An End Before the Start

Yesterday I made a point of getting outside for a few pictures before whatever happens happened.  Those of you who’ve visited this blog ever probably know that this gardener has more than a passing fancy for snowdrops, and sadly this year the season has passed in a blur with other things and weather taking priority over the hope for idle days in the sunshine crawling from snowdrop clump to snowdrop clump.  Instead I was out at night with a flashlight, out in the rain, or wind, or cold, and none of those scenarios make for good picture taking.  It happens, it could be worse, and with several clumps disappearing or dwindling this year I guess it was as good a season as any to have fly by.  Next year will be perfect I’m sure!

galanthus flore peno

A grainy, just before dark photo of the ‘White Trash’ bed from about a week ago.  Galanthus ‘flore peno’ and other “common”, “messy”, and “no special merit” snowdrops fill this bed, and it’s one of my favorite plantings.  

We won’t dwell on the weather of course.  If a gardener ever hopes to enjoy their snowdrops in this area they need to be prepared for a season which goes from an early spring thaw one week, to frigid temps and snow and ice the next, to overly warm shorts and T-shirt weather for five days, back to snow and a hard freeze.  I can always stay inside, but the snowdrops can’t and sometimes end up a little beaten down.

galanthus nivalis

A nice galanthus nivalis with just the tiniest green mark inside.  Someday I hope to find an albino, but for now this one keeps me happy.

So here’s where the survivors are at.  For you’re sake I’ll try to write less and photo more 😉

galanthus cordelia

Galanthus ‘Cordelia’ a little sloppy yet hanging on and Cardamine quinquefolia just starting with its pink flowers.  A few people have lodged complaints about the cardamine’s spreading ways but it looks like I’ll have to learn the hard way.

galanthus imbolc

I can never speak poorly of big flowers on a non-floppy plant.  ‘Imbolc’ is representing and hopefully hangs on for a while during our cold spell.

galanthus erway

Galanthus ‘Erway’ has a nice paleness this spring which is fairly normal but not always this pronounced. 

galanthus moortown

I think I show galanthus ‘Moortown’ each spring.  He’s such a hefty brute.

green poc sharlockii galanthus

My thoughts are always mixed on anything from sharlockii blood, but this one has turned out nice.  A Belgium drop with lots of green and inner petals almost as long as the outers.  

Please don’t even fall for my woe is me comments on this year’s season.  Even a bad one is still better than the suffering my non-snowdropping neighbors are enduring.  I see them washing cars and trying to liven up a dead yard with a few plastic Easter eggs and realize that my yard has been bursting with bulbs for the last month and more, and the garden year is already off to a good start.  Missing the snowdrops is as much my own fault for not being independently wealthy as it is the cruel ups and down of the weather, and maybe a few less garden visits and ski trips would have also helped.  I’ll try to work on that… maybe…

eranthis gothenburg

A doubled winter aconite (Eranthis ‘Gothenburg’) flowering for the first time after two other years of ‘no thanks’.  Please don’t die now is my reply.  In this garden new and hard to find winter aconites like to die the year after finally looking nice.

So now I have nothing to look forward to except hundreds of spring bulbs and sprouting perennials and wave after wave of new color every day!  Sure there will be a few hiccups along the way, but still I can’t even imagine things being bad enough to make washing the car a decent alternative.

minor spring bulbs

More bulbs popping up.  The unspellable Scilla mischtschenkoana doesn’t ask for much but does fade quickly in anything warmer than sweater weather. 

I don’t know how people manage self restraint around all the small ‘minor’ bulbs which could fill their gardens.  I mean I do, but there are so many tempting crocus and bulb forming iris and corydalis that I really can’t judge anyone who ends up with a bed devoted to species tulips or spring blooming colchicums.

minor spring bulbs

I vaguely remember these not blooming and me digging and dividing the clump.  For a couple days they’ll be amazing and then the next great thing will roll along and I won’t even bother to dig out a label for an ID.

Even for someone who is the definition of restraint, things can build up.  If I had any backbone whatsoever I’d mow down seedlings, dig bulblets, divide crowded clumps, and just toss the excess but I’m like one of those people who grew up poor and then for a lifetime can’t throw out a decent pair of shoes or nice cardboard box, or even throw out the last six Easter eggs even though you did manage to eat at least two dozen of the ones the kids dyed.  Waste is a sin, and who wastes corydalis seedlings?

