Winter Disinterest

After what seems like the longest stretch of gloomy weather ever in all recorded time, the sun finally came out.  The cold came along with it, and that’s probably related, but it was worth it to see all that brightness again.  Walking across a frozen lawn with the sun on my face is something I’d been missing for the last few months as I’ve been more used to shuffling in order to keep from slipping in the muddy mess I’ve been calling a yard.  The sun also lifted some of the gloom and anxiety of all the earth-moving thats still going on behind the house.

industrial park

The lights of the industrial park seem to have caused a little state of emergency down at town hall, and apparently the mayor has declared that a wall must be built.  So far the wall is completely ineffective in stopping the lights, but we now have a big beautiful wall of dirt and of course that must be a great thing.  

Before this post turns into what looks like just another ‘woe is me’ update I want to say again I’m over it, and whatever happens happens.  I just want all this mess to be done so I can go back to tending my little plot in peace, and if that doesn’t work out we can always move.  In the meantime I’ll keep myself busy with regular runs into the construction zone to steal even more interesting rocks for the garden 🙂

garden stones

One of the dump trucks was rich in a bunch of relatively flat pieces of Pennsylvania bluestone.  You can never have enough stepping stones so of course I was pleased.  

This afternoon I was inspired by the sunshine and upgraded the little stone accents in the front foundation plantings with some heftier rocks.  It was easy enough to roll them around on the frozen soil, but the problem will come later when some planting I forgot all about sprouts up right where I dropped a 100 pound rock.

garden stones

I’ll move the rocks some once spring arrives, but in the meantime I already like being able to jump from stone to stone rather than step on every important sprout that I forget is there.

Those who like to point out the obvious will note that I should have used stepping stones rather than boulders if I was going to use them as stepping stones.  I’d say that’s a good point.

galanthus three ships

If you notice the big white bucket in the middle of the foundation plantings, and think you’re doing me a favor in cleaning it up, you’ll notice instead two foolishly early snowdrops sheltered underneath.  Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ usually set sails for Christmas, but here in the cold north the end of January is more likely, and I for one am relieved I haven’t killed them yet.

Honestly I was a little bored as I wandered about in the sun.  You can only haul so many rocks, I wasn’t dressed warmly enough to just sit in the sun, and even for me it’s still too early for any serious cleanup so pruning was about all I could think of.  I stood for maybe twenty minutes clipping dead leaves off the witch hazel.  The flower buds were just starting to open and although clipping individual dead leaves off a bush in January is possibly the most pointless thing to do, I did it.

-well actually I only did about half the bush before I got tired of it…

witch hazel pallida

Chinese witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’) just starting to open in the warm sun.

When you consider the usual barks and foliage that pass for winter interest in the northern zones I don’t get quite as excited as many gardeners do.  I appreciate them, but I’m more of a flower kind of guy, and the fact that I was able find a few blooms here in NE Pennsylvania in almost the middle of January, while temperatures hovered at just below freezing,  it made me pretty happy.

Of course a greenhouse would probably make me happy too, but for now I’m going to stick with adding more witch hazels.  Have a great week.

2018: Four Days Left and Finally a Sunny Day

The title may be an exaggeration, but it sure feels like the truth this year.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually all in favor of a well watered growing season, but this endless gloom is really wearing me down this year.  Fortunately the colder weather seems to have dried the air out a bit and although there are still plenty of storm systems creeping across the States it’s only tomorrow which seems to be a complete wash-out.  With that on the way I made a point of taking advantage of yesterday’s dry skies and sunny weather (and a Christmas holiday!) to labour outside a bit, and hopefully work off a few cookie-calories.

garden path stones

Stones were hauled out of the construction site next door and put to use in expanding a planting bed.

The hard work was hauling stones.  For those who garden on rocky mountainsides the idea of intentionally adding rocks to a yard might seem like nonsense but I love having them scattered around.  Big enough to sit on is perfect, flat enough to step on is also good enough.  This line of stepping stones will hopefully be ideal for muddy spring mornings spent looking too closely at sprouting snowdrops.

snowdrop noses galanthus

Speaking of snowdrops here are a few of the earliest sprouts.  Depending on how the winter goes we could have blooms coming on these by January, February, or March….  Earlier sounds nice, but the stress of later, damaging cold snaps is sometimes not worth it.

