Enter Summer

Well well well.  The lull is over and with official summer starting in four more days I’m completely ready for days to last forever and I’m completely ok to never put on a real pair of pants again.  Sorry,  please forget that visual.  I’m thinking shorts and bathing suits and whatever else kind of clothing you would wear to the park, not the gray polyester blend  pants you’d  wear to meet your lawyer.  Lawyers should only be dealt with in the winter in my opinion.

mixed flower border

The front border is full of early summer color and a remarkably well-tended assortment of plants.

Following a bump in the road it looks like garden work is back on track around here.  Planting weather continues and I almost feel guilty about putting it to good use when so much of the country sits under stifling heat and relentless drought.  But trust me, if not doing work would mean relief for the hot and dry, you know I would do my part.

mixed flower border

I kind of missed the flowery peak of the roses, but there’s still plenty of color.  Also nice is how much those little spruce and juniper twigs have grown.  It seems just yesterday I had a four inch pot in hand looking at the spot where today a six foot white spruce (Picea glauca ‘Pendula’) stands.

Roses are still obsession du jour, and the greatest tragedy this summer will surely be that I was not able to get up to Ithaca’s ‘Der Rosenmeister‘ to see hundreds of roses in full bloom, filling beds and covering arbors and wafting their various fragrances across the garden as I secretly inventory all the ones I’d like to cram into my own little yard.    I guess there’s next year, but in a strange turn of events I’ve turned into a very not-patient person, and I want it all now.  I can still be understanding and wait for things like small children, tree seedlings, and dogs, but the cup of you-go-firstedness has run dry and my filter is breaking down as I age.  I guess you can start calling me Karen.

westerland rose

Here’s ‘Westerland’ again.  Today it’s my favorite rose.

I’m Karen with a spade, and many of the less inspiring plants in my life are paying the ultimate price.  “oh it’s a good doer’ might save it in your garden but here it’s good night and good bye unless I love it or unless it saves me from even more work.  I’m thinking groundcovers with that last one, ajuga may not be inspiring but it does fill in between the giant reed grass’s stalks and saves me from crawling through there looking for prickly poppy seedlings.

arundo donax

The giant reed grass (Arundo donax variegata) is on the love list, but the clump looks deceptively small in this photo.  I may trade in the spade for an axe on this one, the inch thick roots are not something I’m looking forward to, but the clump needs reducing.

Weeds and plantings I’ve tired of might sound bad, but overall I love the garden right now.  A thick wall of weeds won’t win a magazine cover, but honestly I’ve been looking at them (every day of course) and all it takes is one plant doing well in there for me to think ‘wow, that’s #@&^ing awesome’.

common milkweed

A weed I love, common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), looking and smelling great this week.  Three tips: be prepared for it to spread, chop it down to two feet after bloom, and just yank up all the suckers without worrying about the roots below (you don’t even want to know).

So as usual I’m babbling about nonsense when I should be finishing this up and ferrying kids to a dental appointment.  More pictures, less blah.

strawberry mertonensis foxglove

More strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) appearing out of the mess.  These don’t mind the droughts and spider mite attacks which do in the common foxgloves. 

penstemon dark towers

More of the foundation plantings.  As you can see the blue fescue border has not been divided and replanted, and still has way too much thatch built up, but… 

rock garden

The former rock garden, now the colchicum bed.  I’ve resorted to roundup once or twice a year to keep the stone border clean and it’s actually working out very well.

Did I mention I needed more roses?  I do, and it might be time for more clematis as well.  Finally I have a few spots for them to climb up and show off rather than making them crawl around in the dirt… which is not the kind of treatment they deserve.

clematis ruutel

Clematis ‘Ruutel’ doesn’t get much taller than this, which normally wouldn’t thrill me, but the dark red color is still a win.

A friend of mine grows more clematis than she should and that’s probably why she’s such a good friend, so I’m sure if I mentioned cuttings… hmmmm.  That would sure help cool off the credit card from plant purchases.

clematis ville de lyon

Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon’ does get taller, and I always like flowers at eye level or above.

So the rest is just a mix of unconnected things which are interesting this week.  We could call it a four on Wednesday but of course that’s got zero ring to it 🙂

calycanthus aphrodite

Even in an overexposed photo Calycanthus ‘Aphrodite’ looks pretty good.  I never expected it to become so showy.

aralia sun king

Aralia ‘Sun King’ is still doing well in a cramped, too dry, unfertile, location.  Nine out of ten garden designers despise how I left the rose campion nearby.

martagon lily sunny morning

Further into the shade the martagon lilies are blooming.  ‘Sunny Morning’ had a string of bad years with late frosts and swampy soil but then for some reason decided to send up three flower stalks and look amazing.  I don’t get it.  She’s been dormant by July for at least the last two years so I suspect this is a swan’s song kind of show.

meadow garden

The meadow is developing behind the neighbor’s house.  Oddly it’s one of my favorite spots and has gone from pure turf to a mass of bird’s foot trefoil, other clovers, and a few daisies.  

So I have to stay focused.  I want to go on and on about the butterfly weed and rose campion that needs to be seeded into the meadow, and the merits of adding native penstemons but in a purple foliaged form… but the spring stuff still needs to get planted,  beans need to go into the ground, and daffodils dug and a million other things and there will be time to babble on about uncut  meadows in August.

Hope you’re enjoying all the too-much as much as I am.  Have a great week!

