Welcome 2018!

Another year is upon us, and here in the Northeast it’s off to a slow and frigid start.  On the day before Christmas I was poking around looking for snowdrop shoots, now just a little more than a week later I’m watching the birds huddle around the feeder while the rivers and lakes freeze over.  It’s a bit of a shock to have actual winter weather after years of lackluster cold, but I’m pretty confident it won’t last.  The weather is still all over, and when I randomly checked the Nome Alaska forecast it looks like just outside the arctic circle they’re enjoying high temperatures just below freezing while we’re developing our own permafrost here to the south.  My best bet in scenarios like this is to head for the warmth of a decent conservatory to enjoy a little warm indoor gardening stability 😉

planting fields arboretum

Camellias flowering under glass, safely sheltered from the single digit weather outside.

My choice was the glass houses of Planting Fields Arboretum, located just east of NYC on Long Island.  Built in the 1920’s it’s the former Coe Estate, an old Gatsby era Gold Coast mansions which rather than face the wrecking ball or subdivision like so many others, was donated to the state of NY which has cared for it ever since.

planting fields arboretum

Looking through the Camellia house.

My pictures really don’t do the estate credit, I was working with an older cell phone camera and the cold outside caused the battery to shut down for most of the visit (thanks Apple)… so only a few photos… but hopefully someday soon I’ll be back for better.  The not-yet-full-of-flowers camellia house is where I did get a few pictures, and although the peak is still two or so months off (late February/early March) the contrast between this and  icy walks with cold-curled leaves of rhododendron was perfect.

planting fields arboretum

Get a deal on a couple hundred camellias, build a massive greenhouse to protect them, enjoy the blooms each winter.

I seem to recall reading that this camellia house is the largest under-glass collection of camellias in the Northeast, but there are even more extensive greenhouses on other parts of the estate.  They’re full of holiday poinsettia displays, tropical fruit and blooms, cacti, orchids, bromeliads… but of course camera issues will spare you from all those photos today.  We did manage to make a quick tour around Coe Hall before our noses froze completely (and the phone shut down).

planting fields arboretum

The front door and approach to Coe Hall.

It was a shame to skip the holly and conifer collections, but we weren’t up for a long walk and didn’t have the time regardless.  Better to linger during magnolia season or when the azaleas are in bloom, or the rose arches, peonies, perennial borders, annual displays, lilies, dahlias….. 😉

planting fields arboretum

Round back.

Since the camera died at that point, and in retrospect the photos aren’t all that great in the first place, I’ll move on to another more local winter conservatory… my own winter garden of fluorescent shoplights and workshop benches.  It may not have overhanging boughs of fruiting citrus, or banks of multicolored poinsettias (the variety of which rivaled much larger gardens) but it does have my absolute favorite plant, a returned from the dead Australian Tree Fern.

overwintered tree fern

After three months of ‘will it live?’ the Australian tree fern has said ‘yes!’ and has earned itself pride of place under the winter growlights.

Don’t ask me why but I’m this excited about a stupid fern.  As you know they just sit there being green, but there’s something extra special about it, maybe it’s the accent.

primula obconica

The other end of the growing bench.  My only primrose this year, Primula obconica, is in full bloom.  It’s a sad, malnourished example of this non-hardy species, but it’s all mine and of course I’m overly proud of it.

It’s still another week or two before snowdrops and cyclamen show up under the lights, but rather than go outside again to take pictures of frosty dead things, I’ll leave you with a bright reminder of the hot colors of summer.

overwinter geranium

The geraniums (pelargoniums) are still blooming well in spite of the cooler temperatures.  I believe this dark red is ‘Caliente Fire’.

May your 2018 be filled with joy, friendship, and success, and thanks to all who take the time to visit this blog and entertain my ramblings.  All the best!

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!

