Four Days in February

It’s still winter here but the days are lengthening and the sun feels stronger.  I’m pretty sure the cold won’t last forever but to hear some people talk it’s absolutely brutal, and the whole winter has been an endless cycle of cold and wind and grey, and they can’t wait for things to warm up again.  Sometimes when I’m feeling brave I’ll ask if that means you’ll be able to finally complain about the heat, but those days are rare and lately I just say yeah, it’s a tough life we lead.

skiing in NEPA

Day 1: Sunday outside in the miserable cold.  Child on right, friend on left.

Sunday was cold, but on Monday it warmed up enough for at least one person in the neighborhood happy, and that guy didn’t even hide in the muddy, bulldozed backyard, he proudly trimmed and mowed and pruned in the front yard in spite of the odd looks and obvious hints that it was still 100% winter.  Actually 100% winter meant the ground was completely frozen and dead stalks broke nicely at their frozen base, bulbs were still asleep and safe from clumsy footsteps, and most importantly there was no mud.  Did I mention there’s plenty of that out back?

winter garden cleanup

Day 2:  Monday early afternoon.  Mow it all down with the hedge trimmers.

It might be too early to do all this cleanup but guess who doesn’t care.  I’m sick of the mess and there are snowdrops on the horizon, and I want those coming up without all the debris of last year making them look sad.  Chopped leaves- ok, last year’s dead stalks and freeze dried hellebore foliage- no.  Everything was hacked down with the hedge clippers and then raked onto the lawn for a mulching with the mower.  Into a mulch bag it goes and I think it looks far better.  A final tidy once March gets moving should set everything up until June 🙂

winter garden cleanup

Day2:  Late afternoon and I think it looks all ready for the earliest spring bulbs.  I just have to keep an eye on the construction trucks so they keep the ruts to a minimum… hahahaha

Day 3 was all rain.  Warm and rain.  For as much as the sun melted the snow, it barely softened the frozen soil, but the rain did and it brought on the first snowdrops up by the house.

american snowdrops

Day 4:  I snuck out of work early and caught the last light for a few photos.  Amazing what a sheltered location and just a few warm days can bring. 

So the warmth won’t last but the urge to grow will, and when cold slips back tomorrow these flowers will lay down for a week or so and then come back strong once spring gets a little more determined.  Out back a few things are also making an effort and that’s nice to see but if I were of the complaining sort I might be tempted to mention how our ski days are numbered.  Oh well.  We shall assume there is always a next year.

galanthus rosemary burnham

Day 4:  ‘Rosemary Burnham’ is all rich greens as she first comes up.  There will be fading over the next few days, but right now she’s perfect.

Hopefully your week is going without complaint, and as a warning to forestall any further complaint risks, let this be your first warning that way too many snowdrops will soon flood this blog.  You might have another week, so enjoy!

Winter Interesting

A warm day, a storm, and now it’s cold again.  That should bring this blog mostly up to date, and I don’t think anyone will be poorer for the summary.  There are blogs with much more inspiring garden and snowdrop photos and Paddy’s ‘An Irish Gardener’ comes to mind immediately, and you may wish to pay him a visit before I get started since today’s tale of gloom and doom will not involve even the hardiest winter flowers flowering.

galanthus godfrey owens ice

Golly Godfrey, you’ve been through snow and frigid below 0F temperatures, and now it’s an ice storm?   Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I surprised both myself and the dog when the camera was grabbed and the door was opened and we all headed out for a tour of the sleety garden.  It was still all gloom and precipitation but I do like the look of an ice storm so off we went to see how things were holding up.

sedum winter ice

I’m not much for dead stalks as ‘winter interest’ but a nice bunch of sedum can hold its own all winter.

Overall it looked nice.  Not good, because no ice storm is ever a good thing, but as long as we’re not losing power and can stay off the roads and not have to endure the cracking and snapping of falling trees, I can see the beauty in it.  Tomorrow is supposed to be sunny and promises to bring out the sparkle of the ice, but with wind and temperatures maybe barely out of the single digits you won’t see me out there.

ice cardoon stalk winter

Possibly the most photographed Cardoon stalk of all time, this thing still fascinates me.  I also love the russet hues of the ‘Dallas Blues’ Panicum as a backdrop.

