Gotta Terra Cotta

Terra cotta couldn’t be more earthy, it’s literally ‘baked earth’ according to the internet… not that I know anything about Italian or Latin… and in my most wholesome of imaginations there’s some country artisan scooping up the perfect mud and crafting a pot which eventually finds its way to my garden.  In my imagination of course.  In reality I can’t afford those fancy things so all mine are off the box-store shelf, but I hope my intentions count for something.  The idea was no more plastic in the garden, and I’ve been good for the most part.  I traded plastic and resin planters for metal and (the much heavier) terra cotta and ceramic.

The heavy is a problem.  Terra cotta is porous and when it freezes the water inside expands and could crack the pot.  Filled, heavy pots are a lot of work to move, so I guess if there’s any point to this post it’s to say that some lazy gardeners get away with just pushing them up against the house after frosts kill off the plantings and they end up drying out enough that they don’t crack.

terra cotta freeze winter

A broken pot on the back porch is the reason winter-cracked terra cotta is on my mind today.  It was already cracked in October, probably from a stray golfball or bat, but at the time I took it as an omen to bring in one less succulent pot. 

So I’m sure all your terra cotta and ceramic pots have been safely tucked away for months but remember my new blogging mantra is quantity over quality so I figured a picture of a broken pot must surely be worth a post.  To be honest as I go through old posts re-sizing photos I have no idea how I ever managed to post so much, so I’m actually a little worried that in order to keep up a steady stream of “content” through February I don’t get so desperate as to resort to babbling about tomato stakes or some other dull topic.

pale eranthis hiemalis

Above freezing daytime highs have brought on the first winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis).  This unnamed pale yellow form is always first, and usually beats the straight species by a good two or three weeks. 

Honestly I’d probably gain readers talking about tomato stakes if it meant less posts about snowdrops 🙂

galanthus three ships

It’s cold and a little breezy with flurries but ‘Three Ships’ is still looking awesome.  

Sorry, I know this is supposed to be a helpful terra cotta post, but I couldn’t resist another picture of this winter blooming snowdrop, galanthus ‘Three Ships’.  This should be a family friendly blog but seriously I look at this and think “holy s%* I have a f)&%!! snowdrop that flowers here in the middle of January in Pennsylvania zone 6!!!  Three years now for ‘Three Ships’ and deep down inside I’m still expecting it to die, but fortunately it hasn’t.  Let’s hope for four.

And this is why I have a blog.  Trust me that none of my friends or neighbors would make it past even two minutes of January snowdrop talk.  Family can barely make it past three and I’m pretty sure they’re not even fully listening.  Thanks for listening!

Slow Learner

I’m not very good at saying no to volunteer plants.  Volunteer plants of course are the ones which just step forward to fill spots that you didn’t even know were spots until they volunteered to fill them.  I guess they’re generous little things which just want to give…  plus they’re free… and require no labor or attention… and that’s probably also a big plus in my book.  Some people might say the word ‘weeds’ right now, and I say bite your tongue.  If you can call sunflowers and foxgloves weeds, well then you’re probably a little higher class than this blog usually attracts and I suggest clicking on your way before you hold me liable for the time I’m about to waste.

galanthus bed

A clump of snowdrops (Bill Bishop if you really have to know) in a photo from last January. Note the tiny rounded leaves in the center of the sprouts. Soooooo innocent looking….

galanthus bed

One year later. A big fat rosette of foxglove foliage right where a snowdrop clump wishes to emerge. Please let’s overlook the many autumn leaves scattered about, and the as-yet untrimmed muscari foliage.

Ok, good.  Now  that  we’ve ‘weeded out’  a certain  type  of  reader, I  just want  to reassure anyone who’s left that you’re entirely high class, but of the type who just is and not the type who only thinks they are.  I suspect you all have soft spots for foxgloves and that brings me to today’s dilemma.  It’s not just any foxglove, it’s the especially special strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) and of course it’s right on top of ‘Bill Bishop’ and we all know that’s not going to work out.

galanthus bed

There he is. Bill is happily sprouting up right exactly where he should be.

Normally  a few  stray  foxgloves  don’t  even come close to causing a problem.  Any other year they’re just a crumbly mess of winter killed foliage by the time the snowdrops arrive, and with just a little brushing aside all is well.  This year things are different, and I might have to try a midwinter transplant because obviously I can’t just rip out this trooper, no matter how free she is.

