Sorta Spring

If you like a long drawn out spring, this one is for you.  So far this season I only complained once about weather that was too warm, and even that was only ‘outdoor gardening without breaking a sweat warm’, which is much cooler than ‘sitting on the porch doing nothing but sipping a cold drink’ warm.  There have been no windy blasts of 80-90F weather which wilt the daffodils in hours and skip the garden straight to summer… followed by a freeze which has the gardener throwing his hands in the air… and for that I’m grateful.  There was snow though.  I started edging and weeding the front border and had to cut it short because of all the snow showers.  Not so much for me or the plants, but the neighbors already talk, and as I went in to get a hat I thought I better just call it quits instead.

spring bulb garden

Making my way down the border.  No leaf mulch was drug out of the woods this spring, and holy crap are there a lot of seedlings coming up.  It might be easiest to just go with a fennel/verbena bonariensis theme this year. 

I didn’t really mind the precipitation, but working out there in the chilly wet and mud makes me think I might as well garden in the UK or Pacific Northwest, and that’s weather for plants and not what a gardener needs.  The upcoming forecast shows better weather on the way, so I’m sure the weeds can wait another day or two.

Here’s a question.  Dead or alive?  The pots for the front walk were dragged back into position and one still contains a bit of one of those trendy brown sedges from New Zealand.  ‘Red Rooster’ I think.  I didn’t think it would be hardy so assume it died over the winter, but maybe not?  It only looks marginally more dead than it did last year, so I’ve left it in place and added some of the extra tulips which I shouldn’t have bought last fall, said I wouldn’t buy, didn’t need, but got anyway.

tulips in planters

Dead sedge?  Who knows.  

After weeks at home, my daughter must be pretty bored since she offered to help with the planting.  I was glad for the company.  The tulips we planted were supposed to be gifts, but since travel to NY is off for the foreseeable future, these were planted, two were dropped off on local porches, and the rest were dug in by the driveway.  It will work out.

muscari seedlings

The most amazing grape hyacinths (muscari) I’ve ever grown.  They look just like any other dime a dozen muscari, but since they were grown from seed (intentionally), they’re super amazing.

For my daughter digging and planting were entertaining, but trying to explain why the seed grown muscari were so much better than the nearly identical muscari which I deadhead and weed out, was pushing the garden thing too far.  Even she must know that muscari are cheap and easy to buy and come in nicer forms than these, but c’mon!  How cool is it that one of them even has a little white top!?

muscari seedlings

Maybe I’ll divide out this clump, they seem to have a little more variety, and I’d like to see how the one with the white does on its own.  

Of course grape hyacinth from seed is easy, in fact many people complain they’re weedy, but as I go through the garden and divide and transplant I do find a few more special things.  My seedlings of the Asian spicebush (Lindera glauca v. salicifolia) are doing well.  I’d like to use them as a hedge, but need a few more, and in the meantime have potted these up while they wait for their planting site to happen.  They’re still holding onto the dried foliage from last year, a plant habit which I used to hate, but on this plant it just all seems more excellent.

lindera glauca salicifolia

Lindera glauca v. salicifolia seedlings potted up and hopefully ready to spend at least a year under my questionable care.

Transplanting has happened, pruning has happened, bed building has happened, but not much weeding yet.  Still in spite of the weedy mess, I just have to show some of my favorite spring iris foliage.

gerald darby iris

I’ve shown the purple spring foliage of iris x robusta ‘Gerald Darby’ before, but some of the pseudata iris can also put on a show, in this case a bright springtime yellow flush of new leaves.  I think the cool weather helps.   

I’ve moved on to weeding not because the potager is finished, but because my better half has banned me from running to the store to get the lumber I think I need to finish.  The first veggies can still be planted, but I’ll wait until it looks slightly better before sharing another photo.  In the meantime if you remember I mentioned one slightly warmer day.  That one day encouraged me to sit around in the shade, and while sitting around, the guilt of laziness encouraged me to weed and clean the little moss bed I’m trying to grow.  Yes it doesn’t look like much, in fact this is what other people end up when they do nothing, but I of course am pleased.

moss garden

A bit of moss in a shady corner.  Ruined terra cotta and a few tree trimmings to camouflage the drainpipe and I think it looks ok.  I wonder if tiny hepaticas could survive here.  hmmmmm. 

So that’s it from here.  I think the cloudy gloom will lift in another few hours and although it’s still a little wet to do anything serious, I’m sure I can find something interesting to “think about” outside.  I hope your spring is also going well.

A Project For the Pandemic

I’m extremely lucky.  Both my wife and I are able to work from home, while this health crisis spreads across the land and attacks our healthcare system, and our children are home here with us.  Our immediate family can afford to do the same.  Only a few of our closer friends are on the front lines as healthcare providers, and the area we live in has yards, streets to walk, and woods to wander.  I wish it were the same for everyone.

pulsatilla vulgaris

The first pasqueflower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) opens.  I love their furry sweaters and the saturated color the cool weather brings on.

