A Galanthus Gala and (some more) Winter Denial

This Saturday Downington Pa became the horticultural ground zero for Mid Atlantic snowdrop lovers.  For those who never get out of the house, David Culp is author of ‘The Layered Garden’ and breeder of the Brandywine strain of hellebores (as well as many other accomplishments… which a better blogger would probably research and list…) and this weekend he and several friends hosted a snowdrop party with talks and vendors and an (almost complete) list of who’s who of snowdrop lovers for the area.  Again a better blogger would have photos and lists of all the snowdrops and other goodies for sale on this special day, but I was too distracted, and I’d suggest a visit to facebook and a quick search for snowdrop gala or David Culp and you should be able to get a good feel for it.  My attention was held by the plants and people, and if you’re interested here’s what passed through the vetting process and came home with me 🙂

hellebore pennys pink

Gifts, trades, and purchases.  Of course there were four new snowdrops mixed in there… apologies for that cold, ugly white background…

I’m a little concerned by how many people I knew and just how friendly they all were.  This must be how people are convinced to join cults and by the looks of it I’m already drinking the punch!  Treasures were exchanged and I even pried open the wallet for a few more treats.  To my credit I resisted the hellebore rush, and as David Culp’s Brandywine hybrids flew off the sales table I limited myself to a single ‘Penny’s Pink’, one which I’ve been eyeing for at least a couple years.

hellebore pennys pink

Hopefully ‘Penny’s Pink’ will prove hardy for me.  The flowers are nice enough but it’s this foliage which won me over.

I’m already planning on attending next year’s gala.  Four hours flew by almost as fast as plants were flying out of the building, and before I wanted it to happen I was back in the car trying to beat the weather on my drive home.  Hopefully next year there won’t be a snow dump in the week prior and hopefully we can fit in a gala garden visit or two as well!

primula silver dollar

Back home, indoors is where you have to be in order to find anything not buried by snow.  Here’s my favorite primrose so far, a red from the Silver Dollar strain of Barnhaven seeds, and I love the large velvety flowers and their subtle color shading. 

I may have to clear a little room under the lights while my new goodies wait for the last foot or two of snow to melt.  Right now the light table is packed with semi-hardy things waiting to go outside, seedlings starting to take up more room, and other odds and ends which just needed a home.

growing under lights

A few more primula (pretty enough but maybe just a bit boring), plus some generic forced bulbs… all of which are priceless when there’s nothing outside but white. 

The amaryllis are starting to come to life as well.  The first one, hippeastrum ‘Lemon Sorbet’ has a nice pale yellow which leans more towards lime.  The plant is considered a mini which means smaller flowers and a ridiculously small bulb, but still a full blooming height.  I’m pretty sure a shorter plant would be more convenient, but I guess cut flowers are more valuable than a short dining table amaryllis.

amaryllis lemon sorbet

Amaryllis ‘lemon sorbet’ and one last flower on the tulips.  I’m still in shock that these have been allowed onto the new table, but they do look nice there.

So tomorrow is Monday and the kids head off to school again for the first time in six days.  Snow is still in the process of melting but I don’t think much of it will be gone in the two days left until official spring arrives.  We’ll see what happens.  You can feel the strength in the sunshine and it’s just a matter of time now before the tide turns!

Tuesday View: The Street Border

It appears this garden and most of the East Coast are still going over one more speedbump on the road to spring.  Today we welcomed a little over two feet of snow into the garden, and I suspect it will be a bit before (a) the kids return to school, and (b) I need to fertilize the lawn.

march snowstorm

I might be early on this decision but I’m considering this as the 2017 Tuesday view.  Under all the snow is the mixed plantings of the street border, a name I came up with all by myself based on the fact it’s a border and it runs along the street 😉 

Some might say 2017 has been off to a rough start, and they might be right, but I’m going to try and think about other things such as Cathy’s Tuesday View and consider the border along the street as my entry for this year.  Posting every week might be a stretch, but maybe showing this view once every other week will be do-able.  We’ll see.

march snowstorm

Two feet of March snow is excellent fort building material and the front yard is a battleground of trenches and tunnels… plus buried snowdrops and crocus. 

Right now the view doesn’t really matter though.  People are still digging out and cars and trucks are being pulled out (as our evening walk down to the main street demonstrated) and we just have to deal with that first.  The forecast ahead is cold, but the sun when it comes out will be strong, and hopefully there’s something left to look forward to when all this snow melts… since the snowdrops have already given up on spring.

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!

He Giveth and Taketh Away

I guess it was fun while it lasted and I guess you can already see where this is going, but after a balmy stretch of record breaking warmth our week of unusual February weather has come to an end with a bang.  It’s bizarre weather for a Pennsylvania winter and almost has me believing those crybaby liberal scientists who keep trying to push the idea of global warming on us.  Luckily I ran into CarlB380 on some online political forum and he set me straight by explaining it’s just some normal variations in our global weather cycles.  I heard the Chinese are behind it as well, so everyone just needs to relax.

galanthus diggory

Galanthus ‘Diggory’ sure looks better when you’re not freezing your butt off.

