The persistence of seed

I’ve been growing things from seed for decades.  Odd things such as tuberous begonias and eucalyptus, which aren’t odd in themselves but which might be for the average teenager.  A Saturday trip to the movies for ‘The Return of the Jedi’ and then a Sunday spent wondering if all his begonias will die from damping off disease can get complicated #teenproblems1983.  As usual I digress, but one thing so often repeated is how much patience I must have and how complicated it must be.  I just want to take a moment to say I don’t and it’s not.  To prove that point lets take a look at the seeds I started over a year ago which have been sitting in the refrigerator ever since.  A few days ago I finally made the effort to go through them and to be honest it speaks more of laziness and absentmindedness than anything else.

deno method rose seedling

A single Rosa moyesii seedling sprouting on damp paper towels.  Nearly perfect after a full year in a plastic baggie in the fridge.

The scene was not pretty.  Many of the seeds had molded up (or even sadder) sprouted and then died from my neglect, but one ziplock bag contained an amazing surprise.  A single pale yet perfect Rosa moyesii seedling had edged its way out of the folded paper towels and was just waiting to be freed from its cold, dark prison.  Better gardeners check their baggies every few days and not every few years, but luck was on my side this time and I now have a seedling of something I’d been hoping to sprout for several years.  Of course luck would also have it that my fat clumsy fingers snapped the delicate little stem during planting (so we will never speak of this seedling again) but fortunately I also found a few hellebore seedlings, one of which still had enough flicker of life in it to plant.

hellebore niger seedling

A single hellebore niger seedling.  Given another three years it may amount to something, but for now I’m just happy to see it alive.  Note the other healthier hellebore seedlings in the pot behind it.  These were sown last summer and then sat neglected for three months on the driveway, a method which I’ll have to recommend from now on.

Some seeds wait for other triggers to start the germination process, and for a few baggies the warmth of the dining room table was just what they were waiting for.  Within a week of taking the seeds out of the fridge I had three seedling of the hard to find, yet hopefully amazing, Chinese red birch (Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis).  I may be overstepping my optimism with these size of a pencil point sprouts, but given a decade I may be enjoying a brilliant grove of pink and red peeling bark backlit with the low glow of a late winter sunset.  Or not.  Patience will be required for this one, but in a few weeks I’ll be distracted by snowdrops, then tulips, then iris, then roses, and then before you know it I’ll be wondering why there are birch trees in the spot where I was planning a dahlia bed.

betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis

Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis seedlings.

Not all my seed adventures are purely theoretical.  Two years ago I started a packet of Cyclamen coum seed which would hopefully produce the intricately lined, pale pink flowers of Green Ice’s Porcelain strain of this plant.  Fast forward two years and they did.  What a delicate flower, you wouldn’t suspect this one could survive the driveway germination method but fortunately it has.

cyclamen coum porcelain

Cyclamen coum ‘Porcelain’.

In general the Cyclamen growing in the back of the garage are filling the space with some very welcome winter color.  At this time of year I leave the house before dawn and return after dark and it’s nice to be able to go back there and visit with a few of my plants before going to bed.  It’s a lot safer too.  I can only creep through the garden with a flashlight so many times before having to explain to one of the neighbors that the warm weather is bringing up the snowdrops way too early.

cyclamen coum indoors

Cyclamen coum flowers filling the winter garden.  They’ve been better in years past but still put on a great show.

One final seedling.  Last year I wanted to try a few new primula so I ordered seeds through the American Primrose Society’s seed exchange.  They open their exchange to everyone once members have had their chance, so the sight of dozens of premium varieties still available for ridiculously low prices was irresistible.  Who would think that even these could survive the driveway treatment, and although my seedlings are nothing to bring to a flower show I really can’t believe that one of my ultra cool Primula auricula seedlings is planning to bloom.  I guarantee if it makes it you will see plenty of photos show up here…. and if it doesn’t make it,  please don’t ask what happened since it will likely I did something stupid again and it will be several months before I’ll want to talk about it.

IMG_9535

A Victorian favorite, Primula auricula lays claim to thousands of cultivars and several societies devoted to its growing and showing. At this moment I think it’s my most amazing plant, your opinion may vary 🙂

My newly found primrose enthusiasm had me rushing back to the Primrose Society’s Seed exchange.  I thought I was ok last year but for a dollar a packet who could resist?  Actually if I became a member it was less than $0.50 a packet so might as well join while I’m at it and be in a great position next year when the seed exchange first opens.  So I did join and we’ll see what trouble I get into.

