A January Thaw

Saturday I put on a sweatshirt and the Christmas lights came down.  Of course the job is ten times easier when a couple extra hands join in, but surprisingly both children had much more important things to do so only the dog was there for me.  He’s not quite as helpful as you might think.  The lights all came down and then the porch got a good hosing off, and once that was done I rewarded myself with a little puttering around.  The front foundation bed (the warmest spot in the garden) got a little cleaning up and the sprouting snowdrops are all ready to show off to best effect.  Too bad we woke to actual snow the next morning.

frozen snowdrops

Snowdrops up to their ankles in the white stuff again.  Most are still just fine, although here and there is some singed foliage and freeze dried scapes.

You could barely call our last warmup a January thaw.  First of all it’s February and second of all we barely melted the snow from the last storms and there’s still a good amount of ice in every shady bed and covering most of the lawn.  I’m an optimistic early cleaner, but even I left plenty since I know the cold still has another week or so in it.  Back inside to the winter garden.  I’ve been taking cuttings and repotting amaryllis.  Primrose are showing buds.  It’s everything the outside garden isn’t.

variegated pelargonium

Look at the cool foliage of this variegated pelargonium.  No idea on the name, but I’ll be interested to see how much of the pink remains once the temperatures warm up.

The winter garden can use the attention since once things warm up outside I can barely be bothered with watering anything indoors.  The amaryllis will be cool and a few are already showing buds, but overall the indoor gardening space is beginning to get tight with all the new pots I’ve been adding.  I was joking with a friend that what I need is a spring garage sale to clear out everything from under the garage lights, but then what would I do if I needed a few dozen pots of succulent cuttings in June?  Bet they didn’t think of that.

salvia cestrum nocturnum

This red salvia is the perfect color for February.  Cestrum nocturnum (night-blooming jasmine) is the taller plant and I really hope I get some blooms on it this summer.

Two pots of Cestrum nocturnum is probably one more than I need, but night-blooming jasmine is one of my latest favorite plants.  It was one of those things which followed me home from a late autumn garden visit.  “Take this, you’ll want this” was what I was told as branches were lopped off and pushed into my hands.  Of course I dutifully added them to the haul and didn’t think much else of it until the sun began to set as I motored home again through the mountains.  Slowly as the scenery turned to night I began to take notice of a sweet scent filling the car.  Night-blooming jasmine is a real thing and I enjoyed a thoroughly perfumed car ride for the tail end of my trip.  I’m already imagining a hot summer night where the deck is filled with a jasmine fragrance, but of course I shouldn’t count my chickens before they’ve hatched since any number of things can go wrong between now and then.

I don’t care though.  It’s still February and 2022 will be the most perfect and perfumed gardening year this plot of earth has ever imagined or experienced.  Weeds will be non-existent and rainfall will arrive perfectly timed and only at night.  Mosquitos and gnats will lose their taste for (my) blood and I’ll practically live in the garden.  And it won’t be a dirty, sweaty, often bloody life it will be all cold drinks and white shorts.  Absolutely.

And if you believe that you’ll probably also believe I’m not going to mention snowdrops one more time.  The forecast looks to be warming and plans are afoot for a Philly snowdropping trip late next week and I’m all ears for new gardens to visit.  It will be fun I’m sure so until then enjoy your week 🙂

More Cold

It looks like winter will last at least another week.  I kind of blame myself since in early January I was a little chilled and pulled out the winter coat for a walk around the garden.  Mother Nature must have seen and said “Oh really?  Hold on and I’ll show you some real cold” and now here we are.  This morning on the ride through the mountains I saw a -6F (-21C) and then on the way home it was already down to 0F.  I guess I was glad to have the coat.

temple nursery

The Temple Nursery catalog arrived as well as my NARGS seed exchange goodies.  I would say snowdrop ordering and seed sorting was the perfect way to spend a Friday night 🙂

Even in the cold, the ridiculous dog still insisted on running about in the dark, sniffing out rabbits and investigating every suspicious shadow.  Again I was happy to have the coat.  It wasn’t until I made it to the winter garden that things started to look more promising.  Flowers in bloom and growing plants are a nice diversion away from cold and work, and although the dog was annoyed that I would slip out to the garage rather than stand by the door letting him in and out every ten minutes, I though my winter garden time was a nice recharge.

narcissus atlas gold

I was able to get my hands on a tiny bulb of Narcissus romieuxii ‘Atlas Gold’ and it’s now in flower under lights.  I thought it would be a bolder gold, but instead it’s a fantastic lemony yellow.

