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.

Getting Roots in the Ground Again

2016/17 been a remarkably mild winter in this corner of Pennsylvania, and although February usually brings us some of our harshest cold and winter storms, this year it’s going out with a whimper.  For a few days I won’t complain but beyond that I can’t promise anything.  March has a history of big snow-dumps and hopefully if they do come they’re more picturesque than they are damaging, and hopefully this quirk of a winter is also not some dark prequel to an even worse global warming future.

Without a solid slate-cleaning this winter I’m a little lost heading into the 2017 gardening season.  It all still seems so ‘last year’ so I suppose I’ll use that as my excuse for not putting out the usual bored with the snow, don’t want to face the cold, winter time flashback posts, but let me at least try and get this one post out before I’m lost outside again searching for spring sprouts.  It goes back to 2002 when the ignorance of youth thought it would be a good idea to buy a house, lose a job, and get engaged all in the same two months.

dupont house

Our diamond in the rough.

Before I get too distracted with the story I want to point out that a normal first impression of our little valley usually dates it at around 20 years behind the rest of the country.  It’s a region who’s boom time began at the tail end of the 1700’s with the discovery of vast deposits of anthracite coal; the cleanest, hardest, and highest carbon coal out there, and the fuel which powered the economic and manufacturing development of this entire region.  For about 100 years we were riding high but it was a one horse show, and by the 1950’s the horse was definitely showing its age.  Deep mining had shifted to strip mining and the whole region went into a kind of long term hibernation of fleeing youth and aging residents.  Our house is an example of the ‘build it quick for housing’ phase and was probably built around 1910 as cheap two family housing for miners.  After decades of rough living it was probably worth our $24,000 purchase price.

garden renovation

100 years of history and the yard didn’t even have a peony or daffodil.  Gardening was confined to an overgrown privet hedge which looms to the right and a single mass of lilacs growing alongside a decaying shed.

I optimistically brought all the potted plants over from my former apartment balcony and then later watched them freeze as first the plumbing and then heat and finally electricity were pulled out and replaced.  In case it’s not obvious from the photos or purchase price the house was in horrible condition, so much so that when the realtor’s odd girlfriend took her small dog into the house and allowed it to pee on the kitchen doorjamb it barely raised an eyebrow.  I guess we were too distracted by the rotted floor boards, cobbled home repairs, and ‘evidence’ of vermin infestation.

new garden

That fall I planted daffodils, and in between gutting the house and piecing together scraps for a rabbit hutch, put in the first patch for gardening and trimmed back the near side of the privet. oh yeah, and actually transplanted grass so that I had at least one nice strip of lawn to walk on.

As I’m very fond of saying, ignorance is bliss, and for several months the economic realities of the newly unemployed demanded that I just “polish and put a shine on shit” and hopefully have a resale value once the journey was done, but a former girlfriend now fiancée had different ideas.

new garden

I have no idea why I had to have a waterlily even when I didn’t have a running toilet, but there it is.  Until the next dumpster arrives, what better use is there for a 1960’s avocado green bath tub? 

After several months of basement and utility renovations the friend who’s a contractor is traded in for the actual deal.  We’re into new territory now and although I can’t pay my labor in cases of beer anymore there is progress.  Unfortunately real contractors can’t be bothered with sensibly small attic dormers, they prefer “it’s cheaper to rip it down and build solid walls” and so we did.

dupont house

About a year later.  Might as well add a second floor while you’re at it. 

So here we were taking a two family home (which likely housed close to a dozen people at one time), tripling it in size, and making it just large enough for the two of us.

dupont house

Looks quaint and country, but keep in mind that a freight rail line runs just behind the trees, and only a few years ago a garbage truck collapsed into the road when an old mine shaft gave way.

Still unemployed, and now enrolled in school (again) the ballooning “don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of the kids”, pricetag finally scared me off the very addictive drug of contractor help.  With windows in and siding set to go on we cut the cord, buttoned up the exterior and moved into the basement… and found out what it is to live on love 🙂

dupont house

Building from the bottom up.  What were we thinking!?  In hindsight it’s hard to believe all of this was the product of me in the basement with a few sheets of graph paper and a lot of ‘yeah, I think I want another door here and window there… and oh, probably another bathroom’. 

