A Week of Flowers-Day 2

Okay, so it’s only day two of Cathy’s Week of Flowers and I’m already cheating a bit.  These are the flowers of my winter garden, a fancy name I like to use when referring to the fluorescent shop lights in the back of the (slightly) heated garage.  From now until the weather warms again it will be my garden home base where I sow seeds, strike cuttings, repot and pot up all the plants which don’t mind living on the cool side, but prefer not to freeze.

growlight garden

Geraniums (Pelargonium cvs) don’t mind cold nights and cool days and will flower all winter.

growlight garden

Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) are almost a required flower for any indoor grower.  This treasure was given to me by a friend who collected and grew on seed from one of his own bulbs.  I love it!

growlight garden

In a good winter I’ll have a few primula seedlings potted up and ready to crack out of the ice mid-winter, to bring indoors to force along.  Sadly this year the primula seedlings were a neglected bust…

growlight garden

On and off through the winter an occasional succulent will throw up a flower stalk.  This Echeveria (E. diffractens I believe) is usually quick to develop flowers once it comes indoors, showing off this bright orange explosion of color from December into February.

Hopefully no one has been offended by all these mentions of cold and winter and ice, but I’m sure Kathy has fired up the troops and there are more summerly visions of flowers if you need some warming up!  Give Cathy’s Week of Flowers a visit for all the links and I’m sure she’ll have a good dose of color from her own garden as well.  Enjoy!

A January Thaw

Saturday I put on a sweatshirt and the Christmas lights came down.  Of course the job is ten times easier when a couple extra hands join in, but surprisingly both children had much more important things to do so only the dog was there for me.  He’s not quite as helpful as you might think.  The lights all came down and then the porch got a good hosing off, and once that was done I rewarded myself with a little puttering around.  The front foundation bed (the warmest spot in the garden) got a little cleaning up and the sprouting snowdrops are all ready to show off to best effect.  Too bad we woke to actual snow the next morning.

frozen snowdrops

Snowdrops up to their ankles in the white stuff again.  Most are still just fine, although here and there is some singed foliage and freeze dried scapes.

You could barely call our last warmup a January thaw.  First of all it’s February and second of all we barely melted the snow from the last storms and there’s still a good amount of ice in every shady bed and covering most of the lawn.  I’m an optimistic early cleaner, but even I left plenty since I know the cold still has another week or so in it.  Back inside to the winter garden.  I’ve been taking cuttings and repotting amaryllis.  Primrose are showing buds.  It’s everything the outside garden isn’t.

variegated pelargonium

Look at the cool foliage of this variegated pelargonium.  No idea on the name, but I’ll be interested to see how much of the pink remains once the temperatures warm up.

The winter garden can use the attention since once things warm up outside I can barely be bothered with watering anything indoors.  The amaryllis will be cool and a few are already showing buds, but overall the indoor gardening space is beginning to get tight with all the new pots I’ve been adding.  I was joking with a friend that what I need is a spring garage sale to clear out everything from under the garage lights, but then what would I do if I needed a few dozen pots of succulent cuttings in June?  Bet they didn’t think of that.

salvia cestrum nocturnum

This red salvia is the perfect color for February.  Cestrum nocturnum (night-blooming jasmine) is the taller plant and I really hope I get some blooms on it this summer.

Two pots of Cestrum nocturnum is probably one more than I need, but night-blooming jasmine is one of my latest favorite plants.  It was one of those things which followed me home from a late autumn garden visit.  “Take this, you’ll want this” was what I was told as branches were lopped off and pushed into my hands.  Of course I dutifully added them to the haul and didn’t think much else of it until the sun began to set as I motored home again through the mountains.  Slowly as the scenery turned to night I began to take notice of a sweet scent filling the car.  Night-blooming jasmine is a real thing and I enjoyed a thoroughly perfumed car ride for the tail end of my trip.  I’m already imagining a hot summer night where the deck is filled with a jasmine fragrance, but of course I shouldn’t count my chickens before they’ve hatched since any number of things can go wrong between now and then.

I don’t care though.  It’s still February and 2022 will be the most perfect and perfumed gardening year this plot of earth has ever imagined or experienced.  Weeds will be non-existent and rainfall will arrive perfectly timed and only at night.  Mosquitos and gnats will lose their taste for (my) blood and I’ll practically live in the garden.  And it won’t be a dirty, sweaty, often bloody life it will be all cold drinks and white shorts.  Absolutely.

