A January Thaw

Saturday I put on a sweatshirt and the Christmas lights came down.  Of course the job is ten times easier when a couple extra hands join in, but surprisingly both children had much more important things to do so only the dog was there for me.  He’s not quite as helpful as you might think.  The lights all came down and then the porch got a good hosing off, and once that was done I rewarded myself with a little puttering around.  The front foundation bed (the warmest spot in the garden) got a little cleaning up and the sprouting snowdrops are all ready to show off to best effect.  Too bad we woke to actual snow the next morning.

frozen snowdrops

Snowdrops up to their ankles in the white stuff again.  Most are still just fine, although here and there is some singed foliage and freeze dried scapes.

You could barely call our last warmup a January thaw.  First of all it’s February and second of all we barely melted the snow from the last storms and there’s still a good amount of ice in every shady bed and covering most of the lawn.  I’m an optimistic early cleaner, but even I left plenty since I know the cold still has another week or so in it.  Back inside to the winter garden.  I’ve been taking cuttings and repotting amaryllis.  Primrose are showing buds.  It’s everything the outside garden isn’t.

variegated pelargonium

Look at the cool foliage of this variegated pelargonium.  No idea on the name, but I’ll be interested to see how much of the pink remains once the temperatures warm up.

The winter garden can use the attention since once things warm up outside I can barely be bothered with watering anything indoors.  The amaryllis will be cool and a few are already showing buds, but overall the indoor gardening space is beginning to get tight with all the new pots I’ve been adding.  I was joking with a friend that what I need is a spring garage sale to clear out everything from under the garage lights, but then what would I do if I needed a few dozen pots of succulent cuttings in June?  Bet they didn’t think of that.

salvia cestrum nocturnum

This red salvia is the perfect color for February.  Cestrum nocturnum (night-blooming jasmine) is the taller plant and I really hope I get some blooms on it this summer.

Two pots of Cestrum nocturnum is probably one more than I need, but night-blooming jasmine is one of my latest favorite plants.  It was one of those things which followed me home from a late autumn garden visit.  “Take this, you’ll want this” was what I was told as branches were lopped off and pushed into my hands.  Of course I dutifully added them to the haul and didn’t think much else of it until the sun began to set as I motored home again through the mountains.  Slowly as the scenery turned to night I began to take notice of a sweet scent filling the car.  Night-blooming jasmine is a real thing and I enjoyed a thoroughly perfumed car ride for the tail end of my trip.  I’m already imagining a hot summer night where the deck is filled with a jasmine fragrance, but of course I shouldn’t count my chickens before they’ve hatched since any number of things can go wrong between now and then.

I don’t care though.  It’s still February and 2022 will be the most perfect and perfumed gardening year this plot of earth has ever imagined or experienced.  Weeds will be non-existent and rainfall will arrive perfectly timed and only at night.  Mosquitos and gnats will lose their taste for (my) blood and I’ll practically live in the garden.  And it won’t be a dirty, sweaty, often bloody life it will be all cold drinks and white shorts.  Absolutely.

And if you believe that you’ll probably also believe I’m not going to mention snowdrops one more time.  The forecast looks to be warming and plans are afoot for a Philly snowdropping trip late next week and I’m all ears for new gardens to visit.  It will be fun I’m sure so until then enjoy your week 🙂

The Winter Garden 2022

Monday morning was one of the coldest days of the year and this weekend is also set to drop as low as 1F (-17C), and although we are only 14 days into the year that’s about as cold as Sorta Suburbia has been in a while.  The temperatures only last about a night or two and the ground is still barely frozen, but only time will tell how these surprisingly normal lows will work with my new, optimistically mild, global warming planting plan full of autumn blooming snowdrops and zone 7 Crinum lilies.

cyclamen under lights

Happier plantings are sheltered in the garage under fluorescent shoplights.  They’re experiencing a few ‘chilly’ nights, but nothing even close to the freezing cold outside.

