Snowdropping ’22

It snowed Wednesday.  It’s snowing today.  Time to revisit last weekend when winter thought it would be funny to go North for a day and see what happens.  Now don’t go thinking that spring exploded around this end of Pennsylvania in just one day.  For that to happen it’s going to take a string of warmer days and we’re no there yet (maybe next week?), for this glimpse of spring we needed to crack open the kid’s college fund, fill the tank with gas, and head down South to the outskirts of Philly.  Spring is revving up down there and it was the perfect time for Paula and I to celebrate our annual Snowdropping Day!

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops and winter aconite (Galanthus and Eranthis hyemalis) around the Scott Arboretum

It was a warm forecast with just a trace of rain in the morning, so of course it was pouring when we arrived at our first stop.  Rumor had it that Swarthmore College’s Scott Arboretum is rich with early spring bloomers and plenty of Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), and that of course turned out to be true.  It also turned out that I was able to cross off a bucket list plant sighting by seeing Leucojum vernum ‘Gertrude Wister’ growing lustily in what is rumored to be its garden of origin, the Wister Garden of the Scott Arb.  This double Leucojum (actually a fused flower, not double) still needs to grow in my garden, but for now it is doing very well for itself closer to home.

leucojum gertrude wister

A fantastic clump of Leucojum ‘Gertrude Wister’ at the Scott Arboretum.

Gertrude Wister by the way is a name it wouldn’t hurt knowing more about.  She was an accomplished horticulturalist and author in both the Philly area and nationally and instrumental in promoting plants and horticulture in the mid 1900’s.  You can read more >here<.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Winter garden standards surrounding the arboretum headquarters.

So with Leucojum ‘Gertrude Wister’ checked off the list we continued to explore the grounds while enjoying the soft and then hearty drizzle.  It seems only right that our snowdrop day would bring on precipitation.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) filling in amongst the trunks of a Metasequoia allee.  Very nice if you ask me.

Actually the rain wasn’t too bad.  I had a hat after all, so that at least kept my hair as stylish as usual.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops, hellebores, and Rohdea japonica make for a nice groundcover under the dawn redwoods.

The rest of the visit was a ‘but wait, there’s more’ tour as we wandered from one witch hazel to the next.  They were perfect and the rain only made their color shine more warmly, even when it stopped for a minute here and there.

hamamelis angelly strawberries and cream westerstede

From left to right, Hamamelis ‘Angelly’, ‘Westerstede’, and ‘Strawberries and Cream’

hamamelis strawberries and cream

From pictures and descriptions I did not think ‘Strawberries and Cream’ would be a color I’d enjoy, but with a dark background and complimented by the yellows, it drew me in.

Growers of the spring blooming, Asian, witch hazels are probably aware that one of the more common problems is their tendency to hold onto last year’s dried and browned foliage.  Some people claim to not mind but I prefer the leafless look, and have been neurotic about searching out hints as to which ones tend to hold leaves and what cultural conditions encourage leaf drop.  I don’t know if I have any answers but we did see a few cultivars which held firm to last year’s leaves.

hammemelis doerak

Actually I didn’t mind the bright orange of Hamamelis ‘Doerak’ against the rich brown of the wet leaves, but dry it out and I’m not sure I’d feel the same.  Also there was another reddish cultivar who’s flowers were lost amongst the leaves, so I’m always going to place my vote for leaves-which-drop cultivars, and pass on this one.

Witch hazels are oddly rare in my neck of the woods, I suspect because they bloom prior to ‘go out to the nursery and buy all the plants for my yard’ day and people just don’t know about them, but slowly I’m finding plants and making a witch hazel show happen here.  I’ve got reddish, orange, yellow, and need more of all but in the past I’ve been thumbing my nose at the ‘purple’ forms.  Stupid me to think they wouldn’t show up in the brown and gritty winter landscape, I saw some awesome examples and of course now I have to do even more searching (Broken Arrow, Forest Farm, and Rare Finds Nursery will lead off the search).

hamamelis tsukubana-kurenai

Hamamelis ‘Tsukubana-kurenai’.  I’m going out on a limb and suggesting this is a Japanese cultivar, and I believe I need this one.

