The Winter Garden 2016

An actual greenhouse would be awesome.  To spend the winter nights out in the humid warmth… or even sweater-cool, as long as you can smell that healthy dampness of growing plants, would be a fantastic break from the dry static of central heating.  Since that’s not going to happen anytime soon I’ve got to make do somehow and to that end I have my little winter garden.  It’s two shop lights hung over a table in the small workshop behind the garage.  That’s the reality, but the magic is much more, and of course as with everything else I try to do there’s a story involved.

galanthus in containers

The first of the Cyclamen coum (a nice seedling flowering for the first time), a snowdrop dug from the garden (Galanthus elwesii), and the frilled leaves of a scented geranium are filling the space beneath the lights this year.

Santa brought the kids electric scooters this year, and that has nothing to do with winter gardens but they needed a spot cleared in the garage near an outlet for charging.  Space is tight in the garage so obviously I needed to clean the attached furnace room first.  A day later the furnace room was cleaned and I had room in there for a few bikes, but the cannas and dahlia roots in the furnace room needed a cooler spot.  They had to go into the workshop which had now become remarkably full and as a result also needed tidying up.  A day later with the workshop cleaned and the bulbs stashed away I made the observation that the workbench was really unacceptable as far as winter gardens go.  A few years before we bought this house a pipe burst in the workshop, all was soaked, and the pressboard workbench soaked, sagged, and warped.  It was time to replace the top so off to the DIY store for lumber and hardware.  A day later and the old top was off and a new one had been crafted, more than doubling the tabletop and practically calling for another light to be added, so of course another light was added.

potted amaryllis

Merry Christmas to me.  A ridiculous clearance sale on amaryllis bulbs left me with eight new ones and the repaired workbench is the perfect place to pot them up.  Don’t even ask me how hard it is to find terracotta pots during the holiday season….

So one more day for the stain and polyurethane to dry and then finally I was able to bring in a few things for under the lights.  Just in time since the Cyclamen coum were beginning to flower and I was tired of dragging them in and out of the garage with every frigid weather forecast.

growing bulbs under lights

Twice the growing space of years past and already nearly full.  Overwintering cuttings share space with cyclamen and various too-special-to-be-outside seedlings under the growlights.

I should have tackled this job on a pleasant summer weekend, but at that time the lawnchair was so much more inviting.  Had I been ready to go at the start of the season (or had I built that coldframe I wanted) then maybe these seedling pots of tulips and allium wouldn’t have started to sprout in the garage, and maybe I wouldn’t be the only person in NE Pennsylvania growing species tulips indoors under growlights in January….

bulbs from seed

Hellebore and cyclamen seedlings growing in the winter garden.  The small wisps in the other pots are tulips, allium, and a single fritillaria  seedling.  The economics of spending years nursing along seedlings which are available cheaply (100 blooming sized bulbs for $14 last time I checked) is something else we shouldn’t look at too closely.

To wrap up my ‘How I spent my Christmas vacation’ essay I’ll just add that on the last day I moved an air compressor and rabbit hutch onto a shelf and was able to plug in the scooters.  Don’t ask me how I didn’t see that a week earlier.

pale moonlight eranthis

After two rainy days of 55F (13C) weather the soil has thawed and the first winter aconites have broken the surface. I think they’re perfect and they should be fine even if winter does decide to come this year.

Now I’m all set.  Even though I spotted the first winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) breaking out of the earth this weekend I think winter will still make an attempt at cold before the robins can come home.  Today in between rain showers I put up the bird feeder, braced the pole against tipping out of the mucky quagmire of lawn it sits in, and drug a flat of primula seedlings into the workshop.  Now when the cold hits, repotting a flat of young primrose should be just the diversion for a dark winter evening.

42 comments on “The Winter Garden 2016

  1. You’re growing tulips from seed?? That’s passion! It is amazing where gardeners will manage to stuff a few grow lights. My basement growing space is full but I may be annexing onto a forgotten table in the corner near an outlet……

    • bittster says:

      Hmmm, so you don’t think two or three lights are too many? I have a birthday coming up and suddenly a few more lights sounds like a very good idea 🙂
      I grow many things from seed, unfortunately I kill many things from seed as well. It’s still cheaper than killing full grown plants though.

  2. Oh, I didn’t really want to see aconites yet. Even in your garden. Now I will have to check my garden tomorrow morning.

    • bittster says:

      You think they’ll be fine? Things weathered the last cold snap very well but the soil was still so warm and maybe temperatures weren’t as harsh at ground level…. A full week of brutal cold after the ground freezes might be a lot even for an aconite.

  3. Pauline says:

    I noticed my Winter Aconites yesterday while in the woodland, also my Cyclamen coum have started flowering in between the snowdrops.
    I’m full of admiration for your efforts growing plants under your lights, gardeners will find a way! Hope you don’t have it too cold!

    • bittster says:

      The cold has come today and I happily spent the afternoon potting things up and watering. A real treat to be able to make a mess and work in the dirt in January!