I really can’t complain about the cold.  All the sprouting things are locked up in frozen soil, just like they should be, and will now wait at least until late February.  It’s almost a normal winter and of course that has me suspiciously waiting for the next shoe to drop.

ice storm midwinter fire

‘Midwinter Fire’ is an excellent dogwood for winter color.  I wouldn’t mind a few other colors but this one by itself puts on quite the show.

One down side to a ‘normal’ winter is that I’ve been banking on global warming and planted a bunch of stuff which doesn’t appreciate ‘normal’ lows.  I guess we’ll see what happens this spring.  Maybe the cold hasn’t penetrated too deeply yet.  It was a very warm December after all.

ice storm southern magnolia

A Magnolia grandiflora seedling of a hardier (I hope) sort.  The leaves don’t look too bad, but March has a way of bringing out the damage and it’s likely all the leaves will drop by April.

Besides Crinum lilies, Agapanthus, and palmetto palms, there are the “hardy” camellias.  I can almost feel them glaring at me as I walk around, and I know they must be thinking winter in Charleston would have been a lot cozier.

ice hardy camellia

This ‘Survivor’ seedling still looks pretty good, in spite of the icing.  Let’s hope it looks just a good thawed out again.

As long as it’s cold, I wouldn’t mind a good snowstorm to top off the ski runs and keep me out of the garden a little more.  The slopes are all ice right now and that’s not fun.  Also not fun is going into the winter garden and chasing boredom with pruners and potting soil.  I confess I’m taking cuttings of succulents again, and if February doesn’t warm up soon I’ll be up to my ears in baby plants, none of which this garden needs.

ice ARBORVITAE WINTER

Evergreens on the berm are slowly growing in to cover up the view of our industrial park neighbor.  

Speaking of things the garden and gardener didn’t need: (1)the yard is still ripped up with bulldozer ruts and construction debris, (2) The under-construction sewer lines froze up, and sewer lines don’t drain when they’re frozen, and (3) Covid has come to visit our corner of suburbia.  Everyone is in recovery and cases were mostly mild, but still it’s something we didn’t want added on the to-do list.

ice blueberry winter

The promise of better days.  Blueberry buds which will hopefully bring blueberries and fill a few pancakes this summer.

So now it’s down to reminding myself each evening that I don’t need new plants ordered when half the garden is in need of leveling and cleaning up.  I’ve ruthlessly crushed dreams of more caladiums, dahlia gardens, bean fields, onion plantations, tender bulb experiments, begonia collections, mini conifer forests, sunflower fields… and that’s just last week.  I’d still drop everything to drive an hour to pull terra cotta pots out of someone’s trash, but as of 11pm Friday, February 4th I have not ordered any new plants or seeds.

flowering dogwood winter buds ice

Hard to imagine now, but in just three months the dogwoods will be covered in bloom again.

Btw seed exchange seeds don’t count.  They’re practically an obligation if you belong to a society and I would be selfish to not support the Rock garden or Hardy Plant or American Primrose or the Magnolia Society’s work.  It would be like walking past a church bake sale just because you’re on a diet.

Hope everyone is going into the weekend safe and healthy.  The cold won’t last forever and even here the snowdrops will bloom again.

Bulbs Can’t Freeze

Freezing seem like as good enough topic as anything because that’s all we seem to have in the forecast.  This is like the third week of real winter temperatures and after a bunch of warm years it seems so…. endless.  Realistically three or four months of winter wouldn’t be anything surprising in this zone, so with two more months to go there is no reason to complain.  It’s just the warmer years of late had me kind of enjoying witch hazel in January and snowdrops throughout.  Toughen up I say!  Truthfully I should be grateful for the nice solid cold, and the way it freezes up the soil and tells the bulbs to hold on, don’t be fooled, February and March will be early enough to start your growing plans.

frozen colchicum bulb

Colchicum x byzantinum bulbs are big, and my soil is shallow, and often they just push themselves up and practically sit on top of the soil.  Obviously in this position and with temperatures down to 0F (-18C) the bulb and new growth will freeze

Some of the top spring disasters (off a quite lengthy list) have been the result of warm winters which bring things up way before their time.  Hellebores in particular must be an unusually optimistic plant which falls for this fake spring followed by a hard freeze every time, but snowdrops can be fooled as well.  Often I’m surprised by how well tender growth can survive brutal freezes but it’s not always a happy ending.  Right now a better gardener would be covering some of these goodies to keep the worst of the weather off of them.

snowdrops in the snow

We will see how well ‘Godfrey Owen’ tolerates the rest of winter after having already come nearly into bloom.  Tonight will be cold, next week looks colder.

