Tuesday View: The Front Border 5.9.17

As usual the Tuesday view has become a Wednesday view and although I’m sure there are a bunch of excuses I could work in, I don’t think anyone is really bothered enough to complain.  So lets get right in to it!  The view has gone green now that the daffodils have faded but there are still the new tulips showing off towards the middle.

street border

Lush grass and growing perennials.  It’s been a decent spring now that the thunderstorms, snow, hail and tornadoes of April have eased off.  We didn’t even get a late frost…. yet.

This is the time of year when most of the garden takes a little spring breather, though it’s really more a winding up as the stems and shoots of summer’s flowers expand and grow and get ready to put out the next wave of color.  I already overdid the tulips last post so let’s look at a few foliage highlights  a’la Christina’s monthly focus on foliage… because you know I’m sure to miss it later in the month when GB Foliage Day comes up!

variegated iris pallida aureo-variegata

My second favorite iris, the yellow variegated Iris pallida ‘aureo-variegata’.  To do well here this one needs dividing and replanting every three or four years.  This one is far past four years and nearly swamped by fennel seedlings and a weedy sedum.

Yellows are my favorite foliage effect and sometimes it takes a lot for me to hold back.  In the back of my mind I realize a garden can only hold so many yellow “accents” before it looks like some ’80’s neon flashback but they’re sooooo tempting.  This spring I’ve only added two new yellows, a variegated comfrey and a yellow spiderwort, and the restraint this took has me almost at the breaking point.  The struggle is real.

sedum angelina

Bright yellow with orange tips on the healthier shoots.  I think it’s time to spread more of sedum ‘Angelina’ around the edges of the bed, and fortunately it’s as easy as pulling a handful, throwing it into a shallow hole and scraping a little dirt on top.

Here’s a more permanent bit of foliage as well.  After two years of growth my newest little conifers from Conifer Kingdom are finally beginning to look like something.  They’re destined to be trees but to look at them you’d never guess it.  There are still a few more springs before I have to worry about the poorly chosen spots I put them in, but it will come.  My kids were never supposed to grow up either and here they are staying after school, taking tests, having drama, and acting all smart when I just wish they’d still need to hold my hand crossing the parking lot.

Picea glauca 'Pendula'

Picea glauca ‘Pendula’.  Still needs a little staking before it commits to growing up and not flopping.

My little blue spruce is a thing which an overly protective parent will be able to hover over for years.  Optimistically I’d say it’s nearly tripled in size in the last two years… to be honest it still hasn’t broken the 6 inch barrier so it has a way yet to go.  I put it right at the edge for now since an overly lush pansy would probably swamp it at this point.

picea pungens walnut glen

Picea pungens ‘Walnut Glen’.  A blue spruce which stays on the dwarf side and develops (you guessed it) a yellow tint on top of the blue needles. 

So I have the twenty year plan down but nothing for this summer.  Typical lazy planning, but this spring the annuals from seed and overwintered coleus cutting compulsion just hasn’t kicked in and I’ve got nothing else in the works.  Figures this would also be the year there’s a whole new strip of bed to fill and this unfilled bed would be the focus of  Cathy’s weekly Tuesday view.  Things could get ugly but I have faith.  Like manna from heaven I spotted tiny patches of rudbeckia seedlings in one spot and a shimmer of Verbena bonariensis seedlings in another.  Purple and yellow are a start and of course I do like my yellows 🙂

Tuesday View: The Front Border 4.25.17

The more observant reader will notice that Tuesday has both come and gone and this website has remained silent.  Fortunately Thursday might be just as good, and to its credit (and my salvation) the garden blog-world seems to be extremely well populated with the polite and supportive, so I have full confidence that anyone who would be bothered by this tardiness has long since abandoned following this blog.  With that said I present this week’s Tuesday view.

tuesday view mixed border

The Tuesday view… in all honesty taken on Wednesday and posted on Thursday… but hopefully still welcome.  The early daffodils and hyacinths have passed to be replaced with the later daffodils and tulips.

Although I probably promised not to plant any more tulips last spring, fall came and I planted more tulips.  In case you didn’t already know this, there is no way you can have too many tulips, but this of course assumes you don’t have nasty deer who rip out and crush your heart as soon as the flowers are ready to open, or squirrels who steal and squirrel away bulbs faster than you can plant them… these are things I’ve avoided so far, and luckily for me my typical animal plague, rabbits, don’t touch my tulips.  I suppose after eating crocus flowers and foliage for the last few weeks they’ve finally lost their appetite for bulbs.

mixed perennial border

The other end of the bed, a view which borrows the Pepto-Bismol pink of the neighbor’s Kwanzan cherry.  I love that tree with it’s old gnarled trunks and overly double and too-pink flowers.  I almost spit up when friends came by to look at the neighbor’s house and mentioned cleaning up the landscaping by cutting “that ugly thing” down.  I may have to lose their name from the Fourth of July party list.