Even in the winter garden it’s a little chilly tonight so I didn’t stay long.  The Rock Garden Society seeds are sown and ready to get thrown out into the cold, and now I’m entertaining the idea of more seeds.  That’s a terrible idea of course, but you know what a couple days of cold can do to a gardener and I’m trying to fight that urge as well as bulb orders and tropical plant pre-sales.  And new perennials.  And a couple caladiums… just in case…

There’s still February to get through you know?  Stay warm 🙂

Bulbs Can’t Freeze

Freezing seem like as good enough topic as anything because that’s all we seem to have in the forecast.  This is like the third week of real winter temperatures and after a bunch of warm years it seems so…. endless.  Realistically three or four months of winter wouldn’t be anything surprising in this zone, so with two more months to go there is no reason to complain.  It’s just the warmer years of late had me kind of enjoying witch hazel in January and snowdrops throughout.  Toughen up I say!  Truthfully I should be grateful for the nice solid cold, and the way it freezes up the soil and tells the bulbs to hold on, don’t be fooled, February and March will be early enough to start your growing plans.

frozen colchicum bulb

Colchicum x byzantinum bulbs are big, and my soil is shallow, and often they just push themselves up and practically sit on top of the soil.  Obviously in this position and with temperatures down to 0F (-18C) the bulb and new growth will freeze

Some of the top spring disasters (off a quite lengthy list) have been the result of warm winters which bring things up way before their time.  Hellebores in particular must be an unusually optimistic plant which falls for this fake spring followed by a hard freeze every time, but snowdrops can be fooled as well.  Often I’m surprised by how well tender growth can survive brutal freezes but it’s not always a happy ending.  Right now a better gardener would be covering some of these goodies to keep the worst of the weather off of them.

snowdrops in the snow

We will see how well ‘Godfrey Owen’ tolerates the rest of winter after having already come nearly into bloom.  Tonight will be cold, next week looks colder.

I guess that brings me around to the title of this post.  I often see claims that hardy bulbs need to be protected from freezing, especially those in pots.  I disagree.  I used to pot up bulbs and throw them into an unheated shed where they would freeze solid for months without ill effect.  I’ve dropped bulbs in the fall and had them root into the surface, survive winter exposed and also do just fine.  There’s more to it of course but without exposing my own ignorance I’ll just point out a few ‘excepts’ which I’ve come across.  Bulbs need to begin rooting before they freeze.  Potted bulbs should be on the dry side before freezing.  Exposed pots which freeze and thaw repeatedly will suffer.  -and the one which I can’t figure out is that potted bulbs will rot when snow melts and then re-freezes on the surface of a pot of bulbs, especially later in the year.  My balcony gardening year was always off to a tragic start when a big pot full of tulip and crocus sprouts would all just stop growing after a cold spell hit with snow or rain freezing on top of the pot.  Weeks later I would finally give up and pull the still green and solid sprouts out, leaving a rotted bulb behind. 😦

Well that ended on a sad note.  If anyone has some thoughts on this let me know.  I find the easiest way around this is to just cover planted pots with autumn leaves and then uncover them as soon as temperatures warm, but you know how greedy I am with my autumn leaves!  Maybe a board on top to keep the snow and rain off would be good enough, I just have to remember to try that (again) and make a note of how it works out.

In the meantime stay warm and consider that (here at least) the daylength is getting longer by about two minutes each day and we’ve added about 30 minutes since the shortest day of the year.  I’m sure we’ll be in flip flops before you know it 😉

The Winter Garden 2022

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

cyclamen under lights

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

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

overwintering tropicals

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

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

indoor garden room

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

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

streptocarpella

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

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

aloe white fox

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

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

flowering succulent

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

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

cane begonias

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

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

Oxalis triangularis fanny

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

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

variegated pelargonium

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

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

aloe blue elf

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

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

african violet

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

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

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

Happy 2022

Last year’s resolution was quantity over quality and I may have failed in both departments when it came to this blog so why not just recycle the idea for 2022?  That was easy!  I don’t even have to move on to other topics like losing weight, exercise, eating healthy… I can just reach for the Nutella and grab a spoon and be done with it.  Wow, January second and I’m already checking things off the to-do list 🙂

Galanthus Mrs Macnamara

With each December milder than the last, ‘Mrs Macnamara’ has finally found my garden to her liking.  Usually the cold cuts her down and beats her up, but now she’s pristine, multiplying, and maybe ready for dividing and spreading around. 