A Bit of a Chill

The low last night was 23F (-5C) and tonight promises more of the same, although possibly a little warmer… as if that matters… so I’m going to dwell on the warmer days from earlier this week.  To the relief of many snowdrop season here has ended and we are hurtling forward through corydalis season but not yet fully into daffodil season.  After the highs of the snowdrops it’s almost a lull, but then I looked at the photos.  Not bad at all I thought, although a few more days of snowdrops would have been nicer.

front street border spring

‘Tweety Bird’ is my first daffodil to open making a ‘bold’ contrast to the pinks of the corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’.  

Weird how the sun and warmth melted the galanthus yet hasn’t really brought on much of the other stuff yet.  I suspect it has something to do with the weeks of snow cover and some things growing up through the snow yet others waiting for the melt to happen first.

scilla mischtschenkoana

Scilla mischtschenkoana picks up right after the snowdrops finish, but even in a good year barely flowers for more than a week or two.  One rough week of work sometimes means missing the whole thing!  

It might sound like complaining when I lament how short a bloom season might seem but honestly I bore quickly, so this (with the exception of a quick snowdrop season) actually works in my favor.  There’s always the excitement of a next wave approaching and as long as a hard freeze doesn’t ruin things… hmmmmm…. maybe I shouldn’t yet discount late hard freezes…

pasque flower

Pasque flower (Pulsatilla vulgaris) is one of the first perennials to bloom, right alongside the hellebores. 

Pasque (Pulsatilla vulgaris, formerly Anemone pulsatilla) flowers are a full-sun perennial  which I don’t think I’ve ever seen for sale on a nursery bench.  Of course they flower too early for Mother’s Day and don’t last long, and in this age of “does it flower all summer?” the answer is no, and some people just don’t want to hear that.  Actually many sensible gardeners aren’t crawling around their perennial beds yet, and the pasque flower’s early blooms pass perfection so quickly I don’t blame them for not bothering with this plant, but I of course love their fuzziness and optimism against cold and ice and always end up thrilled to see their blooms catching the springtime sun.

pasque flower

Same pasque flower, other side while a cloud passes.

I bet a few early, miniature daffodils in cooling lemon and white tones would be perfect alongside even more pasque flowers.  Other species come in reds and pale yellows and whites, and they’re easy from freshly sown seed and… well I digress again.   

galanthus peardrop

Galanthus ‘Peardrop’ is one of the latest to bloom here.

Sorry for throwing in two last snowdrops. -I was doing so good!

galanthus galadriel

‘Galadriel’ is an elegant beauty with a fitting name.  I should move it to a more open spot where it can be a focal point… hahaha, as if any of those spots are still empty 😉

That’s it for snowdrops.  I hope there’s something equally exciting on the horizon, and I think I have it here with this next sprout.

cold hardy cardoon

A plate-sized eruption of foliage means the cardoon (Cynara cardunculus) really is as hardy a sort as promised.  Cardoons have always died away over winter here, so this is mega-exciting.  I guarantee you’ll hear more about it in a month or two! (please ignore the sea of allium seedlings in the background)

Maybe the promise of a year filled with cardoon photographs wasn’t what you were hoping for, but at least I didn’t sneak in another snowdrop.  Here.  Corydalis are also not snowdrops, and after a few years here they’re also not as formally named as the latter.

corydalis george baker

Maybe Corydalis ‘George Baker’.  The plant on the left looks rightish, but the other side of the clump looks a little different.

Honestly I can’t keep my corydalis straight.  Besides being promiscuous they must somehow resent how I try to pamper named cultivars while overlooking equally attractive stray seedlings.  Out of spite the $15 named corm disappears while a sea of seedlings comes up to surround the lonely label.

red corydalis seedlings

Last year the final named form in this bed opted out on renewing for another year.  Maybe it was the weeds, but everyone else seems relatively happy.  

I don’t mind.  They come up, flower, seed, and are gone before I even think about the other perennials and annuals which share this same space later in the year.  Maybe native plant purists and lovers of bare mulch beds will complain about weediness, but just come here I’d say, and I’ll show you some weeds you can complain about.

red corydalis seedlings

Ugh.  One has even jumped across into the next bed.  When I dig a few of the daffodils I’ll try and remember to weed out this corydalis.

I’d like to move a few of the nicest forms into a bed where they can clump up, but so far my clumsy attempts at moving them in bloom has caused more casualties than it has attractive corydalis plantings, but eventually I think I’ll get it.

red corydalis seedlings

Everyone here admires the corydalis.  I’ve been informed this little guy lives under the porch and often comes out to sun himself on bits of trash while admiring the flowers.  Word is he is really looking forward to meeting my friend Kimberley 🙂

So then this….

magnolia in snow

Magnolia are well known for how bravely they endure the ups and downs of early spring…

The weather started to “shift” yesterday.

forsythia in snow

Forsythia ‘Show Off’ which I planted next door.  I’d show you mine but it appears the soil on my side of the property line produces more rabbaliscious growth and as a result it hasn’t broken the four inch mark because of its annual pruning.