And if you believe that you’ll probably also believe I’m not going to mention snowdrops one more time.  The forecast looks to be warming and plans are afoot for a Philly snowdropping trip late next week and I’m all ears for new gardens to visit.  It will be fun I’m sure so until then enjoy your week 🙂

Winter Interesting

A warm day, a storm, and now it’s cold again.  That should bring this blog mostly up to date, and I don’t think anyone will be poorer for the summary.  There are blogs with much more inspiring garden and snowdrop photos and Paddy’s ‘An Irish Gardener’ comes to mind immediately, and you may wish to pay him a visit before I get started since today’s tale of gloom and doom will not involve even the hardiest winter flowers flowering.

galanthus godfrey owens ice

Golly Godfrey, you’ve been through snow and frigid below 0F temperatures, and now it’s an ice storm?   Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I surprised both myself and the dog when the camera was grabbed and the door was opened and we all headed out for a tour of the sleety garden.  It was still all gloom and precipitation but I do like the look of an ice storm so off we went to see how things were holding up.

sedum winter ice

I’m not much for dead stalks as ‘winter interest’ but a nice bunch of sedum can hold its own all winter.

Overall it looked nice.  Not good, because no ice storm is ever a good thing, but as long as we’re not losing power and can stay off the roads and not have to endure the cracking and snapping of falling trees, I can see the beauty in it.  Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and promises to bring out the sparkle of the ice, but with wind and temperatures maybe barely out of the single digits you won’t see me out there.

ice cardoon stalk winter

Possibly the most photographed Cardoon stalk of all time, this thing still fascinates me.  I also love the russet hues of the ‘Dallas Blues’ Panicum as a backdrop.

I really can’t complain about the cold.  All the sprouting things are locked up in frozen soil, just like they should be, and will now wait at least until late February.  It’s almost a normal winter and of course that has me suspiciously waiting for the next shoe to drop.

ice storm midwinter fire

‘Midwinter Fire’ is an excellent dogwood for winter color.  I wouldn’t mind a few other colors but this one by itself puts on quite the show.

One down side to a ‘normal’ winter is that I’ve been banking on global warming and planted a bunch of stuff which doesn’t appreciate ‘normal’ lows.  I guess we’ll see what happens this spring.  Maybe the cold hasn’t penetrated too deeply yet.  It was a very warm December after all.

ice storm southern magnolia

A Magnolia grandiflora seedling of a hardier (I hope) sort.  The leaves don’t look too bad, but March has a way of bringing out the damage and it’s likely all the leaves will drop by April.

Besides Crinum lilies, Agapanthus, and palmetto palms, there are the “hardy” camellias.  I can almost feel them glaring at me as I walk around, and I know they must be thinking winter in Charleston would have been a lot cozier.

ice hardy camellia

This ‘Survivor’ seedling still looks pretty good, in spite of the icing.  Let’s hope it looks just a good thawed out again.

As long as it’s cold, I wouldn’t mind a good snowstorm to top off the ski runs and keep me out of the garden a little more.  The slopes are all ice right now and that’s not fun.  Also not fun is going into the winter garden and chasing boredom with pruners and potting soil.  I confess I’m taking cuttings of succulents again, and if February doesn’t warm up soon I’ll be up to my ears in baby plants, none of which this garden needs.

ice ARBORVITAE WINTER

Evergreens on the berm are slowly growing in to cover up the view of our industrial park neighbor.  

Speaking of things the garden and gardener didn’t need: (1)the yard is still ripped up with bulldozer ruts and construction debris, (2) The under-construction sewer lines froze up, and sewer lines don’t drain when they’re frozen, and (3) Covid has come to visit our corner of suburbia.  Everyone is in recovery and cases were mostly mild, but still it’s something we didn’t want added on the to-do list.

ice blueberry winter

The promise of better days.  Blueberry buds which will hopefully bring blueberries and fill a few pancakes this summer.

So now it’s down to reminding myself each evening that I don’t need new plants ordered when half the garden is in need of leveling and cleaning up.  I’ve ruthlessly crushed dreams of more caladiums, dahlia gardens, bean fields, onion plantations, tender bulb experiments, begonia collections, mini conifer forests, sunflower fields… and that’s just last week.  I’d still drop everything to drive an hour to pull terra cotta pots out of someone’s trash, but as of 11pm Friday, February 4th I have not ordered any new plants or seeds.

flowering dogwood winter buds ice

Hard to imagine now, but in just three months the dogwoods will be covered in bloom again.