Now that we’re through resolutions let me open up on what the rest of the winter will look like.  Snowdrops and construction.  Maybe more of the former and less of the later but I won’t even try and tone down the snowdrop obsession this year, apologies in advance.

fall snowdrop

Just a few years ago these bulk buy Galanthus elwesii would come up early but always on the spring end of winter.  The last two years they’ve been surprising me in January.

Here’s all I really want to say about construction.  Mud.  That and the hunt for perfect rocks continues.  Given long enough I think I’d have stone walls surrounding the garden, but as fill is moved back into position I’m not as tempted to actually dig rocks back up.

stones for the garden

The stoneyard, or snake condo as my friend Kimberly would likely call it.

Temperatures are dropping today and things will freeze up, and maybe the mud won’t be as depressing if you can actually walk over it rather than through it, so to prepare for ‘maybe winter’ here’s a photo from my ‘maybe greenhouse’ aka ‘winter garden’ in the back of the garage.

forcing primula

I knew I killed almost all my cyclamen, so last spring I started a few primula for winter blooms.  January first they came inside and under lights and I hope will soon amaze me with fantastic color.

So you’re aware, snowdrops and construction will be dropped as soon as it gets really cold outside.  These primrose coming into the garage are only the tip of the winter garden iceberg, and I may be guilty of a few too many cuttings and containers this winter and it’s only barely January.  Oh well.  It’s not like I’ve started any seeds… yet…

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2022.  We could all use it 🙂

That Escalated Quickly

You might say escalated, you also might say excavated… Weather permitting turned into actual permission and now there’s a somewhat big hole just out the backside of our house.  And a pile of dirt.  And bulldozer ruts.  And fortunately not a concrete truck stuck in the ruts, but from what I hear it was close.  Let’s look at snowdrops first just because it’s a much better place to start.

fall snowdrops montrose

A fall blooming snowdrop in full flower this week, and enjoying the mild December we have been having. These beauties originate from Nancy Goodwin’s Garden in North Carolina and I’m forever grateful for the friend who made the trip and brought them back.

The fall snowdrops have been putting on a good show this year, and are enjoying the mostly above and sometimes below freezing temperatures we have been having.  I like the weather as well.  I don’t like how it brings up other snowdrops and bulbs and teases them out of the ground way too early, but… whatever… This year there are bigger fish to fry.

excavator in the garden

Earlier in the week, excavation for the bedroom addition began.  I didn’t expect the hole to look so big… or contain so much dirt.  

The bad news is we quickly hit bedrock.  Considering how poorly drained the whole yard is and how shallowly I am forced to plant nearly everything, this was no surprise, but the shock was that our foundation guy was able to pry and angle, crack and lift, slab by slab of rock out of the hole.  We didn’t have to drill, and that’s a saving of thousands of dollars which sadly I will not be able to put towards plant purchases.  Maybe someday I’ll be able to tally up the numbers differently but right now the checkbook is so bloody and punished even I cannot massage magic out of it.

potager in winter

It looks worse than it is… really… Believe it or not I think just a rake and some grass seed will fix almost all of this, and 98% of the real parts of the garden are still safe.

The mess does look considerable though.  At first I hoped topsoil could be saved and everything else used as fill somewhere, but it’s all a mess now and it is what it is.  Surprisingly the rock had a good amount of sand mixed in so I hope that helps it some day weather down into decent soil, but for now it’s a bit rocky and sterile and might just weather down into stone-filled concrete for all I know.

excavator in the garden

Mount Suburbia.  After the main excavation I raked the rocks out of the lawn and gave it a trim to clean up all the last leaves.  I suspect ‘what the heck is he doing, there’s a gaping hole and a mountain of fill, and he’s mowing the lawn?’ was on the minds of some, but again… whatever.

Once the foundation is finished and backfilled, the leftovers will be moved to level off the back of the lot.  I’m excited about that, and I’m also overly excited about all the rock.  Whenever I get the chance (and enough Tylenol into me) I spend some time hauling rocks and stones away into piles and walls.  It’s awesome.  I have stepping stones galore and enough big rocks to make my North American Rock Garden Society membership legitimate.  I’ve even been pushing for the foundation guy to leave his skidsteer here over the Christmas break so I can move dirt around on my own and find even more excellent rocks.  I doubt it will happen though, and it’s probably for the best.  He mentioned to my contractor something about ‘what the *heck* is up with the rocks?’, but apparently the reply was ‘you’ve seen the rest of the yard, right?’, so I think that makes it ok…

Regardless I think I’m more excited about the rocks than the actual addition.  I’ll try to remember that when I’m writing the next check out.