And now for a few hellebores.  I dug up a few as giveaways last week and have to say it’s a much nicer way to clear space for even more hellebores than sending them to the compost pile would be.  It would be nice to think I’m “upgrading” but since the new ones are unflowered seedlings, who knows but at least it’s much more exciting to see something new next spring!

double pink hellebore

I think this was supposed to be ‘Pink Fizz’, a single pink, but sadly I ended up with this very un-single flower 😉

I have a little thing for growing hellebores from seed.  A few get planted every fall, and eventually the pipeline is full enough that each spring there are new surprises from the years past.

hellebore seedlings

I believe these were supposed to be a ‘slatey’ mix of seeds.  Kind of average, and not really slate-ish, but still nice for a few springs.

hellebore seedlings

Someone was too lazy to separate this pot of seedlings when planting.  I like the effect!

double pink hellebore

I might have too many of these… a double pink hellebore, maybe ‘Nellie’ from seed I ordered 8 years ago from Australia.  They’ve finally gotten some room and are looking great, but 6 plants of it!?

The hellebores will be fine with the cold.  Most everything will be fine until it’s not, and even then it will likely recover for next year. *yes I’m talking about last year’s lost lily season*

frozen peony

A frozen peony (Paeonia daurica) this morning with other frozen stuff….  all recovered by 2pm.    

I just noticed that the melting peony is back to almost normal.  Maybe now it’s okay to take a stroll and see how everything else has made out, and briefly consider the wind and how likely it is that I’ll do any gardening today.  I actually want to work out there, but with low 20’s tonight maybe I’ll wait one more day before transplanting a few little white bulbs around.  They probably wouldn’t care either way, but choosing patience would make me feel a tiny bit better considering tonight’s cold will likely kill most of the flower buds on the wisteria (again).

Oh well.  It’s always something and if worse comes to worse I know where the Easter chocolate is.

Have a great holiday weekend!

Snowdropping 2021

I’ve heard them say it’s the bad trips, not the good, that you remember best, and over the years they become some of your best memories… so maybe someday this trip will rank more highly, but for now its chilly wetness ranks it closer to the bottom.  At one point my snowdropping buddy stated the day reminded her of the windy, frigid visits to upstate NY and the Temple Gardens open day, and she could be right.  In my defense our local forecast was decent, but I foolishly assumed it would be even milder and just as dry 100 miles South.  Silly me.

naturalized snowdrops

I would guess snowdrop adventures in the UK and EU are far less gritty than our adventures.  Tea and cake from what I’ve heard.  To satisfy that question, we didn’t find either.

As I was driving down my better sense knew this trip was too short-notice and not up to or normal standards, so I dropped the hint that I would be fine doing our traditional park visit alone, and Paula must have looked at the thermometer and thought ‘hallelujah!’

“Yes” she said, “That’s fine, maybe I’ll go next week”.

naturalized snowdflakes

The yellow of the winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis) was fading, but the snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) were just coming up.

The park we visit hasn’t changed in years, but this year I noticed some cleanup.  Brush removed, new paths, general cleaning up.  I’m glad to see some love going in, but also have to admit a little sadness.  Paths of bare earth cut through swathes of snowdrops and winter aconite means many bulbs were destroyed.  Decades of neglect built the show, I just hope a cleaner and neater future leaves a place for them and remembers the history of this plot.

eranthis

Bulbs are tenacious though.  A tree disaster happens, a scar opens, and still the yellow of winter aconite manages to sprout and bloom amongst the debris.

Ok so I really wasn’t all that sad and I did spend a good hour or so examining hundreds of flowers looking for something special so it was still an excellent visit, but the real star of my trip was Paula’s garden.  I swear there were twice as many blooms as I remembered.  I love when I pull up somewhere and get that stupid grin and start talking to myself about how cool it looks.  Sometimes I even do that with passengers onboard, and probably get concerned looks, but with each passing year I notice less and less, and care?  Not even 🙂

american snowdrop garden

The glow of ‘Jelena’ (Hamamelis ‘Jelena’) lights up and perfumes the highs while snowdrops and heucheras fill the lows.

It was so refreshing to see all the color filling a garden.  On the ride over I was desperately scanning the neighborhoods looking for anything but it was never much more than desolately neat lawns and mulch, or way more evergreens than even a cemetery would want.  Occasionally there were some snowdrops or a hellebore, so I guess there’s hope, but inspiring?  No…

american snowdrop garden

Paula has reached the point where nearly all the beds have snowdrops wedged in between the dormant perennials and mix of shrubbery.  She complained about too many seedlings.  I pretended to understand.

As usual we stood out in the cold examining every drop, commenting on how well it grew and where it was from.  There were also witch hazels, winter aconite, and snowflakes to discuss.  It’s great seeing a garden which comes alive while the rest of the neighborhood sits brown and dead.

american snowdrop garden

One of many hellebores.  The color stood out better in real life, I’m sure I yet again had some camera setting mis-adjusted.

By the time we slowly shuffled around the far end of the garden the icy drizzle had switched over to a rainy drizzle, and when I suggested it might be more polite to skip the other garden we had scheduled, Paula seemed fine with that.  We were both ready to warm up and dry out.  I even passed on an offer to dig one or two trades… tell me that’s not a sign!

american snowdrop garden

The last couple years of plantings line the side garden, each special variety socially distanced with only the occasional seedling breaking quarantine.

I guess I’m not as feverishly desperate as I used to be.  It’s still a thrill to go visiting but it’s more and more about the people, and then coming home is less and less of a let-down.  There are still a few (actually plenty) of snowdrop treasures I covet, but give me a sunny winter day with bunches of average white ones surrounding me really makes me feel as if I’ve arrived…. at least in MY mind 🙂

Have a great weekend, and let this be your **last warning** that pictures from my own garden are up next!

