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.

Refueled and ready to go

I got a good dose of the tropics last Saturday.  The Mid Atlantic group of the Hardy Plant Society organized a tour of the Michael Bowell garden down near Philadelphia.  Michael is the owner of Create-a-Scene, a florist/indoor-outdoor landscaping/container planting/nursery owning/seasonal decorating service which is well known around the country, and in addition to the business Michael is both a long-time Philadelphia Flower Show fixture and an in-demand speaker on all sorts of plant topics.  My intro may be somewhat lacking and vague but hopefully the garden pictures tell a better story.

michael Bowell create a scene

Not your average porch plantings, this one comes with a ton of tropicals, fancy pottery, and random art. The hanging baskets are filled with what I think are those odd tropical pitchers (nepanthes) which end each leaf with a bug-unfriendly pitcher trap.

The focus of the visit was Michael’s extensive (addictive maybe?) collection of tropical plants which are arranged throughout the gardens.  All of them out for the summer and then in for the winter, and even with Michael’s four greenhouses the task seems overwhelming.  Plus on top of that it’s not just a handful of coleus and a potted mandevilla, it’s all kinds of species and families and rare cultivars….

michael Bowell garden

The sheltered side garden of Michael Bowell’s garden. Art, ponds, fountains, arbors, pergolas, and plants… lots of plants. I think most of this garden around the house is mobile and the plants will soon be trimmed and the pots moved back under shelter.

This autumn garden visit by the HPS seems to be an annual tradition and is the setting for an informal cutting swap of whatever members bring along.  The icing on the cake however was Michael’s generosity with his own cuttings.  As long as care was taken, members were allowed to take cuttings of any particularly irresistible plants they came across along the way.  I tried to show restraint but then as soon as the formal tour ended I had to run around one last time to snip a few begonia, geranium, and coleus cuttings.  I’ll let you know how I make out 🙂

michael Bowell create a scene

I felt like it was a garden that almost required entertaining. Seating areas and enclosed spaces really defined the different parts of the garden.

For as interesting as I found the garden, it took me a few minutes to work through my anger issues before I could really enjoy the garden visit.  I was a little irritated with that the powers that be for sending rain showers on the one morning I wanted to do an outdoor tour.  Nearly three months without any serious rain and there we were driving an hour and a half through steady rainfall and then later dodging puddles and soggy lawn.  Luckily we only dealt with one brief shower during the tour and then clear skies thereafter (of course my own garden received nothing more than a light drizzle all day).

lacebark pine pinus bungeana

I think I should finally get myself a lacebark pine (pinus bungeana). My garden is short on evergreens and I love this bark. It’s a clumsy looking tree though and might need quite a bit of pruning and training….

My pictures really don’t do the garden justice and the recent downpour had plenty of autumn leaves falling down on everything, but I hope you can get a good impression of the plants and plantings.  My impression of it all has inspired me to evict the sunflowers and bring the tropical garden back to its full gaudy lushness next year!

michael Bowell garden

I resisted taking any flowering maple (abutilon) cuttings since I have no faith in my ability to overwinter them…. but this tall, red veined flower was delicious and when it showed up in front of a purple ornamental grass I knew I’d need something similar next year!

The tour doesn’t end with the garden, Michael is also an expert on orchids and has a couple greenhouses set up to entertain this passion.  Oh and did I mention the two story high greenhouse which abuts the house?

michael Bowell garden

How cool is an outdoor deck enclosed by the greenhouse? A dinner out on the deck in January amongst the tree ferns and palms sounds like a good antidote to snow.

The garden is a treasure chest of ideas and creativity.  To me it seems like someone came up with an idea and then ran with it, whether that meant carving out a new garden, training a new plant, or scaling a 60 foot tree to hang a little sculpture.  Most of the sculpture is metal and neon art by Simple and it’s hung throughout the gardens.  I bet it gives off an awesome atmosphere at night when all lit up.

michael Bowell garden

I think this is my first garden tour where an invite was extended to go out through a window onto the roof (future enclosed sunporch) in order to get a nice overview of the gardens. An in-training weeping katsura (Cercidiphyllum) dominates and encloses the far end of the garden.

Oh and dogs, fish, parrots, and poultry also share the garden.  What better construction to place at the end of the vegetable garden than a poultry house?

michael Bowell garden

A real beauty or plain ugly? Regardless of your opinion I’m sure this display would melt the heart of any turkey hen.

The majority of my photos were out of focus, overexposed poo-poo, so I’ve got nothing on the vegetable and fruit gardens, but let me slip in one last picture which shows some of the main tropical beds.  These included several areas of full and lush plantings, stuffed with all sorts of exotic goodies… I thought they were perfect 🙂

michael Bowell garden

I need to give my own variegated miscanthus more room next year to develop, and definitely put it close to some dark leaved cannas and elephant ears. Cool.

All this tropical inspiration gives me plenty of ideas for next year.  I think it’s time again to pack a bed full of completely unreasonable, inappropriate, overblown leaves and flowers.  I’ll ignore the amount of work it takes until it’s too late and see what happens.

These are the dreams which will keep me going until we finally get some nice rains and good planting weather.  I’m sick of this dry, dusty crust that passes for soil and it’s a shame to be thinking next summer when I should be excited about tulip planting and perennial dividing.  I’m sure it will come soon enough though!

Hunkering Down

Last weekend was the finale of the fall color.  By the end of this week most of the leaves will be down and the doors will be open for winter to make its arrival.fall color in Pennsylvania

I’m not rushing it out but I think I have to call a time for the 2013 growing season.  It’s lost its joie de vivre and from now on until snow flies it’s all downhill.  So far so good though.  I’ve been remarkably organized this fall and had most of the tropical were safely under cover a few days before the first frost.  This year I’m putting some under lights, maybe it will help them look a little less pathetic come March.overwintering tropicals under lights

The rest will sit out winter in the back of our semi-heated garage.  No watering, little light, but it should be enough to bring them through the winter.  When I get the motivation I’ll move them back away from the door…. just like I’ll move all the other crap that tends to accumulate and fill the spot where my car should be.overwintering tropicals

Weekend plans include digging up dahlia and canna roots and finishing winter cleanup.  So far it hasn’t felt like much work and maybe my early start and the late frost date worked in my favor, but usually things happen at a different pace.  My usual method is wait until I’m in bed, see a freezing weather report, grab a flashlight, and then stumble through the dark in my pajamas, flashlight in mouth and a load of cold wet plants in my arms.  Good times, good times.

The freeze-dash makes you grateful for hardy “tropicals” such as musa basjoo.  This one is going on winter #3 here by the porch.  I think the protection of the house helps bring it through the winter, although a little extra protection would probably give it a much stronger head start in the spring.musa basjooNow that the summer garden is packed away and additional rain has finally made for good planting soil I’m thinking about bulbs.  I bet I could hit a few clearance sales and add a couple more bulbs cheaply before the ground freezes.  I bet I’d be real proud of myself come May…..  I just have to remember the time change has me leaving for work and returning home in the dark, and that doesn’t make for good bulb planting.  Oh well.  I already know how this is going to turn out 😉

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.