It’s Never Too Late Until It’s Too Late

Last fall a friend mentioned wanting a few colchicums.  Normally I forget these things in the flurry of summer, but during a moment of sitting around laziness I asked if they still wanted to give them a try.  ‘Yes’ was the response, so with my word on the line I put down the drink and picked up the garden fork.

colchicum bulb

Colchicum corms.  These Colchicum byzantinum are some of the biggest I’ve seen, but word is they do that.  

Now is when you want to think about things like colchicums.  They’ll be flowering in another month and by the time you run them down and get them to your doorstep you’ll be cutting it close if you don’t get moving now.  More punctual gardeners have already done this last month, but I’m here to say you can still get it done.  I might have just gotten it done.  Maybe last week I ordered more even though I should have enough, I guess the next budget confession will tell…

colchicum bornmuelleri

Colchicum bornmuelleri flowering last September

I’ve posted on colchicums before and you’re more than welcome to look back on last September or do a search, but if you’re really serious give Cold Climate Gardening a visit.  Kathy Purdy is practically the Queen of Colchicums and her blog is an excellent resource for getting to know more about them.

In the meantime though, I suggest you think about snowdrops for a minute.  Last Wednesday Edgewood Gardens of Exton Pa sent out their bulb list, and since I of course already secured my order by Wednesday night, I thought now might be the time to generously offer others the chance as well.  To do so email Dr. John Lonsdale at info@edgewoodgardens.net for the list.  Even if you don’t buy, it’s still fun to see drops which have recently gone well over $1,500 a piece on Ebay offered for their first US sale… for a much lower price thank goodness.

garden snowdrops

I saw ‘Bill Bishop’ offered.  Here it is at center showing off its big fat flowers.

Just for the record, even though snowdrop purchases are exempt from budget reporting I did not try to order any of the $300 snowdrops.  I had a moment of fantasy while thinking about it, and they likely sold out during that moment, but until the kids stop requiring billions of dollars for back to school items I don’t think I’ll take that leap.

Have a great weekend regardless of where your budget takes you 🙂

Snowdropping 2018

Four snowdrop gardens in one beautiful day was a little too much.  We started early, had a tight schedule, but even with the best intentions still didn’t have nearly enough time.  It was still a thrill though, and with brilliant sunshine combined with comfortable sweater weather we really enjoyed our annual Philly drop adventure.

galanthus nivalis

The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) plus winter aconite (Eranthis hemelis) in the rooty, mossy shade of a large cherry tree.

We started at Paula’s and I couldn’t resist checking up on nearly every drop she has.  Of course that takes time since you don’t just look and move on, you instead admire it, ask where it’s from, how it’s doing…  to keep a long story short you’ll be relieved to know this is the ‘executive post’ and you’ll be spared from at least 99% of our comments and 99.9% of my photos.  You can thank me later.

galanthus kermode bear

Galanthus ‘Kermode Bear’.  One of the ‘bears’ coming out of Canada, an attractive ‘poc’ elwesii with six nice long outers and none of the usual shorter inners.

I did have to show ‘Kermode Bear’.  He’s a newer snowdrop out of the breeding work of Calvor P. in Victoria Canada.  All the Bears are poculiform elwesii which means they’re these nice, large snowdrops with ‘poc’ flowers… meaning the three normally short inner petals are expanded to be nearly as large as the three outers.  I’m a fan, just as I was a fan of many of Paula’s other drops, but the clock was ticking and we were already an hour off schedule by the time we arrived at our second garden.

masses of snowdrops

Sloped beds covered with sheets of snowdrops and winter aconite.  Hard to imagine this gardener began with an empty field and a few gifted clumps.

There were masses of snowdrops at our next garden.  Dozens of years of dividing and transplanting the original clumps can lead to amazing things, and we hit it at the exactly the right moment.  The February sunshine and warm temperatures had everything up and open, including the first hellebores.

hellebore

An amazing newer hellebore with huge flowers, clear rose with a darker center, and flowers facing out and up.  It was even nicer in person!

Again, I’m leaving out so many hellebore and snowdrop closeups it’s practically negligence, but I don’t want to cause too much suffering for those who don’t have quite as much tolerance or enthusiasm as we do.  Here’s a quick image to give you an idea of just how elaborate the rest of the grounds are.  It was intimidating to think of what a force of nature this gardener must be, considering she does all the maintenance herself and has been doing so for several decades now.  Inspiring is probably a better description.

garden design

A parterre off the house overlooking the open fields.  The homeowner admitted she was still in the process of trimming back the grasses.  I’m embarrassed to say mine look worse.

I’m afraid we overstayed our welcome, but our host was still remarkably gracious, and although we tried to hurry on our way the schedule still suffered further.  The light was getting lower by the time we reached our third garden, the home of the King of Cyclamen (in the US at least), Dr. John Lonsdale.

hardy cyclamen

Cyclamen coum in the greenhouse.  They’re perfectly hardy outdoors but these are all potted up and ready to go on a roadtrip to the next specialty plant sale.

John tolerates us very well.  We’re always late, we always stay too long, and we always ask way too many questions, and I can’t imagine our plant purchases and gifts of beer make up for the time we waste, but he’s yet to kick us out and so far he hasn’t put us to work.  Probably for the best of course, since I’m not sure we could be trusted with a weeder or trowel around so many treasures.

eranthis hyemalis

Snowdrops and several varieties of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis).

