He Giveth and Taketh Away

I guess it was fun while it lasted and I guess you can already see where this is going, but after a balmy stretch of record breaking warmth our week of unusual February weather has come to an end with a bang.  It’s bizarre weather for a Pennsylvania winter and almost has me believing those crybaby liberal scientists who keep trying to push the idea of global warming on us.  Luckily I ran into CarlB380 on some online political forum and he set me straight by explaining it’s just some normal variations in our global weather cycles.  I heard the Chinese are behind it as well, so everyone just needs to relax.

galanthus diggory

Galanthus ‘Diggory’ sure looks better when you’re not freezing your butt off.

I have to confess that the Chinese may not be entirely to blame.  This year I insisted on buying new snowpants for the kids since they were predicting a wetter than usual La Nina winter.  Foolishly enough I thought that bonanza would come in the form of snow.  Lots of snow means we would finally take advantage of the ski resort just 15 minutes away and all hit the slopes together to shake off rust and learn new skills.  That didn’t happen.  The only rust shook off was from the rake I used to clean out the front street border… not that the rake had much time to rust-up in our three week winter.

early front border

It will take a few more years before those specks of yellow in the center become a sheet of brigh yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), but it will happen soon enough.  You may also notice the bed has crept to the right another few feet…

I admit I’m practically drowning in galanthomania (snowdrop love) these last few days, but in the interest of retaining my last few readers I’ll try and limit myself to just a few.  Feel my struggle though.  Although last year’s hail, heat, and arctic plunge devastated the season, it appears they loved the damp and drawn out spring which followed all that mess.  This year they are coming up bigger than ever, with double stalks where I’ve never seen double stalks, and bulbs which have quadrupled in number… all that and a 70F (21C) sun soaked afternoon to sit on the lawn and admire them.  Wow.

galanthus magnet

Last year’s plunge into  frigid cold and winds withered the blooms and foliage on this bunch of ‘Magnet’.  This spring it’s bigger than ever!

New favorites have settled in as well, and it’s nice to see what a few years can do to the lonely and sometimes lost single flowers of new snowdrop plantings.  Here are two newer favorites, Galanthus ‘Kildare’ and ‘Erway’.

galanthus kildare erway

‘Kildare’ is a nice green tipped snowdrop out of Ireland while ‘Erway’ to the right has an interesting olive colored, oddly helmet-shaped ovary on top.

Now for the bad news though.  A strong cold front had been working its way across the continent and by mid Saturday afternoon reached this end of Pennsylvania.  During the first wave, golfball sized hail rained down out of the sky and a tornado spawned just two miles up the road.

giant hailstones

In what might not have been one of my smarter moves I ran out to the street to bring the car up into the garage… too late to save it from a few dents in the hood, but fortunately my head avoided the same fate.

We were safe from the tornado, and although huge, the hailstones were short lived and only a few came down per square foot.  Impressive enough on its own, but then the second wave hit.  Strong winds, pea and marble sized hail, drenching downpour, and the frightening sound of hail smashing the roof and windows.  Oh yeah, thunder and lightning as well, and in a few minutes the garden went from an early blossom of spring to a freakish mid summer smack-down.

before and after hail

Galanthus ‘viridapice’ with a few winter aconite and hardy Cyclamen coum…  before and after.

All the early snowdrops are history and I’m crossing my fingers for the few late ones which were still trying to catch up with the weather.  Easy come easy go I guess.

before and after hail

Goodbye ‘Bill Bishop’ and ‘Primrose Warburg’.  See you in another 12 months.

Btw I’m a little impressed with myself over the merged photos.  I’m sure this is old news for anyone even marginally computer literate, but just in case you’re interested it was done here>  IMGonline

To wrap up my new-found computer savviness I’m throwing in a few videos as well.  Here’s the second part of the storm as it really hit its stride.

…and a little later as the storm winds up.  My tech skills only go so far, so unfortunately it’s been filmed in the narrow ‘portrait’ orientation, but hopefully this doesn’t kill my chances of breaking the record 23 views which my last video racked up.

We will see where this winter takes us next.  I’m hoping it’s to spring but wherever it goes the ride is always an exciting one and always one which reminds me how grateful I am that I don’t rely on the weather for my livelihood.  -and please don’t feel bad for the lost flowers,  I’m sure they’ll be back stronger than ever next spring and after soaking them up completely for the last few days I think I’ll be fine until the next page of spring unfolds!