Have a great week!

Idle hands and the devil

Two more snow days for the kids, another below zero (-18C) forecast, and one sunny day.  I was fine with the first two but the sunny day set off my spring fever.  Of course with snow everywhere and no other gardening options to be had I ordered more seeds.  I had to.  There’s nothing else to do and even the winter garden has me bored.

cyclamen coum in pots

Under lights the cyclamen coum are still going strong. I love the large flowers on the white with their blackberry noses, I wish a few of the others had blooms as large.

Who knows what I’ll do with all the new seeds.  They’re surplus from the N. American Rock Garden Society’s seed exchange so at 20 packets for $5 they’re what I consider practically free.  Even better when you consider the non-profit nature of NARGS, in that case 40 packets at $10 makes more sense, and when you add on the 20 packets from the American Primula Society which just arrived last week well then you might get a sense of the trouble I’m in.  I already have enough seeds stratifying in the cold to fill my beds once over, so I’m not sure where these will go.

growing seedlings under lights

The second growlight in a warmer part of the garage is in business now. A few cane begonias have been watered and potted up and two pots of plain old onion seedlings are on their way.

I still have to deal with the Annie’s Annuals catalog sitting in the kitchen.  I have it in my head that I need an eucalyptus tree for the deck this summer plus a few non-hardy yucca and some succulents.  I’m afraid that if I don’t get some snowdrops blooming soon I may yet stumble into that mess.  -I would add some delphiniums too even though each year they’re crushed by winds just as they reach their majestic peak…..  but some plants are worth a little heartbreak.

rooting coleus cuttings

Happy birthday to me. A returned gift and $40 credit at Lowes meant a new shoplight for a new spot. This one went in a warm corner of the basement and is perfect for giving new life to the sad little overwintered cuttings which have been sitting in a water filled coffee cup since October.

I should be responsible.  I already spent way too much money on snowdrops and ordered way too many irresponsible tropical bulbs from Brent and Becky’s.  Odd choice considering how much I complained about digging them up last fall.

overwintering succulents and tropicals

Overwintering succulents and tropicals fill the far corner of the barely-heated workshop/winter garden area. Dry and cool keeps them mostly dormant until warmer weather returns.

I hope an end is in sight.  Next week shows five days straight with daytime highs above the freezing point and one day when there’s even the possibility nighttime lows stay just above 32F.  Come to think of it I better start some lettuce and broccoli seedlings, in a few weeks they’ll be perfect to go out into that cold frame I never built.

oleander flower bud

A sign of promise, a flower cluster forming on the overwintering  oleander.   I think it formed last fall and hopefully will grow and develop as soon as the pot gets some water and goes outside.

So I’ll keep my fingers crossed…. if only to keep them from clicking on an ‘order now’ tab since I was looking at geraniums (pelargoniums) this afternoon and thinking a few scented and heirloom ones would be a good idea.   I need a first crocus or snowdrop bloom to get me out of this and back to my senses!  (we all know how reliable snowdrop blooms are for bringing a person back to their senses).  I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

Trudging through Winter

I really can’t say I dislike winter.  I have a few objections but overall it’s autumn I dislike, with its end of the season, everything dying, days so short, vibe.  So if it’s excuses I’m looking for to explain my blogging absence, the only one I can find is that I have nothing to say.  Snow and cold are here and nothing much has changed since November.

Fortunately others haven’t been so idle.  I’ve been enjoying the posts from both milder and colder climates and since I’m starting to feel a little guilty about not contributing, I guess I should do a little catch-up.  Don’t worry, this won’t take long!

lop eared house bunny

Meet ‘Bun-Bun’ the newest member of our household.

Our little lop bunny with the oh so original name of ‘Bun-Bun’ has been sharing the kitchen since November.  He’s messy, hungry, bouncy and just about the cutest thing in our house.  BunBun was supposed to live in a hutch on the back porch but softer hearts prevailed and he’s been indoors since joining us.

Garden-wise, the annual trip to Longwood Gardens went off (almost) without a hitch this year and we enjoyed the always beautiful indoor and outdoor gardens.

winter conservatory at longwood gardens

I can’t even begin to imagine having a winter garden like this at my doorstep. Coffee here in the morning and then off to work in the greenhouses!

