One Last Summer Trip

It’s embarrassing to realize this trip and these photos are all already a week old, but no matter.  Visiting a garden like Chanticleer, just outside of Philadelphia never gets old, and after a summer of ‘wait, I have to be around for this… and that… and I wish it would rain…’ it was great to get away for what might be one of my last summer trips, and always fun to be out and about with garden stuff from dawn to dusk!  Here are a few impressions from the day.  Check out their website and other links for better photos and video, it’s such an awesome garden to visit and I tried to rush through in under two hours so…

chanticleer

The entry area is always a tropical planter paradise.  Note the leaf stalk of the Titan arum (corpse flower, Amorphophallus titanum) on the far right.  Am I the only person who couldn’t care less about the smelly bloom, yet loves the massive single leaf which they produce?

Hmmm.  Since it was such a rapid race of a visit maybe this should be a quick post, so here goes.  The ‘teacup garden’ is always my first and favorite section to visit.  It’s like a tropical conservatory out for the summer for a Pennsylvania country vacation.

chanticleer

Look at all these foliage goodies, and the hanging blooms of the Brugmansia are just summertime awesome!

Wander down to the tennis court next.  It’s been entirely re-done and although it’s lost the ‘tennis court’ vibe I like the new Netherlands-France rolling hedge vibe.

chanticleer

There’s a soft spot in my heart for neatly trimmed hedges.  Another year to grow in and this one will be perfect, plus a patch of my favorite giant reed grass (Arundo donax) doesn’t hurt either.

The cutting garden also underwent a re-do.  More vegetables, more paths meandering through, a little more controlled.  Personally I like a garden of chaos in September, but maybe deep down inside realize that this is a better look… hahaha just kidding.  I like it but miss the tsunami of towering blooms and grasping vines of years past.

chanticleer

Orange marigolds seemed to be a theme through several of the gardens this year.

I skipped the woods but not before realizing the large magnolia wasn’t really a magnolia.  It was an American pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) with plenty of fruit on its way to ripening.  I’ve never had one, but word is they’re delicious with their custardy-goodness.

chanticleer

American pawpaw tree (Asimina triloba) with a cluster of almost-ripe fruit.

I rushed through the meadow filled with full-bloom prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), a beautiful spot but I just don’t like the “popcorn” scent of this grass, and then cut through the ruin garden to get to the gravel garden.  I love the gravel garden.  It was a full-sun, 90F (32C) morning and I was still standing around with that dumb look on my face, smiling at the succulent planters and running my hands through the grass like a real weirdo.  I’m so glad that finally, after 50 years, I finally grew out of that caring what other people think stage.

chanticleer

Not the best picture, but the gravel garden is an open spot filled with full-sun, drainage-loving Mediterranean-type plants which don’t seem to mind a couple months of hot.

Down around the ponds to visit the koi and admire the lush, water-loving stuff, and then quickly through the Asian woods and serpentine plantings, and finally to the main house.  The house is always surrounded by too many pots which are too big and overfilled with too many goodies.  Many of the plants are too cool.  The only way I didn’t spend another hour in just this section was because I was alone and because of that didn’t need to start pointing out and naming and babbling on about every single thing.  I will only share a few photos 😉

chanticleer

The mangave cult is alive and well here.  It’s a big plus they’re not as spiny and poky as they look.

chanticleer

Sometimes I had to put both hands in my pockets to fight the urge to take cuttings. Everything seems grown to perfection which is not easy to pull off in such mixed plantings.

chanticleer

The pool area. There are bananas and other tropicals all along the walls. Such an awesome sight although it makes me feel a bit guilty for killing mine… again…

chanticleer

Yeah. Just awesome. Red mandevilla and some yellow leaved jasmine.

chanticleer

Hmmmm. Passionflowers are pretty cool and maybe I should have more than just one…

A visit to Chanticleer is a good choice at any time of year, but I might have to admit to an ulterior motive for my visit.  Surprise lilies (Lycoris) have been interesting lately and I knew there were a few plantings here and there in the gardens, so why not make up an excuse to drive two hours to go see them?

chanticleer lycoris

I think these were yellow Lycoris chinensis with a few white Lycoris longituba mixed in, but since there was a fence and a few yards between me and them I couldn’t really get as close as I wanted.  