Earliest. Cleanup. Ever.

The title says it all.  Nearly all the snow has melted, jackets were thrown aside, and for a glorious weekend we enjoyed obscenely nice spring temperatures and sunshine.  I didn’t even do the responsible thing and wash the car first, I went straight for the clippers and rake and tidied winter away from the front yard.  With flowers bursting up out of the soil it was the only logical thing to do.

first snowdrops

The first snowdrops and the bright yellow of winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis)

I’m not one to hem and haw about “is it too early” or “can I uncovered the perennials yet”, I just dive right in as soon as the weather gives me the chance.  Sure it will probably get cold again, but I find that covered or not they’re going to start growing anyway.

galanthus nivalis

The earliest of the common snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) came up completely as the snow melted Saturday.  I think they look even nicer coming up amongst a nice groundcover of hardy cyclamen.

I’d love to assault you (again) with far too many snowdrop pictures, but for now will limit myself to just three.  I do want to have a few readers left for the other 11 months of the year…

galanthus wendy's gold

‘Wendy’s Gold’  is one of the “yellow” snowdrops.  The color is exceptional this year, and just as bright as today’s sunshine.

After a downright miserable snowdrop season last year, this year (all three days of it so far) is shaping up to be outstanding.  With the usual optimism of a gardener I’m positive that last year’s arctic blasts and heat waves, combined with downpours and hail, will not repeat.  I see nothing but idyllic temperatures and sunshine, even though it is about a month early.  But just in case, I’ll keep watering the winter garden since it’s coming along as well.

forced hyacinth

A few of the hyacinths I forced this winter.  Not bad for a bunch of clearance bulbs.

The indoor snowdrops are mostly over, but the cyclamen are going strong and the primrose are promising a nice show as they send up flower buds.  Miraculously I’ve managed to see my Primula auricula through the winter and bring it back into flower again under the lights.  I managed to grow this from seed (somehow) and I’m afraid it’s literally led me down a primrose path to membership in the American Primrose Society.  Now for a third year in a row I’ve ordered more seed and just in case you’re brave enough, the society has just opened up this seed exchange to non members.  Click here for a link to some of the best (and cheapest) primula seed available in the US.

primula auricula

Definitely not the fanciest example of an auricula primrose, but it’s my very own (and most importantly I haven’t killed it yet).  The fancier versions come in rich reds, blues or greens with larger flowers, bicolor blooms… all with that cool white-powdered center.

I’m excited again about the primroses, but Cyclamen coum are still a favorite.  Their numbers have dropped a little due to someone not being the most capable cyclamen grower, but I have plans to turn that trend around.  I’ve been going and dabbing pollen from flower to flower in the hopes of getting a few seeds to form, and if all works as planned there will be a new batch of these coming along in no time.

cyclamen seed forming

Unpollinated flowers will wilt and fall over, pollinated flowers will curl up and tuck themselves down close to the ground to form a seed pod.  I think this is one of the most curious traits of these little plants.

As the cyclamen set their seeds and the other flowers join the show I’ve decided to bring a few of the forced tulip bulbs under the lights to see what they can do.  Tulips indoors are a first for me, but with the way our weather’s going the ones outside will be nearly open anyway so it’s no great loss if failure strikes.

forced tulips

In typical fashion bulbs have been carelessly stuffed into a too small pot, and although I don’t anticipate any overwhelming demand for this less than attractive photo, in my opinion it looks extremely promising.

And we will see where this season takes us.  It’s a freakishly early start to spring but even in a normal year there’s plenty of unfortunate weather to go around, so a beautifully warm weekend in February isn’t the worst thing.  I guess we will just have to enjoy it while we can, and of course I’m fine with that.

Snowdropping 2017

Rather than face 9 inches of snow and a 12F (-11C) low lets take a trip back to just four days ago when the springtime warmth brought on an emergency trip to enjoy this year’s first snowdrop trip.  It’s early of course, but we were on a mission this time and with the thermometer peaking at 60F (15C) it was now or never.  The mission was to visit Dr. John Lonsdale at Edgewood Gardens, and take a tour of his overflowing snowdrop and cyclamen greenhouses before the warm weather set all the flowers to seed.  We were not disappointed.

galanthus and cyclamen

Snowdrops and hardy cyclamen filling the greenhouse benches.