I have to confess that the Chinese may not be entirely to blame.  This year I insisted on buying new snowpants for the kids since they were predicting a wetter than usual La Nina winter.  Foolishly enough I thought that bonanza would come in the form of snow.  Lots of snow means we would finally take advantage of the ski resort just 15 minutes away and all hit the slopes together to shake off rust and learn new skills.  That didn’t happen.  The only rust shook off was from the rake I used to clean out the front street border… not that the rake had much time to rust-up in our three week winter.

early front border

It will take a few more years before those specks of yellow in the center become a sheet of brigh yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), but it will happen soon enough.  You may also notice the bed has crept to the right another few feet…

I admit I’m practically drowning in galanthomania (snowdrop love) these last few days, but in the interest of retaining my last few readers I’ll try and limit myself to just a few.  Feel my struggle though.  Although last year’s hail, heat, and arctic plunge devastated the season, it appears they loved the damp and drawn out spring which followed all that mess.  This year they are coming up bigger than ever, with double stalks where I’ve never seen double stalks, and bulbs which have quadrupled in number… all that and a 70F (21C) sun soaked afternoon to sit on the lawn and admire them.  Wow.

galanthus magnet

Last year’s plunge into  frigid cold and winds withered the blooms and foliage on this bunch of ‘Magnet’.  This spring it’s bigger than ever!

New favorites have settled in as well, and it’s nice to see what a few years can do to the lonely and sometimes lost single flowers of new snowdrop plantings.  Here are two newer favorites, Galanthus ‘Kildare’ and ‘Erway’.

galanthus kildare erway

‘Kildare’ is a nice green tipped snowdrop out of Ireland while ‘Erway’ to the right has an interesting olive colored, oddly helmet-shaped ovary on top.

Now for the bad news though.  A strong cold front had been working its way across the continent and by mid Saturday afternoon reached this end of Pennsylvania.  During the first wave, golfball sized hail rained down out of the sky and a tornado spawned just two miles up the road.

giant hailstones

In what might not have been one of my smarter moves I ran out to the street to bring the car up into the garage… too late to save it from a few dents in the hood, but fortunately my head avoided the same fate.

We were safe from the tornado, and although huge, the hailstones were short lived and only a few came down per square foot.  Impressive enough on its own, but then the second wave hit.  Strong winds, pea and marble sized hail, drenching downpour, and the frightening sound of hail smashing the roof and windows.  Oh yeah, thunder and lightning as well, and in a few minutes the garden went from an early blossom of spring to a freakish mid summer smack-down.

before and after hail

Galanthus ‘viridapice’ with a few winter aconite and hardy Cyclamen coum…  before and after.

All the early snowdrops are history and I’m crossing my fingers for the few late ones which were still trying to catch up with the weather.  Easy come easy go I guess.

before and after hail

Goodbye ‘Bill Bishop’ and ‘Primrose Warburg’.  See you in another 12 months.

Btw I’m a little impressed with myself over the merged photos.  I’m sure this is old news for anyone even marginally computer literate, but just in case you’re interested it was done here>  IMGonline

To wrap up my new-found computer savviness I’m throwing in a few videos as well.  Here’s the second part of the storm as it really hit its stride.

…and a little later as the storm winds up.  My tech skills only go so far, so unfortunately it’s been filmed in the narrow ‘portrait’ orientation, but hopefully this doesn’t kill my chances of breaking the record 23 views which my last video racked up.

We will see where this winter takes us next.  I’m hoping it’s to spring but wherever it goes the ride is always an exciting one and always one which reminds me how grateful I am that I don’t rely on the weather for my livelihood.  -and please don’t feel bad for the lost flowers,  I’m sure they’ll be back stronger than ever next spring and after soaking them up completely for the last few days I think I’ll be fine until the next page of spring unfolds!

Earliest. Cleanup. Ever.

The title says it all.  Nearly all the snow has melted, jackets were thrown aside, and for a glorious weekend we enjoyed obscenely nice spring temperatures and sunshine.  I didn’t even do the responsible thing and wash the car first, I went straight for the clippers and rake and tidied winter away from the front yard.  With flowers bursting up out of the soil it was the only logical thing to do.

first snowdrops

The first snowdrops and the bright yellow of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

I’m not one to hem and haw about “is it too early” or “can I uncovered the perennials yet”, I just dive right in as soon as the weather gives me the chance.  Sure it will probably get cold again, but I find that covered or not they’re going to start growing anyway.

galanthus nivalis

The earliest of the common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) came up completely as the snow melted Saturday.  I think they look even nicer coming up amongst a nice groundcover of hardy cyclamen.

I’d love to assault you (again) with far too many snowdrop pictures, but for now will limit myself to just three.  I do want to have a few readers left for the other 11 months of the year…

galanthus wendy's gold

‘Wendy’s Gold’  is one of the “yellow” snowdrops.  The color is exceptional this year, and just as bright as today’s sunshine.

After a downright miserable snowdrop season last year, this year (all three days of it so far) is shaping up to be outstanding.  With the usual optimism of a gardener I’m positive that last year’s arctic blasts and heat waves, combined with downpours and hail, will not repeat.  I see nothing but idyllic temperatures and sunshine, even though it is about a month early.  But just in case, I’ll keep watering the winter garden since it’s coming along as well.

forced hyacinth

A few of the hyacinths I forced this winter.  Not bad for a bunch of clearance bulbs.

The indoor snowdrops are mostly over, but the cyclamen are going strong and the primrose are promising a nice show as they send up flower buds.  Miraculously I’ve managed to see my Primula auricula through the winter and bring it back into flower again under the lights.  I managed to grow this from seed (somehow) and I’m afraid it’s literally led me down a primrose path to membership in the American Primrose Society.  Now for a third year in a row I’ve ordered more seed and just in case you’re brave enough, the society has just opened up this seed exchange to non members.  Click here for a link to some of the best (and cheapest) primula seed available in the US.

primula auricula

Definitely not the fanciest example of an auricula primrose, but it’s my very own (and most importantly I haven’t killed it yet).  The fancier versions come in rich reds, blues or greens with larger flowers, bicolor blooms… all with that cool white-powdered center.

