Happy Easter! (almost)

Another warm day and we jump ahead a week (and I’m sure we’ll take three steps back tommorow).  Generally I prefer a long drawn out spring, but at this point I’ll take anything we can get, even if it means fast-forwarding through the season.  Five days ago the bunny buffet officially opened with its first crocus bloom and now a second sunny day has brought out the rest of the snow crocus (mostly crocus chrysanthus types).

crocus lawn of dreams

Van Egelen’s “lawn of dreams” crocus mix just starting to bloom. 200 snow crocus barely make a splash, but it’s enough to bring me out to sit in this part of the garden on a sunny day.

These are what remains of a fall 2012 planting <for more planting details click here> of about 200 snow crocus and maybe 150 tommies (crocus tommasinianus).  The tommies are not yet up but are supposed to be better spreaders and less tasty to all things which love crocus as much as I do.  Unfortunately Pennsylvania rabbits must be a less refined bunch since in my experience they mow down all crocus equally.

snow crocus naturalized lawn

They sure would look nicer spotted about in a velvety green carpet of lawn, but this is the Pennsylvania tundra so you get what you get!

I don’t mow this patch of thin grass until late, so waiting for the crocus foliage to die off naturally is no problem, but if you are a mower keep in mind that the crocus need to grow for five or so weeks after blooming in order to build up next year’s blooms.  Because the rabbits were so brutal on both bloom and foliage last year I didn’t think I’d see any flowers this year, but fortunately they came through even if a little weaker.  Luckily the snowdrops are not at all tasty to bunnies.

first snowdrops galanthus

The first snowdrops opening in the backyard.  They’ve multiplied but not so much that I can’t still count every last bloom to compare to 2014’s show…. sad and desperate, I know.

I of course did not follow the rules of common sense last year and ended up adding more new and expensive snowdrops to my garden.  They’re just as white and drop-shaped as my free snowdrops and all the other ones I have, but they’re much much better 🙂

galanthus lapwing

Galanthus ‘lapwing’

Another new bulb added last fall is iris “Katherine Hodgkin”.  Everyone loves Katherine for her subtle colors and intricate patterns…. except me.  I have a lower class of taste and of course prefer the brightest colors, and this one doesn’t show up as well as I’d like.  My mother of course will like it, and my wife too if she ever happens out into the garden before May, but I on the other hand say “meh.”  Hopefully our children will not inherit their taste from me but will instead be the perfect blend of well rounded, refined, garden loving young adults.  Optimism is one of the highlights of spring.

iris Katherine hodgkin

Iris “Katherine Hodgkin”.  Makes me think of dirty snakes.  I bet it’s virused too, I can see darker blue streaks in the blooms on the left and believe this is a sign…. 

A couple more warm days and all the early bulbs will be blooming.  Crocus are a favorite and along the warm south side of the house the first of the plump and bright dutch hybrids are opening.  I wish they lasted longer, but nothing lasts forever and when spring turns warm and sunny I always make a point of getting out to see them.

first dutch crocus blooms

Dutch crocus just starting to bloom in the warmest parts of the garden. The bees will be happy, the bunnies too.

Yesterday was beautiful, today not so much.  I want to get out there and clean up but don’t want the neighbors judging me for gardening in the cold, gray drizzle.  Looking at the forecast, Easter Sunday is supposed to be the most promising day, but Godless and crazy is probably a worse label than just plain old crazy so maybe I’ll try and get a few things cut back and cleaned up before then.   Fortunately I was out there last weekend for a start (the backyard snow melted briefly before the latest batch came down, so I rushed out to do some raking and trimming!)

vegetable beds ready for spring

The vegetable beds cleaned, straightened up, and ready to go. I even went over the lawn with the mower to give it a springtime “vacuum” of twigs and other debris.

It’s going to be a lazy cleanup this year, I can feel it already.  Electric hedge trimmer to cut everything back, mower to go over it once to chop, mower bag emptied on the beds to cover up all the leaves and bits which I didn’t bother raking out.  Done.  I need more time to transplant and divide, and gift plants with shovelfuls of compost.  Plus the mulched debris will keep down many of the self sowers, and I think last year’s “riot” of volunteers was a little messier than I want this year.  Always have to keep things changing!

Best springtime and Easter wishes to all, enjoy the weekend!

When the going gets tough….

The tough go elsewhere…..  like south a hardiness zone or two!