It goes without saying that had I been attentive and moved the seedling last summer none of this would have been a problem.  Sort of like had I been more attentive and less lazy for the last seven years maybe my WordPress disk space wouldn’t have reached 99% full with only just the few photos which I’ve uploaded over the years.  Hmmm.  I should have read the memo a few years ago when I first reached my limit and had to purchase a blogger plan rather than enjoy free access, but noooo, let me put it off a little more.  Apparently re-sizing photos is a kind of important thing, which I’m sure everyone else knows but it just seemed like so much extra work at the time… and obviously I’m not one to embrace extra work.

So with a nice snow squall covering up the ground and ending any thoughts of transplanting, I’ve headed indoors and have committed to shrinking my digital footprint.  So far I’ve spent hours editing posts, reloading re-sized photos and then deleting the old.  Of course it’s my own fault.  Ignorance is bliss, but what kind of stupid thinks a 4.2MB (4200KB) cabbage photo would be necessary when a 143KB  will do?  I’m up to September 2013 in case anyone is wondering.

cyclamen coum

While on the subject of time-wasting, I reorganized my Cyclamen coum seedlings to see how close seedlings from the mother plant resemble each other. These were all from a purple with mostly green leaves in case you’re wondering.

Every now and then even the most committed data processor needs a break, so with short days, early nights, and plenty of here and there snow, the winter garden has again become my man cave and  I’m obsessing about Cyclamen again.

Cyclamen rhodium ssp peloponnesiacum

Cyclamen rhodium ssp. peloponnesiacum is a treasure I picked up at last year’s Galanthus Gala. It might be hardy, but that would mean not seeing these awesome leaves all winter, and why risk that!?

I thought I was good, and all last summer I was fully impressed with myself for having more cyclamen than ever before, but then the cold weather hit and maybe I do need more.  I would have had more, but some stinkin’ mouse family robbed me of nearly all last year’s ripening seed pods, in a way that I didn’t even know the pods were hollowed out until I turned one and saw the bottoms all nibbled out.  “Stinkin’ mouse” isn’t really the term I used, but since only the classiest readers remain I’ll try to keep it civil.

Fortunately I know a guy.  A little back and forth with Dr. Lonsdale over at Edgewood Gardens and two new and extremely exciting cyclamen have found their way here.  Plus a hellebore!

purple flush cyclamen

Two Cyclamen hederifolium with a faint flush of pink towards the center. Also hard to see is the variegation in the Hellebore niger seedling to the right, but it has it and I can’t wait for it to settle in to the garden this spring.

Another area I need to make more effort in is my indoor fertilizing regime.  The new additions from Edgewood are so well rooted they put all my plants to shame.  Dr Lonsdale has told me before to switch to something more specialized like a tomato fertilizer or anything with a lower first number (Nitrogen) but this blockhead will need a little more hammering, so one step at a time.

In the meantime, again let me say I’m pretty excited about the new additions.  The cyclamen are cool, but the hellebore will probably rank as one of the rarest things in my garden.  Take a look at a picture or two of >mature plants< and I think you’ll agree this little year old seedling is going to grow into something special.

Not as special as re-sizing thousands of photos and editing hundreds of posts, but close I’m sure.  Have a great week!

Winter Rages?

The next three weeks are typically when winter throws its worst at us.  The average low dips down to around 18F (-7C) at night, and then climbs to 34F (1C) in the day, depending on all kinds of things of course, and the long nights and short days don’t set the garden up for much of anything.  That’s a normal year.  Besides all the other more obvious ups and downs, the weather last year was not normal, and in fact was one of our hottest years on record.  12 days in and 2021 isn’t looking to be the culture and climate shift everyone was hoping for.  Actually it looks a lot more like December 37, 2020.

galanthus elwesii montrose

This gardener prefers to use stylish and unobtrusive 5 gallon buckets to protect the earliest snowdrops from the coldest winds and heaviest snows of winter.  Here’s ‘Potter’s Prelude’ uncovered to enjoy the next few days of mild weather.

For a minute I’ll ignore the past and just enjoy this mild weather which draws these snowdrops up out of the ground.  Most of what’s flowering now would be fall bloomers in a milder climate but here they usually dawdle enough that flowering happens in winter, which should be fun, but for many the weather is just too much and the flowers (and foliage) end up destroyed.  Viva la global warming!  These days I have snowdrops blooming all winter… until we get a plunge in February of course, and then even with buckets galore, things still look like someone named Winter trampled through the beds with some heavy cleated snow boots on.

galanthus elwesii potters prelude

I moved a fall blooming Galanthus elwesii ssp monostictus hiemelis group ex Montrose (catch breath*) to a warmer spot to hopefully bring on earlier blooming, but it didn’t.  Still it seems much happier here and has been in bloom over a month!

