. Myself, I am first working on having a lily-of-the-valley patch that has pips to spare. It’s only a matter of time.

    • bittster says:

      Lily of the valley is so treasured by so many but I just get nothing out of them. The patch at my parent’s house never impressed me and I couldn’t make out just what the fuss was so never had any desire to grow them here. I guess if I had them I’d give forcing them a try, but as of now the only ones which seem interesting to me are the variegated ones.
      Good luck with your own patch though, don’t let my ignorance bring you down at all and thanks for the reminder of Matt’s blog, it’s always a good read!

  6. I think Post-Solstice should take its place in the Holiday Pantheon right up there with Festivus. But Post-Solstice needs its own mascot, a Santa or Peter Cottontail. Maybe it could be St. Fiacre bringing catalogs to all good little gardeners. And big ones, too.

    • bittster says:

      Haha. We should decide on a meal too, but a post-solstice drink might be more fun. What pairs well with a seed catalog? Maybe just coffee spiked with Baileys since the main celebration should start in the afternoon.

      • As long as the meal isn’t turkey. And there needs to be a college football Post Solstice Bowl.

      • bittster says:

        I didn’t realize holiday-making could be so complicated. I’ll think the food thing over while I wait for a response from the NCAA regarding the bowl. Maybe we can set this up by next year.

    • Chloris says:

      I don’ t know whether St. Fiacre is the best choice. He may be the patron saint of gardeners, but he is also the patron saint of cab drivers and sexually transmitted disease. I wouldn’t want him bringing me catalogues.

      • Gardeners and STDs? Just what are they insinuating?

      • Chloris says:

        I’m not insinuating anything; if you look him up, you’ ll see I’m right. He sounds an unsavoury sort of patron saint to me.

      • bittster says:

        Chloris you always surprise and amaze me. We will definitely need a different saint since I will also pass on whatever he’s handing out, and I will have to give a little chuckle whenever I see his statue placed prominently in a garden. Hopefully he’ll have a shovel in hand to prove he’s there to garden.

  7. pbmgarden says:

    You have beautiful colors of cyclamen. Love your indoor garden.

  8. bittster says:

    Thanks Susie. You do what you have to when hellebores are still two months away 🙂

  9. Cathy says:

    Your winter garden is looking good! Everything looks so healthy too…. what’s your secret?! Lovely shots of the cyclamen too. 🙂

    • bittster says:

      I wish I had a secret, most everything seems to be happily doing its own thing this year. I did get rid of the sand/gravel base from last year, and have all the pots sitting on plastic sheeting. I think it’s helping with the watering and also in keeping excess humidity away.

  10. Chloris says:

    I was wondering when you were going to show us your winter garden. It is all looking good. My Cyclamen coum are blooming in the garden but I think they look wonderful in a pot and you don’ t have to grovel around in the cold, damp ground to inspect them. That is a wonderful photo of them.

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Chloris! Once I have healthy patches scattered thoughout the garden I might have less of a need for the coum indoors, but right now it is much nicer to be able to sit with them inside and take it all in in comfort.
      There’s not much to the winter garden but it really does cheer me up to see things growing while everything else is frozen and covered.

  11. Christina says:

    this is such a great idea for a garden lover when he can’t get outside into the garden ‘proper’! All your plants look so healthy, the light must really suit them. Well done!

    • bittster says:

      Thanks Christina, I just wish I had some room for a small lemon or camellia 🙂
      The fact the plants do well enough under the lights always surprises me but I won’t complain!

  12. Yes, you definitely need a goldfish pond and a fountain!

    Those cyclamen look great! I had never thought to bring perennial primroses inside to force–I always just buy several of the “disposable” kind when they show up in the grocery stores in January, and keep them in the kitchen windowsill.

    It always amazes me how some plants should be dead after a period of neglect, but manage to survive in spite of our lack of effort!

    I don’t know about this whole “post-solstice” thing. It may be akin to seeing the glass half-full! I do like little holiday celebrations, though, and late January is a good time for one!

  13. bittster says:

    I remember reading an article years ago about forcing perennials indoors, I thought to myself “who would bother doing that with all the real houseplants you could grow?” But last year the one primrose and a few other hardy things really changed my mind. I just hope the primula I chose this year blooms long enough, they only seem to send up one flush of flowers, unlike the grocery store ones.

  14. It’s never occurred to dig up a plant from the garden and bring it in to force it to wake up. I may have to give that a try. My winter garden still consists of a sad pot of daffs and some seedlings but it’s almost Feb which means it will soon be March…. Love your indoor garden. 🙂

  15. I’m very impressed with your winter garden, Frank. I use my grow lights (shop lights like yours) in the spring for my seed starting, but they are packed away after that. I have to find a spot for a winter garden. P. x

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