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 🙂

The Winter Garden 2022

Monday morning was one of the coldest days of the year and this weekend is also set to drop as low as 1F (-17C), and although we are only 14 days into the year that’s about as cold as Sorta Suburbia has been in a while.  The temperatures only last about a night or two and the ground is still barely frozen, but only time will tell how these surprisingly normal lows will work with my new, optimistically mild, global warming planting plan full of autumn blooming snowdrops and zone 7 Crinum lilies.

cyclamen under lights

Happier plantings are sheltered in the garage under fluorescent shoplights.  They’re experiencing a few ‘chilly’ nights, but nothing even close to the freezing cold outside.

A better gardener would put this cold-induced break to good use, planning seed orders and organizing planting plans, safe in the knowledge that borderline plantings are well protected, but all this gardener wants to do is eat.  Not just hearty stews and roasted potatoes, but more so late night bags of chips and “one more” handful of m&ms followed by a big glass of milk.  Then some ice cream. Then maybe another look in the fridge, just in case.  Outside just a few witch hazels are fenced, and not a single snowdrop is bucketed, but inside there’s been a lot of attention to sitting around and… eating….

overwintering tropicals

Also safe inside are the plants too precious and too tender to abandon outside.  They don’t do much all winter, but they’re something nice to look at while nibbling pretzels.

I can think of no better place to sit (while snacking) than the winter garden.  When it’s dark out I can almost convince myself that this array of shoplights in the just-above-freezing back of the garage is actually a greenhouse or uber fancy conservatory.  When the weather is cold it’s a room filled with green to hang out in, watering, puttering, pruning, plucking… doing all the stuff that the cold makes uncomfortable outdoors.

indoor garden room

My official coffee drinking, seed cleaning, label writing, phone browsing, beer sampling, winter patio seat in the winter garden.  I heard a crack last weekend and that’s got me slightly concerned about all the m&m’s, but that’s something to worry about in May.

There have been a few watershed moments in this year’s slightly excessive winter garden adventure.  Ooops.  I admitted that the winter garden is a little “extravagant”, but I blame it on last winter when I killed off a shameful amount of potted cyclamen.  Cyclamen have been the stars of my winter garden for a few years, but then suddenly a winter of lazy, careless watering did in a bunch of them.  This fall I needed backup plants.  A visit to an open garden and a cutting swap started me off.  The Amish country and various nurseries added a few more.  Friends helped.  Cuttings for overwintering added to it all.  It’s all reaching a quite pleasant crescendo in my opinion.

streptocarpella

Blue streptocarpella and flower buds on a red salvia.  The salvia is being overwintered, and the buds should probably be clipped off… but I do like flowers 😉

Recently on Facebook a friend shared an article about the “dark side” of plant collecting.  The home time and isolation of the pandemic had set unprepared gardeners off on a vicious binge of buying and collecting, and people were amassing hoards that amounted to hundreds of plants.  “amateurs” my friend commented, and we laughed.  I read the article myself and to be honest it made me smile to read about these plant collections and see the smiling faces of such happy gardeners.  I think I might have missed the dark in it all.

aloe white fox

A cool aloe which I couldn’t resist.  ‘Snow Fox’ will join my other potted succulents next summer but for now just sits dry and mostly dormant on the dimmer end of the bench.

Just out of curiosity I counted pots in the winter garden.  Normally anything under 6 inches doesn’t count, but this time I just went ahead and easily reached 150 pots back there.  Hmmm.  Then I took a few more cuttings and made it 152, just to slip a little further into the dark side.

flowering succulent

This succulent comes in off the deck and spends the next three months flowering.  I love it.  Every little bit of leaf off the flower stems will try to root, so of course I made another pot of cuttings with those.

At least taking cuttings keeps my hands busy and out of the chip bag.  I joke about not having the garden prepared, but at least my hoarding skills have me ‘winter gardening’ prepared.  You can never have too many saved pots, and emergency bags of potting soil on hand.  It’s awkward sneaking out into the frigid outdoor lot of the box store to try and wrestle a frozen bag of potting soil into your cart, so have it on hand in August so that you don’t have to make up some lame lie about ‘I don’t know, my wife told me she needed potting soil tonight’ when the cashier asks you what in the heck you’re doing.  At least I can plan ahead in one area.

cane begonias

I’m quite pleased with how the cane begonia cuttings are doing.  They’ll need bigger pots soon enough, but of course I’m prepared for that when the time comes.  

