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!

Tuesday View: The Street Border 3.28.17

It’s been two weeks since our big (and I hope final) snow dump and I’m happy to announce most of it has melted away.

front border spring

The front street border on the verge of spring.

Fortunately other than a few snowdrops and winter aconites, most of the plants were still safely underground when the snow fell.  Now if I can just get a nice mulch of chopped leaves down this bed shouldn’t need much attention until May… I hope.  One thing which worries me are the large deer tracks and munched tulip sprouts I found Sunday morning.  Deer are a new thing here and don’t suspect they’ll move on.  Needless to say I’m not excited.

porch bed spring

Always a week or two ahead, the bed along the front porch got some attention Sunday afternoon as I removed the last of the snow so I could trim the hellebores of winter damaged leaves and freeze damaged flowers. 

It’s that anxious time of year when the gardener is trapped between not being able to do anything and worrying about doing too much too early.  I usually opt for doing too much… although it never seems enough 🙂

And so the season begins.  This year I’ll try to keep up with this front street view each (or nearly each) Tuesday and join up with Cathy of Words and Herbs as she tracks her own Tuesday views throughout the year.  Think about joining in, it’s still a few weeks until the view gets interesting but it’ll be on us before we know it!

In Like a Lamb

I’m considering filing a restraining order against March this year.  Every spring-like warm spell brings the hellebores and snowdrops on a little further along but then some new brutal weather event comes by to smack them all down again.  It’s clearly an unhealthy relationship but I just can’t move on.  Every time the sun comes out again, spring becomes so real I just want to forgive and forget and say just one more chance.

galanthus brenda troyle

Possibly my favorite snowdrop, ‘Brenda Troyle’ looks extremely average but it’s also so reliable and perfect I can’t say a single bad thing about it.

Most of the snowdrops were lost after the first chance for spring came and went, but a few hid here and there either underground or cozied up to the house foundation.  A shame they didn’t warn the hellebores about how fickle the season was being.

hellebore buds

The hellebores which could have been.

I admit I’m not much help in protecting things.  A few snowdrops received a plastic tub or bucket cover for when the thermometer dropped to 7F (-14C) one night, but most things are on their own.

galanthus lagodechianus

Galanthus lagodechianus tried hiding underground for a while and did manage to avoid the hail, but then came up just as the latest arctic blast was about to hit.  Fortunately a simple cover saved its perfect flowers from damage and at least this week I’ll be able to enjoy the yellow coloring which is exceptionally bright this spring.  

The various snow crocus in the meadow garden are always a risky bet so I can’t complain much here.  The weather gets whatever the rabbits didn’t so even in a good year you need to be quick.

snow crocus

Some warm sun might be too much to ask for.  I keep waiting for the spring where I see a whole swath of opened crocus basking in the sunlight… but it hasn’t happened yet. 

To hedge my spring flowering bets I went around yesterday and plucked any undamaged hellebores which were still around.  A few remained and they were enough to remind me why I still bother growing them…. since last year’s season was mostly a bust as well.

hellebore flowers

Snuggled up right next to the porch foundation, hellebore ‘Cinnamon Snow’ has actually flowered well this year. Usually the buds are killed much earlier in the winter and never make it to this point.  Wish I could say the same for the others, but this small handful were the only undamaged flowers I could rustle up. 

Hopefully the rest of March is a little gentler on the hellebores and the later flowers can still develop and put on a show.  It would be nice to see a few showy clumps instead of the wilted and blacked stalks I’ve been getting used to seeing.

hail damage magnolia

Fingers crossed that this is the last of the hail damage.  At first the magnolias didn’t look so bad, but once the damage started to brown it was a different story. Fresh foliage will make this all a memory in a few more weeks… I think.

One last complaint.  For some reason these snowdrops (G. woronowii) really took a beating from the cold.  Maybe it was the 62F to 7F drop in temperature, or the wet soil, or the exposed location, whatever the case I think a few might not be salvageable.

snowdrop freeze damage

Sad seeing freeze damage on a snowdrop but it’s not my first time.  Maybe a few will survive, but they (and about 200 others) were looking so promising for their first year. 

I guess some days it’s just better to stay indoors.

forced tulip

The first of the forced tulips are coming into flower.  I’m sure their shortness says something bad about their culture but to be honest the height actually works out perfectly for under the growlights 🙂

The indoor garden should really have many more seedlings getting size on them for spring planting, but for whatever reason I just haven’t yet been in the mood to tackle a whole under-lights seed agenda this year.  I planted onions, that’s it.  Good thing the primroses are filling in and starting to flower.

primula auricula

Photographing yellow is still a sticking point for me, but hopefully this picture still gets across how nicely this primula auricula has done.

Having my yellow Primula auricula survive for a second year was a surprise in itself, but the fact that it’s actually multiplied and flowered again is borderline unbelievable.

primula auricula

I still think the mealy powder on these flowers is one of the most exotic things. 

These indoor flowers will have to keep me and most of the East coast going for the next few days since March just decided to come back and slap us with a surprise snowfall.  Normally this would be another reason to complain, but at least snow should insulate things for the temperature drop which will follow.

hellebore in snow

Hellebore ‘Cinnamon Snow’ in the actual snow.

Temperature drop and then more snow.  Right now they’re saying lots more but given the forecasting track record it’s still too soon to tell.  Wouldn’t that be something though if we get more snow in the first few days of spring than we did all winter.  March must know I was planning on a garden visit next weekend because I bet this weather forecast is what jealously looks like.  Stop it March!

