The Winter Garden 2022

Monday morning was one of the coldest days of the year and this weekend is also set to drop as low as 1F (-17C), and although we are only 14 days into the year that’s about as cold as Sorta Suburbia has been in a while.  The temperatures only last about a night or two and the ground is still barely frozen, but only time will tell how these surprisingly normal lows will work with my new, optimistically mild, global warming planting plan full of autumn blooming snowdrops and zone 7 Crinum lilies.

cyclamen under lights

Happier plantings are sheltered in the garage under fluorescent shoplights.  They’re experiencing a few ‘chilly’ nights, but nothing even close to the freezing cold outside.

A better gardener would put this cold-induced break to good use, planning seed orders and organizing planting plans, safe in the knowledge that borderline plantings are well protected, but all this gardener wants to do is eat.  Not just hearty stews and roasted potatoes, but more so late night bags of chips and “one more” handful of m&ms followed by a big glass of milk.  Then some ice cream. Then maybe another look in the fridge, just in case.  Outside just a few witch hazels are fenced, and not a single snowdrop is bucketed, but inside there’s been a lot of attention to sitting around and… eating….

overwintering tropicals

Also safe inside are the plants too precious and too tender to abandon outside.  They don’t do much all winter, but they’re something nice to look at while nibbling pretzels.

I can think of no better place to sit (while snacking) than the winter garden.  When it’s dark out I can almost convince myself that this array of shoplights in the just-above-freezing back of the garage is actually a greenhouse or uber fancy conservatory.  When the weather is cold it’s a room filled with green to hang out in, watering, puttering, pruning, plucking… doing all the stuff that the cold makes uncomfortable outdoors.

indoor garden room

My official coffee drinking, seed cleaning, label writing, phone browsing, beer sampling, winter patio seat in the winter garden.  I heard a crack last weekend and that’s got me slightly concerned about all the m&m’s, but that’s something to worry about in May.

There have been a few watershed moments in this year’s slightly excessive winter garden adventure.  Ooops.  I admitted that the winter garden is a little “extravagant”, but I blame it on last winter when I killed off a shameful amount of potted cyclamen.  Cyclamen have been the stars of my winter garden for a few years, but then suddenly a winter of lazy, careless watering did in a bunch of them.  This fall I needed backup plants.  A visit to an open garden and a cutting swap started me off.  The Amish country and various nurseries added a few more.  Friends helped.  Cuttings for overwintering added to it all.  It’s all reaching a quite pleasant crescendo in my opinion.

streptocarpella

Blue streptocarpella and flower buds on a red salvia.  The salvia is being overwintered, and the buds should probably be clipped off… but I do like flowers 😉

Recently on Facebook a friend shared an article about the “dark side” of plant collecting.  The home time and isolation of the pandemic had set unprepared gardeners off on a vicious binge of buying and collecting, and people were amassing hoards that amounted to hundreds of plants.  “amateurs” my friend commented, and we laughed.  I read the article myself and to be honest it made me smile to read about these plant collections and see the smiling faces of such happy gardeners.  I think I might have missed the dark in it all.

aloe white fox

A cool aloe which I couldn’t resist.  ‘Snow Fox’ will join my other potted succulents next summer but for now just sits dry and mostly dormant on the dimmer end of the bench.

Just out of curiosity I counted pots in the winter garden.  Normally anything under 6 inches doesn’t count, but this time I just went ahead and easily reached 150 pots back there.  Hmmm.  Then I took a few more cuttings and made it 152, just to slip a little further into the dark side.

flowering succulent

This succulent comes in off the deck and spends the next three months flowering.  I love it.  Every little bit of leaf off the flower stems will try to root, so of course I made another pot of cuttings with those.

At least taking cuttings keeps my hands busy and out of the chip bag.  I joke about not having the garden prepared, but at least my hoarding skills have me ‘winter gardening’ prepared.  You can never have too many saved pots, and emergency bags of potting soil on hand.  It’s awkward sneaking out into the frigid outdoor lot of the box store to try and wrestle a frozen bag of potting soil into your cart, so have it on hand in August so that you don’t have to make up some lame lie about ‘I don’t know, my wife told me she needed potting soil tonight’ when the cashier asks you what in the heck you’re doing.  At least I can plan ahead in one area.

cane begonias

I’m quite pleased with how the cane begonia cuttings are doing.  They’ll need bigger pots soon enough, but of course I’m prepared for that when the time comes.  

