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 🙂

Boom. Spring.

Last week we dipped down to some of the lowest temperatures of the winter, but this week it’s spring.  I’m not complaining.  We’ve been losing close to six inches of snow a day and this afternoon I came home to an almost cleared snowdrop bed along the East facing side of the house.  I’m sure those of you in warmer climes are rolling your eyes at yet another snowdrop post, but I’m thrilled 🙂

snowdrops emerging from snow

Snowdrops opening even before the snow has a chance to melt. They’re as anxious for spring as I am!

I think it was sometime in January when I last saw bare earth here, and back then only one or two snowdrop noses were barely poking through the surface.  Somehow they must have their own clocks and somehow must work their way up through the frozen soil.  Hard to think of plants as something more than just cold-blooded victims of winter, but there was some kind of growth going on here in the frozen soil under the icy snow and I’m very grateful for it!

Do I detect a thaw?

Longer days and stronger sunshine doesn’t necessarily mean it’s springtime.  Warmer weather and a lack of snowstorms means spring to me, and since we’re 0-2 on that front, this weekend’s forecast of almost normal weather gives me some hope that the snow may eventually melt.  My fingers are crossed that the receding snow will reveal healthy snowdrop sprouts, and in the front bed along the foundation this might be true.  This bunch has come along since the last time it was uncovered (Jan 13th), but it’s still far behind last year’s bloom date of Jan 31st.  Still it amazes me that even under feet of snow and temperatures down to 0F (-18C) they continue to grow, disregarding the frozen soil and surrounding ice.snowdrops and snow

Indoors is a different story.  The forced snowdrops are at their peak, and I regret giving them the cold shoulder in my last post.forced galanthus

There’s plenty of variation in bloom shape, plant height, and color and pattern of the green markings inside.  I’m quite pleased all over again and it makes me even more excited the ones outside might someday open!forced galanthus elwesii

A better gardener would keep track of their favorites, and carefully plant them out for observation…. but I’m just fine with big patches of anonymous white.  If there are a few real special ones I can separate them out, but we’ll see what happens once they have a chance to grow outside in the real garden.  The pale drops are nice, but the dark green markings such as this one also look interesting once open. snowdrops forced indoors

This one has such a stumpy, stout stem (but small bloom) that it really contrasts with the daintier one to the lower right of this photo.strong stem on galanthus

Having potted up all 200 of my bulbs for growing indoors, there are pots all over.  I might have gone a bit overboard since usually the windowsills are reserved for post-bloom hangout until things warm up enough to go outside.snowdrops on windowsill

I’ve been pollinating away, so hopefully there will be a few snowdrop seeds to start this summer.  My fingers are crossed since it looks like the sprouts I had coming along with so much promise in January all died during the last couple arctic blasts.

There’s a different kind of hope though.  Birds are singing in the sunshine in a way not heard since last spring, and this little guy was spotted rooting around under the feeder.  He’s not a mouse or vole, but a little half-blind shrew.  I’ve never seen one out (alive) but this guy let me take his close-up from about 12 inches away while he burrowed around in the seed hulls looking for bugs and whatnot.  He’s an interesting guy, one of only a few poisonous mammals (their saliva is toxic enough to kill a similar sized animal), and their hyperactive lifestyle has them eating nearly their entire weight in food each day.  They’re also a little stinky, which we discovered last fall when an opening in the foundation let a couple into the basement. shrew at feeder

Stay out by the feeder is all I have to say… that and have a great weekend!

Daylight savings time

During daylight savings time I’m not entirely sure where all the saved light goes, but after getting to work in the dark and leaving in the dark, I’d like to pretend a little shows up in my winter garden.  Ok, winter garden is a pretty fancy label for my shoplight in the back of the garage but in a family that calls the vegetable garden “the farm” and one apple tree “the orchard”, it makes sense.  I cleaned things up a little with a plastic liner and gravel base and I’m more pleased than ever.  My only complaint is I should have used a sand base to place the pots on, a sort of ‘sand plunge’ that would distribute the watering better.  Looks like that’s the plan for next year.winter garden under lights

Things seem late, maybe because of the cold spells or my late setup and start-of-watering, but from the looks of things it should pick up soon.  More of the cyclamen coum are sending up blooms including the darker ‘Meaden’s Crimson”potted cyclamen coumThis is my current favorite though.  It’s got a nice pink shade that darkens around the petal edges giving almost a bicolor effect.cyclamen coum under lights The seedlings from last winter are also recovering well from my neglect.  For about the first year of their lives these cyclamen hederifolium will grow quickly sending up new and larger leaves if kept cool and watered with a little fertilizer.  Once they get past a certain point, around their first birthday, they either get too big or get too old (I’m not sure) and no amount of light, water, cool or warm will keep them actively growing through the winter.  They just sit there until warmer weather and drought bring on dormancy.  In this batch of seedlings I like the silver leaf in the center with it’s slight pink tinge.  Maybe it will hold onto this as it grows, but I’ve seen other babies play this trick and it never lasts.cyclamen hederifolium from seed

More snowdrops are coming into bloom.  I don’t think any of these are galanthus woronowii (like the label said) since they just don’t have the glossy green leaves that they should, but the blooms are welcome anyway.forced snowdrops

The first of many Van Engelen clearance sale bulbs are blooming.  I can’t hold them back any more!  It’s difficult to tell from the picture but these are barely half the size of the others.  Still nice though as more snow falls outside.potted snowdropsI have a birthday coming up.  I’m considering gifting myself two more shoplights rather than endlessly wishing for a greenhouse.  It’s not quite the same but it’s a start!

disclaimer: I guess daylight savings time is technically the summer time change, but just like I’m desperate for sun I was also desperate for a title 🙂

winter reading

I’m trying to get through all these mail order catalogs.  Over the years I’m getting better but there are still only a few that I right out throw to the trash.  Michigan Bulb and Burgess are two that go on the fast track to recycling…. maybe a reincarnation as toilet paper or anything else more useful than their current state.  The rest all stand half a chance on the growing pile of winter reading material.

If you’re considering a first time order from a new-to-you company, always take the time to check out the garden watchdog at Dave’s Garden. I’m not saying their reviews are the final word on any company, but if 90% percent of the posts are complaints…. well at least you’ll know where to find plenty of company when you end up with a bad experience.

My regulars (a mix of lower prices combined with quality offerings) are Pinetree Garden Seeds, Santa Rosa gardens, Jungs(so-so reviews so be careful), Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, and Fedco Seeds. If the budget was bigger I would add Song Sparrow Farms, Forestfarm, Rarefind nursery, the Lily Garden, Oakes…. they are all worth the extra money for the quality of their offerings, but a budget is a budget.

winter 2013 013 The rain and warmth of yesterday following the near zero temperatures of last week are giving us a roller coaster of a winter.  The snowdrops are on their own schedule though, and the first one is officially up today.  Galanthus elwesii in case you’re wondering.

The inch of snow must have been enough protection for this drop.  In another more exposed spot, the plants look more like snow-drips.  Hopefully they will live to bloom another year.

Also open for the first time today, but less photogenic, is the “pallida” witch hazel."pallida" witch hazel