Seven Years and Counting

Prepare yourselves for the 2021 snowdrop season.  They’re starting to come up in earnest and if it’s as warm and rainy this week as they say it will be, all the drops should be open or at least up by this weekend.  Of course I’ll photograph nearly every one.  Multiple times.  I will understand if I don’t hear from a few people while this goes on.  Seriously.  Please don’t even feel obligated since there are already enough people ignoring the guy who wanders around in the cold mumbling and kneeling and photographing dirt that a few more won’t matter.  I’ll be oblivious anyway.

In general snowdrops are nothing much to look at unless you have a couple decades worth of adding and dividing and transplanting under your belt.  But small progress can be made.  Here’s an un-named Galanthus elwesii which a friend shared with me years ago.  It faced death many times before I knew what I was doing, but in 2013 I found a good spot, and in 2014 it finally escaped the muck and cold and narcissus fly attacks which were holding it back, and bloomed beautifully.  It even earned a spot on this blog.

galanthus elwesii

A perfectly average no-name Galanthus elwesii.  It’s one of my favorite garden treasures.

All my purchased snowdrops start as one bulb.  One bulb is nothing much to look at.  You tell someone you have ten different varieties and they ask “where?”  and then you head back inside to warm up.  But eventually one becomes five becomes fifteen and you are on your way, and one year you go outside and say ‘wow, I could almost call that a clump’… and then you look around quickly to see if anyone saw you talking to yourself again…

galanthus elwesii

Seven years and a couple days later.  Obviously I’ve done nothing to it in the meantime, just waited.

So I think I have clumps.  They didn’t all take seven years, and some are not even close, but it’s fun, and today my mother in law accidentally made eye contact as she drove by and stopped to tell me it wasn’t summer.  I said it’s warm enough, and then without any prompting she said ‘oh you do have flowers already.  Will they be ok if it gets cold?’  I went on too long.  She regretted it.

Have a great week, and to the non-snowdroppers I’ll see you in a couple weeks 😉

February

So much for keeping to a regular schedule of blog posts this year.  January was off to a good start, but then it got cold and snowy, and I don’t do well when cold and snow separate me from my plants… unless of course it’s to hit a tropical beach or indulgent ski resort… but we all know how that’s been going this year.

snow yorkie

Biscuit the Yorkie loves the snow, especially when the foot or so of compacted old snow is covered with a couple inches of delicious new snow.  

So February has been a nothing month.  Nothing much gets done, there’s not much moving (other than for food), and no one seems to care.  We just watch the snow storms roll through and vaguely consider the damage that heaps of snow and ice are doing to the roof, and wonder just how big an icicle needs to be before it rips the gutter off.

ice dam

Ice dams edge the entire roof.  Snow is piled high, it gets wet as the up-roof sections melt a bit, and then freezes to form a solid 10 inch wall of ice atop the gutter.  Of course with the gutter blocked the next melt will just run off the edge forming (in this case tiny) icicles.    

Sunday actually lived up to its name, with a clear sky and almost above freezing temperatures I made my first trek into the yard in about three weeks.  There really wasn’t anything to see (anything good that is) but I did dig out one of buckets covering snowdrops and was thrilled to see them also enjoying the bright change in weather.

snowdrop protection

Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ still looking great, assuming I’m willing to trudge out and dig her up each time I visit.

Although many will complain about the snow, you won’t hear me gripe about it until March when we get hit by some nasty blizzard or Nor’easter which crushes all the new sprouts and ruins all the earliest spring flowers.  Fortunately this year, in spite of a warm January, most everything was still far enough back that all this cold has done is make it wait.  When it melts I expect a grand explosion of spring, and that’s always exciting.

rabbit winter damage

A foot or two of compacted snow isn’t all good things.   The rabbits can’t get to their food and end up eating just about anything which makes it above the snow line.  

Maybe that spring explosion will be enough to save the leafless hollies and camellias, and skeletal spruces which I just bought and planted… thinking they would be just fine and out of reach in the raised beds of the potager…  I fenced a bunch of things back in December, but in the past these have been safe, so obviously why would I over do it?

winter sunset

winter sunset

Even with all the clamor over snow and bitter cold and an arctic vortex or two, reality says this winter is still warmer than average, with only seven or eight nights actually below average, and not by much.  Even the most impaired statistician will tell you that for an average to be average about half the temps will be above and half below… give or take a few extremes… and we are far from that even if it sure seems like a winter out of the ‘olden’ days.

garden journal

A quick flashback to my garden journals of the ’80s tells me that we are actually about right in line with the spring of ’87.  That might sound reassuring, but these are actually from when I lived on Long Island, which is now considered a balmy zone 7, so…  we are actually way ahead.   

Reading a thermometer and checking a weather report really only take at most five minutes, so it’s been a struggle to fill the rest of the weekend with nothingness.  Even the winter garden is boring me so in a valiant attempt to beat the stupor I checked up on any drip irrigation fittings I might need.  Yes I need to order more, maybe 100 1/2 gph emitters will be enough for all the caladium bulbs I ordered.  Yes, I need to pot them up individually so that I can separate all the colors and then arrange them and rearrange them through the summer.  Yes, I know that’s excessive.

drip irrigation containers

Drip irrigation fittings and parts.  For all of ten minutes I considered a post on the subject, but then… the stupor again descended.  