Even with a little sunshine, most everything is the garden is dull and bleak ‘winter interest’, and I guess if you’re taking a winter vow of poverty that’s fine but I prefer to see a little more interesting in my winter interest.  A move further south is out of the question, a massive greenhouse is out of the budget, but maybe a few fall blooming snowdrops will fit the bill.  This summer I finally planted my ‘Potter’s Prelude’ out in the open garden, and will now see how they take a full blown, in the garden winter.  Many have re-assured me they’ll be fine, but for now I’m committed to covering them ever time the weather sinks into the low 20’s.

galanthus potters prelude

Galanthus ‘Potters Prelude’.  This year they’re about a month late, undoubtedly I wasn’t the only one waiting for all the rain to stop.

We will see if much else still gets done during these lulls in winter.  I tried to warm up to the winter garden in the garage last week but maybe it’s still just too early and I’m still not quite as desperate as I will be when the snow flies, so for now I’ll still putter around outside.  In the meantime I hope the holidays are being enjoyed by all.  The countdown to 2019 has begun and I wish all of you nothing but the best for the new year!

It’s Never Too Late Until It’s Too Late

Last fall a friend mentioned wanting a few colchicums.  Normally I forget these things in the flurry of summer, but during a moment of sitting around laziness I asked if they still wanted to give them a try.  ‘Yes’ was the response, so with my word on the line I put down the drink and picked up the garden fork.

colchicum bulb

Colchicum corms.  These Colchicum byzantinum are some of the biggest I’ve seen, but word is they do that.  

Now is when you want to think about things like colchicums.  They’ll be flowering in another month and by the time you run them down and get them to your doorstep you’ll be cutting it close if you don’t get moving now.  More punctual gardeners have already done this last month, but I’m here to say you can still get it done.  I might have just gotten it done.  Maybe last week I ordered more even though I should have enough, I guess the next budget confession will tell…

colchicum bornmuelleri

Colchicum bornmuelleri flowering last September

I’ve posted on colchicums before and you’re more than welcome to look back on last September or do a search, but if you’re really serious give Cold Climate Gardening a visit.  Kathy Purdy is practically the Queen of Colchicums and her blog is an excellent resource for getting to know more about them.

In the meantime though, I suggest you think about snowdrops for a minute.  Last Wednesday Edgewood Gardens of Exton Pa sent out their bulb list, and since I of course already secured my order by Wednesday night, I thought now might be the time to generously offer others the chance as well.  To do so email Dr. John Lonsdale at info@edgewoodgardens.net for the list.  Even if you don’t buy, it’s still fun to see drops which have recently gone well over $1,500 a piece on Ebay offered for their first US sale… for a much lower price thank goodness.

garden snowdrops

I saw ‘Bill Bishop’ offered.  Here it is at center showing off its big fat flowers.

Just for the record, even though snowdrop purchases are exempt from budget reporting I did not try to order any of the $300 snowdrops.  I had a moment of fantasy while thinking about it, and they likely sold out during that moment, but until the kids stop requiring billions of dollars for back to school items I don’t think I’ll take that leap.

Have a great weekend regardless of where your budget takes you 🙂

A Little Cabin Fever

For a couple days it was warm and I quickly started a little cleanup and poked around feverishly to find every single sprouting snowdrop, but that was short-lived, and now it’s back to winter again and I’m just chomping at the bit.  The indoor winter garden has helped somewhat, and it’s probably a good idea to start off there with a few more hopeful signs of life such as my precious little primrose (Primula obconica), who is still going strong after nearly three months in flower.  Rather than this primrose becoming a one hit wonder, it’s produced two more flower stalks and the first one is still opening up new blooms.  It’s a beauty, but I may have forgotten to mention one of its common names…. poison primrose.  The name stems from the rash which sensitive skins may develop after contact with its foliage.  I find the scent of the foliage a bit yucky, but as far as rashes go it seems I’ve escaped any sensitivity issues.  That wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination though, since a quick poll around here would probably place me on the ‘insensitive’ end of the scale anyway.

primula obconica

Primula obconica from American Primrose Society seed, indoors under the workshop growlights.

I won’t bore you with every flower in bloom under the shoplights, but the geraniums must be sensing the slightly warmer temperatures and as a result are putting on more growth and sending up more flowers.  I’ll bore you with one photo, the lovely Pelargonium ‘Crystal Palace Salmon’, a healthy variegated geranium which doesn’t exactly look too salmony in the photo.

pelargonium crystal palace salmon

Pelargonium ‘Crystal Palace Salmon’, a flower which would make any geranium loving grandmother proud.

