6 Years and a Snow Day

At least it’s so cold there’s no mud.

Construction on the border wall has halted for the winter.  The whole thing has been shaped and smeared with a nice layer of topsoil, and all that’s left to add is a row of spruce along the top.  Dark, gloomy, rooty, overbearing spruce that shall eventually loom over my sunny garden.  As you can see I’m still trying to be optimistic about it all.

the wall

The Wall

We’re home today waiting for the snow to fall and that seems like the perfect time to get in a few pictures and celebrate an anniversary.  For me January is an agonizingly slow gardening month, and apparently that was also the case six years ago when in a moment of boredom I found out just how easy it was to start a free online blog through WordPress.  Six years and six thousand snowdrop pictures later I’m still here and although the heyday for blogs seems to have peaked and waned I’m more than happy to keep going on more than I need to about my somewhat suburban, somewhat middle of nowhere Pennsylvania garden.

magnolia grandiflora

The only bit of winter interest I could find in the bleak and cold garden.  The red twigged ‘Midwinter Fire’ dogwood will be fine in this week’s arctic blast, but all bets are off on the Southern magnolia seedlings.

Over the years this gardener has been slowly learning a thing or two but it’s always an uphill battle.  This winter’s “learning opportunity” was not having enough snowdrops and cyclamen to fill my winter garden.  It was a trifecta of bad decisions and luck which began with me planting out all the potted snowdrops, me not buying any bulk snowdrops for forcing, and me leaving the dormant cyclamen tubers in a spot which took on the brunt of last summer’s endless rainfall.  Then I brilliantly chose to reduce the number of geraniums under lights.  In hindsight it’s all my fault, but fortunately I have some experience coping with that as well 🙂

winter garden

There’s like three cyclamen in bloom when there should be a tray-full.  But at least it’s clean since the seed saving mess is all packed up and off my little man-cave table.

Since the winter garden is kind of a flop this year, my natural response is to go all out and make it even bigger!  The area which hosts my grow area was originally built as a workshop, and I’d been using it for tools and storage and some of the messier projects, but enough of that.

winter garden

The cyclamen pots sometimes freeze on a cold and windy day, but this set of lights is further from the drafty  windows and can hopefully stay above freezing even on the coldest day.  Four geraniums (Pelargoniums) are all I saved from last year…

After these pictures were taken I hauled everything home-improvement and woodshop related out and started moving lights and tables into hopefully “better” spots.  Most is still a complete mess but at the far end of the back room, near the furnace where it always stays warm, I’ve already set up two lights for the coleus and other goodies which need a reliably warm spot.

winter garden

Kind of prison cell-block looking, but the plants don’t seem to mind.  Hopefully in a few weeks things will grow and I can move a few under the second light table (not really visible in the back) and make this area a decent growing spot.

There are still a number of little things I have to deal with in the main (colder) area such as a leaky foundation, burst water pipes, and electrical issues but I’m sure that will just clear up practically on its own and I’ll be planting again in no time.  For now though it’s keeping me off the internet and slowing down my new-plant-buying compulsions that all gardeners face at this time of year.

ebay snowdrops

I did not buy this, and in my book that almost counts as saved money… and if you keep with that logic approx $1,500 US would make for an excellent plant budget!

Maybe in a few weeks there will be something slightly less depressing to look at in the winter garden.  Most years this is a pleasant hideaway to escape the cold and brown that lurks outside but so far the winter of 2019 is still a work in progress.  We’ll see though.  It’s remarkably easy to fill up these light tables and come to think of it there are still a few potted primula outside that I could probably chip out of the ice and drag inside before the snow and cold become too unreasonable.  Hmmmmm.

Stay warm!

Winter Disinterest

After what seems like the longest stretch of gloomy weather ever in all recorded time, the sun finally came out.  The cold came along with it, and that’s probably related, but it was worth it to see all that brightness again.  Walking across a frozen lawn with the sun on my face is something I’d been missing for the last few months as I’ve been more used to shuffling in order to keep from slipping in the muddy mess I’ve been calling a yard.  The sun also lifted some of the gloom and anxiety of all the earth-moving thats still going on behind the house.

industrial park

The lights of the industrial park seem to have caused a little state of emergency down at town hall, and apparently the mayor has declared that a wall must be built.  So far the wall is completely ineffective in stopping the lights, but we now have a big beautiful wall of dirt and of course that must be a great thing.  