One thing I have managed this winter is reading.  Three new books top the pile, and they’re all excellent.  ‘Some Snowdrops’ is a beautiful dreambook of how I imagine snowdrop season will be like, ‘A Year at Brandywine Cottage’ gets me excited about every plant and every season (and unfortunately every recipe has me wandering into the kitchen hungry), and ‘Colchicum’ has me doubting every label in my little colchicum bed.

winter garden reading

Winter reading for the gardener.

A little wandering, a little dreaming, a little reading, that’s actually a pretty banner weekend (or more honestly, month) for me.  Even in mid February the sun already seems March strong, and I don’t think I’m the only one thinking that.  The best thing I noticed on Sunday was that birdsong is back, and in spite of the snow, birds were vociferously carving up the neighborhood into new territories for spring.

winter bird feeder

… until Monday, and another six inches of snow…

So it’s not spring yet, but things are looking up.  Tomorrow will be warm, Thursday will be warmer.  It will take a while for the snow and ice to melt, so I’ve got a few more days to be lazy, but the next few days look promising!

sleepy pup

Snow can wear you out.

Have a great week!

Winter Rages?

The next three weeks are typically when winter throws its worst at us.  The average low dips down to around 18F (-7C) at night, and then climbs to 34F (1C) in the day, depending on all kinds of things of course, and the long nights and short days don’t set the garden up for much of anything.  That’s a normal year.  Besides all the other more obvious ups and downs, the weather last year was not normal, and in fact was one of our hottest years on record.  12 days in and 2021 isn’t looking to be the culture and climate shift everyone was hoping for.  Actually it looks a lot more like December 37, 2020.

galanthus elwesii montrose

This gardener prefers to use stylish and unobtrusive 5 gallon buckets to protect the earliest snowdrops from the coldest winds and heaviest snows of winter.  Here’s ‘Potter’s Prelude’ uncovered to enjoy the next few days of mild weather.

For a minute I’ll ignore the past and just enjoy this mild weather which draws these snowdrops up out of the ground.  Most of what’s flowering now would be fall bloomers in a milder climate but here they usually dawdle enough that flowering happens in winter, which should be fun, but for many the weather is just too much and the flowers (and foliage) end up destroyed.  Viva la global warming!  These days I have snowdrops blooming all winter… until we get a plunge in February of course, and then even with buckets galore, things still look like someone named Winter trampled through the beds with some heavy cleated snow boots on.

galanthus elwesii potters prelude

I moved a fall blooming Galanthus elwesii ssp monostictus hiemelis group ex Montrose (catch breath*) to a warmer spot to hopefully bring on earlier blooming, but it didn’t.  Still it seems much happier here and has been in bloom over a month!

I’ve been trying to find a perfect spot to make life easier on these little treasures.  It’s worked in a few cases but some still aren’t happy regardless of where I have them growing.  When the cold comes the flowers burn and the foliage dies back.  Some struggle afterwards, some go to the light, but I do have one who just shrugs it off.  ‘Three Ships’ (Galanthus plicatus ‘Three Ships’) has never shown a bit of damage in spite of ice and snow and cold.  He’s never made it into bloom for Christmas, which is the trick he’s best known for, but he is a snowdrop who choses to grow and flower just as the weather is at it’s worst and for that holds place as one of my favorites.

galanthus three ships

Today’s sunshine and just barely above freezing air temperatures have brought out ‘Three Ships’.

For the first few years I assumed the cold would do this little nut in.  What sane snowdrop would grow more as the temperatures dropped further?  Tender shoots and sub zero weather should not mix, but one shoot became two, two became four, and rather than die, ‘Three Ships’ is becoming a clump.

galanthus three ships

Not just a hardy snowdrop, but also a beautiful snowdrop.  Heavy textured, rounded blooms with soft green inner markings.  I love the ridges and the way the flowers puff out in the sun.

So right now the snowdrops are loving it.  It’s like winter in the North Carolina mountains, and although some more cold and snow would make for better skiing, I don’t mind mediocre skiing on Monday followed by snowdrops on Tuesday.

Be safe and have a great week!

Winter Arrives?

With the calendar turning over for the official start of a new year, I had the opportunity to see my blogging stats as a year end summary.  I usually expect a disappointing show but how exciting to see that for the first time since 2016 my visitors and views have actually increased!  I’ll still point out that there was far more interest in this blog five years ago than there is today, but I guess any move to the plus side is worth celebrating, and I think my first move will be to show off these numbers to my bank account.  It’s been slacking in the numbers department as well, and this might be just the inspiration it’s been waiting for.

mulched vegetable beds

A former vegetable bed has filled with hydrangeas and other things more colorful than vegetables.  Now a messy mulch of leaves looks suspiciously like the cover for a future snowdrop bed.  Hmmmm.

My concerns over declining views are matched only by my race to improve them.  In the last four years I’ve done nothing.  That could be part of it, but at least the weather was beautiful last Saturday and I was able to do something outside and actually weeded a few spots and spread a little mulch.  Not bad for January, and I think I’m as set as I will be for the earliest spring bloomers, some of which have mistaken sunny days in the 50’s for the end of an extremely short winter.

Mrs Macnamara

Mrs Macnamara is an early riser, but unfortunately this weather tricks her into being too early.  In the five years she’s been here her early blooms have been destroyed five times, and I have yet to see her flowers open and look their best.  

