Tuesday View: The Street Border

It appears this garden and most of the East Coast are still going over one more speedbump on the road to spring.  Today we welcomed a little over two feet of snow into the garden, and I suspect it will be a bit before (a) the kids return to school, and (b) I need to fertilize the lawn.

march snowstorm

I might be early on this decision but I’m considering this as the 2017 Tuesday view.  Under all the snow is the mixed plantings of the street border, a name I came up with all by myself based on the fact it’s a border and it runs along the street 😉 

Some might say 2017 has been off to a rough start, and they might be right, but I’m going to try and think about other things such as Cathy’s Tuesday View and consider the border along the street as my entry for this year.  Posting every week might be a stretch, but maybe showing this view once every other week will be do-able.  We’ll see.

march snowstorm

Two feet of March snow is excellent fort building material and the front yard is a battleground of trenches and tunnels… plus buried snowdrops and crocus. 

Right now the view doesn’t really matter though.  People are still digging out and cars and trucks are being pulled out (as our evening walk down to the main street demonstrated) and we just have to deal with that first.  The forecast ahead is cold, but the sun when it comes out will be strong, and hopefully there’s something left to look forward to when all this snow melts… since the snowdrops have already given up on spring.

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!

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.

The Winter Garden 2016

An actual greenhouse would be awesome.  To spend the winter nights out in the humid warmth… or even sweater-cool, as long as you can smell that healthy dampness of growing plants, would be a fantastic break from the dry static of central heating.  Since that’s not going to happen anytime soon I’ve got to make do somehow and to that end I have my little winter garden.  It’s two shop lights hung over a table in the small workshop behind the garage.  That’s the reality, but the magic is much more, and of course as with everything else I try to do there’s a story involved.

galanthus in containers

The first of the Cyclamen coum (a nice seedling flowering for the first time), a snowdrop dug from the garden (Galanthus elwesii), and the frilled leaves of a scented geranium are filling the space beneath the lights this year.

Santa brought the kids electric scooters this year, and that has nothing to do with winter gardens but they needed a spot cleared in the garage near an outlet for charging.  Space is tight in the garage so obviously I needed to clean the attached furnace room first.  A day later the furnace room was cleaned and I had room in there for a few bikes, but the cannas and dahlia roots in the furnace room needed a cooler spot.  They had to go into the workshop which had now become remarkably full and as a result also needed tidying up.  A day later with the workshop cleaned and the bulbs stashed away I made the observation that the workbench was really unacceptable as far as winter gardens go.  A few years before we bought this house a pipe burst in the workshop, all was soaked, and the pressboard workbench soaked, sagged, and warped.  It was time to replace the top so off to the DIY store for lumber and hardware.  A day later and the old top was off and a new one had been crafted, more than doubling the tabletop and practically calling for another light to be added, so of course another light was added.

potted amaryllis

Merry Christmas to me.  A ridiculous clearance sale on amaryllis bulbs left me with eight new ones and the repaired workbench is the perfect place to pot them up.  Don’t even ask me how hard it is to find terracotta pots during the holiday season….

So one more day for the stain and polyurethane to dry and then finally I was able to bring in a few things for under the lights.  Just in time since the Cyclamen coum were beginning to flower and I was tired of dragging them in and out of the garage with every frigid weather forecast.

growing bulbs under lights

Twice the growing space of years past and already nearly full.  Overwintering cuttings share space with cyclamen and various too-special-to-be-outside seedlings under the growlights.

I should have tackled this job on a pleasant summer weekend, but at that time the lawnchair was so much more inviting.  Had I been ready to go at the start of the season (or had I built that coldframe I wanted) then maybe these seedling pots of tulips and allium wouldn’t have started to sprout in the garage, and maybe I wouldn’t be the only person in NE Pennsylvania growing species tulips indoors under growlights in January….

bulbs from seed

Hellebore and cyclamen seedlings growing in the winter garden.  The small wisps in the other pots are tulips, allium, and a single fritillaria  seedling.  The economics of spending years nursing along seedlings which are available cheaply (100 blooming sized bulbs for $14 last time I checked) is something else we shouldn’t look at too closely.

