The Turning of the Tides

I had a nice surprise Tuesday morning on the way to work.  The normally dark and gloomy ride was brightened up by something I haven’t seen in a while, a sunrise.  To call it a sunrise is giving the event a bunch more credit than it deserves, but it was a pinkish glow spread across the edges of a smattering of clouds and was much nicer than the black abyss I’ve gotten used to over the last few weeks.  It’s a hopeful moment.  There will still be plenty a day before I can walk into work with an actual sun over the horizon, but until then a promising glow in the morning counts for a lot.

hammamelis pallida

With or without morning sun, the first of the witch hazels (Hammamelis x ‘Pallida’) has opened up for a full-bloom show of color in the otherwise bleak landscape.

The promise of seeing daylight again on the ride to work is a nice affirmation that days really are getting longer and spring will someday be more than an idea.  Nice isn’t always good though, since this week typically brings the very coldest days of the season, and getting all sentimental and hopeful weeks too early can be torture when a string of snowstorms rolls through from February to March.  Actually it can get expensive as well.  People get delusional about expanding vegetable gardens and starting viburnum collections and planting new cannas everywhere.  People can also get judgmental toward delusional gardeners, and let me state clearly here that that’s not ok.  You should never be judgmental about people just trying to make the world a better place, and that’s exactly what a February gardener is trying to do with their not-as-well-planned-as-they-could-be new plant decisions.

hammamelis spanish spider

First blooms on a new little witch hazel.  ‘Spanish Spider’ was a totally unplanned and perhaps unnecessary purchase which is proving itself invaluable and essential this week.

For now on I will consider midwinter purchases as brilliant, perhaps genius, foresight.  Leave the bean-counting to accountants and go ahead and buy as many bean seeds as you think your ‘Year of the Bean’ needs.  Tell the naysayers they’re the type who would drive unrecognized genius to cut off an ear, and unless they want to be part of the problem they should instead help choose a nice yellow Romano pole bean to go with the heirloom purple.

pale yellow eranthis

More pale yellow Eranthis hiemalis are hearing the call of spring…. or maybe winter… they are also called winter aconites after all.

So enough with the aimless babbling and back to the garden.  We’re still running a good bit above average temperatures.  Skiing is happening but the ice fishermen are still on the sidelines, and plants are still trying to start growing just a little too early.

peony shoots

Peony shoots always seem to come up too early.  These Peonia daurica buds look awfully exposed but they’re really quite hardy.  At least that’s one thing I won’t have to worry about.

Fingers crossed that the early sprouts mean an early spring, and not a disaster of melted and blackened tender foliage in a month or two’s time.  A few things are still reeling from December’s blast.

freeze damage snowdrop

The fall blooming snowdrops (G. elwesii ‘Barnes’ in this case) did not appreciate going from North Carolina to Newfoundland in 12 hours.  I see new growth though, so I suspect all is not lost.

freeze damaged sternbergia lutea

A Sternbergia lutea (autumn daffodil?) which might be worse than it looks.  All the browned damage is right close to the bulb and the rest of the leaf might follow as the damage works its way down.

freeze damaged sternbergia lutea

Another Sternbergia lutea just a few inches away, further out into the garden which should have been more exposed and therefore damaged, but no, it looks untouched.  The narrower foliage could mean something, and it’s also from a different source.  Maybe it’s just variations in the species, but who knows?  

freeze damaged cyclamen coum

Some of the hardy cyclamen (C. hederifolium and C. coum) were blasted by the cold, but I know they’ll recover, and by the looks of these early buds there’s still a good chance for an excellent spring flowering.

Obviously I can’t leave off on a gardening report with a down note on snowdrops.  They’re inching forward, and hopefully still pace themselves in spite of the continuous above average temperatures.

early snowdrops galanthus ophelia

The double ‘Ophelia’ is moving right along and should make a great show in a few more weeks.  Unlike some, I don’t think she’s ever been bothered by a later freeze.

A few snowdrops are always eager to get started.  Some years it’s cold enough to hold them back to bloom alongside the later varieties, other years they pop up early, hopefully miss the worst weather, and the season is extended that many more weeks:)

galanthus wendys gold

‘Wendy’s Gold’ will bloom during the next nice day, I suspect Sunday or Monday… right before the possibility of two actual winter days… maybe… 

So snowdrops are still good just in case you were worried, and by the way the winter garden is also still good even if winter hasn’t been as healthy as he should be.

Another year of seed cleaning and sorting is finished and now my little coffee table is all tidied up and set for the main round of seed sowing.

It’s all the usual suspects under the lights, plus a few pots of daylily seedlings for the farm. If all goes well this will become a deliciously overgrown mess again by May.