I might have been “interested” in some of the hardier Lycoris for a few years now (many of the nicest are tender and only thrive in Southern gardens), but based on their embarrassing performance in my own garden, I really didn’t want to admit it.  I guess it’s out now though.  My name is Frank and I grow Lycoris poorly.

chanticleer lycoris

Lycoris squamigera floating above the grass of the bulb meadow.  These will be joined by the early colchicums in just a few more days.

I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with these bulbs.  They’re often referred to as surprise lilies or magic lilies, and although some people claim it’s because of the way they burst out of the soil and into bloom in just a few days, I believe it’s because each year it’s either a surprise or plain magic that they actually lived or even bothered to bloom for you.  It doesn’t help when you see them growing best alongside a burnt out building or abandoned farm or hear some old gardener complaining about how they take over their beds and there are just too many in their garden.  Based on this apparent finickiness I’m going to say there’s a better than good chance mine are dying out of spite.

chanticleer lycoris

Maybe a paler form of Lycoris chinensis up near the ruin gardens?  Just like all the others these appear to be settling in happily… unlike my little jerks…  

If I wanted to give myself a true dose of reality I’d look up how many years ago it was that I first planted my earliest bulbs.  ‘They’ say it takes a few years for them to settle in, but the difference between settling in and dying out is a distinction I’m having trouble with… so in the meantime I will continue admiring them in other peoples gardens.  A garden where they are doing much better in is my friend Paula’s.  Her garden is not an abandoned farmstead, and she is not an old gardener, but they are still doing well for her even if a few were just a little past prime for my visit.

lycoris hiaro blue

A trio of excellent hardier varieties of Lycoris.  From left to right, ‘L x haywardii’, ‘Hiaro Blue’ (a selection of L. sprengeri and I think the same as ‘Blue Pearl’), and ‘L x incarnata’.    

As is typical with many of my garden days, by the time it was wrapping up the sun was pretty much set, so sorry about not having photos of the rest of the lycoris in back, but the best thing I learned on this visit was ‘just move them’ if they’re not thriving.  For as obvious as that seems it was kind of a break through for me.

lycoris haywardii

A closeup of Lycoris x haywardii.  I would like to grow this one well enough to see this show in my own garden… and that’s an understatement based on the twitching I feel when I look at it!

So with a rushed visit to Chanticleer and a twilight garden tour with Paula, you might be thinking I stopped for a sit down lunch and dinner, or maybe wasted my time with some other nonsense, but the truth is I was digging daylilies.

transplanting daylilies

“I have a few I could share, stop by if you’re in the area” said a friend…

The back of my car was quite full of plants for the ride home.  There was even a gifted sprig of tuberose which perfumed the ride through the mountains.  I was quite pleased.

So I was kind of joking about the daylily farm, but with a whole side-of-the-house lawn destroyed by construction I figured what the hey, it’s better than replanting grass.  I’ve been pickaxing stones and trying to amend a driveway of fill ever since.  Have an excellent weekend and maybe this foolishness will help put your own into perspective 😉

Planned Surprises

Saturday I suddenly found myself on the road to Ithaca NY.  It’s about a two hour drive from here and of course I have better things to do locally but wanted to see a few friends, and you know… there was a plant sale.  Just a small thing done among members of the Adirondack chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society, but they have some pretty cool plants and for just two or three dollars a piece all the plants (donated out of member gardens) find a new home that morning.  Of course I was more than happy to help out, and a couple alliums, ferns and a violet are now here in Pa with me and even better, all the extra daffodils I dug this summer are GONE… or at least most of them.  Stupid me thinks I should replant some of the smallest ones to give them a chance to grow out so they won’t be too small to give away?  Don’t ask.  My accounting brilliance is matched only by my business sense.

cornell botanic garden

Cornell Botanic Gardens.  It was nice to stop into a garden which I’m guessing has a couple feet of topsoil, annual mulches of compost, and just the right amount of watering to grow sickeningly well.  Here’s Hydrangea cumulonimbus mocking the approaching storm clouds. 