A purple and another orange are just what I need.  The oranges are my favorites, and ‘Chris’ has just enough of an orange tint to thrill me.  I suspect it is named after the UK authority, collector and grower of witch hazels, Chris Lane, but I’m only guessing.  Like many things today I feel like I can just guess at things and once they’re in writing on the internet that’s valid enough, but I’m digressing now…  To sum it up here’s a >more qualified writeup on hamamelis< which you may want to look at.  One mislabeled photo does not disqualify all the other excellent information the article contains.

hamamelis chris

Hamamelis ‘Chris’.  Heavy flowering, large flowers, bold color.  I loved it.

Hmmm.  It seems like this might be a long post since I’m only about an hour or two into our day, but whatever.  We’re up to about four inches of new snow here today so it’s off to our second Swarthmore PA stop, Hedgleigh Spring, the gardens of author/horticulturalist Charles Cresson.

charles cresson garden

I noticed that this is a neighborhood of above average gardeners, but Charles’ front garden states it loudly with a sweep of naturalizing crocus tommasinianus and patches of self-sown snowdrops.

On our last visit to see the fall camellias, Charles made the casual comment that we should see all the spring bulbs filling the meadow along the stream.  Absolutely.  We set the date but I’m not sure if Charles really expected us to go through with it based on the look he gave us when we showed up.  I can’t believe it was the steady rain or our mostly soaked appearance because at least Paula had enough sense to bring an umbrella, I think it was explained later when Charles mentioned two phones suddenly began ringing the minute we pressed the doorbell.  All was well though and off we went!

hedgleigh spring hellebore

Some of the hellebores scattered throughout the grounds.  My favorites are always the yellows.

Charles donates a plethora of special seeds to (among others)the Mid Atlantic Hardy Plant Society seed exchange, and I always have to smile as I see plants here which I have seedlings of in my own garden.

hedgleigh spring hellebore

This ‘seafoam’ colored hellebore is one I have a few seedlings of.  It has a greenish color with the slightest blue cast and I hope some of mine pick up a similar shade.

Several camellia seedlings also have roots here.  Flowering was just starting but it still amazes me to see how vigorous these shrubs grow in this northern edge of their range.

hedgleigh spring camellia

The recent cold had only done a slight bit of damage, but the main show of camellias looked extremely promising.

There were quite a few other ‘wows’.  The winter blooming Iris unguicularis was one of them.  Perfectly formed flowers of rich colors were quite a surprise out in the open garden.

iris unguicularis

These Iris unguicularis had been enjoying the shelter of a clear plastic tote over the winter and I shall have to revive my own bucketing efforts because the results are absolutely worth it.

There were many Adonis cultivars as well.  Some were just sprouting, some were being troublesome, and some were just excellent.  In case you’re not in the know, Adonis amurensis is one of the earliest woodland-edge perennials to push up flowers in shades of yellow to red.  Trouble free in a spot it likes, it’s not always easy to find a spot it likes, and at prices which rival snowdrops, the heartbreak of a lost plant is only matched by the sting your wallet feels.

cresson adonis

Adonis in full bloom and quite happy.  Single yellow is affordable, anything which runs to double or deeper shades of orange will require mortgage refinancing.

But enough on silly expensive perennials.  We came to see little bulbs, and they were everywhere.  Patches of named forms, drifts of the most common types, and seedlings galore with all kinds of excellent markings to thrill a galanthophile’s heart.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

Small early bulbs were throughout the gardens.  This is how I love them most, scattered and naturalized into comfortable patches.

Some of the patches were decades old and showed up all over, with the newest and rarest limited to just a few beds.  Nearly each bunch had a story to go with it and to hear Charles talk of the forms and where they came from was a who’s who of the local gardening community.

galanthus white dream

Galanthus ‘White Dream’ was the most special non-special drop I saw.  Amazing.  Plain and white and perfect.