A better gardener would put this cold-induced break to good use, planning seed orders and organizing planting plans, safe in the knowledge that borderline plantings are well protected, but all this gardener wants to do is eat.  Not just hearty stews and roasted potatoes, but more so late night bags of chips and “one more” handful of m&ms followed by a big glass of milk.  Then some ice cream. Then maybe another look in the fridge, just in case.  Outside just a few witch hazels are fenced, and not a single snowdrop is bucketed, but inside there’s been a lot of attention to sitting around and… eating….

overwintering tropicals

Also safe inside are the plants too precious and too tender to abandon outside.  They don’t do much all winter, but they’re something nice to look at while nibbling pretzels.

I can think of no better place to sit (while snacking) than the winter garden.  When it’s dark out I can almost convince myself that this array of shoplights in the just-above-freezing back of the garage is actually a greenhouse or uber fancy conservatory.  When the weather is cold it’s a room filled with green to hang out in, watering, puttering, pruning, plucking… doing all the stuff that the cold makes uncomfortable outdoors.

indoor garden room

My official coffee drinking, seed cleaning, label writing, phone browsing, beer sampling, winter patio seat in the winter garden.  I heard a crack last weekend and that’s got me slightly concerned about all the m&m’s, but that’s something to worry about in May.

There have been a few watershed moments in this year’s slightly excessive winter garden adventure.  Ooops.  I admitted that the winter garden is a little “extravagant”, but I blame it on last winter when I killed off a shameful amount of potted cyclamen.  Cyclamen have been the stars of my winter garden for a few years, but then suddenly a winter of lazy, careless watering did in a bunch of them.  This fall I needed backup plants.  A visit to an open garden and a cutting swap started me off.  The Amish country and various nurseries added a few more.  Friends helped.  Cuttings for overwintering added to it all.  It’s all reaching a quite pleasant crescendo in my opinion.

streptocarpella

Blue streptocarpella and flower buds on a red salvia.  The salvia is being overwintered, and the buds should probably be clipped off… but I do like flowers 😉

Recently on Facebook a friend shared an article about the “dark side” of plant collecting.  The home time and isolation of the pandemic had set unprepared gardeners off on a vicious binge of buying and collecting, and people were amassing hoards that amounted to hundreds of plants.  “amateurs” my friend commented, and we laughed.  I read the article myself and to be honest it made me smile to read about these plant collections and see the smiling faces of such happy gardeners.  I think I might have missed the dark in it all.

aloe white fox

A cool aloe which I couldn’t resist.  ‘Snow Fox’ will join my other potted succulents next summer but for now just sits dry and mostly dormant on the dimmer end of the bench.

Just out of curiosity I counted pots in the winter garden.  Normally anything under 6 inches doesn’t count, but this time I just went ahead and easily reached 150 pots back there.  Hmmm.  Then I took a few more cuttings and made it 152, just to slip a little further into the dark side.

flowering succulent

This succulent comes in off the deck and spends the next three months flowering.  I love it.  Every little bit of leaf off the flower stems will try to root, so of course I made another pot of cuttings with those.

At least taking cuttings keeps my hands busy and out of the chip bag.  I joke about not having the garden prepared, but at least my hoarding skills have me ‘winter gardening’ prepared.  You can never have too many saved pots, and emergency bags of potting soil on hand.  It’s awkward sneaking out into the frigid outdoor lot of the box store to try and wrestle a frozen bag of potting soil into your cart, so have it on hand in August so that you don’t have to make up some lame lie about ‘I don’t know, my wife told me she needed potting soil tonight’ when the cashier asks you what in the heck you’re doing.  At least I can plan ahead in one area.

cane begonias

I’m quite pleased with how the cane begonia cuttings are doing.  They’ll need bigger pots soon enough, but of course I’m prepared for that when the time comes.  

Sometimes a rare ray of good fortune may shine upon you.  A friend shocked me last year when she informed me they were officially downsizing and leaving their mature garden behind. “I think there will be a few things you’ll want” she said, and of course I agreed, but it was really all the accumulated trash like leftover pots and soil, bits of twine, scraps of fencing, pottery shards, opened bags of soil conditioners that I really wanted.  Of course she knew that already.  Only another gardener would want this stuff, and when I picked up a carload a few weeks ago I had to agree that I did want it.