Btw seed exchange seeds don’t count.  They’re practically an obligation if you belong to a society and I would be selfish to not support the Rock garden or Hardy Plant or American Primrose or the Magnolia Society’s work.  It would be like walking past a church bake sale just because you’re on a diet.

Hope everyone is going into the weekend safe and healthy.  The cold won’t last forever and even here the snowdrops will bloom again.

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 🙂

Bulbs Can’t Freeze

Freezing seem like as good enough topic as anything because that’s all we seem to have in the forecast.  This is like the third week of real winter temperatures and after a bunch of warm years it seems so…. endless.  Realistically three or four months of winter wouldn’t be anything surprising in this zone, so with two more months to go there is no reason to complain.  It’s just the warmer years of late had me kind of enjoying witch hazel in January and snowdrops throughout.  Toughen up I say!  Truthfully I should be grateful for the nice solid cold, and the way it freezes up the soil and tells the bulbs to hold on, don’t be fooled, February and March will be early enough to start your growing plans.

frozen colchicum bulb

Colchicum x byzantinum bulbs are big, and my soil is shallow, and often they just push themselves up and practically sit on top of the soil.  Obviously in this position and with temperatures down to 0F (-18C) the bulb and new growth will freeze

Some of the top spring disasters (off a quite lengthy list) have been the result of warm winters which bring things up way before their time.  Hellebores in particular must be an unusually optimistic plant which falls for this fake spring followed by a hard freeze every time, but snowdrops can be fooled as well.  Often I’m surprised by how well tender growth can survive brutal freezes but it’s not always a happy ending.  Right now a better gardener would be covering some of these goodies to keep the worst of the weather off of them.

snowdrops in the snow

We will see how well ‘Godfrey Owen’ tolerates the rest of winter after having already come nearly into bloom.  Tonight will be cold, next week looks colder.

I guess that brings me around to the title of this post.  I often see claims that hardy bulbs need to be protected from freezing, especially those in pots.  I disagree.  I used to pot up bulbs and throw them into an unheated shed where they would freeze solid for months without ill effect.  I’ve dropped bulbs in the fall and had them root into the surface, survive winter exposed and also do just fine.  There’s more to it of course but without exposing my own ignorance I’ll just point out a few ‘excepts’ which I’ve come across.  Bulbs need to begin rooting before they freeze.  Potted bulbs should be on the dry side before freezing.  Exposed pots which freeze and thaw repeatedly will suffer.  -and the one which I can’t figure out is that potted bulbs will rot when snow melts and then re-freezes on the surface of a pot of bulbs, especially later in the year.  My balcony gardening year was always off to a tragic start when a big pot full of tulip and crocus sprouts would all just stop growing after a cold spell hit with snow or rain freezing on top of the pot.  Weeks later I would finally give up and pull the still green and solid sprouts out, leaving a rotted bulb behind. 😦

Well that ended on a sad note.  If anyone has some thoughts on this let me know.  I find the easiest way around this is to just cover planted pots with autumn leaves and then uncover them as soon as temperatures warm, but you know how greedy I am with my autumn leaves!  Maybe a board on top to keep the snow and rain off would be good enough, I just have to remember to try that (again) and make a note of how it works out.

In the meantime stay warm and consider that (here at least) the daylength is getting longer by about two minutes each day and we’ve added about 30 minutes since the shortest day of the year.  I’m sure we’ll be in flip flops before you know it 😉

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 😉

Winter Enthusiasm

It’s snowing and it’s been snowing.  It’s cold as well.  Oddly enough the arrival of something close to a winter has me wondering how I ever managed to survive winter before.  Trust me next week’s lows that hover around 0F (-17C) aren’t helping, and although it’s one night and we are guaranteed at least a foot or two of protective snow cover, it’s still co-co-cold!

snowdrops in snow

These snowdrops survived lows in the teens, but down to zero will be a problem so I’m grateful for the snow.  By the way this isn’t the snow, this is just some nuisance frost which has accumulated over the past week.