I’ve been trying to find a perfect spot to make life easier on these little treasures.  It’s worked in a few cases but some still aren’t happy regardless of where I have them growing.  When the cold comes the flowers burn and the foliage dies back.  Some struggle afterwards, some go to the light, but I do have one who just shrugs it off.  ‘Three Ships’ (Galanthus plicatus ‘Three Ships’) has never shown a bit of damage in spite of ice and snow and cold.  He’s never made it into bloom for Christmas, which is the trick he’s best known for, but he is a snowdrop who choses to grow and flower just as the weather is at it’s worst and for that holds place as one of my favorites.

galanthus three ships

Today’s sunshine and just barely above freezing air temperatures have brought out ‘Three Ships’.

For the first few years I assumed the cold would do this little nut in.  What sane snowdrop would grow more as the temperatures dropped further?  Tender shoots and sub zero weather should not mix, but one shoot became two, two became four, and rather than die, ‘Three Ships’ is becoming a clump.

galanthus three ships

Not just a hardy snowdrop, but also a beautiful snowdrop.  Heavy textured, rounded blooms with soft green inner markings.  I love the ridges and the way the flowers puff out in the sun.

So right now the snowdrops are loving it.  It’s like winter in the North Carolina mountains, and although some more cold and snow would make for better skiing, I don’t mind mediocre skiing on Monday followed by snowdrops on Tuesday.

Be safe and have a great week!

Winter Arrives?

With the calendar turning over for the official start of a new year, I had the opportunity to see my blogging stats as a year end summary.  I usually expect a disappointing show but how exciting to see that for the first time since 2016 my visitors and views have actually increased!  I’ll still point out that there was far more interest in this blog five years ago than there is today, but I guess any move to the plus side is worth celebrating, and I think my first move will be to show off these numbers to my bank account.  It’s been slacking in the numbers department as well, and this might be just the inspiration it’s been waiting for.

mulched vegetable beds

A former vegetable bed has filled with hydrangeas and other things more colorful than vegetables.  Now a messy mulch of leaves looks suspiciously like the cover for a future snowdrop bed.  Hmmmm.

My concerns over declining views are matched only by my race to improve them.  In the last four years I’ve done nothing.  That could be part of it, but at least the weather was beautiful last Saturday and I was able to do something outside and actually weeded a few spots and spread a little mulch.  Not bad for January, and I think I’m as set as I will be for the earliest spring bloomers, some of which have mistaken sunny days in the 50’s for the end of an extremely short winter.

Mrs Macnamara

Mrs Macnamara is an early riser, but unfortunately this weather tricks her into being too early.  In the five years she’s been here her early blooms have been destroyed five times, and I have yet to see her flowers open and look their best.  

History does not bode well for an extremely short winter in this garden.  A review of last year shows various things up and nearly in flower the first week of January… and then also shows the wilted, frozen mush of snowdrops and hellebores by the end of February.  I doubt there’s a gardener out there who doesn’t know this same story.

winter hellebore foliage

I would have removed the hellebore foliage but prefer to mow it all up, and honestly the lawnmower deserves at least a few days off for winter so I’ll wait.

I guess there’s no easy way out.  A more mature and sensible gardener would just not grow the plants ill suited to their garden.  That’s a good idea, and you of course should do that even if I won’t.

winter hellebore

On the advice of a better gardener I’ve started trimming the old foliage off my hellebores at anytime from late December on.  Tender, easily damaged shoots seem to show up whether the leaves are removed or not.

I apologize for speaking of warm sun while showing gloomy snow and sleet but one of the blog stats which stood out for me was that this blogger used to post twice as much.  Because Saturday was a beautiful, busy day and no photos were taken, I was forced to go out Sunday into the sleet for something to blog about.  Quantity over quality is my new mantra and we will see if more frequent posts will be the secret to overwhelming my site counter and bringing on that lucrative movie deal I’m still hoping for.

