Bury your head in the sand

Ignorance is bliss.  As the garden shivers and crackles under a freezing blanket of cold the wise gardener will hunker down indoors and enjoy the luxury of a warmer, climate controlled gardening experience.  Outdoors he can’t do anything but wait for the damage to show but indoors he can at least tweak the thermostat a little higher and take another sip of coffee… spiked or unspiked depending on the latest weather report.

rebloom amaryllis

Leftover Easter flowers and a few too many amaryllis blooms.

I’ve been a little too excited about the new amaryllis I bought this winter and in my excitement ended up bringing the older bulbs out and giving them a little water too.  In a normal year I just throw the dormant bulbs outside in April and let them bloom right alongside the tulips, but this year I thought ‘the more the merrier’ and as a result I’m ending the winter with an amaryllis (Hippeastrum) extravaganza.  I’ve had these bulbs at least seven years now and if I remember to give them a little attention after flowering they reward me each spring with a fantastic color show.

red amaryllis

The bright red and pure white are perfect for Christmas… or I guess Easter 🙂

It sounds slightly ungrateful but of all the colors, Christmas red and snowy white are not what I’m normally looking for come springtime.  This of course was not what I was considering years ago when I picked the bulbs up for $1 a piece at some box-store clearance shelf… but please humor me as I shamelessly brag about how well they are doing now.  Each pot is already showing at least four bloom stalks a piece, and the plants themselves are on the verge of nearly overwhelming the dining room table, even with less than half the flower stalks open.  On the edge of the group you barely notice the last of the newbies, a delicate pink-flushed mini white named ‘Trentino’.

amaryllis trentino

Bigger may not necessarily be better as in the case of this ‘mini’ amaryllis ‘Trentino’.

Once it warms up outside (assuming it ever does) new and old amaryllis will all go out into a semi-shaded spot, get hooked up to the same drip irrigation system that waters the summer annuals, and will be ignored until November.  If I feel generous I’ll send some liquid fertilizer their way but for the most part they’re on their own.  If there’s a trick to it all I guess it’s that they sit in a gritty, peat-free soil mix which drains well, and they have a nice solid terracotta pot which breathes well and holds down their heavy tops.  Well drained, plenty of moisture, and a good feeding… mine enjoy that.

fancy leaf geranium

Geraniums blooming more than they should under the lights of the winter garden.  A better gardener would probably remove the flowers for the sake of stronger growth and a healthier spring transplant.

You may notice the attractive plastic sheeting which forms a subtle backdrop to the amaryllis photos.  The sheeting keeps the dust and debris of a kitchen remodel from drifting into the rest of the house, and also keeps us from enjoying the charms of a useable sink or stove.  If I try hiding indoors too long from the brutality of our latest arctic blast, eventually I need a new place to hide from the mayhem a kitchen run out of the living room…. so I escape to the garage and the winter garden.

scented geranium flower

The scented leaved geraniums (Pelargonium) are also blooming under the lights.  The flowers are a treat, but I love the lemony scents which come off the foliage each time I move a plant or water a neighbor.

For a while the winter garden was being ignored.  Spring was early and I was back outside enjoying snowdrops, then crocus, and then daffodils… but now winter is back and I’m pretending it didn’t all happen and I’m just doing the regular sowing and repotting of late winter.  Because I foolishly brought sprouting bulb seedlings in during a December freeze I’m now at the point where I can dig seedlings out and see what grew.  Here’s a mixed potful of one and two year old Allium Christophii bulblets which just recently went dormant.  I’m fascinated even though a less than polite reader might point out I could get a bagful of blooming sized bulbs for under $10 this fall.

allium christophii seedlings

A few Allium christophii seedlings all grown up into pea sized bulblets.  I’ll plant them outside next year and hopefully see flowers in another two or three years.  I’m sure at that point I’ll wonder where they came from, since I’ll definitely forget where I planted them!