  4. Christina says:

    I think that if growing some seeds gets you through the dark days of winter, then sow as many as you like! could you grow salad leaves in trays under those lights – I think you could. You make me wonder if I should set up some lights even in the greenhouse to increase daylight time, might help some of the really tender plants to grow, what do you think?

    • bittster says:

      Earlier in the week I was considering a few pots of salad greens, it sounds so tempting, but then today I filled nearly every square inch with other less useful plants. I suppose I need more lights!
      I don’t know if lights in the greenhouse would help. There’s so much information out there on lighting but so much seems so-so or not entirely based on science, and there are so many conflicting opinions! I think the tender things are waiting for warmer weather, but some do really want longer day lengths to trigger certain growth cycles so I suppose you would have to see what the specifics for each plant are. With all that in mind I still think bright lights in the greenhouse are important, how else would you be able to see what you’re doing when your mood calls for some late night seed sowing or potting up!!

  5. Julie says:

    We were given an old cedar greenhouse last year, which is (very) slowly being restored by my husband and in the meantime I have some plants in a covered cool area with natural daylight but the mild weather has prompted lots of leggy growth. Do you leave the lights on or just turn them on each time you go into your garage? I have a similar bench in our garage but so far only Hyacinths in pots, I wonder how much artificial light winter plants will actually need?

    • bittster says:

      Lucky you for the gifted greenhouse! I was in an old greenhouse last weekend and couldn’t help but wish it were in my very own garden. Newer polycarbonate and aluminum growing spaces are probably more efficient and definitely cheaper, but….
      My lights are on a timer and I think they are on for about 10 hours a day. I could probably lower that since everything appears to be growing as if it’s in a full sun spot but ten seems like a nice round about number 🙂 I usually boost it up as I start growing the spring transplants.

  6. Layanee says:

    It seems never to be just one quick job. One job begets another and another and it takes a while before you finish the intended task. Boo on seeing the color of the aconite. It will probably just stay in suspended animation until its normal bloom time. I don’t see any popping up here but oh, they do cheer the soul when they finally show up. Enjoy the slower pace of winter gardening.

    • bittster says:

      It will take a few days to get used to being cut off from the outside plants, but once I realize they’re all safely frozen away I will enjoy the slower pace…. and I guess if they’re not going to make it, well I’ll deal with that in the spring, and use the empty spot for a few new plants!

  7. I love the idea of a Garage Garden — winter or not! 😉 Filing it away for the next house, because the miserable excuse for a garage here at the Money Pit isn’t even large enough to fit a car into.

    • bittster says:

      My garage wasn’t big enough to fit a car either, but then I finally cleaned it and lo and behold two cars made it in! Don’t think this method will work for you though 🙂

      • Nope, only if it was a SmartCar, lol. The former owners decided that adding a shower to the half bath on the other side of one garage wall was more important than housing a car. Before purchase, my contractor assured me the garage door could be shifted. Turns out he lied. :-/

  8. johnvic8 says:

    You have been a very busy…and productive…gardener. I am sure the results of your efforts make you feel pretty good. Well done!

  9. Sarah says:

    Sounds like you got some good cleaning done. I love tinkering with plants in the winter. I’d love to have a huge greenhouse to play in come winter, but since winter is only about 2.5 months in Florida, my small shelf greenhouse works nicely. I do have various plants stashed around my house, as we had a mild freeze last night.

    • bittster says:

      I think I would easily trade my garage lights in if winter were only 2.5 months! It probably takes me at least that long to just round up all the tools I leave lying around throughout the year and give the yard a good once over!

  10. Cathy says:

    I do admire your activity during the holidays! The new area for the seedlings looks ideal. Hope you’ll share and show us some of those Amaryllis flowers when they bloom.

    • bittster says:

      Still no explosive growth on the amaryllis here, but I certainly will post pictures when they come into bloom. If they’re half as nice as yours I’ll be thrilled!

  11. Chloris says:

    Nice to see your garage garden again and great that you have yet more lights. It is so exciting having all these little seedlings to watch over. It helps us through the winter months. I am looking forward to seeing more of your snowdrops this year.

    • bittster says:

      There will surely be more snowdrops. I haven’t been very responsible with the credit cards, and gardening friends have been very generous as well 🙂
      I just decided today I will need to double my grow space once more over as a happy birthday to myself. With more seedlings and some potted up primula the two lights are already packed to capacity and I have yet to even consider a spot for spring transplants!

  12. Alain says:

    I am jealous of your cyclamen coum. I have a small clump but it blooms before the snow melts! Every spring I shovel off the snow and find it blooming, all pressed against the ground.

    • bittster says:

      My coum outdoors don’t always put on the best show, especially with the last two winters. The ones inside are much nicer and much easier to enjoy. I can get up nice and close, examine from every direction and angle, and not even have to worry about wet knees or an achy back.

  13. Peter/Outlaw says:

    Oh yes, more lights for your birthday! It won’t matter how much space a gardener has, he’ll always fill it! It’s nice to have a space to pot and potter under cover during the winter months. Love your garage garden and admire your seed starting! I tend to under water things in the winter so am less successful with seedlings unless they’re pretty tough! I also like to take advantage of the clearance sales on amaryllis after Christmas. They’re so cheerful in the winter!