It’s not though, and the beautiful, early spring is a bit surreal alongside the news headlines and overall concern.  So we stick to home and the garden.

corydalis solida seedlings

Blue Scilla siberica and the red tones of Corydalis solida seedlings have officially taken over the front foundation beds.

Working from home frees up about two hours worth of commute each day, and with lunch and breaks it easily adds up to an extra three hours of spare time each weekday.  Sometimes I even stretch my lunch a little, but please don’t tell.

potager remodel

The potager is getting raised beds.  The old edging is coming out and the new layout is being planned.  I have no idea where all the soil to fill raised beds will come from but I’m sure something will work out.

After an ordering fiasco and delivery disaster the wood for the beds has arrived.  Normally I’d make a thousand trips to piecemeal and nickel and dime the entire project, but for once I planned a bit and will hopefully have most of what I need.  We will see.  As projects go it’s fairly simple and straightforward except for two things.  (1) The site is not all that level, and (2) Thousands of plants are in the way.

flower bulb bed

The zucchini and gooseberry bed…. but then underplant the berries with colchicums.  Edge the beds with chrysanthemums.  Tulips came in with the compost.  Daffodils will die down before the zucchini needs room.  The rose is so small… oh I need a spot for these snowdrops…

Common sense would say dig it all under and buy a few new bulbs in the fall.  This was considered, and then considered again, but of course by Thursday I decided to save as much as I can.  How can I dig under tulips just a few weeks away from blooming?  Things are now being moved if possible, or just plain potted up with hopes for a miracle in space becoming available.

spring bulb border

The front border starting to look less sloppy and more flowery.

The potager is going to be a mess for a while so I’ll leave you off with a view of the front street border.  The mowed up debris of last year is starting to become less noticeable as spring bulbs come up green and burst into flower.  Surely some good must come of this.

Have a great week, and all the best.

A Down Day

I don’t know how non-gardeners do it.  Today was a sloppy, sleety, chilly day and after just a few hours of being cooped indoors I’m almost ready to try doing the taxes on my own.  We are hunkering down for our second week at home and although the yard doesn’t look much better for it, at least the open air and sunshine was a nice distraction.  One day inside and I can’t imagine what the rest of our neighbors do to fill the time.  I wonder if they even know the birds are singing and the buds are bursting in spite of the messy weather.

pussy willow

Pussy willow just starting

Things weren’t perfect before, but it was good enough with a coat on and decent mudding shoes, and considering it was still mid March I consider that to be excellent.  The sunshine and warmth ended the snowdrops but there’s always more on the way.

'Tête à Tête' daffodil

The first daffodils are coloring the front beds a springtime gold.  ‘Tête à Tête’ in front, ‘Tweety Bird’ towards the street. 

Corydalis solida and the first daffodils are leading the next flush, and in spite of the snow they’re a sign of real spring.

Tweety bird daffodil

‘Tweety Bird’ is my favorite early daffodil.  It handles the weather well and I love the form.

Maybe a down day is a good thing.  I’ve been pruning, trimming, transplanting, and fixing and after being inside for winter and work, I’m a little short of the normal gardening endurance levels.  Nothing a little a dose of Tylenol can’t fix 😉

corydalis purple bird

Corydalis solida ‘Purple Bird’.  Many of the named corydalis just abruptly disappear in this garden, but their many seedlings are often just as good (or dare I say better?)

I won’t bore you with the less than impressive transplants and prunings.  Most are just balls of mud in new positions which only I will notice, but one thing which may be noticeable is that plans are afoot.

potager

The work never strays far from a convenient rest spot.  It’s always good to reflect on any progress.

The plans are the byproduct of too much sitting around and thinking, and when it gets bad the gardener decides change for change’s sake might sound like progress, so giddy up!

So wood has been ordered for the construction of raised beds.  Someone here thinks the vegetable component of the potager will be much more productive if the beds are raised… I think planting fewer flowers might help… we will see.  In any case I’m sure it will turn into much more work than it should be, and take far longer.  That makes sense since it’s already cost more than we’ll ever make back in fresh produce.  In any case, have a productive and healthy week!

A New Season

Last weekend was David Culp’s Galanthus Gala.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and the flood of friends and early season plants and rare goodies that filled the Downingtown Friends Meetinghouse were a treat as the new garden season begins to rev up.  What a difference a few days makes.  I’m sure you see the news so I won’t rehash, but I just want to wish all my friends the best and hope they stay healthy and safe.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum doing better than ever thanks to the relatively mild winter.  Over the last year about half the plantings here disappeared as a result of wet and rot, but this cyclamen is spectacular.