The kids still enjoy the trip in spite of other play options and the long drive, so I’ll drag them with me for as long as I can.  During this trip the boy got it in his head to use my phone and photograph everything.  Who ever suspected a phone could hold so many pictures?

the kids at Longwood Gardens

Inside the conservatory at Longwood Gardens. This year’s theme was birds, and there were plenty of feather inspired displays.

We got there around three in the afternoon to see the gardens during the day and then stayed for the lights at night.  The crowds weren’t as bad as in previous years but it was still packed, and I think unless we can get there on an ‘off’ day next year we might skip.

Longwood gardens decorated for Christmas greenhouses at night

Inside the conservatories of Longwood Gardens at night. Sparkly and magical, just perfect for the holidays.

After dark we toured the gardens again and then walked through the greenhouses one more time.  Inside the greenhouses there’s a children’s garden which involves several kid friendly fountains and tunnels and hidey-holes which they love playing around in.  Unfortunately this is also where the girl wandered off and got a little confused as to where the play area was, so after a little frantic looking around we ended the day with a teary reunion.

outdoor Christmas lights at Longwood

Just a part of the outdoor Christmas light display at Longwood Gardens.

Back at home the only signs of gardening are the bookmarked seed catalogs on the kitchen table and the crowded shop lights out in the garage.  This year’s indoor garden is an odd mix of overwintering tropical cuttings and winter blooming hardy perennials.

houseplants growing under the shop light

Out in the garage cuttings are still doing well under the shoplights. This begonia is actually happy enough to throw out a few blooms, while some creeping houseplant is making a play at smothering a potful of cyclamen seedlings.

Normally the “winter garden” under the shoplights is reserved for a few cyclamen and forced snowdrops, but this year the tropicals are still out there sharing spare.  The plan was to set up a spot indoors for another shoplight setup and move the warm weather plants in there for the winter, but as usual things are slow in coming together.

pelargoniums, cyclamen, and snowdrops growing indoors under lights

A slightly non-traditional indoor garden jammed full of scented geraniums, houseplant cuttings, hardy cyclamen coum, and a few potted snowdrops.

It’s this little garden under fluorescent shoplights which will keep me going while the snow flies outside.  It’s maybe 6 square feet of grow space, and won’t be nearly enough when seed starting begins, but right now while the cyclamen coum come into bloom it reminds me that things won’t be frozen forever.

Happy new year!

