Indoors, For Now…

After a late start, it looked like winter was actually going to make an effort this year.  We had some cold spells, some snow, lots of ice, and the usual January thaw, but now it’s just losing steam.  A February thaw is in the works, and the freeze out there this morning is the one exception in a ten day forecast that doesn’t even dip much below freezing.  To be honest I’d be thrilled to see this in March or April… not so much February.

hardy cyclamen

I was expecting to spend most of February in the garage, hiding from the cold, and admiring the winter garden which has now officially replaced the workshop.

This weather will quickly bring on the snowdrops and winter aconite, and once that happens I’ll waste every minute of daylight wandering and poking around the garden imagining just how nice everything is going to be this year.  In the meantime though, I’ve come to a decision on a real winter greenhouse, one which involves glass and benches and expensive heating.  Before you get excited for me (doesn’t everyone get excited for people who get new greenhouses?) I want to make it clear it’s not going to happen.  Our local climate is relatively extreme and although that in itself is an excellent reason to get a greenhouse, I just can’t commit myself to worrying about extreme low temperatures, brutal hailstorms and blizzards, heating system failures… and most importantly the extra heating bill.

hardy cyclamen

The hardy cyclamen (C. coum) are at their peak under the winter garden grow lights.  For the second year in a row I’m wondering why I don’t have more in here.

But wait!  Don’t get the wrong impression here.  I’m not having some budget-wise revelation that includes spending less and denying myself things in order to save for our retirement or the children’s education.  I just came to the conclusion that with only a few more grow lights I can change the whole workshop over into a very satisfying pseudo-conservatory.  So I did a little searching and found three more light fixtures on clearance.  $39 a piece, about $120 total… so much better than their $52 normal price.

sowing fern spores

A first time for me.  Fern spores.  You’ll have to trust me on this but there’s a tiny bit of black dust on that silver foil, and hopefully with it and an old baby food tub I can recreate what ferns have been doing for millions of years.

$120 is an amazing bargain compared to buying an actual greenhouse, so in reflecting on how much money I just saved I don’t think I’d be way off in subtracting it from the budget rather than adding, but on second thought a visit to the accountant taught me a new word which might come in handy here.  Depreciation.  From what I gathered (and often what I gather is more what I want to hear rather than real facts) I can take this long-range purchase and pretend it’s really money which has been spent over a couple years.  So for the 2018 budget I’m going to pretend I only spent $30 and we’ll see if I remember the remaining $30s in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

winter sow stratification

Seed starting is well under way.  These will go outside today and spend the rest of the winter on the side of the house under a layer of garden fleece (aka Reemay, or spun row cover) until warmer weather encourages them to sprout. 

The lights are more of a next winter plan, but you never know.  In a fit of boredom a week or so ago (apparently you can’t spend forever sipping beer and staring at cyclamen) someone got it in their head to pot up the coleus cuttings and start a few succulent cuttings.  They’re in the very back of the workshop, in a room with the furnace, and hopefully will stay warm enough there to get shoots growing and roots forming.   We will see.

succulent cuttings

Rootless succulent cuttings newly potted up and coleus cuttings slowly recovering from the last few months on a windowsill in water.

I don’t need more succulents in February, let alone May.  It’s another one of those #becauseIcan moments, but I’m just itching with a compulsion to start more.  Another 25 or 50 more isn’t out of the question and I’m sure something can be done with them in the spring.

In the meantime have a great weekend!

$30 for new growlights

$318 total so far for the 2018 gardening year

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.

Our Days Are Numbered

There’s an impending air of doom hanging over the garden, and the threat of next week taints everything.  The Cubs winning the World Series was likely the first sign of the apocalypse and now I can only imagine what next Wednesday could bring.  Our current stretch of warm weather has me even more nervous since as we know from high school science, freezing is an exothermic process and on the chance that Hell has indeed frozen over science would predict that things up here on the surface would warm up as a result.  I’ve never hoped for a cold snap more, even if it means losing the last of the autumn flowers.

late chrysanthemum

The latest of my seedling chrysanthemums.  This one’s not as hardy as the rest but does well enough up near the foundation.

The last of the autumn leaves are really hanging on in the warmth.  This red maples along the fence is always my favorite with its sunset blend of reds, oranges, and yellows.  As the days go on it will hopefully fade to pale yellow with red highlights before finally covering the lawn with a carpet of next year’s mulch and compost.

maple fall foliage

For most of the year I resent the greedy water stealing roots of this pesky red maple (Acer rubrum), but for a few days in autumn I forgive it and soak up every glowing minute of its final foliage show.