John lives and gardens in Exton, Pennsylvania, just outside of Philadelphia and from the looks of things you’d never guess he has yet to quit his day job.  These thousands of drops and bulbs (plus about a billion other plants spread out across his yard) are just a passionate hobby and sideline which is Edgewood Gardens.  You may already know this since he is a regular feature at garden events and lectures up and down the East coast, but to see his garden and hear him talk you would think for sure he lives the life of a full time nurseryman.

galanthus homersfield

Galanthus ‘Homersfield’ in the Lonsdale greenhouse.

I have plenty of pictures here and will likely ramble on too long so to keep things focused I’ll just add that John will be putting out his first snowdrop sales list this summer, and if you’re even just slightly interested in seeing what drops might be available send him an email via his Edgewood Gardens website.

forced snowdrops

I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I thought.  Most of my visit was spent poking through the benches admiring all the characteristics and nuances that a plain little green and white winter flowering bulb can give.

John may be growing a few extra bulbs for sale, but it doesn’t take more than a walk up his driveway to recognize he’s plant obsessed with a weakness towards collecting.

potted snowdrops

Hundreds of carefully inventoried and labeled pots fill every square inch.

The full range of snowdrops is represented in the greenhouse, selections from seed grown species right alongside some of the most coveted European varieties, many of which are nearly impossible to find on either side of the Atlantic.  This is even more impressive when you consider the cost and complications which are involved in bringing these plants into the States legally (something you’ll quickly notice when browsing overseas sources).

galanthus green tear

An all green snowdrop, Galanthus ‘Green Tear’, is one of those drops which broke records a few years ago when first offered on eBay.  Someone thought $500 for a single bulb was just right for feeding their obsession.

When they’re all together like this it’s hard to pick out favorites…. or even distinguish one white drop from another, but a few stand out even to a beginner like myself.

galanthus diggory

The puffy pantaloons look of Galanthus ‘Diggory’ (pantaloons as in pants, not the twenty one pilots song)

Travel is supposed to broaden the mind but I’m afraid all this trip did was make my snowdrop obsession worse.  I picked up several new names to add to the want-list…

galanthus duckie

Galanthus ‘Duckie’ on the left and top.  I loved the wide flat petals.

galanthus moortown

I also like how the green mark inside Galanthus ‘Moortown’ bleeds up a bit and stains the inside.  Plus it’s a nice big sturdy drop 🙂

galanthus green mile

Galanthus ‘Green Mile’, another sought after, deeply saturated green snowdrop.

Ok, so that might be plenty of snowdrops, but before we leave the greenhouse the hardy Cyclamen coum deserve some attention as well.  Not to pat myself on the back too strongly, but these are the same plants which John offers for sale through his website, and somehow through a remarkable feat of self control I managed to limit myself to just four carefully selected plants.

cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum at their peak in the greenhouse.  It will be another few weeks before the ones I have here in my own garden begin to flower, and weather permitting they will be just as nice.

There were also plenty of seedlings coming along for future sales.

hardy cyclamen seedlings

Various hardy and not so hardy cyclamen seedlings coming along in the “other” greenhouse.   If you look closely you can even see some of the cool purple centered C hederifolium coming along in the center of the photo.  Even the little babies color up!

… and that’s just in the greenhouses.  Because of the exceptional temperatures things were pushing ahead outside as well.

colchicum kesselringii

The absolutely perfect Colchicum kesselringii, a late winter flowering relative of the more common fall blooming colcicum.

adonis amurensis

The first of the Adonis amurensis were coming up to take advantage of the sun.

And cactus.  I barely mentioned the cactus beds, but there they were looking as if they were growing a few hundred miles West and South of this Philly garden.

purple opuntia

An opuntia (prickly pear) which wrinkles up and takes on an unusual purple color once temperatures fall.  I wonder if it blooms as nicely as the regular version, the spines sure do look just as fierce!

Oh and I’m sure you’re done with snowdrops, but there were more outside as well, both in bloom and just beginning to sprout.

galanthus Mrs Macnamara

I believe this is Galanthus ‘Mrs Macnamara’, a perfect beauty and surprisingly hardy and early.  Word is this bunch has been going strong for a couple weeks already, and still looks this good.

Hellebores were also just beginning.

helleborus niger

A few of many Helleborus niger (Christmas rose) which were coming up around the garden.  Here on the slope they looked absolutely perfect.