Heading into the Holidays

If pushed I think some people would consider it to be early winter around here, but with my newfound ‘fondness’ for the autumn season I’m going to consider it late fall.  Normally even a hard frost is enough to declare the onset of winter, but as of 5:45 pm today I’m still thinking fall is an ok season and not the usual dark, wallowing in self pity, miserable, death to all growing things, slightly depressing time of year that it normal goes by.

fall garden cleanup

The wild enthusiasm of the potager has once again been tamed by cold, and a good portion of the shredded leaves have gone to mulching the cleared out beds.

Even with a good number of chilly mornings and cold nights, there’s still been a lot of gardening going on… well a lot considering how short the days are and how often an employer expects you to be at work each week… the potager took quite some time to rip up tree-like annuals, dig forgotten potatoes, and do all the put-away stuff that growing vegetables requires.  We all know that the amount of vegetables here really isn’t an excuse to make a full workload, but I did plant half a bed of garlic this fall and finally put the diseased, frozen tomato vines out of their misery so that’s kind of legitimate.  Less legitimate are how many beds were then planted with tulips.  They did well last year and I thought I threw away a good amount of smaller bulbs, but I also know I have a weak spot for tulips so if it looked big enough to bloom who am I to deny a plant its destiny?

planting fall bulbs

Only a few tulips were purchased but apparently a few daffodils were purchased as well.  As far as I can recall they were not purchased by myself, so I’m not sure how they got here, but they’re here now so I suppose I should plant them.

I gave away a bunch of daffodils two summers ago, so based on that and the promise to give away even more this summer, I allowed a few new ones to be purchased.  Only about a dozen, and I swear they were interesting things which sell by the single bulb and never (or only a few times) did I ask for multiple bulbs.  Surely you can imagine my disgust when months later a heavy box shows up, filled with bags of three or more bulbs each plus multiple bags of free bulbs.  Unconscionable.  Then a second box shows up.  Ugh.  Those bulbs were so big I was downright intimidated, and of course I never cleared out the spots where these new goodies were supposed to go.  Nearly 100 new bulbs to plant when I was figuring only maybe two dozen, and then inspiration struck.  A sand bed where you only put summer pots can easily take in a few spring bulbs, and they’ll practically disappear by July especially if you plant them along the far edge.  It’s brilliant if you ask me and it almost makes me regret not ordering more.  What if I really did dig up the overcrowded ones?  I shudder to think about the potential gaps in the spring bulb garden which may have been.

galanthus barnes

The fall blooming Galanthus elwesii ‘Barnes’ seems to be doing well in spite of the beating its foliage takes once winter settles in.  Two years ago it was moved around to the East side of the house and he appears to like the spot.   

Ok so there’s a snowdrop photo.  To be honest I’m not always as thrilled to see snowdrops in the fall as I am in spring, so on a scale of 1 to 10 this might only register an 8.5, but considering the historical average of November hovers in the 2 range that’s pretty friggin exciting.  Maybe I need to compliment these fall drops with some late cyclamen, that would probably boost the thrill-meter to 9.0, or come up with another road trip idea.  Word is Nancy Goodwin is opening Montrose Gardens this Sunday for tours of her nearly famous fall snowdrop walk, and the idea of seeing rivers of thousands of snowdrops in full bloom is enough to have me mapping the eight hour drive South to Hillsborough North Carolina.  That’s crazy though.  I’d have to turn off my cell phone tracking and lie about my destination and I suspect that’s a bad sign when you start lying about your plant addictions.  Definitely bad, so no.  And I’m not even considering it any more…. Not at all…

So look at that, I just cancelled a 986 mile round trip drive to go look at snowdrops, and to distract myself from actually taking the trip anyway I’m going to calculate fuel costs.  Giddy-up I just saved $144, plus at least another 20 dollars in tolls and suddenly I have $164 that I can spend elsewhere.  Genius, and when I spend it at a small business that happens to sell snowdrops, I’m also supporting the local economy and am practically a social engineer.

Amazing.  I hope your week is starting off just as productively 😉

179

179 isn’t the default setting for blog titles, it’s the harsh reality of autumn.  Saturday afternoon I made a tour of the grounds and counted up 179 pots scattered about.  All of these will require some kind of attention before autumn winds down and winter settles in, and all of them seem to have appeared out of nowhere this year.  Another frightening statistic is that I didn’t even count any pots smaller than six inches, and I also didn’t count the dozen stewartia seedling which were potted up Saturday evening… just in case, you know?  Stewartia are special little things, and now if I need a dozen potted seedlings next year, it’s reassuring to know I’m prepared.