The plant sale was followed by a luncheon and I just want to say that in between garden talk there was an invite to a garden which I really wanted to see, but I actually opted out of going.  Weird, right?  I think it was a combo of poor sleep, impending bad weather, and an overall end-of-summer-I’m-sick-of-drought-my-garden-is-a-disaster malaise.  In hindsight I wish I’d gone, but at that moment I just wasn’t up to being social any longer so passed.  That was an actual unplanned surprise, since on the way up I had a conscious thought of the possibility of being invited somewhere, and how excellent that would be.  I hope I’m not actually getting old(er)!

carex muskingumensis little midge

I found this sedge to be far cooler than you would imagine a sedge could be.  Carex muskingumensis ‘Little Midge’ I believe, even though the label said ‘Little Midget’ which would also be fitting. Quite the geometry on this little guy.

Apparently I was still young enough to add one side trip to the trip by pulling into the parking lot of the Cornell Botanical Gardens.  I did want to see how their tropical plantings were coming along, but then surprised myself by liking the shade plantings even more.

Mukdenia rossii Crimson Fans

Mukdenia rossii ‘Crimson Fans’.  Seeing this was a first for me, and I always thought the red color was an autumnal, perfect storm, enhanced for catalogs, color effect, but here it is in late August doing its bright crimson thing as if it’s no big deal.  Very nice!

And then it was back home.  I pulled in at a suitably responsible and mature arrival time of 6pm, just in time to enjoy the evening light on the Lycoris.  If you want to talk about surprises the fact any of these are blooming would be the premier surprise since they did not look all that happy this spring, and baked-clay dry summers are not supposed to encourage good bloom with these temperamental divas.

lycoris x squamigera

The most common surprise lily, or Nekkid lady (Lycoris x squamigera), is blooming more than it’s ever bloomed before.  I heard they like derelict, neglected properties so perhaps the random construction debris and bits of trash I’ve thrown here are the secret to a good show.  

There’s actually a second magic lily surprising me this year.  I thought I was successfully killing off most of my plantings, but suddenly there’s an almost clump of Lycoris x incarnata flower stalks poking up between the squash leaves.  If only I knew what went right with this spot I’d repeat it with the other bulbs growing just inches away but worlds apart in flowering-power… as in they’re not flowering at all…  Perhaps they’ll also surprise me but I doubt it.  Someone might have already poked around and found several have lost their roots to some kind of rot, and even though they’re sometimes called magic lilies, I think a miracle is closer to what we need.

lycoris x incarnata

Lycoris x incarnata, aka the peppermint spider lily, is a hybrid of two other Lycoris species.  There are other forms, but this striped version is one of the more common garden forms.  I think it’s quite awesome this year.

These two Lycoris and a few others are the cold-hardy members of a bigger family of bulbs which do well in the warmer Southern states and aren’t all that uncommon down there.  Sadly they’re not hardy enough for this garden, but of course since I’m doing so well with the other ones, I also thought I’d try a few of the more tender types such as L. radiata, the red hurricane lily.  With a bar already set so low by their cousins, it’s not hard to imagine that just the fact they’re still alive counts as a fabulous success.

terrace garden

Other not-cold-hardy things filling space on the sand terrace.  With a timed drip irrigation system this at least is one part of the garden not miserable for rain.

I’ll take whatever fabulous successes I can get.  Today it rained, and although the 0.06″ is not the 0.50″ forecast, it should green up the crabgrass a bit and at least give me a day off from watering… assuming I still even water.  This weekend I almost moved from ‘trying to get a few things through’ to ‘maybe save a few perennials and shrubs so they come back next year’.  That’s basically giving up for the year, and with school ramping up again, and construction crawling along, and with money evaporating faster than the rain, it’s never sounded better… until you consider the alternatives.  Being stuck in front of the tv from now until snowdrop season or taking up a trowel and helping tile, or sitting through an entire football game?  I think even a bad day of looking at weeds and wilted plants has its bright spots and I think I can do it for a few more days.  Lycoris season is always full of surprises, and even if the surprise is in how disappointing they can be, the colchicums will be here soon and I can always count on them.

Have a great week, and may your garden get all the rain it needs 😉

Well that Sure Escalated…

Sometimes I’m stubborn and set in my ways, determined to make something work and prove I’m right.  Other times I can turn on dot, easily distracted and influenced, and just one idea can derail an entire plan.  About three weeks ago I went to a daylily farm, and even talked to a daylily breeder.  I bought one.  I went to another farm.  suddenly I found myself going back to the first farm and getting a few more and now suddenly I like daylilies.  Hmmmm… did not see that coming…

brookside daylilies

Some Brookside daylilies which have been added to the garden.  It’s nice to have something green in the yard.

