Hope for spring

Last Sunday was a big day.  The first snowdrop managed to pop up and drop the first pure white bloom of the 2014 season.  Since then the not-so-pure snow has been on the retreat and temperatures have been almost seasonable!  One night temperatures didn’t even drop below freezing, and if you ignore the 9F night (-13C) you could almost imagine spring is close.

I don’t know how they do it, but somehow even from the frozen earth, under a layer of snow and ice, the snowdrops (galanthus elwesii) are growing.  I can’t imagine I missed this one in January during the last thaw.  It must have continued to grow as melting snow trickled down through the ice and then voila!  Spring 🙂snowdrop emerging from snowOther old friends are reappearing from beneath the filthy snow remnants.  Cyclamen hederifolium doesn’t look half bad after having spent the winter under a driveway snow pile.cyclamen hederifolium under snowA few feet away cyclamen coum is a different story.  The melting snow is leaving me with a mat of sloppy, rotting foliage.  Just for the record, you won’t get these pretty pictures on just any blog.  We’re here for the good, the bad…. and the ugly.
hardy cyclamen look dead
first cyclamen coum bloomBut spring is a fountain of hope, and even here I was able to find the first bloom coming up!  I think they’ll be ok but it’s a different look without the backdrop of healthy foliage (and I hope the tubers are able to prep for next year without their leaves)

Here’s a standard pussy willow shot.  Another one of my favorite plants.  Not much to look at most of the year, but I’d never be without it 🙂pussywillow budsThe “solid” winter of 2013/14 has tied up the Northeast in longer than average snowcover, and as a result even the snowdrops are running late.  2014 hitch lyman open daysI got this postcard from Hitch Lyman of The Temple Garden Nursery in upstate NY, and what a relief that I won’t be stressing over the long range weather report.  By April there should be something!  and even if some freak warm spell comes along there are enough other bulbs and hellebores to fill a garden visit.  But change your calendars, the new Garden Conservancy open date is April 5 from 11 to 3.

Here’s how my first snowdrop (an anonymous galanthus elwesii given to me by a friend) looks….. and notice another dead cyclamen coum leaf right at it’s base.  This spring they all look this way 😦 galanthus elwesiiI’m going to go on about snowdrops now, so tune out if you’ve already had your fill.  This week I’m struggling through my attempts to get better pictures.  So far I’ve learned nothing, but out of the countless blurry and overexposed pictures I’ve taken, the law of averages has let me bumble into one or two acceptable shots.  Here’s my nicest clump of galanthus nivalis (or most likely a hybrid thereof) which was rescued from the edge of a bulldozer rut during a local dairy farm’s gentrification.  It’s the last survivor of what used to be swaths of snowdrops…. spring snowdrops And here are three new treasures 🙂 -all variations on white, and all making me happier than a sparrow in spring (I’m assuming they’re happy, I finally hear them singing in the mornings). The first is galanthus “Gerard Parker”.
galanthus Gerard ParkerThe next, with much smaller blooms and a more average snowdrop look, is galanthus “Chedworth”.galanthus Chedworthand finally (with a drumroll implied) is galanthus “Primrose Warburg”.  It’s a little thing, but special enough to make me happy I was able to finally get a non-blurry portrait.
galanthus primrose warburgYesterday I noticed the first winter aconite is out.  They’re still tiny and lack confidence, but I’m hoping spring is really on its way (although it’s snowing as I write this and a storm is predicted for tonight).  Happy Sunday!

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

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

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

naturalized 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 crocus

naturalized crocusI 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.


Finally some springtime weather.  The crocus jumped at the chance to soak up a little sun and warmth and give the bees a chance to do their thing.  These are in a warm spot near the house, but even in the open garden stuff is starting to show up.naturalized crocusWe were all home for an extended Easter weekend and I was determined to get the yard ready for spring.  Thursday was a warmup day with a little cleaning out front, Friday the big bed along the street, and Saturday I spent most of the afternoon cleaning the backyard.  It still looks a bit grey and dreary but there sprouts showing all over.

One plant that looks better than ever is cyclamen coum.  It’s been blooming through snow and ice, rain and frost.  They’ve been giving color since late February.  These are just two year old seedlings, but I bet they’ll outlast the crocus. cyclamen coum

They say it’s spring, I don’t agree.


easter table decoration

Easter decorations

All the signs are there, the calendar, the birds, the rabbits, the plants, but one thing is missing. It’s still crappy grey windy weather and I don’t feel like spring at all. In fact after a snow day this week, I’m expecting another on Monday when another 2-4 inches comes our way. Hardly the weather of egg hunts and daffodils, but there’s not much you can do about it. I suppose the silver lining is once things start going it will be so late the threat from late freezes shouldn’t exist…. but you never know.

Every time the snow receeds (the sun when it does come out is pretty strong) the plants that reappear seem to have grown a little more.  The cyclamen coum is really taking off now in spite of the cold, and the winter aconite wins the distinction of being a flower so early it’s actually now over for the year.  My cyclamen picture doesn’t really capture the glow these early cottoncandy colored flowers give off on a grey day.

hardy cyclamen coum

A few hardy Cyclamen coum in the garden

Crocus are trying, and on the first warm day will burst out fully opened.  It amazes me how these flowers seem to explode into bloom when the temperature rises.  The snow crocus are first with yellows and creams and smaller flowers, the bigger dutch hybrids are a little later with dark purples.

Yellow species crocus

Yellow species crocus

We will see this spring how my crocus lawn is developing, it’s a bit sparse right now but I see lots of sprouts and I’m hoping more will show.  Here’s the only lawn picture I got before the rabbits nibbled off every single bloom.