But what we really came to see was the meadow which lies behind the garden fence.  When Paula got her first glimpse she grabbed my shoulder with that crazy look in her eyes which I of course never show and I was afraid she was about to jump the creek to get there.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

The creek and meadow outside the garden proper.  Mostly native perennials and bulbs.  Lots of bulbs, from the earliest days of spring to the last days of fall.

Charles told us about the hours spent on knees digging and dividing and replanting clump after clump to spread snowdrops far and wide.  Bulbs from elsewhere were added and over the last forty years seedlings have matured and clumped up and added their own genetics.

hedgleigh spring snowdrops

Most of the galanthus are G. nivalis, G. elwesii, and hybrids between the two.  As usual crocus were everywhere.

We spent quite some time back there, first admiring the overall effect and then finally crouching down to examine anything and everything which looked specialer.

charles cresson garden

Charles and Paula inspecting the masses of daffodil sprouts and snowdrop blooms.

We found a bunch of cool things.  I suggested that we take the three best forms and name them Charles, Paula, and Frank and start spreading them around in honor of the day, but of course they thought I was joking.  Hah hah.  Of course I was…

prunus mume

Prunus mume, the Japanese Apricot blooming away back in the main garden

We finished the tour and then continued to overstay our welcome.  It had stopped raining and after I said how much I loved the Prunus mume and Charles said it self seeds all the time, we were all rooting around through the mulch looking for seedlings.  Our visit had really degenerated into what it always does, the schedule goes out the window and we end up dirty.

Eventually it was off to the next garden.  Matthew and Jamie Bricker were completely polite about us showing up at 5pm on a Sunday to drag them through the garden.  They’re about three years into a new garden and it’s astounding how much they’ve already accomplished in a garden which had to be wrestled back from overgrown neglect…. Plus three kids and plenty of home improvement projects… I was suddenly very insecure about my own questionable progress 🙂

bricker garden

Just a small slice of the Bricker garden. Snowdrops were already spreading into decent clumps all over the garden, all nicely mulched with a plethora of sweet gum balls from the mature sweet gum trees (Liquidambar)

This is where the pictures end.  We ran out of light before we ran through our hosts’ patience but it was great seeing how far this garden had already grown and the shape it was taking.  We will hopefully be back.  The Brickers are putting together an outstanding snowdrop collection and for local gardeners and Gala attendees they’re already a great source for potted extras.  Once he gets more settled into the new spot I suspect he won’t mind being listed as a source, but for now… well it never hurts to ask 😉 I’m sure you’ll be able to find him on Facebook.

Scott arboretum snowdrops

Snowdrops (‘Brenda Troyle’ actually) in the dark.  It was still far too warm (and dry now) to call it a night.

I don’t know if Paula thought I was joking when I said we were still going to get through her garden by flashlight, but we did.  It was warm, the drops were open and glowing, and the wind had settled down completely.  For the first few minutes the rustling in the garden was a bit eerie but then we realized it was all the nightcrawlers brought up by the rain and active in the warmth and it was slightly less creepy.  Even in the dark by flashlight with giant earthworms stalking us it was a perfect end to the day.  Her garden looks great as all our gardens did that day, and as usual our snowdropping day was an excellent start to the season.  Now if it would just stop snowing…

Thanks to our hosts, enjoy the season, and all the best!

Unbucketing Day

Wow.  What a difference two days can make.  We’ve gone from winter to spring in just a few hours, and even though I won’t officially call spring until the last snow has melted,  I’m practically spinning with spring fever over the thought I might see some more snowdrops unlocked from the ice this weekend.

galanthus three ships

If you’re not sick of seeing ‘Three Ships’ yet, well you might have some of the same issues I’m dealing with.  He looks pristine even after weeks and weeks under a 5 gallon bucket. 

In case you’re wondering, ‘Unbucketing Day’ is a relatively new holiday which I only just declared this afternoon.  I’m sure there’s a more formal process to establishing new holidays, but I did have some cake this afternoon, and I’m pretty sure eating cake is at least steps one through four of the holiday creation process.

galanthus potters prelude

‘Potter’s Prelude’ has gone by a bit under his bucket.  Even weeks of below freezing temperatures and a few feet of snow can’t stop the passage of time, since he has been in bloom for over three months now.