My mother might point out that at one point, maybe thirty years ago, someone planted dozens of daylilies alongside the garage and some of those clumps still remain today, but that was a long time ago.  I thought we were past that.

garden drought

The front border still looking a bit fried.  Recent rains have greened up some of the lawn weeds, but only the rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) looks completely unbothered by the dry weather.

I guess not.  Plenty of good people like daylilies, so what’s the harm in adding a few?  With the garden still a depressing shade of sun-faded khaki anything which can shrug off the dry heat can only be a good thing.

purple gomphrena

Purple gomphrena and angelonia don’t mind the heat, but do need regular watering to keep this fresh and bright.  I think it’s worth it.

No one even noticed a few new daylilies, but they did notice the water bill jumping up last month.  I admitted that maybe it was the garden causing this, but also pointed out the garden-fresh vegetables were surely worth it.  Fifty dollars for a couple zucchini and some lettuce, thankfully there was no cost to benefits analysis done to double check my logic.

blue yonder agapanthus

Regular watering helped stave off the worst of the baking in this end of the front border, but even without watering I suspect ‘Blue Yonder’ agapanthus would still look unbothered.  I’m so glad the bulldozer missed this one, although my seedlings and several other things in this bed were lost. 

Triage by watering hose was saving a few things but fortunately I went and scheduled a camping trip for last week, and this brought in a nice storm which actually soaked in a little.

orange peel cestrum seedlings

Cestrum is remarkably easy from seed and only grew faster in the heat.  At first I was underwhelmed by the small lemony flowers of the first seedling (in my hand), but a couple weeks later, other seedlings began to open up larger orange flowers, similar to their ‘Orange Peel’ mother, and it was all good.

A nice soak, cooler temperatures, and then another surprise shower this past weekend have made all the difference in the garden.  No more wilted plants making me feel guilty at every turn and the lawn even has a green haze to it, although it will still be a while before I need to fire up the lawnmower again.  I think this just-in-time rain will also help the little tree frog tadpoles immensely.  They’re just starting to sprout legs and leave the pond, and I don’t think venturing out into a desert would have been the best thing for my little babies.

young gray tree frogs

There’s a big range to the tadpoles with some already out and about, others well into leg-growing, and a couple still just fat little polliwogs.

I’ve been coming across baby tree frogs in a few spots around the garden.  Unlike the gray adults, the babies are a bright green with a dark mask around their eyes.

young gray tree frogs

Baby gray tree frogs (Hyla versicolor) have a leafy green color while the adults take on more of a bark/lichen gray color.

My fingers are crossed that a good number of them make it.

young gray tree frogs

Even the frogs like the new daylilies.  

New daylilies, baby frogs, and a decent rain.  It’s not perfect but it’s a good position to be in for the first week of August, and as long as no one asks how the construction is going I think it’s still better than a cold day in January.

Have a great week!

Garbage Day

So it’s been hot and hasn’t rained more than half an inch here in the last three weeks.  My “garden” has always been a little more interesting than it is beautiful, and now with things wilting and dying left and right, on top of the construction debris and damage, my yard has officially entered the trash stage.  Visiting several beautiful gardens last weekend, filled with lush goodies, all artfully combined and arranged was a nice exercise, but did not help my opinion at all so earlier last week I decided to rip half of it out, mulch most of it, and try to save a few bits through the daily triage of going plant to plant with a water hose.

low water perennials

Lawn is not drought tolerant but rudbeckia and a few other things are.  At least not everything is brown.

Maybe we’ll get lucky tonight and the storms rolling through will drop some moisture, but it’s going to take a couple days straight to get anything into the hard-baked soil and that’s not going to happen.  Also the next week’s forecast is full of 90’s (32+C) so any rain tonight is more a teaser than relief.

low water perennials

With half the plants now ripped out, and a couple days of standing around with a water hose under my belt, the front border no longer shouts ‘save me!’  and instead just looks hot.

