The Poisoned Earth

I’m not an organic gardener.  I sprinkle fertilizer around, spray for pernicious weeds, douse a bug here and there… I figure “progress” has to be good for something more than shorter winters and a warmer globe, plus I like cool things like antibiotics, vaccines, and diabetes and heart medicines.  Unfortunately, there are a few things which scare me and I’ve been thinking more and more on them lately.  The most recent is the death of this year’s tomato plants.

For all the neglected vegetables of the potager, sauce tomatoes are always in demand and always harvested.  The kids might throw cherry tomatoes around and play baseball with a zucchini but the paste tomatoes always find their way to the saucepan or freezer, and if it were up to me they’d all go towards pizza, not sauce, but now I’m getting distracted.  This year the plants went in early, the stakes before they were needed, all were watered, mulched, and looked great… for a little while.

I mulched with lawn clippings like I always do and within a few days the plants were dying.

2-4-D tomato damage herbicide

All the new growth on the tomatoes is coming out curled and stunted.  According to what I’ve seen online it’s classic 2-4-D herbicide damage and chances for recovery are zero.  

I take care of the lawn next door, and my mother in law always reminds me every year to put down grub killer and something for the weeds.  I usually “fib” and say sure and things are just fine, but this year the clover and dandelions were getting a little too obvious, so rather than explain how the stuff ‘doesn’t always work 100%’ got a bag of Scott’s weed and feed to spread around.  It worked for the most part, we’re back to a monotonous yawn and she seems happy.

cabbage and cauliflower

The cabbage and cauliflower bed doesn’t seem as sensitive and are growing well.  They likely absorbed the same poisons and now I have to consider the fact it’s part of the cabbage leaves and future cauliflower heads.

So that was the end of March.  Two months of growing and mowing and rains and I was desperate for some mulch in my earliest-ever and most-promising tomato bed.  My lawn is still sparse from bulldozer traffic so what the heck, it’s been months since the last illegal clover shriveled and died over there, so let me just use a mower bag full, what’s the harm…. and then the tomatoes went belly-up.  It scares me to think of that whole yard as still being toxic.

no mow may meadow garden

No-mow May is a month long break from all the chopping and edging and spraying and fertilizing of the lawn growing cult.  I love the way it looks.

Leaf miners are what started all this nervousness about chemicals settling into garden.  Years back I would lose most of my daffodils, snowdrops, snowflakes, amaryllis, and lycoris to narcissus bulb flies… that is used to until I started sprinkling grub killer around the bulbs.  The bulb flies disappeared and that was awesome but then one summer I realized how perfect all the leaves on my columbine (Aquilegia) were.  Perfect leaves on columbine is something I’ve never seen in this garden, they always end up with a bunch of leaf miner tunnels and it’s not perfect but not that big a deal either.  If I feel like it the foliage is trimmed back, and new growth returns quickly, but it was weird to not see them.

Columbine often seeds into areas where I planted daffodils and snowdrops.  The columbine takes up the grub killer and becomes poisonous enough to kill the leaf miners.  Whatever else sprouts there also becomes poisonous.  The leaves decay and the compost becomes poisonous.  Many people say the pollen and nectar of the flowers contains the poison and the bees suffer… and of course people love bees… but think of the crickets and katydids living in the shrubs which also share that soil, suddenly they’re as likely to die as the leaf miners are.

One bag of grub killer would last me for years since I used it so sparingly, but today it’s only columbine in the far reaches of the yard which ever show an occasional leaf miner.  They’re basically extinct in my yard.  Just imagine how a normal person would use a whole bag in a day, across their entire lawn, and from then on every grass blade, perennial plant, shrub, and tree in the yard becomes toxic to insects.  Think of how many neighbors use Lawn Doctors and Tru Greens, and I don’t think they use anything less-toxic than the unlicensed, off the shelf products we gardeners use.  No wonder insect populations are crashing.

no mow may meadow garden

A no-mow May meadow.  Hopefully this is a toxin-free buffet for both myself and the bugs.  I’ll resume regular mowing in August and then keep it up until fall.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here.  I already have some much-smaller, far-less amazing tomato plants to plant in another unmulched bed, and so what if there aren’t any leaf miners.  I just hate to think of everything else we’re losing.

Hope you’re having a great week.  Happy June!

May I say Amazing?

As we approach the end of May I’m pretty sure things couldn’t be better.  There was a moment (actually quite a few) when I was sitting in the backyard, looked about and thought to myself, ‘wow, this is friggin awesome’.  It wasn’t just one thing or another, it was the warm breeze, the scent of iris blooms, birds chirping, the wind rustling fresh foliage, flowers here and there, it was all that and it just feels great after months of seemingly endless cold.

may perennial border

Three warm days and a few rain showers ended tulip season and moved the garden into it’s blue phase with iris and aquilegia.

To be completely honest there were a few days in there when the heat was almost bad enough to say something mildly bad about too much heat, but then a quick sit in the shade fixed things.  With enough rain and sun you can almost hear things growing, and I like that.

may perennial border

When they were bulldozing the coal wastelands to build the industrial park behind our house I came across and saved two columbine plants (Aquilegia vulgaris) by digging and bringing them into the garden.  Ten years later they’ve self-sown everywhere, creating a nice blue haze.

There used to be a lull in flowers between the last tulips and first iris and roses, but by carefully buying too many plants each year for the last few years I’ve ended up filling that gap.  I shall try to keep up that effort and see what else wonderful results from overplanting.  Maybe it’s the secret to thicker hair or longer life, you never know, better to err on the side of caution since I think I saw something once about a lack of new plants being linked to excessive weight gain and cognitive decline.  Be careful is all I’m saying.

asphodeline lutea kings spear

The yellow of King’s Spear (Asphodeline lutea) is back after a couple years of too much rabbit nibbling and columbine crowding.  I like the spikes of bloom and will try and give it a little more space again.

