December Arrives

A stroll in the garden last Thursday reveled only one thing.  It’s boring.  Boring is probably not the worst thing since there have been tours which brought on anger, apathy, or disgust, but the tour did not bring on wonder or excitement, and for me that daily change or new surprise is what makes the yard so interesting.

cyclamen hederifolium foliage

The hardy cyclamen (this one is Cyclamen hederifolium) is pretty exciting now that the foliage is up, but I’ve seen it all before, and should really give a few of the cool new seedlings some room to develop.

I suppose I could find something to do and give the garden a scorched earth cleanup, rounding up every stray leaf and eliminating every dead and dried stalk, but that’s even more boring.  The birds will need something to pick through, and in January a few old seedheads holding the snow will give a little more interest to otherwise dull drifts.  So instead I cut and placed a few chicken wire cages to protect the most treasured shrubs from their annual bunny shearing.

rabbit shrub protection

Previously the rabbits around here were as lazy as I am, and if they had to even push aside a tuft of grass to get to a carrot they wouldn’t bother.  But now they’ve become empowered, and I have to protect things like this ‘Diane’ witch hazel with these attractive wire cages.

My friend Kathy was right.  Deer may not like witch hazels, but bunnies do, and if you’re thinking good for me to put this protection in place before any real damage occurs, you’re being excessively optimistic in regards to my laziness.  The new witch hazels should have been caged up weeks ago as more tender things in the garden dried up, but no, it wasn’t until the first one was nipped off at four inches that I figured it was time.  Fast forward another week when the second hazel was nipped to the ground that I finally got moving.

Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy'

One last succulent has earned its right to a winter spent inside.  After Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ survived a few heavy frosts and downright freezes I could no longer turn my back on the pot and into the garage it came.  I wonder just how hardy this thing really is?

I actually did find one bit of excitement while planting some not-really-wanted colchicums (they were supposed to be white… not pink).  The excitement wasn’t the tulip bulbs I sliced through when digging a hole, the excitement was a stray snowdrop in full bloom in a spot where I’ve only ever planted spring varieties.

fall snowdrop

A November snowdrop.  Two years after planting bulk Galanthus elwesii here, this one decides to beat the neighbors and open a few months and a whole season early.  I’ll be curious to see what it thinks next year.

Not to end on a down note, but this little November snowdrop is now encased (hopefully not entombed) in ice just waiting for the first larger snowfall of the season to happen.  I’d show pictures but would prefer to keep this a family friendly blog and will instead show a photo from the Thanksgiving trip which the impending storm cut short.

deer on Long Island

Deer along the beach of the Long Island Sound.  The wide open blue skies of the beach always recharge my outdoor batteries in a way the woodsy mountains and valleys of Pennsylvania don’t.

Things can’t be all that bad when you’re cozy inside and the weather happens on the other side of the window, so I can’t complain, but what ever storms come your way I hope they’re easy on your neck of the woods, and even if they’re snowy, I hope you have a great week!

The New Kid on the Block

I don’t even try and hide the snowdrop obsession anymore.  Today it feels like all the plants and yardwork of the summer months are just a weak effort to cover up my addiction and to bide my time until cooler months return and snowdrop season kicks back in.  As proof I will confess to driving two hours last weekend to meet up with a few equally crazed friends in the greenhouses of John Lonsdale’s Edgewood Gardens, for the sole purpose of seeing the autumn blooming snowdrops in full flower.  Looking back it was an excellent choice.

galanthus bursanus

Introducing Galanthus bursanus, a fall blooming surprise with big flowers, multiple bloom stalks, winter foliage, and typically two marks on the inner petals.

Spring and even winter blooming snowdrops can go a long way in easing the pain of a brutal winter, but fall blooming snowdrops make an excellent opener to a slow to arrive season.  Shorter days and colder nights may sap your enthusiasm, but to see a few optimistic sprouts and pristine flowers, the gardener is reminded that the natural world is already getting started on next year.

galanthus bursanus

Most of the Galanthus bursanus were big plants with large flowers, but the range and variety was outstanding with both big and tiny represented.

The highlight of this trip was to see in person a fall blooming snowdrop species which has only just been officially named and described by science.  But gardeners rarely wait for things to be official and for years Galanthus bursanus has been making the rounds as a maybe species or maybe subspecies.  Finally it’s official.  This rare little gem from a small population outside the city of Bursa, Turkey is no longer an odd fall-blooming G. plicatus or unusual G. reginae-olgae, it’s a whole new species… one which to the joy of snowdrop lovers is easy to grow and stands out amongst all the others.

galanthus bursanus

Of course as with all snowdrops, a few selections have already been made including this unusual bloomer… which I loved but others were lukewarm towards.

