The First day of Spring

I’m sticking to my guns and declaring today the first day of spring.  Non gardeners will spend the next three months whining and complaining about cold weather and chilly winds but some people are only happy when they’re complaining, so good for them.  The sun was out and the temperatures shot up to sweatshirt weather and I did next to nothing all day, just sat around and then sat around some more.  My second coffee probably took an hour to finish and hopefully I didn’t get a sunburn in the process since I was outside for that plus another few hours sitting, wandering, sitting, poking, sitting, uncovering…

galanthus wendys gold

The yellow snowdrops are my favorites.  Here’s ‘Wendy’s Gold’ fully up for the season and pristine after spending a few days under a bucket.

In case you’re wondering how things made it through the frigid cold, they’re fine.  So many things were starting to grow and I had my doubts about all those tender sprouts but only a few things took a hit and the majority look ready to take on the season at full speed.  I’m glad the cold was so short lived, I think that made a huge difference.

galanthus rodmarton

‘Rodmarton’ wasn’t even covered and still looks good.  As far as double snowdrops go I like this one a lot, with green tipped, fat blooms that stand high on sturdy stalks.

So now that spring is here I shall also announce the start of the over-sharing season where this blog fills with a monotony of white and green and sometimes yellow flowers which vary about as much as an island full of golden retrievers.  Hmm.  How’s that for an image?  Shipwrecked sailors would run the risk of being licked to death but would likely lose consciousness first from laughing too much.  But yeah, lots of snowdrops on the way so fair warning.

galanthus sutton courtney

‘Sutton Courtney’ is also up and open.  I love this one as well and she seems to be on the mend again after the gardener stupidly dumped several inches of soil on this bed to raise it some more without replanting the bulbs higher.  Don’t do that.

Maybe winter will return.  Maybe you’ll get a break.  I don’t think so though, so if you’re going to try and stick around just get those standard ‘looks nice’, ‘oh I love them’ comments ready and you won’t even have to read a post since they’re all going to be nearly the same.

At least I’m excited.  Hope you have a great week!

That Was Rough

We are on the fourth day of winter here and there’s even a dusting of snow on the ground to make it look serious.  People were finally zipping up their winter coats and by Friday most of the mountain lakes had ice extending from shore to shore.  Seeing winter weather here was half a relief until I looked at the ten day forecast and saw at least three days next week where the daytime high was over 50F(10C), so calm down.  Don’t pull out the ice fishing equipment just yet.

cold snowdrop

The snowdrops (Galanthus ‘Colossus’) are mostly wilted and flat in the cold.  That’s a good thing actually.

Based on the daily news reports I’m sure everyone was aware that cold weather was headed across much of the US this week.  I’m actually surprised there were no evacuation postings based on the way they were describing it, with dramatic windchill predictions, ‘record-breaking’, ‘life-threatening’ lows and all the dangers associated.  Maybe someone even named the cold front.  Cold front “Karl” is bearing down on the Northeast, buy your milk and bread (minus the egg$) now!!! before the brutal assault begins.

freeze protection spring bulbs

I did manage to bucket a few clumps and then threw fleece over this bed for good measure after ‘Mrs Macnamara’ and ‘Barnes’ flexed their previously damaged foliage and made me feel guilty about neglecting them last time. 

Today when I woke up we were down to -2F (-19C).  That’s about right in line with a normal winter low, even if this winter has been nothing close to normal.  I strolled around a little in the afternoon when the thermometer had risen to around 20F and things might not be too bad.  In spite of how advanced many of the sprouts were, two days of cold prior to the plunge allowed plants to get ready for the blast.  The witch hazel curled up and the snowdrops went limp.  Limp, sugar concentrated snowdrops don’t freeze as well and the wilted foliage doesn’t burst as easily from expanding ice crystals.  Tomorrow when spring arrives we will see what bounces back.  Hopefully most everything will since the coldest weather was just one night and things were somewhat ready for it.  Nature can be smart, probably smarter than an idiot teen who needs to be told to go back into the house and put on a coat before this car is going anywhere for goodness sakes it’s not even 8 degrees out…

freeze protection spring bulbs

It was so nice and sunny (yet cold) Thursday after work that I did go a little overboard with the freeze protection.  Cut evergreen boughs, buckets and fleece were doled out for the most precious and precocious of the snowdrops.

I really can’t blame the teen entirely.  His father is the one who planted all these European and Asian snowdrops and witch hazels, and thought a winter garden would be a good idea in a climate which welcomes brutal winters.  He’s not exactly the brightest either but let’s not dwell on that right now.

freeze protection spring bulbs

Even the regular golden winter aconites(Eranthis hiemalis) are thumbing their noses at this winter.  In another week they’ll be sprouting up everywhere with an enthusiasm better suited to March.