Oxalis triangularis fanny

More begonias and a cool Oxalis triangularis (maybe ‘Fanny’) which I was given a couple rhizomes of.  I’m halfway tempted to pull out and plant a few of the purple leaved ones stored dormant under the shelf as companions to this one. 

She gave me a box of terracotta pots which she may have never used.  They’re small and there are a bunch of them and they’re much more trouble to move than lightweight plastic but I’m far more scared of them than I am of hundreds of hoarded houseplants because I really love them.  What the *heck* is wrong with me that I’m staring at a box of clay pots thinking they’re so nice.  I could understand if they were antique cloches for protecting delicate snowdrops during an ice storm, intricate wire topiary forms, but they’re stupid clay pots.  I’m worried about what might happen if I start cruising garage and estate sales.  I think I might buy every one I come across.

variegated pelargonium

Clay pots and grandma’s geraniums.  Cool people don’t seem to like pelargoniums but such a nice edging of variegation on the leaf, and the flowers are so delicate. 

At least clay pots don’t have any calories… that I know of…. and so that must make a few too many of them a harmless distraction.  As of today I only use them for succulents and a few potted bulbs, so even these are too many, but I really need more.  A birthday is coming up.  I wonder if putting ‘old, dirty terracotta pots’ on the birthday list could replace the usual underwear and socks?

aloe blue elf

Another aloe (‘Blue Elf’) with a few flower buds forming.  I hope a lack of water and cool temps can keep them from developing too fast.  Although I love winter blooms, I’d rather see them come up strong outside rather than spindly and weak in here.

So as usual I don’t really know how this post ended up where it has with underwear and socks.  Let me try and re-focus with African violets.  My mother used to grow them and so did my aunt.  My grandmother grew them.  They used to be Saintpaulia, but now I see they’re Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia and I’m not sure how that changed anything but I also know that about a year or so ago I needed to grow them again.  I know these urges, I resisted.  I almost made it but then cracked last fall and bought one and then I asked a friend for cuttings.  I found online sources but only looked.  I found one marked down.  I guilted a spouse into buying me one at the grocery store after a few ‘admit it, you’re never going to wear that, I can’t buy you anything’ Christmas returns.  I now have three violets plus two cuttings and I think I’m ok but then realized this afternoon I volunteered to stop at the store just because I thought they might have more.  Hmmmm.

african violet

An African violet.  This weekend will be cold and maybe I’ll take a cutting.  I don’t need more but whatever.

African violets don’t have calories either.  As far as I know adding another would be a  victimless crime even if I’m lying to myself about picking up milk for the kids when I stumble across it.  So what if I end up in a grocery store that’s 35 minutes away, it’s always good to shop around.

Have an excellent weekend, stay warm, and fuel that furnace responsibly… even if some of the fuel is chocolate, beer, and cheese 😉

Happy 2022

Last year’s resolution was quantity over quality and I may have failed in both departments when it came to this blog so why not just recycle the idea for 2022?  That was easy!  I don’t even have to move on to other topics like losing weight, exercise, eating healthy… I can just reach for the Nutella and grab a spoon and be done with it.  Wow, January second and I’m already checking things off the to-do list 🙂

Galanthus Mrs Macnamara

With each December milder than the last, ‘Mrs Macnamara’ has finally found my garden to her liking.  Usually the cold cuts her down and beats her up, but now she’s pristine, multiplying, and maybe ready for dividing and spreading around. 

Now that we’re through resolutions let me open up on what the rest of the winter will look like.  Snowdrops and construction.  Maybe more of the former and less of the later but I won’t even try and tone down the snowdrop obsession this year, apologies in advance.

fall snowdrop

Just a few years ago these bulk buy Galanthus elwesii would come up early but always on the spring end of winter.  The last two years they’ve been surprising me in January.

Here’s all I really want to say about construction.  Mud.  That and the hunt for perfect rocks continues.  Given long enough I think I’d have stone walls surrounding the garden, but as fill is moved back into position I’m not as tempted to actually dig rocks back up.

stones for the garden

The stoneyard, or snake condo as my friend Kimberly would likely call it.