Even a few of the trees and shrubs were showing signs of life.  The witch hazels (Hamamelis) were in bloom all over the gardens, but the delicate flowers of the Japanese plum (Prunus mume) really look too delicate for a Pennsylvania February.

prunus mume

Prunus mume.  Dr. Lonsdale told me the cultivar but at that point I’m pretty sure my brain was way too full to retain any lengthy Japanese names.

I could easily spend all day or another day at Edgewood Gardens, but if you’re at all familiar with our Philly snowdrop jaunts you’ll know we always fit in way too much for the still short days.  Before our greenhouse visit we happily dropped an hour and a half at a local park to again admire the sheets of naturalized winter aconite (Eranthis Hyemalis) which grow there.

naturalized eranthis bulbs

The forest floor was buzzing with hundreds of honeybees taking advantage of these first flowers of 2017.

We even managed to find a few snowdrops just coming up.  What a perfect combination, and quite a contrast to the deer chewed pachysandra, weeds and brambles.

naturalized eranthis bulbs

Naturalized eranthis and snowdrop bulbs.  Given a few acres and about 150 years and you might also have a similar show.

We were so lucky with the weather this year.  Snowdropping in February is one thing, doing it in short sleeves is unheard of even in the warmest of years.  Hopefully when March rolls around and it’s time to head north to visit Hitch Lyman and Temple Gardens we will be just as lucky.  History says otherwise though.

playing in the snow

Temperatures dropped to normal within 24 hours of our visit and we finally got a good coating of snow to cover up any signs of spring.  It now looks more normal for February, but that doesn’t explain why the kids can’t just go sledding in their snow pants like everyone else.

As usual a special thanks goes out to Paula for her annual enthusiasm for these trips, and also a big thanks goes out to Dr. Lonsdale for being so generous with his time, his knowledge and also his garden.  Truth be told I may have just kind of invited myself over that day, but you would never have guessed it by how warmly I was received by both John and by his other (more scheduled) visitors.  It was great getting to see everyone and I hope we do this again!

Spring keeps rolling along

As it is with most things here, the gardener is not exactly on schedule with his gardening.  He’s not exactly on schedule with many things, but the late freeze and the discouraging damage it did to so many spring greens has left him slightly unmotivated.  Then the relentless rain and cold damp brought on rot, and now dry weather is bringing spider mites to the phlox.  So the gardener will restart his spring in mid May and deal with the mites.  He’ll also accept that many projects will again not happen, and will just clear his conscience and move on.  Iris are beginning to bloom after all, and once the iris start to fill the flowerbeds with color and perfume it’s hard to hold onto a black mood.

narcissus keats

One of my last daffodils to open, narcissus ‘Keats’ was voted ‘ugliest thing to bloom’ by a more serious daffodil friend.  I’m always one to love the underdog. 

One minor project (which seems to be the only project type I’m capable of tackling this spring) which was finally taken care of was the long suffering heuchera plantings.  A few summers ago I dipped my toes into the hybrid heuchera world and since then they’ve been suffering along in my garden.  My planting beds get too dry, my shade isn’t as high and dappled as they’d like, and my soil is too heavy for their roots but I try nonetheless.  They still have plenty of filling in to do but if you saw the before picture I’m sure you’d agree this is an improvement.  Unfortunately the tan lawn clipping mulch doesn’t do much to set the foliage off, but it’s better than weeds I suppose.

transplant and divide heuchera

The woody stems of the heuchera clumps were dug up, ripped apart and carelessly stuffed back in to the re-dug bed and the plants actually look much happier after their tough love treatment.    

As summer heat settles down on the garden this holiday weekend, I just wanted to celebrate the meadow and a few of the newer plantings which did well this spring.  Number one on the list were the tulip clusiana bulbs which planted into the turf.  They looked perfect out there and I hope they return just as nicely next spring.

tulipa clusiana

Tulip clusiana (I think they were a named variety but I’ll need to dig out the tag) were scattered around in the meadow garden.  I will be extremely happy if they settle in here!

A few Anemone blanda look nice in the shadier parts of the lawn.  I tried throwing them around in several of the outer edges of the garden and then promptly forgot until little sparkles of blue started showing up here and there.  My goal for this one is to recreate the neglected show which used to pop up each spring around my first apartment in upstate NY.  If this plant can naturalize around a ramshackle college boarding house I think it stands half a chance here.

blue anemone blanda

Blue Anemone blanda in the “lawn”. 