Fancier folk might call for an uncloching day to celebrate the day when temperatures seem civil enough to uncover these protected goodies, but I resort to buckets.  Ugly buckets.  I can understand the attraction of antique glass cloches sparkling throughout the garden but they don’t come cheap and I’m not sure anyone here would appreciate such an elevated level of refinement when autumn’s decaying gourds still sit on the front lawn and an old washing machine still highlights the far end of the front porch.

galanthus Mrs Macnamara

Even ‘Mrs Macnamara’ has tolerated her time under the bucket.  This is the best she’s ever looked, but even with protection a few blooms were lost to cold, so I don’t think she’s an ideal match for my garden…

So join me in the celebration.  A little warm weather and the snow can’t melt fast enough.  There are a few thin spots where ground is showing but most of the garden is still under nearly a foot of icy, packed snow.   It’s still enough to get into nearly every inappropriate pair of shoes I wear, since of course I slog through the snow right after work and don’t bother changing into better footwear first.  I really just need to be more patient.

winter witch hazel pallida

The witch hazel is late this year.  ‘Pallida’ is only just today warm enough to uncurl the first bits of yellow thread.  Hopefully by this weekend….

Who am I kidding?  This is no time to be patient.  I guarantee by tomorrow afternoon I’ll be shoveling snow off things, poking through mulch, and being far more nosy about my plant’s personal lives than I should be.  I’ll probably even plant a few seeds!

Have a wonderful weekend 🙂

February

So much for keeping to a regular schedule of blog posts this year.  January was off to a good start, but then it got cold and snowy, and I don’t do well when cold and snow separate me from my plants… unless of course it’s to hit a tropical beach or indulgent ski resort… but we all know how that’s been going this year.

snow yorkie

Biscuit the Yorkie loves the snow, especially when the foot or so of compacted old snow is covered with a couple inches of delicious new snow.  

So February has been a nothing month.  Nothing much gets done, there’s not much moving (other than for food), and no one seems to care.  We just watch the snow storms roll through and vaguely consider the damage that heaps of snow and ice are doing to the roof, and wonder just how big an icicle needs to be before it rips the gutter off.

ice dam

Ice dams edge the entire roof.  Snow is piled high, it gets wet as the up-roof sections melt a bit, and then freezes to form a solid 10 inch wall of ice atop the gutter.  Of course with the gutter blocked the next melt will just run off the edge forming (in this case tiny) icicles.    

Sunday actually lived up to its name, with a clear sky and almost above freezing temperatures I made my first trek into the yard in about three weeks.  There really wasn’t anything to see (anything good that is) but I did dig out one of buckets covering snowdrops and was thrilled to see them also enjoying the bright change in weather.

snowdrop protection

Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ still looking great, assuming I’m willing to trudge out and dig her up each time I visit.

Although many will complain about the snow, you won’t hear me gripe about it until March when we get hit by some nasty blizzard or Nor’easter which crushes all the new sprouts and ruins all the earliest spring flowers.  Fortunately this year, in spite of a warm January, most everything was still far enough back that all this cold has done is make it wait.  When it melts I expect a grand explosion of spring, and that’s always exciting.

rabbit winter damage

A foot or two of compacted snow isn’t all good things.   The rabbits can’t get to their food and end up eating just about anything which makes it above the snow line.  

Maybe that spring explosion will be enough to save the leafless hollies and camellias, and skeletal spruces which I just bought and planted… thinking they would be just fine and out of reach in the raised beds of the potager…  I fenced a bunch of things back in December, but in the past these have been safe, so obviously why would I over do it?

winter sunset

winter sunset

Even with all the clamor over snow and bitter cold and an arctic vortex or two, reality says this winter is still warmer than average, with only seven or eight nights actually below average, and not by much.  Even the most impaired statistician will tell you that for an average to be average about half the temps will be above and half below… give or take a few extremes… and we are far from that even if it sure seems like a winter out of the ‘olden’ days.

garden journal

A quick flashback to my garden journals of the ’80s tells me that we are actually about right in line with the spring of ’87.  That might sound reassuring, but these are actually from when I lived on Long Island, which is now considered a balmy zone 7, so…  we are actually way ahead.   

