Welcome to Winter

There are still a bunch of things to clean up in the garden but now that the first serious frost has hit I’m officially announcing an end of autumn in my garden and the beginning of a very early winter.  The cannas were blackened last night, tomorrow’s high might not rise above freezing, and Friday’s low is predicted at 18F.  For those of you on a Celsius scale that converts to pretty damn cold, especially for very early winter.  Fortunately I was able to run around like a total fool at the last minute in a cold drizzle with freezing fingers, and bring the bulk of the non-hardy plants in before the frost.  Obviously it did occur to me that I could have done this much more comfortably on a warm and dry October weekend, but….

overwinter plants

I ran out of space in the winter garden so these tropical leftovers have taken over the garage and pushed the car out into the driveway.  Who needs a warm, frost-free car in the morning anyway?   

Hopefully over the next few days all these irreplaceable goodies will find a longer-term spot which gives them a little light, a warm-enough temperature, and also gives the car enough room to get back in.  The garage has been cleaned after all, and it would be a shame to not use it for the two cars it was meant for.

overwinter rosemary

Non-hardy to the left for when the door is closed, semi-hardy things like rosemary to the right to cozy up to the shelter of the garage, yet still get some outdoor air and sunshine.  I’ll drag them all in when it drops below the mid 20’s.  

Two of the shop lights are already in use back in the winter garden.  Against better judgement I’ve brought in a bunch of potted geraniums (pelargoniums) rather than the smaller, less bulky cuttings I normally do.  Hopefully there aren’t a billion pillbugs and slugs hiding within the pots.

overwinter pelargoniums

Geraniums under the growlights of the winter garden.  Rest assured they will soon be joined by a few dozen snowdrops and cyclamen… and whatever else finds its way in 😉

This newfound love of geraniums (or pelargoniums if you prefer the official name) makes me 95% sure I’m well on my way to becoming my grandmother.  I’m not sure what my wife thinks of this but I’m sure my grandmother would approve, and I’m sure she would also approve of some of the more interesting flower types which are now safely blooming under cover.

pelargonium flower

A closeup of ‘Fireworks bicolor’… nice enough flower but the name?  I think they could have done better than ‘bicolor’ to describe the bloom….

I’m fine with moving things indoors.  The winter garden seems to fire up earlier and earlier each year and it’s a nice quiet spot to just putter around in… assuming I can still get back there once all the garage plants are stuffed into their winter accommodations.  We’ll see how it goes.  Seeds need cleaning and packaging, a new plant order needs planting, and there’s a strong possibility 100 snowdrops are on their way to our doorstep.  We won’t even mention the temptation of a Brent and Becky clearance sale.  I already feel weak.

Still hiding indoors

We’re into another warm spell, with temperatures predicted to peak at a balmy 50F (10C) this afternoon.  I would pull out the shorts and T shirts, but the weather forecast also has a low of 5F (-15C) listed for Wednesday, so maybe I’ll wait another week.  For now the indoor garden will have to do while we wait for the snow to melt.  Cyclamen coum are at their peak.hardy cyclamen coum indoors under lightsSure they would be hardy outdoors under the snow, but to see them blooming now is twice as nice, even though they have suffered more than ever this winter under my neglectful care.  Most are unnamed mixed seed, but the darker, smaller bloom is from the Meaden’s Crimson seed strain.meadens crimson cyclamen coumI have some whites outdoors, but only this one under lights.  It’s got nice foliage, a decent sized flower, and a nice blackberry smudge on the nose.  Also, according to the original listing this seed comes from a wild collected plant of cyclamen coum ssp. causasium, which to me means its mom comes straight from the wilds at the edge of the Black Sea near Turkey and Western Russia (and may also be slightly less hardy than other c. coum).  A cool pedigree as far as I’m concerned, but based on the mixed variety of colors and forms that came from this seed batch I’m guessing dad was a local.white cyclamen coum with blackberry centerThis one is still my favorite.  No fancy reason, just like the color.pink hardy cyclamen coumThe snowdrops (galanthus elwesii) which I potted up in December from a late Van Engelen order are doing fine, but just not as well as last years order.  There’s just not as much variety in bloom shapes and markings this year, and to me this says it might be time to move on from my bulk snowdrop purchasing days.  I’m sure I’ll still pick a couple up here and there, but no more bags of hundreds.  Just the other day a friend suggested I try Brent and Becky’s since they usually supply a higher quality and larger bulb…. (so maybe I’ll still have to try one more year of bulk orders) forced snowdropsEventually I hope to bring in a pot or two of my own garden’s clumps and force them indoors, but for now my clumps of just one bulb aren’t ready for that.  So until then I’ll have to take what I can get.galanthus and primulaYou might recognize the pinkish primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii from my Far Reaches Farm order in January.  It’s lookin’ good!  I can’t really take any credit for this since all I did was keep it warm and under lights, but it’s a nice treat here amongst the permafrost.  Rumor has it that sibthorpii should have a white ring around the yellow center star or else it’s a mixed hybrid, but since mine has been grown under artificial lighting, it may not yet be showing it’s true colors. primula vulgaris sibthorpiiTo save on indoor light space I placed another dormant primrose in a cold spot near the door to keep it asleep…. then the polar vortex and little vortices came through and before I knew it the poor thing was a block of ice.  After a slow thaw I have it under the light too, and other than a few freezer burned rosettes of new growth, I believe it will be fine.frozen perennial primroseAnother objet d’hope  is this group of overwintered geraniums I potted up last week.  I had a free afternoon and the strangely bright sunshine made me antsy to get something growing, so after another 25 pots of seeds were sown and placed outside to get a taste of winter, I took pity on the stray geranium cuttings sitting in the dark garage, repotted them and set up the second shoplight.overwintered geraniumsI had been of the opinion that my tropicals under a shoplight experiment was a waste of lighting, but last year’s hanging pots of geraniums look much better for having been under the light.  I suspect this will be the year of the geranium (pelargonium) since I now have room for nothing else (other than this sad looking cane begonia- which believe it or not will recover very quickly from this wintertime abuse).overwintered geraniumsThe succulents are much less bother.  Dim lighting, a cup of water in January, and they look as good today as when I brought them in.  As long as they only get enough water to hold off death, they’ll be fine until May.overwintered aloe