Hyacinths, corydalis, crocus, and winter aconite were never planted here.  I wouldn’t even know where to start if I tried to return this to the original species peonies, single snowdrop, and Muscari azureum (both white and blue forms!)

Before I leave the subject of restraint, here’s a link to an International Rock Gardener article on >the many species and forms of winter aconite (Eranthis)<.  I’m not tempted, but perhaps others will enjoy looking at all the different variations you can plant in addition to the not-common-at-all yellow.

minor spring bulbs

I have no plans to show restraint towards witch hazels.  They will be crowded and poorly grown but Hamamelis ‘Aphrodite’ needs more company.

I do need more spring snowflakes (Lecojum vernum).  I consider them the messy big brother of snowdrops but they come in yellows and doubles and I’m forced to live with just the species form and that’s been making me sad.  Not sad enough to go wash the car, but sad enough to wistfully search for other forms which exist but are separated from me by an ocean and at least seven time zones.  I don’t think adding two or three new ones would count as a lack of restraint, it’s definitely more of a widening your horizons kind of thing.

leucojum vernum

The straight form of the spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum, not the summer snowflake L. aestivum, that’s different!).  

Unlike most bulbs, Leucojum actually enjoy a poorly drained soil which doesn’t dry out and will suffer in a drier spot.  Think riverbanks and wet meadows, and if you find a spot they like you might as well plant a few snake’s head fritallaries (F. meleagris) since they also like that same mucky kind of spot.

leucojum vernum

A nice pure white form I found a few years back.  It’s a nice thing and nicely complements the “yellow tipped” ones behind them… if only they would stay yellow…

And again I’m going on too long.  Let’s just photo along and get through hellebores and the current weather.

yellow hellebore

The first hellebores are starting.  A couple nice yellow seedlings.

anemone hellebore

A surprise anemone form hellebore seedling.  I was hoping for a double, but this might even be better.

garden construction

Construction continues. Maybe today I’ll bundle up and try and dig out the snowflakes and hostas which probably won’t come up through the two feet of excavated fill, but then I’ll look at the rocks and dirt in the pond and feel guilty about not addressing that. 

Yesterday it wasn’t raining and snowing too much (just like last Sunday which was the only other time I’ve been out during the day lately) so I spent a few hours scraping fill off the lawn and hoping that at least half the yard can be sort-of back to normal for the year.  For what it’s worth “scraping fill off the lawn” means shoveling wheel barrow after wheel barrow of hard-packed rock and dirt and then trying to find the old turf underneath and then exposing enough with a rake so that it comes back to life.  I suspect in another week or two it will be mostly smothered and dead so that’s why I’m trying now.  In spite of the biting wind… and on again off again rain showers…. and frequent snow squalls….

spring bulbs in snow

The snow stopped melting and the light was fading, so the lawn is as good as it’s going to be.  

spring bulbs in snow

I might not like it, but most of the garden doesn’t mind a little snow and sleet this time of year.  We will see what happens tonight though.  It’s supposed to be frigid again.  

hardy cyclamen

Back in the day I never even imagined I’d have bunches of hardy spring cyclamen here in the mountains of Pennsylvania but then they happened 🙂

I might look at the pond this afternoon.  We will see.  The winter garden might be a nicer option with its somewhat warm temperature and lack of an icy wind and gloomy skies.  It’s a jungle and I need to trim it back which of course means cuttings since I can’t waste a single shoot.  Obviously these will be cuttings I do not need.

growing under lights

A patriotic blend of geraniums, oxalis, and streptocarpella.  The blue streptocarpella is much too large.

growing under lights

Cuttings galore and I think I should chop everything first and then see how much I can use afterwards.  Right now I’m not sure if the water I throw on this thicket even hits the pots underneath.  

growing under lights

The amaryllis have been nice.  This is a seedling a friend gave me and I might need a big pot of it, even though it multiplies like a pair of miss-sexed hamsters.

growing under lights

I’m going to have way too many geranium cuttings.  What to do, what to do…

barnhaven primrose seedlings

…and the primrose seedlings have come along nicely.  I can sit at my little table contemplating seed orders all the while enjoying the promise of spring and an occasional wiff of primula fragrance.  