Or spring.  I won’t mind if more frequent posts bring on spring 🙂

Happy Solstice

It’s a rare day that snow pictures end up on this blog, but some people seem to be into this kind of stuff so I figured what the heck, they are kind of pretty, sort of like microscopic virus photos or the closeup of a horsefly’s eye… so here they are.  As we enter the longest night of the year it’s a taste of cold sunshine from Saturday morning.

frosty winter morning

 I love Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  It’s supposed to resist winter browning, but here it is with some winter browning.

frosty winter morning

The polished buds of European beech surrounded by the russet glow of Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’ seedheads.

frosty winter morning

More Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’, a switch grass who’s bluish summer foliage is followed by a winter long reddish foliage which holds up fairly well to lighter snow loads and winter winds.   

frosty winter morning

Silly rose it’s winter, and you’re deciduous.

frosty winter morning

We ended up with about a foot of snow.  Faced with cyber school the kids didn’t even get a day off.

frosty winter morning

It’s been a good year for Amsonia hubrichtii.  The yellow in autumn was better than ever and now there’s even some color left for the first few weeks of winter. 

frosty winter morning

A gentle snowfall marks off the hedges and beds of the potager.

frosty winter morning

The bright sunshine and cold clear air brings sparkle to just about everything.

frosty winter morning

I had been itching to strimmer the stray weeds and wild asters on the berm, who would have thought the juncos would flock in to enjoy the tiny aster seedheads. 

frosty winter morning

It’s always hit or miss as to how the Southern magnolia seedlings make it through the ups and downs of a NEPa winter.  

Now it’s a slow wobble back to summer as the days again increase in length and the ground slowly soaks the heat back up.  Eventually, towards the end of January, our average temperatures should start to rise again and if this winter is anything like the last couple a few witch hazels and winter aconite might dare open a flower or two.  It’s a fun ride.

All the best for a nice, long and cozy solstice night 🙂

Off To A Good Start

As far as I’m concerned the 2021 gardening season is now up and running.  The few winter growers which I dare grow outside are starting to show signs of life, nudged along by a fall that gave us plenty of warm enough days and above freezing nights, and it’s nice to see things sprouting up all fresh and full of promise.  Back in the day a lot of these things waited until February or March to do anything, but lately they’ve come on earlier and earlier, and I won’t complain.  Actually who am I kidding?  Of course I’ll complain.  A brutal polar vortex in February, a foot of snow in March, hail in April… I can’t think of a single gardener who just smiles and shrugs these things off.

fall galanthus elwesii

Galanthus elwesii ‘Potter’s Prelude’ is finally open, oddly late since many of the other fall and winter bloomers were earlier this season.

These earliest of snowdrops were always an issue of discontent for me.  For years I would buy bulk bags of elwesii and then grumble as more southern gardeners would gloat over the random fall bloomers which would show up in their mix.  They didn’t actually gloat, but when year after year I got nothing it started to seem like it.  Then one year we had a long fall and a lackluster start to winter, and suddenly there were snowdrops up in December rather than March.  It’s always the same few, and they unfortunately don’t hold up well when the cold does settle in, but it’s fun to see them and I do feel a little better about my luck again.

fall galanthus elwesii

An early snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii), one of just a few which try to beat winter rather than patiently wait it out.  

As you probably already know, our lackluster winter is finally making an effort.  It’s about time I guess, so what better way to celebrate than to finally plant the daffodils, tuck in the last few perennials, and then set up the winter garden for some indoors enjoyment.  Fingers crossed the daffodils survive their hasty planting, but it’s not the first time they’ve suffered this kind of abuse so they should be used to it by now.

winter garden

Dry and cool is how I keep all the succulents.  Without watering they don’t grow much, and if they’re not growing much they don’t get all stretched out and spindly, even under less than perfect lighting.

The winter garden in the old workshop in the back of the garage only has about half the shop lights going so far.  As more plants magically appear and seedlings start and bulbs sprout I may add to that, but at the moment there’s no real plan, and it’s just a nice place to putter around in with a few things growing while snow falls outside.

winter garden

This year there are more Cyclamen coum and fewer other cyclamen species and snowdrops.    

My current favorites are the cyclamen coum.  Even though they do just fine outside in the open garden, indoors they’ll flower for a month or two during the bleakest months of January and February, and make for an excellent show that can be thoroughly enjoyed after dark during the week or with a nice morning coffee on the weekend.  I do enjoy announcing that I’ll be in the winter garden with drinks, and that I need to sweep up the camellia petals or water the tree fern.  It all sound pretty fancy if you ask me… even if others in this household seem less than impressed.

winter garden

The reality of the winter garden is a bit more gritty than an actual sun filled conservatory, but until a glasshouse moves up and becomes a budget priority it will have to do.