History does not bode well for an extremely short winter in this garden.  A review of last year shows various things up and nearly in flower the first week of January… and then also shows the wilted, frozen mush of snowdrops and hellebores by the end of February.  I doubt there’s a gardener out there who doesn’t know this same story.

winter hellebore foliage

I would have removed the hellebore foliage but prefer to mow it all up, and honestly the lawnmower deserves at least a few days off for winter so I’ll wait.

I guess there’s no easy way out.  A more mature and sensible gardener would just not grow the plants ill suited to their garden.  That’s a good idea, and you of course should do that even if I won’t.

winter hellebore

On the advice of a better gardener I’ve started trimming the old foliage off my hellebores at anytime from late December on.  Tender, easily damaged shoots seem to show up whether the leaves are removed or not.

I apologize for speaking of warm sun while showing gloomy snow and sleet but one of the blog stats which stood out for me was that this blogger used to post twice as much.  Because Saturday was a beautiful, busy day and no photos were taken, I was forced to go out Sunday into the sleet for something to blog about.  Quantity over quality is my new mantra and we will see if more frequent posts will be the secret to overwhelming my site counter and bringing on that lucrative movie deal I’m still hoping for.

Or spring.  I won’t mind if more frequent posts bring on spring 🙂

Happy Solstice

It’s a rare day that snow pictures end up on this blog, but some people seem to be into this kind of stuff so I figured what the heck, they are kind of pretty, sort of like microscopic virus photos or the closeup of a horsefly’s eye… so here they are.  As we enter the longest night of the year it’s a taste of cold sunshine from Saturday morning.

frosty winter morning

 I love Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  It’s supposed to resist winter browning, but here it is with some winter browning.

frosty winter morning

The polished buds of European beech surrounded by the russet glow of Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’ seedheads.

frosty winter morning

More Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’, a switch grass who’s bluish summer foliage is followed by a winter long reddish foliage which holds up fairly well to lighter snow loads and winter winds.   

frosty winter morning

Silly rose it’s winter, and you’re deciduous.

frosty winter morning

We ended up with about a foot of snow.  Faced with cyber school the kids didn’t even get a day off.

frosty winter morning

It’s been a good year for Amsonia hubrichtii.  The yellow in autumn was better than ever and now there’s even some color left for the first few weeks of winter. 

frosty winter morning

A gentle snowfall marks off the hedges and beds of the potager.

frosty winter morning

The bright sunshine and cold clear air brings sparkle to just about everything.

frosty winter morning

I had been itching to strimmer the stray weeds and wild asters on the berm, who would have thought the juncos would flock in to enjoy the tiny aster seedheads. 

frosty winter morning

It’s always hit or miss as to how the Southern magnolia seedlings make it through the ups and downs of a NEPa winter.  

Now it’s a slow wobble back to summer as the days again increase in length and the ground slowly soaks the heat back up.  Eventually, towards the end of January, our average temperatures should start to rise again and if this winter is anything like the last couple a few witch hazels and winter aconite might dare open a flower or two.  It’s a fun ride.

All the best for a nice, long and cozy solstice night 🙂

November Gardening Tasks

Every now and then it occurs to me that this blog should be more…. useful?… and as I was sitting there with a nice cozy blanket watching Gardener’s World I noticed the weekly ‘things to do in the garden’ segment, and thought to myself what an easy idea to steal.  So let me start by saying you’re welcome and just jump right in.

november perennial border

Not much to see along the street anymore but I try to leave a few things uncut to keep it from looking too desolate.

My first thoughts in the morning went to the dozens of unplanted daffodils and perennial seedlings which have been sitting around for weeks, so…

1.  Stand by the back door with a cup of coffee and imagine how nice it will all look someday when things finally grow or plants finally get moved.  After 20 minutes you may prefer to lean on the other side of the door and imagine changes to the other side of the view.  Keep in mind you might want to do this first thing in the morning since it’s easier to ignore a messy room and far less possible to be “redirected” when there’s no one else there.

amsonia autumn color

Most of the fall colors have faded to blah, but the Amsonia is finally showing some of the yellow it’s supposed to show each year.  Fyi mine rarely does this.

2.  Sit down at the computer since it’s still not all that warm out and look up plants on the internet.  Look up other plants, look at other people’s plants, think about how those plants would look in your garden, think how you can fit them all in and then search out who has them for sale.  Stop just short of ordering them, there’s plenty of time for that in January…. unless it’s a clearance sale on bulbs of course.  Order those and don’t even think about the unplanted ones in the garage.

zone 6 hardy cardoon

My best cardoon did not appreciate the recent 24F night.  I’m still hoping it proves hardy this winter. 

3.  Make a second cup of coffee and go outside.  If it’s warm enough in the sun make sure you take advantage with a little more sitting, otherwise shuffle around the garden and look at every single plant especially the ones which look the same as yesterday.  Don’t put your coffee down to do anything, you’ll forget where you left it.

potager

The potager is looking quite neat with mulched beds and some of the frosted veggies removed.  Just looking at it hurts my lazy bone, and I’m honestly not sure who did all this work.

4.  Return the empty coffee cup to the kitchen.  When you do remember to cross these tasks off your list since having a list and crossing things off is super important when organizing.  Sometimes I do more than just cross out, I completely black out the task since it’s done and over.  No one needs to judge your past, just make sure they see you’re accomplishing things and then redirect them to the future.

fall crop cabbage

A few cabbages yet to be harvested.  Don’t lose your nerve and rush out in the dark to pick the biggest one after everything’s been freezing for the last day and a half, since frozen cabbage stems are dangerously hard to cut while holding a flashlight and watching a dog.