So in another moment of brightness I’m declaring the winter of ’22-’23 to be over.  February and March can be cold here but I’m giving up on winter, and next week everything is being uncovered and I’m starting the official spring cleanups regardless of historical averages.  I should be disturbed and cautious but that’s our world these days and I’m saying it’s time to plan for snowdrop season and make a few calls for this spring’s snowdropping adventures.  Giddyap I say and plan on making the best of the warmth!

Spring in January

Saturday was awesome.  Nearly 50F (10C) and sunny, with just a touch of wind kicking up in the afternoon, it was the kind of weather which might be a touch warm for an Irishman but for me it was a perfect spring day… in winter of course.  We are still in a weather pattern which has been luring more and more plants out of the ground and into harm’s way, and things could come crashing down any minute.  Actually that minute might be this Friday night when a front is threatening to knock lows down to about zero (-17C) so we will see.

pale yellow eranthis

The warmth and sun have coaxed the pale yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis) into full bloom.  These flowers will melt in the cold, but the plants should survive to try again in spring 2024…

Oh my gosh I have so much random babbling to get out of my system that I barely know where to start.  Perhaps complaining about a lack of blog views is a perfect place to begin since I’m already on to the woe is me, the weather is getting cold for two days, pity party.  2022 ended and my stats are the lowest numbers since 2014.  Rough calculations on my part show that in that same period of time the global population has grown by 253 million, so as you can see it’s even worse than you would think since even a quarter billion supposedly tech-savy babies can’t be bothered to visit my blog.  Shall I change my business model or content?  Maybe branch out into alternate platforms and super-connect with social media?  Heh heh, you know me better than that, obviously continued laziness will be my answer, and you can expect few to none on those new tricks on the horizon.

galanthus bess richard ayres

Galanthus ‘Bess’, with ‘Richard Ayres’ behind will suffer melted blooms in near zero cold, ‘Bess’ will probably be the worst just as she was two years ago from another freeze but maybe the lazy head gardener can cover a few things to help them along.

I happened to notice my visitor stats when I received notification that 2023 will be my ten year anniversary at Sorta Like Suburbia.  You can take my word that a ten year anniversary on a blog which I don’t think I started that long ago did not help me feel any younger for a recent birthday celebration.  Also not helping were reminders that in another year I will be eligible for senior discounts at most of the local restaurants.

galanthus castle plum

Galanthus ‘Castle Plum’ is so perfect today, and one of my favorites for an early snowdrop.  Still only one bulb after several years but who am I to pressure him to start having babies?  

Obviously this gardener is not the type who gets bubbly and excited for his birthday, just in case you didn’t notice.  My thrill was that the weather was beautiful and my celebration was being able to finish cleaning out enough of the front street border so that the earliest flowers can come up through something other than dead twigs and windblown trash.  It might be early.  It might be too early, but things are coming up anyway and if I wait longer my clumsy footsteps will do more damage to the plants than this and other likely-to-still-come hard freezes.

hellebore buds

This hellebore (unlike others in the garden) doesn’t usually suffer from extreme cold snaps.  I’ll let you know how it makes it through this one.

By the way, I also noticed that my earliest posts from the golden days of this blog were much shorter and far wittier.  Maybe I should at least make an effort to keep this short.

pale yellow eranthis

More pale eranthis (only pale ones since the normal dark yellows are still waiting for warmer days).  Some of these snowdrops might make it, but they’ve also lost flowers in freezes in years past.

…and more helpful.  Posts about how things should be grown and what you shouldn’t do (I’m very good at that!) might be something to reconsider rather than endless whining about how we are finally going to have two cold nights this winter.

galanthus mrs Macnamara

‘Mrs Macnamara’ rarely makes it through a winter here without a beating from the cold.  Last winter was so rough on her she’s actually blooming a bit sparsely this year, and if she wasn’t such a good grower I’d have sent her to a more Southern garden years ago.

So here’s my tip for sudden freezes while your plants are already in growth.  Buy a greenhouse.  Fill it with hardy things like snowdrops and cyclamen so that a broken heater isn’t the end of the world and it might be a fantastic diversion for when the arctic visits.  It will be a great place for ‘Mrs Macnamara’ and she deserves it, doesn’t she?

galanthus daphnes scissors

‘Daphne’s Scissors’ will probably not appreciate the cold but might also be just fine.  When I was reviewing this photo I noticed the vertebrae of some poor little creature’s spine at the base of the clump.  I guess the garden is always an up and down, life or death kind of place.  