I’m excited again about the primroses, but Cyclamen coum are still a favorite.  Their numbers have dropped a little due to someone not being the most capable cyclamen grower, but I have plans to turn that trend around.  I’ve been going and dabbing pollen from flower to flower in the hopes of getting a few seeds to form, and if all works as planned there will be a new batch of these coming along in no time.

cyclamen seed forming

Unpollinated flowers will wilt and fall over, pollinated flowers will curl up and tuck themselves down close to the ground to form a seed pod.  I think this is one of the most curious traits of these little plants.

As the cyclamen set their seeds and the other flowers join the show I’ve decided to bring a few of the forced tulip bulbs under the lights to see what they can do.  Tulips indoors are a first for me, but with the way our weather’s going the ones outside will be nearly open anyway so it’s no great loss if failure strikes.

forced tulips

In typical fashion bulbs have been carelessly stuffed into a too small pot, and although I don’t anticipate any overwhelming demand for this less than attractive photo, in my opinion it looks extremely promising.

And we will see where this season takes us.  It’s a freakishly early start to spring but even in a normal year there’s plenty of unfortunate weather to go around, so a beautifully warm weekend in February isn’t the worst thing.  I guess we will just have to enjoy it while we can, and of course I’m fine with that.

Snowdropping 2017

Rather than face 9 inches of snow and a 12F (-11C) low lets take a trip back to just four days ago when the springtime warmth brought on an emergency trip to enjoy this year’s first snowdrop trip.  It’s early of course, but we were on a mission this time and with the thermometer peaking at 60F (15C) it was now or never.  The mission was to visit Dr. John Lonsdale at Edgewood Gardens, and take a tour of his overflowing snowdrop and cyclamen greenhouses before the warm weather set all the flowers to seed.  We were not disappointed.

galanthus and cyclamen

Snowdrops and hardy cyclamen filling the greenhouse benches.

John lives and gardens in Exton, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia and from the looks of things you’d never guess he has yet to quit his day job.  These thousands of drops and bulbs (plus about a billion other plants spread out across his yard) are just a passionate hobby and sideline which is Edgewood Gardens.  You may already know this since he is a regular feature at garden events and lectures up and down the East coast, but to see his garden and hear him talk you would think for sure he lives the life of a full time nurseryman.

galanthus homersfield

Galanthus ‘Homersfield’ in the Lonsdale greenhouse.

I have plenty of pictures here and will likely ramble on too long so to keep things focused I’ll just add that John will be putting out his first snowdrop sales list this summer, and if you’re even just slightly interested in seeing what drops might be available send him an email via his Edgewood Gardens website.

forced snowdrops

I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought.  Most of my visit was spent poking through the benches admiring all the characteristics and nuances that a plain little green and white winter flowering bulb can give.

John may be growing a few extra bulbs for sale, but it doesn’t take more than a walk up his driveway to recognize he’s plant obsessed with a weakness towards collecting.

potted snowdrops

Hundreds of carefully inventoried and labeled pots fill every square inch.

The full range of snowdrops is represented in the greenhouse, selections from seed grown species right alongside some of the most coveted European varieties, many of which are nearly impossible to find on either side of the Atlantic.  This is even more impressive when you consider the cost and complications which are involved in bringing these plants into the States legally (something you’ll quickly notice when browsing overseas sources).

galanthus green tear

An all green snowdrop, Galanthus ‘Green Tear’, is one of those drops which broke records a few years ago when first offered on eBay.  Someone thought $500 for a single bulb was just right for feeding their obsession.

When they’re all together like this it’s hard to pick out favorites…. or even distinguish one white drop from another, but a few stand out even to a beginner like myself.

galanthus diggory

The puffy pantaloons look of Galanthus ‘Diggory’ (pantaloons as in pants, not the twenty one pilots song)

Travel is supposed to broaden the mind but I’m afraid all this trip did was make my snowdrop obsession worse.  I picked up several new names to add to the want-list…

galanthus duckie

Galanthus ‘Duckie’ on the left and top.  I loved the wide flat petals.

galanthus moortown

I also like how the green mark inside Galanthus ‘Moortown’ bleeds up a bit and stains the inside.  Plus it’s a nice big sturdy drop 🙂

galanthus green mile

Galanthus ‘Green Mile’, another sought after, deeply saturated green snowdrop.

Ok, so that might be plenty of snowdrops, but before we leave the greenhouse the hardy Cyclamen coum deserve some attention as well.  Not to pat myself on the back too strongly, but these are the same plants which John offers for sale through his website, and somehow through a remarkable feat of self control I managed to limit myself to just four carefully selected plants.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum at their peak in the greenhouse.  It will be another few weeks before the ones I have here in my own garden begin to flower, and weather permitting they will be just as nice.

There were also plenty of seedlings coming along for future sales.

hardy cyclamen seedlings

Various hardy and not so hardy cyclamen seedlings coming along in the “other” greenhouse.   If you look closely you can even see some of the cool purple centered C hederifolium coming along in the center of the photo.  Even the little babies color up!

… and that’s just in the greenhouses.  Because of the exceptional temperatures things were pushing ahead outside as well.

colchicum kesselringii

The absolutely perfect Colchicum kesselringii, a late winter flowering relative of the more common fall blooming colcicum.

adonis amurensis

The first of the Adonis amurensis were coming up to take advantage of the sun.

And cactus.  I barely mentioned the cactus beds, but there they were looking as if they were growing a few hundred miles West and South of this Philly garden.

purple opuntia

An opuntia (prickly pear) which wrinkles up and takes on an unusual purple color once temperatures fall.  I wonder if it blooms as nicely as the regular version, the spines sure do look just as fierce!