Obviously I’m getting into trouble with all this forced indoor time.  I’ve started several flats of seeds, started more and more succulent cuttings, and maybe feel that start-even-more-seeds compulsion creeping into the back of my head.  For budgeting purposes I’ll admit I ordered 40 packets of unnecessary seeds from the NARGS surplus seed round.  That set me back $14 so I’m quite all right confessing to that charge.

NARGS seed exchange

More seeds from the NARGS seed exchange.  Observant readers will add this to the 25 I had already ordered.

I’m trying all kinds of seeds again from generic annuals to obscure cacti to full sized forest trees.  There’s no question I don’t have a place in mind for nearly all of them but when has that ever been a concern?  I’m planting lotus seeds and am quite aware I have no pond to grow them in, but we’ll see what happens.  They have a long way to go before I need to worry about any space issues.

lotus seed

I wasn’t sure if I had sanded through the seed coat of these lotus seeds, so decided to crack one open for a look.  Who would have thought there would be a whole tiny lotus plant folded up inside! -and who would have thought the friggin seed coat (dark outer layer) would be so thick…

Nearly all the seed pots get a thin layer of chicken grit over the top and then go outside on the sidewalk to experience a little winter chill.  When things get warm enough they’ll sprout right up… and then need to deal with finding homes for everything.

poppy seedlings

The latest spell of warm weather has encouraged a few of the hardiest seeds to sprout.  Here are a few six packs of Opium poppies coming along.  they should be just fine as long as things don’t freeze up too solid.  The sheet of Reemay fabric protects them from the worst of the weather.

Back in February I thought we’d have plenty of time to post cheerful photos of spring beauty as it gently sprung into action and each flower followed the next, but then it snowed… and snowed… again…. and again….

snowdrops and winter aconite

Flashback to February with snowdrops and winter aconite opening up for the first of the warmer weather.

It’s still snowing.  Next week looks promising, but things have all got to thaw out again, and the earliest risers have to work out all their crushed stems and snow flattened flowers.  Hopefully by the time that happens there’s still enough energy left in them to put on a show.

snowdrops and winter aconite

More snowdrops, the green tipped ‘Viridapice’ and short ‘Sophie North’.

In the meantime I’ll stay inside and try to avoid driving everyone nuts with the amount of time I spend staring out windows and brushing aside snow looking for survivors.

sprouting lotus

I just assumed I had killed the cracked open lotus seed, but four days later it’s actually starting to grow!

At least the bird feeder is entertaining.  I was ready to call it a year and send the birds on their way, but then snow returned, covered everything up, and I got that guilty feeling.  Once I topped the feeders off the regular crew was quite happy, but they had to make a little room for the returning grackles, starlings, and red-winged blackbirds.  They’re a noisy bunch but fortunately filming through the glass spares you from most of their metallic squawks.

Hopefully the farmers out there aren’t too upset with me encouraging these blackbird pests, but I’ve always considered them just as much a sign of spring as robins and the first crocus.  Well actually the return of turkey vultures is also something I consider ‘springy’, but most people are far less entertained by the return of huge carrion-feeding birds which follow the thawing roadkill north…

May your week be enjoyable and carrion-free, and hopefully warmer and less-snowy than here 🙂

$14 for 40 packets of surplus NARGS seed exchange seed

$332 total so far for the 2018 gardening year.

Galanthus Gala 2018

I’m officially a terrible historian.  This past Saturday’s Galanthus Gala in Downingtown PA was all about people and plants and I barely got photographs of either.  I shopped, I talked, I wandered, but the camera stayed off and remained tucked away in my bag.  My apologies of course, but if you were there I think you’d understand.  There were so many distractions. (give Facebook a search with ‘Downington Galanthus Gala’ and you’ll find plenty of photos!)

david culp snowdrops

David Culp welcomes the crowd shortly after opening.  I can guess the time because there are still plants left on most of the tables… well that and there’s a clock on the wall.

It felt like a much bigger event this year with lectures, food sales, and more vendors, but it was still easy to pick up on that gathering of friends vibe that last year had.  In between pondering new plant purchases I spend nearly all the rest of the day catching up with old and new gardening friends.  Seemed appropriate since the venue for the Gala is the >Downingtown Friends Meeting<, a location with an over 200 year tradition of gatherings.  Many of you will better recognize the Friends under a name more commonly used, the Quakers.

Downingtown Friends Meeting

Downingtown Friends Meeting.  As I understand it ‘A meeting’ is a local group within the Friends, similar to a church, mosque or synagogue, but for Quakers.