Sometimes a rare ray of good fortune may shine upon you.  A friend shocked me last year when she informed me they were officially downsizing and leaving their mature garden behind. “I think there will be a few things you’ll want” she said, and of course I agreed, but it was really all the accumulated trash like leftover pots and soil, bits of twine, scraps of fencing, pottery shards, opened bags of soil conditioners that I really wanted.  Of course she knew that already.  Only another gardener would want this stuff, and when I picked up a carload a few weeks ago I had to agree that I did want it.

Oxalis triangularis fanny

More begonias and a cool Oxalis triangularis (maybe ‘Fanny’) which I was given a couple rhizomes of.  I’m halfway tempted to pull out and plant a few of the purple leaved ones stored dormant under the shelf as companions to this one. 

She gave me a box of terracotta pots which she may have never used.  They’re small and there are a bunch of them and they’re much more trouble to move than lightweight plastic but I’m far more scared of them than I am of hundreds of hoarded houseplants because I really love them.  What the *heck* is wrong with me that I’m staring at a box of clay pots thinking they’re so nice.  I could understand if they were antique cloches for protecting delicate snowdrops during an ice storm, intricate wire topiary forms, but they’re stupid clay pots.  I’m worried about what might happen if I start cruising garage and estate sales.  I think I might buy every one I come across.

variegated pelargonium

Clay pots and grandma’s geraniums.  Cool people don’t seem to like pelargoniums but such a nice edging of variegation on the leaf, and the flowers are so delicate. 

At least clay pots don’t have any calories… that I know of…. and so that must make a few too many of them a harmless distraction.  As of today I only use them for succulents and a few potted bulbs, so even these are too many, but I really need more.  A birthday is coming up.  I wonder if putting ‘old, dirty terracotta pots’ on the birthday list could replace the usual underwear and socks?

aloe blue elf

Another aloe (‘Blue Elf’) with a few flower buds forming.  I hope a lack of water and cool temps can keep them from developing too fast.  Although I love winter blooms, I’d rather see them come up strong outside rather than spindly and weak in here.

So as usual I don’t really know how this post ended up where it has with underwear and socks.  Let me try and re-focus with African violets.  My mother used to grow them and so did my aunt.  My grandmother grew them.  They used to be Saintpaulia, but now I see they’re Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia and I’m not sure how that changed anything but I also know that about a year or so ago I needed to grow them again.  I know these urges, I resisted.  I almost made it but then cracked last fall and bought one and then I asked a friend for cuttings.  I found online sources but only looked.  I found one marked down.  I guilted a spouse into buying me one at the grocery store after a few ‘admit it, you’re never going to wear that, I can’t buy you anything’ Christmas returns.  I now have three violets plus two cuttings and I think I’m ok but then realized this afternoon I volunteered to stop at the store just because I thought they might have more.  Hmmmm.

african violet

An African violet.  This weekend will be cold and maybe I’ll take a cutting.  I don’t need more but whatever.

African violets don’t have calories either.  As far as I know adding another would be a  victimless crime even if I’m lying to myself about picking up milk for the kids when I stumble across it.  So what if I end up in a grocery store that’s 35 minutes away, it’s always good to shop around.

Have an excellent weekend, stay warm, and fuel that furnace responsibly… even if some of the fuel is chocolate, beer, and cheese 😉

Snowdropping 2021

I’ve heard them say it’s the bad trips, not the good, that you remember best, and over the years they become some of your best memories… so maybe someday this trip will rank more highly, but for now its chilly wetness ranks it closer to the bottom.  At one point my snowdropping buddy stated the day reminded her of the windy, frigid visits to upstate NY and the Temple Gardens open day, and she could be right.  In my defense our local forecast was decent, but I foolishly assumed it would be even milder and just as dry 100 miles South.  Silly me.

naturalized snowdrops

I would guess snowdrop adventures in the UK and EU are far less gritty than our adventures.  Tea and cake from what I’ve heard.  To satisfy that question, we didn’t find either.