Reading a thermometer and checking a weather report really only take at most five minutes, so it’s been a struggle to fill the rest of the weekend with nothingness.  Even the winter garden is boring me so in a valiant attempt to beat the stupor I checked up on any drip irrigation fittings I might need.  Yes I need to order more, maybe 100 1/2 gph emitters will be enough for all the caladium bulbs I ordered.  Yes, I need to pot them up individually so that I can separate all the colors and then arrange them and rearrange them through the summer.  Yes, I know that’s excessive.

drip irrigation containers

Drip irrigation fittings and parts.  For all of ten minutes I considered a post on the subject, but then… the stupor again descended.  

One thing I have managed this winter is reading.  Three new books top the pile, and they’re all excellent.  ‘Some Snowdrops’ is a beautiful dreambook of how I imagine snowdrop season will be like, ‘A Year at Brandywine Cottage’ gets me excited about every plant and every season (and unfortunately every recipe has me wandering into the kitchen hungry), and ‘Colchicum’ has me doubting every label in my little colchicum bed.

winter garden reading

Winter reading for the gardener.

A little wandering, a little dreaming, a little reading, that’s actually a pretty banner weekend (or more honestly, month) for me.  Even in mid February the sun already seems March strong, and I don’t think I’m the only one thinking that.  The best thing I noticed on Sunday was that birdsong is back, and in spite of the snow, birds were vociferously carving up the neighborhood into new territories for spring.

winter bird feeder

… until Monday, and another six inches of snow…

So it’s not spring yet, but things are looking up.  Tomorrow will be warm, Thursday will be warmer.  It will take a while for the snow and ice to melt, so I’ve got a few more days to be lazy, but the next few days look promising!

sleepy pup

Snow can wear you out.

Have a great week!

Winter Enthusiasm

It’s snowing and it’s been snowing.  It’s cold as well.  Oddly enough the arrival of something close to a winter has me wondering how I ever managed to survive winter before.  Trust me next week’s lows that hover around 0F (-17C) aren’t helping, and although it’s one night and we are guaranteed at least a foot or two of protective snow cover, it’s still co-co-cold!

snowdrops in snow

These snowdrops survived lows in the teens, but down to zero will be a problem so I’m grateful for the snow.  By the way this isn’t the snow, this is just some nuisance frost which has accumulated over the past week.

I just looked outside and it appears we’re about a foot and a half into new snow.  It’s doubtful I’ll be sharing photos of all that but I figured I’d let you know.

camellia in cold winter

The snow won’t be deep enough to cover the camellias so I guess they’re in for a cold-hardiness test.  I can’t tell if this is a good look or not, but it’s green and not brown so that’s a plus.

Actually the most dangerous thing about snow and cold are the online temptations.  Seed exchanges, seed orders, plant orders, delusions about trees I need and new bulbs I have to have are a daily struggle.  I know you can share my pain if not appreciate my resolve, and so far my only real transgression has been five pounds of mixed caladium bulbs.  According to some estimates that’s about 100 caladiums, and thats obviously a few more than I need.

double orange amaryllis

Time to hide out in the winter garden.  This double amaryllis and a few geraniums are all that’s new right now but as will happen, cuttings and seedlings always start showing up out of nowhere 🙂 

So I hope the snow finds you well and for those in milder climates who are missing it, well I suspect you’re not really missing it at all and you’ll be just fine.  In any case we’re a month past the winter equinox and this is when our average temperatures begin to climb once again… regardless of the ten day forecast.