Obviously there wasn’t all that much free time for gardening, but you know how it goes with all work and no play…

new garden

Of course there’s not much to the garden in October, but the privet has bounced back from its trim back and another bed is in.  Not really a garden design, but these beds take care of the pathetic grass which it replaced.  Please note the ever popular burn pit where most of the old house’s lumber was illegally burned.

Once we moved into the house the next three years are kind of foggy.  A full kitchen came first, a completed first floor, a new job, a master bedroom, a new baby, a completed second floor… finally an attic loft.  Slowly the garden inched along as well.

garden renovation

Behind the garage became a new garden spot where iris divisions were welcomed.  You can’t beat the generosity of other gardeners for filling in bare patches.

To know me is to know I have a slight leaning towards the tropical flair.  I love how you can get a massive show in just a few short weeks.

garden renovation

The usual leftovers and scraps which are my constant struggle.  Someday I’ll get them under control… or move to a new house 😉

The fun of a new garden is you have room for nearly everything and don’t yet have the baggage of too many beds gone to weeds, invasive plants, or “shouldn’t have put that there” issues.

tropical garden

I am a bit of a creature of habit.  Ten years later and I’m still growing all of these tropical and tropical looking goodies. -and I still like too much red

Another big plus for this house was that pretty much everything we did was a blessing -considering the property’s history of troublesome kids, giant rats, and overflowing trash piles.  Construction debris, dirt piles, unfinished projects, were all overlooked in this neighborhood where it’s not unusual for people to live and die in the house they were born in.

garden renovation

The front garden never really had time to come together.  I would have loved a small picket fence or something.

We were on a different track though.  Memories were built, lessons learned, and dreams ignited but when it came down to it this wasn’t more than a stepping stone.  Five years into it (just as the last big projects were finished) we decided to buy the house of my wife’s grandparents.  It was an unexpected decision based mostly on emotion, but in the long run we knew this would be short term.

garden renovation

A very helpful addition to the garden.  From the start he was practically an expert in finding worms and digging up new transplants.

So that spring I focused on grassing over a few beds, moving a ton of plants to the new house, and getting the house set to go on the market.

garden renovation

The new view out the back door.  I wish I had better pictures of the seating area carved out of the back slope, but as usual I was distracted by lounging out on the deck.

So that was what brought us to the new house.  In what has become our normal mode of operation for life changing events, that spring we were hit with a tsunami of the house selling in three days, a baby arriving a month early, a job lost, a car totaled, all made even more fun when you decide a few changes to the “new” house might be necessary… but we survived and it really puts the panic of a late frost or snapped iris stalk in perspective.

Don’t worry, we shall return to our normal garden updates next post.  I’ve just taken a look outside and the snowdrops are coming and the snow is melting and as soon as 2017 is off and running I won’t give a darn about years gone by until winter rolls around again.  Hopefully the weather is looking up for you as well!

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!

The Winter Garden 2017

Once again the new normal in winters is proving itself to be completely abnormal.  Instead of celebrating the depths of winter last week with a warm blanket and a seed catalog I found myself outside in the sun clearing dried stems from around snowdrop sprouts and spreading mulch and compost on top of the earliest spring flower beds.  I loved it for a few days, but to see snow and freezing temperatures in the week ahead was much more reassuring, if only to keep the flowers asleep until safer weather returns.  It is winter gardening season after all, and the 2017 winter garden has been up and running since the holidays.

the winter garden

Life under the lights.

The cool (but rarely freezing) workshop which adjoins the back of the garage is home to my often celebrated winter garden.  A collection of overwintering bulbs and potted plants survive the cold in this dimly lit room, and each winter they are joined by a table top full of forced bulbs, early seedlings, and whatever else I can’t leave to freeze outside.  I’ve upped the number of fluorescent light fixtures to three this year and am feeling rich with all the extra growing space!

the winter garden

A closeup of the different foliage types filling the table.  Snowdrops and cyclamen dominate, the cyclamen are only just starting to put out their midwinter flower show.

Interest in the winter garden rises and falls opposite the outdoor temperatures.  Colder weather means more tinkering indoors, warmer weather results in general neglect.  This week I bucked the trend though, and brought in a tray of primula seedlings before the approaching snow and ice locked them up in their protective mulch pile.

forced perennials

With just a little cleanup I’m optimistic these primroses will look great.  Hopefully blooms will show up in just a couple weeks under the lights.