This talk of new plants has me a little worried because work and a pile of mulch to spread has kept me too busy for my usual nursery runs.  I did manage to finish off the front yard mulching, but after bailing out eight or nine bucket of water out of the basement Saturday I told my contractor he owed me another load of mulch.  He agreed.  A new roof is nice, but when all the water is now directed to a spot just above the basement door, and the gutter is missing, and you can see water flowing into the house it can be discouraging.  Good thing mulch makes me happy.

may perennial border

All the early corydalis and scillas are yellowed and gone and with new mulch spread it looks almost suburbian neat in this garden.

Plenty of other things make me happy as well, and since many of the plenty are things which bloom in May, even the latest round of water in the house can’t dampen my spirits.

amsonia hubrichtii

Amsonia hubrichtii is care-free in full sun and only needs a wack back to half it’s height in June to keep it from sprawling everywhere.

Even though the rain doesn’t need to fall in downpours of one or two inches it’s still worth it to have a green lawn in May rather than the beginning of drought.  Everything seems happier after a good soak, provided there’s some sun and warmth afterwards… rather than endless damp and grey.

may perennial border

With all the other blue a new blue lupine was probably unnecessary, but I wanted something to go with the red one… and of course now the red one’s not flowering…

You may be wondering how the construction is going if all this rain and water is still getting into the house, and I wish I could say we’re almost there, but we’re not.  Things are crawling along but with a contractor who is often a one or two man show, crawling is as good as it gets.  Good thing we like him and it’s always (eventually) a job well done 🙂

picea glauca pendula

With much of this end of the border bulldozed down, the weeping white spruce (Picea glauca pendula) has a chance to get the space he deserves.  Maybe the fresh mulch will keep the bulldozer from coming back!

So bit by bit I try to bring back the parts of the garden ‘touched’ by construction.  Areas are looking better but the pond was one spot I’d given up on.  There are large rocks and nearly a foot of dirt which have fallen in, but just last week everything changed.  I heard frogs singing, and then I heard more.  In the muddy, murky waters I see many frog eggs and suspect this corner of PA will soon see a tree frog population explosion.  I’m already trying to figure out what I can feed them with since I can’t imagine there’s enough whatever in this pond to feed so many future tadpoles.

garden pond tadpoles

There are hundreds of frog eggs in here, and those are just the surface ones which I can easily see!

So if all goes well this summer shall again see an abundance of baby gray tree frogs entering the garden.  Perhaps that will make up for the missing garter snakes.

garden dry stack stone wall

The stone wall is about as good as it gets.  In a moment of brilliance all the potted succulents ended up on top of the wall rather than on the deck steps.  I think I like it but it’s hard to level a pot on such ramshackle construction.

For all the rocks which came up out of the construction hole, I’m a little disappointed by how short a rock wall I was able to build.  People who garden on rocky sites are likely rolling their eyes and saying we have plenty, come get a few, but nearly all my rocks are covered by shale and fill and would require a little quarrying to get to them.  Hmmm.  I’ve heard of people who have done as much and according to my book, if someone else has tried it maybe it’s not so crazy.  Maybe I could start a ‘small backhoe campaign’ and start talking about backhoes enough that eventually someone will say ‘just get the stupid thing if that will shut you up’.  That could be fun 🙂

garden dry stack stone wall

The new wall makes a nice divider between the lawn and the meadow… otherwise known as where I mow regularly and where I don’t… 

Having a backhoe BEFORE I moved several tons of rock by hand would have been a smarter move, but if the early settlers were able to clear a field by hand and build miles of wall I think I should be able to handle a few feet.

outdoor summer succulents

The succulents will spend all summer out here, unwatered for the most part and maybe here and there a splash of liquid fertilizer will land in their pots.  Also maybe I’ll pot up another dozen or so other succulents I happen to have laying around.  If 20 pots look nice wouldn’t 30 look nicer?

So what other silliness has been going on around here… the entire winter garden is out of the house but bags of canna roots and pots of caladium corms are still waiting their turn.  Many of the deck planters have been planted and overall it’s nearly all overwintered things and not much new.  That’s good for the budget but at the moment the repotted mandevilla vine looks like a whole lot of dead, and not quite the highlight of any summer display, so maybe it will still be a few weeks before I share photos of that.

garden potager

The potager is remarkably under control for May.  Garlic and onions are growing, tomatoes have been planted, and I suspect there’s another bunny nest in the tulips.  Baby bunnies are too cute to resent.  I will tell them to keep away from the lettuce.

In some parts of the garden I think I’m overcompensating for the construction destruction.  The guilt of bulldozed and buried plants has me trying to make other areas extra-neat as I try to balance those out with areas I’ve abandoned.

chives album schoenoprasum ‘Forescate

btw chives (Allium schoenoprasum) might be my latest, latest, latest obsession.  Here’s pink ‘Forescate’ with white ‘Album’ behind.  I might have a lead on a darker variety and when I pair those with the regular lavender sort I think it will be quite nice.  Oddly I can’t rememebr the last time I ate a chive, but whatever.

Speaking of abandoned areas, the snowdrop beds are all on that list.  Maybe I’ll weed and divide things this summer, or maybe not.  These days I can call it a wild garden and don’t think anyone will judge me too harshly, plus it’s always going to be much more interesting than mulchbeds and lawn, even though 90% of my neighbors would much prefer mulchbeds and lawn rather than the excessive plantings which find their home here (the other 10% are undecided).

weedy garden

Weeds amongst the snowdrops.  A few nice things but I really need to remove the mugwort and powerwash that birch trunk!

