Darn Leap Year

Even though most of the long range forecasts hinted at a shift to colder weather, I’m 99% sure it’s because of the leap year.   I haven’t filled in all the gaps in my new theory but Saturday was much colder than I think we deserved and I bet it would have been a much nicer day if it were March 1st rather than February 29th…. unless that’s not the case.  Come to think of it February wasn’t all that bad this year, with a couple days in the 50’s and plenty in the 40’s to counteract the odd 4 degree night.  Much warmer than normal and practically snow-free, and that made for some wonderfully early snowdrop visits.

galanthus rodmarton arcturus regulus

‘Rodmarton Arcturus’ to the left of ‘Rodmarton Regulus’.  Two stand out snowdrops in a stand out NY snowdrop collection.

First on the list was a visit to an open garden on Long Island NY.  I was in the area to visit my parents and with beautiful sunshine and warm weather in the forecast it just made sense to drag mom out to look at drops.  Dad has learned his lesson on previous colder visits so he wisely stayed home, but even he would have enjoyed the location and warmth.

long island snowdrop garden

The garden’s host leading a group around to admire the drops.    

This is the same garden my friend Paula and I visited last year (nearly a month later btw), and this visit made me realize how spoiled were were the first time.  We had our host nearly all to ourselves that time, and all the stories and tips and conversation made the time fly by too quickly.  This time even though we had to share him with the other groups flowing through, we were still able to catch a glimpse of several treasures and check out what the new season brought.

galanthus joe spotted

Galanthus ‘Joe Spotted’ was looking much finer than my overexposed photos show.  Pity that we were forced to endure such strong sunshine and warm breezes during our visit.

This garden has clump after clump of rare and special snowdrops, so it takes a while to inch through the plantings, but as we got around to the end the healthy clumps of “wild” ‘viridapice’ scattered all through the hedges and shrubbery reminded me that the tried and true also has incredible value.

galanthus viridipice

Patches of Galanthus ‘Viridipice’ around the garden’s edges.  

Come to think of it I may have to order a few more ‘viridapice’ this year when I send in my wish list.  Earlier orders are well on their way to clumping up here and if you’d like to do the same, check under sources on my snowdrop page for the owner’s email address.

winter beach long island

It’s a shame to be less than a mile from the ocean and not stop by.  I miss the winter beach.  

For as pleasant and warm as our February snowdrop visit was, the fake February visit I made yesterday was a far different experience.  On a day which should have been March I set off to the Philly area to meet with my friend Paula for our traditional snowdrop tour.  Cold it was.  And windy.  It was ridiculous to stand out in the wind and cold for nearly three hours but we did, and I’m not sure who was to blame.

winter garden northeast

The garden looked March-ish with witch hazels, snowdrops, and hellebores.  The green of winter aconite looked awfully fresh for a day hovering just above freezing.

Normally Paula and I have much more adventurous spring snowdrop agendas but this year she abandoned me to take on a big overseas adventure in the UK amongst more ancient and vast snowdrop gardens.  Just catching up on that alone took most of the afternoon!

leucojum vernum

Spring snowflakes (Leucojum vernum) and some yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) carpet the mossy ground under the central cherry tree.

The garden was filled with enough other distractions to compete with the trip stories.  Snowdrops are nice but the hellebores were also coming up all over, and the mix of colors made me grateful there are plenty of fantastic gardens on this side of the Atlantic as well.

winter hellebores and snowdrops

A real winter garden with awesome hellebores and snowdrops seeding and sprouting everywhere.

I also had an experience which shook me a bit.  There’s a leafy evergreen perennial called the Japanese sacred lily (Rohdea japonica) and although some people go absolutely nuts for them, paying thousands of dollars for special forms, I have remained entirely immune to any desire to grow them.  Then I saw Paula’s.  It was kinda nice.

winter hellebores and snowdrops

More snowdrops and hellebores plus a nice clump of Rohdea japonica.  Hmmmm.