So I don’t know how we ended up on the topic of greenhouses.  Hmmm.  More economical advice will be to invert an empty pot or bucket over these tender shoots and maybe that will help with icy winds or possibly to catch a few degrees of protection.  It will be worth it and I’m already preparing a scolding for myself for not bothering.

The Turning of the Tides

I had a nice surprise Tuesday morning on the way to work.  The normally dark and gloomy ride was brightened up by something I haven’t seen in a while, a sunrise.  To call it a sunrise is giving the event a bunch more credit than it deserves, but it was a pinkish glow spread across the edges of a smattering of clouds and was much nicer than the black abyss I’ve gotten used to over the last few weeks.  It’s a hopeful moment.  There will still be plenty a day before I can walk into work with an actual sun over the horizon, but until then a promising glow in the morning counts for a lot.

hammamelis pallida

With or without morning sun, the first of the witch hazels (Hammamelis x ‘Pallida’) has opened up for a full-bloom show of color in the otherwise bleak landscape.

The promise of seeing daylight again on the ride to work is a nice affirmation that days really are getting longer and spring will someday be more than an idea.  Nice isn’t always good though, since this week typically brings the very coldest days of the season, and getting all sentimental and hopeful weeks too early can be torture when a string of snowstorms rolls through from February to March.  Actually it can get expensive as well.  People get delusional about expanding vegetable gardens and starting viburnum collections and planting new cannas everywhere.  People can also get judgmental toward delusional gardeners, and let me state clearly here that that’s not ok.  You should never be judgmental about people just trying to make the world a better place, and that’s exactly what a February gardener is trying to do with their not-as-well-planned-as-they-could-be new plant decisions.

hammamelis spanish spider

First blooms on a new little witch hazel.  ‘Spanish Spider’ was a totally unplanned and perhaps unnecessary purchase which is proving itself invaluable and essential this week.

For now on I will consider midwinter purchases as brilliant, perhaps genius, foresight.  Leave the bean-counting to accountants and go ahead and buy as many bean seeds as you think your ‘Year of the Bean’ needs.  Tell the naysayers they’re the type who would drive unrecognized genius to cut off an ear, and unless they want to be part of the problem they should instead help choose a nice yellow Romano pole bean to go with the heirloom purple.

pale yellow eranthis

More pale yellow Eranthis hiemalis are hearing the call of spring…. or maybe winter… they are also called winter aconites after all.

So enough with the aimless babbling and back to the garden.  We’re still running a good bit above average temperatures.  Skiing is happening but the ice fishermen are still on the sidelines, and plants are still trying to start growing just a little too early.

peony shoots

Peony shoots always seem to come up too early.  These Peonia daurica buds look awfully exposed but they’re really quite hardy.  At least that’s one thing I won’t have to worry about.

Fingers crossed that the early sprouts mean an early spring, and not a disaster of melted and blackened tender foliage in a month or two’s time.  A few things are still reeling from December’s blast.

freeze damage snowdrop

The fall blooming snowdrops (G. elwesii ‘Barnes’ in this case) did not appreciate going from North Carolina to Newfoundland in 12 hours.  I see new growth though, so I suspect all is not lost.

freeze damaged sternbergia lutea

A Sternbergia lutea (autumn daffodil?) which might be worse than it looks.  All the browned damage is right close to the bulb and the rest of the leaf might follow as the damage works its way down.

freeze damaged sternbergia lutea

Another Sternbergia lutea just a few inches away, further out into the garden which should have been more exposed and therefore damaged, but no, it looks untouched.  The narrower foliage could mean something, and it’s also from a different source.  Maybe it’s just variations in the species, but who knows?  

freeze damaged cyclamen coum

Some of the hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium and C. coum) were blasted by the cold, but I know they’ll recover, and by the looks of these early buds there’s still a good chance for an excellent spring flowering.

Obviously I can’t leave off on a gardening report with a down note on snowdrops.  They’re inching forward, and hopefully still pace themselves in spite of the continuous above average temperatures.

early snowdrops galanthus ophelia

The double ‘Ophelia’ is moving right along and should make a great show in a few more weeks.  Unlike some, I don’t think she’s ever been bothered by a later freeze.

A few snowdrops are always eager to get started.  Some years it’s cold enough to hold them back to bloom alongside the later varieties, other years they pop up early, hopefully miss the worst weather, and the season is extended that many more weeks:)

galanthus wendys gold

‘Wendy’s Gold’ will bloom during the next nice day, I suspect Sunday or Monday… right before the possibility of two actual winter days… maybe… 

So snowdrops are still good just in case you were worried, and by the way the winter garden is also still good even if winter hasn’t been as healthy as he should be.