Honestly sometimes I’m undecided if all these questionable plants and sweaty labor are changing things here for the better, but when the tadpoles come I will know they are.  Actually every new thing which comes up has me convinced it’s all for the better… except maybe poison ivy seedlings.  I can do without those.

Enjoy these last days of May, they pass far too quickly!

The Late Tulips

I don’t think I have to tell anyone this is busy time of year, but I will and with that apologize for a lack of blog browsing (and blog posting which is also slacking but far less noticed) and all the other things I’ve been cutting out of my life as I spend way too much time looking at plants and wondering about plants and thinking about plants and just enjoying nice weather… all while also being required to go to work every day.  Golly.

tulip green river

Tulip ‘Green River’ is late and cool and amazing, but also unattractive and not-showy… depending on your eye.  

Work plus construction plus a guilty contractor who offered to deliver a load of mulch as a peace offering for delays.  Mulch to calm the waters?  You bet!  It worked, and now I’m entirely distracted by weeding and mulching and staying cool in the sudden warmth and… there’s always so much going on at this time of year it’s like Mother Nature’s manic stage and I’m just as wired trying to keep up.

pink florida dogwood

Not mulched but maybe next week?  

I took these pictures yesterday evening and have just a few minutes to post them before heading out for the weekend.  Thankfully that may prevent me from going on as much as usual but I just wanted to take one last look at the tulips before the heat and wind send them back to bulbs for another year.

perennial tulips

Fresh mulch and tulips.  That’s a first, usually mulch isn’t spread until the heat of July and I must admit it looks great  -just ignore the barren borderlands where bulldozers and backhoes dwell.

Sad isn’t it?  That they pass so quickly?  Maybe, but for the slightly off-kilter amongst us there’s still the exciting time when bulbs are dug and the gardener can see just how many more tulips will grace the garden next spring!  What’s more fun than sifting through tray after tray of fat tulip bulbs and thinking about next season already? -said no one… or maybe just one person who is currently deep into a tulip obsession…

perennial tulips

The curling blooms will drop in the wind tomorrow, and given the forecast the rest might only last another week or so.  Still, today they look great.

Obviously if I’m staring at tulips in between spreading mulch there’s not much else getting done.  The rains and the heat are bringing on the first tidal wave of weeds.

perennial tulips

I did dig and straighten out the boxwood hedge.  It looks fine, and even better if a weedy tulip or two somehow find their way in.

Plenty of leaf mulch has kept down a good number of weeds, but this week I noticed potato sprouts and amaranthus and again I’m trying to tell myself to put on the big boy pants and take control of the garden with a little more direction and focus.

tulip absalon insulinde

The broken tulips of last year are back, but were in a bad spot for tulips and are much smaller and barely multiplied.  They’re also still awesome though, and I couldn’t resist including a photo.  I believe that’s ‘Absalon’ in the center between ‘Insulinde’ and ‘Black and White’. 

Most of the potager beds are ok, but only if you ignore the latest bunny nest amongst the tulips and the one bed where the mulch ran out.

tulip muvota

The smoky colored tulip ‘Muvota’ has to sit away from the brighter colors in order to show well.  That doesn’t mean it has to suffer the company of weeds, but…

As you may know, some weeds are much appreciated in this “garden”.

variegated lunaria money plant

The white flowered, variegated money plant (Lunaria annua) is one of my favorite plants.  I might need to leave more weedy spots for it to spread into.

Of course not all weeds are appreciated to the same extent.  Each year I ask myself if all the bumblebees and hummingbirds are worth the swamp of jewelweed seedlings which I need to pull each spring.  So far they are, but my patience does have its limits.

primula sieboldii

Jewelweed seedlings are nearly overrunning the primrose bed and a few need to come out so that I feel less guilty when I look at the Primula sieboldii patch.  They really deserve more respect.

I’m still not sure Primula sieboldii is getting what it wants from me.  For some it seems to grow like a weed, but here it seems to want frequent dividing and a little room to spread… both of which will be lacking during this year of construction and garden reclaiming.

primula sieboldii

I love the variety of flower forms from these American Primrose Society seeds.  If things here get bad it’s such a relief to be able to get another packet or two from the society’s seed exchange to replace these little treasures.

Primrose and daffodils.  Besides the tulips these two are carrying me through to iris season and then summer.  My Qdaff and PHS daffodils purchases might be some of the best squandering of Covid relief money that I’ve seen in the past two years.

daffodil magic step

‘Magic Step’ in the low afternoon light of a beautiful day.

New daffodils and a stretch of cool weather have really brought out the colors this spring and it’s let me fulfill one little check off the bucket list.  Many of my new daffodils are recent hybrids from the breeding work of Dr Reed of Michigan, and are some of his best work in bringing oranges and reds into larger cups and trumpet forms.  The other yay is ordering a few bulbs from the work of the late Grant E. Mitsch and his daughter and her husband, the Havens, out of their farm in Oregon.  Back in the day I used to put together wish lists from their coffee table quality catalog and then never order.  Their catalog was about all I could afford, but of course that was then and this is now 🙂

daffodil cherrygardens

In my opinion ‘Cherrygardens’ is kinda awesome.  

Not all my daffodil experiments were an amazing success though.

daffodil little dorr

‘Little Dorr’ is a huge, heavy, outstanding bloom, but…. has a little bit of a taste for dirt…

The rest are all cool though, and hopefully next year will be just as good.

daffodil american classic

‘American Classic’ has all the shading and straight cup that I like.  

daffodil bobbysoxer ‘Bobbysoxer’ is also the nicest little thing, here attractively paired with my beloved New Zealand dead sedge which I suspect is still alive but you never know.

So that’s it from here.  A weekend away and I’m sure the garden will not wait, so I expect summer upon my return.  Maybe the mulch will spread itself and the weeds will leave to come looking for me.  Or not, either way it doesn’t matter, spring is still awesome.