Sometimes a rare ray of good fortune may shine upon you.  A friend shocked me last year when she informed me they were officially downsizing and leaving their mature garden behind. “I think there will be a few things you’ll want” she said, and of course I agreed, but it was really all the accumulated trash like leftover pots and soil, bits of twine, scraps of fencing, pottery shards, opened bags of soil conditioners that I really wanted.  Of course she knew that already.  Only another gardener would want this stuff, and when I picked up a carload a few weeks ago I had to agree that I did want it.

Oxalis triangularis fanny

More begonias and a cool Oxalis triangularis (maybe ‘Fanny’) which I was given a couple rhizomes of.  I’m halfway tempted to pull out and plant a few of the purple leaved ones stored dormant under the shelf as companions to this one. 

She gave me a box of terracotta pots which she may have never used.  They’re small and there are a bunch of them and they’re much more trouble to move than lightweight plastic but I’m far more scared of them than I am of hundreds of hoarded houseplants because I really love them.  What the *heck* is wrong with me that I’m staring at a box of clay pots thinking they’re so nice.  I could understand if they were antique cloches for protecting delicate snowdrops during an ice storm, intricate wire topiary forms, but they’re stupid clay pots.  I’m worried about what might happen if I start cruising garage and estate sales.  I think I might buy every one I come across.

variegated pelargonium

Clay pots and grandma’s geraniums.  Cool people don’t seem to like pelargoniums but such a nice edging of variegation on the leaf, and the flowers are so delicate. 

At least clay pots don’t have any calories… that I know of…. and so that must make a few too many of them a harmless distraction.  As of today I only use them for succulents and a few potted bulbs, so even these are too many, but I really need more.  A birthday is coming up.  I wonder if putting ‘old, dirty terracotta pots’ on the birthday list could replace the usual underwear and socks?

aloe blue elf

Another aloe (‘Blue Elf’) with a few flower buds forming.  I hope a lack of water and cool temps can keep them from developing too fast.  Although I love winter blooms, I’d rather see them come up strong outside rather than spindly and weak in here.

So as usual I don’t really know how this post ended up where it has with underwear and socks.  Let me try and re-focus with African violets.  My mother used to grow them and so did my aunt.  My grandmother grew them.  They used to be Saintpaulia, but now I see they’re Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia and I’m not sure how that changed anything but I also know that about a year or so ago I needed to grow them again.  I know these urges, I resisted.  I almost made it but then cracked last fall and bought one and then I asked a friend for cuttings.  I found online sources but only looked.  I found one marked down.  I guilted a spouse into buying me one at the grocery store after a few ‘admit it, you’re never going to wear that, I can’t buy you anything’ Christmas returns.  I now have three violets plus two cuttings and I think I’m ok but then realized this afternoon I volunteered to stop at the store just because I thought they might have more.  Hmmmm.

african violet

An African violet.  This weekend will be cold and maybe I’ll take a cutting.  I don’t need more but whatever.

African violets don’t have calories either.  As far as I know adding another would be a  victimless crime even if I’m lying to myself about picking up milk for the kids when I stumble across it.  So what if I end up in a grocery store that’s 35 minutes away, it’s always good to shop around.

Have an excellent weekend, stay warm, and fuel that furnace responsibly… even if some of the fuel is chocolate, beer, and cheese 😉

25 comments on “The Winter Garden 2022

  1. I hope your friend isn’t sorry that she is letting all that good STUFF stay behind. When we downsized…I don’t want to think about it, but I sure have spent a lot of time collecting more garden STUFF ever since! Enjoy her stuff!

    • bittster says:

      I think my friend is so focused on the move and downsizing that she’s just thrilled with every box gone to a good home rather than the moving van. I told her several times she’s more than welcome to have second thoughts… except for the potting soil, I’ve already dug into that!
      Afterwards we took a winter walk through her garden. I think she realizes there’s still a ton of stuff out there as well, but my mental inventorying couldn’t even fit all her stakes into the back of my suv, let alone make a dent in all the larger containers around the property!
      Honestly I think she’s excited for the change and the freedom and the planning of a new, smaller garden. She may be downsizing but she is absolutely not slowing down!

