Uh Hello Spring?

Spring will start Thursday.  Technically it should take off with the spring equinox, but around here Thursday will be the first day.   I’m sure of that.

Today’s high just barely reached the freezing point and yesterday didn’t quite make it, but the forecast shows warming and I’m 100% positive spring will come Thursday and stay…..  unless it doesn’t.  The first winter aconite opened so that’s a hopeful sign, but to see the snowdrops all flat and frozen this morning didn’t warm my heart any.

winter aconite (eranthis)

First blooms of winter aconite (eranthis)

I’d been hoping to get a better picture of the snow crocus in the meadow, but the two warm days were only enough to bring out a few and these quickly became the spring tonic for our local rabbits.  There will be secondary buds coming up, so fingers crossed, but how can I resent the little bunnies for their springtime snacking after the winter they’ve had?  Look at that dead grass…. no vision of spring there.

snow crocus

snow crocus (almost) blooming out in the meadow

The new snowdrops are also just waiting…… This planting of galanthus viridapice (a green tipped snowdrop) has one bulb that is just a little earlier and looks just a little bit off, I suspect it’s mislabeled, perhaps it’s “sharlockii”.

galanthus viridapice

galanthus viridapice? just waiting for warmer weather to open

Also on my mislabeled snowdrop list is this galanthus “Sam Arnott”.  It’s not supposed to be double or green tipped…. also there’s not supposed to be a tulip sprouting there just in front,  maybe I was a little hasty in throwing all the moldy bulbs into the compost… and then using the compost too soon.  Oh the stuff that never gets mentioned in the gardening books 🙂

galanthus sam arnott

galanthus “Sam Arnott” and not galanthus “Sam Arnott”

But until Thursday rolls around, there’s not much else to look at.  I did turn an optimistic corner and started the winter garden changeover.  All the snowdrops and cyclamen were replaced with seedlings of lettuce and broccoli and hopefully by the time they’re a decent size it will be time to go outside.  For now the highlight is a potful of muscari “Valerie Finnis”.  I surprised myself by getting this one chilled and through the winter and then into bloom.  It’s a nice look, too much foliage for my taste, but remember beggars can’t be choosers.

muscari valerie finnis

Muscari “Valerie Finnis” forced indoors under lights

Here’s another reason spring will come Thursday.  My “in the green” snowdrops from Carolyn’s Shade Garden have arrived all safe and sound and need to go outside in the garden (“in the green” because they’re bareroot, actively growing, not dormant bulbs).  They can handle plenty of frost, but the next two nights of 16F (-9C) lows might be too much of an insult for these city drops (Carolyn is located outside of Philadelphia).  I’ll leave them to sit like this on a windowsill for the next two nights with just enough water to keep them wet, but not enough to have them sitting in water.  I’m excited to have them and the plus side to this treatment is I get to admire them close up for a couple days.  The blooming one is “Straffan”.

snowdrops in the green

Snowdrops in the green from Carolyn’s Shade Gardens

So wish me luck.  I don’t often complain about winter but I think I’m done with this one.  The clock’s ticking and I’d like at least three weeks before people start complaining about the heat!

Just another day at the salt mines

I can sorta relate to the people looking for low maintenance plants and landscaping.  I for one love being outside, watching things grow, tending plants, dividing, staking, deadheading…. even weeding.  About the only thing I really don’t care for is watering, so when it’s spring and I have a list of projects to work on and halfway through start to think it’s more trouble than it’s worth….. well it might be time to hit the lawnchair with a drink.  In a sick way I sometimes look around at my fellow suburbanites and think their yards look just as good as mine, but then I remember it’s unlikely they have a couple dozen different iris coming along into bloom, and they probably don’t even have any more than one or two snowdrops.  That helps my mood and I go through and finish the day with a smug grin, quite pleased with myself all over again.

The late tulips are still holding out, these (probably “Dordogne”) mixed in with all the others keep the patch colorful even after the rest are over.  Unless Sunday’s high winds beat them silly, they should last another week.late tulips

I think what beats me down is the lawn maintenance.  If you want to talk high maintenance a lawn is right there on top.  Part of that is my fault, I’m stubborn and insist on using a corded electric mower instead of something bigger, stronger, and faster.  It’s not the most manly mower, but from someone who’s always wandering the yard looking at his flowers….. well, the mower doesn’t help.

fothergillaSomething that’s mostly no-maintenance is fothergilla.  It doesn’t need pruning, blooms with these nice white bottlebrush flowers, is presentable all summer, and come fall puts on a nice show of glowing reds, yellows and oranges.  The blooms don’t last long for me, somewhere around two weeks, but that’s plenty.  You miss it when it’s gone, which in my opinion is better than a plant that wears out its welcome.

Round around July the lawn starts wearing out its welcome.  Mowing in the heat stinks and I look forward to the summer sun and drought sucking the green out of its blades.  As long as I mow on the long side it just goes dormant, and the summer vacation from mowing is much welcomed, since mowing clearly cuts into pool time.  But right now I need the flush of green clippings since they’re my number one mulch for the vegetable garden.   I use them and some leftover chopped maple leaves to smother the grass and weeds that are buried in this new bed.new vegetable bedMost of the weeds and grass will die, and hopefully by the time tomato planting weather rolls around (2 more weeks?) I can carefully dig down to soil level, plant the seedlings, top the bed with new clippings, and admire my avoidance of actually digging up this patch of hardpacked gravely “soil”.

