And it Begins…

February seems to be on its way to becoming the new March with the way these warm spells sneak in.  Today the afternoon high hit 75F (24C) and it was actually a bit unsettling to break a sweat in the garden knowing that the thermometer will drop down to freezing within the next few hours.  That could have been a serious concern, but obviously my thoughts on global warming vanished the minute I saw how much the snowdrops had come along.  I spent the entire afternoon trimming things, poking around for shoots, and admiring the early birds which had already come into bloom.

galanthus elwesii

Galanthus elwesii, the giant snowdrop.  One of the earliest to rear its head in my garden.

There are a lot of snowdrop favorites in this garden and one near the top is Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’.  He’s a handsome snowdrop, and of course he’s looking exceptional this spring.

galanthus godfrey owen

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’, rising up fresh and clean amongst the winter wreckage of last season.

Godfrey is special for his doubled outer petals which make a brilliant star when fully open and looked at from above… this is how most sane people admire these tiny little late winter flowers.

galanthus godfrey owen

‘Godfrey Owen’ from above.

Another snowdrop which also shows some variation from the standard three outer petals, three inners, is ‘Natalie Garton’.  She’s a new one to the garden this spring but I wanted to show the interesting inner ‘extras’ which hang down from the middle of some of the flowers.  New is always special, so we’ll have to wait for time to tell if this strange inner remains just interesting or slowly becomes a classic.  (fyi for the snowdrop nerds, word is that this snowdrop is the same as a similar one named ‘Chris Sanders’.  Natalie G is now the accepted name).

galanthus natalie garton

Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’ with her extra inner petals.  

Green snowdrops are also a thing.  ‘Rosemary Burnham’ is one of the classics and today she was looking fantastic.  She’s a Canadian originally and as such is one of a limited number of named North American snowdrops, but her true specialness lies in the solid green wash to her outer petals.  The flowers don’t jump out in the garden and are a little on the small size but I think they’re amazing.

galanthus rosemary burnham

Galanthus ‘Rosemary Burnham’ looking great on her first day open.

The majority of the other snowdrops are yet to come, but here’s one last plain old white one.

galanthus bill bishop

Galanthus ‘Bill Bishop’ has extra grande flowers on a short plant.  Of course it’s one of the favorites.

Keep your fingers crossed for a gentle ride into real spring.  The last few years have been on the harsh side as far as late winter flowers go, so I promise that even if 2018 is the most exceptional snowdrop season I’ll try to control myself.  I kind of recognize that not everyone is as obsessed with these short little plants and hopefully you won’t have to resort to praying for another tornado to save you from my snowdrop overkill!

Indoors, For Now…

After a late start, it looked like winter was actually going to make an effort this year.  We had some cold spells, some snow, lots of ice, and the usual January thaw, but now it’s just losing steam.  A February thaw is in the works, and the freeze out there this morning is the one exception in a ten day forecast that doesn’t even dip much below freezing.  To be honest I’d be thrilled to see this in March or April… not so much February.

hardy cyclamen

I was expecting to spend most of February in the garage, hiding from the cold, and admiring the winter garden which has now officially replaced the workshop.

This weather will quickly bring on the snowdrops and winter aconite, and once that happens I’ll waste every minute of daylight wandering and poking around the garden imagining just how nice everything is going to be this year.  In the meantime though, I’ve come to a decision on a real winter greenhouse, one which involves glass and benches and expensive heating.  Before you get excited for me (doesn’t everyone get excited for people who get new greenhouses?) I want to make it clear it’s not going to happen.  Our local climate is relatively extreme and although that in itself is an excellent reason to get a greenhouse, I just can’t commit myself to worrying about extreme low temperatures, brutal hailstorms and blizzards, heating system failures… and most importantly the extra heating bill.

hardy cyclamen

The hardy cyclamen (C. coum) are at their peak under the winter garden grow lights.  For the second year in a row I’m wondering why I don’t have more in here.