5.  Grab the planting trowel and head out to plant some bulbs.  As you pass the witch hazel, stop and spend at least half an hour picking off the yellowed leaves so that they don’t sit on it all winter and then interfere with the flowers as they open in January.  When you’re almost done give up and wander off to look for the trowel.

lycoris in zone 6

Lycoris radiata and Lycoris houdyshelii, both not likely to do more than just survive in this zone (if I’m lucky) and both kind of expensive to experiment with but there they are.

6.  Forget you were looking for the trowel when you pass the camellia.  See if the buds have grown any (they haven’t) since the last time you looked and then check the 10 day forecast to see when you next have to drag the pot into the garage for the night.  Pull a few other things out of the garage again since the weather looks nice and they can use a few more days of sun before the long, dark winter.

cyclamen coum in pots

In and out the Cyclamen coum go as I try to get them as much sun and fresh air before committing them permanently to the winter garden.  Hmmmmm.  I thought I had so many, but now I see it’s not nearly enough.

7.  Look at the unplanted bulbs and then decide to mow the lawn.  Sure with a self-propelling mower it’s basically the same as the back and forth wandering you were doing before, but no one accuses you of doing nothing when you’re mowing the lawn, plus there were a few new leaves on it and better to capture them for mulch before they blow off to the neighbor’s.

8.  Clean out the garage.  Just kidding.  It’s far too late in the day and you should always have something left on the list for next time.  Plus something really ambitious like this as a leftover will really make all the darkened out ‘finished’ tasks even more impressive.

So there you have it.  Hopefully this was amazingly useful and helped organize your time somewhat and gets you ready for the upcoming week and approaching holiday.  Follow me for more awesome tips but don’t expect those bulbs to get in the ground anytime soon.  I suspect there will be demands for Christmas lights and absolutely no one wants to hear about unplanted daffodils after returning from  a Longwood Christmas so Christmas lights it is.  Have a great week.

Hedgleigh Spring

Garden visits have been sparse this year, but being outdoors in the warm sunshine with a fresh breeze is probably one of the safer pursuits these days, and as we approach the more confining months of winter it might be best to stretch the legs one more time before the season of long nights settles in.  I had heard that hardy, autumn blooming camellias were a thing down in the suburbs of Philly, so when a stretch of beautiful autumn weather presented itself I knew I needed to check it out.  An offer had been made last spring and my fingers were crossed that offer still stood.  It did, and the offer was just as gracious as before and a few days later I was heading South to one of the most highly regarded private gardens of the Philadelphia area.

hedleigh spring

Cressons have been tending the land of Hedgleigh Spring since before Charles’ grandfather built the house over 100 years ago.  I’m going to guess the mountain of ‘dwarf’ cutleaf maple alongside the house probably dates just as far back.

November is not typically a month reserved for garden visits, but this beautifully orchestrated collector’s garden has something for every month of the year.  While other gardens are down to a pot of mums alongside the front door, Hedgleigh Spring offers decades worth of collecting, growing and hybridizing fall(and spring) blooming camellias, and melding them into a landscape already full of exceptional autumn interest.  Beautiful weather helped as well.  Blue skies, balmy temperatures and dozens of fall blooming camellias at their peak made for an excellent garden tour.

needle palm

It’s a good sign when mature needle palms and witch hazels grace the streetside plantings.

We started out front of course, and for as hard as I tried (and I really thought I was doing great) I missed the names of most of what I was really interested in.  My apologies, but if you really need more info I’m sure I can find it out for you.  One of the highlights of the tour was the extensive background information for each plant, each cross, the typical growth habit, care, pruning hints… and names… everything had a name, but you can blame this visitor for losing it.

ackerman hybrid camellia

‘Winter’s Rose’.  A beautiful flower on a dwarf plant,  but I do remember Charles warning me that it’s usually too late a bloomer to put on a good show, and all those unopened buds will probably freeze off during the winter.

I did make a special effort to keep my ears open for anything which might possibly have the magical combination of early fall bloom and enough hardiness to possibly offer a show in my much colder garden.  It’s a foolish idea since decades later I can still remember how all the “hardy” camellias I saw planted around a much warmer Long Island faded away, but…. whatever.  Charles put it in a much more promising tone.  He said it would be interesting to see someone “trialing” these crosses in a much colder climate.  I’ll keep that in mind for when a brutal winter comes along and crushes my delusions with a zone 6a reality.

hedleigh spring

An un-named tall, fast growing C. oleifera x C. sasanqua ‘Cleopatra’ cross with plenty of buds and a long bloom season that starts early enough to beat the cold.

Although I saw many which I’d like to try I was reminded that most fall bloomers are not bud hardy and once winter sets in, any unopened buds will be lost.  For my zone, a well thought out selection would be something not only hardy, but a plant which starts blooming early, has plenty of buds, and doesn’t show damage too strongly even if it does get hit with a few early freezes.

hardy camellia

A beautiful large-flowered semi double which was just too nice to leave out.  It’s one of Charles’ un-named hybrids, a ‘Snowflurry’ x ‘Moon Festival’ cross, which has been hardy, but perhaps not unique enough to name?  It looked perfect for our visit, but Charles warned that it would be a less-promising choice since the blooms are usually later.