You may have noticed the flowering utility pole.  I’ve been trying to throw a blind eye to the dogwood seedlings which pop up here and there (usually in the wrongest spots) but eventually they demand your attention.  I can’t pull them and I’m much to lazy to find a better spot for them so on and on they grow until finally they’re too nice to get rid of.  I’ll leave it to the next homeowner to scratch his head over logic behind growing a dogwood 8 inches away from a telephone pole or another two inches from the street curb… or the one practically under the eaves of the house.  I could go on.  Actually I just noticed at least a dozen more seedlings this spring, so I really might have to re-evaluate my plans or lack there-of, but for now I will revel in the rewards of doing nothing.

dogwood seedling

The cable guy’s problem.  I’m fine with it here and as far as I know there’s never been an ugly dogwood.

I’m sparing you from the tulip pictures just like I held back on the daffodil photos.  I have many.

butterfly on tulip

I love most tulips but the streaked ones are favorites.  Notice the little cabbage white butterfly, I never thought of tulips or daffodils as butterfly flowers but again this spring they seem to enjoy the blooms.

You might not think it but there have been a lot of tulip losses from the tulip fire fungus.  My fingers are crossed it will back off as a problem as more average springs return (and less relentless rain) but only time will tell.  Time will also tell if it was a stupid oversight to leave a (most likely) virused tulip growing in the bed.

tulip candy apple delight

The normal flowers of a ‘Candy Apple Delight’ tulip on the left and a streaked (“broken”) flower on the right (and maybe the far left as well).  I really should pull it, but it’s doing well and multiplying and to be honest I think it’s interesting next to the normal version.

Virused tulips and their surprising streaks were one of the driving forces for the Dutch tulipomania of the 17th century when the purchase and trading of tulip futures drove prices through the roof.  It’s a cool connection and I think of this past when I look at my little typhoid Mary.  We’ll see what happens.  Not to sound too obsessed but I’m actually tempted by some of the real broken tulips which are still around from the Mania days.  Old House Gardens offers a few which go back nearly 400 years and even though they’re pricy I challenge you to find a cheaper antique of equivalent age.

That’s it for my not-quite Tuesday view.  As usual I’d like to thank Cathy for hosting, and if you’d like to see where others are at this week, give Words and Herbs a visit or even better join in with your own view.  The more the merrier!

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!

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!

Getting Roots in the Ground Again

2016/17 been a remarkably mild winter in this corner of Pennsylvania, and although February usually brings us some of our harshest cold and winter storms, this year it’s going out with a whimper.  For a few days I won’t complain but beyond that I can’t promise anything.  March has a history of big snow-dumps and hopefully if they do come they’re more picturesque than they are damaging, and hopefully this quirk of a winter is also not some dark prequel to an even worse global warming future.

Without a solid slate-cleaning this winter I’m a little lost heading into the 2017 gardening season.  It all still seems so ‘last year’ so I suppose I’ll use that as my excuse for not putting out the usual bored with the snow, don’t want to face the cold, winter time flashback posts, but let me at least try and get this one post out before I’m lost outside again searching for spring sprouts.  It goes back to 2002 when the ignorance of youth thought it would be a good idea to buy a house, lose a job, and get engaged all in the same two months.

dupont house

Our diamond in the rough.

Before I get too distracted with the story I want to point out that a normal first impression of our little valley usually dates it at around 20 years behind the rest of the country.  It’s a region who’s boom time began at the tail end of the 1700’s with the discovery of vast deposits of anthracite coal; the cleanest, hardest, and highest carbon coal out there, and the fuel which powered the economic and manufacturing development of this entire region.  For about 100 years we were riding high but it was a one horse show, and by the 1950’s the horse was definitely showing its age.  Deep mining had shifted to strip mining and the whole region went into a kind of long term hibernation of fleeing youth and aging residents.  Our house is an example of the ‘build it quick for housing’ phase and was probably built around 1910 as cheap two family housing for miners.  After decades of rough living it was probably worth our $24,000 purchase price.

garden renovation

100 years of history and the yard didn’t even have a peony or daffodil.  Gardening was confined to an overgrown privet hedge which looms to the right and a single mass of lilacs growing alongside a decaying shed.

