The Winter Garden 2017

Once again the new normal in winters is proving itself to be completely abnormal.  Instead of celebrating the depths of winter last week with a warm blanket and a seed catalog I found myself outside in the sun clearing dried stems from around snowdrop sprouts and spreading mulch and compost on top of the earliest spring flower beds.  I loved it for a few days, but to see snow and freezing temperatures in the week ahead was much more reassuring, if only to keep the flowers asleep until safer weather returns.  It is winter gardening season after all, and the 2017 winter garden has been up and running since the holidays.

the winter garden

Life under the lights.

The cool (but rarely freezing) workshop which adjoins the back of the garage is home to my often celebrated winter garden.  A collection of overwintering bulbs and potted plants survive the cold in this dimly lit room, and each winter they are joined by a table top full of forced bulbs, early seedlings, and whatever else I can’t leave to freeze outside.  I’ve upped the number of fluorescent light fixtures to three this year and am feeling rich with all the extra growing space!

the winter garden

A closeup of the different foliage types filling the table.  Snowdrops and cyclamen dominate, the cyclamen are only just starting to put out their midwinter flower show.

Interest in the winter garden rises and falls opposite the outdoor temperatures.  Colder weather means more tinkering indoors, warmer weather results in general neglect.  This week I bucked the trend though, and brought in a tray of primula seedlings before the approaching snow and ice locked them up in their protective mulch pile.

forced perennials

With just a little cleanup I’m optimistic these primroses will look great.  Hopefully blooms will show up in just a couple weeks under the lights.

Three plants have become standards for my winter garden.  Snowdrops are the first.  They’re an addiction so I can’t really reason out why I must grow them here when they’re just as successful (and nearly at the same stage) as under lights… but I do.  Cyclamen and primrose are a different story.  Their bright colors and their overall happiness in this cold back room really cheer up a gloomy winter evening and make this my new favorite place for sorting seeds and planning the new season’s garden.

indoor garden

Each year the winter garden room gains a little more street credit.  Maybe someday I can be surrounded by aged terra cotta and antique garden décor, with a few rustic signs which say ‘garden’ or something similar….  Maybe.  Either that or a beer tap.

As I hide out in my man cave it gives me the necessary time to fully enjoy the snowdrops and other goodies which are coming along under lights.  The bulk Galanthus elwesii which I bought as dried bulbs and potted up for forcing have given me a few nice surprises, but I will spare you from most of those photos.  Here’s one though which I will put in, it’s a particularly tall one growing alongside a peculiar climbing asparagus which I grew from seed last winter.  Asparagus asparagoides is a noxious weed in several tropical areas outside its native African range, but here under growlights in Pennsylvania I think we’re safe.  To be honest there’s nothing really special about it, except that it’s super special… if you know what I mean.

snowdrops and asparagus

Snowdrops and the climbing Asparagus asparagoides.  I don’t think the asparagus would be hardy outdoors, which is probably a good thing.

Ok one more snowdrop.

forced snowdrop

A particularly nice snowdrop with average markings but a second scape (extra flowering stem) coming up, and a third flower coming up off of a side shoot.  A snowdrop which puts out three flowers is a good thing in my opinion.

Until the cyclamen get into full bloom and the primroses burst into flower I’ll just give an update on the hyacinths I potted up just before Christmas.  They’re starting to sprout and I’ve moved them onto the coldest windowsill of the workshop for some light.  Once the flower stems start to come a little more I’ll move them under the grow lights as well.  The fragrance of hyacinths will be a nice addition to the winter garden.

forced hyacinth

The poorly insulated, dirty glass of the shop windows is as close to a coldframe as I’ll get this year.  The bulbs don’t seem to mind though and the cool temperatures keep the flowers from opening up too fast (before they’ve sprouted up out of the bulb).

So that’s where the winter garden is this year.  I planted onion seeds yesterday and in my mind the primroses already look as if they’ve grown a bit since coming inside.  It’s exciting but also dangerous to start so early on that tricky road to spring fever, but maybe the next four days of below freezing weather will help.  I’ll just need to ignore the fifth day when the high is predicted at 50F (10C)… a temperature too high for February and one which is sure to bring on the first outdoor snowdrops.

30 comments on “The Winter Garden 2017

  1. johnvic8 says:

    I’m glad you have space for a winter garden. I think I’m jealous.

  2. Christina says:

    I’m always fascinated by your winter garden. I love the idea of you spending time admiring your plants under their grow lights. Because I need to keep the shade netting on the greenhouse even during winter to stop too high temperatures I am thinking a single light to encourage good growth on peppers and egg plants might be a good idea! We’re having a cold winter here, although for the next couple of weeks the temperature shouldn’t drop below zero centigrade.