Before this post turns into what looks like just another ‘woe is me’ update I want to say again I’m over it, and whatever happens happens.  I just want all this mess to be done so I can go back to tending my little plot in peace, and if that doesn’t work out we can always move.  In the meantime I’ll keep myself busy with regular runs into the construction zone to steal even more interesting rocks for the garden 🙂

garden stones

One of the dump trucks was rich in a bunch of relatively flat pieces of Pennsylvania bluestone.  You can never have enough stepping stones so of course I was pleased.  

This afternoon I was inspired by the sunshine and upgraded the little stone accents in the front foundation plantings with some heftier rocks.  It was easy enough to roll them around on the frozen soil, but the problem will come later when some planting I forgot all about sprouts up right where I dropped a 100 pound rock.

garden stones

I’ll move the rocks some once spring arrives, but in the meantime I already like being able to jump from stone to stone rather than step on every important sprout that I forget is there.

Those who like to point out the obvious will note that I should have used stepping stones rather than boulders if I was going to use them as stepping stones.  I’d say that’s a good point.

galanthus three ships

If you notice the big white bucket in the middle of the foundation plantings, and think you’re doing me a favor in cleaning it up, you’ll notice instead two foolishly early snowdrops sheltered underneath.  Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ usually set sails for Christmas, but here in the cold north the end of January is more likely, and I for one am relieved I haven’t killed them yet.

Honestly I was a little bored as I wandered about in the sun.  You can only haul so many rocks, I wasn’t dressed warmly enough to just sit in the sun, and even for me it’s still too early for any serious cleanup so pruning was about all I could think of.  I stood for maybe twenty minutes clipping dead leaves off the witch hazel.  The flower buds were just starting to open and although clipping individual dead leaves off a bush in January is possibly the most pointless thing to do, I did it.

-well actually I only did about half the bush before I got tired of it…

witch hazel pallida

Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’) just starting to open in the warm sun.

When you consider the usual barks and foliage that pass for winter interest in the northern zones I don’t get quite as excited as many gardeners do.  I appreciate them, but I’m more of a flower kind of guy, and the fact that I was able find a few blooms here in NE Pennsylvania in almost the middle of January, while temperatures hovered at just below freezing,  it made me pretty happy.

Of course a greenhouse would probably make me happy too, but for now I’m going to stick with adding more witch hazels.  Have a great week.

2018: Four Days Left and Finally a Sunny Day

The title may be an exaggeration, but it sure feels like the truth this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually all in favor of a well watered growing season, but this endless gloom is really wearing me down this year.  Fortunately the colder weather seems to have dried the air out a bit and although there are still plenty of storm systems creeping across the States it’s only tomorrow which seems to be a complete wash-out.  With that on the way I made a point of taking advantage of yesterday’s dry skies and sunny weather (and a Christmas holiday!) to labour outside a bit, and hopefully work off a few cookie-calories.

garden path stones

Stones were hauled out of the construction site next door and put to use in expanding a planting bed.

The hard work was hauling stones.  For those who garden on rocky mountainsides the idea of intentionally adding rocks to a yard might seem like nonsense but I love having them scattered around.  Big enough to sit on is perfect, flat enough to step on is also good enough.  This line of stepping stones will hopefully be ideal for muddy spring mornings spent looking too closely at sprouting snowdrops.

snowdrop noses galanthus

Speaking of snowdrops here are a few of the earliest sprouts.  Depending on how the winter goes we could have blooms coming on these by January, February, or March….  Earlier sounds nice, but the stress of later, damaging cold snaps is sometimes not worth it.

Even with a little sunshine, most everything is the garden is dull and bleak ‘winter interest’, and I guess if you’re taking a winter vow of poverty that’s fine but I prefer to see a little more interesting in my winter interest.  A move further south is out of the question, a massive greenhouse is out of the budget, but maybe a few fall blooming snowdrops will fit the bill.  This summer I finally planted my ‘Potter’s Prelude’ out in the open garden, and will now see how they take a full blown, in the garden winter.  Many have re-assured me they’ll be fine, but for now I’m committed to covering them ever time the weather sinks into the low 20’s.

galanthus potters prelude

Galanthus ‘Potters Prelude’.  This year they’re about a month late, undoubtedly I wasn’t the only one waiting for all the rain to stop.

We will see if much else still gets done during these lulls in winter.  I tried to warm up to the winter garden in the garage last week but maybe it’s still just too early and I’m still not quite as desperate as I will be when the snow flies, so for now I’ll still putter around outside.  In the meantime I hope the holidays are being enjoyed by all.  The countdown to 2019 has begun and I wish all of you nothing but the best for the new year!

