The Winter Garden 2022

Monday morning was one of the coldest days of the year and this weekend is also set to drop as low as 1F (-17C), and although we are only 14 days into the year that’s about as cold as Sorta Suburbia has been in a while.  The temperatures only last about a night or two and the ground is still barely frozen, but only time will tell how these surprisingly normal lows will work with my new, optimistically mild, global warming planting plan full of autumn blooming snowdrops and zone 7 Crinum lilies.

cyclamen under lights

Happier plantings are sheltered in the garage under fluorescent shoplights.  They’re experiencing a few ‘chilly’ nights, but nothing even close to the freezing cold outside.

A better gardener would put this cold-induced break to good use, planning seed orders and organizing planting plans, safe in the knowledge that borderline plantings are well protected, but all this gardener wants to do is eat.  Not just hearty stews and roasted potatoes, but more so late night bags of chips and “one more” handful of m&ms followed by a big glass of milk.  Then some ice cream. Then maybe another look in the fridge, just in case.  Outside just a few witch hazels are fenced, and not a single snowdrop is bucketed, but inside there’s been a lot of attention to sitting around and… eating….

overwintering tropicals

Also safe inside are the plants too precious and too tender to abandon outside.  They don’t do much all winter, but they’re something nice to look at while nibbling pretzels.

I can think of no better place to sit (while snacking) than the winter garden.  When it’s dark out I can almost convince myself that this array of shoplights in the just-above-freezing back of the garage is actually a greenhouse or uber fancy conservatory.  When the weather is cold it’s a room filled with green to hang out in, watering, puttering, pruning, plucking… doing all the stuff that the cold makes uncomfortable outdoors.

indoor garden room

My official coffee drinking, seed cleaning, label writing, phone browsing, beer sampling, winter patio seat in the winter garden.  I heard a crack last weekend and that’s got me slightly concerned about all the m&m’s, but that’s something to worry about in May.

There have been a few watershed moments in this year’s slightly excessive winter garden adventure.  Ooops.  I admitted that the winter garden is a little “extravagant”, but I blame it on last winter when I killed off a shameful amount of potted cyclamen.  Cyclamen have been the stars of my winter garden for a few years, but then suddenly a winter of lazy, careless watering did in a bunch of them.  This fall I needed backup plants.  A visit to an open garden and a cutting swap started me off.  The Amish country and various nurseries added a few more.  Friends helped.  Cuttings for overwintering added to it all.  It’s all reaching a quite pleasant crescendo in my opinion.

streptocarpella

Blue streptocarpella and flower buds on a red salvia.  The salvia is being overwintered, and the buds should probably be clipped off… but I do like flowers 😉

Recently on Facebook a friend shared an article about the “dark side” of plant collecting.  The home time and isolation of the pandemic had set unprepared gardeners off on a vicious binge of buying and collecting, and people were amassing hoards that amounted to hundreds of plants.  “amateurs” my friend commented, and we laughed.  I read the article myself and to be honest it made me smile to read about these plant collections and see the smiling faces of such happy gardeners.  I think I might have missed the dark in it all.

aloe white fox

A cool aloe which I couldn’t resist.  ‘Snow Fox’ will join my other potted succulents next summer but for now just sits dry and mostly dormant on the dimmer end of the bench.

Just out of curiosity I counted pots in the winter garden.  Normally anything under 6 inches doesn’t count, but this time I just went ahead and easily reached 150 pots back there.  Hmmm.  Then I took a few more cuttings and made it 152, just to slip a little further into the dark side.

flowering succulent

This succulent comes in off the deck and spends the next three months flowering.  I love it.  Every little bit of leaf off the flower stems will try to root, so of course I made another pot of cuttings with those.