Of course hundreds of seedlings are already in the works, and since John Lonsdale has a way with these things many of the seedlings have reached blooming size and are now being grown on to see just how special the most special are .  Hopefully in another year or two as all these seedlings hit the pipeline I can crack the wallet open for a couple offsets and give this one a try in my own garden!

galanthus bursanus

Another beautiful form of Galanthus bursanus in front with a G. reginae olgae (one mark, typically flowers without foliage present) behind.

In the meantime, out of thousands of of little pots, there were plenty of other things to admire and to talk about.  Other autumn snowdrops were either at their peak or just starting to open, and the variety represented in all those seed grown plants is just amazing.

galanthus elwesii monostictus green tip

Fall blooming seedlings of Galanthus elwesii var. monostictus, all selected for showing a good bit of green to their outer petals.

And then there were cyclamen.  Maybe even more cyclamen than snowdrops.  The cyclamen were either just coming off their peak bloom or just starting to put out their winter foliage.  I again resisted bringing home more of the borderline hardy species, but the winter garden needed some new Cyclamen hederifolium and faced with such a wide range to choose from, my wallet left this visit with a noticeably thinner waistline.

hardy cyclamen

A few of the cyclamen mother plants, all coming into growth for the winter.

I spent this morning repotting my new treasures.  They didn’t need it, but I like to check out the roots and get them into the same soil that the rest of my cyclamen are in, if only so that all my pots dry out around the same time and all the plants are in the same boat… and can all sink or sail together.

hardy cyclamen

A less hardy species, Cyclamen maritimum has both exceptional leaves as well as masses of flowers (after several weeks in flower these are the last few lingering blooms)

Snowdrops in bloom, a visit with friends, and delicious new plants.  I can’t complain, and I’m kind of excited for the upcoming winter garden season.  The new cyclamen already have me down there on a daily basis, and I’m quite motivated and cleaning things up, organizing and re-arranging, and just plain old admiring the goodies.

It still doesn’t mean I’m hoping for a long winter though…

2018: Four Days Left and Finally a Sunny Day

The title may be an exaggeration, but it sure feels like the truth this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually all in favor of a well watered growing season, but this endless gloom is really wearing me down this year.  Fortunately the colder weather seems to have dried the air out a bit and although there are still plenty of storm systems creeping across the States it’s only tomorrow which seems to be a complete wash-out.  With that on the way I made a point of taking advantage of yesterday’s dry skies and sunny weather (and a Christmas holiday!) to labour outside a bit, and hopefully work off a few cookie-calories.

garden path stones

Stones were hauled out of the construction site next door and put to use in expanding a planting bed.

The hard work was hauling stones.  For those who garden on rocky mountainsides the idea of intentionally adding rocks to a yard might seem like nonsense but I love having them scattered around.  Big enough to sit on is perfect, flat enough to step on is also good enough.  This line of stepping stones will hopefully be ideal for muddy spring mornings spent looking too closely at sprouting snowdrops.

snowdrop noses galanthus

Speaking of snowdrops here are a few of the earliest sprouts.  Depending on how the winter goes we could have blooms coming on these by January, February, or March….  Earlier sounds nice, but the stress of later, damaging cold snaps is sometimes not worth it.

Even with a little sunshine, most everything is the garden is dull and bleak ‘winter interest’, and I guess if you’re taking a winter vow of poverty that’s fine but I prefer to see a little more interesting in my winter interest.  A move further south is out of the question, a massive greenhouse is out of the budget, but maybe a few fall blooming snowdrops will fit the bill.  This summer I finally planted my ‘Potter’s Prelude’ out in the open garden, and will now see how they take a full blown, in the garden winter.  Many have re-assured me they’ll be fine, but for now I’m committed to covering them ever time the weather sinks into the low 20’s.

galanthus potters prelude

Galanthus ‘Potters Prelude’.  This year they’re about a month late, undoubtedly I wasn’t the only one waiting for all the rain to stop.

We will see if much else still gets done during these lulls in winter.  I tried to warm up to the winter garden in the garage last week but maybe it’s still just too early and I’m still not quite as desperate as I will be when the snow flies, so for now I’ll still putter around outside.  In the meantime I hope the holidays are being enjoyed by all.  The countdown to 2019 has begun and I wish all of you nothing but the best for the new year!

Shock and Awe

As is my luck, just a few months after moving in it was announced construction would begin on an industrial park behind the new house.  Worse things could happen since the barren acreage was home to little else than mine tailings and stunted birch, but it was open land and I still prefer open land to warehouses and truck parking.  In any case all the trees were gone within a few months.

construction site as my view

Baby pictures of a garden.  The two green shrubs would go on to become the aspen which now dominate the meadow garden, and the wisp of chartreuse surrounded by a mulch ring is now a 20 foot high dawn redwood.