Another year of seed cleaning and sorting is finished and now my little coffee table is all tidied up and set for the main round of seed sowing.

It’s all the usual suspects under the lights, plus a few pots of daylily seedlings for the farm. If all goes well this will become a deliciously overgrown mess again by May.

There’s always a few new things. Someone gave me a bromeliad (Neoregelia) last summer and after a billion hours of online bromeliad searching I can proudly say I still only have one and I also haven’t moved to the tropics to grow them better. Go me!

I wish I could say the same for succulents. Who knew 20 bucks on Etsy could get you a tiny box of 10 mixed Echeveria agavoides cuttings!!?? 20 more bucks can get a handful of lithop seedlings to show up at your doorstep!!

So not to brag, I think I’m handling the depths of winter quite well.  Witch hazels on the way, snowdrops in bloom, and exciting things under the grow lights.  I could get used to these non-winters… assuming the two days of cold next week don’t become a habit… but even if they do there’s still always those longer days, the stronger sun, and there’s only so much winter can do against that.

Have a great weekend!

 

Into the New Year

It’s been a bit chilly this weekend, and this morning’s low of 21F (-6C) is about as close to normal as we’ve come this month.  A January thaw isn’t all that unusual for the region, but having the entire month with each and every day at above average temperatures is.  Next weekend the longer range forecast has Friday night going one degree below average, but that might be our only chance for the month.  I was raking last Sunday rather than skiing, and that level of productivity on a day of rest is far less my style than bumming around on a ski lift.

hamamelis pallida

The first of the Asian witch hazels are opening, with Hamamelis x ‘Pallida’ in the lead.  

On the plus side I was able to spread a compost mulch over the last neglected snowdrop bed and start trimming hellebores.  Things are starting to sprout and I’ll take the warm weather as one last chance to finish last autumn’s cleanup and freshen things up for the approaching snowdrop season.  According to my far-less-than-scientific records, this winter has echoes of 2021, which barely tried to get cold until the end of January, and then sat us in snow and cold until March… which sounds complainy but was actually perfect for holding everything back until it could sprout more sensibly.  2021 might have been my best snowdrop season so I apologize if it sounds like I’m wishing for cold to come just so things here develop well 😉

hellebore buds

This double red hellebore is always eager to sprout, and maybe I can trim off the old foliage this afternoon.  The autumn leaves are staying though, I’ve reached the point where nearly every leaf which falls in the garden remains in situ.  

Even if arctic cold never develops (beyond that little try at an ice age in December) I’m 98% sure this winter and spring will be amazing.  I have buds showing on new snowdrops and color developing on new witch hazels and dreams of an astounding 2023.  The only roadblock I see is catalog browsing, which has been a tad addictive the last few weeks.  I blame the long nights and too cold to do anything/ not cold enough to do other things weather, plus some delusion that I need to order obscure bulbs and shrubs which will haunt me all summer waiting to be planted.  The last few years have been fairly restrained as far as buying new plants so maybe I deserve something?  But no!  That kind of thinking is so dangerous during the post-Holiday season when I’m dealing with cookie withdrawal.

galanthus faringdon double

Unlike many of the other early snowdrops, Galanthus ‘Faringdon Double’ lucked out with the December cold, and appears to have settled in well for her second year here.  

I’ll have to retire to the winter garden and do some repotting and watering to get my mind off hardy crinums and early blooming viburnums.  There’s plenty to do in there with budding amaryllis and flowering cyclamen and cuttings which need more room.  I have to see where I’m going with things this year since a casual count of pots is already close to 200 and I haven’t even seriously begun in there.  Oops.

pale yellow eranthis hiemalis moonlight

The first winter aconite.  A pale yellow sort of Eranthis hiemalis which always blooms a few weeks earlier than her brothers.  If the weather stays mild they’re fantastic, if the weather turns harsh they freezer burn.

Actually I should go work on the closet organizers.  That’s honest work which makes me look productive even if I’m about as excited about carpentry as I am for doing my taxes, but at least it’s more rewarding and it keeps me out of the garden (mostly).  Perhaps I need more stain and a run to the box store is in order, and as a reward someone gets to look over their succulent selections for a little carpenter’s treat to take home along with the stain purchase.  Hmmm.  That would be the fourth ‘carpenter’s treat’ this month, and obviously not helping the pot count.