I optimistically brought all the potted plants over from my former apartment balcony and then later watched them freeze as first the plumbing and then heat and finally electricity were pulled out and replaced.  In case it’s not obvious from the photos or purchase price the house was in horrible condition, so much so that when the realtor’s odd girlfriend took her small dog into the house and allowed it to pee on the kitchen doorjamb it barely raised an eyebrow.  I guess we were too distracted by the rotted floor boards, cobbled home repairs, and ‘evidence’ of vermin infestation.

new garden

That fall I planted daffodils, and in between gutting the house and piecing together scraps for a rabbit hutch, put in the first patch for gardening and trimmed back the near side of the privet. oh yeah, and actually transplanted grass so that I had at least one nice strip of lawn to walk on.

As I’m very fond of saying, ignorance is bliss, and for several months the economic realities of the newly unemployed demanded that I just “polish and put a shine on shit” and hopefully have a resale value once the journey was done, but a former girlfriend now fiancée had different ideas.

new garden

I have no idea why I had to have a waterlily even when I didn’t have a running toilet, but there it is.  Until the next dumpster arrives, what better use is there for a 1960’s avocado green bath tub? 

After several months of basement and utility renovations the friend who’s a contractor is traded in for the actual deal.  We’re into new territory now and although I can’t pay my labor in cases of beer anymore there is progress.  Unfortunately real contractors can’t be bothered with sensibly small attic dormers, they prefer “it’s cheaper to rip it down and build solid walls” and so we did.

dupont house

About a year later.  Might as well add a second floor while you’re at it. 

So here we were taking a two family home (which likely housed close to a dozen people at one time), tripling it in size, and making it just large enough for the two of us.

dupont house

Looks quaint and country, but keep in mind that a freight rail line runs just behind the trees, and only a few years ago a garbage truck collapsed into the road when an old mine shaft gave way.

Still unemployed, and now enrolled in school (again) the ballooning “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the kids”, pricetag finally scared me off the very addictive drug of contractor help.  With windows in and siding set to go on we cut the cord, buttoned up the exterior and moved into the basement… and found out what it is to live on love 🙂

dupont house

Building from the bottom up.  What were we thinking!?  In hindsight it’s hard to believe all of this was the product of me in the basement with a few sheets of graph paper and a lot of ‘yeah, I think I want another door here and window there… and oh, probably another bathroom’. 

Obviously there wasn’t all that much free time for gardening, but you know how it goes with all work and no play…

new garden

Of course there’s not much to the garden in October, but the privet has bounced back from its trim back and another bed is in.  Not really a garden design, but these beds take care of the pathetic grass which it replaced.  Please note the ever popular burn pit where most of the old house’s lumber was illegally burned.

Once we moved into the house the next three years are kind of foggy.  A full kitchen came first, a completed first floor, a new job, a master bedroom, a new baby, a completed second floor… finally an attic loft.  Slowly the garden inched along as well.

garden renovation

Behind the garage became a new garden spot where iris divisions were welcomed.  You can’t beat the generosity of other gardeners for filling in bare patches.

To know me is to know I have a slight leaning towards the tropical flair.  I love how you can get a massive show in just a few short weeks.

garden renovation

The usual leftovers and scraps which are my constant struggle.  Someday I’ll get them under control… or move to a new house 😉

The fun of a new garden is you have room for nearly everything and don’t yet have the baggage of too many beds gone to weeds, invasive plants, or “shouldn’t have put that there” issues.

tropical garden

I am a bit of a creature of habit.  Ten years later and I’m still growing all of these tropical and tropical looking goodies. -and I still like too much red

Another big plus for this house was that pretty much everything we did was a blessing -considering the property’s history of troublesome kids, giant rats, and overflowing trash piles.  Construction debris, dirt piles, unfinished projects, were all overlooked in this neighborhood where it’s not unusual for people to live and die in the house they were born in.

garden renovation

The front garden never really had time to come together.  I would have loved a small picket fence or something.

We were on a different track though.  Memories were built, lessons learned, and dreams ignited but when it came down to it this wasn’t more than a stepping stone.  Five years into it (just as the last big projects were finished) we decided to buy the house of my wife’s grandparents.  It was an unexpected decision based mostly on emotion, but in the long run we knew this would be short term.

garden renovation

A very helpful addition to the garden.  From the start he was practically an expert in finding worms and digging up new transplants.

So that spring I focused on grassing over a few beds, moving a ton of plants to the new house, and getting the house set to go on the market.

garden renovation

The new view out the back door.  I wish I had better pictures of the seating area carved out of the back slope, but as usual I was distracted by lounging out on the deck.