Closer to the ground the earliest (or latest, depending on your perspective) bulbs are beginning to show signs of growth.  My absolute favorite right this moment is the fall blooming snowdrop a friend of mine brought back for me from Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough, North Carolina.  I love a plant with a story and this one has a good one.  Its full name is Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus Hiemalis group ex. Montrose and to be honest I love writing that one out.  It’s the nerdy Latin way of describing a fall blooming snowdrop with a single green mark that comes to me via Montrose Gardens.  This one and its thousands of sisters are all the descendants of a handful of bulbs Mrs. Goodwin purchased decades ago at a local hardware store.  They say the rest is history, but in this case it’s a history which required years of division and transplanting as the bulbs were slowly spread across her acres of woodland.  The bulbs now make an unparalleled show each autumn around Thanksgiving and I wouldn’t rule out some day making the eight hour trip to see it in person.  Such are the dreams of the obsessed, but if you’d like more information have a look at this NY Times article on a visit to the gardens, and also consider looking up Nancy Goodwin’s book “Montrose: Life in a Garden” for a monthly chronicle of the gardens.  She was also a big fan of the Cyclamen family and grows thousands of them as well.  That’s my kind of gardener.

fall galanthus elwesii monostctus

Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus Hiemalis group ex. Montrose.  Yeah.

Besides fall blooming snowdrops, there was also an October surprise here when my two auricula primrose insisted on sending up a few autumn flower stalks.  I’d rather they waited until spring since the flowers don’t look nearly as big or nice as the could, but my hope is they really liked their repotting and are only just ramping up to an even more amazing show in March under the growlights…. unless they’re planning on dying, which is always another possibility for plants in my care.

primula auricula

A pair of primula.  Primula auricula hybrids to be exact.  The yellow had bloomed before but this is the first flower for the brownish one, and I’m pleased with the color.

Some other final color in the garden is the Aster oblongifolius ‘Raydons Favorite’.  It waits until the very end of the season and carries it out with a clear lavender blue color and attractive dark eyes as the flowers fade.  I should really give it a little more room and respect next year, and not let it suffer all summer crowded and untended while the summer annuals steal the show.

Aster oblongifolius 'Raydons Favorite'

Amidst the mildew decay of fading peony foliage and frosted zinnias, Aster ‘Raydons Favorite’ offers up fresh color for this part of the border.  I think more would be a good idea.

I can’t do a late fall post without slipping in a cyclamen or two.  They’re sending out more and more of their beautiful foliage and while other parts of the garden are fading, these go from strength to strength.  I may have to talk to John Lonsdale about adding a few new ones since you can never have too many of these treasures and he always seems to have a few special ones for sale at Edgewood Gardens.

cyclamen hederifolium

The hardy Cyclamen hederifolium starts flowering without foliage in late summer.  I love it even more when the leaves begin to come up and there are still plenty of blooms to accent them.

The range of foliage types in Cyclamen hederifolium is really outstanding.  The dainty and distinct flowers are almost more of an afterthought.

A pale pink form of Cyclamen hederifolium with a leaf pattern which I love.

A pale pink form of Cyclamen hederifolium with a leaf pattern which I love.

For the moment I may have resisted adding any new Cyclamen but don’t be under the false impression I’ve resisted all the other goodies which can be found during fall planting season… or even better found during autumn clearance sales.  For some reason I found the Santa Rosa clearance sale (still going on btw, and don’t miss out on the additional 20% off coupon code) and discovered I needed more grasses and a trio of carnivorous pitcher plants.  Who knew?

Sarracenia from santa rosa gardens

Three new bog plants (Sarracenia) for the bog I don’t have.  Hopefully I can keep them happy elsewhere since they’re so absolutely cool with their sinister insect trapping pitchers.

As I go on and on about new plants I won’t even mention the tulips which need planting, the daffodils which need replanting, and the projects which need finishing before the bottom drops out of this pleasant autumn weather.  Let’s hope that’s the only thing which the bottom drops out of this week.

Have a good one!

Thursday’s Feature: Cyclamen purpurascens

It’s time to get back into the saddle.  I’ve enjoyed telling the woeful tales of drought and loss in my garden and appreciated the kind words, but it’s time to stop the shameless pandering for sympathy and suck it up.  I’m sure most gardeners will agree that there’s nothing better for a poor attitude than a new plant, so I ordered a couple iris, planned a trip to the nursery, and I think I’m good 🙂

So first things first I’m joining Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday’s Feature and highlighting one of the little treasures which don’t seem to care much about a few sunny days and a bit of heat.  This week’s plant is that hardiest of hardy cyclamen, Cylamen purpurascens.