Temperatures are dropping today and things will freeze up, and maybe the mud won’t be as depressing if you can actually walk over it rather than through it, so to prepare for ‘maybe winter’ here’s a photo from my ‘maybe greenhouse’ aka ‘winter garden’ in the back of the garage.

forcing primula

I knew I killed almost all my cyclamen, so last spring I started a few primula for winter blooms.  January first they came inside and under lights and I hope will soon amaze me with fantastic color.

So you’re aware, snowdrops and construction will be dropped as soon as it gets really cold outside.  These primrose coming into the garage are only the tip of the winter garden iceberg, and I may be guilty of a few too many cuttings and containers this winter and it’s only barely January.  Oh well.  It’s not like I’ve started any seeds… yet…

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2022.  We could all use it 🙂

Off To A Good Start

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

fall galanthus elwesii

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

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

fall galanthus elwesii

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

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

winter garden

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

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

winter garden

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

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

winter garden

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

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

winter snow

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

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

Fake News!

Spring arrived last week.  There it was right in front of me, the thermometer was roaring to the top and everyone was thrilled by the high numbers.  Records keep breaking and coats were thrown aside as ridiculously overcautious and we embraced the sun.  Surely that weak, orange sun was the reason things were so warm.

galanthus potters pride

Galanthus ‘Potters Pride’, typically in bloom for the end of November Thanksgiving table, has only now been coaxed out of the ground.  

The neighborhood was bustling.  Nearly everybody had a job as garages were swept and litter was cleared and the last of the holiday decorations were secured.  It sure looked good.  My brother in Law even pulled out the leaf blower and cleared all the riff-raff which had blown in while our backs were turned.  Back into the woods it went, and a quick round with the lawnmower has everything returned to that bland, uniform, suburban look which all my neighbors seem to love.

lawn mow in january

Nothing like a freshly cut lawn in January.  Mid January.  In Northern Pennsylvania.  For those who have let the 63F (17C) high get to our heads, our normal lows for this time of year should be closer to 17F (-8C).

The last three months have been filled with erratic ups and downs, but the ups are all we care about.  I have snowdrops sprouting and in full bloom outside and it’s the middle of January and that must be good.

galanthus three ships

Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ up and blooming last week.  Although ‘Three Ships’ hails from milder climates and is known for its Yuletide arrival, here in the colder zones it struggle to reach port by the end of January in a “normal” winter.

But in spite of the early sprouts and premature color something still feels wrong.  The sun keeps claiming it’s perfect, and he deserves all the credit for this unusual warmth but most everyone else can see it’s near the lowest point of its year.  I wish my plants would check this out, but no they just keep fixating on these temperature numbers.  Who cares about tomorrow.

hamamelis pallida

The first of the witch hazels to open here is Hamamelis ‘pallida’.  Full bloom and it’s about a month early. 

Oh well.  When it gets cold I’ll just shelter in place and ride it out.  As usual the weather will take out the most vulnerable and either kill them outright or set them back for a few years, but it happens and in spite of warnings the plants never learn.

I’ll protect my favorites though.  Some plants just agree with everything I do and even if I’m the most incompetent gardener they always make me either feel good or look like I’m winning.  Right now with colder weather and snow briefly returning it’s the winter garden that’s got all the good stuff.

cyclamen coum

The Cyclamen coum growing under lights are starting their show.  Hardy enough to survive outdoors I just like keeping a few inside to enjoy.  

My winter garden in the garage is a nice escape from the real world.  Under the fluorescent shop lights I have a few plants pretending they’re not part of this Pennsylvania garden and also a few that are just too tender to make it on their own.  This year’s wunderkind is the pot of galanthus seedlings I have coming up.  A friend gave me the seed last winter and although a few sprouted then, the bulk have waited until now to start coming up.  Realistically they would be better off in the garden, but here I can admire them endlessly and imagine the hundreds of blooms which are sure to follow… in three or four years… assuming I don’t kill them… just like I’ve killed all the others…

snowdrop seedlings

Snowdrop seedlings.  They still have a long way to go but just think of the possibilities!