So that’s where things are at and I’m hoping for a few less-busy weeks to come.  In the meantime thanks for sticking it out and if you’re relieved over the missing snowdrops don’t get your hopes up too much.  Cooler weather means the season may stretch out the further north you go and I still haven’t ruled out northern snowdrop visits 😉

Have a great, restrained, 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 Halloween!

Surprise of surprises the month of October has passed and there still remains a general air of pleasantness and overall contentment with the autumn season.  Even as the wind and rain buffet trick-or-treaters, the gardener has yet to mention death, gloom or futility, in spite of light frosts and dropping leaves and various ghouls and other undead wandering the neighborhood.

autumn garden color

Fall color seems especially bright this year.  The view towards the tropical garden doesn’t really seem all that tropical anymore but it’s not bad at all in my opinion.

To be honest I’m not 100% sure a ghoul qualifies as undead but I am sure that the garden still has plenty of life in it.  Last weekend was excellent weather for outdoor labor and even this gardener got a few things done.  Mulching was probably the most rewarding job and being that I love mulching, and free mulch is even better, it was almost a struggle to wait until a respectable 9am before making the first run to the town’s free mulch pile.

hellebore garden

The new hellebore garden is finally fit to show.  Stepping stones have been leveled, mulch spread, and now all that’s missing is a nice blanket of leaves on top.  Nature will oblige I’m sure.

Free mulch around here isn’t the fanciest thing, but I’m still thrilled my friend Paula inspired me to go looking for it again.  I can head out, fill a couple buckets and an old trash can, and pull back into the garage in eleven minutes flat, which isn’t all that unreasonable and compares very favorably to the time I would have been sitting around “resting” anyway.  In all I made four runs, which quickly adds up to forty minutes, but since two of the trips included picking up or dropping off children I still think I’m not doing too bad.

autumn garden color

Orange is the color of the week.  Tonight’s wind and this weekend’s frost will change the picture but for now I love it.

Besides mulching and mowing, a few other things were checked off of the to-do list.  Stage one of tender plant triage includes cuttings of the most cool-weather sensitive things such as coleus, and that was completed a couple weeks ago.  Stage two is dragging all tender potted things closer to the garage and off the deck.  Stage three will be the end to procrastination, and means dragging them all in when frost threatens (Friday night), and then Stage four will be all the hardier things such as potted geraniums and rosemary which can handle a frost, but resent a freeze.  It’s kind of late for a hard frost this year, so I’ve been enjoying a nice drawn out process where things are a little less hectic, and a lot more organized.

tatarian aster jindai

Some late season blooms on the Tatarian aster ‘Jindai’.  A delay in a hard freeze means this slowpoke has had enough time to put on a nice show this year.

A beautiful fall, a relaxed pace in the garden, projects getting done.  It all still seems so remarkably positive that I almost hesitate to bring up a dark cloud, but it’s there nonetheless.  Deer have made my garden a regular stop on their nightly forays.  It’s not unusual for them to come through as they grow restless in the autumn, but this year they really seem to like what they’ve found.  The little piles of ‘pellets’ seem to tell me they’re spending quite some time here at night and the stripped leaves and beheaded chrysanthemums tell me what they’ve been doing.

autumn salvia

I love this tender salvia which went in as part of the autumn upgrade to these containers, but I also loved the purple oxalis that used to fill the front.  Stems are all that remain.

This gardener hopes they move on during the winter.  Maybe the colchicum flowers they ate will upset their tummies enough to make them wander off to greener pastures, or maybe the cyclamen flowers left a bad taste in their mouth… but I really suspect they just liked adding a bit of exotic flavor to the diet.  In any case you can probably guess who has been encouraging the neighborhood hunters to shoot local this year…

berm planting

There’s been some activity on the berm.  A close close look may reveal the small green sprays of new ‘Green Giant’ arborvitae as well as a few other tiny things.  In about 15 years maybe I’ll post another picture to see if it’s amounted to anything.

Don’t let a few deer nibbles give off the wrong impression.  It’s still a remarkable autumn and I’m quite pleased with the progress and with the garden… even if the days are becoming rudely short and time outside is becoming annoyingly limited.  With that in mind I’ll leave you with something exceptionally positive.

galanthus tilebarn jamie

The first snowdrops are up.  The fall blooming Galanthus reginae-olgae ‘Tilebarn Jamie’ looks fantastic amongst the autumn leaves, and it’s just one of a few which are in bloom this week.