A Longwood Christmas

A few years ago we almost gave up on holiday visits to Longwood Gardens.  We’re lingerers after all and the crowds and hustle bustle of hundreds of visitors can put a lot of pressure on ‘that guy’ who’s holding up the line because he wants to give all the gardenia flowers a sniff.  We kept at it though because for as nice as Christmas and good cheer are, a few whiffs of the tropics can also go a long way bringing some jolly to a cold winter night… and these are the long nights and stressful days which can really use some tropical relief.

longwood christmas

The orangery decked out for the holidays.  Warmth, humidity, and sunshine made the display even better.

Who would have thought the answer to our crowded visits could be as simple as going on a less crowded day?  For the second year in a row we visited on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and for Christmas diehards that might be inappropriately early, but for us it’s been working perfectly.  The weather was beautiful and we nearly had the place to ourselves (relatively speaking of course).

longwood christmas

This year the apples are back, this time keeping company with thousands of floating red cranberries.

The conservatories are always perfectly decorated with the colors and sounds of the season.  I think my favorite part this year was the bright sunshine streaming in through the glass when we first arrived.  Walking through the doors and into the sunny, humid warmth was an instant escape from weeks of static and dry skin.

longwood christmas

Walls of windows, tree ferns, and fountains… I could get used to this 🙂

Flowers, greenery, and holiday decorations.  You can imagine I took plenty of pictures but since they’re not snowdrop photos I’ll spare you from the bulk of it.  Click >here< for last Christmas or >here< for last summer if you need more, or better yet visit the Longwood website for the real stuff!

longwood christmas

My favorite view this year, a courtyard scene off the back of the music room.

Since the kids ditched us this year there was plenty of time to admire the boring flowers without anyone tugging a coat sleeve.  Longwood always has orchids and I suddenly had the time to admire them… although I’m still far from being an orchid person (mostly due to their habit of dying on me).

I won’t go on and on about every conservatory flower but I did find something which I thought was even more special than their regular.  In one of the back greenhouse passages was a display of a few of their ‘on trial’ poinsettia, and I thought is was an interesting glimpse into some of the variety which this humble plant from Central America has been bred into.  This is also where I met some of the ‘golden’ poinsettias which carry names such as ‘Autumn Leaves, and ‘Gold Rush’, and came in colors more traditionally associated with the end of summer.  What do you think?  At least there’s no blue dye or glitter in sight!

…and then night fell.  We grabbed a bite to eat, toured the grounds, enjoyed the fountains (not the main fountains, they’re off for the winter), took in some Christmas songs around the organ, warmed up around the fire, and then closed the place down with one last tour of the conservatory.  It was holiday-magical in the late evening, with most visitors having already headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

A Longwood Christmas with a French feel.  The symmetry and apple-cranberry patterns surrounded by box are chateau parterre inspired.

Then we were the ones headed to the exit.

longwood christmas

The stroll back out to the car.  A two hour drive home awaits 😉

As usual we enjoyed our visit, and it must have been somewhat inspiring since I spent a few hours this weekend out in the cold putting up our own lights.  So far the reviews have been less than flattering, and there’s no talk of admission tickets, but you’ve got to start somewhere.

If you decide to make your way to Longwood this year for the displays be sure to buy your tickets online before you go, just to make sure they’re available.  Also if you want to take in a quieter visit, try to avoid Saturdays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s.  Those might be the nights when you’re better off hitting the eggnog at home.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 11.21.17

It’s been three weeks since my last Tuesday View with Cathy so I guess it’s about time to check in again.  Winter is getting real and to sum up the passing weeks, the days are shorter, the first freeze has hit, winter cleanup has begun (and been finished), and we even woke up to our first inch of snow yesterday.  I hate the gloominess of this time of year but miraculously the sun came out just enough to capture a highlighted Tuesday view of the border.  And then it was gone again.

front border

The Tuesday view.  Nice enough but I already miss the flowers of summer.  A keen eye will pick out the mushy, frozen lump of my precious cardoon about mid border….

It could look worse.  Right now there’s still some contrast between dead-brown, dead-black, and dead-grey and the different forms and textures could be considered ‘winter interest’ to the more optimistic.  My opinion on winter interest leans more towards the warm shores of a tropical beach so I’ll have to trust others on that.

mailbox planting

The sunflower skeletons have finally been cut down, but that’s as far as the winter cleanup will go

Maybe evergreens are the way to go.  I of course love the too-bright yellows, but I’m sure there’s something more refined for those of better taste.

winter interest

The pink muhly grass has faded so now it’s up to this juniper to carry on for the winter.  I believe the juniper is ‘Old Gold’.