I guess that brings me around to the title of this post.  I often see claims that hardy bulbs need to be protected from freezing, especially those in pots.  I disagree.  I used to pot up bulbs and throw them into an unheated shed where they would freeze solid for months without ill effect.  I’ve dropped bulbs in the fall and had them root into the surface, survive winter exposed and also do just fine.  There’s more to it of course but without exposing my own ignorance I’ll just point out a few ‘excepts’ which I’ve come across.  Bulbs need to begin rooting before they freeze.  Potted bulbs should be on the dry side before freezing.  Exposed pots which freeze and thaw repeatedly will suffer.  -and the one which I can’t figure out is that potted bulbs will rot when snow melts and then re-freezes on the surface of a pot of bulbs, especially later in the year.  My balcony gardening year was always off to a tragic start when a big pot full of tulip and crocus sprouts would all just stop growing after a cold spell hit with snow or rain freezing on top of the pot.  Weeks later I would finally give up and pull the still green and solid sprouts out, leaving a rotted bulb behind. 😦

Well that ended on a sad note.  If anyone has some thoughts on this let me know.  I find the easiest way around this is to just cover planted pots with autumn leaves and then uncover them as soon as temperatures warm, but you know how greedy I am with my autumn leaves!  Maybe a board on top to keep the snow and rain off would be good enough, I just have to remember to try that (again) and make a note of how it works out.

In the meantime stay warm and consider that (here at least) the daylength is getting longer by about two minutes each day and we’ve added about 30 minutes since the shortest day of the year.  I’m sure we’ll be in flip flops before you know it 😉

The Winter Garden 2022

Monday morning was one of the coldest days of the year and this weekend is also set to drop as low as 1F (-17C), and although we are only 14 days into the year that’s about as cold as Sorta Suburbia has been in a while.  The temperatures only last about a night or two and the ground is still barely frozen, but only time will tell how these surprisingly normal lows will work with my new, optimistically mild, global warming planting plan full of autumn blooming snowdrops and zone 7 Crinum lilies.

cyclamen under lights

Happier plantings are sheltered in the garage under fluorescent shoplights.  They’re experiencing a few ‘chilly’ nights, but nothing even close to the freezing cold outside.

A better gardener would put this cold-induced break to good use, planning seed orders and organizing planting plans, safe in the knowledge that borderline plantings are well protected, but all this gardener wants to do is eat.  Not just hearty stews and roasted potatoes, but more so late night bags of chips and “one more” handful of m&ms followed by a big glass of milk.  Then some ice cream. Then maybe another look in the fridge, just in case.  Outside just a few witch hazels are fenced, and not a single snowdrop is bucketed, but inside there’s been a lot of attention to sitting around and… eating….

overwintering tropicals

Also safe inside are the plants too precious and too tender to abandon outside.  They don’t do much all winter, but they’re something nice to look at while nibbling pretzels.

I can think of no better place to sit (while snacking) than the winter garden.  When it’s dark out I can almost convince myself that this array of shoplights in the just-above-freezing back of the garage is actually a greenhouse or uber fancy conservatory.  When the weather is cold it’s a room filled with green to hang out in, watering, puttering, pruning, plucking… doing all the stuff that the cold makes uncomfortable outdoors.

indoor garden room

My official coffee drinking, seed cleaning, label writing, phone browsing, beer sampling, winter patio seat in the winter garden.  I heard a crack last weekend and that’s got me slightly concerned about all the m&m’s, but that’s something to worry about in May.