The first of the little snowdrop treasures are too precious to run the risk of facing the elements outdoors, so of course they’ll have to face the risks of a fickle gardener indoors and hopefully that works out well.  A few fall and winter bloomers did survive outside last year but not enough to give me the confidence to gamble with these, so in another two or three weeks these will also migrate to the winter garden alongside other plants too special to give up.  I’m sure I’ll enjoy the company while we wait for the garden to thaw out again 🙂

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!

Annual is Not a Bad Word

Change for the changing seasons always brings an antsy-ness to this gardener, and autumn is one of the big ones.  An avalanche of pumpkin spice covers nearly everything and so many people are just done with the summer garden and all its weather-worn tiredness and spent seediness.  I’m with you.  I keep eyeing the mess and think I might just be better off wacking it all down and calling it a year.  It’s been months since the garden had that clean and controlled look when plants were bristling with anticipation, and I miss that, but still won’t give in just yet.  Obviously laziness plays a part, but others with more enthusiasm might want to hold off as well.  The waning garden has a purpose, and between the full seedheads providing food for birds, and the dried stalks protecting next year’s buds, there’s still something of interest out there.  Frost and snow sit more attractively on waving stalks than on dull mulch, and honestly as far as cleanup goes it’s easier to crunch dried stalks in March than it is to wrestle with sloppy, soggy, heavy messes in October.

But it looks dull.  and messy.  and like you gave up… Unless you planned for it of course, and planted something that carries on until the pumpkin spice gets shoved over by cranberries, and a more relaxed season begins.   For me annuals do the trick.

abelmoschus manihot

Abelmoschus manihot, an okra relative, soaked up the rain and humidity this summer and has never done better.  These first flowers in late August were just the start of the show.

Ok I said it.  I plant annuals.  Yes, they’re more work, but the right annuals can pretty much take care of themselves, and they don’t have to be the same dull mat of color all year that even the bees get bored with.  By their nature these plants just want to grow up and seize the day, filling as much space as possible with growth and flowers until whenever.  They don’t care about next year, just flowering and seeding.

abelmoschus manihot seedpod

The fuzzy okra-like seedpods on the abelmoschatus (aka sunset hibiscus) are cool as well.  Sure beats looking at spotty, diseased iris foliage (which is actually hidden behind the planting).

Late season annuals are my favorites.  Something like the sunset hibiscus (Abelmoschatus manihot) comes up strong in the heat and humidity and quickly becomes a 4-6 foot presence if it gets enough water and warmth.  Just as the perennial garden hits a late summer slump, the sunset hibiscus becomes a star, distracting you from the tired foliage of the June bloomers.  This plant was also one of the stars of the book Annuals for Connoisseurs, by Wayne Winterrrowd… which by the way is a fantastic bargain at under $5 used…

coleus in a border

Coleus, zinnias, salvia and Abelmoschatus in the front border

Ok, enough of me trying to sound intelligent and write coherently in what could be a useful post.  Here are some other annual plantings from around the garden which are distracting me from all the gloomy skies and ever shortening days of really late summer.  Coleus feature strongly.  Nearly all come from a handful of cuttings I stuck in a glass of water and kept on the windowsill all winter.  They look terribly pale and leggy by March but that’s when I pot them up and start growing them on under lights in the basement.  By May I have dozens to fill in around the garden.

annual flower bed

There were even enough leftovers this spring to branch out next door and fill in my neighbor’s mulch bed.  Coleus, cannas, and a nice little single marigold I call “stole a seed head while visiting Kimberley last summer”.

I guess technically a lot of what I’m calling annuals can actually be grown as perennials in warmer climates, so I don’t want to upset anyone who lives and dies by those definitions, but in my garden these plants identify as annuals so I’m going to respect that.

potted caladiums

The dogwood may be giving up and putting on some autumn color, but the potted caladiums are holding on a little longer until nighttime temperatures consistently drop below 60F.  That’s when their sadly limp selves get thrown pot and all into a warm, dry corner of the furnace room and sit there dry and dormant until next year.

A real annual which has come up well this year is Browallia americana.  In well watered spots of bare earth, close to where it grew last year, I keep an eye out for seedlings.  All that’s required is take care and not pull them out as weeds, and by late summer the reward is a 1-2 foot bush speckled with flowers a little bit towards the amethyst side of blue.

browillia americana

Browallia americana with just a few tasteful selected marigolds.