Have a great week and obviously a 4$ succulent on a stain run doesn’t count as a plant purchase and is still a better choice than a 6$ coffee or ice cream… not that I’m really ruling out the icecream…

Opening Up the Winter Garden

A good thing and a bad thing.  Someone had enough energy (or was bored enough) that they cleaned out the winter garden last summer, and by that I mean all the empty pots and dead leaves were not still sitting under the fluorescent grow lights in the back of the garage… That’s the good thing.  The bad thing is someone also had a little energy on the day when potted plants and cuttings needed to come indoors for the winter.  That’s the bad thing.  There have never been so many things stuffed under lights this early in the season and I for one am quite pleased.  If this gardener were the type, the feeling is similar to a slow motion bungee jump where you’re on the edge of the bridge about to jump.  All the equipment has been checked and you’re at the point where it’s going to be either a complete disaster or a bunch of fun… Well maybe that’s a terrible analogy since I’ve only dropped and shattered one clay pot and spilled soil and cactus parts everywhere… okay, so maybe it’s a fitting analogy, with the exception that the cactus pieces were put into a new pot and survived whereas your pot contents might not do the same.

Sorry.  I guess whatever point I had has been reduced to ‘don’t bungee jump’.

mammillaria plumosa

In a moment of distraction I spent an hour finding the earliest photo of my little mammillaria plumosa.  It usually flowers a month or so after coming indoors, and this winter might mark its tenth birthday from the day a friend first gave me a cutting.

I’ve spent most of the Holiday weekend cleaning up leaves and planting bulbs and for the first time in about a year the garden looks somewhat under control.  I’d post photos but most days have been all day labor in the garden until dusk and pictures don’t happen, but honestly who really needs to see the dirt where the tulips went in anyway.  Instead I shall leave you with a super-interesting photo of two cuttings stolen from an outdoor planter which was nearly done for the year due to frost.

stolen plant cuttings

Gardeners are nothing if not hopeful.  Two tiny cuttings which spent a weekend in my coat pocket and now grace the windowsill with their beauty.  They’re like an Advent candle with all the hope and promise for a rebirth… unless they die, in which case I’m sure there will be plenty of replacements!

Apologies for the randomness of this post.  I’d thrill you with a few snowdrop photos, but the kids stepped on them while hanging the Christmas lights so I’ll have to see what’s left.  In the meantime there will hopefully be some more interesting posts to come as I and others join Cathy of Words and Herbs for her ‘Week of Flowers’ event.  As the weather gets cold and the nights grow long what can be better than a flood of flowers as we prepare for the holiday season?  It should be fun.  Happy first of Advent 🙂

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!

Snowdropping ’22

It snowed Wednesday.  It’s snowing today.  Time to revisit last weekend when winter thought it would be funny to go North for a day and see what happens.  Now don’t go thinking that spring exploded around this end of Pennsylvania in just one day.  For that to happen it’s going to take a string of warmer days and we’re no there yet (maybe next week?), for this glimpse of spring we needed to crack open the kid’s college fund, fill the tank with gas, and head down South to the outskirts of Philly.  Spring is revving up down there and it was the perfect time for Paula and I to celebrate our annual Snowdropping Day!

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops and winter aconite (Galanthus and Eranthis hyemalis) around the Scott Arboretum

It was a warm forecast with just a trace of rain in the morning, so of course it was pouring when we arrived at our first stop.  Rumor had it that Swarthmore College’s Scott Arboretum is rich with early spring bloomers and plenty of Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), and that of course turned out to be true.  It also turned out that I was able to cross off a bucket list plant sighting by seeing Leucojum vernum ‘Gertrude Wister’ growing lustily in what is rumored to be its garden of origin, the Wister Garden of the Scott Arb.  This double Leucojum (actually a fused flower, not double) still needs to grow in my garden, but for now it is doing very well for itself closer to home.

leucojum gertrude wister

A fantastic clump of Leucojum ‘Gertrude Wister’ at the Scott Arboretum.

Gertrude Wister by the way is a name it wouldn’t hurt knowing more about.  She was an accomplished horticulturalist and author in both the Philly area and nationally and instrumental in promoting plants and horticulture in the mid 1900’s.  You can read more >here<.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Winter garden standards surrounding the arboretum headquarters.

So with Leucojum ‘Gertrude Wister’ checked off the list we continued to explore the grounds while enjoying the soft and then hearty drizzle.  It seems only right that our snowdrop day would bring on precipitation.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) filling in amongst the trunks of a Metasequoia allee.  Very nice if you ask me.

Actually the rain wasn’t too bad.  I had a hat after all, so that at least kept my hair as stylish as usual.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops, hellebores, and Rohdea japonica make for a nice groundcover under the dawn redwoods.