Oh and I’m sure you’re done with snowdrops, but there were more outside as well, both in bloom and just beginning to sprout.

galanthus Mrs Macnamara

I believe this is Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’, a perfect beauty and surprisingly hardy and early.  Word is this bunch has been going strong for a couple weeks already, and still looks this good.

Hellebores were also just beginning.

helleborus niger

A few of many Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) which were coming up around the garden.  Here on the slope they looked absolutely perfect.

Even a few of the trees and shrubs were showing signs of life.  The witch hazels (Hamamelis) were in bloom all over the gardens, but the delicate flowers of the Japanese plum (Prunus mume) really look too delicate for a Pennsylvania February.

prunus mume

Prunus mume.  Dr. Lonsdale told me the cultivar but at that point I’m pretty sure my brain was way too full to retain any lengthy Japanese names.

I could easily spend all day or another day at Edgewood Gardens, but if you’re at all familiar with our Philly snowdrop jaunts you’ll know we always fit in way too much for the still short days.  Before our greenhouse visit we happily dropped an hour and a half at a local park to again admire the sheets of naturalized winter aconite (Eranthis Hyemalis) which grow there.

naturalized eranthis bulbs

The forest floor was buzzing with hundreds of honeybees taking advantage of these first flowers of 2017.

We even managed to find a few snowdrops just coming up.  What a perfect combination, and quite a contrast to the deer chewed pachysandra, weeds and brambles.

naturalized eranthis bulbs

Naturalized eranthis and snowdrop bulbs.  Given a few acres and about 150 years and you might also have a similar show.

We were so lucky with the weather this year.  Snowdropping in February is one thing, doing it in short sleeves is unheard of even in the warmest of years.  Hopefully when March rolls around and it’s time to head north to visit Hitch Lyman and Temple Gardens we will be just as lucky.  History says otherwise though.

playing in the snow

Temperatures dropped to normal within 24 hours of our visit and we finally got a good coating of snow to cover up any signs of spring.  It now looks more normal for February, but that doesn’t explain why the kids can’t just go sledding in their snow pants like everyone else.

As usual a special thanks goes out to Paula for her annual enthusiasm for these trips, and also a big thanks goes out to Dr. Lonsdale for being so generous with his time, his knowledge and also his garden.  Truth be told I may have just kind of invited myself over that day, but you would never have guessed it by how warmly I was received by both John and by his other (more scheduled) visitors.  It was great getting to see everyone and I hope we do this again!

Bury your head in the sand

Ignorance is bliss.  As the garden shivers and crackles under a freezing blanket of cold the wise gardener will hunker down indoors and enjoy the luxury of a warmer, climate controlled gardening experience.  Outdoors he can’t do anything but wait for the damage to show but indoors he can at least tweak the thermostat a little higher and take another sip of coffee… spiked or unspiked depending on the latest weather report.

rebloom amaryllis

Leftover Easter flowers and a few too many amaryllis blooms.

I’ve been a little too excited about the new amaryllis I bought this winter and in my excitement ended up bringing the older bulbs out and giving them a little water too.  In a normal year I just throw the dormant bulbs outside in April and let them bloom right alongside the tulips, but this year I thought ‘the more the merrier’ and as a result I’m ending the winter with an amaryllis (Hippeastrum) extravaganza.  I’ve had these bulbs at least seven years now and if I remember to give them a little attention after flowering they reward me each spring with a fantastic color show.

red amaryllis

The bright red and pure white are perfect for Christmas… or I guess Easter 🙂

It sounds slightly ungrateful but of all the colors, Christmas red and snowy white are not what I’m normally looking for come springtime.  This of course was not what I was considering years ago when I picked the bulbs up for $1 a piece at some box-store clearance shelf… but please humor me as I shamelessly brag about how well they are doing now.  Each pot is already showing at least four bloom stalks a piece, and the plants themselves are on the verge of nearly overwhelming the dining room table, even with less than half the flower stalks open.  On the edge of the group you barely notice the last of the newbies, a delicate pink-flushed mini white named ‘Trentino’.

amaryllis trentino

Bigger may not necessarily be better as in the case of this ‘mini’ amaryllis ‘Trentino’.

Once it warms up outside (assuming it ever does) new and old amaryllis will all go out into a semi-shaded spot, get hooked up to the same drip irrigation system that waters the summer annuals, and will be ignored until November.  If I feel generous I’ll send some liquid fertilizer their way but for the most part they’re on their own.  If there’s a trick to it all I guess it’s that they sit in a gritty, peat-free soil mix which drains well, and they have a nice solid terracotta pot which breathes well and holds down their heavy tops.  Well drained, plenty of moisture, and a good feeding… mine enjoy that.

fancy leaf geranium

Geraniums blooming more than they should under the lights of the winter garden.  A better gardener would probably remove the flowers for the sake of stronger growth and a healthier spring transplant.

You may notice the attractive plastic sheeting which forms a subtle backdrop to the amaryllis photos.  The sheeting keeps the dust and debris of a kitchen remodel from drifting into the rest of the house, and also keeps us from enjoying the charms of a useable sink or stove.  If I try hiding indoors too long from the brutality of our latest arctic blast, eventually I need a new place to hide from the mayhem a kitchen run out of the living room…. so I escape to the garage and the winter garden.

scented geranium flower

The scented leaved geraniums (Pelargonium) are also blooming under the lights.  The flowers are a treat, but I love the lemony scents which come off the foliage each time I move a plant or water a neighbor.