Since I don’t have enough better things to do I actually transplanted some of the grass from the new bed into the former bed-turned-new-pathway (lower right of the picture).  I’m a big sod mover.  I hate waiting for grass seed to sprout.  People will disagree, but I like grass paths through the garden.  If you noticed, mine are edged with fancy pink marble sections.  Some people have compared the look to “deep south cemetery”, but it’s the best use I could think of for the stone we pulled off the house front.  Maybe it’s the second best…. we also have a pink marble compost bin.

apple blossomIn the orchard our new “Freedom” apple has even put out a few blossom clusters.  I should of course nip them off so the tree has more energy to establish, but I don’t care.  For all I know the tree could die tomorrow, so I’ll enjoy the blooms today.

vegetable seedlingsSpeaking of dying tomorrow, we have a frost predicted for tonight.  I brought in a few succulents and four or five early summer plant purchases.  The rest of the stuff is on its own.  Planning for low maintenance gardening means not sweating the small stuff like late frosts.  The cold weather veggie seedlings will tough it out (strong sun would damage them more than cool weather).

So we will see where the weather takes us.  I figure if the tulips and iris don’t mind this afternoon’s snow, they shouldn’t mind a slight frost.snow on tulips

 

 

Surprise Hellebore

I planted out a bunch of neglected hellebore seedlings early last fall and hoped they would have time to root in before winter really set in.  Apparently they did.  This double red seedling from Elizabethtown seed really took off and even put out a bloom.double red hellebore

The rest of the seedlings are much smaller and may consider a flower by next year, this one really surprised me.  Needless to say I’m pleased as punch since this one is my first seed grown double…. so far….

My biggest issue with late plantings such as these is frost heave, when freezing and thawing pushes the plants up out of the soil and kills them through exposure, but that’s usually the only problem for these tough growers.  I’ve found a nice mulch of chopped leaves gives them enough insulation to protect them throughout the winter, even in this exposed spot.  Then the mulch just stays there as they start to grow.  Good drainage in the raised beds is also a plus.

They’re in the middle of the vegetable garden, which might be the next problem.  It’s full, baking sun which they seem to like unless they dry out too often too severely.  Hopefully when I pass by each day I’ll be smart enough to keep an eye on watering needs.

Now I just need to find a new spot for the tomatoes.

Seedling Update

I’m not as far behind as I thought I was.  Even though not a single garden center would ever worry about me as competition, there are a few things looking like they might be ready to go in the ground.  Two weeks earlier and a week or two in the cold frame (which doesn’t exist) would have been perfect… but this is where I’m at… and chances are next year this is also where I’ll be at.  I’m a slow learner.tomato seedlings

This was supposed to be the warm season light, with tomatoes and peppers and such, but I think it’s still not warm enough.  The empty pots are things that just didn’t want to germinate, and the ones that did did it ever so sloooooowly.   I think I need a heat mat to speed them up, it sounds like a good idea but I’ve never committed to getting one.  Anyone have good luck with them?

The tomatoes and peppers look fine, but the coleus cuttings seem to do much better on the windowsill.  Coleus are the one plant that appears to find something lacking in the flourescent lights.  They always seem to have a “funny” look to them until they go outside and I wonder what it is.

The cool weather plants under the lights in the back of the garage look a little more impressive.  seedlings under light

I think once this stuff hits the great outdoors it will take off…. assuming the bunnies stay away.  I’m trying out “bright lights” swiss chard and already like the multicolored stems.swiss chard seedlings So we’ll see where this goes.  Right now the vegetable garden is full of spring bulbs.  It seemed like a good idea in October, now I don’t know.  But at least it looks nice.mixed daffodils

A few good hellebores

In the last 4-5 years I’ve noticed that hellebores have entered the tissue culture world. It was just a matter of time I guess, but I feel like it takes away a little bit of the magic and mystery of these plants….. but on the other hand there’s no way I would have ever gotten my hands on some of the newer complicated (usually sterile) cross-species cultivars that are showing up.hellebore "HGC Silvermoon"

This “HGC Silvermoon” is a heavy bloomer with an interesting color.  It’s attractively planted too close to a construction area and the bricks are supposed to remind me not to step on it.  Too bad the leaves get beat up by the ice and snow, I’ve seen it in bloom with foliage intact and it looks so much better.  But you get what you get when you’re too lazy to offer up any winter protection.

hellebore "Cinnamon Snow"“Cinnamon Snow” is from a similar cross involving 2 different species.  I could google the info and come off as sounding pretty smart but it’s late and I don’t think I’d be fooling anyone.  I believe one of the parents is H. Niger, commonly known as the Christmas Rose, and I think this is the first time I’ve got a nice bloom on this plant.  It’s in a sheltered spot so the leaves hold up well, but the sheltered spot also brings the blooms up early so they tend to freeze, abort and not open fully.