Muscari is practically a weed everywhere so I added a few of those as well.  The flowers on these grape hyacinths were nice enough but now I keep looking at the seed heads with their kind-of aqua tint.  I wonder if it was the cooler temperatures or if they’ll always have this attractive look…. or is it just me that thinks they look cool?

muscari seed pods

Seed heads on the grape hyacinths (Muscari).  In other parts of the garden I clip them off to limit their seeding around, but here I’ll risk it 🙂

Most of the bulbs were brought in as bulbs, but if you know me you know there are a few seeds coming along as well.  My little gravel covered pots are bursting with new plants this spring and even though the last freeze did a few things in the majority seemed to enjoy our mild winter.  I’m always a bit surprised anything will grow up through gravel, but in some pots even the tiniest of seedlings make a crowded moss of new green sprouts…. which will soon desperately need thinning!

hypericum albury purple

Hundreds of Hypericum ‘Albury Purple’ seedlings sprouting in the center pot. Realistically I need about two.

With new seedlings coming along each spring there are always new surprises as youngsters open their first blooms.  A couple years ago I thought I’d dabble in a few species anemones and see how they do in the meadow, and although I’m not sure they’re all correctly labeled, for now I’m just enjoying them for whatever they are.

aneomone caroliniana

Not Anemone caroliniana?  Pretty regardless, and it looks like it might be able to hold its own if I move it out into the thinner areas of grass.  

One seedling which has a positive ID is this cool little Japanese Jack-in-the-pulpit or snow rice-cake plant (Arisaema sikokianum).  I was surprised to see any of these three year old seedlings flower, and although the actual flower is definitely on the small side for this species they say size doesn’t matter in these things and I’ll just keep admiring the fancy little bloom.

arisaema sikokianum

Arisaema sikokianum.  Although my picture doesn’t do it justice, I hope you can appreciate the mottled foliage and bright contrasts of this flower. 

So that’s the basic update.  I promise this will be the last time I moan about freezes and such, but I can’t promise some other weather event won’t come along shortly to take its place.  Whatever happens it’s a great iris weekend and I’m sure I’ll be going on about that next 🙂

Too much money

Some complaints will never get you any sympathy, and to complain that tulips are coming up and blooming in all sorts of odd places probably ranks right up there.  Truth be told it’s not a problem, but when every batch of compost seems to hold a new crop of bulbs, the spring planting in the parterre becomes a little more complicated.

tulips in the vegetable garden

Once again the vegetable garden is a complicated mess of far too many flowers and far too few edibles.

For all my failures in the garden, tulips seem to be one plant which enjoys the poorly draining, heavy soil of the flower beds.  It’s a surprise to see this considering many references suggest a loamy, free draining soil for your best chances at success, and even then it’s a safer bet to treat tulips as one or two year treat.  Fortunately no one has whispered this little secret into the ears of my bulbs and they keep coming back and multiplying.

tulips in the vegetable garden

Having a few tulips in the way is just the excuse I need to skip digging too deeply when it comes to planting the spring vegetables. 

I think I do know the secret though.  The soil may be heavy but it’s also thin and dries out relatively quickly once the heat of summer settles in, and if I do manage to drag my lazy self away from the pool to water it’s never a solid deep watering, it’s always a guilty stand around with a hose until things look less dead kind of triage.  I can’t imagine much of the water ever penetrates deeper than two or three inches and for this the heavy soil works to an advantage.  My tulips like a hot, dry summer similar to their ancestral haunts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia and most years (unfortunately) this is what my garden resembles.

tulips in the vegetable garden

Tulips in the onions, tulips in the lettuce.  I try to replant stray bulbs closer to the edges, but there are always more little bulblets in the compost or stray bulbs dug around in the soil.

When I was more ambitious I used to fill several of the beds each fall and then dig them again in June after the foliage died down.  It was a glorious spring explosion but one bad experience soured me to the whole deal and I ended up tossing hundreds of fat promising bulbs.  They really do need a good drying out over the summer and when mine all molded up and rotted one damp August I put a stop to the project.  But…. I can’t promise it won’t happen again some day 🙂

lettuce self sown seedlings

If all goes well this batch of tulip leaves should put out two or three blooms next year.  Not bad for a weed, and if you notice there are more weeds in the lawn, in this case lettuce seedlings from last years neglected plantings.