Shock and Awe

As is my luck, just a few months after moving in it was announced construction would begin on an industrial park behind the new house.  Worse things could happen since the barren acreage was home to little else than mine tailings and stunted birch, but it was open land and I still prefer open land to warehouses and truck parking.  In any case all the trees were gone within a few months.

construction site as my view

Baby pictures of a garden.  The two green shrubs would go on to become the aspen which now dominate the meadow garden, and the wisp of chartreuse surrounded by a mulch ring is now a 20 foot high dawn redwood.

I still miss the large white oak which sat directly behind our yard but over the intervening years new saplings and seedlings have come up to protect us from whatever eyesore progress put in our way.  “Things will be fine” I told my neighbors as we trudged along through the bulldozing, blasting, dumping, uncertainty, and endless windblown dirt as the on again off again construction continued…. for eight years….

summer potager

Last summer’s view, with a respectable wall of trees coming up to shield us from the construction.

Earlier this month the final addition to our end of the park was completed, and the lights went on and the trucks moved in.  The neighbors complained.  The township was involved.  Agreements were reached.  I knew nothing.  One evening I got the text that “they cut down all the trees” and that night when I got home it was quite the shock to find the industrial park had moved right in to our kitchen.

industrial park lights

Looking out onto the deck.  Adios sunsets.

We have a new view now, the scene off the deck just isn’t quite as sorta suburbia as it used to be.  The trees and scrub are gone and with the fence down we’re just a few steps away from barbed wire, chainlink, and tractor trailers.

industrial park construction

I guess it’s better than a highway next door, or a power plant or something…

The tree removal is part of what the industrial park has agreed to do in order to block the light and noise of the development.  The trees came down, dirt is going in and new trees will be planted. I have faith that it will all work out but for now I miss the aspen and sumac and all the other surprises (and nuisances) which had shown up on their own.  They, as well as milkweed and coneflowers and a bunch of other interesting things are now buried under about eight feet of fill.

industrial park construction

The pines which were almost blocking the lights have already been moved to behind my house where they now mostly just block the mountain view.  At least they’re far enough back and not looming right over the fence.  

Word is that over the next few weeks several 30ft Norway spruce will be lifted from another site via giant tree spade and trucked down to take up new homes between us and the lights.  They’re not my favorite tree but beggars can’t be choosers and hopefully they’ll be planted far enough away that they don’t suck up 100% of the winter light which comes from that direction.

industrial park construction

Just a few weeks ago I was back here admiring how well the aspen had returned and planning the work I still needed to do.  Now it’s all changed, tons of dirt has been dumped, and this is where “we’re going to plant a forest”.  

The quote I’m going with has been “you don’t want to see us and we don’t want to see you”, and I’m hoping that works out to be the case.  I liked the wide open but maybe a nearby forest won’t be the worst thing, and in any case finally being done with all the uncertainty of what the future holds might be a relief after all these years.  Wish me luck!

Happy Thanksgiving

The thermometer sits at 13F (-10C) this morning and the low for tonight is forecast to be 7F(-14C).  Of course it’s much warmer on this side of the windowpane, and even if I took off my cozy sweatshirt I’d still be comfortable so I guess there’s plenty of reasons to be thankful.  Even last weekend’s snowfall was just a minor inconvenience, although it came as a surprise and the fall decorations look a little out of place now.

October snowfall

Admiring the mums one week, shoveling snow the next.  So much for gardening!

All garden projects are on hold, and things like cleaning playrooms and painting bedrooms and moving furniture are back on the list, for which I’m 100% excited for.  It would be a shame for the weather to just keep me inside, stuck on a couch and eating and drinking all day…

October snowfall

The snowdrop walk next to the unshoveled driveway.  If you look closely you’ll notice the neighbors have cleared driveways and walks.  This year the kids discovered that other people will give them money in exchange for snow shoveling, unlike their father who thinks he should get an ‘all those times I took you to the Chinese buffet’ discount.

For those of you celebrating Thanksgiving today I wish you all the best for a wonderful day.  In spite of all the complaining about weather and time, pests and circumstance, I realized I’ve been blessed with more than I deserve.   Fire, famine, war and walls are in the news each morning and today I’m Thankful my biggest complaint is the temperature.

 

Bits and Pieces

There’s a forecast for snow tomorrow, and in this little slice of near-suburbia things are absolutely not ready.  The gardener has been in more of a Netflix mood rather than a slaving out in the elements mood and as a result things are more behind than usual.  ‘No big deal’ he says as he dips his hand in yet another vat of overly buttered popcorn, and that pretty much sums up the last few days… except for the weekend.  It was sunny yet cold, and after weeks of gloom the sun was a nice change.

ranch house landscape

Just a few more days and out with the pumpkins and in with the boughs of holly.  Fyi I’m thinking of moving the arborvitae… any thoughts on that?