Although most people might consider the Quakers to be a footnote in American history, they are alive and well here as they enter their third century in Downingtown, and continue to welcome all faiths each Sunday into their vision of spirituality.

We express our faith through our beliefs in simplicity, integrity, equality, stewardship, and peace. We invite people of all faiths, backgrounds, and lifestyles to worship with us in seeking a spiritual path

John lonsdale edgewood gardens

Dr John Lonsdale of Edgewood Gardens leads a talk on one of his favorite subjects, hardy cyclamen.  It was a great Day for presentations, with additional talks by Matthew Bricker and Rick Goodenough on snowdrop propagation and the variety of snowdrops.

I did nerd out a little being in the company of so many distinguished plant experts.  There were plantsmen(plantspeople?), authors, designers, experts, and a mix of all of the above, but other than the people I’ve already pushed myself upon I really only cornered one new person.  Charles Cresson was someone I spotted at last year’s gala yet didn’t have the nerve to approach, but this year with premeditated intent, I cornered him for a signature on something I’ve held on to for the last thirty years.  Charles is a horticulturalist who’s reputation spans decades in the Philadelphia area and who’s garden Hedgleigh Spring is internationally known for it’s design and contents.  I couldn’t exactly say why I wanted him to sign the Dec 1988 Horticulture magazine issue which showcased his garden, but I asked him anyway and he was very gracious to do so.  He even humored me as I went on too long about how impressed this teenager had been back then, and how today I’m proud to grow plants which grew from seed he had donated to the Hardy Plant Society over the years.

I told you I was a nerd.

charles cresson

Dug up out of the basement and brought down to Downingtown for a signature.  Thanks Mr. Cresson.

Of course the Gala ended too soon.  Tables cleared out and had a picked over look within the first few hours, and by the end of the event there was barely a hellebore to be seen.  They had to turn off the music and turn up the lights to get me out of there but eventually I got the hint and loaded up the car for the ride home.  It was still light out though.  How could I leave horticultural ground zero before every last bit of light was gone?  I decided to swing by a local park where I knew there were naturalized bulbs.

naturalized leucojum vernum

Naturalized Leucojum vernum (spring snowflake) slightly beaten down by the recent snows but ready to rise again.

The trip over to the park had me questioning my decision.  Heavy snow and winds the day before had left a series of power outages and fallen trees along the route, and even though the sun was shining there were still enough road closures and downed powerlines to make me wonder if a turn to the interstate might not have been a better choice.  I was committed though.  My commitment was official after I reached a large pine that had fallen over the road yet was caught up in the electrical wires on the other side of the street.  A person can’t hit the gas and zip under a hanging tree just to turn around on the other side, so from that point on I new I was unstoppable.  So close yet so far, imagine the words which came out of my mouth when I found the road leading to the park blocked by a fallen tree and strung with caution tape…. argh.  Fortunately a slight detour and approach from the other side got me close enough to get in.

galanthus gala 2018

The haul.  Snowdrops of course, but also species peonies, cactus cuttings, cyclamen, and two pots of Hippeastrum ‘Timothy Calkins’.

I guess it’s now that I should admit I didn’t buy nearly as many snowdrops as you might expect.  Two is all I purchased, but the trades and gifts were exceptional!  What did surprise me was that I came home with two species peonies at a time when all I’m thinking about is spring bulbs.  Who knew?  Even worse is they’re dormant so in all appearances what I came home with is two pots of expensive gravel.  I’ll pass on trying to explain that one to the spouse since I made the amateur mistake of leaving the tags in.

snowy bird feeder

My end of Pennsylvania is no longer snowdrop-ready.  Better get more birdfood, I didn’t bother filling it last week when things were all sun-shiny and spring…

The Gala was my ‘cheat day’, so not a single dollar spent counts towards the budget but I still have to consider what to do with the witch hazel that I may have committed to buying… or the variegated Japanese solomon seals which I’m still considering.

In any case, please join me in all this considering.  Two vendors seemed to still have a few snowdrops left over and if you’re interested in a few starter varieties (or worse) you can easily send either or both an email.  Just out of curiosity of course.  Matthew Bricker (matt_bricker at hotmail dot com) or my friend Paula (pooter926 at gmail dot com) both might have a few leftovers they’d rather sell than replant, and what’s the harm in asking?

Have a great week.  We’re still under about six inches of snow with at least as much predicted for Wednesday, so spring seems far off again, but I hope your weather results will vary.  At least the sun is wonderfully strong all around 🙂

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!

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 🙂