In just a few days spring has arrived and fortunately it’s a white fever which has infected this gardener.  Eleven years of planting and tending is finally starting to pay off, and the tiny handfuls of begged bulbs and lonely singletons are becoming puddles and pools.  I finally have hope that there will one day be a sheet of snowdrop white in this garden, maybe not a California King sheet, but possibly a twin, and that’s excellent enough for me.

nivalis x elwesii

My first handful of snowdrops is up for some more division this year.  I believe it’s a nivalis x elwesii cross.

The non-winter has been a new experience, with some things up early and others holding back.  Restraint payed off for those who held back, since there were a couple harsh nights in February, but for the most part the garden has escaped the usual damage associated with gambling on a winter garden in zone 6.

freeze damage snowdrop

Some drops had their tender stems turn to mush when temperatures dropped into the single digits, but over the years I’m learning who these tender drops are, and am moving them to more sheltered spots.

With the right attitude the good always outweighs the bad, and I like to think there’s a lot of good.  New snowdrops are good, and I can’t believe I have ‘E.A. Bowles’ in the garden this year.  I love it.  When I first saw this drop five years ago on a visit to Hitch Lyman’s Temple Garden,  I thought for sure it would be many years before I would have a chance at it, but here it is.

galanthus ea bowles

‘E.A. Bowles’, a pure white snowdrop which has replaced the three short inners with another set of pure white outers.

So now I shall continue with way more snowdrop pictures than good company should have to endure.  You are more than welcome to scroll down to the end and I won’t take a bit of offense  🙂

galanthus moortown

Another newer to me drop, galanthus ‘moortown’.  Thumbs up for me on these big blooms with a strong mark that bleeds up.

Only a few drops here can claim to be new and exciting.  They might seem that way to me but fancier people will turn their noses up at the plain white and green things I’m obsessing about.  No problem I say.  Social distancing is so much easier around here when your day revolves around tiny green markings on a tiny white flower.

galanthus alans long ovary

I’m not sure who Alan is, but here’s galanthus ‘Alan’s Long Ovary’ looking nice with a growing clump of ‘Winifrede Mathias’ in the background.

Before anyone gets the wrong impression, let me again clearly state that my garden is not as impressive as closeups and heavily cropped photos might imply.  Snowdrops are tiny, and one drop does not a garden make, so I think I still have plenty of time to consider charter bus parking and garden visitor handouts.

american snowdrop garden

A blank lawn is slowly giving way to planting beds and a garden design.  This is the bulk of my snowdrop garden, and notice that the glare of white is still far from overwhelming.

Even without visitors it’s a fun obsession.  It makes the next few weeks less painful as we shelter in place and face the waiting game.

galanthus kew green

A late galanthus ‘Kew Green’ backed up by an early hellebore.  I like when the drops open alongside other spring color.

Hopefully the garden is enough to wear me out and keep me safe from online plant shopping.  February has already seen magnolia and “hardy” camellia purchases and there’s no plans to where any of it will go, so if we stop there it’s probably a good thing.

galanthus greenish

A souvenir snowdrop from another Temple Gardens visit, galanthus ‘Greenish’.  It was beautiful in the gardens and I was thrilled to see it for sale at the exit.

There’s plenty to do without adding anything new, so let me remind myself of that.

rabbit crocus

Rocks thrown down for a new (and yet unfinished) bed edging have kept the rabbits away from the crocus they normally destroy.  I wonder if I can expand on this idea…

Moving plants comes first.  In the earliest days of spring I can pop stuff up and plop it elsewhere without water or worry and that’s perfect for the laziest of gardeners.  Today I shall finish the snowdrops and begin shrubs… according to the plan I never follow…

galanthus sutton courtney

One of my favorites, galanthus ‘Sutton Courtney’ with a few tommy crocus behind.  Fyi the snowdrops still looked nice a few hours later after the bunnies ate all the crocus.

Hope these days treat you well and you’re able to find your own retreat in the garden.

Hola Spring

Spring arrived last week, and from the looks of it she’s in a rush.  A couple warm days, a gentle rain, and we’re off!

berm plantings

‘Just a bit’ of pruning on the seven sons tree (Heptacodium) turned into a few trunks being removed, but the real point of this is the finished berm and trees which now shield us from the Industrial park.

I had to quickly finish up the last of the cleanup -which turned into more of a leave in situ/ call it natural mulch/ kind of thing- but I did try to get in a few projects.  One of them was an attempt at addressing the cankers which always seem to show up on the Seven Sons tree (Heptacodium miconioides).  From what I’ve read this plant seems to be prone to them, and my options are (1)ignore them and hope they don’t completely girdle the branch (2)cut them out whenever they show up, or (3)get rid of the whole thing.  For those keeping track, I’ve moved on to option 2.

heptacodium canker seven sons

Eventually these canker infections will grow enough to encircle the entire branch, cutting off the flow of nutrients and the trunk will die off.  Hopefully cutting them out will help control them…

Fortunately my pruning activities are nothing compared to the curly willow my friend has to deal with.  The almost-bomb cyclone weather system which pummeled the midwest earlier in the week also brought fierce winds, rain, and hail to our little valley.

wind damage

I feel somewhat responsible.  About a dozen years ago I offered a potful of rooted cuttings which were graciously accepted.  Curly willow grows fast though.

rain forecast

The weather forecast for this Easter weekend.