Slow Learner

I’m not very good at saying no to volunteer plants.  Volunteer plants of course are the ones which just step forward to fill spots that you didn’t even know were spots until they volunteered to fill them.  I guess they’re generous little things which just want to give…  plus they’re free… and require no labor or attention… and that’s probably also a big plus in my book.  Some people might say the word ‘weeds’ right now, and I say bite your tongue.  If you can call sunflowers and foxgloves weeds, well then you’re probably a little higher class than this blog usually attracts and I suggest clicking on your way before you hold me liable for the time I’m about to waste.

galanthus bed

A clump of snowdrops (Bill Bishop if you really have to know) in a photo from last January. Note the tiny rounded leaves in the center of the sprouts. Soooooo innocent looking….

galanthus bed

One year later. A big fat rosette of foxglove foliage right where a snowdrop clump wishes to emerge. Please let’s overlook the many autumn leaves scattered about, and the as-yet untrimmed muscari foliage.

Ok, good.  Now  that  we’ve ‘weeded out’  a certain  type  of  reader, I  just want  to reassure anyone who’s left that you’re entirely high class, but of the type who just is and not the type who only thinks they are.  I suspect you all have soft spots for foxgloves and that brings me to today’s dilemma.  It’s not just any foxglove, it’s the especially special strawberry foxglove (Digitalis x mertonensis) and of course it’s right on top of ‘Bill Bishop’ and we all know that’s not going to work out.

galanthus bed

There he is. Bill is happily sprouting up right exactly where he should be.

Normally  a few  stray  foxgloves  don’t  even come close to causing a problem.  Any other year they’re just a crumbly mess of winter killed foliage by the time the snowdrops arrive, and with just a little brushing aside all is well.  This year things are different, and I might have to try a midwinter transplant because obviously I can’t just rip out this trooper, no matter how free she is.

It goes without saying that had I been attentive and moved the seedling last summer none of this would have been a problem.  Sort of like had I been more attentive and less lazy for the last seven years maybe my WordPress disk space wouldn’t have reached 99% full with only just the few photos which I’ve uploaded over the years.  Hmmm.  I should have read the memo a few years ago when I first reached my limit and had to purchase a blogger plan rather than enjoy free access, but noooo, let me put it off a little more.  Apparently re-sizing photos is a kind of important thing, which I’m sure everyone else knows but it just seemed like so much extra work at the time… and obviously I’m not one to embrace extra work.

So with a nice snow squall covering up the ground and ending any thoughts of transplanting, I’ve headed indoors and have committed to shrinking my digital footprint.  So far I’ve spent hours editing posts, reloading re-sized photos and then deleting the old.  Of course it’s my own fault.  Ignorance is bliss, but what kind of stupid thinks a 4.2MB (4200KB) cabbage photo would be necessary when a 143KB  will do?  I’m up to September 2013 in case anyone is wondering.

cyclamen coum

While on the subject of time-wasting, I reorganized my Cyclamen coum seedlings to see how close seedlings from the mother plant resemble each other. These were all from a purple with mostly green leaves in case you’re wondering.

Every now and then even the most committed data processor needs a break, so with short days, early nights, and plenty of here and there snow, the winter garden has again become my man cave and  I’m obsessing about Cyclamen again.

Cyclamen rhodium ssp peloponnesiacum

Cyclamen rhodium ssp. peloponnesiacum is a treasure I picked up at last year’s Galanthus Gala. It might be hardy, but that would mean not seeing these awesome leaves all winter, and why risk that!?

I thought I was good, and all last summer I was fully impressed with myself for having more cyclamen than ever before, but then the cold weather hit and maybe I do need more.  I would have had more, but some stinkin’ mouse family robbed me of nearly all last year’s ripening seed pods, in a way that I didn’t even know the pods were hollowed out until I turned one and saw the bottoms all nibbled out.  “Stinkin’ mouse” isn’t really the term I used, but since only the classiest readers remain I’ll try to keep it civil.

Fortunately I know a guy.  A little back and forth with Dr. Lonsdale over at Edgewood Gardens and two new and extremely exciting cyclamen have found their way here.  Plus a hellebore!

purple flush cyclamen

Two Cyclamen hederifolium with a faint flush of pink towards the center. Also hard to see is the variegation in the Hellebore niger seedling to the right, but it has it and I can’t wait for it to settle in to the garden this spring.