A sort-of annual for me which sometimes returns from the roots is the borderline weedy Datura metel (aka moonflower).  In good fertile soil it makes a large shrub which in the evening sports pure white, upward facing trumpet flowers.  Some people call them angel trumpets, but that’s incorrect.  Angels trumpet come from on high with downward facing blooms and are a different group of flowers (Brugmansia).  These flowers always come from below and Devil’s trumpet is more accurate.  You would think the more heavenly version would be more innocent, but both are extremely poisonous and there are deaths from this plant each year.  I remember my mother evicting them from the garden one summer when she found out.  I know she told us all how poisonous they were but still I was disappointed to lose them from the garden.  I’m surprised she hasn’t questioned my parenting skills since seeing it in bloom here, but I guess there are always plenty of other questionable goings on which take precedence.

datura metel

Devil’s trumpet (Datura metel) announcing an unwelcome arrival in the vegetable garden.

But there I go babbling again.  As long as we’re in the vegetable garden, let me celebrate the pumpkins which have come on strong now that the sunflower thicket has died off from some likely disease.  All this took were a handful of seeds ripped from the heart of last year’s halloween decorations.

pumpkin patch

Now that the sunflowers have died off it looks like the backup plan of pumpkins and glass gem corn might just work out.  I love pumpkins and gourds, maybe that’s all I’ll grow next year.

The deck plantings are almost all just annual plantings which aim for all season interest.  A drip irrigation system on a timer, a handful of slow release fertilizer, and this becomes one of my least-labor intensive parts of the garden… once it’s planted and set up of course…

prince tut papyrus

The ‘Prince Tut’ water garden is ok.  Goldfish have hopefully made a meal of any mosquitos, but a lack of fertilizer has left the papyrus healthy but a little yellowish in my opinion.

I tried for more foliage color this year but still ended up with a few curious flowers here and there.  The firecracker plant (cuphea) was a Proven Winners thing that I’ve heard good things about, and here it is three months later still looking good.

cuphea firecracker plant

Cuphea (firecracker plant) and some purple leaved oxalis.  Both have been nonstop color and trouble-free from the day they were planted.  

My popcorn plant (Senna… Cassia…  corymbosa)?  Still awesome 🙂  I was even able to get a few seeds to set, although it did seem to interfere with the flowering for a few weeks.

cassia popcorn plant

The yellow popcorn plant, coleus, purple fountain grass (pennesutum), oleander, and a bunch of other non-hardy stuff.

I’ve had that pink oleander for a few years now and was sure I killed it in the garage last winter.  It eventually managed to come back, but the sparse branches were just calling out for a vine to cover them up.  Black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) to the rescue!

black eyed susan vine thunbergia

Black eyed Susan vine on the oleander.  I would agree with the label “cringe-worthy color combo”, so don’t go thinking I have some undiagnosed color blindness that you need to tiptoe around…

The containers at the back end of the deck have officially taken over.  The yellow coleus is my one new one for this year, the rest of the mess were just little overwintered sprigs and roots which I put out in May.

deck plantings coleus

The coleus really should have been pinched back a few more times.  They’re bushy enough, but even I can see they’re just a little too big.

Oh yeah.  The tropical garden.  Almost all just annual plantings, and almost all only just a little past peak now 🙂

elephant ears and canna

I didn’t think elephant ears could reach six feet tall but between nonstop rain and a good mulch of grass clippings they and the cannas do seem happy.  

So thankfully the garden is still filled with a few exciting things other than the new snowdrops I’ve been planting… oops, there I go mentioning snowdrops again…

Hope your weekend is filled with plenty of more interesting things to do rather than hauling off the tired remains of last summer.  If it is, next summer suck it up, plant some decent annuals, and enjoy the slow crumbling of summer into winter which others fondly refer to as autumn.  “Friends don’t let friends plant annuals” is only a guideline, I’m sure it refers to flats of wax begonias in one or two insipid colors and not to the range of much more exciting late season things that you have to remember next year.  I’ll try to remind you  😉

Idle hands and the devil

Two more snow days for the kids, another below zero (-18C) forecast, and one sunny day.  I was fine with the first two but the sunny day set off my spring fever.  Of course with snow everywhere and no other gardening options to be had I ordered more seeds.  I had to.  There’s nothing else to do and even the winter garden has me bored.

cyclamen coum in pots

Under lights the cyclamen coum are still going strong. I love the large flowers on the white with their blackberry noses, I wish a few of the others had blooms as large.