Blooming this week in the dry shade beneath the weeping cherry is Cyclamen purpurascens. I like the slight streaking and chunky flowers of this one.

Besides being a hardy plant ((the cyclamen society’s website lists this plant as tolerant of temperatures down to -4F… and my own plants have easily endured -9F without significant snow cover) this plant also has the distinction of retaining foliage year round.  Even now during he worst of summer the beautifully marked and mottled foliage lights up the gloomiest of dry shade locations.

hardy cyclamen purpurascens foliage

Cyclamen purpurascens has the typically beautiful foliage shared by many of the cyclamen family, and the range of patterns is always amazing.

It also has the distinction of blooming now.  The flowers won’t blow you away until they come by the hundreds (which I’m hoping for someday), but for now the little splashes of color are a welcome relief for summer weary shade gardens.

cyclamen purpurascens

A more typical Cyclamen purpurascens flower with pink color and open, twisted petals. 

For more expert information and growing requirements I’d recommend the cyclamen society’s website, but from my own experience I find this cyclamen to be a little fussier and much slower growing than the others and also a plant which actually seems to welcome a good freeze in the winter.  Seedlings which I protected indoors really sulked until I threw them outside for the coldest months.

Mine were raised from seed, but honestly this is one cyclamen I’d have no problem buying as a plant.  Germination takes a year, it’s another year before they do any serious growing, another two or so years for a bloom if you’re not the most attentive grower, and then even the seeds take over a year to ripen before you can try for the next batch.  We’re not getting any younger, so save yourself a few years and buy a couple plants from John Lonsdale at Edgewood gardens.  For a plant which you probably won’t find anywhere else $12 a pop seems like a bargain to me and I’m a relatively cheap guy.

When you’re done with that give Kimberley a visit and see what else is on the radar this Thursday (or practically Friday as I look at the clock).  There’s always something interesting to be had and I know you won’t regret it!

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 🙂

GBFD February

Each month on the 22nd Christina of Creating My Own Garden of the Hesperides invites us to join in on a consideration of foliage in the garden.  Foliage effects in the winter months can seem to drag on and February may have its pleasant moments in Christina’s Italian landscape, but here in Pennsylvania February is the month when the relentless assault of winter begins to wear down even the toughest greenery.  Imagine my surprise when a beautiful February weekend comes along and gets me thinking about outdoor things other than snow.  It felt great to get outside again, do a few spring-like tasks, and consider what was holding the garden together.

pelargonium foliage color

Even a nice February day needs some warmup time, so while waiting for the thermometer what better thing to do than enjoy the foliage of geraniums (Pelargonium) and other tender plants indoors under the growlights.

One task I did tackle was a little front garden cleanup.  The snowdrops are coming up here in the front foundation bed, and dead sunflower trunks do not add to ambiance of the scene.  Blue fescue (Festuca glauca, cultivar unknown) does though, and I’m enjoying the edging of faded blue which lines the front.  A nice solid swath of one plant helps tie this bed together but I’m not entirely convinced I can give up my collecting habits in favor of better (notice I won’t say good) design.  My single mass planting of little fescues is a starting point though and even if I can’t add more solid pools elsewhere maybe I can at least repeat a few nice patches of similar foliage here and there for the sake of continuity.

Festuca glauca winter color

Cute tufts of Festuca glauca in their winter finery…. which looks remarkably like their spring summer and fall finery, but every garden needs a few reliable doers.

Another grass which has lasted well throughout the winter are the native little bluestem clumps (Schizachyrium scoparium) which dot the back meadow area.  They will be cut down shortly as crocus blooms begin to fill the meadow, but for now they’re a nice backdrop to my weakly flowering witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis ‘Pallida’).  It’s too dry and exposed here for the witch hazel to do well in this location, but it hangs on and every now and then has a good spring.

witch hazel pallida

The crinkled blooms of ‘Pallida’ Chinese witch hazel are always a nice winter surprise and I feel like the russet foliage of the little bluestem grass in the background complements the flower color well.

It may have felt like spring for a few hours but it’s still surely winter around here.  El Nino has thrown things for a loop and by my wildly inaccurate guess we are about three weeks ahead of a ‘normal’ winter.  Not a problem I say, and I’ll take the early snowdrops and deal with future wild temperature fluctuations as they come.

snowdrops and eranthis aconite

Cyclamen hederifolium foliage and a mulch of dried autumn leaves looks so much more comfortable than bare mud.  I guess even last year’s dead foliage counts on a February foliage day 🙂

So even in the dead of winter there is foliage making a contribution and there is hope for the upcoming year.  Hope is always a good thing, and what better way to breed more hope than to look at other inspiring foliage effects from around the world.  Give Christina’s blog a visit and as always have a great week!