So to sum it up my tulips don’t mind a nice heavy fertile soil while they’re growing, the just need to follow it up with a warm dry summer rest.  Planting them in a spot which dries out and doesn’t get summertime irrigation is one option, actually digging them up and storing them in a hot, dry, ventilated area until fall planting is another.  Just be prepared to have more tulips than you know what to do with since most tulips will at least double in number every growing season.

double early tulip

Leftover Easter flowers from two or three years ago.  Let them bloom and grow as long as possible in their pot and then stick them into some out of the way spot, preferably one where they will not be overrun with bearded iris 🙂

Although most people recommend species tulips and Darwin types for the best chance at perennializing,  I don’t notice that much of a difference between the types.  Give them all a try is my advice, but for best results regardless of type you will have to dig and divide the bulbs every three or four years  when they begin to get crowded.

perennial Darwin hybrid tulips

A few stray tulips snuck in with the compost for this new snowdrop bed.  With snowdrop season long gone I’m quite happy to see the tulips flowering in a carpet of my favorite annual weed, purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum). 

Alas, even plants relatively happy with their homes do not always lead perfect lives.  The tulip season may be a little sparse next year for two reasons, both of which revolve around the weather.  The first is our harsh April freeze which damaged many of the buds and much of the blooms for this year’s show.  That in itself could be tolerable, but in the weeks since the weather has remained damp and cool, and many of the damaged plants are now falling victim to gray mold (Botrytis).  Botrytis is bad news and seems to stick around for a few years even after better weather returns.  I’m wondering how many of the affected plants will be going on to tulip heaven…

tulip virus candy apple

Not to go on and on about this late freeze, but here’s yet another example of damaged foliage and stunted blooms.  To top it off I also suspect virus in the streaked blossoms of what should really be a solid colored flower. 

All is not lost though.   I still love tulips and would grow a few even if they only made it a year or so before falling victim to whatever tragedies visit my garden next.

tulip marit

Tulip ‘Marit’ is a favorite this year.  I don’t remember such round flowers last year but the shape and color this year really won me over. 

In the meantime I will keep my fingers crossed.  I far prefer being spoiled for choice as far as tulips go, and if it means working around a few bulbs here and there that’s fine with me.

tulip pink impression

Tulip ‘pink impression’ in the front border.  They’re huge and pink and although battered by the weather they’re still the crowning glory of the border.

Have a great Sunday and happy mother’s day to the moms!

A freeze and the daffodils

I can’t really hold the weather against them, but I do.  Again and again I told them not to get such an early jump on the season but they ignored me and sure enough one final blast of winter came through and taught them all a lesson.  Three weeks later and I’m still mourning the daffodil season which never was.

cold damage daffodil

Can you guess the prevailing wind direction?  Like a windswept bonsai this daffodil ‘Actea’ still managed to pull through and open a few blooms in spite of the 20F winds which blew through. 

I shouldn’t say the whole season was a wash but if I had to guess I would say about half the daffodils lost their buds and blooms completely and only about a quarter opened up nicely.  A quarter goes a long way though and I’m still grateful to have what I do, plus the weather has been very accommodating since so I suspect the surviving daffodils will put on an extra special show next year.

Isn’t that typical of a gardener?  It’s always “wait until you see this next week” or “imagine next year”…. or the apologetic “you should have seen it a few days ago”. 🙂

narcissus daffodil stepchild

One of my many favorites, narcissus ‘stepchild’ is later and in a spot sheltered from the wind, and although neighboring clumps were still de-flowered by the cold, she seems as pretty as ever. 

In spite of the wild swings in temperature the various butterflies of the garden seem unfazed and continue to shake off the cold and go about their business as soon as the weather warms enough.  Perhaps I hadn’t noticed in previous years, or perhaps there were other non-freeze burned sources of food available, but this year the daffodils have been very popular with several types of butterflies.

butterfly on daffodil black swallowtail

A black swallowtail feeding off the windblown and weather-beaten flowers of narcissus ‘kokopelli’. 