Three plants have become standards for my winter garden.  Snowdrops are the first.  They’re an addiction so I can’t really reason out why I must grow them here when they’re just as successful (and nearly at the same stage) as under lights… but I do.  Cyclamen and primrose are a different story.  Their bright colors and their overall happiness in this cold back room really cheer up a gloomy winter evening and make this my new favorite place for sorting seeds and planning the new season’s garden.

indoor garden

Each year the winter garden room gains a little more street credit.  Maybe someday I can be surrounded by aged terra cotta and antique garden décor, with a few rustic signs which say ‘garden’ or something similar….  Maybe.  Either that or a beer tap.

As I hide out in my man cave it gives me the necessary time to fully enjoy the snowdrops and other goodies which are coming along under lights.  The bulk Galanthus elwesii which I bought as dried bulbs and potted up for forcing have given me a few nice surprises, but I will spare you from most of those photos.  Here’s one though which I will put in, it’s a particularly tall one growing alongside a peculiar climbing asparagus which I grew from seed last winter.  Asparagus asparagoides is a noxious weed in several tropical areas outside its native African range, but here under growlights in Pennsylvania I think we’re safe.  To be honest there’s nothing really special about it, except that it’s super special… if you know what I mean.

snowdrops and asparagus

Snowdrops and the climbing Asparagus asparagoides.  I don’t think the asparagus would be hardy outdoors, which is probably a good thing.

Ok one more snowdrop.

forced snowdrop

A particularly nice snowdrop with average markings but a second scape (extra flowering stem) coming up, and a third flower coming up off of a side shoot.  A snowdrop which puts out three flowers is a good thing in my opinion.

Until the cyclamen get into full bloom and the primroses burst into flower I’ll just give an update on the hyacinths I potted up just before Christmas.  They’re starting to sprout and I’ve moved them onto the coldest windowsill of the workshop for some light.  Once the flower stems start to come a little more I’ll move them under the grow lights as well.  The fragrance of hyacinths will be a nice addition to the winter garden.

forced hyacinth

The poorly insulated, dirty glass of the shop windows is as close to a coldframe as I’ll get this year.  The bulbs don’t seem to mind though and the cool temperatures keep the flowers from opening up too fast (before they’ve sprouted up out of the bulb).

So that’s where the winter garden is this year.  I planted onion seeds yesterday and in my mind the primroses already look as if they’ve grown a bit since coming inside.  It’s exciting but also dangerous to start so early on that tricky road to spring fever, but maybe the next four days of below freezing weather will help.  I’ll just need to ignore the fifth day when the high is predicted at 50F (10C)… a temperature too high for February and one which is sure to bring on the first outdoor snowdrops.

Winter Interest? I guess….

Just like nearly all the rest of the Northern hemisphere we here in NE Pennsylvania are dipping into another cold spell.  As far as cold spells go it’s not anything too intimidating, since we’ve only dipped into the single digits one night, but it is cold enough to make you reconsider running out to the mailbox without a coat on and it encourages you to think of the garden from more of a spectator point of view.  Even from the comfortable side of a windowpane winter interest is still slim pickings around here, but now that a few years have passed things are starting to turn a corner.

paperbark maple winter

A low winter sun catches the russet peels of paperbark maple (Acer griseum).  I may have it in a spot far too close to the house, but at least it’s finally starting to grow well.

Winter interest here does not include early snowdrops or hellebores nor the occasionally exotic winter blooming shrub, winter interest here is a desperate flash of green holding out against the winter, or a fresh blush of colorful bark or bright conifer needles brightened by the weak winter sun.  I guess if pressed I’d include dried seed stems and stalks, but honestly unless they’re frosted in ice or topped with snow they really just remind me of all the cleanup yet to be done before spring.

winter panicum dallas blues

Ok I guess I do like the golden(?) winter tint on the dried stalks of Panicum ‘Dallas Blues’.  While other grasses take on a faded dead beige, these seem to hold on to a much richer color which shows up even better when surrounded by snow.

In the meantime, before the rush of spring hits, there’s still plenty of time to sit back and consider the winter garden.  Snow helps.  There’s really nothing to do out there when snow hits other than watch the comings and goings at the bird feeder, but until we get a couple inches down there’s always a restlessness every time the sun comes out and things look like they’re just waiting.

box hedge winter

The smallest bit of winter structure.  A boxwood hedge which has finally grown in enough to look intentional.  It may not say good design the way I just have it randomly in the yard, but I do love my little hedges and always try to get it just a little more level and a tiny bit straighter.