Still hiding indoors

We’re into another warm spell, with temperatures predicted to peak at a balmy 50F (10C) this afternoon.  I would pull out the shorts and T shirts, but the weather forecast also has a low of 5F (-15C) listed for Wednesday, so maybe I’ll wait another week.  For now the indoor garden will have to do while we wait for the snow to melt.  Cyclamen coum are at their peak.hardy cyclamen coum indoors under lightsSure they would be hardy outdoors under the snow, but to see them blooming now is twice as nice, even though they have suffered more than ever this winter under my neglectful care.  Most are unnamed mixed seed, but the darker, smaller bloom is from the Meaden’s Crimson seed strain.meadens crimson cyclamen coumI have some whites outdoors, but only this one under lights.  It’s got nice foliage, a decent sized flower, and a nice blackberry smudge on the nose.  Also, according to the original listing this seed comes from a wild collected plant of cyclamen coum ssp. causasium, which to me means its mom comes straight from the wilds at the edge of the Black Sea near Turkey and Western Russia (and may also be slightly less hardy than other c. coum).  A cool pedigree as far as I’m concerned, but based on the mixed variety of colors and forms that came from this seed batch I’m guessing dad was a local.white cyclamen coum with blackberry centerThis one is still my favorite.  No fancy reason, just like the color.pink hardy cyclamen coumThe snowdrops (galanthus elwesii) which I potted up in December from a late Van Engelen order are doing fine, but just not as well as last years order.  There’s just not as much variety in bloom shapes and markings this year, and to me this says it might be time to move on from my bulk snowdrop purchasing days.  I’m sure I’ll still pick a couple up here and there, but no more bags of hundreds.  Just the other day a friend suggested I try Brent and Becky’s since they usually supply a higher quality and larger bulb…. (so maybe I’ll still have to try one more year of bulk orders) forced snowdropsEventually I hope to bring in a pot or two of my own garden’s clumps and force them indoors, but for now my clumps of just one bulb aren’t ready for that.  So until then I’ll have to take what I can get.galanthus and primulaYou might recognize the pinkish primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii from my Far Reaches Farm order in January.  It’s lookin’ good!  I can’t really take any credit for this since all I did was keep it warm and under lights, but it’s a nice treat here amongst the permafrost.  Rumor has it that sibthorpii should have a white ring around the yellow center star or else it’s a mixed hybrid, but since mine has been grown under artificial lighting, it may not yet be showing it’s true colors. primula vulgaris sibthorpiiTo save on indoor light space I placed another dormant primrose in a cold spot near the door to keep it asleep…. then the polar vortex and little vortices came through and before I knew it the poor thing was a block of ice.  After a slow thaw I have it under the light too, and other than a few freezer burned rosettes of new growth, I believe it will be fine.frozen perennial primroseAnother objet d’hope  is this group of overwintered geraniums I potted up last week.  I had a free afternoon and the strangely bright sunshine made me antsy to get something growing, so after another 25 pots of seeds were sown and placed outside to get a taste of winter, I took pity on the stray geranium cuttings sitting in the dark garage, repotted them and set up the second shoplight.overwintered geraniumsI had been of the opinion that my tropicals under a shoplight experiment was a waste of lighting, but last year’s hanging pots of geraniums look much better for having been under the light.  I suspect this will be the year of the geranium (pelargonium) since I now have room for nothing else (other than this sad looking cane begonia- which believe it or not will recover very quickly from this wintertime abuse).overwintered geraniumsThe succulents are much less bother.  Dim lighting, a cup of water in January, and they look as good today as when I brought them in.  As long as they only get enough water to hold off death, they’ll be fine until May.overwintered aloe

May sounds good right now, but I’ll be happy enough when March gets here.  It’s scheduled to come in like a lion, but hopefully by the end we’ll see some signs of life outside.  Onion seeds were planted last week so even if the ice outside says winter, the calendar will soon start to argue that…. I hope.

Daylight savings time

During daylight savings time I’m not entirely sure where all the saved light goes, but after getting to work in the dark and leaving in the dark, I’d like to pretend a little shows up in my winter garden.  Ok, winter garden is a pretty fancy label for my shoplight in the back of the garage but in a family that calls the vegetable garden “the farm” and one apple tree “the orchard”, it makes sense.  I cleaned things up a little with a plastic liner and gravel base and I’m more pleased than ever.  My only complaint is I should have used a sand base to place the pots on, a sort of ‘sand plunge’ that would distribute the watering better.  Looks like that’s the plan for next year.winter garden under lights

Things seem late, maybe because of the cold spells or my late setup and start-of-watering, but from the looks of things it should pick up soon.  More of the cyclamen coum are sending up blooms including the darker ‘Meaden’s Crimson”potted cyclamen coumThis is my current favorite though.  It’s got a nice pink shade that darkens around the petal edges giving almost a bicolor effect.cyclamen coum under lights The seedlings from last winter are also recovering well from my neglect.  For about the first year of their lives these cyclamen hederifolium will grow quickly sending up new and larger leaves if kept cool and watered with a little fertilizer.  Once they get past a certain point, around their first birthday, they either get too big or get too old (I’m not sure) and no amount of light, water, cool or warm will keep them actively growing through the winter.  They just sit there until warmer weather and drought bring on dormancy.  In this batch of seedlings I like the silver leaf in the center with it’s slight pink tinge.  Maybe it will hold onto this as it grows, but I’ve seen other babies play this trick and it never lasts.cyclamen hederifolium from seed

More snowdrops are coming into bloom.  I don’t think any of these are galanthus woronowii (like the label said) since they just don’t have the glossy green leaves that they should, but the blooms are welcome anyway.forced snowdrops

The first of many Van Engelen clearance sale bulbs are blooming.  I can’t hold them back any more!  It’s difficult to tell from the picture but these are barely half the size of the others.  Still nice though as more snow falls outside.potted snowdropsI have a birthday coming up.  I’m considering gifting myself two more shoplights rather than endlessly wishing for a greenhouse.  It’s not quite the same but it’s a start!