Heterotheca(aka Chrysopsis) villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’

The early autumn show of Heterotheca(aka Chrysopsis) villosa ‘Ruth Baumgardner’.  I love it more each year. 

But I wish I was mentally prepared to deal with these pots.  Maybe buying a box of 100 drip emitters and more tubing for the watering system was not as good an idea as it seemed, but for the moment I’m trying to move on and I’ve started grouping some of the stuff which will get the same treatment.

amaryllis outside for the summer

You turn your back once and suddenly a dozen amaryllis (Hippeastrum) show up.  I probably don’t need a dozen, but better safe than sorry is what I said some cold December afternoon… 

I’m sure it’s just the caladiums which are making things look bad.  They make up around forty of the pots, and yesterday I shut off their water to give them a couple of weeks to dry out and come to terms with the cooler nights.  Soon they’ll collapse and go dormant and I can toss them in the furnace room, but instead of things shutting down, lets talk Colchicums!

colchicum speciosum

Some kind of Colchicum speciosum.  I don’t know if it’s a cultivar or not, but it’s a favorite regardless.

We are into the middle of Colchicum season now.  I’m loving it.

colchicum aggripinum duncecap orostachys iwarenge

A late Colchicum xaggripinum  surrounded by the flower stalks of Orostachys iwarenge.  The Orystachys really appreciated the mild winter and has never looked like it actually wanted to live let alone thrive like this.

Plenty of other colchicum are popping up here and there.  I shouldn’t want more, but I kind of do, if only for mental health reasons as they carry me through to the fall snowdrop season 😉

colchicum speciosum

Another unknown Colchicum speciosum, actually this was my very first one… also not true to the name it was purchased under…

colchicum harlekijn

My new colchicum book describes ‘Harlekijn’ as having “little appeal except to those keen to amass a full collection of cultivars”.  Oops.  I was hoping that wasn’t the direction I was going.

colchicum the giant

Colchicum ‘The Giant’.  Big, robust, floppy, and a scene stealer.

colchicum speciosum album ‘Atrorubens’

Colchicum speciosum ‘Atrorubens’ on the left, and ‘Album’ on the right.  Two of my current favorites.

colchicum pink star laetum

This one came to me as white… but most will agree it’s not, and eventually the company where I purchased it from also agreed and sent me a refund.  I believe it is Colchicum ‘Pink Star’.

colchicum lilac wonder Salvia Koyamae

‘Lilac Wonder’ has been swamped by the yellow woodland salvia, Salvia Koyamae.  Normally the salvia is half dead by the time it blooms since whoever planted it put it in a dry, full sun location, not the the moist woodland which this plant wants.

So autumn, pots, and colchicums.  Not a bad week at all.  To top it off I’ll wax poetically about the beauty in death of my beloved cardoon plants.  The seedheads are ripe, and now they’re opening up to scatter their children across the landscape.

cardoon seed heads

Cardoon seed heads.  The bottom of the stalk is quite ugly, but if you focus on the top…

Ugly dead thistles might be one poetic interpretation but I prefer to ignore the possibility of a cardoon superspreader event and think that some goldfinch might fly over and find these to be the motherload of tasty thistle seed.  Thats the hope at least, but for now I haven’t seen them give it a try.  They’re still focused on the sunflowers so maybe they’re saving these?

cardoon seed heads

I suspect that’s a lot of Cardoon seedlings…

No matter.  Cardoons sprouting all over might be just what my garden needed, and as long as they don’t crowd out the snowdrops I’m willing to give it a try!

Enjoy the last days of September 🙂

2021: Year of the Caladium

Maybe you missed it but I’m a little obsessed with some new caladiums this year.  They’re nothing particularly exotic, and I’m sure they would rather grow another zone or two south, but since the day they arrived in late April I’ve been gloating over all the tubers, looming over the planted pots, endlessly inspecting the first sprouts, anticipating every new leaf, and then agonizing over what to pot up together, what to pot up separately, how much sun is too much, how bad a chilly spell will be for them, how much they’ll grow during every stretch of hot weather… I’ve grown them before, but for some reason they are consuming me this year.  Who knows what happened.  I’m usually so rational with my plant decisions that this has really caught me off guard.  **90 second pause as I wait for lightning to strike me down**

growing caladiums

A few caladiums as well as other pots which are now off the driveway and moved into a new holding area.  This looks far more intentional than having all kinds of stray pots filling up the driveway waiting for homes.

