And it Begins…

February seems to be on its way to becoming the new March with the way these warm spells sneak in.  Today the afternoon high hit 75F (24C) and it was actually a bit unsettling to break a sweat in the garden knowing that the thermometer will drop down to freezing within the next few hours.  That could have been a serious concern, but obviously my thoughts on global warming vanished the minute I saw how much the snowdrops had come along.  I spent the entire afternoon trimming things, poking around for shoots, and admiring the early birds which had already come into bloom.

galanthus elwesii

Galanthus elwesii, the giant snowdrop.  One of the earliest to rear its head in my garden.

There are a lot of snowdrop favorites in this garden and one near the top is Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’.  He’s a handsome snowdrop, and of course he’s looking exceptional this spring.

galanthus godfrey owen

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’, rising up fresh and clean amongst the winter wreckage of last season.

Godfrey is special for his doubled outer petals which make a brilliant star when fully open and looked at from above… this is how most sane people admire these tiny little late winter flowers.

galanthus godfrey owen

‘Godfrey Owen’ from above.

Another snowdrop which also shows some variation from the standard three outer petals, three inners, is ‘Natalie Garton’.  She’s a new one to the garden this spring but I wanted to show the interesting inner ‘extras’ which hang down from the middle of some of the flowers.  New is always special, so we’ll have to wait for time to tell if this strange inner remains just interesting or slowly becomes a classic.  (fyi for the snowdrop nerds, word is that this snowdrop is the same as a similar one named ‘Chris Sanders’.  Natalie G is now the accepted name).

galanthus natalie garton

Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’ with her extra inner petals.  

Green snowdrops are also a thing.  ‘Rosemary Burnham’ is one of the classics and today she was looking fantastic.  She’s a Canadian originally and as such is one of a limited number of named North American snowdrops, but her true specialness lies in the solid green wash to her outer petals.  The flowers don’t jump out in the garden and are a little on the small size but I think they’re amazing.

galanthus rosemary burnham

Galanthus ‘Rosemary Burnham’ looking great on her first day open.

The majority of the other snowdrops are yet to come, but here’s one last plain old white one.

galanthus bill bishop

Galanthus ‘Bill Bishop’ has extra grande flowers on a short plant.  Of course it’s one of the favorites.

Keep your fingers crossed for a gentle ride into real spring.  The last few years have been on the harsh side as far as late winter flowers go, so I promise that even if 2018 is the most exceptional snowdrop season I’ll try to control myself.  I kind of recognize that not everyone is as obsessed with these short little plants and hopefully you won’t have to resort to praying for another tornado to save you from my snowdrop overkill!

Indoors, For Now…

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

sowing fern spores

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

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

winter sow stratification

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

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

succulent cuttings

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

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

In the meantime have a great weekend!

$30 for new growlights

$318 total so far for the 2018 gardening year

Happy Post-Solstice

A few years ago I was introduced to an excellent new holiday.  Maybe holiday is a bit strong but January’s a pretty dull month and coming off of a three day warming spell has me optimistic that winter might not go on forever… even if it does feel that way most of the time.

I first heard about ‘Post-Solstice’ over at the always inspiring macgardens.org, and it’s described as that unofficial point where the earth has tilted back towards the sun just enough to start warming this hemisphere back up again.  It takes a while to get things moving on this big old planet of ours, and although December 21st was the shortest day with the least amount of solar warmth hitting the Northern half, it’s not until one month later around January 21st that we start turning the tide back to warmer days.  To help with the celebrations this year there was a special treat.  The first snowdrop is up, popping out just hours after the rain melted the last snow and ice away from this spot.

winter snowdrop

A surprise in our January thaw, the first of this winter’s snowdrops.  Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ in case you’re wondering.

A lone snowdrop doesn’t make spring, and I’m sure I’ll be out there covering it up during the next arctic blast, but for now it sure does give a little bit of hope.  There are other sprouts as well but I’ll only bore you with one more photo.

winter snowdrop

More snowdrops showing signs of life.  I wish I could say the same for the winter-burned hellebore foliage but I’ve long given up on worrying about things like that. 

It’s nice to see things as anxious as I am to start the new gardening year.  We have already added just over thirty minutes of daylight to each day and that goes higher with every sunset and before we know it the whole adventure will start anew!