Re-opening the winter garden came just in time.  It’s been snowing since later this afternoon and by tomorrow morning we could have anywhere from a foot to a foot and a half.

winter snow

It’s going to be a white Christmas 🙂 with snow this week and cold next, this won’t be going anywhere soon.  

Hope all is well and you’re staying safe.  I’ve got the shovels ready, gas for the snow blower, and the snowdrops are covered with buckets, so I think we’re ok.  Tomorrow will hopefully be a nice snowday with a late breakfast, and just maybe I’ll be able to sneak the coffee out to the winter garden and admire cyclamen before the kids and dog want to “help” with the snow.

Christmas Spirit

On Sunday Pennsylvania goes back to some of the restrictions we saw back in March.  Lockdown is how some would call it but inconvenient seems like a better descriptor… unless your livelyhood is again at stake… Restaurants are back to take-out only and indoor entertainment venues and community activities are cancelled.  Stores are limited to 50% capacity.  It’s like lockdown lite and I guess that’s all you can get away with when so much of our state government is determined to fight for our freedoms even while hundreds of residents die each day from a virus they insist isn’t that bad.  But you know this.  You read the news, and those who are being safe are being safe and those who aren’t just won’t believe the stove is hot until they touch it.

longwood christmas

The Orangery, one of Longwood’s main conservatories.  This was all yellow chrysanthemums and a wall of yellow Salvia madrensis just a few days before we visited.

Longwood’s greenhouses are considered indoor entertaiment, and as such will now be closed throughout the holidays, but fortunately we were able to get down there on our usual Sunday after Thanksgiving visit.  The tickets were reserved a week in advance, and even though by the time the day arrived everything was sold out we were still happy to find the place nearly empty.  I believe ticket sales had been cut down to about 25% normal capacity, so from our first step out of the car, through the entrance, to the grounds, through our meal, through the greenhouse, back to our car we barely touched a cleaned surface or moved within six feet of another visitor.  I felt entirely safe, but keep in mind I also believe in the 5 seconds rule so your results may vary.

longwood christmas

Under the cover of Australian tree ferns, two ribbons of poinsettia surround a line of fountains running down the center of the exhibition hall.

As usual the decorations were perfect.  Swathes of holiday flowers, stylish ornaments, perfect lighting, and all the special touches we look for on our visits.  Even the kids were impressed although I suspect they’re both into the stage where much of what their dad does embarrasses them, and forcing them to pose as they opened the bathroom door probably didn’t help.  My bad, but I consider the conservatory bathrooms to be one of the underrated highlights of any Longwood visit.  Lushly planted green walls surround the spacious private powder rooms, and even if you’re not inspired to take a picture you’ll probably never again want to settle for a drafty stall.

longwood christmas

I don’t think she’s smiling under the mask but whatever,  I’m sure these assignments build character.

I’ve only got a few more decent pictures since most of the time we just enjoyed the visit, but Longwood has been posting quite a few photos online this year and pretty much all of them are better anyway so let me suggest their website, Facebook, Instagram, or whatever media you prefer.  Also I recommend their drone flight through the greenhouses video which really shows off the inside decorations.  It’s almost as good as being there.

longwood christmas

I always drag the kids through the greenhouses once during the daylight hours… much better to see all the plants that way 🙂

Both inside and out, the best show starts as daylight fades.  Lights are everywhere and decorations sparkle and it’s nearly impossible to take in all the fantastic detail.

longwood christmas

Just imagine inventorying and storing all the ornaments every year.  

There’s always a nightime hush after dark.  A nice spiked or unspiked hot chocolate makes an excellent strolling companion, maybe not so much for our visit though since it was so warm we barely even needed our coats.

longwood christmas

Everything a-sparkle and a-glow.  If this scene doesn’t please Santa I don’t know what will.

longwood christmas

Each decorated tree was better than the last.

After our final cruise around the greenhouse we did one more lap around the grounds.  We caught all the outdoor lights, visited a few bonfires, and took in one final fountain show.

longwood christmas

The main fountain show is shut down for the winter but the theatre fountains are still a show. 

So we had a great visit.  You should go as well, but maybe not this year since besides being mostly sold out, the greenhouses are shut down until Jan 4th the earliest.  Put it on your list though, and then stay safe so that everyone’s still around next year to check it off.

All the best, and if you didn’t do it before watch the drone video!

Out With The Old

Let me start with getting one thing off my chest.  The daffodils are still unplanted.  There, that was easy.