Leaving the below freezing temperatures behind for a couple hours doesn’t make me a quitter, right?  It was only a day, and when a friend and I worked out the details some cold, snowy, January night, the idea sounded like a great one.  It was, and the adventure started off with a two hour drive south to her place.

hellebores and snowdrops in the garden

An early hellebore (didn’t get the name) highlighting the early blooming snowdrops (flore pleno) and darker leaved hellebore sprouts.

My friend admits to being a galanthophile and since I might also be drifting in that direction I suppose it’s only fair I warn you ahead of time.  There will be plenty of snowdrop pictures.

galanthus green arrow

Snowdrops with a touch of green on the bloom are always a little different. Galanthus ‘green arrow’ looks nice enough, but I of course am still in my big-and-fat-is-better stage.

I tried to resist hinting too much that I wouldn’t mind one of nearly all of them!

galanthus cowhouse green

Here is a snowdrop with a green blush, which is how I like my greens best.  A good guess on the name would be galanthus ‘cowhouse green’.

What can I say about a fantastic clump of yellow?

galanthus primrose warburg

Galanthus ‘Primrose Warburg”. Wow!

This was a long garden tour.  We talked about the different varieties, where they were growing well, what seemed to be doing best, and what we still dreamed of getting our dirty little fingers on!  It was a great visit, and it’s not that often I can mention snowdrops in every sentence and not get some kind of sideways glance or a poorly concealed eye roll.

galanthus flore plena

We came to the conclusion that the common double snowdrop, galanthus ‘flore plena’, is among the best drops for making a nice display in your garden beds.

Of course one cannot live on galanthus alone, so the supporting trees and shrubs also called out for attention.  Here’s one which caught my eye and caused a little bit of inner conflict at the same time.  It’s the willow-leaf spicebush, and after a bright show of autumn color the leaves hang on throughout the winter.  I thought I despised trees and shrubs which play the trick of holding on to their dead leaves (fancy term for this being marcesence), and would never have considered adding it as contrast and winter interest, but I found it oddly appealing and might have hinted towards a few seeds or a cutting or two someday.  What do you think of it?

lindera glauca winter foliage

Not the best picture, but it shows lindera glauca’s smooth khaki winter foliage. According to my host it will all drop off (making a mess?) once the buds break.  Hardiness is zones 5-7 according to what I found, so it should be ok in my frigid garden.

How can you resist a late winter carpet of blooms with crocus studding the lawn?

naturalized bulbs in lawn

I loved this old cherry tree underplanted with a carpet of late winter bulbs and snow crocus naturalized in the lawn. A perfect view for right outside a window.

The garden tour (and lunch of course!) were only the start of our adventure.  We jumped into the car next and set off to a nearby abandoned farmstead to check out the naturalized drops there.  Clearly a different setting than my friend’s garden!

abandoned stone farmhouse

Your standard abandoned Pennsylvania farmhouse, all grown up and over with invasives like locust, bittersweet, and multiflora roses.  General decay all over but I was impressed by how well the chimney brickwork was holding up.

Back in the day I’m sure this was a completely different place, and while investigating the property my friend found she actually knew one of the former occupants.  It was a different place back then, one where children were being raised, lives were being led, and someone planted a garden.  A garden which likely contained a small patch of snowdrops at the doorstep, a patch which during the years of abandonment has spread.

naturalized snowdrops

Filling in between the house and street, naturalized snowdrops between the weed trees and vinca. They look cold because they were, and even with warmer air temperatures the ground was still frozen solid.

Naturalized snowdrops spreading over the years look even better when paired with a few decades worth of winter aconite (eranthis hyemalis).  Throw a few cyclamen in and you’d think you were at one of the great estates!

galanthus and winter aconite

Galanthus and winter aconite

There was little variation amongst the plants (all galanthus nivalis), but how can you beat the pure white flowers and fresh healthy clumps.  Special or not I admit I “liberated” a bunch found growing in a rubble pile next to the foundation.  Maybe they’ll start their own sheet of white at my own house, and live on after these drops are likely erased in some future redevelopment plan.

wild galanthus

Galanthus nivalis filling in and doing its thing before the oriental bittersweet leafs out again and refreshes its chokehold on this woodland.

Abandoned house=spooky, and no matter how blue the sky or how nice the sun was coming out it still wasn’t a place we wanted to open the picnic basket at, so we wrapped things up, jumped back in the car, and headed on to our next spot.

abandoned farmhouse pennsylvania

I sure didn’t want to enter the building even if the walls still look solid… but even if I was feeling brave, those dark, empty windows still give me the creeps.

We are such slow, lingering adventurers that by the time we made it to our final stop the light was already at that low springtime evening angle which gives everything a nice glow.  Perfect for a real photographer, but even my point and shoot method gave me a few decent pictures.

galanthus sam arnott

Galanthus ‘Sam Arnott’.  Seeing this makes me forget all the snow and ice back home.