    • bittster says:

      I’m always amazed by how strong plants can grow in such an artificial environment. Maybe the addition of a set of lights would be worth it to give your seedlings a little bit of a boost.
      I love your greenhouse with it’s overwintering citrus and other goodies. I find my light room to be entertaining, but in the long run I’d much rather a greenhouse. Hopefully someday it will work out, but for now I’m much too frugal to pay the heating bill!

  3. Pauline says:

    What a lovely place to retreat to on a cold winters day! Your winter garden is lovely and must lift your spirits during the dark days of winter.

    • bittster says:

      Anything growing and flowering in these dark, gray days is refreshing. It makes me wonder what else I can add to this room to make it more inviting. A pair of birds would be fun, but I’d hate to think of them all bored and caged up by themselves.

  4. Chloris says:

    You have a lovely man cave surrounded by all your lovely plants. It is amazing the variations you get from elwesii bulbs, they all seem different. Looking forward to seeing the rest of your snowdrops.

    • bittster says:

      I can’t wait to show off a few snowdrops. Of course there are a few new ones, but it’s the old favorites which I most look forward to.
      Now if only we could get this ridiculous winter thing over with. For us it’s still midwinter, but a few sunny days wouldn’t hurt I think.

  5. Peter Herpst says:

    Your winter garden is a great place to enjoy a bit of green during this bleak season!

  6. Ian Lumsden says:

    The garden room seems the ideal environment to admire these winter blooms, plant seeds, and the snowdrop has a particular beauty. It’s always good not to have to flinch from the cold when admiring them.

    • bittster says:

      I do enjoy the comfort of indoor snowdrop viewing, plus there’s so much less strain on the knees!
      Next year I hope to be at the point where I can bring a few of the “more special” drops indoors to grow under lights. Sitting back with a drink and admiring a nice pot of ‘Magnet’ or ‘Primrose Warburg’ wouldn’t be the worst thing on a cold evening.

  7. rusty duck says:

    I’m definitely envious. I have a greenhouse but the roof leaks and despite being kept frost free it still feels cold to me.

    • bittster says:

      Yes, leaky and damp is not my idea of fun… but then on the other hand a dry greenhouse with a hefty heating bill is also not what I consider pleasant! Maybe someone can figure out a way to add a little fireplace 🙂

  8. Eliza Waters says:

    Now that is a great man cave! 😉

  9. I really don’t think you can call this a man cave unless you put in the beer tap! Too interesting a space to denigrate it with that term.

    • bittster says:

      Hmmmm. Maybe I’ll drop ‘man cave’ and go with ‘gentleman’s cave’. I was considering hooking up a sink for all those potting up and rinsing projects… and as long as I put in a sink I might as well have a counter which doubles as a wet bar and just have a small fridge for stray beverages. That and a bookshelf and I think we’re starting to go upscale!

  10. Cathy says:

    Your winter garden looks great – this is pure gardener devotion! (I am enjoying some time off!) 😉

    • bittster says:

      Trust me, I find it very easy to ignore the garden when the thermometer dips below zero. My idea of winter interest can be better observed from a cozy recliner, but I do manage tend a few things. The winter garden doesn’t really amount to much more than an extended windowsill when it all comes down to it.

  11. I have been asked why I’m insisting on a two-car garage for my next house, despite being only a one-car household. I should simply hand them a printout of your winter garden setup in reply. 🙂

    • bittster says:

      haha. Who are these realtors who question extra garage space!? Even with a two car, one or the other spends a considerable amount of time outside in order to make room for all kinds of projects.
      Too much garage space? Ridiculous.

  12. Annette says:

    Your winter garden looks like the perfect place to leave the harsh reality behind, Frank, I can certainly see the appeal and understand why you don’t mind winter hanging around for another while. In my garden Cyclamen coum have just started to push their pink-glowing faces out of the soil, such darling creatures. Do you think you’ll build a conservatory-like winter garden once? I wish I could fill ours with more plants but hubby is refusing cooperation 😉

    • bittster says:

      The cyclamen outdoors have just begun to appear here as well, quite a bit earlier than normal due to our exceptionally warm weather -and of course I’m excited!
      Someday I’d love a conservatory, but just like you I believe I would be banned from adding as many plants as I’d want. Probably not the worst thing, but it’s so tempting!

  13. Norm Stevens says:

    do you sell excess seed of cyclamen

    • bittster says:

      Sorry, but I don’t even have enough seed to keep myself supplied!
      Edgewood Gardens is great for plants, but if it’s seeds you need I would highly recommend Green Ice Nursery. Let me know if you have any questions on ordering from the Netherlands. I’ve never had any problem, and the quality of the plants they produce is outstanding!

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