I just looked outside and it appears we’re about a foot and a half into new snow.  It’s doubtful I’ll be sharing photos of all that but I figured I’d let you know.

camellia in cold winter

The snow won’t be deep enough to cover the camellias so I guess they’re in for a cold-hardiness test.  I can’t tell if this is a good look or not, but it’s green and not brown so that’s a plus.

Actually the most dangerous thing about snow and cold are the online temptations.  Seed exchanges, seed orders, plant orders, delusions about trees I need and new bulbs I have to have are a daily struggle.  I know you can share my pain if not appreciate my resolve, and so far my only real transgression has been five pounds of mixed caladium bulbs.  According to some estimates that’s about 100 caladiums, and thats obviously a few more than I need.

double orange amaryllis

Time to hide out in the winter garden.  This double amaryllis and a few geraniums are all that’s new right now but as will happen, cuttings and seedlings always start showing up out of nowhere 🙂 

So I hope the snow finds you well and for those in milder climates who are missing it, well I suspect you’re not really missing it at all and you’ll be just fine.  In any case we’re a month past the winter equinox and this is when our average temperatures begin to climb once again… regardless of the ten day forecast.

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!

Darn Leap Year

Even though most of the long range forecasts hinted at a shift to colder weather, I’m 99% sure it’s because of the leap year.   I haven’t filled in all the gaps in my new theory but Saturday was much colder than I think we deserved and I bet it would have been a much nicer day if it were March 1st rather than February 29th…. unless that’s not the case.  Come to think of it February wasn’t all that bad this year, with a couple days in the 50’s and plenty in the 40’s to counteract the odd 4 degree night.  Much warmer than normal and practically snow-free, and that made for some wonderfully early snowdrop visits.

galanthus rodmarton arcturus regulus

‘Rodmarton Arcturus’ to the left of ‘Rodmarton Regulus’.  Two stand out snowdrops in a stand out NY snowdrop collection.

First on the list was a visit to an open garden on Long Island NY.  I was in the area to visit my parents and with beautiful sunshine and warm weather in the forecast it just made sense to drag mom out to look at drops.  Dad has learned his lesson on previous colder visits so he wisely stayed home, but even he would have enjoyed the location and warmth.

long island snowdrop garden

The garden’s host leading a group around to admire the drops.    

This is the same garden my friend Paula and I visited last year (nearly a month later btw), and this visit made me realize how spoiled were were the first time.  We had our host nearly all to ourselves that time, and all the stories and tips and conversation made the time fly by too quickly.  This time even though we had to share him with the other groups flowing through, we were still able to catch a glimpse of several treasures and check out what the new season brought.

galanthus joe spotted

Galanthus ‘Joe Spotted’ was looking much finer than my overexposed photos show.  Pity that we were forced to endure such strong sunshine and warm breezes during our visit.

This garden has clump after clump of rare and special snowdrops, so it takes a while to inch through the plantings, but as we got around to the end the healthy clumps of “wild” ‘viridapice’ scattered all through the hedges and shrubbery reminded me that the tried and true also has incredible value.

galanthus viridipice

Patches of Galanthus ‘Viridipice’ around the garden’s edges.  

Come to think of it I may have to order a few more ‘viridapice’ this year when I send in my wish list.  Earlier orders are well on their way to clumping up here and if you’d like to do the same, check under sources on my snowdrop page for the owner’s email address.

winter beach long island

It’s a shame to be less than a mile from the ocean and not stop by.  I miss the winter beach.  

For as pleasant and warm as our February snowdrop visit was, the fake February visit I made yesterday was a far different experience.  On a day which should have been March I set off to the Philly area to meet with my friend Paula for our traditional snowdrop tour.  Cold it was.  And windy.  It was ridiculous to stand out in the wind and cold for nearly three hours but we did, and I’m not sure who was to blame.

winter garden northeast

The garden looked March-ish with witch hazels, snowdrops, and hellebores.  The green of winter aconite looked awfully fresh for a day hovering just above freezing.

Normally Paula and I have much more adventurous spring snowdrop agendas but this year she abandoned me to take on a big overseas adventure in the UK amongst more ancient and vast snowdrop gardens.  Just catching up on that alone took most of the afternoon!

leucojum vernum

Spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) and some yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) carpet the mossy ground under the central cherry tree.

The garden was filled with enough other distractions to compete with the trip stories.  Snowdrops are nice but the hellebores were also coming up all over, and the mix of colors made me grateful there are plenty of fantastic gardens on this side of the Atlantic as well.

winter hellebores and snowdrops

A real winter garden with awesome hellebores and snowdrops seeding and sprouting everywhere.