To wrap up my ‘How I spent my Christmas vacation’ essay I’ll just add that on the last day I moved an air compressor and rabbit hutch onto a shelf and was able to plug in the scooters.  Don’t ask me how I didn’t see that a week earlier.

pale moonlight eranthis

After two rainy days of 55F (13C) weather the soil has thawed and the first winter aconites have broken the surface. I think they’re perfect and they should be fine even if winter does decide to come this year.

Now I’m all set.  Even though I spotted the first winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) breaking out of the earth this weekend I think winter will still make an attempt at cold before the robins can come home.  Today in between rain showers I put up the bird feeder, braced the pole against tipping out of the mucky quagmire of lawn it sits in, and drug a flat of primula seedlings into the workshop.  Now when the cold hits, repotting a flat of young primrose should be just the diversion for a dark winter evening.

Goodnight Cyclamen

There’s royalty in some plants, and I’m pretty sure cyclamen carry these bloodlines.  Obviously (to me at least) the queen of the family is the tender greenhouse cyclamen (from the c. persicum line), with her bright fancy flowers and her holiday appropriate bright colors, but the other members of the family all deserve equally elite titles.  Lets start with the king who lives in my garden and goes by the name of Cyclamen hederifolium.  His crowning glory is the diversity of exotic patterns and varied shapes which his winter-hardy foliage takes on.

hardy cyclamen hederifolium foliage

A kaleidoscope of hardy Cyclamen hederifolium foliage.

The round corms of this plant sit dormant underground for most of the summer until about August when the first flowers start coming up to dapple the shaded bed where they grow.  The pink or white flowers are nice enough, but as soon as they fade the ground begins to grow a covering of the beautiful cyclamen leaves.  They love the cool temperatures of autumn and as the rest of the garden drops its leaves the cyclamen bed takes on its winter silver and green foliage blanket.

cyclamen hederifolium narrow silver foliage

Leaf shapes for the king vary from wide to narrow, rounded to more of an ivy (Hedera) leaf shape.  Here’s a nice narrow leaved silver form.

The leaves will stay for the winter, and with a good snow cover look as fresh as ever when the snow retreats.  It’s only in late spring that the leaves die back and the plant goes dormant again, and because of this it’s a plant I think is perfect for filling in those dark, boring mulch beds under deciduous trees who’s shade is too dark for anything else.

hardy cyclamen hederifolium foliage

hardy cyclamen hederifolium foliage

If the king likes the spot he’ll form a nice colony as seedlings fill in.  Any winter-vacant spot is fair game for a clump of C. hederifolium seedlings, and I’m beginning to see them come up in all sorts of spaces, even the lawn.

hardy cyclamen hederifolium silver foliage

The tiny leaves at the center of the clumps are new seedlings from last year’s flowering.  Even on the smallest seedling leaf the foliage patterns begin to show off.

I’d like to give different parts of the garden over to some of the more unique foliage patterns and see what shows up.  In the far back of the yard I have this white blooming, green and silver leafed form.

hardy cyclamen hederifolium foliage

This Cyclamen hederifolium has a brighter green color when compared to its relatives.  It’s always nice to have something a little different.

Another form which could be really interesting (and I think already is really interesting) is this purple tinted foliage form.  When fall temperatures drop, a purple wash bleeds through the foliage and the plant takes on an entirely new look.  I’ve only got a few weakly colored examples, but some I’ve seen have a bright pink and purple color which looks great.

cyclamen hederifolium purple tinted foliage

Pink highlights on Cyclamen hederifolium foliage.

The bold C. hederifolium dominates the shade right now, but other hardy cyclamen also carry on the family name throughout the garden.  Princess coum will grow in the same beds as the king, but in the long run is crowded out be his overbearing ways.  Her waterlily shaped foliage is less intricate than the king’s but still shows off the silver marbling of the family and as is befitting of a princess she is covered with jewel like blooms as soon as the snow melts.

hardy cyclamen coum

Hardy cyclamen coum, a princess of the cyclamen family.