For a while the winter garden was being ignored.  Spring was early and I was back outside enjoying snowdrops, then crocus, and then daffodils… but now winter is back and I’m pretending it didn’t all happen and I’m just doing the regular sowing and repotting of late winter.  Because I foolishly brought sprouting bulb seedlings in during a December freeze I’m now at the point where I can dig seedlings out and see what grew.  Here’s a mixed potful of one and two year old Allium Christophii bulblets which just recently went dormant.  I’m fascinated even though a less than polite reader might point out I could get a bagful of blooming sized bulbs for under $10 this fall.

allium christophii seedlings

A few Allium christophii seedlings all grown up into pea sized bulblets.  I’ll plant them outside next year and hopefully see flowers in another two or three years.  I’m sure at that point I’ll wonder where they came from, since I’ll definitely forget where I planted them!

I find it interesting that even though I sowed the seeds shallowly, most have migrated to the very bottom of their four inch pots.  Readers of Ian Young’s Bulb Log at the Scottish Rock Garden Club will already know this since Mr. Young has observed this repeatedly, but for me to see it myself is of course more fun.

tulip from seed

Second year for a tulip seedling.  In the middle of the photo you can see the dried rice-sized husk of last year’s bulb, if you follow this year’s root to the right (which would have grown deeper into the pot) you will find the newly formed pea sized bulb from this season.  Maybe by next year we’ll be up to kidney bean size 🙂 

I was also happy to find one of my fall snowdrops has made a nice sized offset.  I would have thought the double shoot from the top would have split the bulb into two, but instead it has just sprouted a new bulb off to the side.  So I guess that means there will be three growing tips next fall!

galanthus monosticus

One of my special snowdrops, a fall blooming Galanthus elwessi monosticus which a friend picked up for me at Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough North Carolina.

Not all my escape gardening happens in seclusion.  Occasionally I have a helper and this year that helper has been assisting in writing out some of the many plant labels which go along with all the odds and ends which get seeded out.  She may actually do a neater job than I do, and her talent for labeling in Latin is impressive.

dyi plant label

The cut up vinyl blinds which I use for plant labels.  Plain old lead pencil seems to last for decades and I’ve found a few still readable in the garden, one going back to ’91 for a dogwood seedling which I apparently smuggled out of Longwood Gardens in a pocket…

Also impressive is one of my newest treasures.  It’s a Cyclamen Rhodium seedling from my visit to John Lonsdale’s Edgewood Gardens, and it’s blooming in spite of having been dumped out of its pot not even three minutes after John handed it off to me.  He was very forgiving of my clumsiness, but I never did mention that I dumped it over again a second time as I got into my car.  Fortunately it survived, and although John suggested that I give this one a try outdoors in a sheltered spot (planted six or more inches deep once it goes dormant), I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to risk its health a third time.

cyclamen rhodium

A really cool Cyclamen rhodium from the Southern Peloponnese and island of Rhodes in Greece.  Nice flower but look at that speckled foliage! 

So that’s how things are going here in my own sheltered locations.  I have some promising tomato seedlings sprouting as well as eggplant and peppers, but it will be a few days before the damage outside becomes definite.  Already things such as roses, lilacs and daffodils look rough, but for as long as I can stay in denial I will.  Maybe the hyacinth will bloom so much stronger next year now that their blooms have all been frozen off.  A gardener can hope 🙂

The Iceman Cometh

I made a point of getting the lawn mowed Saturday.  I wanted to have things nice and neat for when the snow comes.

mixed perennial border

Bright yellow daffodils, blue hyacinths and a freshly cut lawn.  The front border is looking very spring-ish with its mix of sprouting perennials and flowering spring bulbs.  Please ignore the upended chairs which the nasty wind has blown over. 

Although things are way too early this year, all my efforts to convince them to slow down have gone unheeded.  The plants just don’t know what to do with this rollercoaster ride of highs and lows and as a result it’s been a kind of crappy spring with snowdrops peaking and then wilting in a few days of heat, hailstorms knocking everything down, cold weather keeping the depressing wreckage at a standstill, another warm spell to snap things back into high speed, and then now this latest arctic blast.  Here’s the front border six days prior when only a few weather beaten crocus were up.  At least I had enough time to raid the neighborhood dump and mulch the border with plenty of nicely chopped leaves.

mixed perennial border mulched with leaves

A nice mulch of shredded leaves will do wonders smothering the weeds this summer and feeding the soil all spring.  I wish I had more!

In less than a week we’ve jumped ahead to the peak of the daffodil season.  Last fall I wanted to mix in a few more of the bright yellows so I snapped up a batch of 50 from Van Engelen and haphazardly spread them throughout the border.  I tend to enjoy a more natural look and the scattered planting combined with the wildflowery long noses on this cultivar makes them appear as if they’ve been there much longer than a few months.  I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this or if I’ve repeated it a dozen times, but daffodils which hold on to the long trumpets and backswept petals of the original N. cyclamineus species are by far my favorite types 🙂

daffodil tweety bird

Daffodil ‘Tweety Bird’, a product of Brent and Becky Heath’s breeding program, filling in where I pulled out an invasive burning bush last fall.

One, and possibly the only, thing good about frequent cold spells is that some of the daffodils are showing their deepest, glamour shot colors without the fading which normally occurs in the warmer weather.  Here in a cool bed which is shaded by a fence, ‘Jetfire’ is looking almost fluorescent with its orange cup.  I’ve never seen it this bright before, and hopefully this is a good start for this bed since I’m still into the months long process of killing the most persistent weeds here with a double shot of thick mulch and weed killing spray.  Maybe by the start of this summer I can finally refill this open land with all kinds of new goodies!

daffodil narcissus jetstar

Narcissus (or daffodil if you prefer) ‘Jetstar’ blooming with some unusually bright color this spring.  This is one of  my most reliable daffs 🙂

Another thing you may or may not know is that I tend to have a lot of favorite daffodils, and that’s because I grow a good assortment to choose from, and I challenge anyone to stick to just one favorite!  Narcissus ‘Rapture’ is an award winning, American bred daffodil with just the kind of cyclamineus genes I love.  Look at those cute little reflexed petals and long trumpet!  As you can see by the neighboring empty spots, not all daffodils have done as well in this location, since at one time this bed was fully planted.

daffodil narcissus rapture

A nice fat clump of Narcissus ‘Rapture’.  If I didn’t already have so much yellow out front I’d surely spread this one around the mixed border along the street.