There have been a few watershed moments in this year’s slightly excessive winter garden adventure.  Ooops.  I admitted that the winter garden is a little “extravagant”, but I blame it on last winter when I killed off a shameful amount of potted cyclamen.  Cyclamen have been the stars of my winter garden for a few years, but then suddenly a winter of lazy, careless watering did in a bunch of them.  This fall I needed backup plants.  A visit to an open garden and a cutting swap started me off.  The Amish country and various nurseries added a few more.  Friends helped.  Cuttings for overwintering added to it all.  It’s all reaching a quite pleasant crescendo in my opinion.

streptocarpella

Blue streptocarpella and flower buds on a red salvia.  The salvia is being overwintered, and the buds should probably be clipped off… but I do like flowers 😉

Recently on Facebook a friend shared an article about the “dark side” of plant collecting.  The home time and isolation of the pandemic had set unprepared gardeners off on a vicious binge of buying and collecting, and people were amassing hoards that amounted to hundreds of plants.  “amateurs” my friend commented, and we laughed.  I read the article myself and to be honest it made me smile to read about these plant collections and see the smiling faces of such happy gardeners.  I think I might have missed the dark in it all.

aloe white fox

A cool aloe which I couldn’t resist.  ‘Snow Fox’ will join my other potted succulents next summer but for now just sits dry and mostly dormant on the dimmer end of the bench.

Just out of curiosity I counted pots in the winter garden.  Normally anything under 6 inches doesn’t count, but this time I just went ahead and easily reached 150 pots back there.  Hmmm.  Then I took a few more cuttings and made it 152, just to slip a little further into the dark side.

flowering succulent

This succulent comes in off the deck and spends the next three months flowering.  I love it.  Every little bit of leaf off the flower stems will try to root, so of course I made another pot of cuttings with those.

At least taking cuttings keeps my hands busy and out of the chip bag.  I joke about not having the garden prepared, but at least my hoarding skills have me ‘winter gardening’ prepared.  You can never have too many saved pots, and emergency bags of potting soil on hand.  It’s awkward sneaking out into the frigid outdoor lot of the box store to try and wrestle a frozen bag of potting soil into your cart, so have it on hand in August so that you don’t have to make up some lame lie about ‘I don’t know, my wife told me she needed potting soil tonight’ when the cashier asks you what in the heck you’re doing.  At least I can plan ahead in one area.

cane begonias

I’m quite pleased with how the cane begonia cuttings are doing.  They’ll need bigger pots soon enough, but of course I’m prepared for that when the time comes.  

Sometimes a rare ray of good fortune may shine upon you.  A friend shocked me last year when she informed me they were officially downsizing and leaving their mature garden behind. “I think there will be a few things you’ll want” she said, and of course I agreed, but it was really all the accumulated trash like leftover pots and soil, bits of twine, scraps of fencing, pottery shards, opened bags of soil conditioners that I really wanted.  Of course she knew that already.  Only another gardener would want this stuff, and when I picked up a carload a few weeks ago I had to agree that I did want it.

Oxalis triangularis fanny

More begonias and a cool Oxalis triangularis (maybe ‘Fanny’) which I was given a couple rhizomes of.  I’m halfway tempted to pull out and plant a few of the purple leaved ones stored dormant under the shelf as companions to this one. 

She gave me a box of terracotta pots which she may have never used.  They’re small and there are a bunch of them and they’re much more trouble to move than lightweight plastic but I’m far more scared of them than I am of hundreds of hoarded houseplants because I really love them.  What the *heck* is wrong with me that I’m staring at a box of clay pots thinking they’re so nice.  I could understand if they were antique cloches for protecting delicate snowdrops during an ice storm, intricate wire topiary forms, but they’re stupid clay pots.  I’m worried about what might happen if I start cruising garage and estate sales.  I think I might buy every one I come across.

variegated pelargonium

Clay pots and grandma’s geraniums.  Cool people don’t seem to like pelargoniums but such a nice edging of variegation on the leaf, and the flowers are so delicate. 

At least clay pots don’t have any calories… that I know of…. and so that must make a few too many of them a harmless distraction.  As of today I only use them for succulents and a few potted bulbs, so even these are too many, but I really need more.  A birthday is coming up.  I wonder if putting ‘old, dirty terracotta pots’ on the birthday list could replace the usual underwear and socks?

aloe blue elf

Another aloe (‘Blue Elf’) with a few flower buds forming.  I hope a lack of water and cool temps can keep them from developing too fast.  Although I love winter blooms, I’d rather see them come up strong outside rather than spindly and weak in here.