When we first pulled into our friend’s driveway I just let out a hushed wow.  I’ve never been anywhere that has clumps of special snowdrops lining the driveway, and to tell the truth I was so distracted I forgot to take pictures.

galanthus diggory

This clump of galanthus ‘diggory’ makes me understand why it’s such a coveted snowdrop. Those fat little pantaloons of white would look great in any garden and I’m excited to think I might have one lined up for this summer 🙂

We spent the rest of the day here of course, talking, exploring, and just plain old soaking up the time with snowdrop friends.  Of course there were other plants too but I think all involved were just a little obsessed with one plant group right now 😉

adonis amurensis fukujukai

Yellow adonis amurensis ‘fukujukai?’ with what else but a snowdrop.

This friend likes to bulk the clumps up before putting them out in the open garden.  This was another wow moment looking at the drops which I only knew by name until today.

named galanthus with mrs thompson

Along the back are a few ‘Trym’ types with their green outer patches and the lovely ‘Mrs Thompson’ is in the front.  This is the kind of planting which makes me glad I wasn’t left alone with only my conscience to guide me.

There were plenty of things for the wishlist on this trip, but gardeners if anything are sometimes generous to a fault.  I couldn’t believe the haul which filled my trunk on the way home, a mix of purchased plants which my friend had picked up for me on an earlier trip, plus some other goodies which she knew I wanted.  I felt guilty as we walked from spot to spot with a shovel, but to look at them now just makes me even more excited about spring.

galanthus and eranthis for sale

This tub of galanthus and eranthis could be its own garden.

Spring has got to be close now, and the fact that it rained today made me realize just how long it’s been since something non-frozen has fallen from the sky.  I wasn’t thrilled to be out there, but it was perfect weather for planting new snowdrops from our trip, plus two new ones which I found in the mailbox today from Carolyn’s Shade Gardens! Bring it on I say 🙂

The crocus meadow

Calling it a crocus meadow might be overselling things a bit, but I like to think of my little plantings last fall as the start of something bigger…. even though right now its main function seems to be rabbit buffet.naturalized crocus lawn

Of course a green background of lush grass would make a nicer setting than the current dried tan, but even this little burst of early spring color is most welcome at a time when everything else is still on the sidelines, waiting for the weather to make up its mind.

naturalized crocus lawn

The meadow wasn’t much of an investment.  All the bulbs were purchased for around $30 with shipping from Van Engelen during their post-Thanksgiving clearance sale (an awesome sale btw).  I chose the species grand collection which included (50) Blue Pearl, (50)Cream Beauty, (50)Goldilocks, (50)Purity and (50)Ruby Giant.  A pack of 100 Crocus tommasinianus also ended up in the shopping cart.   I got some great clearance prices but even pre-sale they still would have been a good deal.  You just have to be able to meet their minimum order since they are a bulk seller.

Cold weather and 350 small bulbs in need of planting doesn’t sound like a good combination but I tried a new (to me) planting method.  Someone on the bulbs forum on Gardenweb suggested using a masonary hammer for planting and I figured I’d give it a shot.  Using the sharp end you swing it into the ground, pull back, drop in a bulb or two, hit the hole closed with the hammer end and you’re done.  Repeat 300 times.  It only took me a couple minutes and only cost me one blister on my hammer hand.  I like the results!naturalized crocus lawn

easter egg with crocusAn early Easter and late spring worked out perfect for hiding eggs among the flowers.  I don’t know if the kids were impressed but I thought it worked out nicely.

One problem has been the rabbits, they love the fresh crocus blooms and every now and then mow down part of the display.  Oh well, as long as the crocus live to bloom another day.  Another crocus bloom killer is the little girl who lives here and her playmates.  Once the fun of the egg hunts ended the kids spent a good hour making bouquets and delivering them to the neighbors.  How could I say no to that?

I didn’t plant any of the big purple and blue hybrid crocus, I was trying for a species look and I suppose I got that.  For now they’re out, but I’ve seen lawns with the bigger types naturalized and they do look great.

I did sneak in a couple spare snowdrops.

naturalized snowdrop

Scilla mischtschenkoanaI plan on adding  other bulbs this fall.  Maybe a few of the early (short) daffodils, possibly a few alliums that will bloom amongst the uncut grass, maybe a couple other things.  Right now the only bulb on the definitely transplant list is this scilla mischtschenkoana (trust me I googled that spelling).  It’s another early bloomer that I hope will do well in the grass.