As I was driving down my better sense knew this trip was too short-notice and not up to or normal standards, so I dropped the hint that I would be fine doing our traditional park visit alone, and Paula must have looked at the thermometer and thought ‘hallelujah!’

“Yes” she said, “That’s fine, maybe I’ll go next week”.

naturalized snowdflakes

The yellow of the winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis) was fading, but the snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) were just coming up.

The park we visit hasn’t changed in years, but this year I noticed some cleanup.  Brush removed, new paths, general cleaning up.  I’m glad to see some love going in, but also have to admit a little sadness.  Paths of bare earth cut through swathes of snowdrops and winter aconite means many bulbs were destroyed.  Decades of neglect built the show, I just hope a cleaner and neater future leaves a place for them and remembers the history of this plot.

eranthis

Bulbs are tenacious though.  A tree disaster happens, a scar opens, and still the yellow of winter aconite manages to sprout and bloom amongst the debris.

Ok so I really wasn’t all that sad and I did spend a good hour or so examining hundreds of flowers looking for something special so it was still an excellent visit, but the real star of my trip was Paula’s garden.  I swear there were twice as many blooms as I remembered.  I love when I pull up somewhere and get that stupid grin and start talking to myself about how cool it looks.  Sometimes I even do that with passengers onboard, and probably get concerned looks, but with each passing year I notice less and less, and care?  Not even 🙂

american snowdrop garden

The glow of ‘Jelena’ (Hamamelis ‘Jelena’) lights up and perfumes the highs while snowdrops and heucheras fill the lows.

It was so refreshing to see all the color filling a garden.  On the ride over I was desperately scanning the neighborhoods looking for anything but it was never much more than desolately neat lawns and mulch, or way more evergreens than even a cemetery would want.  Occasionally there were some snowdrops or a hellebore, so I guess there’s hope, but inspiring?  No…

american snowdrop garden

Paula has reached the point where nearly all the beds have snowdrops wedged in between the dormant perennials and mix of shrubbery.  She complained about too many seedlings.  I pretended to understand.

As usual we stood out in the cold examining every drop, commenting on how well it grew and where it was from.  There were also witch hazels, winter aconite, and snowflakes to discuss.  It’s great seeing a garden which comes alive while the rest of the neighborhood sits brown and dead.

american snowdrop garden

One of many hellebores.  The color stood out better in real life, I’m sure I yet again had some camera setting mis-adjusted.

By the time we slowly shuffled around the far end of the garden the icy drizzle had switched over to a rainy drizzle, and when I suggested it might be more polite to skip the other garden we had scheduled, Paula seemed fine with that.  We were both ready to warm up and dry out.  I even passed on an offer to dig one or two trades… tell me that’s not a sign!

american snowdrop garden

The last couple years of plantings line the side garden, each special variety socially distanced with only the occasional seedling breaking quarantine.

I guess I’m not as feverishly desperate as I used to be.  It’s still a thrill to go visiting but it’s more and more about the people, and then coming home is less and less of a let-down.  There are still a few (actually plenty) of snowdrop treasures I covet, but give me a sunny winter day with bunches of average white ones surrounding me really makes me feel as if I’ve arrived…. at least in MY mind 🙂

Have a great weekend, and let this be your **last warning** that pictures from my own garden are up next!

Gotta Terra Cotta

Terra cotta couldn’t be more earthy, it’s literally ‘baked earth’ according to the internet… not that I know anything about Italian or Latin… and in my most wholesome of imaginations there’s some country artisan scooping up the perfect mud and crafting a pot which eventually finds its way to my garden.  In my imagination of course.  In reality I can’t afford those fancy things so all mine are off the box-store shelf, but I hope my intentions count for something.  The idea was no more plastic in the garden, and I’ve been good for the most part.  I traded plastic and resin planters for metal and (the much heavier) terra cotta and ceramic.