So as usual I don’t really know how this post ended up where it has with underwear and socks.  Let me try and re-focus with African violets.  My mother used to grow them and so did my aunt.  My grandmother grew them.  They used to be Saintpaulia, but now I see they’re Streptocarpus sect. Saintpaulia and I’m not sure how that changed anything but I also know that about a year or so ago I needed to grow them again.  I know these urges, I resisted.  I almost made it but then cracked last fall and bought one and then I asked a friend for cuttings.  I found online sources but only looked.  I found one marked down.  I guilted a spouse into buying me one at the grocery store after a few ‘admit it, you’re never going to wear that, I can’t buy you anything’ Christmas returns.  I now have three violets plus two cuttings and I think I’m ok but then realized this afternoon I volunteered to stop at the store just because I thought they might have more.  Hmmmm.

african violet

An African violet.  This weekend will be cold and maybe I’ll take a cutting.  I don’t need more but whatever.

African violets don’t have calories either.  As far as I know adding another would be a  victimless crime even if I’m lying to myself about picking up milk for the kids when I stumble across it.  So what if I end up in a grocery store that’s 35 minutes away, it’s always good to shop around.

Have an excellent weekend, stay warm, and fuel that furnace responsibly… even if some of the fuel is chocolate, beer, and cheese 😉

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 🙂

Happy Solstice

It’s a rare day that snow pictures end up on this blog, but some people seem to be into this kind of stuff so I figured what the heck, they are kind of pretty, sort of like microscopic virus photos or the closeup of a horsefly’s eye… so here they are.  As we enter the longest night of the year it’s a taste of cold sunshine from Saturday morning.

frosty winter morning

 I love Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  It’s supposed to resist winter browning, but here it is with some winter browning.

frosty winter morning

The polished buds of European beech surrounded by the russet glow of Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’ seedheads.

frosty winter morning

More Panicum virgatum ‘Dallas Blues’, a switch grass who’s bluish summer foliage is followed by a winter long reddish foliage which holds up fairly well to lighter snow loads and winter winds.   

frosty winter morning

Silly rose it’s winter, and you’re deciduous.

frosty winter morning

We ended up with about a foot of snow.  Faced with cyber school the kids didn’t even get a day off.

frosty winter morning

It’s been a good year for Amsonia hubrichtii.  The yellow in autumn was better than ever and now there’s even some color left for the first few weeks of winter. 

frosty winter morning

A gentle snowfall marks off the hedges and beds of the potager.

frosty winter morning

The bright sunshine and cold clear air brings sparkle to just about everything.

frosty winter morning

I had been itching to strimmer the stray weeds and wild asters on the berm, who would have thought the juncos would flock in to enjoy the tiny aster seedheads. 

frosty winter morning

It’s always hit or miss as to how the Southern magnolia seedlings make it through the ups and downs of a NEPa winter.  

Now it’s a slow wobble back to summer as the days again increase in length and the ground slowly soaks the heat back up.  Eventually, towards the end of January, our average temperatures should start to rise again and if this winter is anything like the last couple a few witch hazels and winter aconite might dare open a flower or two.  It’s a fun ride.

All the best for a nice, long and cozy solstice night 🙂

A Touch of Spring

Early February is not spring but the plants don’t seem to know, and even if the weather has drifted cooler since these photos were taken, it’s still an unusually mild “winter”.

pale yellow eranthis hyemalis

The first winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) have opened.  These are a pale yellow version which is always a bit earlier than the straight species.

Although the days are getting noticeably longer we’re still just barely into the upswing of winter.  It takes a while to shift from cooling to warming and these should still be some of the coldest days of the winter, but they’re not, and the weird season has some plants behaving oddly.  Some are ahead, some are unconvinced, and others still think it’s fall.

galanthus elwesii green tip

Up and blooming earlier than ever, these giant snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) are showing a bit of green on tips which have never shown green before.  In 14 years of growing this one, I think I would have noticed.