There’s always a few new things. Someone gave me a bromeliad (Neoregelia) last summer and after a billion hours of online bromeliad searching I can proudly say I still only have one and I also haven’t moved to the tropics to grow them better. Go me!

I wish I could say the same for succulents. Who knew 20 bucks on Etsy could get you a tiny box of 10 mixed Echeveria agavoides cuttings!!?? 20 more bucks can get a handful of lithop seedlings to show up at your doorstep!!

So not to brag, I think I’m handling the depths of winter quite well.  Witch hazels on the way, snowdrops in bloom, and exciting things under the grow lights.  I could get used to these non-winters… assuming the two days of cold next week don’t become a habit… but even if they do there’s still always those longer days, the stronger sun, and there’s only so much winter can do against that.

Have a great weekend!


A bucket list for the depths of winter

Does anyone else have a bucket list for mailorder nurseries?

I do, and each year I’m trying to check one or two off.  Nurseries make the list for random reasons often more because of specialized and quirky offerings rather than for being part of some magic top ten for mailorder, so while the snow flies let me offer up my February to-do list 🙂

snowy morning in Pennsylvania

Everything is cold and frozen here.  I used my phone and didn’t even have the motivation to open the back door for this.

In no particular order (well actually it has to start off with snowdrops since that’s all that’s on my mind 🙂

  • Temple Nursery.  Just snowdrops.  No online presence so if that’s what you need visit the equally obsessed Carolyn’s Shade Garden.
  • Edgewood Gardens.  For the cyclamen obsessed.  John hasn’t quit his day job but his night job is coming along quite well so check the list, send an email, and soon you’ll be in trouble.
  • The Lily Garden.  Long ago I read an article in Horticulture magazine about Judith Freeman and her decades long commitment to lily breeding and I’ve wanted her lilies ever since.  She’s the force behind Columbia-Platte Lilies and one of the pioneers of the cross-division hybrids which are the newest and best on the lily scene.  She breeds for garden plants, not the florist trade so many of her introductions are growing worldwide and are bulletproof.
  • Odyssey Bulbs.  Your first step into growing odd, obscure, rare little bulbs which you didn’t even know you needed until all of a sudden you NEEDED.
  • Augis Bulbs.  Ordering bulbs from Lithuania makes absolutely no sense.
  • Klehm’s Song Sparrow Farm and Nursery.  A beautiful catalog, beautiful website, the prices might be higher, but the quality and service match.
  • Ashwood Nurseries.  A leader in hellebores out of the UK.  Seeds would be my only option and at over 1$ a seed even before international postage costs….
  • Plant delights Nursery.  What can I say?  When the run of the mill perennials get old and you have money to burn.
  • Annies Annuals.  Postage from the west coast may kill me, but I think this is the year I just have to order.
  • White Flower Farm.  I can’t recommend them but back in the day their catalog was everything great about gardening with a good dose of snobbery on top.  Still expensive but that might be all they have to offer.
  • Mums of Minnesota.  Mums are disposable fall annuals, right?  For some reason I need reliably perennial garden mums with odd and oversized flowers.  Don’t judge me for not being satisfied with the anonymous lumps of color they sell around here….
  • Swan Island Dahlias.  Don’t judge me for this either, I was young and experimenting and thought I needed many big, overblown dahlias.
  • Superstition Iris.  There are many great iris sources, but this one deals in many of the historical varieties which I love and can’t get elsewhere.  Find their photobucket listing, pick what you’d like and then email the owner for availability and pricing.  Sometimes getting what you want takes a little more than a point and click.
  • Green Ice Nursery.  Doesn’t everyone order fancy cyclamen seed from the Netherlands?  I couldn’t be happier with the ones I received, and my bucket list check off has turned into a semi-annual splurge.
  • Fedco Seeds.  I checked this one off just recently, it’s a co-op seed seller from Maine, reasonably priced with great varieties.  What’s not to love?

I could go on of course.  I’ve been dabbling in grafted conifers recently, plus have some strange need to add lady slipper orchids to my garden, so there will always be a to-do list, but for now I’ll keep this one.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still faithful to Santa Rosa Gardens for perennials, Brent and Becky for bulbs, and Pinetree garden seeds, but a boy’s got to dream and I need something to get through what’s been the coldest weather since last winter.

winter temperatures

-7F (-22C) on a recent drive to work.  Please congratulate me for actually stopping before taking a picture.

More snow is on its way tonight so winter is still in full swing, but yesterday  temperatures edged above freezing for a few hours and I swear I heard a little bit of joy in the birdsong.  Maybe it’s just me.  In any case I think I’ll start a pot or two of onion seeds today and see if a few of the overwintering geraniums are worth saving.  That and maybe I’ll look at some more mums that might need ordering 🙂

Let me know if I missed any great nurseries, I’m always more than happy to add a few new or forgotten ones!