Have a great weekend!

Bragging Again

The weather has finally warmed up enough here to get things growing, and as usual it’s the tulips and daffodils which are my absolute favorites.  They’re not at all subtle and I think that’s needed in order to distract from the raw construction of other parts of the garden.

growing tulips

The border along the street is looking good with a nice show of returning tulips.  Some have been in place for over five years and are way overdue for dividing.

Tulips and daffodils are a weakness of mine and it may surprise some that I’ve been on a strict diet for the last two or three years and haven’t allowed myself to buy any new bulbs until I take better care of what’s here.  Crowded clumps need dividing in order to show off best and in the case of tulips a string of late freezes and excessively damp springs have brought on some serious plagues of tulip fire botrytis.  Fortunately it only takes a few nice flowers in order for me to completely ignore a thousand other issues!

tulip marit

‘Marit’ might be in the top five of favorite tulips.  The colors, shape, and size are just amazing to my eye. 

This year drier weather has also been helpful in keeping the botrytis down.  Between that and some Neem oil spraying last spring things are looking much improved this spring.  I’m also ruthlessly ripping out infected shoots and thinning the foliage on still overcrowded clumps.  We will see what ‘thinning the foliage’ does to next year’s flowers since obviously the bulbs need the foliage to grow new bulbs, but a few less bulbs might not be the worst thing either.

growing tulips

I’m not sure you can tell that these tulips have been thinned.  The one clump of orange was missed, but the others were all dug in late May(?) far earlier than they should have been, and immediately replanted after pulling off and tossing all the smaller bulbs.  I’m hoping the show next spring is again solid with color.

I’m pretty sure only the gardener will notice if there are a ‘few less’ bulbs next year.  Exponential growth means a hundred tulips can become three hundred in just a year, so better to revel in the luxury of me doing the thinning rather than disease or *gulp* deer or other vermin doing it for me.  Thank goodness the deer still avoid my garden.

growing tulips

An overcrowded daffodil patch.  Sadly this is a newer replant where I thought I was leaving room, but really wasn’t as I tried to pack too many bulbs into too small a bed…

At least deer don’t eat daffodils.  Someday the backup plan might be daffodils and a fenced in potager if worse comes to worst.

narcissus firebird

An airy little ‘Firebird’.  

I don’t know if anyone remembers but ‘The Purge’ took place two springs ago, and daffodils were downsized to just under 150 varieties and that still sounds generous, but I miss them.

narcissus tahiti

‘Tahiti’ will never be downsized.  Even as a double in a garden where doubles are under-appreciated, it’s a favorite.

A new bed of daffodils would likely help.  I think it’s worth a shot at least 😉

narcissus coral light

‘Coral Light’ also made the cut and looks excellent with some room to show off.  If only I could do more of this planting-with-reasonable-spacing thing I think I’d be alright and things would look much better.

Where would this bed go?  Who knows but it would probably involve less lawn and that’s also a good thing… unless someone wants a badminton net strung up and doesn’t want to avoid jumping over daffodil clumps…

narcissus Mrs R O Backhouse

The bulbs of ‘Mrs R O Backhouse’ did not look great after the purge, and I was worried, but many of these older varieties bounce back quickly.

‘The Purge’ reached a highpoint two years ago during the potager rebuild, and a couple daffodil plantings had to make way for the construction of raised beds.  Sadly since then I’ve found that I don’t like the way the daffodils look in the raised beds, so that’s a new space problem, and even worse I love growing tulips in the raised beds.  The digging and replanting seems to really help with controlling the tulip fire botrytis and I can spend hours each week just going back and forth looking to see how much they’ve grown each day, and what new surprise has opened up.  Sometimes I really have to wonder where they come from when it’s a flower I don’t remember ever planting or it’s one I haven’t seen in years!

growing tulips

I tried to keep two beds open for tomatoes, beans, and zucchini plantings this month.  Next year all bets are off and the whole thing might be tulips.   

Actually here’s a confession.  Last fall I did add 10 new bulbs of ‘Shirley’ and ‘Pink Impression’, so this bulb diet I’m on isn’t all abstinence and cutting back.  Maybe it should have been though, since both varieties were mislabeled.

tulip not shirley

This is not the tulip ‘Shirley’ but still nice, and for a clearance bulb I can’t complain.  The real ‘Shirley’ has more of an inky purple stain that spreads down from the edges as the flower ages, and of course I still need to get that one again…  and keep this one now…

A friend with excellent taste in tulips pulls hers each year after bloom and usually I say no thanks, but this year I already put in a save request.  I’m also looking through bulb catalogs.  I’m also excited about how fat and vigorous this year’s crop of bulbs should be.  I fear ‘The Purge’ shall be followed by ‘The Splurge’ and tomatoes will end up in pots on the deck next year… and I’m 100% fine with that! -until someone else here overrules me 😉

growing tulips

The view from my in-potager seating area.  When the sun shines and the flowers open wide there’s not much getting done around here.

Usually the saved bulbs end up as mixes since it’s (1) easier and (2) it’s easier.  Plus the gardener always misses a bunch of bulbs when digging, stray bulbs get dropped and returned to the wrong box, and the gardener is a little disorganized in general.  He tries though.  A solid patch of his favorite is always worth marking and digging separately.

growing tulips

I think this streaked orange is ‘Beauty of Apeldoorn’ and I wouldn’t mind a solid bunch of it, as well as the yellow behind which might be ‘Big Smile’ which is plain and yellow, and I have plenty of yellow, but it’s also excellent and I love it.

Don’t worry, there’s a good chance none of that will ever happen.  Just getting the bulbs dug will be work enough and trust me the gardener isn’t one to go out looking for extra work.

growing tulips

Most of the tulips here come from generic Darwin Hybrid mixes, and often they turn out to be something else, but I believe the large reddish orange with yellow edges is the Darwin hybrid ‘Apledoorn Elite’ and it makes up a big part of the mix.  