Enjoy your weekend 🙂

That Wasn’t Smart 8.0

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

foundation border

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

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

foundation border

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

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

Christmas porch decoration

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

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

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

fall snowdrops

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

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

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

Welcome to Winter

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

overwinter plants

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

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

overwinter rosemary

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

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

overwinter pelargoniums

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

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

pelargonium flower

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

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

In Like a Lamb

I’m considering filing a restraining order against March this year.  Every spring-like warm spell brings the hellebores and snowdrops on a little further along but then some new brutal weather event comes by to smack them all down again.  It’s clearly an unhealthy relationship but I just can’t move on.  Every time the sun comes out again, spring becomes so real I just want to forgive and forget and say just one more chance.

galanthus brenda troyle

Possibly my favorite snowdrop, ‘Brenda Troyle’ looks extremely average but it’s also so reliable and perfect I can’t say a single bad thing about it.

Most of the snowdrops were lost after the first chance for spring came and went, but a few hid here and there either underground or cozied up to the house foundation.  A shame they didn’t warn the hellebores about how fickle the season was being.

hellebore buds

The hellebores which could have been.

I admit I’m not much help in protecting things.  A few snowdrops received a plastic tub or bucket cover for when the thermometer dropped to 7F (-14C) one night, but most things are on their own.

galanthus lagodechianus

Galanthus lagodechianus tried hiding underground for a while and did manage to avoid the hail, but then came up just as the latest arctic blast was about to hit.  Fortunately a simple cover saved its perfect flowers from damage and at least this week I’ll be able to enjoy the yellow coloring which is exceptionally bright this spring.  

The various snow crocus in the meadow garden are always a risky bet so I can’t complain much here.  The weather gets whatever the rabbits didn’t so even in a good year you need to be quick.

snow crocus

Some warm sun might be too much to ask for.  I keep waiting for the spring where I see a whole swath of opened crocus basking in the sunlight… but it hasn’t happened yet. 

To hedge my spring flowering bets I went around yesterday and plucked any undamaged hellebores which were still around.  A few remained and they were enough to remind me why I still bother growing them…. since last year’s season was mostly a bust as well.

hellebore flowers

Snuggled up right next to the porch foundation, hellebore ‘Cinnamon Snow’ has actually flowered well this year. Usually the buds are killed much earlier in the winter and never make it to this point.  Wish I could say the same for the others, but this small handful were the only undamaged flowers I could rustle up. 

Hopefully the rest of March is a little gentler on the hellebores and the later flowers can still develop and put on a show.  It would be nice to see a few showy clumps instead of the wilted and blacked stalks I’ve been getting used to seeing.

hail damage magnolia

Fingers crossed that this is the last of the hail damage.  At first the magnolias didn’t look so bad, but once the damage started to brown it was a different story. Fresh foliage will make this all a memory in a few more weeks… I think.

One last complaint.  For some reason these snowdrops (G. woronowii) really took a beating from the cold.  Maybe it was the 62F to 7F drop in temperature, or the wet soil, or the exposed location, whatever the case I think a few might not be salvageable.

snowdrop freeze damage

Sad seeing freeze damage on a snowdrop but it’s not my first time.  Maybe a few will survive, but they (and about 200 others) were looking so promising for their first year. 

I guess some days it’s just better to stay indoors.

forced tulip

The first of the forced tulips are coming into flower.  I’m sure their shortness says something bad about their culture but to be honest the height actually works out perfectly for under the growlights 🙂

The indoor garden should really have many more seedlings getting size on them for spring planting, but for whatever reason I just haven’t yet been in the mood to tackle a whole under-lights seed agenda this year.  I planted onions, that’s it.  Good thing the primroses are filling in and starting to flower.

primula auricula

Photographing yellow is still a sticking point for me, but hopefully this picture still gets across how nicely this primula auricula has done.

Having my yellow Primula auricula survive for a second year was a surprise in itself, but the fact that it’s actually multiplied and flowered again is borderline unbelievable.

primula auricula

I still think the mealy powder on these flowers is one of the most exotic things. 

These indoor flowers will have to keep me and most of the East coast going for the next few days since March just decided to come back and slap us with a surprise snowfall.  Normally this would be another reason to complain, but at least snow should insulate things for the temperature drop which will follow.

hellebore in snow

Hellebore ‘Cinnamon Snow’ in the actual snow.

Temperature drop and then more snow.  Right now they’re saying lots more but given the forecasting track record it’s still too soon to tell.  Wouldn’t that be something though if we get more snow in the first few days of spring than we did all winter.  March must know I was planning on a garden visit next weekend because I bet this weather forecast is what jealously looks like.  Stop it March!

Earliest. Cleanup. Ever.

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

first snowdrops

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

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

galanthus nivalis

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

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

galanthus wendy's gold

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

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

forced hyacinth

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

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

primula auricula

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

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

cyclamen seed forming

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

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

forced tulips

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

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