I’ll have to be careful the next time I’m around Edgewood Gardens.  John Lonsdale has a nice variety of them scattered across his hillside and what harm could a second look do, but in the meantime let’s think about cheaper plants.  Galanthus worowonii is a species snowdrop which can be had for a few bucks a bag and in general is nice enough, but not much of a bloomer for me.  Then I saw a nice bunch at Paula’s.  Out of all the many goodies this is the one I was interested in, and I think you’ll see why.

galanthus woronowii

A good blooming, nicely formed Galanthus woronowii on the right, and a regular one on the left.  As you would expect most of what I have in my garden are leafy and floppy like the ones on the left.

So now I’m thinking of more unnecessary plants to try,  Might as well add another.  Winter jasmine (Jasmine nudiflorum) is a floppy, messy, wanna-be shrub that sometimes identifies as a vine.  Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s as fragrant as its cousins (it’s not), but it is a surprisingly floriferous late winter bloomer that doesn’t mind freezing more than it thaws.  I see it listed as hardy to zone 6, so I may poke a stem in here (it roots easily wherever a stem touches down) and give it a global warming try.

winter jasmine

Winter jasmine artfully slung over the perfect boulder.  I’m sure it takes a little trimming to keep in check, but the effect is worth it.

Hmmmm.  It seems like I’ve mentioned quite a few new things to try out this year, and there have only been two garden visits so far.  Luckily it’s March and even though the month is a day late in coming, flipping the calendar means one really important thing which you may or may not know about.  It’s the month of official snowdrop events, and next Saturday, March 7th is David Culp’s Galanthus Gala.  From 10-3 Downington Pa shall transform into the epicenter of rare snowdrop sales, hellebore offerings, uncommon plants, and a celebration of all types of plant nerdery in general.  Alan Street of Avon Bulbs will be offering two lectures and I suspect many plants will find new homes that day.  Admission is free, but pre-sale entry and the lectures will require ticket purchase.  All the cool kids will be there and hopefully I can sneak in as well.

Hope you have an excellent week.  March does have its benefits, and hopefully one of them is warming temperatures.  Not an insignificant point since it took me about 8 hours to warm up again after trying to pull off a garden visit in Fake February.

You Call That A Cleanup?

So here we are in late January and winter still hasn’t put up much of a fight.  I fought the urge last time and took the Christmas lights down instead, but this weekend’s rain and above freezing weather was too much and it broke me down.  The snowdrops are coming up all over the front foundation beds and of course I need to see them clearly… plus the ski season stinks.

late winter garden cleanup

This is the after picture, and is probably as good as cleanup gets for this bed.  The keenest eyes may spot a few snowdrops 🙂 

I have a tendency to do my spring cleanups early but this winter you barely know if it’s a really late fall job or if this already qualifies as spring.  Time will tell.  One thing you can be sure of is that my need to tidy up every last stray leaf and twig has evaporated as I get older.  Older and wiser maybe?  The leaves disappear quickly as new sprouts come up and hide them, and they’re small enough that they break down into the soil again before summer is too far along.  If they were bigger and tougher leaves like oak or sycamore I’d rake them off and run over them with the mower before throwing them back on the beds, but they’re not and that makes for a quick tidying up.  The twigs and stems and cut back hellebore leaves were carted off to the back yard,  I didn’t want to attract too much attention running them through the mower in January since I just recently made fun of my neighbor for doing the same.

overwintering lettuce

Verbena bonariensis and lettuce seedlings, both surviving the cold just fine.  It will be interesting to see what all makes it through the winter this year… assuming we don’t get slammed in March.

Maybe I’ll run all the trimmings through the mower in February.  The ten day forecast shows a dip in to the teens and then another warming trend through Groundhog Day and beyond, so early February doesn’t look any more promising for snowy slopes than January was.  I’ll try to cope 😉

Snowdropping 2019

Better late than never… and although Paula and I did meet up for a February greenhouse tour of snowdrops, that visit was a far cry from our traditional all-day snowdrop adventure.  Fortunately we were able to get one in.  This trip was a check off the bucket list, and it involved a four hour drive in a completely different direction,  with us getting out of the car just short of the Eastern tip of Long Island, NY.  Understandably my wife told us several times we were crazy (although she did use slightly different terms).

galanthus david baker

Treasures tucked in under the shade of a southern magnolia.  Galanthus ‘David Baker’ sits next to what I think is a golden variegated sweet flag (Acoris gramineus ‘Ogon’).