I find it interesting that even though I sowed the seeds shallowly, most have migrated to the very bottom of their four inch pots.  Readers of Ian Young’s Bulb Log at the Scottish Rock Garden Club will already know this since Mr. Young has observed this repeatedly, but for me to see it myself is of course more fun.

tulip from seed

Second year for a tulip seedling.  In the middle of the photo you can see the dried rice-sized husk of last year’s bulb, if you follow this year’s root to the right (which would have grown deeper into the pot) you will find the newly formed pea sized bulb from this season.  Maybe by next year we’ll be up to kidney bean size 🙂 

I was also happy to find one of my fall snowdrops has made a nice sized offset.  I would have thought the double shoot from the top would have split the bulb into two, but instead it has just sprouted a new bulb off to the side.  So I guess that means there will be three growing tips next fall!

galanthus monosticus

One of my special snowdrops, a fall blooming Galanthus elwessi monosticus which a friend picked up for me at Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough North Carolina.

Not all my escape gardening happens in seclusion.  Occasionally I have a helper and this year that helper has been assisting in writing out some of the many plant labels which go along with all the odds and ends which get seeded out.  She may actually do a neater job than I do, and her talent for labeling in Latin is impressive.

dyi plant label

The cut up vinyl blinds which I use for plant labels.  Plain old lead pencil seems to last for decades and I’ve found a few still readable in the garden, one going back to ’91 for a dogwood seedling which I apparently smuggled out of Longwood Gardens in a pocket…

Also impressive is one of my newest treasures.  It’s a Cyclamen Rhodium seedling from my visit to John Lonsdale’s Edgewood Gardens, and it’s blooming in spite of having been dumped out of its pot not even three minutes after John handed it off to me.  He was very forgiving of my clumsiness, but I never did mention that I dumped it over again a second time as I got into my car.  Fortunately it survived, and although John suggested that I give this one a try outdoors in a sheltered spot (planted six or more inches deep once it goes dormant), I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to risk its health a third time.

cyclamen rhodium

A really cool Cyclamen rhodium from the Southern Peloponnese and island of Rhodes in Greece.  Nice flower but look at that speckled foliage! 

So that’s how things are going here in my own sheltered locations.  I have some promising tomato seedlings sprouting as well as eggplant and peppers, but it will be a few days before the damage outside becomes definite.  Already things such as roses, lilacs and daffodils look rough, but for as long as I can stay in denial I will.  Maybe the hyacinth will bloom so much stronger next year now that their blooms have all been frozen off.  A gardener can hope 🙂

23 comments on “Bury your head in the sand

  1. I have been sowing seeds, too–several kinds of flowers. Do you keep the amaryllis in their pots when they summer outdoors? Or do you plant them in the ground?

    • Now that I just posted my comment, I realize I have more to say. I think the migration to the bottom of the pot is pretty cool. I rarely worry about planting depth with bulbs anymore because I figure they’ll eventually wind up where they want to be. The cyclamen is cool and congrats on the snowdrop offset. I hope the kitchen remodel is completed soon. That is the pits.

      • bittster says:

        We might have a sink again this weekend. I think I’m more excited about that than anything, even as we have no stove or oven or outlets 🙂
        I leave the amaryllis in their pots, but I’m trying to be a little better about repotting. They don’t seem to mind a tight pot, but they do seem to bulk up more with a little room.
        I might sow a few more seeds this weekend. I may have to do it in baggies in the fridge though since I think it’s too late for them to get a decent cold treatment outside. This time I’ll try to remember to check on them before next winter rolls around 😉

  2. Christina says:

    You are one of the only people that I know who are successful in getting Hippeastrum to grow a second year, let alone over many years – congratulations! Did I read correctly some have FIVE stems! Unbelievable. Interesting about the bulb seedlings. I’m going to collect as much seed as I can from the Anemones this year so it will be interesting to see if they do the same thing.

    • bittster says:

      I went back and looked at the amaryllis bulbs. The red has two bulbs with a total of four stalks, the white has two bulbs with a total of three stalks, so five stems was a bit optimistic, and none of the individual bulbs had more than two stems.
      I would be sick with envy if you are able to spread anemone seeds about and have them naturalize but I think the species is native to your area so I may have to prepare myself!
      Have you ever tried amaryllis (Hippeastrum) planted outdoors? They are hardier than many would believe, and I think they could handle a bit of drought. When I lived in Texas I would see large clumps of them up near house foundations and wow! What a sight when they were in full bloom. We would see snow there in a bad winter but the ground didn’t freeze too deeply in any year. I think if they were planted up to their necks they did very well.

  3. Chloris says:

    You certainly have lots of interesting plants to keep you happy whilst your everlasting winter keeps you indoors. I have never managed to get Hippeastrums to bloom again so I am very impressed. I will try your method.
    I too have the lovely little C. rhodium, it is an absolute treasure. I first saw it blooming whilst walking in the Peloponnese.