I’ve been off my seed-starting kick for a few years now but stuff like this is still irresistible.  There’s so much variability in these seed grown bulbs that I’m excited just thinking about what could be.  I guess that’s what optimism looks like when the nights are still so long, since there’s still bound to be a three year wait at least.  In the meantime three years can pass quickly, and three years ago I started some narcissus seed, and three years later I have a bloom!

narcissus romieuxii

Some type of hoop petticoat daffodil.  The seed were labeled as narcissus romieuxii something-something but they’re not the pale yellow I was expecting, so I’m not committing to a full name yet.

Non-hardy daffodils growing under lights is practically a gateway drug to greenhouse thoughts, so fortunately I don’t have much access to more seed but in these unsettled times you never know.  An offer for more seeds would be much better news than what usually shows up.

In the meantime this winter could end up anywhere.  History shows that these fake warmups always end up badly but maybe I should just hide out in the winter garden and hope for the best.  Maybe this time we’ll only get the tornado rather than the tornado, hail and lightning storm.

6 Years and a Snow Day

At least it’s so cold there’s no mud.

Construction on the border wall has halted for the winter.  The whole thing has been shaped and smeared with a nice layer of topsoil, and all that’s left to add is a row of spruce along the top.  Dark, gloomy, rooty, overbearing spruce that shall eventually loom over my sunny garden.  As you can see I’m still trying to be optimistic about it all.

the wall

The Wall

We’re home today waiting for the snow to fall and that seems like the perfect time to get in a few pictures and celebrate an anniversary.  For me January is an agonizingly slow gardening month, and apparently that was also the case six years ago when in a moment of boredom I found out just how easy it was to start a free online blog through WordPress.  Six years and six thousand snowdrop pictures later I’m still here and although the heyday for blogs seems to have peaked and waned I’m more than happy to keep going on more than I need to about my somewhat suburban, somewhat middle of nowhere Pennsylvania garden.

magnolia grandiflora

The only bit of winter interest I could find in the bleak and cold garden.  The red twigged ‘Midwinter Fire’ dogwood will be fine in this week’s arctic blast, but all bets are off on the Southern magnolia seedlings.

Over the years this gardener has been slowly learning a thing or two but it’s always an uphill battle.  This winter’s “learning opportunity” was not having enough snowdrops and cyclamen to fill my winter garden.  It was a trifecta of bad decisions and luck which began with me planting out all the potted snowdrops, me not buying any bulk snowdrops for forcing, and me leaving the dormant cyclamen tubers in a spot which took on the brunt of last summer’s endless rainfall.  Then I brilliantly chose to reduce the number of geraniums under lights.  In hindsight it’s all my fault, but fortunately I have some experience coping with that as well 🙂

winter garden

There’s like three cyclamen in bloom when there should be a tray-full.  But at least it’s clean since the seed saving mess is all packed up and off my little man-cave table.

Since the winter garden is kind of a flop this year, my natural response is to go all out and make it even bigger!  The area which hosts my grow area was originally built as a workshop, and I’d been using it for tools and storage and some of the messier projects, but enough of that.

winter garden

The cyclamen pots sometimes freeze on a cold and windy day, but this set of lights is further from the drafty  windows and can hopefully stay above freezing even on the coldest day.  Four geraniums (Pelargoniums) are all I saved from last year…

After these pictures were taken I hauled everything home-improvement and woodshop related out and started moving lights and tables into hopefully “better” spots.  Most is still a complete mess but at the far end of the back room, near the furnace where it always stays warm, I’ve already set up two lights for the coleus and other goodies which need a reliably warm spot.

winter garden

Kind of prison cell-block looking, but the plants don’t seem to mind.  Hopefully in a few weeks things will grow and I can move a few under the second light table (not really visible in the back) and make this area a decent growing spot.

There are still a number of little things I have to deal with in the main (colder) area such as a leaky foundation, burst water pipes, and electrical issues but I’m sure that will just clear up practically on its own and I’ll be planting again in no time.  For now though it’s keeping me off the internet and slowing down my new-plant-buying compulsions that all gardeners face at this time of year.

ebay snowdrops

I did not buy this, and in my book that almost counts as saved money… and if you keep with that logic approx $1,500 US would make for an excellent plant budget!