But of course the up and down weather is even beginning to wear on the daffodils.  Arctic blasts of cold burnt the early tips of many of the more trusting varieties.

freeze damage on daffodil

The jonquil types of daffodil sprout just a little too early for our zone.  This is probably ‘Pipit’ or ‘Hillstar’ and even in a good year the tips of the foliage get singed by too cold weather extremes. 

It’s all or nothing for some of these daffodils which carry the genes of the more southern N. jonquilla.  If it’s a cold winter they hunker down and don’t poke up their heads until the weather has settled, but in an unsettled winter they keep on trying to get started during every warm spell.

narcissus daffodil tiny bubbles

Narcissus ‘Tiny Bubbles’ with a freeze damaged ‘Kokopelli’ behind it.  I like the dainty flowers on ‘Tiny Bubbles’ but I wish either the foliage was shorter or the blooms up a little higher. 

The unsettled winter crushed this year’s hellebore show.  I should have seen that coming since last fall they looked better than ever and were poised to bloom their heads off.  So much for that.

picotee hellebore

Here’s one which managed to come out and open perfectly between the frigid blasts of cold.  There are singed and damaged flowers all around but this one with its dark centers and perfectly veined blooms is enough to make me smile. 

Of course I have my favorites among the hellebores as well.

yellow hellebore

Even with a few damaged centers and singed outers the buttery yellow of this hellebore keeps it on my best-of-the-hellebores list 🙂

Any opinions on this picotee hellebore growing in the front border?  It’s doing very well in spite of the fact nearly all its neighbors were frozen back to their crowns…

picotee hellebore

Would you call this a yellow picotee hellebore?  I like the red shading and subtle color, but suspect it might not jump out at everyone.

I guess it’s time for a reality check.  Here are the daffodils this morning as the cold wind howls outside.

daffodil frozen in snow

The front foundation border once again covered in snow. 

To be honest I hope the snow predicted for tonight also comes through.  The garden can use a little bit of extra cover to help it out when the low temperatures drop to 19F (-7C) for both Monday and Tuesday.  Whatever.

frozen hyacinth

All the early bulbs flattened and frozen by a late cold snap.  You can bet my fingers are crossed they make it through this….

It’s normal for everything to wilt as it freezes, and that’s a good thing since too much water in the stems will cause them to burst as the water expands, but I’m not sure exactly what else will survive the upcoming deep freeze.  I’m writing off the wisteria, even the barely expanded buds will most likely die off, and the hyacinths will be mush, but I’m most worried about the tulips and daffodils.  A few years ago a one night cold snap permanently ‘did in’ a bunch of tulips, this longer spell has me more worried, and I have many more now than I did back then.

C’est la vie.  Maybe I’ll order a few new cannas today, and dream of a beautiful June garden.  April and May are kind of iffy right now, but as long as the birds sing and the sun is warm we’ll be fine…. tulips or not.

Snowdrops part II

By now I’m going to guess several of you know I have a “thing” for snowdrops.  It’s a lonely thing since my nearest fellow snowdrop lover lives miles and miles away, but it’s a thing and like all things you just have to deal with it.  With that said I will forgive anyone who glosses over this post since not everyone will ‘get’ this thing, and many will not even want to appear as encouraging this thing, but that’s fine.  Once the daffodils open I’ll move on and we can again comfortably ignore my little secret until next year.

Luckily for you the season is practically over in my garden (so this will not drag on for the weeks which it normally does)  and here’s only just the briefest summary of a few of my favorites from this year’s snowdrop season.  We will begin with a new one, ‘Daphne’s Scissors’, which came via Carolyn’s Shade Gardens last spring.

galanthus daphnes scissors

Galanthus ‘Daphnes Scissors’, an early bloomer with me and early enough to open at the same time as the winter aconite (Eranthis Hyemalis).

‘Blonde Inge’ sometimes gives trouble as far as her blonde highlights go, but this year there’s a nice touch of yellow to the insides of her flowers.  This is her third year in the garden and she seems to be settling in nicely.

galanthus blonde inge

Galanthus ‘Blonde Inge’, the covergirl for Naomi Slade’s great little book “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops” which I had the pleasure of reading this winter.

I’m trying to stick to snowdrops which don’t all fall under the same old same old category… this is still a stretch since green-white-yellow is the slightly limiting range which we’re always working with, but to the obsessed even the plain old white and green can be something special 🙂

galanthus straffan

Galanthus ‘Straffan’, an oldie but goodie which has been gracing the gardens of snowdrop lovers since 1858.  This is year three for my plant and I’m quite pleased to see its graceful upright blooms multiplying.  Maybe someday I’ll be up to the hundreds you see in other gardens 🙂

Galanthus ‘MoretonMills’ was the first expensive snowdrop I splurged on.  I won’t say how much I paid but it was a ridiculous amount for such a tiny little thing and each spring I hold my breath until it sprouts.  Fortunately it’s one of my favorites and is also beginning to multiply.

galanthus moreton mills

Galanthus ‘Moreton Mills’, a poculiform snowdrop where the three inner petals are as long as the three outer petals.  If this plant breaks the four inch barrier I’d call it a growth spurt.