Coniferous color could carry the border through the lean months but for now (and hopefully the next  few weeks) the healthy green hellebore foliage is making the inner parts of the border look healthy and full.  During the heat of summer the taller perennials and shrubs shelter the hellebore leaves.  Now that they’ve died back again the hellebores can shine.

hellebore foliage

The giant reed grass (Arundo donax) has been trimmed back for the winter and the ten foot tall canes lugged away to the compost.  Without the grassy mess the red twigged dogwood ‘Midwinter Fire’ and the green of hellebores are back on stage.

I saw that this week Cathy has devoted her post to a recap of the year’s views.  I love it.  Being able to follow the whole year in just a few minutes is a fun way to spend these waning days of 2017… even if it does mean you’ll miss the garden and maybe get a little excited already for 2018!

Have a great week 🙂

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.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 10.31.17

Happy Halloween!  In between trick-or-treaters and going out with the kids there’s still enough time today to join Cathy at Word and Herbs and celebrate one of the last Tuesday views of the 2017 season.  We dodged our potential frost last night, so I guess today’s view would count as a treat 😉

front border

The low autumn light smooths out a lot of the wrinkles and age spots of this elderly border.  A good rain sure didn’t hurt either!

Part of me wants to get to tidying up the border, but logical sense tells me to wait a few more weeks.  Right now everything is still solid and wet and a lot bulkier than it will be after a good freeze or two, so waiting a bit will make the work much easier.  Plus it still looks decent, especially since the haggard and rough looking sunflowers were cut down and hauled off.

cardoon

The perennials are drying up but the non-hardy canna and cardoon are still full of life!

In the end it shouldn’t be all that much work.  I’ll dig a few canna roots, cut down a few frosted annuals, and chop down the messiest of the grasses.  The rest will stay as “winter interest”, partly because it really is more interesting than bare ground in December, but also because that gives it all winter to fall apart (and hopefully blow away into someone else’s yard or the woods!)

front border

Not bad for the last day of October, trust me it usually doesn’t look this nice.

There are only a few other plants which look interesting in the close-up.  Hydrangea ‘Limelight’ has never been this pink before, I think it’s thanks to the steady rains which kept it hydrated all summer.  We did get three weeks of hot and dry, which browned the south side of the each panicle, but overall they’re still attractive.

autumn limelight hydrangea

Drought and heat-stressed brown is the normal fall color for these, I’ve got to say I much prefer the pink!

The muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) is also finishing the year off in pink.  A normal year has frost bleaching the color just as it begins to flower, but for the second year in a row we’re in luck.  Like most grasses it’s the perfect thing to have backlit with some nice, soft, autumn light, but on the other hand a smarter gardener would have already found something equally as fluffy which is a little better suited to growing in this northern garden.

muhly grass

Pink muhly grass with just a little backlighting.  

So that’s where we are as we step over into November.  The summer annuals have all thrown in the towel but there’s still enough left to keep things interesting for a few more days.  Bulbs will be the last question of the year.  Right now I say no, but clearance sales have a way of twisting my arm and you never know.  In the meantime have a great week!

Done With Autumn….

Well that lasted about a week.  I miss summer and wish autumn would get on with it.  Yesterday was beautiful, but today it’s colder and rainy, and I’m sure the wind is pulling down all the autumn foliage just as it finally colors up here in the valley.  Here are a few spots in the garden, maybe when I look back in January the cold and ice will put it all in perspective.

The back deck in autumn

Frost is forecast for tomorrow night nearly everything still needs to come in.  Sadly enough I have less than 24 hours left to procrastinate. 

I spent most of Saturday just wasting time.  The weather was nearly perfect and the schedule was open, but 90% of the day was spent watching grass blow in the wind or birds picking through seed heads and nearly no time time was spent productively.  If we had to separate into ants and grasshoppers, I’d be all grasshopper this weekend.