Who knows what I’ll do with all the new seeds.  They’re surplus from the N. American Rock Garden Society’s seed exchange so at 20 packets for $5 they’re what I consider practically free.  Even better when you consider the non-profit nature of NARGS, in that case 40 packets at $10 makes more sense, and when you add on the 20 packets from the American Primula Society which just arrived last week well then you might get a sense of the trouble I’m in.  I already have enough seeds stratifying in the cold to fill my beds once over, so I’m not sure where these will go.

growing seedlings under lights

The second growlight in a warmer part of the garage is in business now. A few cane begonias have been watered and potted up and two pots of plain old onion seedlings are on their way.

I still have to deal with the Annie’s Annuals catalog sitting in the kitchen.  I have it in my head that I need an eucalyptus tree for the deck this summer plus a few non-hardy yucca and some succulents.  I’m afraid that if I don’t get some snowdrops blooming soon I may yet stumble into that mess.  -I would add some delphiniums too even though each year they’re crushed by winds just as they reach their majestic peak…..  but some plants are worth a little heartbreak.

rooting coleus cuttings

Happy birthday to me. A returned gift and $40 credit at Lowes meant a new shoplight for a new spot. This one went in a warm corner of the basement and is perfect for giving new life to the sad little overwintered cuttings which have been sitting in a water filled coffee cup since October.

I should be responsible.  I already spent way too much money on snowdrops and ordered way too many irresponsible tropical bulbs from Brent and Becky’s.  Odd choice considering how much I complained about digging them up last fall.

overwintering succulents and tropicals

Overwintering succulents and tropicals fill the far corner of the barely-heated workshop/winter garden area. Dry and cool keeps them mostly dormant until warmer weather returns.

I hope an end is in sight.  Next week shows five days straight with daytime highs above the freezing point and one day when there’s even the possibility nighttime lows stay just above 32F.  Come to think of it I better start some lettuce and broccoli seedlings, in a few weeks they’ll be perfect to go out into that cold frame I never built.

oleander flower bud

A sign of promise, a flower cluster forming on the overwintering  oleander.   I think it formed last fall and hopefully will grow and develop as soon as the pot gets some water and goes outside.

So I’ll keep my fingers crossed…. if only to keep them from clicking on an ‘order now’ tab since I was looking at geraniums (pelargoniums) this afternoon and thinking a few scented and heirloom ones would be a good idea.   I need a first crocus or snowdrop bloom to get me out of this and back to my senses!  (we all know how reliable snowdrop blooms are for bringing a person back to their senses).  I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

The Winter Garden 2014/15

My winter garden is having a good season so far.  Usually I don’t bother setting things up until around New Year’s but this season the shop lights went on in October for some special cuttings, and things have been humming along since.  The hardy cyclamen coum which I keep potted up are just starting to put on a show, and now that I’ve dispatched Mr. Mouse the blooms can open in peace.

winter garden under lights

The “Winter Garden” with cyclamen coum in bloom. I love the flowers alongside the bright variegated leaves of the plectranthus (probably ‘Troy’s Gold’).

For those of you who might not be as up to date with my garden as you’d like 🙂 here are a few statistics on the tiny little patch of plants which serves as my winter garden.  Basically it’s a four tube fluorescent shop light set up in an unheated workshop just off the back of the cool (never freezing) garage.  The bulbs are a generic T-8 type, usually in the ‘daylight’ or ‘natural light’ category but it really just depends on what I grab the day I’m shopping for lights.  That’s it.  Not quite a citrus filled orangerie or a warm, sunny conservatory, but it does the trick on a dark January evening.  I’m considering buying a few more and lining the side of the room with them in order to grow something bigger and fragrant.  A little goldfish pool back there wouldn’t bother me much either, might as well put a fountain in while I’m at it.

hardy cyclamen growing indoors under lights

Another two or so weeks and the cyclamen should really put on a nice show.

Last year I had a bunch of snowdrops and some early spring blooming perennial purchases from Far Reaches Farm.  They were awesome but this year I spent my winter treat money a few months too early and had to improvise, so on a warm December afternoon I went out and dug up a clump of almost completely frozen primula vulgaris for forcing.

forcing primrose

They needed dividing anyway, which eventually I did…. after letting them thaw out and sit in the dark for a week or so (not a recommended of course, but you know how things can get away from you during the holidays!)