I bet a few complementary perennials would also look nice, but all we’ve got is purple deadnettle and a few self-sown clumps of bleeding hearts.  There’s much to be said for careful weeding.

growing tulips

One year bleeding heart seed somehow ended up in the compost and they came up all over.  Works for me I said!

Enough with the tulips, just one last photo on how much they multiply.  I came across this picture from two years ago of all the ones which were dug and saved during the potager upheaval.

growing tulips

The potager tulips all descend from these few saved bunches.  A few of the reds were added later as leftovers from the planters out front, but the nerd in me sees the baby pictures of ‘Red Emperor’ and ‘Apledoorn Elite’ just waiting to go back into the ground and explode!

Ok, one last confession.  I may have mentioned I did buy a few new daffodils last fall since I had been so good during ‘The Purge’ and made so many adult decisions about how many was enough and how many was too much.  They were all one or two bulb purchases from either QDaffs or PHS daffs and were more meant to support small growers and importers, and entirely not because I really needed them… but that sham is now falling apart.  I was either sent more bulbs than I ordered or the quality was so obscenely excellent that one bulb really amounted to three normal bulbs, and now there are enough and they’re so awesome that more would be even better.  Oh the cruelty of it all.

narcissus bernardino hyperbole

An older variety, ‘Bernardino’ with a newer variety, ‘Hyperbole’ behind it.  Both are outstanding.

Fortunately I haven’t clicked on any new orders.  Actually I think it’s downright irresponsible to even allow us to order more daffs while it’s still peak season here, and I kind of feel like I’m being targeted for my weaknesses… but on second thought I may be just fine with that.

narcissus red passion rocoza

‘Red Passion’ in front with ‘Rocoza’ behind.  To a daffodilista that’s what red looks like, just like peach is often called pink, but whatever, I always enjoy the enthusiasm of the plant-obsessed.  

So we will see if anything new is ordered.  I’m leaning towards responsibility and frugality, and more adult decisions which consider available space and appropriate choices, but when you come home from work on a Friday excited for the weekend only to find it’s raining inside the bathroom nearly as much as outside, your resolve weakens.  Plus there’s always that gardening budget just bursting with revenue from the new plant tax.  Construction is still as expensive as ever but when this genius decided to put a plant tax on all building costs it’s been a huge windfall for my plant budget.  This must be how the big oil companies feel when gas prices surge and then stay there… except that’s also my money vanishing… and it’s surely not being spent on plants…

In any case have a great weekend.  It’s still raining here (although the extra shower in the bathroom has stopped) but at least the rain has kept me from staring at flowers all morning.  Enjoy!

Spring?

Last Sunday was fantastic.  There was sunshine and warmth, and coffee on the porch, and then here was a nice stroll to look at plants.  Then there was more looking and some sitting and then a little more looking.  I believe things were actually growing as I watched and that’s a nice change from the chilly standstill that the last few days have had us at… and the snow… but nearly all of that melted when the warmer weather rolled in.  Eventually I even did a little work!

garden hellebores

This spring has been good for the hellebores… except I probably have too many and I probably have even more seedlings coming along so I probably should open up a few new spots and not plant other things there since I’m opening them up for future hellebore seedlings…  

I’ve been a little down on the garden due to gloomy weather and construction debris, but just a couple hours of short sleeve gardening with spring flowers opening had me flying high again.  My weedy, disheveled potager with a few tulips close to opening had me imagining the grandeur of Keukenhof right here in my own backyard, but now the reality of another gloomy day has brought me back down to earth.  I think it will be nice enough, but things could still use a bit of work here.

anemone x lipsiensis

Anemone x lipsiensis is a cute little spring bloomer.  I bought a little root the same year a friend gave me a piece and I assumed they’d be the same thing but they’re not.  Now I need to decide if the smaller, paler clone on the left is different enough from the one on the right to bother separating.  

I think a breakthrough was finally making a move on the poor little boxwood hedge which was upended when construction fill had to be shuttled from the foundation hole to the low spot in the back of the yard.  My jelly ‘topsoil’ was squeezed to the side by the weight of the backhoe, and when it squished over it took the hedge with it.  Part of me wanted to rip it out and rethink things but then the other part decided it would be worth digging out and straightening up.  So… the hedge along the potager will be dug and returned to its upright position.

boxwood hedge

My sad and abused boxwood hedge.  All winter it’s been nearly pushed over and I’ve been back and forth on what to do.

The hedge across from it is a different story.  It’s also riding a wave of squishy topsoil and I think that wave is about to crash.

boxwood hedge

The even sadder and more abused neighboring boxwood hedge.  Maybe it’s time to say goodbye.

Come to think of it I’m not all that happy with the swingset in the middle of the yard anymore either.  The kids don’t use it all that much and when they do they’re not toddlers I need to keep an eye on, rather they’re teens who wouldn’t mind hiding with their friends somewhere off to the side.  Hmmmm.  And don’t even get me started on the trampoline.

garden pond

Construction has not been kind to the pond.  It’s a muddy mess which fills with runoff, but the waterlily is returning and I see duckweed bits floating about so all is not dead.

Maybe changes are afoot.  It’s not surprising that poorly planned projects of five and ten years ago need updating, and the sad truth will be that their replacements will likely be just as hasty and poorly planned.  Obviously I’m one of those people who needs to learn everything the hard way.

build stone wall

A pile of rocks might as well become a wall so as to not look so much like a pile of save-them-somewhere rocks.