I also had an experience which shook me a bit.  There’s a leafy evergreen perennial called the Japanese sacred lily (Rohdea japonica) and although some people go absolutely nuts for them, paying thousands of dollars for special forms, I have remained entirely immune to any desire to grow them.  Then I saw Paula’s.  It was kinda nice.

winter hellebores and snowdrops

More snowdrops and hellebores plus a nice clump of Rohdea japonica.  Hmmmm.

I’ll have to be careful the next time I’m around Edgewood Gardens.  John Lonsdale has a nice variety of them scattered across his hillside and what harm could a second look do, but in the meantime let’s think about cheaper plants.  Galanthus worowonii is a species snowdrop which can be had for a few bucks a bag and in general is nice enough, but not much of a bloomer for me.  Then I saw a nice bunch at Paula’s.  Out of all the many goodies this is the one I was interested in, and I think you’ll see why.

galanthus woronowii

A good blooming, nicely formed Galanthus woronowii on the right, and a regular one on the left.  As you would expect most of what I have in my garden are leafy and floppy like the ones on the left.

So now I’m thinking of more unnecessary plants to try,  Might as well add another.  Winter jasmine (Jasmine nudiflorum) is a floppy, messy, wanna-be shrub that sometimes identifies as a vine.  Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s as fragrant as its cousins (it’s not), but it is a surprisingly floriferous late winter bloomer that doesn’t mind freezing more than it thaws.  I see it listed as hardy to zone 6, so I may poke a stem in here (it roots easily wherever a stem touches down) and give it a global warming try.

winter jasmine

Winter jasmine artfully slung over the perfect boulder.  I’m sure it takes a little trimming to keep in check, but the effect is worth it.

Hmmmm.  It seems like I’ve mentioned quite a few new things to try out this year, and there have only been two garden visits so far.  Luckily it’s March and even though the month is a day late in coming, flipping the calendar means one really important thing which you may or may not know about.  It’s the month of official snowdrop events, and next Saturday, March 7th is David Culp’s Galanthus Gala.  From 10-3 Downington Pa shall transform into the epicenter of rare snowdrop sales, hellebore offerings, uncommon plants, and a celebration of all types of plant nerdery in general.  Alan Street of Avon Bulbs will be offering two lectures and I suspect many plants will find new homes that day.  Admission is free, but pre-sale entry and the lectures will require ticket purchase.  All the cool kids will be there and hopefully I can sneak in as well.

Hope you have an excellent week.  March does have its benefits, and hopefully one of them is warming temperatures.  Not an insignificant point since it took me about 8 hours to warm up again after trying to pull off a garden visit in Fake February.

You Call That A Cleanup?

So here we are in late January and winter still hasn’t put up much of a fight.  I fought the urge last time and took the Christmas lights down instead, but this weekend’s rain and above freezing weather was too much and it broke me down.  The snowdrops are coming up all over the front foundation beds and of course I need to see them clearly… plus the ski season stinks.

late winter garden cleanup

This is the after picture, and is probably as good as cleanup gets for this bed.  The keenest eyes may spot a few snowdrops 🙂 

I have a tendency to do my spring cleanups early but this winter you barely know if it’s a really late fall job or if this already qualifies as spring.  Time will tell.  One thing you can be sure of is that my need to tidy up every last stray leaf and twig has evaporated as I get older.  Older and wiser maybe?  The leaves disappear quickly as new sprouts come up and hide them, and they’re small enough that they break down into the soil again before summer is too far along.  If they were bigger and tougher leaves like oak or sycamore I’d rake them off and run over them with the mower before throwing them back on the beds, but they’re not and that makes for a quick tidying up.  The twigs and stems and cut back hellebore leaves were carted off to the back yard,  I didn’t want to attract too much attention running them through the mower in January since I just recently made fun of my neighbor for doing the same.

overwintering lettuce

Verbena bonariensis and lettuce seedlings, both surviving the cold just fine.  It will be interesting to see what all makes it through the winter this year… assuming we don’t get slammed in March.

Maybe I’ll run all the trimmings through the mower in February.  The ten day forecast shows a dip in to the teens and then another warming trend through Groundhog Day and beyond, so early February doesn’t look any more promising for snowy slopes than January was.  I’ll try to cope 😉