Maybe in a few weeks there will be something slightly less depressing to look at in the winter garden.  Most years this is a pleasant hideaway to escape the cold and brown that lurks outside but so far the winter of 2019 is still a work in progress.  We’ll see though.  It’s remarkably easy to fill up these light tables and come to think of it there are still a few potted primula outside that I could probably chip out of the ice and drag inside before the snow and cold become too unreasonable.  Hmmmmm.

Stay warm!

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 🙂

A Little Cabin Fever

For a couple days it was warm and I quickly started a little cleanup and poked around feverishly to find every single sprouting snowdrop, but that was short-lived, and now it’s back to winter again and I’m just chomping at the bit.  The indoor winter garden has helped somewhat, and it’s probably a good idea to start off there with a few more hopeful signs of life such as my precious little primrose (Primula obconica), who is still going strong after nearly three months in flower.  Rather than this primrose becoming a one hit wonder, it’s produced two more flower stalks and the first one is still opening up new blooms.  It’s a beauty, but I may have forgotten to mention one of its common names…. poison primrose.  The name stems from the rash which sensitive skins may develop after contact with its foliage.  I find the scent of the foliage a bit yucky, but as far as rashes go it seems I’ve escaped any sensitivity issues.  That wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination though, since a quick poll around here would probably place me on the ‘insensitive’ end of the scale anyway.

primula obconica

Primula obconica from American Primrose Society seed, indoors under the workshop growlights.

I won’t bore you with every flower in bloom under the shoplights, but the geraniums must be sensing the slightly warmer temperatures and as a result are putting on more growth and sending up more flowers.  I’ll bore you with one photo, the lovely Pelargonium ‘Crystal Palace Salmon’, a healthy variegated geranium which doesn’t exactly look too salmony in the photo.

pelargonium crystal palace salmon

Pelargonium ‘Crystal Palace Salmon’, a flower which would make any geranium loving grandmother proud.

Obviously I’m getting into trouble with all this forced indoor time.  I’ve started several flats of seeds, started more and more succulent cuttings, and maybe feel that start-even-more-seeds compulsion creeping into the back of my head.  For budgeting purposes I’ll admit I ordered 40 packets of unnecessary seeds from the NARGS surplus seed round.  That set me back $14 so I’m quite all right confessing to that charge.

NARGS seed exchange

More seeds from the NARGS seed exchange.  Observant readers will add this to the 25 I had already ordered.

I’m trying all kinds of seeds again from generic annuals to obscure cacti to full sized forest trees.  There’s no question I don’t have a place in mind for nearly all of them but when has that ever been a concern?  I’m planting lotus seeds and am quite aware I have no pond to grow them in, but we’ll see what happens.  They have a long way to go before I need to worry about any space issues.

lotus seed

I wasn’t sure if I had sanded through the seed coat of these lotus seeds, so decided to crack one open for a look.  Who would have thought there would be a whole tiny lotus plant folded up inside! -and who would have thought the friggin seed coat (dark outer layer) would be so thick…

Nearly all the seed pots get a thin layer of chicken grit over the top and then go outside on the sidewalk to experience a little winter chill.  When things get warm enough they’ll sprout right up… and then need to deal with finding homes for everything.

poppy seedlings

The latest spell of warm weather has encouraged a few of the hardiest seeds to sprout.  Here are a few six packs of Opium poppies coming along.  they should be just fine as long as things don’t freeze up too solid.  The sheet of Reemay fabric protects them from the worst of the weather.

Back in February I thought we’d have plenty of time to post cheerful photos of spring beauty as it gently sprung into action and each flower followed the next, but then it snowed… and snowed… again…. and again….

snowdrops and winter aconite

Flashback to February with snowdrops and winter aconite opening up for the first of the warmer weather.

It’s still snowing.  Next week looks promising, but things have all got to thaw out again, and the earliest risers have to work out all their crushed stems and snow flattened flowers.  Hopefully by the time that happens there’s still enough energy left in them to put on a show.

snowdrops and winter aconite

More snowdrops, the green tipped ‘Viridapice’ and short ‘Sophie North’.