In between re-acquainting myself with a rain-free garden and doing all the fall cleanup in just two days I did a little poking around and tried to find a few things of interest in an otherwise dying garden.

Polystichum polyblepharum 'Japanese Tassel Fern'

Evergreen ferns look even nicer set off by the yellowed hosta foliage.  This is the Japanese Tassel fern, Polystichum polyblepharum, and one of my favorites.  Thick brown fur covers the newly emerging fronds, and the plant as a whole is much sturdier than you might think.

There are a few last flowers, but many didn’t hold up well to the relentless rain.  The chrysanthemums are mostly washed out with the exception of a single stray seedling which snuggles up against the porch.  I tolerate its sloppiness all year and then finally reap the rewards in November when its flowers open to signal the end of the season.

late blooming chrysanthemum

My last chrysanthemum.  

Out along the street the front border got a clearing out so that the earliest spring flowers can have an open stage for whenever the first warm spell hits.  Of course that’s code for ‘I planted more snowdrops here’, but snowdrop season comes on fast and I want to be sure I’m prepared for that at least!

leaf mulch perennial bed

The interior of the bed has been cleared out and a Rolls Royce layer of leaf mulch put down.  They’re the shredded Japanese maple leaves from next door, mixed up with a good amount of lawn clippings which should be delicious for the earthworms.  

Although I did do some clearing out, the bulk of my fall cleanup is just removing anything which looks overly messy, and then running the leaves over with the mower and tossing the shreddings into select beds.  Whatever is left I can just refer to as winter interest and eventually get it come springtime.

abelmoschus seed pod

Although it was one of the first plants to go when temperatures dropped, the dead stalks of the abelmoschus still look great with their fuzzy seedpods.

Honestly if I had the opportunity I would want about double the amount of leaves that I collect each fall off the lawns.  Some would go into the compost, but most just gets thrown back as a winter blanket for empty vegetable beds and sleeping perennial plantings.  As it is I still end up volunteering to clean out my Bil’s backyard and then robbing the woods for whatever’s been dumped back there.  It’s sad how I covet my neighbor’s fallen leaves.

Lindera glauca var. salicifolia

An Asian spicebush, Lindera glauca var. salicifolia was named as my friend’s favorite shrub and I’d have to agree.  The seedlings she shared with me are finally coming along and I love the late season glow of their foliage.

It’s not all about dead leaves though.  Snowdrop talk will come up more and more now that the weather is turning cold.  This season I am eagerly awaiting the opening of my new snowdrop walk, and based on all the buzz already surrounding it I’m sure it will be an excellent new springtime adventure.

snowdrop walk

Just in case it’s not obvious the new snowdrop walk enters between the chrysanthemums and carries you across the bed.  Most people will need to crawl if they wish to avoid a cherry branch to the forehead, but you’ll be down low looking at them anyway so why bother with a whole bunch of head-room?

In the meantime, a few hardy cyclamen line the snowdrop walk.  Cyclamen hederifolium is sending up its winter foliage now and the last flowers look even better against the beautifully patterned leaves.

cyclamen hederifolium

It appears I’ve lost a few older cyclamen plants this summer, most likely due to all the rain, but there are still plenty left surviving and multiplying.

With the snowdrop walk all prepped and waiting, it’s time to turn towards the next on again off again project.

quaking aspen bark

The land beyond the fence.  Years back, before the fence went up, I used to mow around a few little quaking aspen sprouts.  They’ve grown since, and are now sporting some attractively bright bark color.  

You may remember that my MiL lives next door, and that a few years back I was able to get a bunch of fill dumped behind her house.  In the years since, I’ve managed to level and plant the half closest to her fence, but the other half still needs grading and moving.  After losing all hope of someone coming and doing the job in a day or two with all the right machinery, I’ve finally decided it will be me who digs and grades and moves all the dirt that remains.  My guess is that the rest of my life will be spent digging back here, but I already have a shovel and the dirt is free, so what have I got to lose?

grading fill

Left side graded and planted to grass, right side still to be done.  While I’m at it someone’s mentioned they’d like a screen of evergreens planted, so why not add that to the list as well….

I’ll be using the dirt to fill in some of the low spots in my own yard.  It’s terrible soil and a ridiculous amount of work but I find I can only watch Netflix for so long before boredom sets in, and I do like earthmoving projects.  S we’ll see how it goes.  Maybe I can just rename this part of the yard ‘the gym’ and spend all the saved money on other more exciting things.  Now what would that be….  snowdrops perhaps?  😉

Must. Make. Post.