disclaimer: I guess daylight savings time is technically the summer time change, but just like I’m desperate for sun I was also desperate for a title 🙂

January Thaw

This is a post only a gardener could love…. and even at that it would need to be a gardener stuck in the cold and gray of a Northern January.  Only a cabin fever gardener would care about the first tiny green sprout of a snowdrop coming up among the freezer-burnt hellebore foliage.first snowdrop sprouts

Just a few days after temperatures dropped to -6F (-21C), the warmth has returned, the ground is thawing and I’m back outside poking for the first signs of spring.  The snowdrops (galanthus elwesii) seemed way too early but then after checking last year’s notes I saw the first was open January 31st last year, and I suppose we’re right on schedule.  Using this as a clue I checked the seed pots and saw minute sprouts there.  Yay!  These little babies might have to come in under the lights, a pot like this is something I might have to check every day!  **btw there are two tiny sprouts, just in case you can’t see them 🙂galanthus elwesii seedlings

Elsewhere in the garden some of the snowdrops (also galanthus elwesii) forced under lights last year are also ready for the new season.  I keep throwing more mulch on them to slow them down, but they insist on coming up and facing the frigid ice and blowing snow unprotected.galanthus elwessi sproutsI wish I cold post a couple witch hazel blooms, but mine is refusing to bloom this year.  It does that, going on and off depending on its mood.  So in a desperate bid for anything interesting, here are a few colchicum sprouts already showing.  Colchicum are another plant that insists on worrying me with a too-early showing.colchicum sprouts in the winterOne plant that did not appear to enjoy the polar vortex is this cyclamen coum.  The warm front that preceded the artic blast melted off all our snow cover and these little guys were forced to endure the straight on winds without any windbreaks or mulch cover.  I’m hoping the dark shriveled green of the leaves is not a sign of death…..frozen cyclamen coum foliageTo leave off on a good note this hellebore “HGC Silvermoon” is only showing the typical winter foliage damage.  It’s in a full sun position but was engulfed by a neighboring catmint plant during the summer.  The plant doesn’t seem to care and I’m looking forward to a nice show soon (now that I can see it again!) hellebore HGC silvermoonSo that’s it from here.  Not much, but it’s always nice to be able to get out there for a look around during the daylight hours.  It gives me time to contemplate failed projects such as the leaking pond shell, the hole of which is holding more water than when the pond liner was in there.  In my head I will fix it and end up happy….. right now it just annoys me whenever I pass.pond liner failBut it’s nice to be outside doing something other than shoveling snow.  There’s still a month at least before any thoughts of spring become legitimate, so I need to take it easy.  Another good cold snap would do well to cool this spring fever off, but I’m worried about what more indoor computer time would do.  Right now the budget is blown for spring and it has a lot to do with that easy click that brings plant goodies right to your door….. there’s still a long way to go, and I hope you’re doing better than I’ve been!

Opening day for the winter garden

There’s only so much I want to do outdoors while the snow is blowing and the temperatures drop.  It looks beautiful and we have plenty of cozy winter gear but unless I have a snow shoveling job to do I’d rather just admire the whiteness from inside the house.  So instead of bundling up, I dusted off the shop light and set up my little winter garden.  These cyclamen coum and cyclamen hederifolium are hardy enough to overwinter outdoors easily but I’m sure I’d miss them too much under the snow, so it’s nice to have them under lights and in the garage.  Plus with blooms starting, it’s time to give them a nicer spot than the dim, dusty windowsill.hardy cyclamen under lightsThe snowdrops also need more light,  I try to keep them back by holding them in the coolest corner of the garage but they have their own growing timetable.  The first of this bunch bloomed in November and now I’m happy to see the rest starting.  My apologies for the mess and dirt and less than attractive cardboard backdrop…. no Martha Stewart gardening here.potted galanthusLast winter’s cyclamen seedlings also appreciate the lighting.  They didn’t sprout until temperatures cooled in the fall but will now grow and reach a decent size for planting out next spring.cyclamen hederifolium seedlings

With the lights on, these cyclamen will get more regular watering and we’re going to pretend it’s spring 🙂  There are new blooms just under the gravel waiting to come up, and if it’s between looking outside and looking at this, I’ll take the flowers.cyclamen coum blossomNot a bad way to start off the new year.  It sure beats the -9F (-23C) I saw on my drive to work the other day.  Stay warm!