If cropped perfectly and shot from just the right angle… and if the light just happens to work out, you can halfway believe that my garden has something worth seeing once the flowers have died and the leaves fallen.

winter interest garden

A lawn still holding on to green (which has faded significantly from the last arctic dip), a few little bluestems and dried hydrangeas, a blue spruce… it all looks somewhat interesting right now.

Maybe in a few years I’ll be able to offer something more constructive in the way of winter gardening advice, but for now I’m just glad I can wander through without snowshoes.

magnolia grandiflora seedlings

Future winter interest may be just what these Magnolia grandiflora seedlings will offer… assuming they prove hardy.  Last winter was a protected outdoor test for several dozen, this winter will be an open garden test for the remaining three.

More snow will come of course, and when it does things will officially enter the indoor “puttering” stage of seed sowing and houseplants, but for a few more days I’ll brave the cold and look for even the tiniest sprouting buds of hope.  My anxious side wants to find them everywhere, my cautious side wants them to wait another two months.

galanthus merlin

Here’s a new snowdrop which didn’t get the NE Pa memo on winter storm watches.  Here’s some news for you ‘Merlin’, there will be more blasts of cold, and you shouldn’t be out so early.

So in the mean time we will deal with the ice storms, shovel out from the snow storms, and bundle up for the cold spells.

ice storm

A nice glazing of ice kept the kids home last week.  No good for sledding but they were fine with the day off 🙂

All this talk of braving the weather has been made a whole lot easier with a look at the ten day forecast.  The fluffy snow and single digits from yesterday will warm up and melt rapidly in temperatures that don’t even dip below freezing in the foreseeable future.  This wouldn’t be the first January thaw to ever hit us but considering the ground is barely frozen under the snow, I don’t hold out much hope for convincing bulbs to stay dormant.  February may be ugly if too many things decide to give growing a go, but we’ll cross that bridge when it comes.

That wasn’t smart 7.0

It’s a new year and a new season and although one would hope for inspiring resolutions and the turning over of new leaves to happen, this dog has already finished trying to learn that trick.  In my opinion we might as well skip the introspection and self reflection and jump right into the new year with a fresh batch of poor decision making and questionable choices!

too late to plant bulbs

Option 1.  The temptation of clearance bulbs when both the thermometer and calendar say it’s too late.

In this neck of the woods after Christmas is too late to plant spring blooming bulbs.  Reason number one is that a week of snow and temperatures in the teens has frozen the soil solidly leaving no options for outdoor planting.  Solution?  Pickaxe a clump of compost, thaw it out in the garage, and pot up way too many bulbs for winter forcing.  I’ll let you know how it works out.

planting clearance shrubs

Option 2.  The temptation of clearance evergreens when both the thermometer and calendar say it’s too late.

Same deal with a ‘Red Beauty’ holly and ‘Butterball’ Hinoki cypress.  The holly was practically free since its clearance price was significantly lower than any other single item purchased on that particular trip to the DIY store, and the Hinoki (Chamaecyparis obtusa) also barely registered when dropped into the wagon during a Christmas Eve grocery run.  At $8.99 it was completely worth the eye roll I endured during checkout. 

in the green galanthus

Option 3.  The way below freezing forecast (and calendar) say this snowdrop is much too far along.

Snowdrops are hardy bulbs more than capable of enduring the next two months of cold in the wide open garden.  I’m a worrier though, so when my precious ‘Fly Fishing’ sprouted too eagerly I chose to opt out and just take the little guy inside and under the lights of the winter garden.  People say growing snowdrops indoors under lights and in pots is difficult,  I say running outside to cover a precocious galanthus every time an arctic blast threatens is worse.  So in it comes.

planting snowdrops in containers

My modus operandi for these snowdrop “rescues” is to completely rinse off the garden soil and pot up in a deep container with a loose, gritty mix of potting soil.  Not to point out the obvious, but I really have no basis for much of what I do.  Advice is always welcomed. 

‘Fly Fishing’ came inside the first week of December, so it’s been a month, but this transplanting “in the green” at what’s probably not the best time of its growth cycle seems to have done little damage.  Obviously you should take care with the roots while doing this.

galanthus 'fly fishing'

The flowers of Galanthus ‘Fly Fishing’ hang at the end of long pedicles.  Outside it sways gracefully in every breeze.  Inside it’s just as nice, and perhaps even better when I can turn on the lights and admire it at 8pm with an adult beverage in hand.

Anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time knows that smart decisions, restraint, and resolutions do not come to mind when I consider snowdrops.  On clearance at $17 per 100 bulbs I could not resist a few hundred Galanthus worowonii bulbs even if it doesn’t come close to being a favorite species.  I decided that’s kind of ignorant though since I’ve never even grown the plant myself, so in an attempt to become a better person I bought and planted 300 outside with about 2 dozen reserved for pots in the winter garden.

forced galanthus

The first pot of G. worowonii under lights in the winter garden.  I find it promising that one is not showing the typical apple green foliage of the species, since it’s likely a ‘mistake’ mixed in.  I doubt it’s anything too exciting, but I do love snowdrop surprises!

So at this time of year I guess I am just like every other person out there trying to start the new year off as a better person, even if it means buying more snowdrops.  Not to sound threatening but I’m sure this will involve more snowdrop posts than any decent person would want since there are several more potted up for inside as well as several new ones which look very promising outside.  I’ve already admitted to having a problem, so please spare me any additional eye rolls.  The rolls wouldn’t make a difference anyway since over the years I’ve developed quite a high tolerance.

Happy New Year and all the best for 2017.

Setting the Table

The holiday season has been off to an early start this year.  Under pressure from the children the decorations went up the afternoon of Thanksgiving and within 48 hours the house went from reasonably autumnal to yuletide overload.  I love it of course and even if it means we’ve finally all fallen victim to the day after Thanksgiving holiday commercialism, at least we’ll go down with a smile.  With that in mind, might as well fire the holiday candle full flame and head down to Longwood Gardens for an early peek at the holiday display.

This wouldn’t be our first visit to the gardens during the holidays, we’ve been down before and to be honest I was a little nervous about the crowds on this trip.  The last two visits managed to hit on some of their busiest days and with admission tickets sold out for Friday’s opening day I was holding my breath to see how Sunday would work out.  I should have relaxed, it worked out great.  We arrived around 3pm and were able to just fit into the main parking lot, showed our tickets at the gate, and then walked right in with plenty of smiles and not a single delay.

Longwood Christmas

The exhibition hall with this year’s focal point, a huge ivy and poinsettia tree highlighted with dozens and dozens of white moth (Phalaenopsis) orchids.

I usually have a plan of what’s to be done and seen, but now that the kids are older they’re far more determined to do and see what they want.  There was a much faster pace as we rushed through the displays and barely noticed much more exciting things such as orchid displays, bonsai trees and carnivorous plants.  There was also this odd fascination with organ recitals and Christmas carols, of which we were required to sit (and sing) through two full showings.  This enthusiasm must not have gone unnoticed since by the end of the second session our organist, Rudy Lucente, invited the girl up to give her a close-up of the organ mechanics.  What a thrill that was for our budding musician.

Longwood Christmas

Rudy Lucente at the organ.

So the visit took on a different tone.  I did get to explore the gardens for a bit before the sun set but the visit was more about enjoying the season than it was about examining every new plant.

Longwood Christmas

I sometimes forget there are ‘other’ parts of the conservatory which are devoted to music and grand entertaining. 

Once we had a bite to eat and the sun went down it was time to re-explore with all the lights on.

Longwood Christmas

A Longwood Christmas inside the conservatory.  I was particularly impressed with the huge hanging chrysanthemum balls.  Someday I hope to get down here for that show as well, I’d love to see the greenhouses decked out in fancy autumn mums.

For all the visits we’ve had this might be the first where we’ve sat through the fountain display.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit that since the water, lights, and music were more impressive than I thought they could be…. did I mention I’m more of a plants person?

Longwood Christmas

I guess the DuPonts were onto something when they spent millions on building fountains and then inviting friends to view them. 

The decorated grounds are the highlight of the night though.  I’d show more pictures but we really just spent our time wandering, sipping a warm drink, and enjoying the fact this was our first above the freezing mark visit.

Longwood Christmas

A Longwood Christmas on the grounds.  Music, snacks, beverages, bonfires, and a beautiful night.

What seemed like pushing the season turned out to be perfect.  The two weeks since have flown by and I know this trip wouldn’t have fit in between other visits and snowy weather.  Better to get it in while you can.

Give >their website< a visit even if you can’t make it yourself.  I’ve left out so much and their photography is exceptional.  You can also easily see if things are crowded and if tickets are selling out.

All the best as we begin to wrap up the year!