In the meantime I’ll stay inside and try to avoid driving everyone nuts with the amount of time I spend staring out windows and brushing aside snow looking for survivors.

sprouting lotus

I just assumed I had killed the cracked open lotus seed, but four days later it’s actually starting to grow!

At least the bird feeder is entertaining.  I was ready to call it a year and send the birds on their way, but then snow returned, covered everything up, and I got that guilty feeling.  Once I topped the feeders off the regular crew was quite happy, but they had to make a little room for the returning grackles, starlings, and red-winged blackbirds.  They’re a noisy bunch but fortunately filming through the glass spares you from most of their metallic squawks.

Hopefully the farmers out there aren’t too upset with me encouraging these blackbird pests, but I’ve always considered them just as much a sign of spring as robins and the first crocus.  Well actually the return of turkey vultures is also something I consider ‘springy’, but most people are far less entertained by the return of huge carrion-feeding birds which follow the thawing roadkill north…

May your week be enjoyable and carrion-free, and hopefully warmer and less-snowy than here 🙂

$14 for 40 packets of surplus NARGS seed exchange seed

$332 total so far for the 2018 gardening year.

Indoors, For Now…

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

sowing fern spores

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

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

winter sow stratification

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

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

succulent cuttings

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

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

In the meantime have a great weekend!

$30 for new growlights

$318 total so far for the 2018 gardening year

Welcome to Winter

There are still a bunch of things to clean up in the garden but now that the first serious frost has hit I’m officially announcing an end of autumn in my garden and the beginning of a very early winter.  The cannas were blackened last night, tomorrow’s high might not rise above freezing, and Friday’s low is predicted at 18F.  For those of you on a Celsius scale that converts to pretty damn cold, especially for very early winter.  Fortunately I was able to run around like a total fool at the last minute in a cold drizzle with freezing fingers, and bring the bulk of the non-hardy plants in before the frost.  Obviously it did occur to me that I could have done this much more comfortably on a warm and dry October weekend, but….

overwinter plants

I ran out of space in the winter garden so these tropical leftovers have taken over the garage and pushed the car out into the driveway.  Who needs a warm, frost-free car in the morning anyway?   

Hopefully over the next few days all these irreplaceable goodies will find a longer-term spot which gives them a little light, a warm-enough temperature, and also gives the car enough room to get back in.  The garage has been cleaned after all, and it would be a shame to not use it for the two cars it was meant for.

overwinter rosemary

Non-hardy to the left for when the door is closed, semi-hardy things like rosemary to the right to cozy up to the shelter of the garage, yet still get some outdoor air and sunshine.  I’ll drag them all in when it drops below the mid 20’s.  

Two of the shop lights are already in use back in the winter garden.  Against better judgement I’ve brought in a bunch of potted geraniums (pelargoniums) rather than the smaller, less bulky cuttings I normally do.  Hopefully there aren’t a billion pillbugs and slugs hiding within the pots.

overwinter pelargoniums

Geraniums under the growlights of the winter garden.  Rest assured they will soon be joined by a few dozen snowdrops and cyclamen… and whatever else finds its way in 😉

This newfound love of geraniums (or pelargoniums if you prefer the official name) makes me 95% sure I’m well on my way to becoming my grandmother.  I’m not sure what my wife thinks of this but I’m sure my grandmother would approve, and I’m sure she would also approve of some of the more interesting flower types which are now safely blooming under cover.

pelargonium flower

A closeup of ‘Fireworks bicolor’… nice enough flower but the name?  I think they could have done better than ‘bicolor’ to describe the bloom….

I’m fine with moving things indoors.  The winter garden seems to fire up earlier and earlier each year and it’s a nice quiet spot to just putter around in… assuming I can still get back there once all the garage plants are stuffed into their winter accommodations.  We’ll see how it goes.  Seeds need cleaning and packaging, a new plant order needs planting, and there’s a strong possibility 100 snowdrops are on their way to our doorstep.  We won’t even mention the temptation of a Brent and Becky clearance sale.  I already feel weak.