Not to dwell on the weather but any gardener worth his or her salt tends to dwell on the weather and I of course am no exception.  At the risk of appearing to complain I just want to point out that my holiday break perfectly matches the multi-day rain event which will be April-showering the Northeast this weekend.  Also if you are curious as to what part of the Northeast plays host to my garden, it’s just about dead center to the red outline which highlights this weekend’s heaviest rain forecasts.

Still, too much rain always beats drought, so I’ll just hope for the best and just enjoy the flowers which are coming up all over!

perennials and spring bulbs

A week ago it was corydalis, now the daffodils and hyacinth are taking center stage.  btw, Hyacinths don’t appreciate high winds so fortunately the ones here were only just coming up when the wind hit.

I can complain about a lot of things, but the spring bulbs along the street are not one of them.  All I do is cover up last year’s debris with a mulch of chopped leaves and then wait for things to come up.  It’s been a couple years since I last added new daffodils or hyacinths but I think this year a few can use some dividing.  Of course I’ll spread them out some more!

hyacinth woodstock

I think this is ‘Woodstock’.  I love those dark stems and saturated color.  Beetroot red is often used in descriptions, and I think that’s right on the mark.

narcissus red devon

‘Red Devon’ (which is looking less washed out this year) with ‘Tweety Bird’ in back and a few pale ‘Pistachio’ here and there.  ‘Pistachio’ is an absolute favorite in case you’re wondering. 

narcissus barret browning

‘Barret Browning’ (pre-1945) is an oldie but goodie.  

I have a few grape hyacinths out there as well.  I avoid letting them go to seed, but of course when I saw seeds offered I had to try them.  Go figure.  I think they’re extra special of course, since I spent three years growing them on to blooming size, but I won’t be offended if you think they look just like any other muscari which you can buy for pennies a bulb.

muscari seedlings

Muscari seedlings along the front walk.  I believe these were planted as ‘Mt Hood’ but of course don’t show anything close to the icy blue color and pale tip of the parent.  

I see that the rain outside has stopped for a bit, so let me find my boots and take a slog around the garden.

perennials and spring bulbs

A view down along the street border.  From the side and angled just perfectly it looks packed with spring color, and that’s the view I’d like to leave you with.

Enjoy your weekend and have a blessed Easter and Passover.

Corydalis and then Some

Warmer weather has finally reached NE Pennsylvania and within days buds are swelling, sprouts are showing, and the earliest spring bloomers are putting large swathes of color into beds which have spent the last few months exploring black and white themes.  Finally I can take those nice leisurely garden tours and not have to harass the same old snowdrop shoots every few hours, looking to see if they’ve changed at all.  New things are coming on faster than I can keep up with and all I can say is it’s great 🙂

corydalis solida

Sitting on the front porch step is my favorite way to take in the front garden.  Right next to the step is where I plant many of my smaller treasures, but in the past couple years the pinks and mauves of Corydalis solida seedlings have started to crowd out just about everything else.

Depending on what the thermometer does we’re just a few days away from bunches of hyacinths and the earliest masses of daffodils, but for the moment Corydalis solida dominates the front garden.

Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’ spreading out along the street border.  It’s a lot more pink than I prefer but after months of brown and snow who cares.

I’d have to look, but it’s only been a few years since I planted about 15 tubers each of pink ‘Beth Evans’ and redder ‘George Baker’, and from there on they’ve exploded across the garden.  They seem to enjoy the better-drained garden beds, in particular spots where other perennials will come up and cover them after they go dormant in a few weeks.  Restraint is not something I think of when these come up, and if you’re of the type who prefer a more ordered garden I would highly recommend avoiding them.  Corydalis solida does its own thing and if they’re happy in your soil you’ll have them showing up everywhere.

corydalis solida

A weak attempt at adding named varieties has left me with just one survivor… and possibly a bunch of just-as-good seedlings.  Keeping named plantings “pure” requires much more diligence than I chose to pursue so of course I just let them go.

In a few days all this color will fade away and the plants will quickly ripen seed and shrivel away to disappear underground for another 11 months.  If I’m on top of things (which has NOT been the case so far this year) I’ll dig a few of the more crowded clumps and tuck them in to all kinds of new territory… or just do it accidentally in August when I dig up a shovel full of the little round yellowish tubers.  In the meantime here are two other surprises from the earliest of spring garden.

primula denticulata drumstick

Drumstick primrose (Primula denticulata) were a steal off the late fall clearance rack.  I have no idea if they’ll last more than a year, but right now I’m thrilled by how early they are and lucky I was to find such well-grown plants. -Thanks Perennial Point!