At least taking cuttings keeps my hands busy and out of the chip bag.  I joke about not having the garden prepared, but at least my hoarding skills have me ‘winter gardening’ prepared.  You can never have too many saved pots, and emergency bags of potting soil on hand.  It’s awkward sneaking out into the frigid outdoor lot of the box store to try and wrestle a frozen bag of potting soil into your cart, so have it on hand in August so that you don’t have to make up some lame lie about ‘I don’t know, my wife told me she needed potting soil tonight’ when the cashier asks you what in the heck you’re doing.  At least I can plan ahead in one area.

cane begonias

I’m quite pleased with how the cane begonia cuttings are doing.  They’ll need bigger pots soon enough, but of course I’m prepared for that when the time comes.  

Sometimes a rare ray of good fortune may shine upon you.  A friend shocked me last year when she informed me they were officially downsizing and leaving their mature garden behind. “I think there will be a few things you’ll want” she said, and of course I agreed, but it was really all the accumulated trash like leftover pots and soil, bits of twine, scraps of fencing, pottery shards, opened bags of soil conditioners that I really wanted.  Of course she knew that already.  Only another gardener would want this stuff, and when I picked up a carload a few weeks ago I had to agree that I did want it.

Oxalis triangularis fanny

More begonias and a cool Oxalis triangularis (maybe ‘Fanny’) which I was given a couple rhizomes of.  I’m halfway tempted to pull out and plant a few of the purple leaved ones stored dormant under the shelf as companions to this one. 

She gave me a box of terracotta pots which she may have never used.  They’re small and there are a bunch of them and they’re much more trouble to move than lightweight plastic but I’m far more scared of them than I am of hundreds of hoarded houseplants because I really love them.  What the *heck* is wrong with me that I’m staring at a box of clay pots thinking they’re so nice.  I could understand if they were antique cloches for protecting delicate snowdrops during an ice storm, intricate wire topiary forms, but they’re stupid clay pots.  I’m worried about what might happen if I start cruising garage and estate sales.  I think I might buy every one I come across.

variegated pelargonium

Clay pots and grandma’s geraniums.  Cool people don’t seem to like pelargoniums but such a nice edging of variegation on the leaf, and the flowers are so delicate. 

At least clay pots don’t have any calories… that I know of…. and so that must make a few too many of them a harmless distraction.  As of today I only use them for succulents and a few potted bulbs, so even these are too many, but I really need more.  A birthday is coming up.  I wonder if putting ‘old, dirty terracotta pots’ on the birthday list could replace the usual underwear and socks?

aloe blue elf

Another aloe (‘Blue Elf’) with a few flower buds forming.  I hope a lack of water and cool temps can keep them from developing too fast.  Although I love winter blooms, I’d rather see them come up strong outside rather than spindly and weak in here.

So as usual I don’t really know how this post ended up where it has with underwear and socks.  Let me try and re-focus with African violets.  My mother used to grow them and so did my aunt.  My grandmother grew them.  They used to be Saintpaulia, but now I see they’re Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia and I’m not sure how that changed anything but I also know that about a year or so ago I needed to grow them again.  I know these urges, I resisted.  I almost made it but then cracked last fall and bought one and then I asked a friend for cuttings.  I found online sources but only looked.  I found one marked down.  I guilted a spouse into buying me one at the grocery store after a few ‘admit it, you’re never going to wear that, I can’t buy you anything’ Christmas returns.  I now have three violets plus two cuttings and I think I’m ok but then realized this afternoon I volunteered to stop at the store just because I thought they might have more.  Hmmmm.

african violet

An African violet.  This weekend will be cold and maybe I’ll take a cutting.  I don’t need more but whatever.

African violets don’t have calories either.  As far as I know adding another would be a  victimless crime even if I’m lying to myself about picking up milk for the kids when I stumble across it.  So what if I end up in a grocery store that’s 35 minutes away, it’s always good to shop around.

Have an excellent weekend, stay warm, and fuel that furnace responsibly… even if some of the fuel is chocolate, beer, and cheese 😉

Spring!!!

This is the time of year when I like to complain about how terrible my allergies are.  The burning eyes and runny nose and sneezing… they’re really not all that bad but it’s the only season when I have something to blame my general laziness on.  It’s not aimless sloth, it’s dust and pollen.  I’m a victim I shout but then someone suggests I come in out of the polleny wind and clean the basement.  As if.

spring shade garden

A few primrose have not only survived, but have even prospered in the dry shade which has suddenly appeared in parts of the garden.  I swear I just planted those trees a year or two ago.