May sounds good right now, but I’ll be happy enough when March gets here.  It’s scheduled to come in like a lion, but hopefully by the end we’ll see some signs of life outside.  Onion seeds were planted last week so even if the ice outside says winter, the calendar will soon start to argue that…. I hope.

Goodies from Far Reaches Farm

Gardeners often find their passion when the kids fly the nest, the first house is purchased, or maybe at retirement.  I was an odd child.   I planted tree seedlings in the sandbox and collected seedheads while on the family vacation.  I remember one Christmas when in addition to playdoh and matchbox cars I added bulbs to the list.  Somehow Santa found a few wood hyacinth in December, and I was a happy kid when the presents were opened.

My parents were the sensible type though, and although a lot of the lawn was turned over for flowers, they insisted I take it easy so that the yard wasn’t a complete burden when I moved on.  They were right of course.  The college years, first apartments, moving around to different states, all those other things in life that interfere with gardening happened, and it’s only now twenty something years later that I’m settled down enough to really have some fun.  I can’t afford a fancy car-midlife crisis, but I can still swing a few overpriced snowdrops while also keeping the kid’s college funds intact.  Here’s a treasure from Far Reaches Farm in Washington state.  A friend tipped me off to a few snowdrops at this nursery (very reasonably priced for named snowdrops), and although shipping cross country during a polar vortex isn’t exactly normal plant buying procedure, I’m sitting fat and happy here, all hunkered down on the Pennsylvania tundra with my brand new galanthus “John Gray”.galanthus john grayI also picked up ‘Blewbury Tart’.  Maybe she’ll grow on me as the little tart clumps up but for now I’m still lukewarm to her small sideward facing congested bloom.  Both of my new snowdrops show up on ‘best growing’ or ‘favorite snowdrop’ lists, so I’m pretty sure that even when they’re out in the garden among all the other snowdrops they should someday make me proud.galanthus blewbury tart

Of course when shipping cross country it’s foolish to buy just two plants.  Far better to fill the box, so I added two primrose plants.  This one is primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii, an English type primrose that has a reputation for doing better through the dry, hot spells that other primrose generally don’t like here.  The second (and third bonus!) primrose are in a cold garage corner (still dormant), but this one with it’s blooms already coming up goes right in to add to the winter garden!primula vulgaris ssp sibthorpii

I loved my Far Reaches Farm order.  Premium plants packed to perfection, communication was great, and the primula are so well grown they could even be divided now if I were so inclined.  Just looking at their website today I could have easily filled another even larger order with cool arisameas and species roses…. but I should really do a one month cool off period for any more new plant orders (the budget being blown as it is!)  For now I’ll have to be satisfied with the winter garden…. for as long as it lasts…. the cold is creeping into the garage and the last polar plunge has pots in the corners of the garage frozen solid.cyclamen under lights

All these exciting new treats make me wonder why I ever bothered to overwinter those tired old tender plants from last year!  They only look marginally better this winter after having spent most of their time under the grow lights, and I think the trouble’s not worth it, so next year it’s back into the near dark of the garage.overwintering tropicals  I know come May it will have been worth taking them in.  Maybe if I’m bored during next week’s not-going-over-freezing weather I’ll repot the geraniums and start giving them a little water.  It will be nice to have some summer flowers growing again, and they shouldn’t mind the cool garage temperatures at all.

Winding Down

The oddly warm weather continued today and I was in no mood to do anything constructive in the sweat-inducing humidity.  So I basically wasted the entire day.  In my defense it’s only natural to sit outside and sip a cold beverage on a day like this, but more so in August, not October.