We had been hoping to visit this garden for a few years now, and the more sane version started with me heading East for a visit with my parents, Paula driving out the night before, a one hour ride to the garden in the morning, and then wherever the weekend leads after that.  Of course other obligations interfered and once again the plan didn’t work out, but our host was exceptionally accommodating and so was the weather, so tally-ho!

snowdrop garden

Snowdrops were peppered everywhere in this mostly sunny garden.  Our host kind of confessed he’s pushing several hundred cultivars, so ‘everywhere’ does end up being a necessity!

This was the garden of a true galanthomaniac but still remarkably balanced.  Roses, perennials, evergreen plantings, interest for all seasons but still space for tons of galanthus!

galanthus green tip richard ayres

Not the best photo, but I do like galanthus ‘Green Tip Richard Ayres’.  I like it a lot.

This is a garden where the majority of snowdrops were planted in pond pots, a plastic mesh pot used for aquatic plants, but also embraced by serious snowdrop growers as a way to cram tons of cultivars into a small plot yet still be able to lift and divide and find bulbs easily.  Even when the dormant bulbs show nothing above ground.  It makes a lot of sense and the results do speak for themselves.

galanthus godfrey owen lady beatrix stanley little ben

The shade of conifers is usually not good at all for spring bulbs, but on the edge of a sunny lawn with just a few sheltering boughs above, galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’, ‘Lady Beatrix Stanley’, ‘Little Ben’ and others, are all quite happy.

Although I won’t use the word obsessive, this is absolutely a collector’s garden with a careful inventory and organized labeling and placing.  You kind of need that when the numbers start adding up.  The plantings may appear to spread casually throughout the garden but you will notice (even faster when your host points it out) that there’s another brilliant quirk of order.  From one area to the next, all the plantings are organized alphabetically.  ‘Dodo Norton’ follows ‘Danube Star’ while ‘Dracott Greentip’ sits just to the right.  It would make an OCD heart sing 🙂

galanthus natalie garton chris sanders

Galanthus ‘Natalie Garton’ (aka ‘Chris Sanders’) soaking up the March sun at the edge of the rose garden.  Note the brown label off to the right, that’s our host’s sign that this clump is marked for digging, dividing, and sale(!) this summer.

I’m going to guess that years ago this gardener realized that when collecting, you can only really hold on to so many of any given cultivar.  You can also only trade and give away so many, so for several years our host has taken to offering a few (actually quite a few) each year for sale.  I’m going to foolishly direct you to >my snowdrop page< for contact information (scroll down about halfway to ‘snowdrop sources’ and you’ll see him listed by name)… although the selfish side of me is hoping you don’t beat me out to my favorites, and leave me with the leftovers since it sells out fast.  While you’re requesting a list you may also wish to ask him about getting email updates from his annual UK trip each spring.  It’s a fun narrative of an A list of snowdrop events and personalities from overseas, and will help you steel through the last few weeks until our own season takes off.

snowdrop garden

Round the house another garden filled with snowdrops 😉

I’m sparing you from most of the endless stream of individual photos, but there was one more snowdrop which really stood out for me.  Under the pergola a monster clump of elwesii caught my eye even from across the garden.  Well over a foot high, with wonderfully large flowers that still held a classic grace, this was one more snowdrop for my growing list of favorites.  I don’t know what the plans are for this one, but I made sure to drop plenty of hints that I’d like to be on the waiting list!

Galanthus elwesii under the pergola. Sorry about the lighting, but as you know I’m more enthusiastic than skilled.

I hope I pre-warned our host sufficiently that we would surely overstay our welcome, but even after two hours plus of garden wandering he still graciously extended us an invitation for tea.

snowdrop garden

Our host wisely excused himself midway to get some inventorying done while we photographed, but we found him anyway and the warm shelter of the juniper hedge made for a perfect spot to enjoy snowdrops and sun while talking galanthus.