So that was what brought us to the new house.  In what has become our normal mode of operation for life changing events, that spring we were hit with a tsunami of the house selling in three days, a baby arriving a month early, a job lost, a car totaled, all made even more fun when you decide a few changes to the “new” house might be necessary… but we survived and it really puts the panic of a late frost or snapped iris stalk in perspective.

Don’t worry, we shall return to our normal garden updates next post.  I’ve just taken a look outside and the snowdrops are coming and the snow is melting and as soon as 2017 is off and running I won’t give a darn about years gone by until winter rolls around again.  Hopefully the weather is looking up for you as well!

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!

The Winter Garden 2017

Once again the new normal in winters is proving itself to be completely abnormal.  Instead of celebrating the depths of winter last week with a warm blanket and a seed catalog I found myself outside in the sun clearing dried stems from around snowdrop sprouts and spreading mulch and compost on top of the earliest spring flower beds.  I loved it for a few days, but to see snow and freezing temperatures in the week ahead was much more reassuring, if only to keep the flowers asleep until safer weather returns.  It is winter gardening season after all, and the 2017 winter garden has been up and running since the holidays.

the winter garden

Life under the lights.

The cool (but rarely freezing) workshop which adjoins the back of the garage is home to my often celebrated winter garden.  A collection of overwintering bulbs and potted plants survive the cold in this dimly lit room, and each winter they are joined by a table top full of forced bulbs, early seedlings, and whatever else I can’t leave to freeze outside.  I’ve upped the number of fluorescent light fixtures to three this year and am feeling rich with all the extra growing space!

the winter garden

A closeup of the different foliage types filling the table.  Snowdrops and cyclamen dominate, the cyclamen are only just starting to put out their midwinter flower show.

Interest in the winter garden rises and falls opposite the outdoor temperatures.  Colder weather means more tinkering indoors, warmer weather results in general neglect.  This week I bucked the trend though, and brought in a tray of primula seedlings before the approaching snow and ice locked them up in their protective mulch pile.

forced perennials

With just a little cleanup I’m optimistic these primroses will look great.  Hopefully blooms will show up in just a couple weeks under the lights.

Three plants have become standards for my winter garden.  Snowdrops are the first.  They’re an addiction so I can’t really reason out why I must grow them here when they’re just as successful (and nearly at the same stage) as under lights… but I do.  Cyclamen and primrose are a different story.  Their bright colors and their overall happiness in this cold back room really cheer up a gloomy winter evening and make this my new favorite place for sorting seeds and planning the new season’s garden.

indoor garden

Each year the winter garden room gains a little more street credit.  Maybe someday I can be surrounded by aged terra cotta and antique garden décor, with a few rustic signs which say ‘garden’ or something similar….  Maybe.  Either that or a beer tap.

As I hide out in my man cave it gives me the necessary time to fully enjoy the snowdrops and other goodies which are coming along under lights.  The bulk Galanthus elwesii which I bought as dried bulbs and potted up for forcing have given me a few nice surprises, but I will spare you from most of those photos.  Here’s one though which I will put in, it’s a particularly tall one growing alongside a peculiar climbing asparagus which I grew from seed last winter.  Asparagus asparagoides is a noxious weed in several tropical areas outside its native African range, but here under growlights in Pennsylvania I think we’re safe.  To be honest there’s nothing really special about it, except that it’s super special… if you know what I mean.

snowdrops and asparagus

Snowdrops and the climbing Asparagus asparagoides.  I don’t think the asparagus would be hardy outdoors, which is probably a good thing.

Ok one more snowdrop.

forced snowdrop

A particularly nice snowdrop with average markings but a second scape (extra flowering stem) coming up, and a third flower coming up off of a side shoot.  A snowdrop which puts out three flowers is a good thing in my opinion.

Until the cyclamen get into full bloom and the primroses burst into flower I’ll just give an update on the hyacinths I potted up just before Christmas.  They’re starting to sprout and I’ve moved them onto the coldest windowsill of the workshop for some light.  Once the flower stems start to come a little more I’ll move them under the grow lights as well.  The fragrance of hyacinths will be a nice addition to the winter garden.

forced hyacinth

The poorly insulated, dirty glass of the shop windows is as close to a coldframe as I’ll get this year.  The bulbs don’t seem to mind though and the cool temperatures keep the flowers from opening up too fast (before they’ve sprouted up out of the bulb).

So that’s where the winter garden is this year.  I planted onion seeds yesterday and in my mind the primroses already look as if they’ve grown a bit since coming inside.  It’s exciting but also dangerous to start so early on that tricky road to spring fever, but maybe the next four days of below freezing weather will help.  I’ll just need to ignore the fifth day when the high is predicted at 50F (10C)… a temperature too high for February and one which is sure to bring on the first outdoor snowdrops.