So that went well.  It appears I will not be struck down for telling a little fib about frequent plant addictions, so let me just go ahead and tell a little story.  Back in late January I stumbled upon a caladium grower who sells mixed tubers by the pound.  Don’t ask why I was looking up caladium growers in January, but I was intrigued by the idea of ordering five pounds of caladiums with shipping for under $50 so I clicked yes.  They arrived in late April and I was thrilled.

caladium red flash

I believe this is ‘Red Flash’ a larger, good growing caladium which seems fine in full sun.

I waited until late May to pot them up.  Since they were mixed and I just couldn’t handle pots full of random colors all together, I potted each tuber up separately.  Five pounds came out to 78 pots in case you’re wondering, and once potted they were all lined out on the driveway to soak up the spring warmth with just a tiny bit of water to get them started.  And then the wait began.  A sprout here, one there, slowly they began to grow (really slowly it seemed) and every new leaf was an exciting surprise to see if it was something even more special than the last.  The rows of pots were starting to look like something.

growing caladiums

Ouch.  Halfway through setting the retaining wall blocks to hold the new bed I realized my level blocks did not match the sloping sidewalk and I’m absolutely annoyed with the way it looks.  Maybe some day I’ll redo it… maybe…

As different forms showed themselves they were grouped and potted up into whatever black plastic I could scrounge up.   For years I have been saving and storing every leftover pot from my own yard and the neighbors and now my moment to shine had finally arrived.  Ten of one size, fifteen of another, no problem!  I was feeling pretty rich even though absolutely no one appreciated my inspired foresight.  Someone (a pretty narrow-minded someone if I’m being honest) even said ‘Dad, you still have like a thousand more pots, do you really need them all?’ but of course genius is often misunderstood in its time, so I politely ignored the comment.

growing caladiums

Caladium ‘Pink Cloud?’ on the left with probably ‘Aaron’ as the white behind.

All the pots looked excellent on the driveway, but others suggested we use the driveway for cars so the caladium pots needed to move into their positions.  After putting four pots in place I came to the conclusion that there was nowhere else for the other 30 or 40 pots.  In January it was easy to say all the hostas and hellebores in the bed alongside the garage would be transplanted elsewhere, but in June when only one hellebore was gone it’s a different story.  Fortunately there was still grass on the other side of the walk.  It was a no-brainer to rip out the grass, throw in a few retaining wall blocks that the neighbor didn’t want, and then use sand from a recent sand delivery to level off a new bed.  Even though the new bed looks suspiciously like a big holding area for plants I didn’t really need in the first place, I like to think of it as the new sand terrace.  Of course I emphasize the second syllable of terrace to make it sound even fancier and French, and that of course is only natural in a garden which already boasts a potager.

caladium miss muffet

Caladium ‘Miss Muffet’ is amazing.  I wish it liked me more, but I suspect it would prefer a garden with more consistently warm weather and possibly a little more shade.

Having so many pots sounds silly, but genius foresight also ordered 100 drip emitters and some extra water tubing in May and now each pot is getting watered twice a day without the gardener lifting a finger (as if he even needed another excuse to be lazy) and the only real flaw in his plan is the nearly full sun exposure of the new bed and the part shade requirement for many of the caladiums…

growing caladiums

Maybe ‘Carolyn Whorton?’  An excellent grower here but also one who’s centers burn out in direct sun.

So for the last two weeks I’ve been shuffling sunburned caladiums into darker corners and moving up anything else which seems to tolerate more light.  It’s slightly concerning to see how many other plants have appeared out of nowhere to join the caladiums, but for some reason this year the gardener has been enjoying potting up things like clematis seedlings and ornamental peppers, and when this happens the few seed pots sown in March can rapidly become way more plants than anyone needs.

growing caladiums

One of the agonies of planting mixed caladiums is the possibility of a mixed pot.  Some might say that’s the whole point behind mixed tubers, but I thought I could get around it and this pot would be two of the same… but now as they grow on, the plant on the right has pink centers which burn, but the plant on the left seems more tolerant.  Are they different cultivars?  Will I ever know?