The persistence of seed

I’ve been growing things from seed for decades.  Odd things such as tuberous begonias and eucalyptus, which aren’t odd in themselves but which might be for the average teenager.  A Saturday trip to the movies for ‘The Return of the Jedi’ and then a Sunday spent wondering if all his begonias will die from damping off disease can get complicated #teenproblems1983.  As usual I digress, but one thing so often repeated is how much patience I must have and how complicated it must be.  I just want to take a moment to say I don’t and it’s not.  To prove that point lets take a look at the seeds I started over a year ago which have been sitting in the refrigerator ever since.  A few days ago I finally made the effort to go through them and to be honest it speaks more of laziness and absentmindedness than anything else.

deno method rose seedling

A single Rosa moyesii seedling sprouting on damp paper towels.  Nearly perfect after a full year in a plastic baggie in the fridge.

The scene was not pretty.  Many of the seeds had molded up (or even sadder) sprouted and then died from my neglect, but one ziplock bag contained an amazing surprise.  A single pale yet perfect Rosa moyesii seedling had edged its way out of the folded paper towels and was just waiting to be freed from its cold, dark prison.  Better gardeners check their baggies every few days and not every few years, but luck was on my side this time and I now have a seedling of something I’d been hoping to sprout for several years.  Of course luck would also have it that my fat clumsy fingers snapped the delicate little stem during planting (so we will never speak of this seedling again) but fortunately I also found a few hellebore seedlings, one of which still had enough flicker of life in it to plant.

hellebore niger seedling

A single hellebore niger seedling.  Given another three years it may amount to something, but for now I’m just happy to see it alive.  Note the other healthier hellebore seedlings in the pot behind it.  These were sown last summer and then sat neglected for three months on the driveway, a method which I’ll have to recommend from now on.

Some seeds wait for other triggers to start the germination process, and for a few baggies the warmth of the dining room table was just what they were waiting for.  Within a week of taking the seeds out of the fridge I had three seedling of the hard to find, yet hopefully amazing, Chinese red birch (Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis).  I may be overstepping my optimism with these size of a pencil point sprouts, but given a decade I may be enjoying a brilliant grove of pink and red peeling bark backlit with the low glow of a late winter sunset.  Or not.  Patience will be required for this one, but in a few weeks I’ll be distracted by snowdrops, then tulips, then iris, then roses, and then before you know it I’ll be wondering why there are birch trees in the spot where I was planning a dahlia bed.

betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis

Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis seedlings.

Not all my seed adventures are purely theoretical.  Two years ago I started a packet of Cyclamen coum seed which would hopefully produce the intricately lined, pale pink flowers of Green Ice’s Porcelain strain of this plant.  Fast forward two years and they did.  What a delicate flower, you wouldn’t suspect this one could survive the driveway germination method but fortunately it has.

cyclamen coum porcelain

Cyclamen coum ‘Porcelain’.

In general the Cyclamen growing in the back of the garage are filling the space with some very welcome winter color.  At this time of year I leave the house before dawn and return after dark and it’s nice to be able to go back there and visit with a few of my plants before going to bed.  It’s a lot safer too.  I can only creep through the garden with a flashlight so many times before having to explain to one of the neighbors that the warm weather is bringing up the snowdrops way too early.

cyclamen coum indoors

Cyclamen coum flowers filling the winter garden.  They’ve been better in years past but still put on a great show.

One final seedling.  Last year I wanted to try a few new primula so I ordered seeds through the American Primrose Society’s seed exchange.  They open their exchange to everyone once members have had their chance, so the sight of dozens of premium varieties still available for ridiculously low prices was irresistible.  Who would think that even these could survive the driveway treatment, and although my seedlings are nothing to bring to a flower show I really can’t believe that one of my ultra cool Primula auricula seedlings is planning to bloom.  I guarantee if it makes it you will see plenty of photos show up here…. and if it doesn’t make it,  please don’t ask what happened since it will likely I did something stupid again and it will be several months before I’ll want to talk about it.


A Victorian favorite, Primula auricula lays claim to thousands of cultivars and several societies devoted to its growing and showing. At this moment I think it’s my most amazing plant, your opinion may vary 🙂

My newly found primrose enthusiasm had me rushing back to the Primrose Society’s Seed exchange.  I thought I was ok last year but for a dollar a packet who could resist?  Actually if I became a member it was less than $0.50 a packet so might as well join while I’m at it and be in a great position next year when the seed exchange first opens.  So I did join and we’ll see what trouble I get into.

Have a great week!