I still miss the large white oak which sat directly behind our yard but over the intervening years new saplings and seedlings have come up to protect us from whatever eyesore progress put in our way.  “Things will be fine” I told my neighbors as we trudged along through the bulldozing, blasting, dumping, uncertainty, and endless windblown dirt as the on again off again construction continued…. for eight years….

summer potager

Last summer’s view, with a respectable wall of trees coming up to shield us from the construction.

Earlier this month the final addition to our end of the park was completed, and the lights went on and the trucks moved in.  The neighbors complained.  The township was involved.  Agreements were reached.  I knew nothing.  One evening I got the text that “they cut down all the trees” and that night when I got home it was quite the shock to find the industrial park had moved right in to our kitchen.

industrial park lights

Looking out onto the deck.  Adios sunsets.

We have a new view now, the scene off the deck just isn’t quite as sorta suburbia as it used to be.  The trees and scrub are gone and with the fence down we’re just a few steps away from barbed wire, chainlink, and tractor trailers.

industrial park construction

I guess it’s better than a highway next door, or a power plant or something…

The tree removal is part of what the industrial park has agreed to do in order to block the light and noise of the development.  The trees came down, dirt is going in and new trees will be planted. I have faith that it will all work out but for now I miss the aspen and sumac and all the other surprises (and nuisances) which had shown up on their own.  They, as well as milkweed and coneflowers and a bunch of other interesting things are now buried under about eight feet of fill.

industrial park construction

The pines which were almost blocking the lights have already been moved to behind my house where they now mostly just block the mountain view.  At least they’re far enough back and not looming right over the fence.  

Word is that over the next few weeks several 30ft Norway spruce will be lifted from another site via giant tree spade and trucked down to take up new homes between us and the lights.  They’re not my favorite tree but beggars can’t be choosers and hopefully they’ll be planted far enough away that they don’t suck up 100% of the winter light which comes from that direction.

industrial park construction

Just a few weeks ago I was back here admiring how well the aspen had returned and planning the work I still needed to do.  Now it’s all changed, tons of dirt has been dumped, and this is where “we’re going to plant a forest”.  

The quote I’m going with has been “you don’t want to see us and we don’t want to see you”, and I’m hoping that works out to be the case.  I liked the wide open but maybe a nearby forest won’t be the worst thing, and in any case finally being done with all the uncertainty of what the future holds might be a relief after all these years.  Wish me luck!

Happy Thanksgiving

The thermometer sits at 13F (-10C) this morning and the low for tonight is forecast to be 7F(-14C).  Of course it’s much warmer on this side of the windowpane, and even if I took off my cozy sweatshirt I’d still be comfortable so I guess there’s plenty of reasons to be thankful.  Even last weekend’s snowfall was just a minor inconvenience, although it came as a surprise and the fall decorations look a little out of place now.

October snowfall

Admiring the mums one week, shoveling snow the next.  So much for gardening!

All garden projects are on hold, and things like cleaning playrooms and painting bedrooms and moving furniture are back on the list, for which I’m 100% excited for.  It would be a shame for the weather to just keep me inside, stuck on a couch and eating and drinking all day…

October snowfall

The snowdrop walk next to the unshoveled driveway.  If you look closely you’ll notice the neighbors have cleared driveways and walks.  This year the kids discovered that other people will give them money in exchange for snow shoveling, unlike their father who thinks he should get an ‘all those times I took you to the Chinese buffet’ discount.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today I wish you all the best for a wonderful day.  In spite of all the complaining about weather and time, pests and circumstance, I realized I’ve been blessed with more than I deserve.   Fire, famine, war and walls are in the news each morning and today I’m Thankful my biggest complaint is the temperature.

 

That Wasn’t Smart 8.0

In hindsight this is the time of year when winter interest should take center stage, and the addition of conifers to the winter garden is probably the best way to keep the yard attractive during the bleakest of winter months.  I’ve heard that and have seen it in print as well, and even the most reluctant gardener will throw a few evergreens around the house as the first step in crafting an attractive landscape.   The message is out, and the majority of houses around here have a sensible foundation planting filled with neatly trimmed yews and junipers and whatever else can snuggle up to the house for year round appeal.

foundation border

Our own slightly less neat foundation plantings, with respectable holly, juniper, and chamaecyparis plantings lined up along the foundation. 

Why this gardener would chose December to remove a large juniper from a prominent front-of-the-house location is foolish enough, but to replace it with a small ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Amber Jubilee) is over into the not so smart category.  Reliable evergreen replaced with small clump of deciduous twigs… maybe you can understand that ‘uh-oh’ feeling I had as I stood there holding the saw and staring at a pile of juniper branches.

foundation border

If you look closely you might be able to see the newest addition to this foundation planting.  It’s right there at the center of the gaping hole which was created when the juniper was removed. 

In all honesty I never liked the juniper.  It made me itch and bored me and even though there were a thousand better things which I could be doing I suddenly needed to plant that ninebark at that minute even though I was right in the middle of putting up the Christmas lights.  As long as we’re opening up here, the Christmas lights were turning into a whole other project in themselves.