The endless gloom of this year’s weather cycle has finally started to get to me.  Even in a good year I’m not the most enthusiastic garden worker, but when the overcast and rainy days come one after another, and the ground is in a constant state of squish, I really don’t feel like much of anything.  Good thing it’s finally the natural time of fading decay that others fondly refer to as autumn.  I guess I can let it all slide without a guilty conscience and then hope that the winter winds do my cleanup for me 🙂

street border in autumn

To be honest I did go along the street border and do a little cleaning up of dead things and overly lush grass growth.  I feel like the dogwood seedlings have colored up exceptionally this autumn!

A lack of life giving sunshine and constant moisture must favor a colorful death process because whatever the endless rain hasn’t moulded up is showing a wonderful range of pinks and purples.  Usually the hydrangeas go straight to brown, but this year even ‘Limelight’ has taken on a bright pink hue.

limelight hydrangea autumn

The colors of autumn with a promise of spring in the tight buds of next year’s dogwood blooms.

Frost has taken down the bright annuals out front, but asters, grasses and plenty of yellow foliage remain.

front border autumn

‘Golden Sunshine’ willow makes a nice yellow accent alongside the pinks and purples.  It’s really enjoyed the rainy summer and one in the back yard has probably put on a good ten feet of growth this summer.  All of the willows will be cut back to the ground this winter.

All the tropicals which earned a spot indoors have come into the garage, but my one potted candlestick bush (Senna alata) still gets dragged outside for warmer spells.  It’s managed to put out a few weak flowers and of course I’m thrilled to get it this far.  Maybe I can cut it back and overwinter the plant indoors, but I’ve killed enough plants over the years that I don’t have all that much hope of pulling that off.

candlestick bush senna

Candlestick bush soaking up the last of the above freezing weather.  

While we’re over by the garage I can’t help but think that the ‘Green Giant’ thuja is going to need some attention one of these winters.  It’s a big tree and I’ve got it planted ten feet from the garage and maybe four feet from the walk.  When I planted it ten years ago the plan was for a quick screen from the house next door, and it’s done a great job, but trimming is not something I want to deal with every year.  Even with a ladder I can only safely reach about halfway up so I’m considering either leaving them go for the next five or ten years, or topping them and giving them one harsh trim and see what happens.  A review of previous experience leans heavily towards doing nothing for the next ten years and then suddenly cutting them to the ground one morning when I need a spot to plant my latest, newest, most amazing plant.  We’ll see.

green giant hedge

I have to confess a love for arborvitaes.  They’re common and maybe even overplanted, but I love them.  Here are my ‘Green Giants’ growing just like they should, planted in a spot where perhaps they shouldn’t.  

Following the confession of poor planting decisions here are a few autumn colors to distract.

fall color Syneilesis aconitifolia

The shredded umbrella plant (Syneilesis aconitifolia) coloring up for the fall.

Following this weekend’s rain I’m sure leaf cleanup will need to begin.  I know I claimed to be considering waiting for the winter winds to take care of them all, but I’m far to greedy to give up the leaf mulch.  A few rounds with the lawnmower should get me enough to mulch some of my most special plantings.

autumn color

The compost pile is there to the right, the full wheelbarrow just ten feet to the left…. am I really that lazy that I couldn’t just make it all the way?

More fall color to distract.

fall color stewartia

Stewartia is always a star for fall color, especially when not coming off months of drought.  

Not to change the subject too much, but just as my wonderful teepee of spanish flag vine (Mina aka Ipomoea lobata) was finally coming into bloom, the temperatures dropped just enough to frost the bulk of it, so here’s a single sad photo of all that’s left, rather than a ten foot high pyramid of celabratory oranges and reds.  Fortunately some snapdragon vine (Asarina scandens) held up to the cold with their cool little purple flowers, and some chrysanthemum followed along behind, also pretending to be climbers.  I may just skip the flag next year and go all snapdragon.

fall flowers asarina

The last lingering flowers in the ‘vegetable’ patch. 

Here’s one last treat.

galanthus peshmenii

Galanthus peshmenii, new this year and my first attempt at growing a fall blooming snowdrop outdoors.

So that’s it from this end of Pennsylvania.  I saw a dash of sunshine just a few minutes ago but just the fact it’s stopped raining is a big step forward in my opinion.  Let’s hope at least one day this weekend offers the garden and the gardener a chance to dry out and get something productive done.  All the best!