  2. A word to the wise–Price Chopper often has gorgeous African violets for less than $3 a pop. At least the one in Dunmore does. Their primrose selection is usually pretty good too, though Wegmans has recently stepped up their primrose game.

    If you ever have too many of those polka-dotted begonias, I’d be happy to help you out of the predicament!

    All the flowers you’ve got going right now are impressive. I see a lantana back there. Did you bring a whole plant in or take cuttings?

    You have me wondering whether I should pot up my coleus cuttings instead of leaving them in water. Hmm . . .

    I’m right there with you on chip and chocolate consumption. I got so much chocolate for Christmas this year that the next time I visit your gardens, you’ll have to roll me around the paths like a giant beach ball! (Keep me away from the thorny things, please!)

    • I need to recant my statement about Price Chopper (Now Market 32). No primroses there today! And Wegman’s supply is low, unless you want white or pale yellow. I almost bought a ZZ plant at Wegmans today, but the price tag was too high for a house plant!

      • bittster says:

        Confession. The violet pictured is from Price Chopper and I’m thinking of some kind of excuse to swing by another store since the usual one is wiped out. I resisted hellebores at Shoprite even though they were under $13 and in a nursery I wouldn’t think twice, and Wegmans in WilkesBarre didn’t have anything tempting. Maybe I was too turned off by the colored orchids and roses though?
        All the begonias are at least two cuttings, I may need to pot them up separately by March 😉 and I might be coveting your coleus since once again they all started to rot in water. Maybe it’s too cold for them? Either that or I should have stuck to just pure water. I tried to give them a little liquid feed and I think that set off some bacteria broth in the container…
        The lantanas… I had two which I wanted to overwinter so took cuttings. One pot rooted and the other didn’t and of course I didn’t remember or label for which was which so had to start two more pots… and then one rooted and the other didn’t. Then I tried a few in water. Then I still didn’t think I got both of them so I took the bigger plant in and will see if that makes it, so I have a bunch growing under lights but have a hunch none of them are my favorite one.
        Oh well, the nurseries will need my support come springtime so here’s my chance!

  3. Eliza Waters says:

    Reading your posts make me feel so ‘normal’ ha! I think I’m a cool gardener (naturally!) and I like pelargoniums… just about the only reliable bloomers in my sunspace. And just ask my spouse about my stubborn refusal to downsize my plastic and clay pot collection (Hey! I might need a few that are just this size!) and clay pots will be collected from the free table at the transfer station no matter what. I think the new ones are thinner and not as well made, so vintage is cache for sure.
    Do you use supplemental heating in your garage? I see warmth lovers so I wonder? My sunspace can get down to 45 on cold nights and that is hard on the tropicals. I’ve given in and put in a heater that keeps it around 60. We’ll see if the electric bill shows it. 😉
    I’m also trying to reduce the carb and sugar addiction left over from the holidays. Cookies are my weakness. Chips are not as bad, IMO. 😉 I fully expect the pounds to melt come spring gardening.
    Hope the next cold snap and following snowstorm is kind to your garden. Time to make more cookies to fuel snow removal. 😀

    • bittster says:

      It’s almost noon and I’m still trying to fuel up enough on chocolate and cookies to inspire me to go out and shovel. Hmm. If I don’t do it now the dropping temperatures will leave me with nothing but ice, so it’s a struggle.
      Pelargoniums are so nice to have in flower for the winter. I think I enjoy them more now than in the summer so I have to keep that in mind next fall when I’m waffling over bringing them in. Usually it’s just cuttings in small plastic pots, but imagine a bunch under lights in full bloom all potted up in nice old terracotta. That’s how I imagine yours!
      I don’t heat the winter garden space but it’s insulated and attached to the furnace room which is oddly not open to the house. If I leave the door to the furnace room open enough heat rolls in to keep the winter garden above freezing. Only on really cold nights when the wind is blowing do the things closest to the windows freeze.
      You’re right that the tropicals do not like the winter garden proper. I have a few lights in the corner of the furnace room and those stay much warmer and that’s where the African violets and coleus seem happiest. If things get really cold this coming week I might have to move a few more things in there!

  4. This was such a wonderful read because, as Eliza said, it made me feel normal. I probably shouldn’t mention that the table pictured next to your chair does look like it has room for a few more pots. I guess your family knows where to find you in the winter. Hope progress is being made on the new addition.