Saturday was actually a pretty busy day around here and things were weeded, mowed, pruned, and a few things were actually transplanted.  That’s good but in the sprit of easing into ‘hard labor season’ the gardener took Sunday off and photographed a few things.  The photo shoot was followed by much sitting around, and then the week since has been much of the same.

lathyrus vernus

More shade treasures, Lathyrus vernus was mowed by rabbits in March, but fenced in April.  This spring vetchling could have been nicer but at least a few flower buds survived.

My excuse the past two days has been heat.  79F yesterday and 84F today.  The warmth was such a shock today I almost started an inside cleaning frenzy before coming to my senses.  Fortunately things didn’t have to go that far since the house is again super neat with both kids home all day in a return to online learning.  I’m sure every parent recognizes the sarcasm dripping off every word in that last sentence.

lathyrus vernus

The pink form of Lathyrus vernus, ‘alboroseus’, was fenced before the rabbits got to it.  Anyone else would recognize that fencing should be done each spring but I like to surprise myself anew each year.

So now I’m trying to burst on past this wall of laziness and at least get a blog post up.  My garden has a springtime peak as the tulips and dogwoods come into bloom, and I’m absolutely ready to devote hours to just wandering around admiring bloom after bloom.  It’s similar to snowdrop season except there’s more than one color and I don’t have to crawl around on my hands and knees.

double daffodil

Some of last years divided and replanted daffodils, this one a nameless double which looks similar to ‘Tahiti’ but just a bit more yellow and slightly smaller.

The daffodils are really in full swing and the Darwin tulips and other early season tulips are opening to join them.  I know I brag about it all the time but this mostly exposed and summer-dry garden seems to be just what these tulips enjoy.

spring bulb garden

This is what the snowdrop bed degenerates into as other things come up.  The daffodils are intentional but only the reddish ‘Spryng Break’ tulips were planted, the rest came in via compost or squirrels.

The vegetable garden had been a major tulip stronghold, since every batch of compost and every turning of the beds seemed to spread them a little further, but last year’s raised bed project cleaned that up a little.  Many bulbs were collected, flowering plants potted up, and some were just lifted to new spots, but I did try to reduce the numbers…

growing tulips

The front bed is filled with bulbs collected during construction.  For some reason I hate the color mix and every day I am just minutes away from pulling the short purple and white tulips and tossing them…  it may still happen.   The back bed just needs emptying out… way too much yellow 🙂

Once the flowers are over and the foliage yellows, the bed above will be lifted, dried, stored, and replanted in the fall.  The flowers are sparse and small this year, but next year they’ll be fine again having spent the whole spring growing rather than suffering a mid April move.  I just need to get a few more pinks into the mix and get rid of the dumpy little purples.

growing tulips

I probably planted these tulips as well.  I probably even thought it was a good spot and I wouldn’t need the room for more brocolli and lettuce tranplants.

Although the raised beds… I mean ‘Potager’… is having a down tulip year I still think tulips are a far better idea than just planting more cabbage.  More leftover and stray bulbs were planted in the concrete bed and (1) they did fine in a kinda exposed bed and (2) prove I need more red as well!  I can honestly see a day when the entire potager is filled with tulips 🙂

growing tulips

I gave away some ‘Spryng Break’ bulbs but these were deemed “too small” to pawn off on unsuspecting gardeners so they were replanted.  Now of course I’ll have even more and still not know what to do with them all… but I do know they’ll have to be planted next to something other than the short and moody burgundy ‘Muvato’ now behind it.  

Yes.  I do like tulips.  Tulips and only the occasional deer make for a wonderful spring and I don’t know what I’ll do if the deer start making a habit of visiting.

growing tulips

The fine red outline of this Darwin hybrid will slowly bleed into the flower until it becomes completely orange.  I love it but have just too many of this one.