As a variation on the green and white theme, here’s one which is more green and green and white 🙂

galanthus kildare

I love this one, it’s Galanthus ‘Kildare’ doing very well in its second year in the garden.  The blooms are huge. (relatively speaking of course!)

Another of my very favorites is ‘Primrose Warburg’.  It’s been doing very well here and is actually becoming what I could optimistically call a clump.  The downside to collecting unusual little bulbs is that you must often start with just one and to be completely honest a single snowdrop, no matter how special, does not exactly put on a major show in the garden.

galanthus primrose warburg

Galanthus ‘Primrose Warburg’.  Even those who yawn at the sight of snowdrops will acknowledge the bright yellow differences on this one 🙂

I’ll leave you with my lovely little golden snowdrop patch, and repeat that the snowdrop season is essentially over here.  It was a weird one, and for me it was a lame one with harsh late freezes damaging many of the blooms followed by a warm couple days which wilted the rest.  Add a few days out of town for work and snowdrops which came up before my schedule allowed me to fully admire them…. well enough said.  At least I was able to enjoy a few crocus.

natuaralized crocus

All the crocus came up nicely in the meadow garden and even the rabbits couldn’t keep up with them all.  Luckily mother nature and global warming stepped in and wiped them all out with back to back hailstorms.  Oh El Nino, you’re really having your fun this year.

The crocus season felt like it lasted three days.  They burst up and bloomed and then the weather did them in.

dutch crocus

A few of those fat hybrid Dutch crocus growing by the front steps.  To get really nice clumps it helps to dig them up and spread them around every three of four years.  Forgetting where they are and accidently digging them up in June is my method of choice.    

Fortunately there’s still plenty of spring left since it’s only just the end of March.  A cold spell last week slowed everything right back down, but the first weeks of April look remarkably mild and I’m sure there will be plenty of things sprouting up and blooming and helping me ease my snowdrop hangover.  Don’t get your hopes up too much though, I did visit another snowdrop garden last weekend and have one more white and green post yet to come.

If I don’t speak with you before Sunday, have a great Easter!

Snowdropping 2016

*ok so I’m trying to get back onto the blogging ball.  With a schedule finally cleared up I have a bunch of catching up to do here as well as on other blogs… so flashback to something I began writing about two weeks ago!*

Spring doesn’t normally roll around to this end of Pennsylvania until the end of March,  but this year on the tail end of El Nino it looks as if winter has just thrown in the towel and let spring walk right in a few weeks early.  “Sit down and stay a while” I say, and although I should speak glowingly about my own spring treasures in bloom right now, my first panicked thought was I might miss the snowdrop season down south.  I promptly sent out a few emails, jumped in a car and met up with my friend Paula at a park near her home for our second annual Philly snowdrop adventure.

naturalized snowdrops united states

Snowdrops naturalized on the grounds of a former Philadelphia estate.

Last year our snowdrop adventure was a response to the miserably long winter, this year it was a desperate attempt to catch the season before it flashed by.  We made the trip on March 8th and even though we were nearly a month earlier than last year many of the earlier bloomers were already past.

leucojum vernus yellow

A nice yellow tipped spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum) blooming amidst the rubble.

In spite of the advanced season we did manage to catch plenty of snowdrops still in bloom, and it was fun wandering from patch to patch searching for those little “specials”.  Maybe someday after a hundred years of abandonment and years of gentle woodland protection my own garden will produce something different but for now I’ll have to rely on these hidden treasures.

naturalized snowdrops galanthus nivalis

We saw plenty of patches of four petalled snowdrops, but also a wonderful range of larger and smaller, thinner, longer, taller…. all the tiny variations on white and green which may make some gardeners yawn, but which make me smile.

But there was only so much time we could spend sweating our way through the underbrush.  We had bigger fish to fry this morning and for us it was a visit to John Lonsdale’s Edgewood Gardens.  John grows and sells (but more just grows and grows) about a billion plants in his suburban landscape and the plantings range from high desert cactus to mountain to woodland to everything in between.  I was lost on much of it but I’m going to try my best and show a few favorites even if the names are lacking.  If you are more cat-like and on the verge of death due to some unsatisfied identity curiosity then I would absolutely suggest contacting John directly via his website.  He will surely have an ID for you, as well as cultural conditions, related cultivars, the exact source of his plant…. and to top it all off he probably grew it himself from wild collected seed!

iris and hardy cactus

A beautiful species iris right alongside hardy cacti.  Did I mention the cactus?  There were beds planted full of them as well as agaves and yucca, all surviving the Pennsylvania snow and ice without any additional winter protection.

I need to just move on here.  I love growing bulbs and there were more here than I’ve ever even considered so here are just the highlights of our visit.  Keep in mind the calendar is still saying winter for a few more weeks and the real show is still at least two months off!

eranthis guinea gold

Winter aconite (Eranthis species)  galore in the Lonsdale garden.  We missed the peak for many of the Eranthis hyemalis types but these crosses with Eranthis cilicica (similar to the ‘Guinea Gold’ cross) were just opening…. don’t let the label throw you off, that’s for something else yet to come right in front of this patch of gold.

At nearly 80F (26C) and sunny even a few of the first primula were opening.

pale yellow hardy primula

The winter may have been short, but even here a sudden drop to around 0F (-17C) did its damage to winter foliage and early sprouts.  Still bright and beautiful though, and its location on what looked to be a dry shaded slope has me rethinking how tough primroses can be.

Hellebores were everywhere.

speckled hellebore

Just a plain old hellebore which caught my eye.  a little winter damage but I love the speckling.