Near the shelter of the house the hyacinth have started.  This wimpy, washed out pink is my most exciting hyacinth ever since it’s the first to flower of a bunch of seedlings off the clump to the left.  Six or seven years is all it took which sounds terrible but since I never did a thing for them other than leave them alone it hasn’t been bad at all.

hyacinth seedling

Pink.  My favorite color.  Still it’s my firstborn hyacinth and I love it, and look forward to seeing how it develops over the next few years.

So that’s it.  Spring is exploding so that’s really not even close to what’s going on, but like you I’d also rather be in the garden versus on the computer so off I go!  Hopefully after missing most of yesterday for all kinds of events, and today for more events (and plenty of rain in the afternoon), something valid gets done in the garden before the work week returns, but you never know.  I’m fine with just sitting around taking it all in.  Plus, as I discovered yesterday, parts of the compost pile are still frozen so I guess we’re still just starting.

I love the start.  Have a great week!

Planting Fields in March

I took a quick trip out to Long Island NY last weekend and since it was just me in the car it was a very brief back and forth before the decision was made to sneak in a garden visit.  Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, NY was the choice.

florist cineraria pericallis bedding

I didn’t know florist cineraria (apparently called pericallis these days) would be hardy enough to go outside already, but they were and they looked great in front of the annex building to the main greenhouses.  Dark centered daisies are a favorite of mine btw.  

I used to work ten minutes from this NY historical state park and obviously because of the greenhouses, plant collections, hundreds of acres of open land, plus a manor house, you know it was a favorite pitstop along the way to and from work, but I had already been visiting for a few years before that.  Over the years the visits have settled in to follow a traditional path, and that path nearly always begins in the main greenhouse.

planting fields main greenhouse

The Main Greenhouse at Planting Fields.  

What shows up in the main greenhouse depends on the season or the year.  Sometimes the beds are filled with delphinium or foxgloves, poinsettias, chrysanthemum, orchids… wherever the mood of the planting staff has gone.  This March it was overwhelmingly tropical.

planting fields main greenhouse

When you follow the outer path your way is completely enclosed by tropical shrubs, palms, trees… oranges overhang and starfruit grow alongside bunches of bananas.  I believe in this photo we are looking up into a Bismarck palm. 

Radiating off the Main Greenhouse are several grow houses which back in the day served to supply the estate’s cut flower supply.

planting fields orchids phalaenopsis

Several greenhouses are devoted to orchids.  On this bench part of the phalaenopsis collection was still putting on their late winter show.

Back a few years ago, more of the greenhouses were accessible but today there are still at least six of the side greenhouses open for visitors, and you can always find plenty to see.

planting fields cactus

Agave are always cool.  Not so much fun to touch, but to see them growing in someone else’s warm, dry greenhouse just as we’re breaking out of winter… 🙂  

planting fields cactus

There’s always something special in the cactus house.

I seem to remember one of the greenhouses being a fern house.  Imagine my surprise when these bright, tropical rhododendron greeted me through the next doorway instead.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

A few vireya rhododendrons in peak bloom.

Vireya rhododendron represent a section of rhododendron which hail from the tropics of Southeast Asia.  As you can see, out of the couple hundred species there have been quite a few exceptionally showy selections and hybrids.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

Just a touch of golden yellow.  It’s so bright it almost overwhelms the smaller species to the right.  Also, in case you’re wondering, my nose detected no scent although some say they’re remarkably fragrant.

planting fields rhododendron vireya

The spring sunshine made everything even better, but notice the mossy root ball behind those extravagantly ruffled ivory flowers.  Many vireya are epiphytes, and grow up amongst the branches of the tropical canopy.   

Sorry but I thought the vireyas were exceptional 😉   Next on the agenda was a short stroll over to the camellia house.

planting fields camellia house

Side view of the Planting Fields Camellia House.  This used to be shaded and blocked by massive beech and pines, but disease and storms can take a toll.

The camellia house (1917) shelters the largest collection under glass in the Northeast.  I believe I once read that Mr. Coe got a really good deal on a bunch of imported camellias and only later discovered that they likely wouldn’t be hardy in his new garden.  Build a new glasshouse was the solution!  In any case, this year I managed to catch the tail end of the show.

planting fields camellia house

Camellia ‘Captain Rawes’.  A small arching tree which used to be matched by another equally large tree on the other side of the walk.  I wonder how long its partner has been missing, they were always my favorites. 

Here’s a little 1996 NY Times article on the camellia house.

planting fields clivia

Although many of the camellia were over, the clivia were coming on strong.

The camellia house is another place which comes and goes.  Some years it’s a thicket of bloom and bush, other years it’s recovering from the occasional massive pruning these big plants need.  I guess this year was somewhere in between, still excellent of course.

planting fields camellia house

Southerners would probably pass right by this one, but here in the cold north these huge flowers made me smile.  Plus the brickwork and greenhouse doors aren’t all that shabby either.

A brief run through the grounds was the next requirement.

planting fields pool

The mixed perennial borders surrounding the pool were still 100% sure spring had not yet arrived.