A lack of deer does not mean complete bliss.  Some parts of the garden are plagued by tulip fire, which infects the foliage and blooms and makes overcrowded and damp bunches turn to mush.  Th potager re-dig helped immeasurably as did mulch and thinning, and this year I’ve been spraying with Neem oil and between that and a drier spring it all seems to be helping.  A better gardener would destroy the infected plants and not replant for five or so years but…

growing tulips

Some tulips seem more susceptible to tulip fire.  This orange late tulip has practically melted away while ‘Pretty Princess’ seems untouched.  

I could really go on and on about tulips but I’m just about blogged out for the night and I’m sure you’ll be fine without my babbling.  I’ll just leave you with some tulipomania from the front yard.

spring bulb garden

Tulip ‘Pink Impression’ on the left, and a few not-pink impression on the right.  All are excellent.

tulip burning heart

Tulip ‘Burning Heart’.  A big beauty who keeps coming back just as huge as they were in year one.

spring bulb garden

The star magnolia is finished but I think this end of the front border still looks decent.  It could use a few more tulips of course, and more daffodils won’t hurt either!

spring bulb garden

Tulip ‘Beauty of Spring’ anchors the other end of the front bed.  The red on this one will also spread as the flower ages.  With all the yellow daffodils I don’t know why I needed more yellow tulips, but there they are.

Fun fact.  As I was double checking the name on ‘Spring Beauty’ I came across an online site using an older picture of my clump to sell their wares.  I wonder if this entitles me to some kind of site discount…

Anyway it’s bedtime, so I hope these past few days also have you out enjoying the garden and reveling in the explosion of color called spring.  Perhaps it’s not spring in your neck of the woods, and in that case I hope there’s plenty of other joys to discover this week, in any case the key word is ‘enjoy’ 🙂

A primrose path

I don’t mean to brag but my expertise in the genus primula is really growing by leaps and bounds.  Vulgaris and veris were strangers a few months ago but now they’re names I can put a face to and to be completely honest I’m feeling a bit smug…  I do grow them from seed you know.

So I thought maybe it was time to officially rename a few misnamed seedlings and hit the computer for a little looking around online.  My bliss was shattered when I discovered there are more than a few primula species out there.  In the interest of keeping my self confidence up and my ignorance intact I’m not planning on finding an exact number, but my less than indepth research has discovered at least a primula for every letter of the alphabet from P. advena to P. zambalensis, and at least 30 species in just the ‘a’ section alone.  India has over 100 species… who knew?

Well apparently plenty of people knew, so I’m going to just return to my humble garage and enjoy a few of the flowers showing up under my growlight this winter.  Did I mention I grew a primrose from seed?  They’re probably a self-sowing weed in your garden but I’ll be the first to admit that even after a number of years it’s still the simplest of things that make me happy.

primrose belarina pink tartan red

The ‘Tartan Reds’ are indeed from seed, but the double pink ‘belarina pink ice’ was given to me by a friend last spring.  It’s much darker than it should be but I love the color.

I think I mentioned my primrose exploits in an earlier post and warned about more photos of the mealy eyed yellow auricula which was blooming…. and here it is again 🙂

primula aucalis

I think the white flour-like farina which coats the center of the flowers make these blooms really cool.  Notice how much smaller the other P. auricula seedlings are in the pot to the left, I really got lucky with how well this one plant grew!

The other seedlings from last year’s American Primrose Society seed exchange are also pulling their weight.  I’m still surprised that the neglected little things are doing anything at all but they are and I’m grateful for it.  Here’s my next big thing and also the reason I went searching through primrose species lists.  The large pale yellow sounds ok as a P. aucalis, but I am now calling the smaller blooms around it P. veris ‘sunset shades’ and not another aucalis.  I’m surprised by how much I like them, small droopy flowers and all!

primrose from seed

primrose from seed

Many new primula seed were sown last week and I’m sure I’ll go on and on about them some day too, but for now primrose are a nice diversion from my snowdrop mania.  Snowdrops are a problem and I promise to go on far too long about them as well since there’s the promise of warm weather again this weekend 🙂