Another area I need to make more effort in is my indoor fertilizing regime.  The new additions from Edgewood are so well rooted they put all my plants to shame.  Dr Lonsdale has told me before to switch to something more specialized like a tomato fertilizer or anything with a lower first number (Nitrogen) but this blockhead will need a little more hammering, so one step at a time.

In the meantime, again let me say I’m pretty excited about the new additions.  The cyclamen are cool, but the hellebore will probably rank as one of the rarest things in my garden.  Take a look at a picture or two of >mature plants< and I think you’ll agree this little year old seedling is going to grow into something special.

Not as special as re-sizing thousands of photos and editing hundreds of posts, but close I’m sure.  Have a great week!

Off To A Good Start

As far as I’m concerned the 2021 gardening season is now up and running.  The few winter growers which I dare grow outside are starting to show signs of life, nudged along by a fall that gave us plenty of warm enough days and above freezing nights, and it’s nice to see things sprouting up all fresh and full of promise.  Back in the day a lot of these things waited until February or March to do anything, but lately they’ve come on earlier and earlier, and I won’t complain.  Actually who am I kidding?  Of course I’ll complain.  A brutal polar vortex in February, a foot of snow in March, hail in April… I can’t think of a single gardener who just smiles and shrugs these things off.

fall galanthus elwesii

Galanthus elwesii ‘Potter’s Prelude’ is finally open, oddly late since many of the other fall and winter bloomers were earlier this season.

These earliest of snowdrops were always an issue of discontent for me.  For years I would buy bulk bags of elwesii and then grumble as more southern gardeners would gloat over the random fall bloomers which would show up in their mix.  They didn’t actually gloat, but when year after year I got nothing it started to seem like it.  Then one year we had a long fall and a lackluster start to winter, and suddenly there were snowdrops up in December rather than March.  It’s always the same few, and they unfortunately don’t hold up well when the cold does settle in, but it’s fun to see them and I do feel a little better about my luck again.

fall galanthus elwesii

An early snowdrop (Galanthus elwesii), one of just a few which try to beat winter rather than patiently wait it out.  

As you probably already know, our lackluster winter is finally making an effort.  It’s about time I guess, so what better way to celebrate than to finally plant the daffodils, tuck in the last few perennials, and then set up the winter garden for some indoors enjoyment.  Fingers crossed the daffodils survive their hasty planting, but it’s not the first time they’ve suffered this kind of abuse so they should be used to it by now.

winter garden

Dry and cool is how I keep all the succulents.  Without watering they don’t grow much, and if they’re not growing much they don’t get all stretched out and spindly, even under less than perfect lighting.

The winter garden in the old workshop in the back of the garage only has about half the shop lights going so far.  As more plants magically appear and seedlings start and bulbs sprout I may add to that, but at the moment there’s no real plan, and it’s just a nice place to putter around in with a few things growing while snow falls outside.

winter garden

This year there are more Cyclamen coum and fewer other cyclamen species and snowdrops.    

My current favorites are the cyclamen coum.  Even though they do just fine outside in the open garden, indoors they’ll flower for a month or two during the bleakest months of January and February, and make for an excellent show that can be thoroughly enjoyed after dark during the week or with a nice morning coffee on the weekend.  I do enjoy announcing that I’ll be in the winter garden with drinks, and that I need to sweep up the camellia petals or water the tree fern.  It all sound pretty fancy if you ask me… even if others in this household seem less than impressed.

winter garden

The reality of the winter garden is a bit more gritty than an actual sun filled conservatory, but until a glasshouse moves up and becomes a budget priority it will have to do.

Re-opening the winter garden came just in time.  It’s been snowing since later this afternoon and by tomorrow morning we could have anywhere from a foot to a foot and a half.

winter snow

It’s going to be a white Christmas 🙂 with snow this week and cold next, this won’t be going anywhere soon.  

Hope all is well and you’re staying safe.  I’ve got the shovels ready, gas for the snow blower, and the snowdrops are covered with buckets, so I think we’re ok.  Tomorrow will hopefully be a nice snowday with a late breakfast, and just maybe I’ll be able to sneak the coffee out to the winter garden and admire cyclamen before the kids and dog want to “help” with the snow.

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!