Don’t think that my whole beautiful weekend was filled with the joys of stone moving and hedge lifting, there was also the fun moment when a small jackhammer showed up so that “if I wanted to start taking out the concrete patio section and digging out new basement stairs” I could.  Lucky me!

double daffodil mertensis bluebell

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) can be floppy and messy and rapidly die down when the weather gets warm, but I’m determined to get a few settled into the garden.    

So even when my day of rest was topped off with three hours of jack hammering and digging I still thought it was a fantastic weekend.  The weather was beautiful and I even snuck in a quick hike and garden center run with the daughter.  She got it into her head to trim Grandma’s spiral evergreens, pull weeds, and also wanted to plant a few flowers, so needless to say I was thrilled to hear her speaking my language and found the time to look at plants with her 😉

daffodil jetfire

‘Jetfire’ is a nice little daffodil that looks all yellow most years… until a cold spring comes our way.  Then the trumpet burns orange just like it likely does every year in more reliably dismal climates.

All this is still a lot of raw construction talk and torn up earth, so hopefully the next batch of photos will be more pleasing and flowerful.  I think it will be.  The daffodils are beginning and with tulips right behind them I’ll be thrilled, even if the sun is lost and gloomy weather returns.  You can’t hold spring back forever.

daffodil tweety bird

This year the yellow trumpet daffodil ‘Tweety Bird’ holds the record for longest bloom.  A full month after first opening, it still looks exceptional, and it doesn’t hurt that this small trumpet flower form might be my very favorite daffodil form.

daffodil high society

‘High Society’ just barely missed the bulldozer blade.  It’s such a highly regarded, good grower, and I can’t think of a single reason to justify my luke-warm opinion of this plant. 

Hope the garden did well for you this weekend.  I feel recharged and can’t wait to get back out there, especially if it’s heavier on the sit and look side than it is jack hammering and stone hauling 😉

Have a great week!

The Give and Take

So spring is here.  Maybe not spring for non-gardeners, because I have yet to see the flipflops and tank tops come out, but for a couple hours Wednesday they could have and that’s promising.  Of course we’re not out of the woods yet, but each day the light is longer, and each afternoon the sun shines stronger, and every day there’s something new sprouting up in the garden.

corydalis solida

My favorite patch of Corydalis solida.  They started as named forms, but with seedlings popping up all over I’m less and less confident and less concerned each spring as to who is who.

The last two afternoons have been warm enough to almost feel hot (up to 78F Wednesday) and that can be a shock three days after snowflurries were flying, but so far the plants are taking it in stride.  A few more days of this and things will all begin to fade and droop, but so far we’re not there, and so far the forecast looks promising for a return to digging and planting weather as opposed to porch sitting and iced beverages.

seedling hyacinths

Being a little on the odd side, I always look forward to this very uninteresting patch of hyacinths flowering.  They’re mostly seedlings of the bulbs I moved out a few years back, but I love the slight variations which have shown up from the original pink planting.

The rainy, colder weather in early April (without any more brutal arctic blasts) has made for an excellent hellebore season.  I’m again telling myself I need more of them and have been out there counseling last year’s batch of seedlings to grow faster.

hellebore flowers

Some nice yellow seedling which hold their flowers outwards a little more.  There’s a picotee seedling in there as well, which is nice, but it hangs its flowers much more.

There are some amazing newer forms of hellebores out there these days, and they’re so much easier to find than just a few years back.  That doesn’t mean I’ve gotten my hands on them yet, but at least there’s a chance.

hellebore flowers

A plant of ‘Onyx Odyssey’ not being very showy but being very cool with its glowering attitude.

My biggest problem with new additions is convincing myself that a few older ones need to go.  Sometimes it’s too easy to get attached to plants just because…

hellebore flowers

A nice springtime blend of colors on these seedlings.  I don’t think there’s much hope they’ll ever be divided even though they should have been divided…

Ok, for the most part I don’t get too attached to plants, even the annoying ones which you fuss over for years and then they still don’t amount to much.  Maybe if I keep telling myself that I can finally pull those washed out, muddy colored hellebores on the side of the garage.

hellebore flowers

Nothing muddy or washed out here.  These are doubles from the Winter Gem series.

I won’t even bore you with the less exciting hellebores.  They’re actually pretty nice, but when you need space you need space!

hellebore flowers

More seedlings.  These qualify as ‘nice’.

Somewhere else in the garden is short on space and that’s the winter garden.  A couple weeks ago I tossed all the succulents out from under the growlights and into the cold, as well as a few other things which don’t mind flirting with 32 degrees and a little frost.  The amaryllis can handle a mild frost, and it’s about time they stopped overcrowding my indoor space.

hardening off plants

It’s still about a month until our last frost date so I’ll be quite busy if another freeze rolls in, but a few flurries?  a bitter wind?  These plants will just have to get over it.

If worse comes to worst I’ll throw a sheet over them for a night or two, and if worst comes to tragedy it will free up a few pots and I just won’t tell anyone that I killed yet another batch of plants 😉

coldframe overwintering

The cold frame, ahem ‘Sand Plunge’, did an excellent job last winter, and even my Sabal minor palm seedlings overwintered with just a few burnt leaf tips.  

I wish I could say the garden, yard, and house have all emerged from construction projects as well as they’ve survived the winter.  Progress is slow and our ‘guy’ is just a two person crew with other jobs always coming up.

garden construction

The massive piles of soil are off about half the lawn, and I was able to dig up and rake off all the stones and fill which would have smothered the grass.  You can see it’s a little yellow and lumpy, but at least I can roll a mower across and not throw up a rock every couple inches.

Sometimes the other jobs come up as little surprises here.  Last fall just a small slice of the front garden had to be moved for the work to get started, and now last week just a little more ended up in the cross hairs.  “We have to figure out what’s gong on with that sewer line” is how it all started.

garden construction

A lot of dirt can come out of just two small, but really deep, holes.