For the past two years as snowpocalypse has hit the east coast the delicate princess coum lost all her leaves and nearly all blooms, but has always bounced right back.  King hederifolium suffered a bit but mearly shrugged it off during the summer, but there’s a third family member in my garden who didn’t skip a beat.  Prince (or maybe Duke, I’m kind of losing my way here) purpurascens seems to be the hardiest of the bunch.  I’ve seen Cyclamen purpurascens listed as less hardy than the other two, but in my experience he’s never been bothered by low temperatures (although we usually have some snow cover) and although he’s the slowest of the bunch (even seeds take over a year to mature) C. purpurascens is reliable.  He doesn’t even lose his leaves in the summer.

hardy cyclamen purpurascens foliage

A sloppy planting of hardy Cyclamen purpurascens.  The leaves are similar to C. coum, yet slightly sturdier and have more of a veinier marbling.

This morning marks the last day of Christmas vacation and the first day in which temperatures have dropped low enough to freeze the top crust of soil.  Neither of these are something I look forward to but you get what you get, and even if that means a low of 8F (-13C) tomorrow nothing short of an early retirement and move down south will change things.  So today I say goodnight to my outdoor cyclamen as they slip under the blanket of their winter sleep.

The royal family will carry on though, and if you want a bigger and more diverse intro give Jon Lonsdale’s Edgewood Gardens a visit.  Besides growing and showing many of the other, less hardy members of the royal family, most of the plants are available for sale and I’m certain you won’t find a better selection elsewhere on the East coast.

In a vase on Monday. Winter

I’m beginning to get a little insecure about my lack of winter flowers and garden structure.  All I see is white and more white, and although I suppose a nice steady winter of cold and snow cover is far better than ice and repeated freeze-thaw, the strengthening sun is starting to make me antsy for growing things.

icicle arrangement

Icicles harvested from the garden.

A good crop of icicles is all I could find in the garden for Cathy’s vase on Monday meme.  They’re from the garden, they’re in a vase, but I don’t think they’ll be gracing the dining room table.

Give Cathy’s blog a visit for some real garden inspiration.  Each Monday she encourages us to get out there and see what the garden has to offer for a nice vase, and each Monday people rise to the occasion.  Hopefully in another few weeks there will be something worthy from this end 🙂

Christmas countdown

Just about a week left till the big day and there’s no question it looks like winter here.  The kids are on their third snow day, but even with all the winter weather I just checked the extended forecast and have the feeling there will be no white Christmas.  Rain and 60F (15C) for the weekend.snow on the deck

But it will still look seasonal here.  This year I was finally able to harvest enough evergreens and twigs from the garden to put something together for winter, and although it’s not much, it does make me feel vindicated for not bothering to trim up the yews into their traditional meatball shapes along the foundation.holiday twigsObviously I didn’t invest too much time in this display 🙂  An armful of yew trimmings, a bunch of dogwood twigs, all dropped into an empty pot with a few cheap plastic balls.  For a second smaller pot, same recipe, just with sumac twigs rather than dogwood.sumac and yew for the holidays I really need more winter diversity.  I’m looking forward to the day when I can add holly and fir and maybe a couple golden conifers and rose hips… I need to get planting!

In the meantime snowdrops will have to do.  Here’s the bunch from VanEngelen all ready for covering up.  There are too many for the winter garden so I’ll have to see if things thaw out enough over the weekend to bury them in a leaf pile or something outside.  In the meantime they can begin rooting inside on the cool garage floor.  For those who wonder about these things, out of my 200 clearance bulbs 194 looked perfect for planting.  For a bulb often recommended to be purchased “in the green”, these snowdrops (elwesii) seem to have survived their dry storage just fine.  I think the traditional snowdrops (nivalis) might have more of a problem with drying out.forced snowdropsNow if I can only get moving on a few other things, I’ve been remarkably lazy lately and spend most of my time browsing other cooler blogs!