We will just ignore the ‘too many plants’ possibility and not think about all the extra pots this little project has generated.  Obviously I need to try and overwinter them all.  What a fiasco that will be, just imagine how much the gardener is going to complain about lugging all these in!

growing caladiums

I’ve just about given up on most IDs.  I wish they were like snowdrops or some other easy to identify plant, rather than something where earlier leaves are different than later leaves, sun and heat change the look, mature plants show more color…

Since I was running new drip lines I just went ahead and added in all the amaryllis (Hippeastrum) pots, as well as a bunch of other stuff.  It’s officially become a shady tropical garden and I quite like it as it wraps completely around the side and back of the garage.

potted shade garden

More goodies.  Actually only three pots of caladiums are new, the rest are all plants overwintered from last year… so I don’t want anyone thinking I’m still out there spending stimulus checks on new plants!

Not to keep going with bad ideas, but the amaryllis are finally getting some of the attention they’ve been missing for the last few years.  My fingers are crossed for many blooms this winter, but as of this minute I have no plans to add more, so at least that’s a plus 🙂

growing caladiums

Yeah I have no idea which caladiums these are.  To be honest the amaryllis were all misslabeled as well, so this really doesn’t do much for my need to organize.

So now for the other side of the story.  I didn’t just ‘happen to have’ a couple tons of sand and a pile of retaining wall blocks laying around, they were actually supposed to go towards a different idea.  I wanted to dig up the muddy lawn and replace it with a level sand path which is far less muddy and much more fun for kneeling on while admiring snowdrops.  Once the caladiums were situated the walk finally started… and of course didn’t get far since half the sand had already gone to a new bed and for topping off other areas which were short on sand (doesn’t everyone have endless sand needs?)

cardinal flower

I never realized how slanted the lawn was here until I actually took a level to it.  Good riddance!

Hopefully the path will work out.  It’s got a slight incline to it and hopefully that won’t be enough to wash out the sand with each rain, but if worse comes to worse I have ideas on that as well.  For now I have to tackle the curve of the path, and the fact that there are plants here as well which didn’t get moved in the spring.

shade garden path

More path building and slope filling.

Since we ended up in this side of the yard, we might as well take a look around.  Not much since this is such an ugly corner of the yard, but who can resist the latest Lycoris joke?  Not even twelve hours after posting that it didn’t look good for any more Lycoris flowers this summer, Lycoris chinensis (yellow surprise lily) surprised me with a flower stalk.  From nothing to full bloom in just a few days I think it’s pretty cool.  I’m so pleased I won’t even be petty and complain that there were two flower talks last year.  Nope, not at all.  Just enjoy it for what it is.

lycoris chinensis

Lycoris chinensis.  All is forgiven, I love these things!

You can look across the yard from here and see the potager.  If I remember correctly (it’s been a while), on a day when the sun actually comes out you can sit here in the shade of the maples and take a break before heading out into the heat and humidity of the full sun areas.  That’s a nice thing plus it’s kind of hidden back here.  The dog can usually find me soon enough, but you have to be foolish enough to answer before the kids figure out where you are.

garden view

The view across the garden.  That’s one of the industrial park buildings up on top of the slope.  The trees still have a ways to go.

And that’s where we are at.  More sand is scheduled to arrive tomorrow (assuming this past week of torrential rains hasn’t washed it all away) and the path should progress a little further.  It doesn’t look like much but shoveling and wheel-barrowing and tamping and leveling and measuring are all the little tedious tasks which take me forever.  I’m sure someone more motivated would finish in two or three days, but well…

sand path

For a while I doubted myself on the path idea, but now it’s growing on me.  The fam is still on the fence, but once it’s done I think they’ll give it their seal of approval as well.

So I’ve got caladiums and sand.  Life is good.  Other people measure their success by different measures but right now I’m feeling pretty rich.  I even found another clearance caladium tonight while cinderblock shopping and a $2 caladium always makes the hard labor better.

Hope you have a great week!

A Morning Stroll

We had a decent morning last weekend and I was sore enough from digging a new bed and moving sand (don’t ask, I know I have plenty of beds) that I didn’t feel like doing anything more strenuous than taking a few pictures.  Actually I did attempt to figure out a few camera settings, but it was a complete disaster so back to ‘automatic’ it went, and gosh what a relief to again embrace the idiot settings.

front perennial border

Agastache ‘Tutti Frutti’ is probably what this lilac-purple agastache is, but I never expect them to live long enough to really be concerned about the name.  I love that it has a nice height to it.