In the end it’s out of my control so no sense in too much hand wringing.  Saturday morning I threw on a sweatshirt, pulled out the hedge trimmers, chopped down and raked out the front bed, mowed it all up, threw it back on to the bed and called it ready to go for 2020.  Spring cleanup before getting any advice from the groundhog is unprecedented but the spring bulbs do need a clean slate to show off against!

perennial bed cleanup

Not the neatest look, but by May it will look fine and I’m sure I’ll find plenty of other things to do now that spring cleanup here is complete! 

It was a slow start.  A head cold had me second guessing the work, and the weeks of couch sitting didn’t exactly have me feeling any younger, but it was nice to finally burn off a few Christmas cookies.  That and there were snowdrops to enjoy 🙂

 

galanthus godfrey owens

Galanthus ‘Godfrey Owen’ is usually up and blooming during our first warm spell.  It’s a favorite of course.

So now begins the usual forecast watching which has me worrying about every ice storm and polar blast which could stomp these early joys.  Fingers crossed it’s not the usual flower frying blast in March and instead is a gentle and gradual warming that encourages the most amazing show of spring bloom that we have ever experienced.  One can hope.  If all else fails I’d like just one sunny dry perfect day to enjoy the drops.  Having it happen on a Saturday wouldn’t hurt either 😉

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 😉

Fake News!

Spring arrived last week.  There it was right in front of me, the thermometer was roaring to the top and everyone was thrilled by the high numbers.  Records keep breaking and coats were thrown aside as ridiculously overcautious and we embraced the sun.  Surely that weak, orange sun was the reason things were so warm.

galanthus potters pride

Galanthus ‘Potters Pride’, typically in bloom for the end of November Thanksgiving table, has only now been coaxed out of the ground.  

The neighborhood was bustling.  Nearly everybody had a job as garages were swept and litter was cleared and the last of the holiday decorations were secured.  It sure looked good.  My brother in Law even pulled out the leaf blower and cleared all the riff-raff which had blown in while our backs were turned.  Back into the woods it went, and a quick round with the lawnmower has everything returned to that bland, uniform, suburban look which all my neighbors seem to love.

lawn mow in january

Nothing like a freshly cut lawn in January.  Mid January.  In Northern Pennsylvania.  For those who have let the 63F (17C) high get to our heads, our normal lows for this time of year should be closer to 17F (-8C).

The last three months have been filled with erratic ups and downs, but the ups are all we care about.  I have snowdrops sprouting and in full bloom outside and it’s the middle of January and that must be good.

galanthus three ships

Galanthus ‘Three Ships’ up and blooming last week.  Although ‘Three Ships’ hails from milder climates and is known for its Yuletide arrival, here in the colder zones it struggle to reach port by the end of January in a “normal” winter.

But in spite of the early sprouts and premature color something still feels wrong.  The sun keeps claiming it’s perfect, and he deserves all the credit for this unusual warmth but most everyone else can see it’s near the lowest point of its year.  I wish my plants would check this out, but no they just keep fixating on these temperature numbers.  Who cares about tomorrow.

hamamelis pallida

The first of the witch hazels to open here is Hamamelis ‘pallida’.  Full bloom and it’s about a month early. 

Oh well.  When it gets cold I’ll just shelter in place and ride it out.  As usual the weather will take out the most vulnerable and either kill them outright or set them back for a few years, but it happens and in spite of warnings the plants never learn.

I’ll protect my favorites though.  Some plants just agree with everything I do and even if I’m the most incompetent gardener they always make me either feel good or look like I’m winning.  Right now with colder weather and snow briefly returning it’s the winter garden that’s got all the good stuff.

cyclamen coum

The Cyclamen coum growing under lights are starting their show.  Hardy enough to survive outdoors I just like keeping a few inside to enjoy.  

My winter garden in the garage is a nice escape from the real world.  Under the fluorescent shop lights I have a few plants pretending they’re not part of this Pennsylvania garden and also a few that are just too tender to make it on their own.  This year’s wunderkind is the pot of galanthus seedlings I have coming up.  A friend gave me the seed last winter and although a few sprouted then, the bulk have waited until now to start coming up.  Realistically they would be better off in the garden, but here I can admire them endlessly and imagine the hundreds of blooms which are sure to follow… in three or four years… assuming I don’t kill them… just like I’ve killed all the others…

snowdrop seedlings

Snowdrop seedlings.  They still have a long way to go but just think of the possibilities!