John said he was in the process of working through the hellebores, getting rid of many older and self seeded plants, and ‘upgrading’ some of the hybrids… and I wish him luck.  There were hundreds, if not thousands, and it would take a more critical eye than mine to thin the herd.

hellebore anna's red

One of the newer, cross-species hellebore cultivars.  I forgot what it was, but maybe it’s ‘Anna’s Red’?

Plenty of hellebore species as well.  All over the garden were bits and shoots coming up from seed collected throughout the hellebore world.

green hellebore

A cool green species hellebore.  Green may not be the showiest flower color but they sure look great close up.

hellebore tibetanus

Hailing from China is Helleborus thibetanus. This plant was only just brought into cultivation in the 1990’s and if you can believe it John says this plant plant produced only one flower last year. What a difference a single year can make!

Trilliums were also everywhere.  John kept naming species, naming ranges and ecotypes, naming seed sources, describing how many were yet to come…. it was all a little overwhelming.  I think to return in May and see patches and patches of trilliums blooming across the hillside would be quite the sight.

trillium foliage

One of the earliest trilliums already up.  The foliage is just amazing and there were hundreds more sprouting or just waiting to burst out of the ground.

There were tons of early trout lilies (Erythronium) coming up as well.  More cool foliage, exquisite flowers 🙂

trout lilies erythronium

Just a few of the earliest of the trout lilies coming up.  I love the fine markings on these and the fancy purple pollen just as much as the silvery speckling on the leaves.

I’ve never seen blooming Hepatica (liverwort) in person but recognized the little jewels the minute I saw them.  Maybe this will finally be the spring I venture out into the woods and find a few blooms of my own in the wild.  I’ll be excited to find anything, but suspect they won’t hold a candle to some of the selections and hybrids which we saw springing up out of the leafmould.

red hepatica

What color on such a tiny bloom.

violet hepatica

The detail on these flowers is amazing in all its intricate perfection.

It was also well into Adonis season.  Several cultivars were spotted throughout the beds and each one seemed better than the last and we hit them perfectly with their flowers open wide in the warm winter sun.  The saturated colors were almost too bright for an early March afternoon.

double yellow adonis

Double yellow Adonis Amurensis

I’ve heard that this native of NE Asia isn’t all that hard to grow it’s just a little slow to start and a little pricey to get a hold of.  Spring sun and a sheltered woodland location for the summer seem to work well for it, just know that the ferny foliage dies back and the plant disappears once the weather warms for summer.

orange adonis cultivar

An orange Adonis cultivar with a nice bunch of hardy cyclamen leaves.  Cyclamen were nearly everywhere, I began to not notice them unless I had to step over a particularly nice one seeded into the path 🙂

fringed orange adonis

Dark ferny foliage, a fringed pale orange flower…. what’s not to like about this Adonis?

We spent way too much time at John’s but it wasn’t until we checked our watches that we realized how much we had actually imposed on his day!  The poor guy had just finished up about ten days of on the road and had been through more states in a week than I hit in a year and here we were not even giving him enough time to enjoy his first day back.  So we tried to get a move on it, thanked him again for his hospitality and time, and then rushed through the last hordes of snowdrops, cyclamen, and cacti between us and the exit… did I mention the cacti?  I could easily fill a second visit with just the cacti (not that I’m really hinting).

Off to Paula’s!

snowdrops galanthus in garden beds

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis mostly) scattered throughout the garden beds.

Paula has really put in some work into collecting and dividing and spreading snowdrops throughout her garden, and it’s really an inspiration to see the possibilities of what a few years hard work can produce.  It makes me wonder when and if my own garden will ever start to show a similar effect of late winter interest.  There were goodies everywhere and of course it was the snowdrops which I really honed in on.

galanthus elwesii

Nice established clumps of Galanthus elwesii (the ‘giant snowdrop’) with it’s bigger blooms and grayer foliage.

Paula really has a great winter garden going with snowdrops galore and plenty of color from the earliest bloomers.  It’s here where we wound down from our latest snowdrop adventure.

double snowdrops galanthus and hellebores

Double snowdrops (Galanthus ‘flore pleno’) and hellebores fill in a shaded slope.

There were hellebores, winter aconite, snowdrops, snowflakes, witch hazels, crocus, all kinds of flowers coming out to brave the last few weeks of winter.

raspberry veined hellebore

A real nice raspberry veined hellebore.  I really need to do a little ‘upgrading’ of my own!

Of course we got bogged down in examining every tiniest bloom and discussed every growing nuance.  That’s what makes these garden visits so special.

galanthus gloria

Galanthus ‘Gloria’, a perfect flower with such long inners with just the smallest touch of white.  I really like these ‘pocs’ where the inner petals nearly match the long white outers.

By this point my winter knees were starting to complain about all the kneeling and bending which I’d been putting them through all day.  Maybe I should have started getting back into gardening shape a few weeks earlier, but in spite of the little aches and slower pace we carried on for a few more closeups.

galanthus doncasters double charmer

You almost wouldn’t guess this were a snowdrop, but it’s Galanthus ‘doncasters double charmer’ in all its crazy, spiky, greenness.

And a final snowdrop….

galanthus big boy

Galanthus ‘big boy’, just coming up and already big even before it expands to its full size.  The green tips are a nice touch and I think I like it!

And then the day was over.  Time to hop in the car and head back North.

orange witch hazel jelena

An orange witch hazel (Hamamelis ‘Jelena’ ) in full bloom as the day ends.

A special thanks to John Lonsdale for a great visit, and thanks of course to Paula for putting up with me for the whole day.  It wouldn’t have been half as much fun without her, and when we were pulled over and asking a stranger if they’d mind us traipsing around in their side yard looking at the snowdrops I knew I had the right travel buddy.  Until next year!