So other than an ego-crushing moment with the camera and a secret garden project that I’m still a little embarrassed to talk about, there’s really not much for me to ramble on about.  Better to just ramble through the garden on a beautiful morning and share only the nicer parts 😉

front perennial border

Because of someone’s yellow foliage addiction, there’s way too much limey-yellow in the front border.  Rather than stress over the addiction I’m just going to wait until rock-bottom hits and then see where the shovel is.  

front perennial border

Of course a year without showing agapanthus ‘Blue Yonder’ is a lot to ask, so here it is.  Next year I will have to learn about transplanting agapanthus since the encroaching spruce is much less mobile.  Maybe I’ll even learn about dividing an agapanthus…

self seeded sunflowers

For some reason I had little interest in planting up the tropical garden this spring, so grass, yellow pokeweed, and self-sown sunflowers have been allowed to erupt into an eight foot mountain of lushness.  I’m fine with that.  I think the whole bed will be going to perennials over the next few years, but you never know.

Helianthus decapetalus 'Capenoch Star'

A perennial sunflower?  Yes, I think it’s Helianthus decapetalus ‘Capenoch Star’ which has been moping along here for the past ten years.  Why it decided to look great this year is unknown, but it’s really taken its time!

Biscuit the yorkie

Biscuit the yorkie accompanies me on all morning walks.  The rabbits don’t seem 100% panicked, but they do run off at a somewhat concerned pace when this little beast comes barreling across the yard.   

pond frog

Biscuit has absolutely no interest in our pond frog but the frog seems even less concerned than the rabbits.

deck plantings

From the lawn you can see the deck plantings have filled in.  I notice quite some yellow foliage again, but the pink mandevilla vine is what really stands out.

potager garden

Towards the back of the yard the potager is looking neat, and from a distance the chaos inside isn’t as obvious.  

dahlia from seed

One major disappointment in the potager this year are the ‘Bishop’s Children’ dahlias which were started from seed this March.  I would demand a paternity test, because unless there’s a dumpy housemaid involved, these dahlias should be taller, single, darker foliaged and hotter colors than they are.  I’ve been wanting to grow these for years… I finally ordered the seed…  

potager garden

Some of the potager is respectably planted with vegetables.  There are beans weakly climbing their poles, borer infested squash, bolting parsley, and undernourished tomatoes, all providing a good cover for a gardener trying to appear serious about tending the earth for the nourishment of his family.

cabbage cut back

One success has been the cabbage harvest.  The harvested stumps of last year’s plants re-sprouted this spring and out of curiosity I let them grow.  The sprouts were thinned to a single plant and to my surprise all of them are making perfect cabbages.  Here the center cabbage has already been harvested and the new plan is to thin the latest sprouts and hope for a third harvest.  

castor bean carmencita

Castor beans are quite toxic and not good potager plants, but here’s ‘Carmencita’ flowering and looking awesome anyway.

meadow garden

Behind the potager is quite possibly my favorite spot in the yard, the meadow garden.  This year Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) is defying my no QAL policy and making a nice forest of white lace above the golden rudbeckia and birds foot trefoil.  I think I will pull them soon.  That’s a lot of seed.   

meadow garden

I don’t know why I’m bothering you with a view of the berm other than it’s weed whacked… except for some weedy asters which I like… and now sports an odd ledge which I felt the need to carve into the berm.  fyi it’s just the right width for a boy and his dog as they walk the perimeter of the estate.  

lycoris squamigera

The first magic lilies (Lycoris squamigera) are opening.  They are a funny group of plants and I’m really getting a good chuckle over how I thought they would grow well here and now they’re not.  Hahaha, good one.  I could fill another whole blog post with all the pictures of the other ones which aren’t flowering this year, including the new ones which I had faint hopes for flowers, but nah…     

lobelia cardinal flower

Maybe the Lycoris were talking to the cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) and realized they’d have quite some trouble competing with this show.  They’re awesome this year 🙂  **hint** just put in a new path and they’ll sprout throughout the joints, rather than bother growing in the amended soil where they’re planted…  

And that brings us around to the far side of the house, leading to the front again.  For those remotely interested, this side of the house is where the new bed is located, and the new bed has something to do with not having enough room for caladiums, even though that side of the house is really too sunny for caladiums.  Don’t bother trying to make sense out of it, it just doesn’t, but I’m quite happy and don’t even care if I’ve gone too far again.

Hope you’re having a great week and staying safe from whatever plagues your neighborhood this week.  Covid variants… smoke… wildfire… heat… upcoming hurricane seasons… it’s all so 2020 and I for one have just about had enough of it!