The “other” hellebores are the regular hybrid hellebores.  They’re a mix of several species, they set seed easily and run a range of colors from white to mauve to purple to nearly black.  There are some greens and yellows now and with spotting and doubles the range keeps getting bigger.  Nearly all of my plants are from seed, but tissue culture clones are showing up here too.  These here are all from Australian Elizabethtown seed (now sadly closed).hellebore hybridus

anemone flowered hellebore

I’m still waiting for the fancier ones to grow up and bloom, but I do have a couple anemone flowered (a flower part-way between single and double) starting to put on a decent show…. I hate when any part of my hand shows up in a picture, but hellebores tend to nod and sometimes you need a helping hand to peek inside.

Since many hellebores are seed grown there’s always the chance your plant will be a dud when it blooms, and it’s not a bad idea to avoid buying them sight unseen, but if you go with a decent source your chances for a good ‘un are much better.  I would bet that most people in the anti-hellebore camp (if one exists) have only seen poor quality seed grown plants.  Get good seed and be patient, things will work out.

hellebore hybridNext year should be a good hellebore year.  I have way too many seedlings coming along and have actually been taking pretty good care of them.  I’m hoping for doubles, yellows, picotees…. all the fancy new types that I don’t have yet.  The nursery plants are usually out of my budget, but give me a packet of seeds and a couple years and I’m right there with a decent hellebore bed.

Daffodil season is here!

I like daffodils. The color range isn’t nearly as wide as tulips, they sometimes nod a little too much, but they’re still a sure sign of spring. In another couple days daffodil and tulip season will be in full swing here (assuming it ever warms up) and if the wind would only die down a bit maybe I could get some decent pictures."golden echo" narcissus

“Golden Echo” is a real nice shorter one, it grows, blooms and multiplies well but I wouldn’t mind if the blooms stood up a little higher.  Still a current favorite."St Patricks Day" "barret Browning" daffodilThe yellow in front is “St Patrick’s Day”, a little bit of a nod-er, but a strong plant in the garden. “Barret Browning” is behind, it’s an oldie, but how can I complain about a reliable, good doer that holds it’s blooms up above the foliage and faces out nicely?

narcissus "ice king"

“Ice King” on the other hand, is a mess this year.  The up and down, cooler temperatures have put alot of greenish color into the blooms, and the wind and heavy rains have thrown the top heavy blooms all over the place.  I meant to remove this one last summer but forgot exactly where it was, so only dug up maybe a half dozen bulbs.

 

ice follies daffodilThe big brother to “Ice King” is “Ice Follies”, the two are nearly the same plant just one has a mutation which resulted in a doubled center (called a sport).  Among serious daffodil nuts (those infected with the “yellow fever”)  “Ice Follies” is looked down on as the cockaroach of the narcissus world.  It’s nearly unkillable and a perfect daffodil for beginners.  I have to laugh at this section of my daffodil bed where a nuclear bomb or something has nearly killed off the other narcissus while “Ice Follies”  just gets fatter.

corydalis solidaI promised a picture of my plain old corydalis solida in bloom, so here it is.  Kind of washed out, but it does have its good qualities.  Note the attractive Taraxacum coming into bloom on the right.  Latin sounds alot fancier than just calling it a dandelion.  Also the grassy sprouts with the brown seeds still attached are scilla siberica seedlings.  I might be just a couple years away from a new weed problem here.

I’m hoping for better daff pictures this week.  I have a few more in the back and I hate to leave you with the impression that all I grow is”Ice Follies”!mixed daffodils

 

 

 

Hyacinths have arrived

It’s not hard to find hyacinth bulbs in the fall. They’re one of the “big four” (a term I just made up) that describes them and the tulips, daffodils and crocus that show up every fall in garden centers around the country. They’re easy, fragrant, come back reliably and run the whole range of colors with the exception of green and true red. What’s not to like?  There must be something, because even though they’re good enough to buy forced to celebrate Easter and other springtime celebrations, they’re not always the first choice for planting.
I say go ahead and plant them this next fall.  I think you’ll like them.mixed hyacinths in the garden

pink dutch hyacinthA couple warm days have brought all the hyacinths into bloom.  They’re remarkably color coordinated considering I originally planted just $7 worth of no name clearance bulbs from SAMs club.  This would be year 5 for them and I think over that time they’ve actually gotten bigger each season, especially the pinks and whites.  Some push up two stalks of fat blooms, and if there’s one fault to these flowers this might be it.   Sometimes the blooms are so heavy they flop.

A newer “retro” hyacinth that avoids the flopping problems are the multiflowering types.  Each bulb can push up a less dense, often multiple, flower stalk.  I say they’re a retro version because people commonly compare them to the old roman hyacinths, which were an older (less hardy) version with a similar, wilder look.  I’ve got “Blue  Festival”, which doesn’t make much of an impression in the garden, but even so I’d like to add the pink and white versions too.  Close up the blue looks great.blue festival hyacinth I need to get mulch down around these bulbs.  Maybe it will be the weekend project, but with daffdil season starting any day now who knows?