William Coe built Coe Hall as a residence, but his botanical collections and interest in horticulture had this former gold coast estate donated as a school of horticulture, and then preserved as an arboretum.  As such it’s filled with interesting things, and whether you’re just strolling or looking for specific plant goodies you can’t go wrong on a beautifully sunny March morning.

planting fields coe estate

Coe Hall beyond the branches of one of the remaining mature beech trees.  

I tried to get a quick visit in with all my favorites.  The giant sequoia trees were looking sad, as it appears fungus has finally caught up with them, but I was happy to see the odd monkey puzzle trees were still up to their usual monkey business.

planting fields monkey puzzle tree

Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) in the sheltered high shade of the North rhododendron garden.  

The monkey puzzle is an exceptionally curious thing, and ranks as one of those living fossil trees which still keep chugging along as if the dinosaurs were still around to graze them.  Nowadays they’re confined to the Southern tip of South America but eons ago ranged across continents.

planting fields monkey puzzle tree

Spiny, sharp, and a puzzle for any monkey to climb, Araucaria araucana is not for everyone.  The foliage is cool though, and individual leaves can stay on the plant for decades.  Trees over 1,000 years old are not unknown.  

How can people not get excited about plants?  Beats me…

planting fields snowdrops

Of course I still found plenty of late season snowdrops.

So that was last weekend.  Maybe you can guess that in the week since I’ve been busy and/or lazy again, and if that’s a bad thing well at least on the good side it spares you from much of the rest of our snowdrop season.  It was an ok year in case you’re curious.  Too much wind, a lot of temperature ups and downs, and last year’s monsoons seemed to have been too much for many of the plantings, but hopefully the snowdrops which did come up  will be enough to last until next year.

We’ll see.  Have a great week regardless 🙂

I Knew I Could, I Knew I Could

Like the little train who could, spring has done it.  She made an arrival last week and opened a ton of flowers but then got nervous, and ducked backstage again.  It’s a start though and I’ll take it!

‘Purple Bird’ corydalis, pink ‘Beth Evans’, and the slightly darker ‘George Baker, plus a few other things. The snowdrops are over for another year…

Last Tuesday wasn’t exactly the day it all happened, but it was a start, and once we got over the freezing mornings of midweek, winter cracked and the thermometer rose to nearly 80F (26C) for Friday and Saturday.  This is what everything was waiting for, and all of a sudden spring raced ahead another week or two.

narcissus tweety bird

Just a week ago there was nothing to see, but two days of warmth brought up the bright yellow ‘Tweety Bird’ daffodils and the pink of more corydalis towards the middle of the front street border.

The ‘Tweety Bird’ narcissus are one of the first daffodils to open here, right alongside the smaller ‘Tete a Tete’.  They’re almost too bright, but of course it’s the color you want after all that grey.  I think it goes along great with the pinks and purples of the Corydalis solida.  They open at the same time (at the earliest end of the daffodil season) and as I spread the little tubers of Corydalis ‘Beth Evans’ around the garden, a temporary pink carpet is starting to take shape.

corydalis beth evans

Corydalis ‘Beth Evans’ in need of dividing.  This one actually might multiply a little too fast since the clumps don’t flower as well due to the crowding.  (notice the single red seedling at the lower right, always a nice thing to see!)

For a couple of years the corydalis have been selfseeding, and in an effort to diversify I’ve added a few fancier colors to the gene pool.  I probably shouldn’t have bothered though, since the seedlings seem to diversify well enough on their own and all kinds of new shades are showing up.  Plus to my eye even the most exceptional named forms don’t seem stand-out better than what I’ve already got.  Still, a dark red or garnet, and a white were what was missing from the garden so I’m glad to see that deficit has been repaired.

named corydalis

A few named corydalis.  Front center is ‘Gunite’, maybe ‘Firebird’ just to the right, and white ‘Snowstorm’ just behind them.  The blue is Scilla siberica which is happily spreading throughout the garden… for better or worse. 

Corydalis cover a pretty good part of the earliest spring spectrum but a few other things are also making the garden look alive again.  Hyacinths are doing their part, and although the big floppy hybrids are nice enough, my absolute favorite is one of the multiflowering types, ‘Anastasia’.

multiflowering hyacinth anastasia

Hyacinth ‘Anastasia’.  Multiple flower stems and a clumping up habit are nice but the dark stems and violet flowers are what hyacinth-love looks like.

The pink and white versions of this hyacinth (‘Pink Festival’, ‘White Festival’) just don’t do as much for me, as well as the plain green stemmed blue version (‘Blue Festival’), but then I have to admit I’m not as in to baby shower colors in the garden, so if that’s your taste…. so be it.  In the meantime I’m holding my breath for hellebore season.

picotee hellebores

The first hellebores opening up along the street.  These were grown from ‘yellow picotee’ seed years ago, and I should probably add a few more.