So plenty of people have it worse, and some people always have it worse, so please don’t feel the need to be nice and sympathetic when this kind of summer really isn’t that out of the ordinary for us.  There’s still plenty of recyclables in this trash pile, and always a few treasures to pick out, such as the orien-pet lily ‘Conca d’Or which dominates the front border this week.  I love everything about it this year, it’s huge, fragrant, creamy lemony, and as solid as a tree.

low water perennials

‘Conca d’Or’, perovskia, and some ‘Karl Foerster’ feather reed grass doing just fine under the triage of ‘just in time’ watering.  

Now faced with a garden of mostly trash, more garden visits sounds like a good idea, right?  I think so, but little did I know how dangerous they can be.  Some friends and I traveled up into the far reaches of Northeastern Pennsylvania this weekend to visit a daylily farm and it was a bad thing…

lambertsons daylilies

A perfect, Idyllic, country view of the daylily sales-field at Lambertson’s Daylilies.  Mark it with a flag, pay, they’ll dig it and it’s yours… what a deadly temptation!

I’m not above taking one for the team, so when a visit to Lambertson’s Daylilys came up in conversation, I of course politely agreed.  “You hate daylilies” was mentioned, and that’s kind of extreme, but I can be nice and keep my thoughts to myself when opinions vary… and try not to relentlessly steamroll people with my beliefs and opinions just like all adults should… but I’m digressing… we met for breakfast and all of us headed out for a day at the farm.

lambertsons daylilies

Some of the display beds coming into bloom around the house.  No trash here! 

I bought one.  It’s planted and gets checked way too much each morning.  Today I cross-pollinated a few flowers and I’m already thinking about going back to see about picking another one… or possibly two… dammit…

growing daylilies

The mother in law’s garden bed and it also looks very non-trash.  I guess I’ll have to swipe a bit of this one and add it to my new daylily adventure.

When I returned home (filled with delicious ice cream because of course we had enough sense to stop at a dairy while in farm country) I put a critical eye towards the depressingly stunted tropical garden.  A daylily would look good in there.

low water perennials

Even with watering there’s little hope for this year’s tropical garden.  I’m far too lazy and cheap to water properly and the cannas are knee-high rather than chest height.

Seriously.  It’s the perfect spot for a daylily patch… bed… border… growing field  😉  The peak bloom will match pool season, and that’s when this sidewalk gets nearly all its traffic.

lambertsons daylilies

My selection out of the farm’s seedling patch.  At Lambertson’s the seedlings grow for a number of years, the under performers are culled out and most of the good ones are just sold as un-named seedlings.      

Tree lilies, daylilies… I’m sensing a theme for easing the pain of a better-for-the-pool-than-the-garden summer.  Waterlilies fit right into that.

pink water lily

The pond is thick with debris and whatever else washes in off the construction site, but the pink water lily has never grown as lush before.  The tadpoles are also doing well, and I guess a dirty pond is still better than no pond.

So it’s not all bad, unless you judge me for finally falling into the daylily trap.  I was doing so good…  in 20 years I think I never went over a total of five daylily plants, and no one needs to know about the other 30 years of my life and the rows of daylilies that still grow at my parent’s house.  I had put that behind me.

deck container plants

Not daylilies, just a couple hundred bricks which I chipped the mortar off and neatly stacked so that they can sit here for decades until I finally get around to doing something with them.  In the meantime I’ve camouflaged them with potted plants which I couldn’t be bothered to bring up onto the deck.  

It’s just one daylily.  Maybe it’s just the dry weather and heat that are getting to me.  Luckily plants other than lilies are still chugging along and even enjoying the weather.  All those geranium (pelargonium) cuttings from the winter garden are loving the dry, sunny days, and were a nice, cheap way to fill a bunch of planters.

deck container plants

Maybe a few too many geraniums on the deck.  

Another potted plant which has surprised me are the rhodohypoxis bulbs.  They’ve been blooming for over a month and I didn’t expect that at all.  In fact they’ve grown so well I might need to divide them soon, and don’t know if now or next spring would be the better time.

rodohypoxis

Some of the rhodohypoxis pots still doing well.  The large-flowered, pale pink ‘Pintado’ is by far my favorite.