I love a late winter garden visit where the sun is strong and the lawn is dry, and it’s ok to just sit there and take it all in.  Of course the close up quarters to so many snowdrops added a few more favorites to the list, but what I really enjoy is hearing the stories and getting the advice and coming up with new plans.  We were really spoiled on this trip 🙂

galanthus bernard rohlich

Ok.  One more, Galanthus ‘Bernard Rohlich’.  Note the brown label, hopefully my budget can handle this one!

So finally it was inside for tea, which we probably overstayed as well, and then out the door.  Our host was still kind enough to offer us more garden-wandering time but a long drive home was hanging over our heads.  We headed out to the car but not before one last pause to admire all the galanthus ‘viridapice’ clumping throughout the garden.  If I remember correctly these were the drops which started most of the obsession in this garden.  A pack of bulbs simply marked ‘snowdrops’, and thirty years later (and a lot of luck to get such a nice form of viradapice in that pack!) and the garden has drops all over.

galanthus viridapice

Just one of many, many healthy clumps of galanthus ‘viridapice’ growing throughout the hedges and woodland plantings of the garden.

After we said our goodbyes we began the journey back west.  Of course there was a side-trip.  With 40 minutes to go till closing we popped into the Bayard Cutting Arboretum for a quick run through the snowdrop highlights of this former estate, present day NY State park.  It’s an old manor house property which dates back to the late 1880’s and recalls Long Island’s history as an escape for the rich and famous of NYC.

bayard cutting arboretum

“Westbrook” overlooking the Connetquot river and estuary as it leads out to the Great South Bay on Long Island’s South Shore.

This arboretum was one of my favorite off season destinations while growing up.  The coastal air and sun would usually keep the walkways clear of snow and ice, and the pinetum plantings and many paths and trails were always a nice outing.  Since I’ve already mentioned I was a little weird as a child, I don’t think it will surprise anyone that I knew where many a snowdrop patch was located.

naturalized snowdrops galanthus

Naturalized snowdrops (galanthus nivalis) filling in amongst the vinca minor.

We were quite satisfied with this stop.  Not to date myself but over the decades many a change has come through here.  Hurricane Gloria in ’85 was probably the worst when it wiped out an awesome hundred year old conifer collection and closed the park for months, but saltwater flooding from Sandy in 2012 seems to have done in my favorite patch of giant snowdrops (g.elwesii).  Still it’s a wonderful spot which I’m happy to see protected and accessible.

bayard cutting arboretum

A maintenance moneypit I’m sure, but the Tudor style with awesome shingling and crazy chimneys puts the approaching worm supermoon to shame.

But even our epic adventures have to heed reality, so back on the road to drop Paula off at her car and then part our ways.  I still got a couple hours in with my parents (and of course a garden tour!) before hitting the road but it was still a satisfyingly long day even with the late night drive home.  I will recommend it to all crazy galanthoholics 😉

Thanks again to our host for a very enjoyable visit, thanks Paula, and here’s to hoping our latest drop of snow (the real thing, not flowery kind) melts quickly and I can get out again and enjoy the snowdrops here.  Have a great weekend!

Like the Little Train That Could

I have faith in March this year.  I think he’s a changed month and there will be none of the shenanigans he usually throws our way in terms of weather extremes and spring crushing snow loads.  I think.

snowdrops and winter aconite

Up by the shelter of the front porch, this clump of snowdrops and winter aconite are always first in bloom… even if for only a few hours between snow melts…

It’s only just the first week of course, and this optimism is based entirely on the few hours between Saturday’s snowfall melting off, the sun coming out, above freezing temperatures for just three or so hours, and then the next snowstorm rolling in Sunday afternoon.  I was quick to run out though and take a few pictures while the flowers were also feeling optimistic.

hamamelis diane

I went ahead (perhaps foolishly) and planted out the new witch hazels in whatever decent, unfrozen, spots I could find.  This is ‘Diane’ crammed into a spot close to the street.