I can’t remember the last time the hellebores came up so nicely, it’s become habit to expect a frigid arctic blast to come along and melt the flower stems and blacken the new foliage.  I forgot how nice they can be, and how occasionally they even rival the catalog photos.

dark hellebore

The dark hellebores are also very cool.  These are much darker in person and almost disappear into the mulch from a few feet.

The majority of my plants are from seed and this spring reminds me that I should absolutely start a few new batches and maybe make another attempt to clear out the ones which don’t thrill me as much as they could.  To be honest I find it more exciting to experience the surprise of the first flowers opening on a new batch of seedlings than to have a reliable, amazing, purchased plant that comes back faithfully each year.  I don’t know if that speaks well of me, but I do like seeing the new!

hellebore goldfinch

Variation in plants, all of these are seedlings from the yellow hellebore ‘Goldfinch’ but maybe only one in ten resembles the parent.

Hopefully in the next week or two I’ll be able to experience the best of both worlds with both new seedlings and also reliable returns…  that is assuming the weather continues to warm.  As I write it’s snowing again and spring is apparently having a little bit of stage fright.  I’ll try to keep things optimistic though, so I’ll leave you with one last favorite.

pulsatilla vulgaris

A pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris).  Each year I try to get a few more seedlings out of the seed exchange offerings but my success so far has been pretty bleak.  This pot did well enough though, and if pushed I may admit to liking the fuzzy stems even more than the actual flowers.  

Have a great week.  Hopefully the sun shines and even if it doesn’t at least there’s finally some hope for the 2018 season.

I Think I Can, I Think I Can

The ten day forecast says spring will arrive on Tuesday, so if you’ve been dilly dallying because of the snow I suggest you get ready to hit the ground running!  It is April after all, and although our weekly and sometimes daily snowstorms might hint otherwise, I do see a 70F day approaching and then no below freezing temperatures for the next week…. as long as we wait until Tuesday of course.

hellebore in the snow

Monday morning and the kids began the first week of April with a snow day.

Most everyone has been complaining about the weather but I always like to remind these buttercups that we live in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and the whole ‘April showers’ thing was probably dreamed up by some idle poet wasting away another gloomy English morning on a sofa by the window, waiting for the sun to make an appearance.  Come to think of it this cold and gloomy, precipitate-rich spring weather is what I imagine spring in the UK and Pacific Northwest to be like.  It’s excellent weather for growing things like moss and liverworts but less entertaining for the gardener.  Even if it does keep the winter flowers like snowdrops in bloom for what seems like forever.

galanthus nivalis

Some late, almost completely white snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) still looking good in spite of the on again off again snow cover.

Now would probably be a good time to pat myself on the back for not going as far overboard on the snowdrops as I usually do.  You’re welcome.  Even though it’s been one of the longest seasons ever, with not too-much heavy snow and zero single digit arctic blasts, it’s been cold and dreary and I just don’t enjoy taking pictures when it’s so miserable out.  That and I’ve been posting a lot on Facebook through the ‘Snowdrops in American Gardens’ FB group.  That probably helped as well, and probably saved many a reader from straining an eye muscle from too frequent eye-rolls.  I don’t know about elsewhere but optic strain seems to be a problem in this house when I mention snowdrops.

leucojum vernum

A snowdrop cousin, the spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum) coming up in a damp corner of the yard.

I will round out the season with one last mention of snowdrops.  Two years ago I found an amazing clearance deal on bulk snowdrops and planted about 300 Woronow’s snowdrops (Galanthus woronowii) late in the season.  As fate would have it, great joy is often tempered with tragedy so of course they were nearly all destroyed by a brutal freeze just as they were coming up that first year.  This year it’s been better though, and a few of the survivors are actually strong enough to put up a flower.  Green tipped snowdrops are always a pleasant find and there are only a few green-tipped woronowii, so finding this one was a real treat.

green tip worowonii

Woronow’s snowdrop, aka the green snowdrop, aka Galanthus woronowii, with strong green tips and some extra green on the inner petals.  Woronowii are often a little boring, so of course I love it 🙂

In between snowstorms I’ve been ‘that guy’ trimming back perennials, cleaning out beds and hauling mulch on the day before six more inches are predicted.  To be honest I started in February when we had our first warm spell, but it was only last week that the far end of the front border finally lost enough of its snow cover that I could finish up.  For those who don’t already know, my mode of attack for spring cleanup is trim it all back to the ground with the hedge trimmer, rake most of it onto the lawn, run it all over with the lawnmower and bag it up for mulch.  As a finishing touch I cut the lawn real short and bag that as well so that everything looks obsessively neat and green and ready for spring.

chopped leaves mulch

The least professional part of my cleanup is when I lug the chopped leaves over from the neighborhood dump at the end of the street, and spread them out across the bed.  Another man’s trash…. plus it covers all the twigs and debris that I didn’t care enough to rake off.