A month later and they’re starting to wake up.  They probably won’t have as long a bloom season as some of the newer hybrid types, but I love their soft yellow color and big clumps of blooms.

primula vulgaris forced

One of the primula divisions coming along.  Fingers crossed for a good show!  (please ignore the dying coleus next to it.  Cold weather, overwatering and coleus are not a good mix)

I have a new favorite celebration.  As any Northern hemisphere gardener will know, the winter solstice marks the shortest day of the year and the point beyond which days lengthen and the march into spring begins.  But gardeners also know we don’t rush out in January and start planting.  It takes a while for the sun to catch up, shake off winter, and get things going again.  According to the ever interesting blog at MacGardens, the turning point for this is the January 21st celebration of ‘post-solstice’.  One month after winter solstice and the sun is starting to turn the tide of winter, bringing soil temperatures back from their lowest point (happening somewhere around Jan 21st) back up into the civilized range.  Speaking of civilized, check out MacGardens for a special treat of cool plants, exotic alpines, and just plain old interesting gardening.

cyclamen coum potted

I’m always trying to get out of the ‘average’ category of photography. Here’s one of my favorite cyclamen coum which I attempted to set up for a nice portrait.

Until post-solstice kicks in and we can again search for signs of life outdoors I’ll stick to the indoor garden.  With more snow on the way tonight I think that’s the best plan.  Here’s another plant making me happy sheltering from the storm under lights, it’s a variegated ice plant (dorotheanthus bellidiformis, probably ‘mezoo trailing red’).  Not to ‘out’ my slacker gardening, but the cuttings might have been hastily thrown on a workbench back in November when the first hard frost hit.  They sat there unplanted for at least a month until I got around to potting them up and don’t seem to have minded at all.  Surviving rootless on a table for over a month ranks well on my plant-o-meter.

dorotheanthus bellidiformis 'mezoo trailing red'

Variegated ice plant finally living the good life with soil and water (and plenty of roots- I checked)

A few snowdrops weren’t stolen out of their pots or had their heads nibbled off by the late Mr. Mouse, so February should be off to a good, post-solstice, start.  In either case I’m just happy that there’s already a bit of light on the horizon when I pull into work, and a rosy glow to the sky when I walk out!

Trudging through Winter

I really can’t say I dislike winter.  I have a few objections but overall it’s autumn I dislike, with its end of the season, everything dying, days so short, vibe.  So if it’s excuses I’m looking for to explain my blogging absence, the only one I can find is that I have nothing to say.  Snow and cold are here and nothing much has changed since November.

Fortunately others haven’t been so idle.  I’ve been enjoying the posts from both milder and colder climates and since I’m starting to feel a little guilty about not contributing, I guess I should do a little catch-up.  Don’t worry, this won’t take long!

lop eared house bunny

Meet ‘Bun-Bun’ the newest member of our household.

Our little lop bunny with the oh so original name of ‘Bun-Bun’ has been sharing the kitchen since November.  He’s messy, hungry, bouncy and just about the cutest thing in our house.  BunBun was supposed to live in a hutch on the back porch but softer hearts prevailed and he’s been indoors since joining us.

Garden-wise, the annual trip to Longwood Gardens went off (almost) without a hitch this year and we enjoyed the always beautiful indoor and outdoor gardens.

winter conservatory at longwood gardens

I can’t even begin to imagine having a winter garden like this at my doorstep. Coffee here in the morning and then off to work in the greenhouses!

The kids still enjoy the trip in spite of other play options and the long drive, so I’ll drag them with me for as long as I can.  During this trip the boy got it in his head to use my phone and photograph everything.  Who ever suspected a phone could hold so many pictures?

the kids at Longwood Gardens

Inside the conservatory at Longwood Gardens. This year’s theme was birds, and there were plenty of feather inspired displays.

We got there around three in the afternoon to see the gardens during the day and then stayed for the lights at night.  The crowds weren’t as bad as in previous years but it was still packed, and I think unless we can get there on an ‘off’ day next year we might skip.

Longwood gardens decorated for Christmas greenhouses at night

Inside the conservatories of Longwood Gardens at night. Sparkly and magical, just perfect for the holidays.