I think the plants agree.  Most of these pictures were taken earlier in the week and it’s unsettling how quickly the dry soil, heat and cooler nights have things spiraling down into the little death of winter.  My warm weather friends on the deck such as the vinca and coleus look ok, but the cool nights are making them drop leaves and get all sad and brittle.deck plantings

colorful foliage on a pelargoniumThe ones that seem just as happy as in July are the blue fanflower (scaveola), rosemary, and the chartreuse leaved geranium (pelargonium).  Right now I’m imagining myself taking these into the garage to try and save something from frost.  The geranium is actually a survivor from last year and to look at it now you’d never imagine how close to death it was in March.

Overwintered coleus are another plant that somehow escapes death on a windowsill and then comes back just fine when the warm weather returns.  I usually plant a couple in the front bulb bed, and by summer’s end whatever’s not filled with hosta is overtaken by coleus.  Hopefully the dormant bulbs that sit underground are none the wiser.front bed with coleus

The ‘hot biscuits’ amaranthus which looms over the bed is probably not the best design move here, but I had a weakness for them this spring and their weedy looking stalks are scattered throughout the yard.  Plus for some reason this year’s baby tree frogs are also strangely fond of this plant.  I find more baby frogs on the amaranthus than anywhere else.

selfsown chrysanthemumI got lucky and one of the chrysanthemums on the stoop last fall must have seeded out.  This little dwarf couldn’t flower more if it tried, it looks more like someone dropped a bouquet while walking in instead of a poor commitment to weeding on my part.

I’m really pleased right now with the annuals and tropicals in the front bed.  The colors may not all go together but I just don’t get tired of looking at the mix of fresh flowers.  Unfortunately the hydrangea flowers have gone brown due to lack of water in the couple days since I took this picture, but the coleus and profusion zinnias carry on.mixed border with coleus

coleus cuttings in FebruaryIt’s hard to believe all these coleus owe their existence to a water filled mug on the windowsill.  Since I’ve added a few new ones this year I’m afraid I’ll have to sneak in a fourth mug this winter.  I only hope the boss doesn’t pick up on it, any houseplant that requires either dirt or water or risks bringing in bugs is in not on her preferred list.

The zinnias are putting on a last stand against the shorter days.  This lavender used to be my least favorite color but the hot pink I usually prefer didn’t germinate well this spring,  so I’m left with these…. I don’t think either color would have had a chance of blending well with even more orange amaranthus.lavender zinnias

Most of the annuals will be lost when the first frost hits (probably in the next two weeks) but I’m having trouble letting go of my senna alata (candlestick bush) seedling.  This is one of two that germinated, and I love the oversized grayish foliage!  Unfortunately our growing season is just too short and I’m just too lazy to give it an earlier start.  So now I have to choose between a sure death by frost and possible death by my hand.

It’s so much easier to point the finger at winter. senna alata candlestick plant

I read somewhere that if frozen they may sprout again from the roots.  To me this means I may be able to get away with overwintering the root ball in the cold yet heated garage.  It may not work, but if it means I may start next year with a much larger plant I’m game!  So I think I know where this will end up going….

Am I the only one contemplating all the annuals I wish I could rescue from the inevitable?  Wiser gardeners have probably learned the lesson years ago, but every fall I can’t help but try and save a little of the summer gone by.

A day late and a dollar short

I go back and forth on overwintering tropicals and summer bulbs.  Last year was an up year.  I planted a bunch of cannas, elephant ears, dahlias, and banana plants in a new bed over at my mother in law’s.  The tropicals plus a number of tasteless, gaudy, bright annuals were all right up my alley.  096

The annuals were all seed grown and the tropicals were all little bits and sprigs that I keep over from year to year.  I overwinter the lazy way and some are ok with that while others…..

In short, the good gardener will check up on them around early February, add water to the dry ones, remove the rotted ones, air out the damp ones, just give them a general once over to carry them through the rest of the winter.  If you are not of the good gardener type you can still save most of your tropicals if you check on them around March 13th and give them a once over.  I think the yellow, crispy asparagus ferns may still pull through, now that they got a bit of water.overwintered succulents

The aloes and jade plant snuggled up against the dim (slightly heated) garage window are troopers and don’t need a drop all winter.

These are the bulbs and roots and tubers that I threw into bags and buckets.  I’m hoping for the best, but it’s tricky to walk the line between keeping them dry and cool enough to keep them dormant vs everything else that could go wrong.  Too wet, they rot.  Too dry, they crisp.  Too warm, they sprout.  Too cold, they freeze……  canna and dahlia storage

I guess I do just kinda throw them in a pile and hope for the best.  To do otherwise would go against my natural laziness.

Here are a few bigger pots, just rolled into the garage and allowed to go dry.  You wouldn’t think it but many tropicals will just “hang out” in the dim, cool garage until spring  (I did throw some water on these about a month ago).  The only one giving real problems is the fig which decided to sprout once it got water.  I really should have left that one outside.overwintered tropicals

Geraniums….. probably shouldn’t have bothered.overwintered geraniumsI won’t make you look at the coleus cuttings.  They’ve been in water on the windowsill since October and look worse than the geraniums.  In a week or so I’ll pot them up, take some geraniums cuttings and see what we can do with them.  It should have been done now, but I’m always running a day late and a dollar short.