I’ve been off my seed-starting kick for a few years now but stuff like this is still irresistible.  There’s so much variability in these seed grown bulbs that I’m excited just thinking about what could be.  I guess that’s what optimism looks like when the nights are still so long, since there’s still bound to be a three year wait at least.  In the meantime three years can pass quickly, and three years ago I started some narcissus seed, and three years later I have a bloom!

narcissus romieuxii

Some type of hoop petticoat daffodil.  The seed were labeled as narcissus romieuxii something-something but they’re not the pale yellow I was expecting, so I’m not committing to a full name yet.

Non-hardy daffodils growing under lights is practically a gateway drug to greenhouse thoughts, so fortunately I don’t have much access to more seed but in these unsettled times you never know.  An offer for more seeds would be much better news than what usually shows up.

In the meantime this winter could end up anywhere.  History shows that these fake warmups always end up badly but maybe I should just hide out in the winter garden and hope for the best.  Maybe this time we’ll only get the tornado rather than the tornado, hail and lightning storm.

December Arrives

A stroll in the garden last Thursday reveled only one thing.  It’s boring.  Boring is probably not the worst thing since there have been tours which brought on anger, apathy, or disgust, but the tour did not bring on wonder or excitement, and for me that daily change or new surprise is what makes the yard so interesting.

cyclamen hederifolium foliage

The hardy cyclamen (this one is Cyclamen hederifolium) is pretty exciting now that the foliage is up, but I’ve seen it all before, and should really give a few of the cool new seedlings some room to develop.

I suppose I could find something to do and give the garden a scorched earth cleanup, rounding up every stray leaf and eliminating every dead and dried stalk, but that’s even more boring.  The birds will need something to pick through, and in January a few old seedheads holding the snow will give a little more interest to otherwise dull drifts.  So instead I cut and placed a few chicken wire cages to protect the most treasured shrubs from their annual bunny shearing.

rabbit shrub protection

Previously the rabbits around here were as lazy as I am, and if they had to even push aside a tuft of grass to get to a carrot they wouldn’t bother.  But now they’ve become empowered, and I have to protect things like this ‘Diane’ witch hazel with these attractive wire cages.

My friend Kathy was right.  Deer may not like witch hazels, but bunnies do, and if you’re thinking good for me to put this protection in place before any real damage occurs, you’re being excessively optimistic in regards to my laziness.  The new witch hazels should have been caged up weeks ago as more tender things in the garden dried up, but no, it wasn’t until the first one was nipped off at four inches that I figured it was time.  Fast forward another week when the second hazel was nipped to the ground that I finally got moving.

Echeveria runyonii 'Topsy Turvy'

One last succulent has earned its right to a winter spent inside.  After Echeveria runyonii ‘Topsy Turvy’ survived a few heavy frosts and downright freezes I could no longer turn my back on the pot and into the garage it came.  I wonder just how hardy this thing really is?

I actually did find one bit of excitement while planting some not-really-wanted colchicums (they were supposed to be white… not pink).  The excitement wasn’t the tulip bulbs I sliced through when digging a hole, the excitement was a stray snowdrop in full bloom in a spot where I’ve only ever planted spring varieties.

fall snowdrop

A November snowdrop.  Two years after planting bulk Galanthus elwesii here, this one decides to beat the neighbors and open a few months and a whole season early.  I’ll be curious to see what it thinks next year.

Not to end on a down note, but this little November snowdrop is now encased (hopefully not entombed) in ice just waiting for the first larger snowfall of the season to happen.  I’d show pictures but would prefer to keep this a family friendly blog and will instead show a photo from the Thanksgiving trip which the impending storm cut short.

deer on Long Island

Deer along the beach of the Long Island Sound.  The wide open blue skies of the beach always recharge my outdoor batteries in a way the woodsy mountains and valleys of Pennsylvania don’t.

Things can’t be all that bad when you’re cozy inside and the weather happens on the other side of the window, so I can’t complain, but what ever storms come your way I hope they’re easy on your neck of the woods, and even if they’re snowy, I hope you have a great week!