The weather was beautiful last weekend so we decorated for Christmas, we hung a ridiculous number of lights, and we (and I’m leaning more towards the less plural I on this one) cleaned up most of the basement of all the nonsense and clutter that kids can accumulate.  Then in the midst of a pandemic we drove to Longwood to enjoy the Christmas display.  Of course there will be judgements on safety but for now we’re all still healthy and it’s the weather which has taken a turn towards the worse.   On a miserable afternoon I’d rather rush out and capture a few last joys of the 2020 garden season rather than actually do something productive.  Maybe tomorrow will be different…

hardy fall camellia ashtons supreme

‘Ashton’s Supreme’ is growing in a pot and has already moved into the garage for the next few nights.  It may be hardy, and someday I may put it to the test, but for now I’d rather he avoid the frosts and snow.

I’m excited to see my only fall blooming camellia opening up a few flowers before it gets too cold.  It’s one thing enjoying them for a few hours in another garden, but to have one of your own to really drown in for as long as you want… and then to make excuses to go out and see every few hours… well that’s a whole different story.  Currently the plan has ‘Ashton’s Supreme’ spending the coldest months in the winter garden, staying potted, and then some day moving to the open garden when either (1)he gets too big or (2)global warming shifts me just one more zone South.  Obviously there’s also a good chance that (3)the gardener kills Ashton,  but for just $30 from Camellia Forest Nursery I’m already thrilled with how far I’ve come.

container bog garden

The question of the bog garden.  Shelter in place or quarantine elsewhere?

I’m also somewhat thrilled over how the bog garden’s pitcher plants have recovered from some questionable overwinering techniques from last year.  Someone just picked up an old saucepan from the sandbox, lifted the pitchers from the bog and put them in the pan, and then placed the whole embarrassment next to the compost pile under a few sheltering branches.   They lived, but this year I’m not sure if I shouldn’t try something different.  Or just do nothing.  Nothing is pretty easy, and it’s been working for the daffodils so far.

jack and the beanstalk bean

The sword beans (Canavalia gladiata) have been picked and brought into the garage to hopefully ripen the seeds.  Maybe I’ll get lucky, but maybe I won’t since they’re still mighty green.

Last year seemed much more full of November projects and plenty which bridged over into December, but this year I’m quite fine with calling a time, nailing a lid on 2020, and announcing the start of the 2021 gardening season.  Hello snowdrops is what I’m going to say next, and of course I’m excited!

elwesii monostictus hiemalis motrose

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus ‘Hiemalis Group’ ex. Montrose.  An appropriately big name for what is commonly referred to as the giant snowdrop (in this case a fall blooming version).

Mani over at the Miserable Gardener has observed that the guy he lives with takes an inordinate amount of pleasure in rattling off the name of this first snowdrop of my new year.  I’ve begun to enjoy it now as well, and although I may still need to tweek quotes and capitalizations to be completely proper I’m not going to let ignorance stand in my way.  Ignorance seems to be very ‘in’ these days so I might as well call it what I want, right? -who am I kidding… I can’t stand ignorance, so please correct me if you can.

galanthus three ships

Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ is leaving port earlier than ever and holding the possibility of an open bloom by Christmas.  That would be a first, and of course I would be thrilled.

Let me close by saying this last photo has me most excited.  I keep thinking this snowdrop phase will pass but as of yet not luck.  Once in the summer of 2019 there was a point when I almost said I wasn’t thinking about snowdrops, and then just a few months ago I turned down the offer of a bulb or two because “I had too many other plants needing attention”, but now I’m back to obsessed.  ‘Three Ships’ looks healthier than ever and honestly for a flower which blooms here in January, anything better than dead is quite an achievement in my opinion.

Let the season begin!

November Gardening Tasks

Every now and then it occurs to me that this blog should be more…. useful?… and as I was sitting there with a nice cozy blanket watching Gardener’s World I noticed the weekly ‘things to do in the garden’ segment, and thought to myself what an easy idea to steal.  So let me start by saying you’re welcome and just jump right in.

november perennial border

Not much to see along the street anymore but I try to leave a few things uncut to keep it from looking too desolate.

My first thoughts in the morning went to the dozens of unplanted daffodils and perennial seedlings which have been sitting around for weeks, so…

1.  Stand by the back door with a cup of coffee and imagine how nice it will all look someday when things finally grow or plants finally get moved.  After 20 minutes you may prefer to lean on the other side of the door and imagine changes to the other side of the view.  Keep in mind you might want to do this first thing in the morning since it’s easier to ignore a messy room and far less possible to be “redirected” when there’s no one else there.

amsonia autumn color

Most of the fall colors have faded to blah, but the Amsonia is finally showing some of the yellow it’s supposed to show each year.  Fyi mine rarely does this.