“Wow that’s weird, the line has to be here somewhere”

garden construction

Maybe you can make out the top of a ten foot ladder to the far left of this photo.

My only request was to be careful around the little weeping spruce, and since the excavator liked the small magnolia he tried to save that as well… but apparently bunches of tulips and daffodils, roses, iris, hellebores and clematis, do not make the ‘save’ list.  Oh well.  As I was watching the excavator rip up the quite hefty root ball of the rose ‘William Baffin’, and saw the teeth of the scoop slice through the iron roots of the giant reed grass I thought better him than I.

garden construction

The next afternoon.  More soil scraping, rock raking, wheelbarrowing, and lawn uncovering and it doesn’t look nearly as bad.  

Hmmm.  What can I replant there?  I suspect enough things will come up that I really don’t have to even consider adding anything, but it might be good to get new plants just in case.

Actually my new budgeting theory calls for a plant tax on all major construction expenses.  Kind of like a cost of doing business, and here’s how it works.  $2,000 for a new bathroom vanity?  A 5% plant tax means $100 bucks goes over to the gardening budget, and I think that’s a very reasonable rate.  Between the new vanity and the sewer repairs I was able to visit three nurseries over the past week and added a bunch of plants I have neither the time nor space for.  It was fun and I don’t even care if they don’t all get planted.  It’s kind of like not finishing your dinner when you go out to eat I guess.  Sure you paid for the side of fries, but why get all guilt ridden when they go cold and you just send them to the trash?  At least unnecessary plants can be enjoyed on the driveway for a few months until they finally dry out one too many times 😉

It wouldn’t be the first time.  Just enjoy spring, we’ve earned it!

An End Before the Start

Yesterday I made a point of getting outside for a few pictures before whatever happens happened.  Those of you who’ve visited this blog ever probably know that this gardener has more than a passing fancy for snowdrops, and sadly this year the season has passed in a blur with other things and weather taking priority over the hope for idle days in the sunshine crawling from snowdrop clump to snowdrop clump.  Instead I was out at night with a flashlight, out in the rain, or wind, or cold, and none of those scenarios make for good picture taking.  It happens, it could be worse, and with several clumps disappearing or dwindling this year I guess it was as good a season as any to have fly by.  Next year will be perfect I’m sure!

galanthus flore peno

A grainy, just before dark photo of the ‘White Trash’ bed from about a week ago.  Galanthus ‘flore peno’ and other “common”, “messy”, and “no special merit” snowdrops fill this bed, and it’s one of my favorite plantings.  

We won’t dwell on the weather of course.  If a gardener ever hopes to enjoy their snowdrops in this area they need to be prepared for a season which goes from an early spring thaw one week, to frigid temps and snow and ice the next, to overly warm shorts and T-shirt weather for five days, back to snow and a hard freeze.  I can always stay inside, but the snowdrops can’t and sometimes end up a little beaten down.

galanthus nivalis

A nice galanthus nivalis with just the tiniest green mark inside.  Someday I hope to find an albino, but for now this one keeps me happy.

So here’s where the survivors are at.  For you’re sake I’ll try to write less and photo more 😉

galanthus cordelia

Galanthus ‘Cordelia’ a little sloppy yet hanging on and Cardamine quinquefolia just starting with its pink flowers.  A few people have lodged complaints about the cardamine’s spreading ways but it looks like I’ll have to learn the hard way.

galanthus imbolc

I can never speak poorly of big flowers on a non-floppy plant.  ‘Imbolc’ is representing and hopefully hangs on for a while during our cold spell.

galanthus erway

Galanthus ‘Erway’ has a nice paleness this spring which is fairly normal but not always this pronounced. 

galanthus moortown

I think I show galanthus ‘Moortown’ each spring.  He’s such a hefty brute.

green poc sharlockii galanthus

My thoughts are always mixed on anything from sharlockii blood, but this one has turned out nice.  A Belgium drop with lots of green and inner petals almost as long as the outers.  

Please don’t even fall for my woe is me comments on this year’s season.  Even a bad one is still better than the suffering my non-snowdropping neighbors are enduring.  I see them washing cars and trying to liven up a dead yard with a few plastic Easter eggs and realize that my yard has been bursting with bulbs for the last month and more, and the garden year is already off to a good start.  Missing the snowdrops is as much my own fault for not being independently wealthy as it is the cruel ups and down of the weather, and maybe a few less garden visits and ski trips would have also helped.  I’ll try to work on that… maybe…

eranthis gothenburg

A doubled winter aconite (Eranthis ‘Gothenburg’) flowering for the first time after two other years of ‘no thanks’.  Please don’t die now is my reply.  In this garden new and hard to find winter aconites like to die the year after finally looking nice.

So now I have nothing to look forward to except hundreds of spring bulbs and sprouting perennials and wave after wave of new color every day!  Sure there will be a few hiccups along the way, but still I can’t even imagine things being bad enough to make washing the car a decent alternative.

minor spring bulbs

More bulbs popping up.  The unspellable Scilla mischtschenkoana doesn’t ask for much but does fade quickly in anything warmer than sweater weather. 

I don’t know how people manage self restraint around all the small ‘minor’ bulbs which could fill their gardens.  I mean I do, but there are so many tempting crocus and bulb forming iris and corydalis that I really can’t judge anyone who ends up with a bed devoted to species tulips or spring blooming colchicums.

minor spring bulbs

I vaguely remember these not blooming and me digging and dividing the clump.  For a couple days they’ll be amazing and then the next great thing will roll along and I won’t even bother to dig out a label for an ID.

Even for someone who is the definition of restraint, things can build up.  If I had any backbone whatsoever I’d mow down seedlings, dig bulblets, divide crowded clumps, and just toss the excess but I’m like one of those people who grew up poor and then for a lifetime can’t throw out a decent pair of shoes or nice cardboard box, or even throw out the last six Easter eggs even though you did manage to eat at least two dozen of the ones the kids dyed.  Waste is a sin, and who wastes corydalis seedlings?