I hope my wallowing in self pity hasn’t made it seem like all is lost in my end of the woods.  Spring is a fantastic relief even with its frequent ups and downs and if one looks past the blackened cherries and mushy primrose blooms and perennial shoots there’s still more good than sad.

daffodil newcomer narcissus

Later is better this spring, and because a late replanting last fall set daffodil ‘Newcomer’ back a few days, its blooms missed the worst of the weather.  The tulips as well, the shelter of the garden’s tiny boxwood hedge seems to have helped them avoid the full brunt of the winds.

In the lee of the house the front garden missed the full force of the wind.  Here if I ignore all the mushy, blackened hyacinth blooms, and wilted early daffodils I can still find plenty to enjoy.

narcissus geranium daffodil

Blooms of the good old reliable daffodil ‘geranium’ set off by ‘pink impression’ tulips, yellow Euphorbia polychrome, and the purple flowers of ‘Rosemary Verey’ Lunaria annua (moneyplant).  I was hoping for darker foliage on the Lunaria but maybe having all the old leaves frozen off a few weeks ago left me with only fresh new green ones.

Maybe this freeze was a warning to diversify.  I admit to having way too many daffodils and maybe adding more supporting players isn’t the worst idea (as if I need a reason for adding more plants!)

mertensia Virginia bluebell from seed

Finally!  After several failed attempts and then a three year wait for my only sprouted seedling to grow up, the first Virginia bluebell (Mertensia Virginica) is in bloom.  Others claim it to be nearly weedy in its ways, but I managed to kill the first one I bought and then never found it in the garden center again.

I’m kidding of course.  Although I do need to find new homes for many of the most promiscuous daffodils (please let me know if you can take any in), there are billions of new plants on the way regardless, as seeds sown last fall and winter begin to sprout.  I always love these new surprises as much as I love the warmer up sides to this spring’s manic mood swings.  Even a bright yellow dandelion makes me grin when the sun is out!

creeping Charlie dandelions

Creeping Charlie and dandelions on a sunny day.  A beautiful lawn in my opinion…. even if Charlie does get on my nerves later in the season.

I have one more gloomy post as I complain about the assault which the cold made against the tulips, but after that things should return to a happier tone which more accurately reflects the joy of the season.   Have a great weekend, I’ve spent far too long on the computer and need to get out there and dig a little before the first Little League game drags me elsewhere 🙂

Bury your head in the sand

Ignorance is bliss.  As the garden shivers and crackles under a freezing blanket of cold the wise gardener will hunker down indoors and enjoy the luxury of a warmer, climate controlled gardening experience.  Outdoors he can’t do anything but wait for the damage to show but indoors he can at least tweak the thermostat a little higher and take another sip of coffee… spiked or unspiked depending on the latest weather report.

rebloom amaryllis

Leftover Easter flowers and a few too many amaryllis blooms.

I’ve been a little too excited about the new amaryllis I bought this winter and in my excitement ended up bringing the older bulbs out and giving them a little water too.  In a normal year I just throw the dormant bulbs outside in April and let them bloom right alongside the tulips, but this year I thought ‘the more the merrier’ and as a result I’m ending the winter with an amaryllis (Hippeastrum) extravaganza.  I’ve had these bulbs at least seven years now and if I remember to give them a little attention after flowering they reward me each spring with a fantastic color show.

red amaryllis

The bright red and pure white are perfect for Christmas… or I guess Easter 🙂

It sounds slightly ungrateful but of all the colors, Christmas red and snowy white are not what I’m normally looking for come springtime.  This of course was not what I was considering years ago when I picked the bulbs up for $1 a piece at some box-store clearance shelf… but please humor me as I shamelessly brag about how well they are doing now.  Each pot is already showing at least four bloom stalks a piece, and the plants themselves are on the verge of nearly overwhelming the dining room table, even with less than half the flower stalks open.  On the edge of the group you barely notice the last of the newbies, a delicate pink-flushed mini white named ‘Trentino’.

amaryllis trentino

Bigger may not necessarily be better as in the case of this ‘mini’ amaryllis ‘Trentino’.

Once it warms up outside (assuming it ever does) new and old amaryllis will all go out into a semi-shaded spot, get hooked up to the same drip irrigation system that waters the summer annuals, and will be ignored until November.  If I feel generous I’ll send some liquid fertilizer their way but for the most part they’re on their own.  If there’s a trick to it all I guess it’s that they sit in a gritty, peat-free soil mix which drains well, and they have a nice solid terracotta pot which breathes well and holds down their heavy tops.  Well drained, plenty of moisture, and a good feeding… mine enjoy that.

fancy leaf geranium

Geraniums blooming more than they should under the lights of the winter garden.  A better gardener would probably remove the flowers for the sake of stronger growth and a healthier spring transplant.