2.  Sit down at the computer since it’s still not all that warm out and look up plants on the internet.  Look up other plants, look at other people’s plants, think about how those plants would look in your garden, think how you can fit them all in and then search out who has them for sale.  Stop just short of ordering them, there’s plenty of time for that in January…. unless it’s a clearance sale on bulbs of course.  Order those and don’t even think about the unplanted ones in the garage.

zone 6 hardy cardoon

My best cardoon did not appreciate the recent 24F night.  I’m still hoping it proves hardy this winter. 

3.  Make a second cup of coffee and go outside.  If it’s warm enough in the sun make sure you take advantage with a little more sitting, otherwise shuffle around the garden and look at every single plant especially the ones which look the same as yesterday.  Don’t put your coffee down to do anything, you’ll forget where you left it.

potager

The potager is looking quite neat with mulched beds and some of the frosted veggies removed.  Just looking at it hurts my lazy bone, and I’m honestly not sure who did all this work.

4.  Return the empty coffee cup to the kitchen.  When you do remember to cross these tasks off your list since having a list and crossing things off is super important when organizing.  Sometimes I do more than just cross out, I completely black out the task since it’s done and over.  No one needs to judge your past, just make sure they see you’re accomplishing things and then redirect them to the future.

fall crop cabbage

A few cabbages yet to be harvested.  Don’t lose your nerve and rush out in the dark to pick the biggest one after everything’s been freezing for the last day and a half, since frozen cabbage stems are dangerously hard to cut while holding a flashlight and watching a dog.

5.  Grab the planting trowel and head out to plant some bulbs.  As you pass the witch hazel, stop and spend at least half an hour picking off the yellowed leaves so that they don’t sit on it all winter and then interfere with the flowers as they open in January.  When you’re almost done give up and wander off to look for the trowel.

lycoris in zone 6

Lycoris radiata and Lycoris houdyshelii, both not likely to do more than just survive in this zone (if I’m lucky) and both kind of expensive to experiment with but there they are.

6.  Forget you were looking for the trowel when you pass the camellia.  See if the buds have grown any (they haven’t) since the last time you looked and then check the 10 day forecast to see when you next have to drag the pot into the garage for the night.  Pull a few other things out of the garage again since the weather looks nice and they can use a few more days of sun before the long, dark winter.

cyclamen coum in pots

In and out the Cyclamen coum go as I try to get them as much sun and fresh air before committing them permanently to the winter garden.  Hmmmmm.  I thought I had so many, but now I see it’s not nearly enough.

7.  Look at the unplanted bulbs and then decide to mow the lawn.  Sure with a self-propelling mower it’s basically the same as the back and forth wandering you were doing before, but no one accuses you of doing nothing when you’re mowing the lawn, plus there were a few new leaves on it and better to capture them for mulch before they blow off to the neighbor’s.

8.  Clean out the garage.  Just kidding.  It’s far too late in the day and you should always have something left on the list for next time.  Plus something really ambitious like this as a leftover will really make all the darkened out ‘finished’ tasks even more impressive.

So there you have it.  Hopefully this was amazingly useful and helped organize your time somewhat and gets you ready for the upcoming week and approaching holiday.  Follow me for more awesome tips but don’t expect those bulbs to get in the ground anytime soon.  I suspect there will be demands for Christmas lights and absolutely no one wants to hear about unplanted daffodils after returning from  a Longwood Christmas so Christmas lights it is.  Have a great week.

A Festival of Mums

Well I do feel guilty overposting when I don’t even take the time to respond to comments or visit other blogs, but there was a second part to my recent garden-day-out which just doesn’t fit into that post, and it’s just too good to not share (as opposed to some of the things I put on about my own garden!).  Our beautiful morning in the private garden of Charles Cresson was followed by an equally beautiful afternoon at the very public Longwood Gardens.  Of course we were late, so there were a few seconds of nervousness when we saw the crowded parking lot and the well-past admission time on our timed tickets, but all was well.  We cruised through a perfectly distanced and contact-free admission process and were exploring the grounds just minutes later.

longwood bell tower

Longwood’s  bell tower with fall color and some late afternoon sunshine.