A freeze and the daffodils

I can’t really hold the weather against them, but I do.  Again and again I told them not to get such an early jump on the season but they ignored me and sure enough one final blast of winter came through and taught them all a lesson.  Three weeks later and I’m still mourning the daffodil season which never was.

cold damage daffodil

Can you guess the prevailing wind direction?  Like a windswept bonsai this daffodil ‘Actea’ still managed to pull through and open a few blooms in spite of the 20F winds which blew through. 

I shouldn’t say the whole season was a wash but if I had to guess I would say about half the daffodils lost their buds and blooms completely and only about a quarter opened up nicely.  A quarter goes a long way though and I’m still grateful to have what I do, plus the weather has been very accommodating since so I suspect the surviving daffodils will put on an extra special show next year.

Isn’t that typical of a gardener?  It’s always “wait until you see this next week” or “imagine next year”…. or the apologetic “you should have seen it a few days ago”. 🙂

narcissus daffodil stepchild

One of my many favorites, narcissus ‘stepchild’ is later and in a spot sheltered from the wind, and although neighboring clumps were still de-flowered by the cold, she seems as pretty as ever. 

In spite of the wild swings in temperature the various butterflies of the garden seem unfazed and continue to shake off the cold and go about their business as soon as the weather warms enough.  Perhaps I hadn’t noticed in previous years, or perhaps there were other non-freeze burned sources of food available, but this year the daffodils have been very popular with several types of butterflies.

butterfly on daffodil black swallowtail

A black swallowtail feeding off the windblown and weather-beaten flowers of narcissus ‘kokopelli’. 

I hope my wallowing in self pity hasn’t made it seem like all is lost in my end of the woods.  Spring is a fantastic relief even with its frequent ups and downs and if one looks past the blackened cherries and mushy primrose blooms and perennial shoots there’s still more good than sad.

daffodil newcomer narcissus

Later is better this spring, and because a late replanting last fall set daffodil ‘Newcomer’ back a few days, its blooms missed the worst of the weather.  The tulips as well, the shelter of the garden’s tiny boxwood hedge seems to have helped them avoid the full brunt of the winds.

In the lee of the house the front garden missed the full force of the wind.  Here if I ignore all the mushy, blackened hyacinth blooms, and wilted early daffodils I can still find plenty to enjoy.

narcissus geranium daffodil

Blooms of the good old reliable daffodil ‘geranium’ set off by ‘pink impression’ tulips, yellow Euphorbia polychrome, and the purple flowers of ‘Rosemary Verey’ Lunaria annua (moneyplant).  I was hoping for darker foliage on the Lunaria but maybe having all the old leaves frozen off a few weeks ago left me with only fresh new green ones.

Maybe this freeze was a warning to diversify.  I admit to having way too many daffodils and maybe adding more supporting players isn’t the worst idea (as if I need a reason for adding more plants!)

mertensia Virginia bluebell from seed

Finally!  After several failed attempts and then a three year wait for my only sprouted seedling to grow up, the first Virginia bluebell (Mertensia Virginica) is in bloom.  Others claim it to be nearly weedy in its ways, but I managed to kill the first one I bought and then never found it in the garden center again.

I’m kidding of course.  Although I do need to find new homes for many of the most promiscuous daffodils (please let me know if you can take any in), there are billions of new plants on the way regardless, as seeds sown last fall and winter begin to sprout.  I always love these new surprises as much as I love the warmer up sides to this spring’s manic mood swings.  Even a bright yellow dandelion makes me grin when the sun is out!

creeping Charlie dandelions

Creeping Charlie and dandelions on a sunny day.  A beautiful lawn in my opinion…. even if Charlie does get on my nerves later in the season.

I have one more gloomy post as I complain about the assault which the cold made against the tulips, but after that things should return to a happier tone which more accurately reflects the joy of the season.   Have a great weekend, I’ve spent far too long on the computer and need to get out there and dig a little before the first Little League game drags me elsewhere 🙂

GBFD April ’16

Imagine my embarrassment when I saw it’s been nearly two weeks since my last post.  I know the exact reason for the pause but right now just  don’t want to get into the ugly truths about mixing brutal cold fronts with fresh spring growth.  Instead I’ll focus on the beautiful sunshine of a cool spring morning and join in for a very quick visit to celebrate Garden Bloggers Foliage Day with Christina from ‘Creating my own garden of the Hesperides’.

muscari and blue fescue

The grayish leaves of blue fescue (Festuca glauca) alongside the blue flowers of grape hyacinths (Muscari).  Please ignore the freeze burned tulips to the left of the photo…

Thanks to Christina for the monthly reminder to reexamine the contributions foliage makes to the overall look and feel of the garden, and this month it’s a border of blue fescue which has me most pleased with foliage effect.  This border was switched up last spring when I divided and spread a few clumps all along the foundation plantings, and this spring it has filled in with a lush vigor which really shows off the bed.  Now that the fescue is making me happy I’m fixated on a clump of blue muscari growing just behind the grass clumps.  There’s a strong possibility this will be divided and spread along as well since I like the combination.

The fescue and muscari are extremely common plants and both were free shovel-fuls from other gardens.  It kind of makes me reconsider that bucket of plant labels which no longer match living partners… but not enough to cure that plant lust for all the new goodies 🙂

See?  I promised it would be quick.  Please visit Christina’s blog as well, it’s always a pleasure to see and hear about the foliage others across the globe are enjoying in their own gardens, and have a great weekend!