But wait!  Don’t get the wrong impression here.  I’m not having some budget-wise revelation that includes spending less and denying myself things in order to save for our retirement or the children’s education.  I just came to the conclusion that with only a few more grow lights I can change the whole workshop over into a very satisfying pseudo-conservatory.  So I did a little searching and found three more light fixtures on clearance.  $39 a piece, about $120 total… so much better than their $52 normal price.

sowing fern spores

A first time for me.  Fern spores.  You’ll have to trust me on this but there’s a tiny bit of black dust on that silver foil, and hopefully with it and an old baby food tub I can recreate what ferns have been doing for millions of years.

$120 is an amazing bargain compared to buying an actual greenhouse, so in reflecting on how much money I just saved I don’t think I’d be way off in subtracting it from the budget rather than adding, but on second thought a visit to the accountant taught me a new word which might come in handy here.  Depreciation.  From what I gathered (and often what I gather is more what I want to hear rather than real facts) I can take this long-range purchase and pretend it’s really money which has been spent over a couple years.  So for the 2018 budget I’m going to pretend I only spent $30 and we’ll see if I remember the remaining $30s in 2019, 2020, and 2021.

winter sow stratification

Seed starting is well under way.  These will go outside today and spend the rest of the winter on the side of the house under a layer of garden fleece (aka Reemay, or spun row cover) until warmer weather encourages them to sprout. 

The lights are more of a next winter plan, but you never know.  In a fit of boredom a week or so ago (apparently you can’t spend forever sipping beer and staring at cyclamen) someone got it in their head to pot up the coleus cuttings and start a few succulent cuttings.  They’re in the very back of the workshop, in a room with the furnace, and hopefully will stay warm enough there to get shoots growing and roots forming.   We will see.

succulent cuttings

Rootless succulent cuttings newly potted up and coleus cuttings slowly recovering from the last few months on a windowsill in water.

I don’t need more succulents in February, let alone May.  It’s another one of those #becauseIcan moments, but I’m just itching with a compulsion to start more.  Another 25 or 50 more isn’t out of the question and I’m sure something can be done with them in the spring.

In the meantime have a great weekend!

$30 for new growlights

$318 total so far for the 2018 gardening year

The Plasticine Era

Don’t bother searching the title.  It’s not the first time this blog has contained made up words and I’m sure it won’t be the last, but it’s just I’ve been thinking about plastic lately since it seems to be the material of the day.  It started with some comment I read, that all the plastic humankind has ever made is still in existence.  I know of course that’s not true since I can personally vouch for having thrown a plastic cup or two into a campfire somewhere along the line, but the main idea is that plastic doesn’t break down anytime soon.  My compost pile will attest to that fact.  I throw nearly every scrap of yard waste onto it and as the organic materials break down into a deliciously rich soil amendment I’m left with a constant peppering of plastic trash bits picked up by the mower or left behind by the kids.

garden plastic

I keep a (plastic of course) bucket back there to hold all the plastic scraps I pick out of the finished compost.  I’m always amazed by how quickly it fills.

I never catch all the trash and much of it gets dug into the soil with the compost.  I’m pretty sure that in a couple million years future archeologists will be able to identify this era of time based on the layer of plastic remains which we’re laying down each year…  assuming we make it that far of course.

So in addition to keeping some weak kind of transparency to my gardening budget this year I’m also going to try and reduce the amount of plastic I use.  I’d aim for recycling too but I’m just not convinced that’s a good solution, so the goal is just less of it.  Maybe I can start with the awful plastic based fleece and clingy ‘performance’ fabrics that just breed static and just don’t breath (as opposed to cotton of course).  Better late than never since people have been onto this movement for years, but I guess everyone makes their changes according to their own timetable.  …Now about that budget.

I love tall garden phlox (Phlox paniculata). I should take better care of the ones I already have, but I’m sure a few new ones wouldn’t hurt either.