October in the potager

The potager is all ready to fall apart for winter with everything dying back and going to seed.  Peppers were harvested, the rest is on its own now.

I guess I did mow the lawn on Friday.  It didn’t really need it but the mower made quick work of stray twigs and leaves which were starting to pile up and with the mower set to mulch it was not much of a commitment at all.  Also it kind of chopped up the turf clods which lay all around the back yard courtesy of Mr. Skunk.  Someone suggested I replace and tamp down all the clods before mowing… I gave him the look and said he was more than welcome to do that in his own yard.  Here we prefer to thank the skunks for their free grub removal and turf aeration services and let winter work apart the clods.

the meadow in autumn

Back behind the swingset, the meadow looks downright respectable again after a few mowings.  

Mowing the lawn takes a little longer these days now that the meadow area is back on the weekly cut plan.  To those who thought the tall grass was a reservoir of dangerous ticks and snakes and spiders this comes as a relief, but to me it’s all just part of getting the turf ready for next year’s show of spring bulbs and early summer wildflowers.  It will sprout up again just fine next spring, and ironically enough the most dangerous thing back there still remains within inches of the swing.  The bright red seed pods you see belong to the castor bean plant(Ricinus communis), and as you may know the beans are the source of the poison ricin.  Smaller children would need to be watched, but based on what a struggle vegetable eating is in this house I’m pretty confident my own kids won’t be picking beans up out of the dirt and eating them any time soon.

The tropical garden

The tropical garden just before the frost.  Not as lush as last year but the grasses are still a good 8+ feet tall, and overshadow the not-quite-as-tall-as-last-year cannas.

I may not have done much in most of the garden but at least I did pay some attention to the rock garden.  It still doesn’t have any rocks but at least the yews are trimmed.  Weird that out of all the things to do this time of year I’d be trimming up little yew meatballs, but there you have it, Saturday’s big job.  Here’s a photo from a few years ago to give you an idea of where we came from.

overgrown yew hedge

Every spring… trim the yews… I finally got so bored with it I let them go, but after a few years the neighbors started talking.

Two years ago I trimmed the yews back to within a few inches of the ground.  It was either that or remove them completely, but after the struggle of taking a single one out (so the electrician could rework the electric service), I suddenly warmed up to the idea of keeping them.  So now I have little yew nuggets along the foundation and an empty south-facing mulch bed which seems perfect for rock garden plants.  I’ve already filled most of it and it’s a constant battle to keep from doubling the size of the bed.

the rock garden

The rock garden.  You may see a single rock to the far right but for the life of me I don’t know how the name started.  -Btw the pine is Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  I love it. 

Eventually I’ll need to get moving if I really want to be serious about gardening again next year.  Beds need cleaning, plants need saving, things need transplanting.  There’s always plenty to do but in the back of my mind I keep figuring that cold indoor days are coming and I should take advantage of the last warm days.  That probably means doing things, but a little soaking it up doesn’t hurt either.

porch decorations for autumn

We will see how this handles a little frost.  All together I think I found about 20 of the odd little Yugoslavian finger squash once I started looking around out back, and between those and a few mums I think we’re decorated.

Tomorrow I’ll be running around.  Or not.  Most of the geraniums, amaryllis, and cordyline spikes can handle a little frost and should be ok for another week or so, so I guess it all comes down to seeing how long I can postpone the inevitable.

overwinter geraniums

Geraniums (pelargoniums) lined up and ready to come in.  Between these and a few cuttings already under lights I think I can give any geranium-loving granny a good run for her money.    

Frost will come, the garden will go to bed, and the dreams of spring will start.  I’m sure there are still plenty of perfect days to come but for now I’m dreading the end, and even worse when the clocks fall back next weekend.  I wonder if it’s too early to start thinking about snowdrops.

… haha, who am I kidding, I’ve already been obsessing about them for the last month!

Have a great week, and maybe you can find something pleasant in the soft light, beautiful colors, and crisp air of autumn 😉