After dark we toured the gardens again and then walked through the greenhouses one more time.  Inside the greenhouses there’s a children’s garden which involves several kid friendly fountains and tunnels and hidey-holes which they love playing around in.  Unfortunately this is also where the girl wandered off and got a little confused as to where the play area was, so after a little frantic looking around we ended the day with a teary reunion.

outdoor Christmas lights at Longwood

Just a part of the outdoor Christmas light display at Longwood Gardens.

Back at home the only signs of gardening are the bookmarked seed catalogs on the kitchen table and the crowded shop lights out in the garage.  This year’s indoor garden is an odd mix of overwintering tropical cuttings and winter blooming hardy perennials.

houseplants growing under the shop light

Out in the garage cuttings are still doing well under the shoplights. This begonia is actually happy enough to throw out a few blooms, while some creeping houseplant is making a play at smothering a potful of cyclamen seedlings.

Normally the “winter garden” under the shoplights is reserved for a few cyclamen and forced snowdrops, but this year the tropicals are still out there sharing spare.  The plan was to set up a spot indoors for another shoplight setup and move the warm weather plants in there for the winter, but as usual things are slow in coming together.

pelargoniums, cyclamen, and snowdrops growing indoors under lights

A slightly non-traditional indoor garden jammed full of scented geraniums, houseplant cuttings, hardy cyclamen coum, and a few potted snowdrops.

It’s this little garden under fluorescent shoplights which will keep me going while the snow flies outside.  It’s maybe 6 square feet of grow space, and won’t be nearly enough when seed starting begins, but right now while the cyclamen coum come into bloom it reminds me that things won’t be frozen forever.

Happy new year!

What is this!?

This could be a problem.  I’m obsessing about my little cuttings rooting under the shoplight in the garage.  They’re the goodies I snipped from Michael Bowell’s garden in early October, and as the outside garden dies back and bores me the indoor garden takes over.  This is supposed to be my “winter garden”, not my “overwintering cuttings garden”.

overwintering cuttings under shoplight

I fired up the indoor garden early this year to give the cuttings a good chance at surviving. Don’t they look promising?

Maybe Santa will bring me another shoplight.

The cuttings went into a tiny bit of rooting powder, a loose sandy potting soil, and then sat on the cozy warm heating mat which I got last winter.  They seem to like it, I just have to figure out when I can remove the mat.  The spotted begonia leaf and the yellow elephant ear are favorites.  The elephant ear was just a tiny root nub which had a little bud on it, I hope by next year it’s a couple feet tall!

Oh the optimism of a new season 🙂

Hunkering Down

Last weekend was the finale of the fall color.  By the end of this week most of the leaves will be down and the doors will be open for winter to make its arrival.fall color in Pennsylvania

I’m not rushing it out but I think I have to call a time for the 2013 growing season.  It’s lost its joie de vivre and from now on until snow flies it’s all downhill.  So far so good though.  I’ve been remarkably organized this fall and had most of the tropical were safely under cover a few days before the first frost.  This year I’m putting some under lights, maybe it will help them look a little less pathetic come March.overwintering tropicals under lights

The rest will sit out winter in the back of our semi-heated garage.  No watering, little light, but it should be enough to bring them through the winter.  When I get the motivation I’ll move them back away from the door…. just like I’ll move all the other crap that tends to accumulate and fill the spot where my car should be.overwintering tropicals

Weekend plans include digging up dahlia and canna roots and finishing winter cleanup.  So far it hasn’t felt like much work and maybe my early start and the late frost date worked in my favor, but usually things happen at a different pace.  My usual method is wait until I’m in bed, see a freezing weather report, grab a flashlight, and then stumble through the dark in my pajamas, flashlight in mouth and a load of cold wet plants in my arms.  Good times, good times.

The freeze-dash makes you grateful for hardy “tropicals” such as musa basjoo.  This one is going on winter #3 here by the porch.  I think the protection of the house helps bring it through the winter, although a little extra protection would probably give it a much stronger head start in the spring.musa basjooNow that the summer garden is packed away and additional rain has finally made for good planting soil I’m thinking about bulbs.  I bet I could hit a few clearance sales and add a couple more bulbs cheaply before the ground freezes.  I bet I’d be real proud of myself come May…..  I just have to remember the time change has me leaving for work and returning home in the dark, and that doesn’t make for good bulb planting.  Oh well.  I already know how this is going to turn out 😉