You may notice the attractive plastic sheeting which forms a subtle backdrop to the amaryllis photos.  The sheeting keeps the dust and debris of a kitchen remodel from drifting into the rest of the house, and also keeps us from enjoying the charms of a useable sink or stove.  If I try hiding indoors too long from the brutality of our latest arctic blast, eventually I need a new place to hide from the mayhem a kitchen run out of the living room…. so I escape to the garage and the winter garden.

scented geranium flower

The scented leaved geraniums (Pelargonium) are also blooming under the lights.  The flowers are a treat, but I love the lemony scents which come off the foliage each time I move a plant or water a neighbor.

For a while the winter garden was being ignored.  Spring was early and I was back outside enjoying snowdrops, then crocus, and then daffodils… but now winter is back and I’m pretending it didn’t all happen and I’m just doing the regular sowing and repotting of late winter.  Because I foolishly brought sprouting bulb seedlings in during a December freeze I’m now at the point where I can dig seedlings out and see what grew.  Here’s a mixed potful of one and two year old Allium Christophii bulblets which just recently went dormant.  I’m fascinated even though a less than polite reader might point out I could get a bagful of blooming sized bulbs for under $10 this fall.

allium christophii seedlings

A few Allium christophii seedlings all grown up into pea sized bulblets.  I’ll plant them outside next year and hopefully see flowers in another two or three years.  I’m sure at that point I’ll wonder where they came from, since I’ll definitely forget where I planted them!

I find it interesting that even though I sowed the seeds shallowly, most have migrated to the very bottom of their four inch pots.  Readers of Ian Young’s Bulb Log at the Scottish Rock Garden Club will already know this since Mr. Young has observed this repeatedly, but for me to see it myself is of course more fun.

tulip from seed

Second year for a tulip seedling.  In the middle of the photo you can see the dried rice-sized husk of last year’s bulb, if you follow this year’s root to the right (which would have grown deeper into the pot) you will find the newly formed pea sized bulb from this season.  Maybe by next year we’ll be up to kidney bean size 🙂 

I was also happy to find one of my fall snowdrops has made a nice sized offset.  I would have thought the double shoot from the top would have split the bulb into two, but instead it has just sprouted a new bulb off to the side.  So I guess that means there will be three growing tips next fall!

galanthus monosticus

One of my special snowdrops, a fall blooming Galanthus elwessi monosticus which a friend picked up for me at Nancy Goodwin’s Montrose Gardens in Hillsborough North Carolina.

Not all my escape gardening happens in seclusion.  Occasionally I have a helper and this year that helper has been assisting in writing out some of the many plant labels which go along with all the odds and ends which get seeded out.  She may actually do a neater job than I do, and her talent for labeling in Latin is impressive.

dyi plant label

The cut up vinyl blinds which I use for plant labels.  Plain old lead pencil seems to last for decades and I’ve found a few still readable in the garden, one going back to ’91 for a dogwood seedling which I apparently smuggled out of Longwood Gardens in a pocket…

Also impressive is one of my newest treasures.  It’s a Cyclamen Rhodium seedling from my visit to John Lonsdale’s Edgewood Gardens, and it’s blooming in spite of having been dumped out of its pot not even three minutes after John handed it off to me.  He was very forgiving of my clumsiness, but I never did mention that I dumped it over again a second time as I got into my car.  Fortunately it survived, and although John suggested that I give this one a try outdoors in a sheltered spot (planted six or more inches deep once it goes dormant), I’m not sure if I’m brave enough to risk its health a third time.

cyclamen rhodium

A really cool Cyclamen rhodium from the Southern Peloponnese and island of Rhodes in Greece.  Nice flower but look at that speckled foliage! 

So that’s how things are going here in my own sheltered locations.  I have some promising tomato seedlings sprouting as well as eggplant and peppers, but it will be a few days before the damage outside becomes definite.  Already things such as roses, lilacs and daffodils look rough, but for as long as I can stay in denial I will.  Maybe the hyacinth will bloom so much stronger next year now that their blooms have all been frozen off.  A gardener can hope 🙂