The heavy is a problem.  Terra cotta is porous and when it freezes the water inside expands and could crack the pot.  Filled, heavy pots are a lot of work to move, so I guess if there’s any point to this post it’s to say that some lazy gardeners get away with just pushing them up against the house after frosts kill off the plantings and they end up drying out enough that they don’t crack.

terra cotta freeze winter

A broken pot on the back porch is the reason winter-cracked terra cotta is on my mind today.  It was already cracked in October, probably from a stray golfball or bat, but at the time I took it as an omen to bring in one less succulent pot. 

So I’m sure all your terra cotta and ceramic pots have been safely tucked away for months but remember my new blogging mantra is quantity over quality so I figured a picture of a broken pot must surely be worth a post.  To be honest as I go through old posts re-sizing photos I have no idea how I ever managed to post so much, so I’m actually a little worried that in order to keep up a steady stream of “content” through February I don’t get so desperate as to resort to babbling about tomato stakes or some other dull topic.

pale eranthis hiemalis

Above freezing daytime highs have brought on the first winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis).  This unnamed pale yellow form is always first, and usually beats the straight species by a good two or three weeks. 

Honestly I’d probably gain readers talking about tomato stakes if it meant less posts about snowdrops 🙂

galanthus three ships

It’s cold and a little breezy with flurries but ‘Three Ships’ is still looking awesome.  

Sorry, I know this is supposed to be a helpful terra cotta post, but I couldn’t resist another picture of this winter blooming snowdrop, galanthus ‘Three Ships’.  This should be a family friendly blog but seriously I look at this and think “holy s%* I have a f)&%!! snowdrop that flowers here in the middle of January in Pennsylvania zone 6!!!  Three years now for ‘Three Ships’ and deep down inside I’m still expecting it to die, but fortunately it hasn’t.  Let’s hope for four.

And this is why I have a blog.  Trust me that none of my friends or neighbors would make it past even two minutes of January snowdrop talk.  Family can barely make it past three and I’m pretty sure they’re not even fully listening.  Thanks for listening!

Slow Learner

I’m not very good at saying no to volunteer plants.  Volunteer plants of course are the ones which just step forward to fill spots that you didn’t even know were spots until they volunteered to fill them.  I guess they’re generous little things which just want to give…  plus they’re free… and require no labor or attention… and that’s probably also a big plus in my book.  Some people might say the word ‘weeds’ right now, and I say bite your tongue.  If you can call sunflowers and foxgloves weeds, well then you’re probably a little higher class than this blog usually attracts and I suggest clicking on your way before you hold me liable for the time I’m about to waste.

galanthus bed

A clump of snowdrops (Bill Bishop if you really have to know) in a photo from last January. Note the tiny rounded leaves in the center of the sprouts. Soooooo innocent looking….

galanthus bed

One year later. A big fat rosette of foxglove foliage right where a snowdrop clump wishes to emerge. Please let’s overlook the many autumn leaves scattered about, and the as-yet untrimmed muscari foliage.

Ok, good.  Now  that  we’ve ‘weeded out’  a certain  type  of  reader, I  just want  to reassure anyone who’s left that you’re entirely high class, but of the type who just is and not the type who only thinks they are.  I suspect you all have soft spots for foxgloves and that brings me to today’s dilemma.  It’s not just any foxglove, it’s the especially special strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) and of course it’s right on top of ‘Bill Bishop’ and we all know that’s not going to work out.

galanthus bed

There he is. Bill is happily sprouting up right exactly where he should be.

Normally  a few  stray  foxgloves  don’t  even come close to causing a problem.  Any other year they’re just a crumbly mess of winter killed foliage by the time the snowdrops arrive, and with just a little brushing aside all is well.  This year things are different, and I might have to try a midwinter transplant because obviously I can’t just rip out this trooper, no matter how free she is.

It goes without saying that had I been attentive and moved the seedling last summer none of this would have been a problem.  Sort of like had I been more attentive and less lazy for the last seven years maybe my WordPress disk space wouldn’t have reached 99% full with only just the few photos which I’ve uploaded over the years.  Hmmm.  I should have read the memo a few years ago when I first reached my limit and had to purchase a blogger plan rather than enjoy free access, but noooo, let me put it off a little more.  Apparently re-sizing photos is a kind of important thing, which I’m sure everyone else knows but it just seemed like so much extra work at the time… and obviously I’m not one to embrace extra work.