The rest of the visit was a ‘but wait, there’s more’ tour as we wandered from one witch hazel to the next.  They were perfect and the rain only made their color shine more warmly, even when it stopped for a minute here and there.

hamamelis angelly strawberries and cream westerstede

From left to right, Hamamelis ‘Angelly’, ‘Westerstede’, and ‘Strawberries and Cream’

hamamelis strawberries and cream

From pictures and descriptions I did not think ‘Strawberries and Cream’ would be a color I’d enjoy, but with a dark background and complimented by the yellows, it drew me in.

Growers of the spring blooming, Asian, witch hazels are probably aware that one of the more common problems is their tendency to hold onto last year’s dried and browned foliage.  Some people claim to not mind but I prefer the leafless look, and have been neurotic about searching out hints as to which ones tend to hold leaves and what cultural conditions encourage leaf drop.  I don’t know if I have any answers but we did see a few cultivars which held firm to last year’s leaves.

hammemelis doerak

Actually I didn’t mind the bright orange of Hamamelis ‘Doerak’ against the rich brown of the wet leaves, but dry it out and I’m not sure I’d feel the same.  Also there was another reddish cultivar who’s flowers were lost amongst the leaves, so I’m always going to place my vote for leaves-which-drop cultivars, and pass on this one.

Witch hazels are oddly rare in my neck of the woods, I suspect because they bloom prior to ‘go out to the nursery and buy all the plants for my yard’ day and people just don’t know about them, but slowly I’m finding plants and making a witch hazel show happen here.  I’ve got reddish, orange, yellow, and need more of all but in the past I’ve been thumbing my nose at the ‘purple’ forms.  Stupid me to think they wouldn’t show up in the brown and gritty winter landscape, I saw some awesome examples and of course now I have to do even more searching (Broken Arrow, Forest Farm, and Rare Finds Nursery will lead off the search).

hamamelis tsukubana-kurenai

Hamamelis ‘Tsukubana-kurenai’.  I’m going out on a limb and suggesting this is a Japanese cultivar, and I believe I need this one.

A purple and another orange are just what I need.  The oranges are my favorites, and ‘Chris’ has just enough of an orange tint to thrill me.  I suspect it is named after the UK authority, collector and grower of witch hazels, Chris Lane, but I’m only guessing.  Like many things today I feel like I can just guess at things and once they’re in writing on the internet that’s valid enough, but I’m digressing now…  To sum it up here’s a >more qualified writeup on hamamelis< which you may want to look at.  One mislabeled photo does not disqualify all the other excellent information the article contains.

hamamelis chris

Hamamelis ‘Chris’.  Heavy flowering, large flowers, bold color.  I loved it.

Hmmm.  It seems like this might be a long post since I’m only about an hour or two into our day, but whatever.  We’re up to about four inches of new snow here today so it’s off to our second Swarthmore PA stop, Hedgleigh Spring, the gardens of author/horticulturalist Charles Cresson.

charles cresson garden

I noticed that this is a neighborhood of above average gardeners, but Charles’ front garden states it loudly with a sweep of naturalizing crocus tommasinianus and patches of self-sown snowdrops.

On our last visit to see the fall camellias, Charles made the casual comment that we should see all the spring bulbs filling the meadow along the stream.  Absolutely.  We set the date but I’m not sure if Charles really expected us to go through with it based on the look he gave us when we showed up.  I can’t believe it was the steady rain or our mostly soaked appearance because at least Paula had enough sense to bring an umbrella, I think it was explained later when Charles mentioned two phones suddenly began ringing the minute we pressed the doorbell.  All was well though and off we went!

hedgleigh spring hellebore

Some of the hellebores scattered throughout the grounds.  My favorites are always the yellows.

Charles donates a plethora of special seeds to (among others)the Mid Atlantic Hardy Plant Society seed exchange, and I always have to smile as I see plants here which I have seedlings of in my own garden.

hedgleigh spring hellebore

This ‘seafoam’ colored hellebore is one I have a few seedlings of.  It has a greenish color with the slightest blue cast and I hope some of mine pick up a similar shade.

Several camellia seedlings also have roots here.  Flowering was just starting but it still amazes me to see how vigorous these shrubs grow in this northern edge of their range.

hedgleigh spring camellia

The recent cold had only done a slight bit of damage, but the main show of camellias looked extremely promising.