I’m going to confess to a few plant purchases and I’m actually going to count them this time.  For the record I recently celebrated a birthday and in all honesty I should be counting these as birthday presents to myself (and not apply them against the gardening budget) but a few comments have questioned the accuracy of my accounting and have implied that I play it a little too fast and easy with the numbers.  So just to keep things on the up and up I’ll admit to a $68 phlox purchase from Perennial Pleasures in Vermont and a $65 order of cold hardy cactus from The Cactus Man out in Colorado.

hardy cactus

Hardy opuntia seedlings in the rock garden last week before the latest snow.  Brutally spiny and unforgiving, kind of dull in the winter, and painfully torturous to weed around… obviously I need more.

Seriously this really shouldn’t count against the budget.  I don’t need any new phlox and I kind of hate the nasty little cactus I already have, but there they are, new plants pointed to and clicked on and now destined for this little patch of suburbia.  Of course I’m excited 🙂

$68 for six must-have new (and heirloom) phlox
$65 for several super spiny, wildly colored, completely exotic hardy cacti

$288 total so far for the 2018 gardening year

Happy Post-Solstice

A few years ago I was introduced to an excellent new holiday.  Maybe holiday is a bit strong but January’s a pretty dull month and coming off of a three day warming spell has me optimistic that winter might not go on forever… even if it does feel that way most of the time.

I first heard about ‘Post-Solstice’ over at the always inspiring macgardens.org, and it’s described as that unofficial point where the earth has tilted back towards the sun just enough to start warming this hemisphere back up again.  It takes a while to get things moving on this big old planet of ours, and although December 21st was the shortest day with the least amount of solar warmth hitting the Northern half, it’s not until one month later around January 21st that we start turning the tide back to warmer days.  To help with the celebrations this year there was a special treat.  The first snowdrop is up, popping out just hours after the rain melted the last snow and ice away from this spot.

winter snowdrop

A surprise in our January thaw, the first of this winter’s snowdrops.  Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ in case you’re wondering.

A lone snowdrop doesn’t make spring, and I’m sure I’ll be out there covering it up during the next arctic blast, but for now it sure does give a little bit of hope.  There are other sprouts as well but I’ll only bore you with one more photo.

winter snowdrop

More snowdrops showing signs of life.  I wish I could say the same for the winter-burned hellebore foliage but I’ve long given up on worrying about things like that. 

It’s nice to see things as anxious as I am to start the new gardening year.  We have already added just over thirty minutes of daylight to each day and that goes higher with every sunset and before we know it the whole adventure will start anew!

Enjoy your weekend 🙂

Tuesday View: The Front Border 11.21.17

It’s been three weeks since my last Tuesday View with Cathy so I guess it’s about time to check in again.  Winter is getting real and to sum up the passing weeks, the days are shorter, the first freeze has hit, winter cleanup has begun (and been finished), and we even woke up to our first inch of snow yesterday.  I hate the gloominess of this time of year but miraculously the sun came out just enough to capture a highlighted Tuesday view of the border.  And then it was gone again.

front border

The Tuesday view.  Nice enough but I already miss the flowers of summer.  A keen eye will pick out the mushy, frozen lump of my precious cardoon about mid border….

It could look worse.  Right now there’s still some contrast between dead-brown, dead-black, and dead-grey and the different forms and textures could be considered ‘winter interest’ to the more optimistic.  My opinion on winter interest leans more towards the warm shores of a tropical beach so I’ll have to trust others on that.

mailbox planting

The sunflower skeletons have finally been cut down, but that’s as far as the winter cleanup will go

Maybe evergreens are the way to go.  I of course love the too-bright yellows, but I’m sure there’s something more refined for those of better taste.

winter interest

The pink muhly grass has faded so now it’s up to this juniper to carry on for the winter.  I believe the juniper is ‘Old Gold’.