The weather was still perfect, the grounds were perfect, the fall colors were perfect, the water was clear, fresh sod was laid, the paths were raked.  Longwood is an excellent autumn strolling garden, but to be honest I sometimes get a tiny bit bored.  I wasn’t in the mood to hike the meadow, I had seen miles and miles of autumn color on the drive down, and all the summer plantings were already out and replaced with uber-neat animal netting to protect the recent tulip plantings, or super tidy raked soil.  It all made me feel somewhat guilty for the unplanted bulbs and general mess at home, so our stroll was actually kinda short.

hamamelis virginiana 'Harvest Moon'

Hamamelis virginiana ‘Harvest Moon’ looking exceptional amongst late bloomers and autumn grasses.  It’s in full sun by the way, and I’ve noticed that even the wild ones which line my path to work bloom much heavier when in full sun.

My friend Paula was with me, and we both agreed that next year Longwood should call us and let us pick through their trash pile of discarded annuals and tropicals and help them get rid of some of that mess.  I’m sure my better half would have no problem with me coming home with a trunk full of things to pot up and keep inside all winter 🙂

Tetrapanax papyrifer

In the gardens behind the bell tower I saw a few big clumps of ricepaper plant (Tetrapanax papyrifer) which looked as if they had overwintered in the spot.  I love the leaf on this thing and have been trying to get one for years, even if it is a terrible spreader and some people are allergic to the fine hairs…

yellow ilex opaca

A very well-planned combination of yellow Amsonia hubrichtii foliage backed by a ripening crop of yellow berried American holly (Ilex opaca)

Of course you can’t judge me for thinking I have either the room or time to take in dozens of high maintenance and tender plants which are totally unreasonable for my garden.  It’s a much cheaper addiction than fancy shoes that don’t fit comfortably or a flat screen tv which is just too big for a room which sits you six feet away.  But I’m digressing.  We actually came to see the mums, and as we approached the conservatory things started to look promising.

longwood chrysanthemums

Wow 🙂 Hardy chrysanthemums grown as a basket on top (I think) raised high over a planter of the same.

Last year I visited the NY Botanical Garden to see their display and I loved it, but for all their variety and diverse forms and traditional training techniques, Longwood had less but more and went straight for the Wow.

longwood chrysanthemums

My favorite part, the explosion of yellow lining the path across the orangery.  Giant yellow chrysanthemums and a wall of yellow Salvia madrensis.   

If you’re still with me you may be wondering just how exactly you can “have less but more”, so let me try and explain myself.  There were fewer total varieties and forms, but hundreds of each.  I don’t know how you plan or find the room to grow and train hundreds (or even thousands!?) of mums to football size perfection, but apparently Longwood does.

longwood chrysanthemums

There was so much yellow here I wanted to roll in it.

The rest of the conservatories were just more wow.  I think the less I write the better, so here it is.

longwood fern conservatory

The exhibition hall, flooded with a film of reflective water and shaded by tree ferns.  The topiary are begonias and I don’t think I’ve ever liked begonias more.

longwood chrysanthemums

The ‘thousand bloom’ chrysanthemums.  A single plant grown and trained for a meticulously perfect show.  The one in back is absolutely huge.

longwood chrysanthemums

Maybe these were all the leftovers?  A merciful Longwood employee opened the one-way barrier and let me through when she saw me standing there mumbling ‘I need to go there, I need to go there’.  I loved it.  Maybe this was my favorite…

longwood chrysanthemums

If the yellow was too much there were plenty of yellow-free zones.

longwood chrysanthemums

Yeah there were a lot.  ‘Chrysanthemum Festival’ is a worthy title.

longwood chrysanthemums

And every single, last one was perfectly grown.  I suspect there’s still half a greenhouse worth of backups somewhere!

I enjoyed it.  If you’ve never been I recommend giving it a try, just know that the display comes down this weekend and the conservatories close until after Thanksgiving as they prep for Christmas, so that someday visit might have to wait until next year.

Keep your fingers crossed and faces masked in the meantime.  The kids are annoyed I didn’t take them along, and are anxious to see this year’s Christmas decorations, but with record COVID cases and rising deaths across the country and with rising numbers in Pennsylvania I don’t know how that will work out.  I’d say we can hope and pray for the best but seriously…  just wear the stupid mask and avoid the party at the bar and that will probably get us much further than some false hopes and empty prayers.

But I’m probably preaching to the choir here.  Stay healthy and have an excellent weekend and wish me luck as I finally consider my own messy garden and unplanted bulbs 🙂