Most of the garden is still fully winter, but if I crop out the patches of snow and focus on the few patches of early snowdrops, winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), and witch hazels, well I guess you can have a little hope for spring.

hamamelis barmstedt gold

Hamamelis ‘Barmstedt Gold’ a little further down the border with the earliest snowdrops to appear in the open garden.  ‘Gerard Parker’ is the name of the snowdrop in case you’re wondering, and yes, I still need to do a little cleanup here…

This is the time of year which consists of me shuffling back and forth between the same few spots and poking and prodding every last shoot in an attempt to get them to sprout faster.  I doubt it helps, but on a “warmer” day I’m out there way more than the weather deserves and I’m sure it rolls some eyes.  My neighbor refers to it as ‘you’re out taking pictures of dirt again, aren’t you’ season, and that always reminds me that I should really find a more private spot in the backyard to raise these plants.

galanthus diggory wendys gold

Also in front amongst the shelter of the foundation plantings, galanthus ‘Diggory’ is just coming in to  bloom with ‘Wendy’s Gold’ behind.

The thrill was short-lived.  We ended up with about six inches and although it’s pretty and not all that cold I won’t be sharing any of those pictures.  Im huddling indoors and for my plant-fix it’s back to the snow-free, yet underwhelming winter garden in the rear of the garage.

growing under lights

The last of the woodshop nonsense is finally out of this area and I’m making it 100% plants.  Nothing too exciting going on, but new seeds and cuttings are exciting enough for me, and I’ll show more of that in time. 

So just a couple more days and I’m sure March will be showing his more personable side.  I don’t think I’m asking for too much, just no hailstorms or blizzards this year please.

On a side note, this upcoming weekend (Saturday, March 9th) marks the third annual Galanthus Gala, hosted by David Culp of Downingtown Pennsylvania.  This event is sure to thrill snowdrop lovers and plant lovers in general, and is normally one of the highlights of my late winter snowdrop-a-thon.  Alas this year I cannot attend, and the thoughts of missing out on seeing friends and browsing sales tables and talking gardens would have me depressed if I happened to dwell on it too long, so I won’t.  I will just recommend that you should go if you can, stop by, rub elbows with the garden obsessed from the US and beyond, sit in for a few talks, and maybe leave with a few new goodies.  I hear that besides a healthy supply of snowdrops and such, there will be even more hellebores and also a nice haul of witch hazels this year.  Perhaps my wallet will appreciate missing out on more witch hazels but I’m going to be a little crabby about that for a while.

In any case, all the best for March and have a great week!

A Return to Edgewood

In hindsight the weather could have been better for the two hour plus drive down there, but when you’re matching up three busy calendars you sometimes just get what you get.  Fortunately for the most mountainous part of the drive the bulk of the snow hadn’t yet arrived, and for the flatter portions the thermometer was beginning to rise.  At least it was pretty to look at…. I guess…

witch hazel diane

A slow, careful walk up the icy drive gave plenty of time to admire the witch hazels.  I believe this is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’.

We really had to squeeze this visit in because John Lonsdale, Edgewood Garden’s proprietor, was busy loading up trays and packing the truck for the Pine Knot Hellebore festival in Virginia which kicks off this weekend and then runs for the next three.  Lucky you if you’re close enough to visit, but for now the seven and a half hour drive is more than I’m willing to consider… you never know though.  It’s on the bucket list.  >click here< for exact dates and locations of this and other Edgewood sales events.

hardy cyclamen foliage

Cyclamen ready to hit the road.  Such awesome foliage you almost forget they also cover themselves with bloom, C. maritimum on the left wouldn’t be hardy for me, but I could easily pick out at least four or five of the C. hederifolium to the right and they’d do just fine here in the mountains 🙂

My friend Paula met up with us and we had a great morning looking at and talking about just about any and all snowdrop nuances you could think of.  Then we talked about cyclamen.  As usual I overstayed my welcome.

John lonsdale Paula Squitiere

John and Paula working their way through the G. plicatus section of snowdrops.