Some siting ideas which were shared involved avoiding the sunny warm spot which you would think is a good idea for borderline hardy plants.  I’m told full winter sun on cold, frozen leaves will dehydrate and kill.  Better to site in a winter shaded or afternoon sunny spot.

hedleigh spring

The warm nook of a Southern exposure can keep other borderline hardy plants quite happy.  Flowering gingers in need of division, loropetalum, Fatsia, and plenty of southern bulbs.  Plus orange mums, ‘Dixter Orange’ if you’re curious.

Or just hope for the best.  Creeping fig is something I’ve only seen on inside walls, and never imagined it would survive for decades on the outside, but there it was.

hedleigh spring

Creeping fig (Ficus pumila ‘minima’) alongside ‘Buttercup’ english ivy.  The fig gets frozen back each winter which is probably a good thing, but each summer it’s back.

Obviously not everything can be hardy so it was no surprise there were plenty of potted treasures which come in each winter.  One of them, a zone 8 ‘Moon Festival’ camellia, was just opening its 6 inch crepe textured blooms right on time for our visit.  The cool thing about this one is that years back it had been crossed with a hardier plant and only now two of the seedlings of the cross were showing their first flowers.  One in particular held on to the large form and wrinkled texture, so of course it will be something interesting to watch as it grows and develops.

camellia moon festival

Camellia ‘Moon Festival’ in a pot on the back patio.

And there were more.  A particular standout was ‘Autumn Spirit’ with a deep pink color and a fairly formal double form.  Out in the open in full bloom with the blue skies and changing foliage colors around it, it was quite the show.  This might be one I risk up here in the tundra, it would be worth it.

camellia autumn spirit

Camellia ‘Autumn Spirit’

Hardiness isn’t the only hurdle.  Bad gardening also has to be dealt with, and when I saw this beautiful bank of ‘Snow Flurry’ I had to confess I’d killed mine this spring when we flipped into drought and I flipped into late spring apathy and didn’t water in time.  I may need to try again.

camellia snow flurry

More like a whiteout, camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ was at its peak, covered in flowers from top to bottom and ringed in a puddle of spent petals.

camellia snow flurry

Camellia ‘Snow Flurry’ against the autumn sky.

Before I go on too long, I want to point out again that there was so much more to see than just dozens and dozens of camellias.  There were beautifully mature oak and bald cypress trees, banks of azaleas and hollies, southern and deciduous magnolias, perennial borders, fern gardens, woodland plantings, a vegetable and berry garden, rock garden, pond, and lots of bulbs.  Over the years Charles has made a name for himself in the bulb world and often gives talks and leads classes at Longwood and other locales in the area.

hedleigh spring

Of course fall blooming (Galanthus regiae-olgae) would catch my eye, but also notice the self sown camellia seedling and the pink flowering form of tea (Camellia sinensis) just off to the right.

My fingers are crossed that someday I can make it back for the spring bulbs, but on this visit it was all about a garden that looks good in its fall colors.

hedleigh spring

Mature trees surround the property, and of course I loved the hardy palms (Sabal minor ‘McCurtain).

Besides all the plants, the nerd in me was particularly excited to finally see the signature curved picket fence (91 ft long in case you’re wondering) which backs  a similarly curved perennial border, which blends in to mirrored rose beds on each side, and which finishes up with raised borders banked with stone (shown above with the palms).  For as much a collection of plants this garden is, it’s still focused on landscape design and plant combinations, with each one growing in a spot that shows it off well.

hedleigh spring

With foliage slightly singed by frost, Canna x ehemanii adds hot pink and tropical foliage to a border heavy on the warm colors of salvia and other bold summer plantings.

Actually things showed off well throughout the garden.

chrysanthemum gethsemane moonlight

Chrysanthemum ‘Gethsemane Moonlight’

Sorry but I do have to mention one more camellia.  Charles donates dozens and dozens of seed varieties each year to (among other places) the Hardy Plant Society, Mid Atlantic group seed exchange.  Over the years I’ve tried quite a few, and as we wandered the gardens it was fun to see the parents of many of my plants.  Camellia ‘Survivor’ was named after surviving a cold snap which many others did not, and it’s one of the parents of seedlings here in my own garden.  Hopefully the now 18 inch seedling growing here will someday also show off those hardy genes, and give this gardener a fall flower or two.

hardy camellia survivor

Camellia ‘Survivor’.  Charles actually encouraged me to reach up into the small tree and take a few ripe seed pods.  I tried to act like it was no big deal and even shared a few with the others.

And then the tour started to wrap up.  We heard car doors slamming as another group arrived, but fortunately there were still a few minutes for one last dash out back to the creek which runs through the back end of the property.  Yes, there’s even a creek… and a small wet meadow area…

hedleigh spring

Cypress knees holding one bank while recycled concrete from a sidewalk redo hems in the other side.  I was surprised to hear that this innocently clear and calm creek can burst up over its banks by several feet in a good storm.

So that was it.  We had already stayed way too long but even on the way back to our cars there were things we had somehow missed the first time through.

crocus speciosus

There were hundreds of Crocus speciosus in the front yard, but a surprise bunch in back caught the light perfectly.  I have to try this one again, mine were never this nice.

It was a great morning and besides seeing a lot, I also learned quite a bit.  Thanks again to Charles for all the time he spent with us, if we were pests in any way he never let on, and hopefully when he mentioned how the meadow along the creek was just filled with early bloomers he meant that we should see it some day!