There were quite a few other ‘wows’.  The winter blooming Iris unguicularis was one of them.  Perfectly formed flowers of rich colors were quite a surprise out in the open garden.

iris unguicularis

These Iris unguicularis had been enjoying the shelter of a clear plastic tote over the winter and I shall have to revive my own bucketing efforts because the results are absolutely worth it.

There were many Adonis cultivars as well.  Some were just sprouting, some were being troublesome, and some were just excellent.  In case you’re not in the know, Adonis amurensis is one of the earliest woodland-edge perennials to push up flowers in shades of yellow to red.  Trouble free in a spot it likes, it’s not always easy to find a spot it likes, and at prices which rival snowdrops, the heartbreak of a lost plant is only matched by the sting your wallet feels.

cresson adonis

Adonis in full bloom and quite happy.  Single yellow is affordable, anything which runs to double or deeper shades of orange will require mortgage refinancing.

But enough on silly expensive perennials.  We came to see little bulbs, and they were everywhere.  Patches of named forms, drifts of the most common types, and seedlings galore with all kinds of excellent markings to thrill a galanthophile’s heart.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

Small early bulbs were throughout the gardens.  This is how I love them most, scattered and naturalized into comfortable patches.

Some of the patches were decades old and showed up all over, with the newest and rarest limited to just a few beds.  Nearly each bunch had a story to go with it and to hear Charles talk of the forms and where they came from was a who’s who of the local gardening community.

galanthus white dream

Galanthus ‘White Dream’ was the most special non-special drop I saw.  Amazing.  Plain and white and perfect.

But what we really came to see was the meadow which lies behind the garden fence.  When Paula got her first glimpse she grabbed my shoulder with that crazy look in her eyes which I of course never show and I was afraid she was about to jump the creek to get there.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

The creek and meadow outside the garden proper.  Mostly native perennials and bulbs.  Lots of bulbs, from the earliest days of spring to the last days of fall.

Charles told us about the hours spent on knees digging and dividing and replanting clump after clump to spread snowdrops far and wide.  Bulbs from elsewhere were added and over the last forty years seedlings have matured and clumped up and added their own genetics.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

Most of the galanthus are G. nivalis, G. elwesii, and hybrids between the two.  As usual crocus were everywhere.

We spent quite some time back there, first admiring the overall effect and then finally crouching down to examine anything and everything which looked specialer.

charles cresson garden

Charles and Paula inspecting the masses of daffodil sprouts and snowdrop blooms.

We found a bunch of cool things.  I suggested that we take the three best forms and name them Charles, Paula, and Frank and start spreading them around in honor of the day, but of course they thought I was joking.  Hah hah.  Of course I was…

prunus mume

Prunus mume, the Japanese Apricot blooming away back in the main garden

We finished the tour and then continued to overstay our welcome.  It had stopped raining and after I said how much I loved the Prunus mume and Charles said it self seeds all the time, we were all rooting around through the mulch looking for seedlings.  Our visit had really degenerated into what it always does, the schedule goes out the window and we end up dirty.

Eventually it was off to the next garden.  Matthew and Jamie Bricker were completely polite about us showing up at 5pm on a Sunday to drag them through the garden.  They’re about three years into a new garden and it’s astounding how much they’ve already accomplished in a garden which had to be wrestled back from overgrown neglect…. Plus three kids and plenty of home improvement projects… I was suddenly very insecure about my own questionable progress 🙂

bricker garden

Just a small slice of the Bricker garden. Snowdrops were already spreading into decent clumps all over the garden, all nicely mulched with a plethora of sweet gum balls from the mature sweet gum trees (Liquidambar)

This is where the pictures end.  We ran out of light before we ran through our hosts’ patience but it was great seeing how far this garden had already grown and the shape it was taking.  We will hopefully be back.  The Brickers are putting together an outstanding snowdrop collection and for local gardeners and Gala attendees they’re already a great source for potted extras.  Once he gets more settled into the new spot I suspect he won’t mind being listed as a source, but for now… well it never hurts to ask 😉 I’m sure you’ll be able to find him on Facebook.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops (‘Brenda Troyle’ actually) in the dark.  It was still far too warm (and dry now) to call it a night.

I don’t know if Paula thought I was joking when I said we were still going to get through her garden by flashlight, but we did.  It was warm, the drops were open and glowing, and the wind had settled down completely.  For the first few minutes the rustling in the garden was a bit eerie but then we realized it was all the nightcrawlers brought up by the rain and active in the warmth and it was slightly less creepy.  Even in the dark by flashlight with giant earthworms stalking us it was a perfect end to the day.  Her garden looks great as all our gardens did that day, and as usual our snowdropping day was an excellent start to the season.  Now if it would just stop snowing…

Thanks to our hosts, enjoy the season, and all the best!