Maybe I mentioned one other bulb which wasn’t doing as well as the rhodohypoxis (actually both are classified as corms, and not really bulbs).  Last winter I lost about half of the caladiums I was so excited about last year summer, but that doesn’t mean the ones which made it are pitiful.  A couple are awesome again, and since many are of the same sort I’ll be referring to them as some of the idiot-proof cultivars and think twice about trying new ones this year. -which is something I decided last night after closing an online order which was soooo tempting until I thought about the daylilies again-

growing caladiums

A few caladiums coming back to life now that temperatures have warmed.  I think a cold, wet spell last fall did a few of the others in, as well as not hot enough weather in June.

So that’s what’s been going on here for the last couple weeks.  It’s not bad at all but the garden really is trash, and only close editing and avoiding the majority of the yard has saved this post from becoming a complete downer.  There’s a new daylily though, and the pool is always refreshing, but don’t bother asking how the construction is going, and just for reference it’s midnight and the possibility for a good rain is dwindling with each hour.

All the best for those in really hot and dry weather patterns, and I hope you still all have a great week.  There’s always ice cream.

Independence Day

It’s the Fourth of July here in the US, Independence Day, and long story short we have taxation WITH representation now rather than without.  That appears to matter to 50-60% of eligible voters in a presidential election year but drops to only about 40% in midterm elections, so maybe it was more of a cool slogan than a real sentiment, but whatever… Happy Fourth!

streptocarpella

The front porch is suitably patriotic for the season with a bit of streptocarpella in the hanging baskets this year.

Barbecue and fireworks are the real tradition these days, and here in PA the grilling we do would probably mortally wound any barbecuing Southerner, but we try.  There will be plenty of over-eating regardless and the fireworks will be covered as well, although with the dry weather our home will be sticking to floral fireworks instead.

kniphofia red hot poker

The first of the red hot pokers(Kniphofia) are firing up and they’re a favorite of mine.  The newer selected forms have a longer bloom season and rebloom as well so that’s a win-win over the flash in a pan older versions.  

Were it not for the entire spring being spent picking rocks and hauling stone, there’s a good chance the gardener would have divided and spread more pokers around the garden… but… there’s always next year  😉

summer flower border

A slightly less-weedy garden border.  To be honest much of the plantings are self sown so maybe it would be no loss to pull much of it out and spread more pokers around!  I’m sure everything else would return anyway, and in less time than I’d like to admit. 

So fireworks and food.  This year for the first time ever I’m neck and neck with the robins in the race to get blueberries.  I think because it’s been dry the robins have moved to wetter gardens, and the lazy young robins which enjoy sitting in a blueberry bush all day, napping, eating, napping, have moved out with them.

blueberries

There’s about a pint of blueberries sitting on the counter waiting to transform into a nice pancake or muffin, and it looks like we have enough for a couple more pickings.  

Fireworks, food, and fragrance.  The last few weeks the back garden has been filled with the fragrance of the little leaf linden (Tilia) and the buzz of the thousands of bees and beetles and bugs which swarm to the tree, but this week it’s all the regal lilies (Lilium regale).  A warm, muggy evening spent watering the potager vegetables and enjoying the scent of the lilies is not a bad way to spend a holiday weekend.

regal lily

Regal lilies are easy from seed.  They’re easy in general, just keep an eye on them for the bright red lily beetles which have finally made their way here and become a problem in my garden. 

…and don’t forget the ‘Don’t tread on me’ part of Independence day.  This spring I noticed that as the garden fills and matures I’m less likely to allow the same weeds which I used to ignore.  I realized this while pulling a couple bull thistle(Cirsium vulgare) seedlings which aren’t really a problem here but aren’t really that nice to bump into while “weeding” other things.  Maybe my garden is becoming more civilized, and these armed plants which used to be just fine in the wild-West of my garden’s early days just aren’t safe to have as plantings pack in and mature.  Today I permit a few fancy thistles armed with open spines in the main beds, and regulate some stinging nettles with their concealed weapons in the back end of the yard, and altogether it’s a much safer world.  What a concept.

woolly thistle cirsium eriophorum

The woolly thistle (Cirsium eriophorum) even has purple tips on the spines and a fuzzy fluff!  You really need a little training and have to know what you’re doing before you play around with this plant, but it’s still worth keeping around. 

So there you have it.  Food, fireworks, fragrance, and some independence.  I hope you have an excellent summer week and if you’re off for the Monday, please enjoy 🙂

Rocking Ithaca with NARGS

Last Tuesday I made the trip up to Ithaca, New York to put in my time as a volunteer for the plant sale being held for the annual general meeting of the North American Rock Garden Society (NARGS).  It’s an easy two hour drive for me and although you wouldn’t be the first person to question a two hour drive just to work a plant sale, I did it anyway and thought it was an excellent way to splurge on gas money!