So with a nice snow squall covering up the ground and ending any thoughts of transplanting, I’ve headed indoors and have committed to shrinking my digital footprint.  So far I’ve spent hours editing posts, reloading re-sized photos and then deleting the old.  Of course it’s my own fault.  Ignorance is bliss, but what kind of stupid thinks a 4.2MB (4200KB) cabbage photo would be necessary when a 143KB  will do?  I’m up to September 2013 in case anyone is wondering.

cyclamen coum

While on the subject of time-wasting, I reorganized my Cyclamen coum seedlings to see how close seedlings from the mother plant resemble each other. These were all from a purple with mostly green leaves in case you’re wondering.

Every now and then even the most committed data processor needs a break, so with short days, early nights, and plenty of here and there snow, the winter garden has again become my man cave and  I’m obsessing about Cyclamen again.

Cyclamen rhodium ssp peloponnesiacum

Cyclamen rhodium ssp. peloponnesiacum is a treasure I picked up at last year’s Galanthus Gala. It might be hardy, but that would mean not seeing these awesome leaves all winter, and why risk that!?

I thought I was good, and all last summer I was fully impressed with myself for having more cyclamen than ever before, but then the cold weather hit and maybe I do need more.  I would have had more, but some stinkin’ mouse family robbed me of nearly all last year’s ripening seed pods, in a way that I didn’t even know the pods were hollowed out until I turned one and saw the bottoms all nibbled out.  “Stinkin’ mouse” isn’t really the term I used, but since only the classiest readers remain I’ll try to keep it civil.

Fortunately I know a guy.  A little back and forth with Dr. Lonsdale over at Edgewood Gardens and two new and extremely exciting cyclamen have found their way here.  Plus a hellebore!

purple flush cyclamen

Two Cyclamen hederifolium with a faint flush of pink towards the center. Also hard to see is the variegation in the Hellebore niger seedling to the right, but it has it and I can’t wait for it to settle in to the garden this spring.

Another area I need to make more effort in is my indoor fertilizing regime.  The new additions from Edgewood are so well rooted they put all my plants to shame.  Dr Lonsdale has told me before to switch to something more specialized like a tomato fertilizer or anything with a lower first number (Nitrogen) but this blockhead will need a little more hammering, so one step at a time.

In the meantime, again let me say I’m pretty excited about the new additions.  The cyclamen are cool, but the hellebore will probably rank as one of the rarest things in my garden.  Take a look at a picture or two of >mature plants< and I think you’ll agree this little year old seedling is going to grow into something special.

Not as special as re-sizing thousands of photos and editing hundreds of posts, but close I’m sure.  Have a great week!

Winter Rages?

The next three weeks are typically when winter throws its worst at us.  The average low dips down to around 18F (-7C) at night, and then climbs to 34F (1C) in the day, depending on all kinds of things of course, and the long nights and short days don’t set the garden up for much of anything.  That’s a normal year.  Besides all the other more obvious ups and downs, the weather last year was not normal, and in fact was one of our hottest years on record.  12 days in and 2021 isn’t looking to be the culture and climate shift everyone was hoping for.  Actually it looks a lot more like December 37, 2020.

galanthus elwesii montrose

This gardener prefers to use stylish and unobtrusive 5 gallon buckets to protect the earliest snowdrops from the coldest winds and heaviest snows of winter.  Here’s ‘Potter’s Prelude’ uncovered to enjoy the next few days of mild weather.

For a minute I’ll ignore the past and just enjoy this mild weather which draws these snowdrops up out of the ground.  Most of what’s flowering now would be fall bloomers in a milder climate but here they usually dawdle enough that flowering happens in winter, which should be fun, but for many the weather is just too much and the flowers (and foliage) end up destroyed.  Viva la global warming!  These days I have snowdrops blooming all winter… until we get a plunge in February of course, and then even with buckets galore, things still look like someone named Winter trampled through the beds with some heavy cleated snow boots on.

galanthus elwesii potters prelude

I moved a fall blooming Galanthus elwesii ssp monostictus hiemelis group ex Montrose (catch breath*) to a warmer spot to hopefully bring on earlier blooming, but it didn’t.  Still it seems much happier here and has been in bloom over a month!