Hyacinths, corydalis, crocus, and winter aconite were never planted here.  I wouldn’t even know where to start if I tried to return this to the original species peonies, single snowdrop, and Muscari azureum (both white and blue forms!)

Before I leave the subject of restraint, here’s a link to an International Rock Gardener article on >the many species and forms of winter aconite (Eranthis)<.  I’m not tempted, but perhaps others will enjoy looking at all the different variations you can plant in addition to the not-common-at-all yellow.

minor spring bulbs

I have no plans to show restraint towards witch hazels.  They will be crowded and poorly grown but Hamamelis ‘Aphrodite’ needs more company.

I do need more spring snowflakes (Lecojum vernum).  I consider them the messy big brother of snowdrops but they come in yellows and doubles and I’m forced to live with just the species form and that’s been making me sad.  Not sad enough to go wash the car, but sad enough to wistfully search for other forms which exist but are separated from me by an ocean and at least seven time zones.  I don’t think adding two or three new ones would count as a lack of restraint, it’s definitely more of a widening your horizons kind of thing.

leucojum vernum

The straight form of the spring snowflake (Leucojum vernum, not the summer snowflake L. aestivum, that’s different!).  

Unlike most bulbs, Leucojum actually enjoy a poorly drained soil which doesn’t dry out and will suffer in a drier spot.  Think riverbanks and wet meadows, and if you find a spot they like you might as well plant a few snake’s head fritallaries (F. meleagris) since they also like that same mucky kind of spot.

leucojum vernum

A nice pure white form I found a few years back.  It’s a nice thing and nicely complements the “yellow tipped” ones behind them… if only they would stay yellow…

And again I’m going on too long.  Let’s just photo along and get through hellebores and the current weather.

yellow hellebore

The first hellebores are starting.  A couple nice yellow seedlings.

anemone hellebore

A surprise anemone form hellebore seedling.  I was hoping for a double, but this might even be better.

garden construction

Construction continues. Maybe today I’ll bundle up and try and dig out the snowflakes and hostas which probably won’t come up through the two feet of excavated fill, but then I’ll look at the rocks and dirt in the pond and feel guilty about not addressing that. 

Yesterday it wasn’t raining and snowing too much (just like last Sunday which was the only other time I’ve been out during the day lately) so I spent a few hours scraping fill off the lawn and hoping that at least half the yard can be sort-of back to normal for the year.  For what it’s worth “scraping fill off the lawn” means shoveling wheel barrow after wheel barrow of hard-packed rock and dirt and then trying to find the old turf underneath and then exposing enough with a rake so that it comes back to life.  I suspect in another week or two it will be mostly smothered and dead so that’s why I’m trying now.  In spite of the biting wind… and on again off again rain showers…. and frequent snow squalls….

spring bulbs in snow

The snow stopped melting and the light was fading, so the lawn is as good as it’s going to be.  

spring bulbs in snow

I might not like it, but most of the garden doesn’t mind a little snow and sleet this time of year.  We will see what happens tonight though.  It’s supposed to be frigid again.  

hardy cyclamen

Back in the day I never even imagined I’d have bunches of hardy spring cyclamen here in the mountains of Pennsylvania but then they happened 🙂

I might look at the pond this afternoon.  We will see.  The winter garden might be a nicer option with its somewhat warm temperature and lack of an icy wind and gloomy skies.  It’s a jungle and I need to trim it back which of course means cuttings since I can’t waste a single shoot.  Obviously these will be cuttings I do not need.

growing under lights

A patriotic blend of geraniums, oxalis, and streptocarpella.  The blue streptocarpella is much too large.

growing under lights

Cuttings galore and I think I should chop everything first and then see how much I can use afterwards.  Right now I’m not sure if the water I throw on this thicket even hits the pots underneath.  

growing under lights

The amaryllis have been nice.  This is a seedling a friend gave me and I might need a big pot of it, even though it multiplies like a pair of miss-sexed hamsters.

growing under lights

I’m going to have way too many geranium cuttings.  What to do, what to do…

barnhaven primrose seedlings

…and the primrose seedlings have come along nicely.  I can sit at my little table contemplating seed orders all the while enjoying the promise of spring and an occasional wiff of primula fragrance.  

So that’s where things are at and I’m hoping for a few less-busy weeks to come.  In the meantime thanks for sticking it out and if you’re relieved over the missing snowdrops don’t get your hopes up too much.  Cooler weather means the season may stretch out the further north you go and I still haven’t ruled out northern snowdrop visits 😉

Have a great, restrained, week!

Snowdropping ’22

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

Scott arboretum snowdrops

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

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

leucojum gertrude wister

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

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

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Winter garden standards surrounding the arboretum headquarters.

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

Scott arboretum snowdrops

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

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

Scott arboretum snowdrops

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

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

hamamelis angelly strawberries and cream westerstede

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

hamamelis strawberries and cream

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

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

hammemelis doerak

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

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

hamamelis tsukubana-kurenai

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

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

hamamelis chris

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

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

charles cresson garden

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

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

hedgleigh spring hellebore

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

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

hedgleigh spring hellebore

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

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

hedgleigh spring camellia

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

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

iris unguicularis

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

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

cresson adonis

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

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

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

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

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

galanthus white dream

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

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

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

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

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

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

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

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

charles cresson garden

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

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

prunus mume

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

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

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

bricker garden

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

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

Scott arboretum snowdrops

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

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

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

Four Days in February

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

skiing in NEPA

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

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

winter garden cleanup

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

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

winter garden cleanup

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

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

american snowdrops

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

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

galanthus rosemary burnham

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

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

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 🙂