Coniferous color could carry the border through the lean months but for now (and hopefully the next  few weeks) the healthy green hellebore foliage is making the inner parts of the border look healthy and full.  During the heat of summer the taller perennials and shrubs shelter the hellebore leaves.  Now that they’ve died back again the hellebores can shine.

hellebore foliage

The giant reed grass (Arundo donax) has been trimmed back for the winter and the ten foot tall canes lugged away to the compost.  Without the grassy mess the red twigged dogwood ‘Midwinter Fire’ and the green of hellebores are back on stage.

I saw that this week Cathy has devoted her post to a recap of the year’s views.  I love it.  Being able to follow the whole year in just a few minutes is a fun way to spend these waning days of 2017… even if it does mean you’ll miss the garden and maybe get a little excited already for 2018!

Have a great week 🙂

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.

Tuesday View: The Front Border 10.9.17

My gardener has been extremely unmotivated these last few weeks as he comes to terms with the long stretch of hot dry weather which has settled down upon this corner of Pennsylvania.  Months and months of not needing to water and not having to concern himself with pampering transplants has spoiled him, and the last month of humid, buggy, unseasonable heat has him refusing to work.  As a result this week’s Tuesday view is not much changed from the last view, and other than the general air of decay setting in, there hasn’t been much of a fight put up against this end of season degeneration.

front border

Today’s Tuesday View.  Autumn is here.

The garden did get a good soaking this weekend when the latest hurricane leftovers blew through, but the humid dampness also brought the local gnat population to an electrified frenzy.  Lets hope it also electrifies the gardener since all we’ve gotten out of him in the last few weeks has been a 20 minute manic attack on a relatively innocent Rose of Sharon bush (Hibiscus syriacus ‘bluebird’).  It happened one overly warm afternoon, shortly after he was heard ranting something to the effect of  “look at all those friggin’ seed pods, no way I’m pulling up thousands of seedlings next spring”.  So out it came.

front border

Sometimes pretty blue flowers and inoffensive green leaves just aren’t enough.  The Rose of Sharon is out now, but unfortunately the branches, rootball, and garden cart still sit where the gardener left them over a week ago.  Not even the threat of a Tuesday View was enough to get him moving!

Fortunately there have been a few other autumn goings on which can distract us from the local labour’s laziness and sloth.  The fall bloomers are coming on in full force and the Monarch migration has reached its highpoint.

aster raydon's favorite

We are on the downside of the migration but Monarchs still keep fluttering on through.  Aster ‘Raydon’s Favorite’ might not be the Monarch’s favorite but as far as asters go it’s mine.  It tolerates drought, needs nothing from me, and flowers for weeks.  

There are always a few dozen butterflies floating through the air, and as you stroll they take off and circle in a round, lazy pattern which makes you wonder how they ever manage to make it all the way to Mexico.  But they do, and although it’s still on the warm side they better get a move on it.  Frost is coming and the last nectar-filled flowers won’t be around forever.

pepper sedona sun

Some color at the midpoint of the bed.  An unknown purple mum from a years-past porch decoration and the cute little orange and yellow fruits of ‘Sedona Sun’ pepper.  Each year I like ornamental peppers more and more and who knows, maybe next next spring will turn into pepperpalooza!  

The last big hurrah of the front border will be the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris) at the far end.  Most years the peak of pinkness hits only to be followed by a bleaching frost but this year my fingers are crossed for at least a few days of enjoyment.  I’ll try for a better photo next week with a little late afternoon sunshine but for now you’re stuck with a little of the grass with yet another Monarch perched in front.

monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly surrounded by the colors of autumn.

So that wraps up this Tuesday’s view, and it also signifies the beginning of the end of the 2017 season.  You may have noticed that in spite of the heat I’m no longer quite as convinced that summer will never end, and I’m actually accepting that autumn is here.  I guess it was inevitable, and if you’d like to see what it looks like in other parts of the world give Cathy a visit at Words and Herbs to check up on a few other Tuesday Views.  I hear she is also admitting the season is winding down.

As always have a great week!