    • bittster says:

      I wonder if our hotter summers help in bringing the amaryllis bulbs along. They seem to enjoy the heat, and I don’t think the lack of a second blooming on your bulbs would be due to any shortage of appropriate care from the gardener’s end.
      How fantastic to have that memory to go along with your little cyclamen. Plants are so much nicer with a story attached and mine also carries a nice memory of a fun garden visit!

  4. Pauline says:

    Your hippeastrum are amazing, this is the first year that I have tried to get mine to flower again, so far I have leaves, but I’m hoping I’ll get flowers next autumn/winter.

    • bittster says:

      I think I read somewhere that the number of leaves the amaryllis bulb grows during the summer is a good indication of the number of flowers it will put out later. Good luck with yours!

  5. Peter Herpst says:

    I’m so sorry that winter is making a repeat performance in April! Fortunately, you have lots of gorgeous things growing in your winter garden to help you keep your sanity. (Was there any of that left?) Anyway, hope the damage to your garden isn’t too awful!

    • bittster says:

      A grip on sanity is always a relative thing whether it’s a wild temperature swing or a flower that opens for the first time and is almost too amazing! Hopefully it will be more of the second kind of craziness as things warm up again 🙂

  6. Alain says:

    Your Hippeastrum are beautiful.
    If it is any consolation, we had almost a foot of snow last Wednesday! Hopefully it will melt fast when we get some warmth.

    • bittster says:

      Your lower temperatures and heavier snowfalls are a good reminder of how we are still lucky to have an early warm up and lucky to have had an easy winter. I did not miss last year’s weekly snowshoveling at all!

  7. Cathy says:

    Wonderful Amaryllis! Even if the colours are not seasonal, they are very impressive and even more so when you say how old they are. I must try harder with mine this year! Hope the weather warms up again soon, and that the kitchen is back in use soon too.

    • bittster says:

      We were holding up well without the use of a kitchen, but it’s starting to get a little old. Just like the cold weather is starting to wear thin 🙂
      Good luck with your amaryllis, you have some beauties so even if they don’t make it I hope you can find more next year!

  8. Linda says:

    Ebery time I looked out the window today it was grayish with blowing snow. Did not last on the ground but frustrating. Still having lots of overnight lows in the 20s. The frits I ordered from Odyssey Bulbs are coming up and I’d sure hate to lose the flowers in their first appearance. Weather is making me crazy!

  9. Indie says:

    Wow, that’s an impressive indoor garden you have going on there! I had to laugh at your smuggling confession. My mother-in-law tells me all sorts of tales about her and her sister smuggling cuttings in their purses when they used to go to gardens. One would never suspect such law-breaking out of innocent-looking gardeners!

  10. I love the Amaryllis. They are pretty reliable to grow the following year. I think you need a HUGE greenhouse. You enjoy your indoor gardening more than most. I always wanted my own greenhouse until I had access and use to a few through my work. It takes a lot of work to maintain the structure and the numerous plants.

  11. Stay in denial, definitely! What good is wailing and gnashing of teeth? Incidentally, I recently saw a really nice Amaryllis called ‘Lemon Star’ on another blog.

  12. I am jealous of your success with the amaryllises. My amaryllises do rebloom fairly reliably, but never has any one of them sent up more than one stalk, and generally only two flowers per stalk. I set them outside in the summer and water and fertilize them, but the bulbs don’t seem to get bigger. I have red ones blooming now, too, and they seem out of place for April. There was a white trumpet-style one with a thin red edging (Picotee) that bloomed the week before Easter and was easily mistaken for an Easter lily. Of course it was completely withered by Easter Sunday.

    The weather is just stupid. That is the only word I can possibly use.

  13. Seth Levine says:

    Hello, I’m a newbie, and am wondering whether with respect to Amaryllis “Unpollinated flowers will wilt and fall over, pollinated flowers will curl up and tuck themselves down close to the ground to form a seed pod.”

    As the cyclamen

    • bittster says:

      Hi Seth, short answer -no. On an amaryllis you’ll see the flower wilt, but the fatter green end of the flower will become a seed pod, one per flower and the stalk remains upright as the pods ripen. If not pollinated, the whole stalk will slowly yellow and then eventually fall over.

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