I’ve been trying to find a perfect spot to make life easier on these little treasures.  It’s worked in a few cases but some still aren’t happy regardless of where I have them growing.  When the cold comes the flowers burn and the foliage dies back.  Some struggle afterwards, some go to the light, but I do have one who just shrugs it off.  ‘Three Ships’ (Galanthus plicatus ‘Three Ships’) has never shown a bit of damage in spite of ice and snow and cold.  He’s never made it into bloom for Christmas, which is the trick he’s best known for, but he is a snowdrop who choses to grow and flower just as the weather is at it’s worst and for that holds place as one of my favorites.

galanthus three ships

Today’s sunshine and just barely above freezing air temperatures have brought out ‘Three Ships’.

For the first few years I assumed the cold would do this little nut in.  What sane snowdrop would grow more as the temperatures dropped further?  Tender shoots and sub zero weather should not mix, but one shoot became two, two became four, and rather than die, ‘Three Ships’ is becoming a clump.

galanthus three ships

Not just a hardy snowdrop, but also a beautiful snowdrop.  Heavy textured, rounded blooms with soft green inner markings.  I love the ridges and the way the flowers puff out in the sun.

So right now the snowdrops are loving it.  It’s like winter in the North Carolina mountains, and although some more cold and snow would make for better skiing, I don’t mind mediocre skiing on Monday followed by snowdrops on Tuesday.

Be safe and have a great week!

Winter Arrives?

With the calendar turning over for the official start of a new year, I had the opportunity to see my blogging stats as a year end summary.  I usually expect a disappointing show but how exciting to see that for the first time since 2016 my visitors and views have actually increased!  I’ll still point out that there was far more interest in this blog five years ago than there is today, but I guess any move to the plus side is worth celebrating, and I think my first move will be to show off these numbers to my bank account.  It’s been slacking in the numbers department as well, and this might be just the inspiration it’s been waiting for.

mulched vegetable beds

A former vegetable bed has filled with hydrangeas and other things more colorful than vegetables.  Now a messy mulch of leaves looks suspiciously like the cover for a future snowdrop bed.  Hmmmm.

My concerns over declining views are matched only by my race to improve them.  In the last four years I’ve done nothing.  That could be part of it, but at least the weather was beautiful last Saturday and I was able to do something outside and actually weeded a few spots and spread a little mulch.  Not bad for January, and I think I’m as set as I will be for the earliest spring bloomers, some of which have mistaken sunny days in the 50’s for the end of an extremely short winter.

Mrs Macnamara

Mrs Macnamara is an early riser, but unfortunately this weather tricks her into being too early.  In the five years she’s been here her early blooms have been destroyed five times, and I have yet to see her flowers open and look their best.  

History does not bode well for an extremely short winter in this garden.  A review of last year shows various things up and nearly in flower the first week of January… and then also shows the wilted, frozen mush of snowdrops and hellebores by the end of February.  I doubt there’s a gardener out there who doesn’t know this same story.

winter hellebore foliage

I would have removed the hellebore foliage but prefer to mow it all up, and honestly the lawnmower deserves at least a few days off for winter so I’ll wait.

I guess there’s no easy way out.  A more mature and sensible gardener would just not grow the plants ill suited to their garden.  That’s a good idea, and you of course should do that even if I won’t.

winter hellebore

On the advice of a better gardener I’ve started trimming the old foliage off my hellebores at anytime from late December on.  Tender, easily damaged shoots seem to show up whether the leaves are removed or not.

I apologize for speaking of warm sun while showing gloomy snow and sleet but one of the blog stats which stood out for me was that this blogger used to post twice as much.  Because Saturday was a beautiful, busy day and no photos were taken, I was forced to go out Sunday into the sleet for something to blog about.  Quantity over quality is my new mantra and we will see if more frequent posts will be the secret to overwhelming my site counter and bringing on that lucrative movie deal I’m still hoping for.

Or spring.  I won’t mind if more frequent posts bring on spring 🙂