Four Days in February

It’s still winter here but the days are lengthening and the sun feels stronger.  I’m pretty sure the cold won’t last forever but to hear some people talk it’s absolutely brutal, and the whole winter has been an endless cycle of cold and wind and grey, and they can’t wait for things to warm up again.  Sometimes when I’m feeling brave I’ll ask if that means you’ll be able to finally complain about the heat, but those days are rare and lately I just say yeah, it’s a tough life we lead.

skiing in NEPA

Day 1: Sunday outside in the miserable cold.  Child on right, friend on left.

Sunday was cold, but on Monday it warmed up enough for at least one person in the neighborhood happy, and that guy didn’t even hide in the muddy, bulldozed backyard, he proudly trimmed and mowed and pruned in the front yard in spite of the odd looks and obvious hints that it was still 100% winter.  Actually 100% winter meant the ground was completely frozen and dead stalks broke nicely at their frozen base, bulbs were still asleep and safe from clumsy footsteps, and most importantly there was no mud.  Did I mention there’s plenty of that out back?

winter garden cleanup

Day 2:  Monday early afternoon.  Mow it all down with the hedge trimmers.

It might be too early to do all this cleanup but guess who doesn’t care.  I’m sick of the mess and there are snowdrops on the horizon, and I want those coming up without all the debris of last year making them look sad.  Chopped leaves- ok, last year’s dead stalks and freeze dried hellebore foliage- no.  Everything was hacked down with the hedge clippers and then raked onto the lawn for a mulching with the mower.  Into a mulch bag it goes and I think it looks far better.  A final tidy once March gets moving should set everything up until June 🙂

winter garden cleanup

Day2:  Late afternoon and I think it looks all ready for the earliest spring bulbs.  I just have to keep an eye on the construction trucks so they keep the ruts to a minimum… hahahaha

Day 3 was all rain.  Warm and rain.  For as much as the sun melted the snow, it barely softened the frozen soil, but the rain did and it brought on the first snowdrops up by the house.

american snowdrops

Day 4:  I snuck out of work early and caught the last light for a few photos.  Amazing what a sheltered location and just a few warm days can bring. 

So the warmth won’t last but the urge to grow will, and when cold slips back tomorrow these flowers will lay down for a week or so and then come back strong once spring gets a little more determined.  Out back a few things are also making an effort and that’s nice to see but if I were of the complaining sort I might be tempted to mention how our ski days are numbered.  Oh well.  We shall assume there is always a next year.

galanthus rosemary burnham

Day 4:  ‘Rosemary Burnham’ is all rich greens as she first comes up.  There will be fading over the next few days, but right now she’s perfect.

Hopefully your week is going without complaint, and as a warning to forestall any further complaint risks, let this be your first warning that way too many snowdrops will soon flood this blog.  You might have another week, so enjoy!

More Cold

It looks like winter will last at least another week.  I kind of blame myself since in early January I was a little chilled and pulled out the winter coat for a walk around the garden.  Mother Nature must have seen and said “Oh really?  Hold on and I’ll show you some real cold” and now here we are.  This morning on the ride through the mountains I saw a -6F (-21C) and then on the way home it was already down to 0F.  I guess I was glad to have the coat.

temple nursery

The Temple Nursery catalog arrived as well as my NARGS seed exchange goodies.  I would say snowdrop ordering and seed sorting was the perfect way to spend a Friday night 🙂

Even in the cold, the ridiculous dog still insisted on running about in the dark, sniffing out rabbits and investigating every suspicious shadow.  Again I was happy to have the coat.  It wasn’t until I made it to the winter garden that things started to look more promising.  Flowers in bloom and growing plants are a nice diversion away from cold and work, and although the dog was annoyed that I would slip out to the garage rather than stand by the door letting him in and out every ten minutes, I though my winter garden time was a nice recharge.

narcissus atlas gold

I was able to get my hands on a tiny bulb of Narcissus romieuxii ‘Atlas Gold’ and it’s now in flower under lights.  I thought it would be a bolder gold, but instead it’s a fantastic lemony yellow.

Even in the winter garden it’s a little chilly tonight so I didn’t stay long.  The Rock Garden Society seeds are sown and ready to get thrown out into the cold, and now I’m entertaining the idea of more seeds.  That’s a terrible idea of course, but you know what a couple days of cold can do to a gardener and I’m trying to fight that urge as well as bulb orders and tropical plant pre-sales.  And new perennials.  And a couple caladiums… just in case…

There’s still February to get through you know?  Stay warm 🙂