    • bittster says:

      Honestly I think people who long to see things growing and flowering at this time of year are the normal ones and the ones who are between staring at a phone and then staring at snow are the ones at risk! It’s really nice to still see things grow and develop from day to day.
      Funny that you mention the family knowing where to find me. Yesterday they couldn’t and it was because I headed back to bed and laid down for a nice afternoon nap. “we all thought you were somewhere in the garage!”
      Progress… addition… Our contractor is having a rough go with Covid…

  5. Su says:

    Your pelargonium caught my eye – such a pretty coral-pink shade – and the white edge on the leaves really enhances the look. I could go for cookies…

  6. Just had my afternoon coffee with two cookies. I am trying to cut down on sugar, so perhaps I will up my chip intake. It’s cold and lightly snowing here and I don’t have a winter garden full of lovely plants to look at. I don’t have much room in the house for winter things either, but I am about to be seduced by Begonias (for a start). I am getting my plant fix online and money is changing hands. Can’t wait for spring.

    • bittster says:

      I just had some disgustingly delicious chocolate with caramel and pecans alongside my coffee. I’m sure pecans are a power food though so it’s all good!
      So far I am still safe in regards to online plant orders. I keep looking at the bulldozed wasteland out back and it’s very easy to remind myself that this winter might not be the best plant buying winter, and I should remember all the bed prep and lawn leveling which will need to happen. This week will be rough with all the snowdrops under ice and nothing else to keep me distracted 🙂

  7. Lisa at Greenbow says:

    Your plants all look so healthy sitting there under the lights. I love to see the blooms of the cyclamen and succulent. Let us not talk of calories. Anything but that. Don’t even mention food of any sort. It makes me want to trek straight to the refrigerator and get a beer. Then of course I would have to have something salty to go with it which would have to have some dip to dip them in. Mercy.

    • bittster says:

      Oh and now I’m hungry again 🙂 There’s a child in the kitchen making pancakes and bacon, I shall hope the meal is good enough to cancel out all the cleanup which will likely be left behind. Bacon on a snowy morning is a pretty good thing!

  8. TimC says:

    That looks very inviting! A nice winter conservatory, as opposed to the spartan frontier survival bunker that my garage looks like (assuming the “frontier” had LED lights). Nicely done. I’d be stopping by a lot if it weren’t hundreds of miles from here.

    • bittster says:

      Haha, your Spartan bunker seems to do the trick, and for you winter is like two weeks compared to our 6 months!
      You would always be welcome to stop by.

  9. Cathy says:

    Sounds like you are preparing for a month of hibernation Frank. But you have so many lovely plants in your ‘garden room’ to distract you! I imagine it is cosy and inviting… is it actually heated?

    • bittster says:

      The room is slightly heated by warm air escaping from an attached furnace room, and being below ground level and insulated probably helps as well in keeping the room just above freezing.
      It might be a month of hibernation based on the ten day forecast, I don’t see anything good to look forward to!

  10. prejila says:

    Beautiful photos 📸

  11. Pamela Hubbard says:

    I am green with envy of your winter garden, Frank. It is magnificent! I feel the same as you about plants (and terracotta pots) but don’t have the space or the energy once fall arrives. I’m embarrassed to post about my few forced bulbs. You are my hero gardener. Well done! P.x

    • bittster says:

      You’re funny. If you saw the winter garden in person you’d probably have a different opinion and maybe politely suggest the merits of quality over quantity 😉 Few of my plants have ever merited coming into the big house and spending time on the dinner table, they’re all usually just ‘interesting’. It is fun though!

  12. Chloris says:

    I love your winter garden, and of course it is essential for you with your long winters. You can’t just sit around looking at snow. You have some lovely plants. I can’t do African Violets, the leaves always go limp. And clay pots? What’s not to love? Why do non- gardeners not understand the kind of gifts we really want? Give us clay pots and gardening gloves and we are happy. Things like scented candles go straight in the bin.

    • bittster says:

      Haha, I just treated myself to three new pairs of gardening gloves and was thrilled. Hopefully I can put them to use someday soon when things thaw out.
      Someone just asked me what a good birthday gift might be. I mentioned potting soil and snowdrops but of course they thought I was joking and I’m sure I’ll end up with underwear or something.
      The African violets may still fail, it’s still early. Also I noticed my favorite begonia is losing leaves, and I’d much rather have limp violets than lose one of the begonias. Time will tell.

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