Mom:  “It sounds nice, and don’t volunteers get all kinds of free things?”

Me:  “They gave me a hat”

Mom:  “Oh… >pause<… how’s the construction going?”

I arrived an hour early in order to make a quick run-through of the Cornell Botanic Gardens and the Robison Herb Garden.  The weather was perfect, the gardens well-tended, and I even learned a few things.

cornell botanic garden

‘These flowers were thought to grow in Paradise’ which after my own shoddy online research seems to refer to the sweet william version, but I’d rather think they meant Dianthus plumarias and that’s whats growing in my garden and thats clearly evidence I’m creating Paradise next to my garage.  Boom.

So I learned my garden is a tin version of Paradise and I also learned that I need to grow Good-King-Henry.  If one plant can create Paradise, maybe another can post an invite to a household elf named Heinz.  Hopefully Heinz can help out with the dishes or something, and not be a mischievous troublemaker since we already have a dog for that.

cornell botanic garden

I believe I would be a good caretaker of Heinz’s plant.

Maybe I didn’t learn quite as much as I should have from the herb garden, but sometimes people only hear what they want and of course I’m no exception.  I did make it to the plant sale though, and I think I was somewhat helpful although for much of the afternoon I just kept running through a list of plants I wanted and then keeping my eye on people who seemed a little too interested in those same plants.  I tried to be sociable but mostly bothered the vendors and other volunteers.  Some new plant heroes are Ted Hildebrant of Coldwater Pond Nursery (Coldwater might have been the “Oh yeah, I’m there” clincher for luring me to the sale) from where I added three new witch hazels but not a variegated hydrangea paniculata or a variegated horse chestnut or red chestnut or hardy fuschia or… there were many temptations… There was also Karen Perkins of Garden Visions Epimediums who chose two epimediums which will be perfect for me, but hopefully not too perfect that I need more and more varieties…. and then there was Karma Glos of Kingbird Farm who I probably bothered the most.  She had porcupine tomato seedlings and that’s all it took.  In addition to the porcupine a few other seedlings joined my box and it was fun finding all those weird things which most people aren’t willing to take a risk on growing and selling.  Those and a passionflower vine.  Apparently I needed to pick one of those up at a rock garden plant sale so I did 😉

Yeah the sale was fun, but I could see myself getting into one of these get-togethers if the chance comes up again.  The garden visits and excursions sounded and looked awesome, and the evening presentations sounded great.  Attendees looked like ‘my people’ and I regret not talking to more of them.  Maybe next time.

dead red sedge

Don’t try digging in your dead sedge for the winter if it’s in a clay pot.  The pot will still break.

Once home again it’s been a week of get the garden in order and do all the planting most people finished by Memorial Day, starting with my lovely little dead sedge.  If the last five years have taught me anything it’s that doubling down works and deny deny deny.  My sedge is not dead it only looks that way, and now I’m dividing and repotting it so I can make a nice mass display of what I believe is a still-living plant of ‘Red Rooster’ leather leaf sedge.  It’s beautiful.  It’s a sedge more beautiful than any other and everyone is going to want one and now I have five of them.

dead red sedge

Division was a brutal process, I hope they don’t die… any more than they already have.

Speaking of dead things, one plant which I forgot about on the day my front yard was bulldozed has chosen life rather than the great unknown.

witch hazel graft

Hammamelis ‘Angelly’, a clear yellow witch hazel which might be back to beautiful in another 13 years if I’m lucky.  I’ll wait 🙂 

And a surprise flower amongst the amaryllis pots…

double amaryllis

Better late than never, I do like how this *forgot the name*(edit: on good authority we will label it ‘Dancing Queen’) double amaryllis looks blooming in June.  All the rest look a little Christmassy and out of place, but this one fits right in!

There has been a lot of progress this week.  The gardener was mostly focused and had nearly all week to get things cleaned up and ready for summer.  The driveway can hold a car again and hopefully the cannas and other things appreciate their return to soil and will soon explode into growth.  I have high hopes.

All the best for a good Sunday and excellent week!

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!

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!

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!