Not to rub my garden cleanup obsession in too much but I actually finished the last of the spring cleanup yesterday.  It doesn’t all look pretty, but at least there will be no dead stalks and dried weeds to bother me in May.

narcissus rijnvelds early sensation

A mulch of the chopped debris from out front will keep the weeds down in back.  It’s just fine for the first daffodil, ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’, flowering for the first time that I can remember.  Usually it’s usually too early and the buds get frozen off in February.

All the cleanup has distracted me from seed starting, of which I’ve gone overboard with this year.  The cold left me inside way too long and I’ve been up to just about everything else except the starting of tomato seedlings which should have sown two weeks ago.  I’m sure I can find one at the nursery if things get desperate.  Much better now to focus on the unnecessary native southeastern NA fern spore dust which has miraculously done something over the last few weeks.  I spend way too much time admiring the green fuzz inside a baby food container, but to be honest I still can’t believe the dust I sprinkled on top had done anything.

growing ferns from spores

I think I have ferns!  Not to gloss over millions of years of primitive reproduction but the spores grow a green fuzz and the green fuzz does the sex stuff which results in new fern plants.  I suggest searching for more on the topic in case I’ve become too technical 😉   

I’ll leave you with even more evidence of snow day idleness.  Coleus plants ready for new cuttings to be taken, and way too many succulents.  I started even more a few weeks ago and still have absolutely no plans for what to do with them, so we’ll see where this ends up.  Maybe they can go outside Tuesday even though that does nothing to answer the question of what to do with them.

succulent cuttings

Succulent cutting in the winter garden.  They’re another thing I spend way too much time looking at.

In the meantime enjoy whatever weather comes your way and I hope spring has either found you or is well on its way.  Hopefully the weather doesn’t turn too nice though, I still need to start a few tomatoes…. and plant some pansies, since I may have bought some pansies 🙂

Tuesday View: The Street Border 04.11.17

Two weeks have passed since the last Tuesday view, so it’s about time we see what the melted snow and furious warm-up have left behind.  If I remember correctly this photo was taken in the late afternoon, shortly after our Tuesday high of 86F (30C) had begun to cool off and allow some relief to plants more accustomed to snow flurries and frost.

spring mixed border

The early daffodils and hyacinths have sprouted and come into bloom in a matter of days.  As recently as three days ago I believe the grass was still brown!

These catapults into warm weather always leave me a little irritated.  I’ve got a ton of cleanup to do but the lawn is still a melting-snow-mess of soggy ground and matted leaves.  Fortunately the front yard dried out enough for me to get around without making too muddy a mess, and I was able to rob the neighborhood leaf dump for some free leaf mulch to top off the border.  The mulch went a long way in covering up all the debris I was too lazy to pick up, and I just managed to get it on in what seemed like the last hours before too many of the spring bulbs had sprouted.

spring mixed border

Yellow ‘Tweety Bird’ daffodils with a bunch of hyacinths which need dividing.  There’s never enough time to get all these things done. 

Besides the daffodils and hyacinths there is also a noticeable increase in the corydalis population.  Last summer I managed to find and dig a few dormant bulbs and immediately replanted them along the street.  They’re all the pink ‘Beth Evans’ but if I get to it this summer I’ll mix in a few of other spare colors from around the yard… assuming I remember to dig them before they disappear completely in May, they go fast.

spring mixed border

I’m aiming for a mix of corydalis, eranthis and snowdrops in this part of the bed.  It’s an area which will become a thicket of butterfly bush (buddleia) by August so the bulbs will be able to rest comfortably in the shadows until next spring.

Nothing is ever perfect though, and last spring’s early warmth, late freeze damage, and then relentless cold rain are coming back to haunt the tulips this year.  ‘Tulip Fire’ (Botrytis tulipae) is a fungal disease related to the gray molds which thrive in damp, cold weather.  It shows as spotted and distorted (or scorched) leaves which will ruin your tulip show.  Wise gardeners will dig up and dispose of the infected plants and avoid replanting tulips for about three years and possibly resort to fungicidal sprays, but the less wise gardener might respond differently.  He might ignore the problem and hope better tulip weather will bring some relief in future seasons.  It’s more of a prayer approach and sometimes this method works out better than you can imagine.  Sometimes it doesn’t, and we’ll keep you posted.

tulip fire fungus

The spotting and distorted sprouts of tulip fire infected tulips.

For now though there are plenty of other distractions to keep one from dwelling on the loss of a few tulip blooms.  Here’s another view of daffodil ‘Tweety Bird’ and the spreading corydalis.  I think it looks very promising.

spring mixed border

Early spring color in the front border.

It looks colorful at least, and it’s a welcome relief after all the snow of just a few weeks ago.  Let’s hope it lasts for a few days at least.

The Tuesday view is a weekly visit to the same spot each week of the growing season.  Cathy of Words and Herbs hosts, and I highly recommend a visit to see what her view looks like and to see what others around the world are enjoying this week.  Have a happy Easter!