Christmas porch decoration

A Longwood inspired twig archway with lights.  Lots of lights.  

The reason I had the saw out in the first place was because I needed to take a walk in the woods and cut down and drag back enough birch trees to make a decent arch leading onto the porch.  I’m pretty sure a twig archway was what our holiday decorations have been lacking.

Speaking of things lacking, this blog has been lacking a snowdrop photo for months and since so many of you have been asking how the snowdrops are doing I guess it’s time to jump back into that world.  Here’s a batch of fall bloomers which my friend Paula shared with me a couple years ago.  They’re out on the driveway for this photo but have since moved into the garage in anticipation for the approaching cold… lows for next week show numbers around 10F (-12C) and that’s just not appropriate for such an innocent little flower… or for the box of tulip bulbs which just showed up on the doorstep this afternoon.

fall snowdrops

Fall blooming giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) with a nice green pattern to the inners.  

If pushed I’d have to admit that no one has actually asked about the snowdrops, but I’m sure they were wondering and I didn’t want to rudely ignore that.

Now I’m off to check out something I can’t even ignore for a minute.  Pamela at Pam’s English Garden has put up the post detailing her own recent visit to Longwood Gardens.  I knew she was there within a few days of my own visit and I’ve been looking forward to seeing her own impressions of the decorations.  I hope she doesn’t point out a bunch of cool things which I missed!

A Longwood Christmas

A few years ago we almost gave up on holiday visits to Longwood Gardens.  We’re lingerers after all and the crowds and hustle bustle of hundreds of visitors can put a lot of pressure on ‘that guy’ who’s holding up the line because he wants to give all the gardenia flowers a sniff.  We kept at it though because for as nice as Christmas and good cheer are, a few whiffs of the tropics can also go a long way bringing some jolly to a cold winter night… and these are the long nights and stressful days which can really use some tropical relief.

longwood christmas

The orangery decked out for the holidays.  Warmth, humidity, and sunshine made the display even better.

Who would have thought the answer to our crowded visits could be as simple as going on a less crowded day?  For the second year in a row we visited on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and for Christmas diehards that might be inappropriately early, but for us it’s been working perfectly.  The weather was beautiful and we nearly had the place to ourselves (relatively speaking of course).

longwood christmas

This year the apples are back, this time keeping company with thousands of floating red cranberries.

The conservatories are always perfectly decorated with the colors and sounds of the season.  I think my favorite part this year was the bright sunshine streaming in through the glass when we first arrived.  Walking through the doors and into the sunny, humid warmth was an instant escape from weeks of static and dry skin.

longwood christmas

Walls of windows, tree ferns, and fountains… I could get used to this 🙂

Flowers, greenery, and holiday decorations.  You can imagine I took plenty of pictures but since they’re not snowdrop photos I’ll spare you from the bulk of it.  Click >here< for last Christmas or >here< for last summer if you need more, or better yet visit the Longwood website for the real stuff!

longwood christmas

My favorite view this year, a courtyard scene off the back of the music room.

Since the kids ditched us this year there was plenty of time to admire the boring flowers without anyone tugging a coat sleeve.  Longwood always has orchids and I suddenly had the time to admire them… although I’m still far from being an orchid person (mostly due to their habit of dying on me).

I won’t go on and on about every conservatory flower but I did find something which I thought was even more special than their regular.  In one of the back greenhouse passages was a display of a few of their ‘on trial’ poinsettia, and I thought is was an interesting glimpse into some of the variety which this humble plant from Central America has been bred into.  This is also where I met some of the ‘golden’ poinsettias which carry names such as ‘Autumn Leaves, and ‘Gold Rush’, and came in colors more traditionally associated with the end of summer.  What do you think?  At least there’s no blue dye or glitter in sight!

…and then night fell.  We grabbed a bite to eat, toured the grounds, enjoyed the fountains (not the main fountains, they’re off for the winter), took in some Christmas songs around the organ, warmed up around the fire, and then closed the place down with one last tour of the conservatory.  It was holiday-magical in the late evening, with most visitors having already headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

A Longwood Christmas with a French feel.  The symmetry and apple-cranberry patterns surrounded by box are chateau parterre inspired.

Then we were the ones headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

The stroll back out to the car.  A two hour drive home awaits 😉

As usual we enjoyed our visit, and it must have been somewhat inspiring since I spent a few hours this weekend out in the cold putting up our own lights.  So far the reviews have been less than flattering, and there’s no talk of admission tickets, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

If you decide to make your way to Longwood this year for the displays be sure to buy your tickets online before you go, just to make sure they’re available.  Also if you want to take in a quieter visit, try to avoid Saturdays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Those might be the nights when you’re better off hitting the eggnog at home.