    • bittster says:

      It’s settled then. I’ll be the happy recipient of another two growlights this year, happy birthday to me 🙂
      Don’t let my quantity of seedlings fool you. They don’t exactly lead the good life, and walk a fine line between being overwhelmed by their neighbors, dying a dry and neglected death, or living out their lives without me ever finding an open spot to plant them in!

  14. I so admire your winter garden, Frank. I have lights over a bench in the potting shed, but it’s cold out there. I don’t switch on the heater until early spring when I put seedlings on the bench after starting them in the house (electric heater — too expensive to run all winter.) I have cuttings on a table in a sunny window in a spare room, but they are not doing well. Maybe, I need to add one of my portable grow lights? Need to rethink this. Wishing you and yours a healthy and happy 2016! P x

    • bittster says:

      Thanks and a happy New Year to you and yours as well!
      I’m lucky(?) in that the furnace loses enough heat to keep this section of the garage above freezing for nearly all the cold nights winter throws at us. It would be a much different story if I had to heat specifically for these plants… or if it were a much warmer room. If that were the case I would be growing an entirely different crew of winter plants.

  15. Indie says:

    Ooo, what a nice winter garden! And blooms even! I actually recently got a greenhouse, but it’s too expensive to heat during the winter, so it’s closed down now. Before that our guest room was the seedling starting room, which got a little awkward when my parents came to visit…

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I’m not allowed to put together too many odd plant setups in the house. We have no decent windowsills and the closest I get is a warm corner in the basement for when it’s time to start the heat loving coleus cuttings. Even that gets a few sideways glances… but the garage is cold and dirty and I’m allowed to do as I please 🙂

  16. You certainly have inspired me to do more with my grow station in winter….I too would have bought many more amaryllis if I found a clearance sale! Love the new area for winter gardening…winter is here, and is sticking around.

    • bittster says:

      I do get a lot of enjoyment from the growlights. When the cyclamen are in full bloom or there’s a bunch of seedlings growing happily I just sit and soak it in. Maybe someday I’ll add a fountain, cozy seat, and a growlight for something larger like an orange or camellia. It will be my very own man cave… but I doubt any of my friends will be angling for an invite.

  17. willisjw says:

    Your collection of Amaryllis reminds me I need to buy some more amaryllis. I trashed the big ones that we had been flowering for 15 years because I could see virus streaks in the collection. I have some little ones in the greenhouse but they haven’t reached flowering stage yet. I was surprised to see your winter aconite close to flowering, ours are still in hiding in Maryland (I think we hit 15° last night).

    • bittster says:

      What a shame about the virused amaryllis, you just can’t buy those big established bulbs… but I’m sure you have no shortage of things to fill the vacant space!
      I’m surprised there’s anything which is more advanced here than by you. I think plants really don’t know what to do this year.
      Thanks for the thumbs up on Augis, I’m going to give it a try this summer and even if it’s a complete failure I’m sure I can get lots of mileage out of off hand comments like “oh that little thing? That’s one I had to import from Lithuania”. I’m sure someone will be impressed 🙂

  18. Can’t decide if I am impressed, jealous or just overwhelmed at what a serious gardener you are. I have never done seeds. I say it’s because there’s no space but I think I just don’t want to spend the time and energy setting it up and learning. I always consider the time/money tradeoff and so far, I am willing to spend the money to get what I want (including shipping charges from the west coast to Wisconsin)!

    • bittster says:

      You give me far more credit than I deserve. Most of my seed starting experiments involve seeds thrown into a soil filled pot, top with gravel, and set outside to enjoy the winter weather. If it grows it grows!
      I’m sure you know how quickly time passes. I was looking at old pictures of a blank yard and realized it’s only been six years since I started here. Those little seedlings sneak up on you and before you know it there’s a tree shading your nursery bed!

  19. I really think you NEED a greenhouse. You would always be in there with all your growing projects. I have access to two greenhouses for whatever I want to grow and never took advantage of working in them. I would not even enjoy it having one at home. Too much work to do when spring sets in. Houseplants get me through winter and I even cut back on them.

    • bittster says:

      I have a different outlook on indoor gardening. Things which annoy me completely during the summer (such as watering and deadheading) are calming and enjoyable for me under the growlights. For a while I volunteered at a local greenhouse and spent a couple nice months under glass…. but then a changing of the guard wanted to see a profit come out of the place, and I had no interest in putting pricetags on the latest shipments. That sounded more like a lame partime job.
      Things have to grow and develop in order to interest me. Most houseplants bore me when they just sit there, so I really don’t have any.

  20. Oh, this is inspirational. I would love to do something like this in our basement. Someday, perhaps. Love all those Amaryllis. Also, that last picture is a needed nudge to finally plant some Winter Aconite next fall.

    • bittster says:

      Definitely try the aconite, they don’t bloom for long but really chase winter away. The amaryllis are tiding me over until the aconite show starts 🙂

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