To put it in perspective, there were probably more treasures seeded into the walkways than I have special things in my entire garden.  Give his online photo database a browse if you don’t believe the extent of his collection, there’s everything from the rarest species to the newest galanthius variety…. oh look at that, I hadn’t mentioned snowdrops for at least five sentences.  Here’s just one which can’t be left out, galanthus ‘Elsje Mitchell’.  She’s a new and extremely rare  snowdrop out of Europe, and rumor has it John might be potting up one or two for this weekend’s Galathus Gala.  The price remains to be seen, but even in Europe the price runs into several hundred dollars…

galanthus elsje Mitchell

Galanthus nivalis ‘Elsje Mitchell’.  A delicate Dutch snowdrop with fine markings both inside and out.

The sun was much lower by the time we started to make our way out to the car.  It was beautiful to see the witch hazel flowers glow in the low sunshine but sad to consider we were running out of time.  One more garden though.

hardy cactus

There’s never enough time to really check out the hardy cactus, yucca, and agaves which fill the side yard.  The light through the spines was amazing.

We got to our last garden as the light was fading and temperatures were beginning to drop.  The snowdrops were closing up for the night and I believe our host had almost given up on us ever getting there, but was still incredibly enthusiastic and accommodating in spite of the unreliability of his visitors.

hellebore planting

A beautiful garden filled with layers of snowdrops and hellebores, witch hazels and dogwoods, and a tall canopy of deciduous trees.

The light was fading and even though this garden also has masses of early spring bulbs and carefully designed vignettes there were far too many distracting snowdrops and interesting garden stories to pay attention to.  I love going here and could have easily spent another hour or two poking around.  I will spare you most of the rest of my dimly lit photos and leave you with just two more particularly wonderful scenes.

galanthus seraph philippe Andre Meyer

Galanthus ‘Seraph’ and ‘Philippe Andre Meyer’ in the protected nursery beds.

Before the most special drops go out into the open garden this gardener bulks them up in one of several nursery beds.  There were a number of treasures such as galanthus ‘Seraph’, “Philippe Andre Meyer’, and ‘Matt Bishop’ plus many, many others.  Some people are really nuts about snowdrops.  With this in mind I’ll leave you with one last drop who’s name really seemed appropriate for our adventure.

galanthus grave concern

I believe Galanthus ‘Grave Concern’ was discovered in a cemetery, but considering how much my wanted list grew on this trip I think it’s a perfect name to end this post on.

If you’ve made it this far I thank you,  just as I thank the wonderful people who allowed us to tie up their schedules for as long as we did.  On top of that I’d also like to point out that this upcoming week is just filled with a bonanza of other Philadelphia PA snowdropping events which amazingly coincide with the peak of this year’s season.

Here’s a quick rundown starting out with my most anticipted event, the >second annual Galanthus Gala< this Saturday (March 3rd) in Downingtown PA.  This celebration of snowdrops and other late winter flowers and shrubs is hosted by the plantsman, author and designer David Culp, and promises to be a wealth of plants, talks, sales, and all things snowdrop on this side of the Atlantic.  Free admission is a plus, but I challenge you to walk out again without some little treasure in your hands.

You might also want to consider stopping by >Carolyn’s Shade Gardens< in Bryn Mawr PA.  It’s about 35 minutes away from the Gala location and word is Carolyn is hosting an open garden Saturday, March 3, from 1:30 to 5 pm, and Sunday, March 4, from 1 to 4 pm.  Snowdrops and hellebores in full bloom plus plants available for sale.  The address is 325 South Roberts Road, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, 610-525-4664.

If that isn’t enough, the >Philadelphia flower show< also kicks off this weekend and runs through the week, and to cap it all off >Winterthur Museum and Gardens< will be holding their annual ‘Bank to Bend’ lecture and plant sale on Saturday, March 10th.  The grounds should be perfectly full of snowdrops snd other spring bloomers, and the lecture by Dr. Peter Zale promises to be exceptional.

The season looks like it’s off to a good start, and as long as we survive this last burst of winter I think we’ll be in good shape.  Have a great weekend!

And it Begins…

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

galanthus elwesii

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

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

galanthus godfrey owen

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

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

galanthus godfrey owen

‘Godfrey Owen’ from above.

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

galanthus natalie garton

Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’ with her extra inner petals.  

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

galanthus rosemary burnham

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

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

galanthus bill bishop

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

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

Indoors, For Now…

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

sowing fern spores

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

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

winter sow stratification

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

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

succulent cuttings

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

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

In the meantime have a great weekend!

$30 for new growlights

$318 total so far for the 2018 gardening year

Happy Post-Solstice

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

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

winter snowdrop

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

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

winter snowdrop

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

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

Enjoy your weekend 🙂

That Wasn’t Smart 8.0

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

foundation border

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

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

foundation border

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

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

Christmas porch decoration

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

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

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

fall snowdrops

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

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

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

Welcome to Winter

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

overwinter plants

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

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

overwinter rosemary

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

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

overwinter pelargoniums

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

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

pelargonium flower

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

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