I honestly intended to take pictures of some of the latest and greatest hybrids and named sorts and share the photos here, but I really do get a little overwhelmed when hit with the variety of species John grows.  If you’d like a more focused report I’d recommend clicking >here< to read the recent Washington Post article on Edgewood Gardens and some of John’s work with several of the rarest snowdrop sorts.

galanthus gracilis

Just one of the many pots which made me say “oh look at this one, I like that too”.  I believe these were all G. gracilis seedlings.

Of course I like galanthus for the flowers as much as anyone else, but for some reason the varied foliage of the snowdrops had me distracted on this visit.

galanthus gracilis

Curly thin foliage, flat wide foliage with a grey tint, wide apple green…  This photo shows some of the range in Galanthus foliage.  G. gracilis mostly but also a few other species such as G. plicatus and G. ikariae subsp. snogerupii…. a name which I can never resist saying 🙂

I think it’s a bad sign that I now know the names of more than three or four snowdrop species…

galanthus ikarie

Various pots of Galanthus ikarie seedlings.  Such nice foliage, some big flowers here and there, and even one with a nice flush of green on the petal tips.

There weren’t just a few species.  I asked which ones in particular he had growing in the greenhouses and his response was just “all of them”.  It was very cool to see, but even that was overshadowed by the thousands of snowdrop seedlings coming up on nearly every spare shelf or extra rack.

galanthus seedlings

Future snowdrop flowers.

The incredible diversity of species coming along is staggering but before I was even able to get myself grounded again it was off to the next greenhouse to check in on some hardy cyclamen.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum filling the bench with an exceptional range of forms and colors.

I took this visit as an opportunity to correct the severe lack of cyclamen coum which my indoor garden is dealing with this winter.  For those who need to know, my budget only allowed me to pick four new ones, so you needn’t worry that I made a huge dent in his offerings.

cyclamen coum porcelain

Cyclamen coum ‘Porcelain’, a nicely striped special strain he had coming along, as well as a particularly dark form below it.

Speaking of budgets, since last year was such a success in restraint and control, I’ve decided to leave off on a good note and never mention tracking my gardening costs again.  It seems almost pointless to worry about a few dollars here and there when I’m faced each month with writing the checks to put a ten year old girl through gymnastics.  All my gardening budget is now officially part of my health care budget, and that would be mental health specifically.  Spending money on the garden will hopefully distract me from the endless drain of money going towards filling birthday cards and financing icecream shoppes and filling the belly of a twelve year old boy who always seems inches from famine.

eranthis orange glow

Another Edgewood offering this year, ‘Orange Glow’ winter aconite (Eranthis hiemalis).  I could have easily added a few of these to my order, but have to keep faith that my little seedling from a previous year is still just waiting to show itself.

As long as we’re talking about the budget I wasn’t going to talk about, I might as well admit this visit wasn’t all just the usual me inviting myself over to look at plants.  John has put out a spring listing of plants and I may have needed to pick up a few snowdrops as well as my new cyclamen.  It can be found >here< and although I did save on shipping by picking up directly, you may choose to avoid a five hour roundtrip through snow and icy roads, and just have them mailed to your doorstep.

galanthus plicatus

A large flowered Galanthus plicatus seedling.  The rule of thumb here is about one inch for that particularly fat digit, and that puts this well endowed snowdrop at over two inches!

As always it was a great time, and even though the walk out went even more slowly with precious cargo in hand, we still took a few more minutes to again admire the optimistic witch hazels lining the drive.

hamamelis witch hazel

Icy witch hazel (Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Barmstedt Gold’) in full bloom despite the sub-freezing temperatures.  Everyone should have a few of these.

Thanks all around, and since this post is starting to sound like a shameless plug for Edgewood gardens (which it is) I guess I should say I received no compensation for it, and as a matter of fact it was actually a little costly even if you don’t count the stop at IKEA on the way home.  Well on second thought that’s not completely true.  On a previous visit John gave me an ‘unsellable’ cyclamen which had a few yellow leaves.  It’s now growing and blooming beautifully in its new home, so maybe that cyclamen was all just part of some elaborate master plan 😉

Have a great week, and judging by the strength of the sun this morning you can probably guess what my next post will feature heavily!

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 🙂