Purple dutch crocus hybrids

Purple dutch crocus hybrids

A sheltered spot near the house has the first hybrid crocus ready to bloom.  The other ones planted in the open garden are barely just appearing through the mulch.

For all the complaining, spring is not much later than average.  My less than scientific investigation puts us maybe a week behind a normal year.  I’ve kept records of bloom dates for a couple years and like looking back to see what’s up and what’s missing.  My records should be more organized and I should plan a little better but this is about all my procrastinating self can handle.  Right now I feel like I’m already behind and should have more seeds started and more cuttings rooted, but you know how it goes, you’re either much too early or (for me at least) much too late.

seed exchange packets

seed exchange packets

I guess it would help if I stuck with the plan and didn’t take advantage of the surplus round of the North American Rock Garden Society’s seed exchange.  Here are 40 more packets waiting for me to do something with them.  Did I need them?  Of course not, but who can resist giving excess seeds a home and only spending $10 dollars doing it?

So in the meantime I’ll start the peppers and tomatoes and stick with the indoor gardening.  Under lights the onions are coming along, the snowdrops are starting to yellow and the cyclamen coum is still showy.  Two months of indoor color during the dullest time of the year is pretty good in my book!

seedlings under lights

Onion seedlings coming along under the shop lights

Flower show continued

I always enjoy the individual exhibits of potted flowers, and the range and size of some entries is kinda crazy.  This year there was a newly designed “Hamilton Horticourt” display area, a 1 million dollar construction donated by a Mrs. Hamilton (who’s name appeared on many impressive plant entries).   There were orchids in colors I don’t normally put with orchids.

philadelphia flower show 2013

Daffodils….. featuring the reliable Ice Follies in front (for you Sue)

philadelphia flower show 2013

And hyacinths and amaryllis!  I’ve never saw a pot this full. (the red is Pamela btw)

philadelphia flower show 2013

There were many many more, but I have a bias towards bulbs so sorry if you wanted foliage and cactus and more orchids.

One last display was this pot of yellow clivias.  This plant always screams fancy to me, but only because I grew up reading a White Flower Farm catalog which listed it.  The cost was somewhere in the area of $900 if I remember correctly, and I always thought of it as a houseplant holy grail.  I’m past that (maybe?) but I still think of yellow clivia growers as having some kind of social one up on me.

philadelphia flower show 2013

The shopping area was our last stop.  Lots of houseplant goodies, some excellent hardy plant displays and upscale garden knick knacks and the usual jewelry and art.  I almost bought a hellebore from the Linden Hill display, but thought twice of lugging the pot around.  I guess that will be a field trip for a later date.

philadelphia flower show 2013

So the trip was nice, we ate well at the Reading Terminal across the street, travel went smoothly, and the crowds weren’t too bad (for a Thursday).  That said it will be a few years before I want to return.  I like the springtime dose of gardening, but many of the show displays were silly fluff and there weren’t a ton of wow moments.  Am I being crabby?  Yes maybe, but it looks like the show is being geared up to a larger crowd and a broader interest range.  It’s working too since I believe they’re expecting somewhere over a quarter million visitors, but still I never like change… unless it was my idea.

So I better get back to gardening now that spring is in the air!

Philadelphia Flower Show Time

The signs of spring keep building.  A major one from last week was the return of turkey vultures to the skies above the valley.  I never really gave it much thought, but they are migratory and they do head back up north when things start to thaw out, so I guess they are a good sign of higher thermometer readings.  Them being vultures you can figure out on your own what it is that draws them back, but it’s not just flowers that appear when the snow recedes.
For a different dose of spring, a friend and I made a mid-week road trip down to the flower show.  This was the 185th show held by the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society and this year’s theme was “Brilliant” and had a British flair to it.

philadelphia flower show 2013

There was a music video show every hour on the Big Ben screen.  It was funky and modern and not what I was expecting, but its been a couple years since I was last to this show.  I was also surprised by all the cash bars (there’s one in the front left of the above photo) and snack stands sprinkled throughout the show.  Maybe it was geared for the evening visitors, but I saw plenty of afternoon beverages being served.  Made me wish for summer garden tours with a favorite beverage in hand, but being on a hard-core tour schedule, we opted out.

Florist displays were popular, table settings galore.  I do like a green/white theme.

philadelphia flower show 2013

or a nice flower thicket looming over the dinner table.

philadelphia flower show 2013

This one makes me think late night party with way too much wine.

philadelphia flower show 2013

I think this one was a bronze manufacturer out of England (not a florist).  Their display was a “Wonderland” theme.  I liked it!

philadelphia flower show 2013

That’s enough table settings, I prefer the little yardscapes much more.  Here are a couple I could see inspiring someone to do the same to their own place…. not me of course, I can barely keep up with the weeding and planting.

philadelphia flower show 2013

This is also take home worthy, even though there’s a bit too much “stuff” laying around (crap maybe?)… but to be honest I love having a bunch of interesting crap around!

philadelphia flower show 2013

I wish I could take better pictures, mine just doesn’t do this display justice.  View for this display goes through the gate, down a flower lined grass path, and continues through a brick potting shed, and out to another garden.  Nice plan and plants!

philadelphia flower show 2013

This one also appealed to me.  Probably not much to take home, although I do have a pair of disfunctional wheelbarrows, but I liked it.  There’s a nice wall-o-cabbage and other brassicas for a backdrop.

philadelphia flower show 2013

There were other great displays, but I won’t bore you with photos that get a little too far into the out of focus.  Last one for the post is a mailbox entry from under the sea.  The kids were impressed when they saw this picture, lets hope they don’t expect a mailbox overhaul at our own house.

philadelphia flower show 2013

Now it’s off to the ‘Horticourt” for individual plant entries!