6 Years and a Snow Day

At least it’s so cold there’s no mud.

Construction on the border wall has halted for the winter.  The whole thing has been shaped and smeared with a nice layer of topsoil, and all that’s left to add is a row of spruce along the top.  Dark, gloomy, rooty, overbearing spruce that shall eventually loom over my sunny garden.  As you can see I’m still trying to be optimistic about it all.

the wall

The Wall

We’re home today waiting for the snow to fall and that seems like the perfect time to get in a few pictures and celebrate an anniversary.  For me January is an agonizingly slow gardening month, and apparently that was also the case six years ago when in a moment of boredom I found out just how easy it was to start a free online blog through WordPress.  Six years and six thousand snowdrop pictures later I’m still here and although the heyday for blogs seems to have peaked and waned I’m more than happy to keep going on more than I need to about my somewhat suburban, somewhat middle of nowhere Pennsylvania garden.

magnolia grandiflora

The only bit of winter interest I could find in the bleak and cold garden.  The red twigged ‘Midwinter Fire’ dogwood will be fine in this week’s arctic blast, but all bets are off on the Southern magnolia seedlings.

Over the years this gardener has been slowly learning a thing or two but it’s always an uphill battle.  This winter’s “learning opportunity” was not having enough snowdrops and cyclamen to fill my winter garden.  It was a trifecta of bad decisions and luck which began with me planting out all the potted snowdrops, me not buying any bulk snowdrops for forcing, and me leaving the dormant cyclamen tubers in a spot which took on the brunt of last summer’s endless rainfall.  Then I brilliantly chose to reduce the number of geraniums under lights.  In hindsight it’s all my fault, but fortunately I have some experience coping with that as well 🙂

winter garden

There’s like three cyclamen in bloom when there should be a tray-full.  But at least it’s clean since the seed saving mess is all packed up and off my little man-cave table.

Since the winter garden is kind of a flop this year, my natural response is to go all out and make it even bigger!  The area which hosts my grow area was originally built as a workshop, and I’d been using it for tools and storage and some of the messier projects, but enough of that.

winter garden

The cyclamen pots sometimes freeze on a cold and windy day, but this set of lights is further from the drafty  windows and can hopefully stay above freezing even on the coldest day.  Four geraniums (Pelargoniums) are all I saved from last year…

After these pictures were taken I hauled everything home-improvement and woodshop related out and started moving lights and tables into hopefully “better” spots.  Most is still a complete mess but at the far end of the back room, near the furnace where it always stays warm, I’ve already set up two lights for the coleus and other goodies which need a reliably warm spot.

winter garden

Kind of prison cell-block looking, but the plants don’t seem to mind.  Hopefully in a few weeks things will grow and I can move a few under the second light table (not really visible in the back) and make this area a decent growing spot.

There are still a number of little things I have to deal with in the main (colder) area such as a leaky foundation, burst water pipes, and electrical issues but I’m sure that will just clear up practically on its own and I’ll be planting again in no time.  For now though it’s keeping me off the internet and slowing down my new-plant-buying compulsions that all gardeners face at this time of year.

ebay snowdrops

I did not buy this, and in my book that almost counts as saved money… and if you keep with that logic approx $1,500 US would make for an excellent plant budget!

Maybe in a few weeks there will be something slightly less depressing to look at in the winter garden.  Most years this is a pleasant hideaway to escape the cold and brown that lurks outside but so far the winter of 2019 is still a work in progress.  We’ll see though.  It’s remarkably easy to fill up these light tables and come to think of it there are still a few potted primula outside that I could probably chip out of the ice and drag inside before the snow and cold become too unreasonable.  Hmmmmm.

Stay warm!

Indoors, For Now…

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

hardy cyclamen

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

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

sowing fern spores

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

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

winter sow stratification

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

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

succulent cuttings

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

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

In the meantime have a great weekend!

$30 for new growlights

$318 total so far for the 2018 gardening year

Tuesday View: The Front Border 11.21.17

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

front border

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

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

mailbox planting

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

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

winter interest

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

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

hellebore foliage

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

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

Have a great week 🙂