April 21, 2014


Known as Trailing Arbutus to Yankee New Englanders, or as Mayflower, Epigaea repens is a lovely native American wildflower that signals the end of winter, as it is the first woodland wildflower to bloom, often in late March. The pink form is more unusual, as most wild colonies are white blooming.

My family has a long history with the plant known as the Mayflower, Epigaea repens,  not that my ancestors came over on the Mayflower, or anything close to that ( although, I do know some families here who can claim that), so I should rephrase that claim - for the past century, the Mayflower has been part of my families life. This sweet, fragrant low-growing denizen of the highly acidic, pine and oak woodland found here in eastern Massachusetts  was a favorite of the early colonists from England, as they quickly learned that once the Mayflower bloomed, the harsh winter was nearly over.

Victorian nature enthiusiasts, those who collected wild songbird eggs and who pressed flowers also cherished the rare bouquet in early spring, but then again who could blame them - it's hard to not notice a glimpse of pink or white in the grey and brown, drab woodland. If the Mayflower waited to share its blossoms only a few weeks later, few would even notice it at all against the visual noise presented by the showier wildflowers like wood anemones, trillium and bloodroot.

The tradition of picking small bouquets of Mayflowers ended in the early part of the 20th Century, and not a moment too soon, as apparently the plant nearly became extinct due to over-picking by collectors. It was during this time that my father, who was then employed as a nature column illustrator in the 1930's, often featured Mayflowers in his many illustrations.

I could make the argument that today, few know of this plant, yet many people are familiar with its name, thanks to the sailing ship and the Pilgrims.  This is  a plant which can hide well, camouflaged and hidden below last autumns oak leaves and pine needles, many hikers just step right over it never appreciating its blossoms. Only the bravest who dare squat with nose to ground, challenge the bumblebees who desperately visit each flower this time of year.

With evergreen leaves as rough as sandpaper, Epigaea repens remains an iconic woodland ground creeper in acidic woodland forests in southern New England, found often where White Pine and Red Oak grow.

Five years ago, I was presented a flat of pink epigaea, a special gift from a special house guest who happened to be closing her rare plant nursery in Quebec. She had been traveling throughout New England, and had decided to 'gift us' one entire tray of these precious plants. Maybe she could tell that we would be good Mayflower parents, or maybe she could just tell that our soil was perfect. Regardless, we ended up with one flat of not the white form, but the rarer, and quite select deep pink flowered form of Epigaea repens. I, of course, was delighted, as this was one plant which I had only heard rumors of, but have never seen.

One of my fathers newspaper illustrations from the 1930's showing Mayflowers. You can see more here.

Wild populations usually have a few pink tinted forms, usually a white selection which turns pale pink with age, but this form is pink from the get go, and a bright, cheerful pink on a robust plant. Luckily, our colony has thrived, and has spread, growing along my entrance walk, where it enjoys deep pine needles mulch from a giant White Pine, a luxury as finding the perfect site for this plant can be challenging in most gardens.

On Easter Sunday, I was able to pick a small bouquet of Mayflowers - legally picked on our property, even though the large bumble bees complained a little, I brought a few branchlets into the house to show my father, whose eyesight is practically gone now, at 100 years old. Even with his onset dementia which is really making daily life for all of us difficult - I told him that I had an Easter surprise for him, and from behind my back I presented him the bouquet.

Grasping the tiny, rough- leaved fragrant branches in his gnarled, hands, he somehow knew instantly.
"'Mayflowers" he yelled. Waving them in the air, the best he could given that he is moving towards the big old 101.
And then, surprising us all, as he can barely see anything,  he lifted the bouquet and sniffed them. And even though I know his sense of smell has long left him, , somehow he could imagine their scent, maybe, even smell them, or so we would like to think.

( yeah - totally worth losing a few plants in the yard for this!) and this WWII veteran became a little emotional. Not crying, by any measurement, but he became quiet, and tucked the arbutus into his bedding to keep for later.

Look - sometimes rules should be broken, even if it means that a few Bumble bees will have to suffer. And herein lies the clause - if one was born two years after the Titanic disaster, and in the same month that WW1 started, then one could pick all of the Mayflowers one could hold in one hand, between March 15 and April 25.   - The Trailing Arbutus Clause. Here here.

April 20, 2014


Few words can describe the yummy colors found in the blossoms of this particular Cape Hyacinth - perhaps the rarest of them all - Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae with pale true blue, teal and olive green. 

Around here, common Easter Lilies are just not going to pull it off - nor will foil-wrapped plastic pots of sky blue hydrangeas,  florist azaleas or even those bright plastic Easter eggs. There are so many gifts which come with the ownership of a greenhouse collection and a suburban garden, but perhaps one of the finest is that of rarity - a brief glimpse of nature at her finest. Around Easter, the last of the South African Lachenalia aloides bloom, particularly the most precious of all the L. aloides clan, the variety known as L. aloides var. vanzyliae - a mouthful, but delightful because few gardeners have ever seen in other then in photos.

Unconventional color palettes can delight. This dark, brown pansy was extracted from a flat of gold 'tigers eye' pansies -
I could not resist - I mean, how many brown flowers are there in the spring?

As a visual designer, I know that I appreciate color a bit more than a sane, 'normal' person - in fact, today, when my brother visited for Easter, I had to listen to him groan about how "Oh yeah, you grow flowers more than vegetables" (sometimes, I just think that he doesn't know what I grow - maybe it's better that way - but I dutifully fulfilled my little brother role, and filled the trunk of his car with pepper seedlings and a few precious pots of Oca - which took a little convincing, on my part (along with a Google search to show him what they were all about). I should have sneaked in a few 'flowers', but I let it slide.

All Euphorbia have fascinatingly complex floral forms, once you zoom in close. In the greenhouse, this pot of Euphobia characias shows off its chocolate brown eyes, and multi-toned greens. For us, best grown as a potted winter blooming greenhouse plant, but if you live in USDA Zone 7 or higher - go for it outside.

Spring in New England also means unpredictable weather, which can drive those with a greenhouse crazy. Few sympathize with us, as we rush to crank open the vents on a sunny day when the temperatures can rise to over 100º F within an hour, or when we rush home from work at lunch, to shut the vents because outside temperatures suddenly drop to below freezing, with a bitter, harsh wind and snow squalls. This week, we satisfied all of these tasks, plus one night where the thermometer dipped down to near 20º F., when we awoke to a dusting of fresh snow. Not unusual, but it does make me wonder about all of those tomato plants that I saw people hoarding at our local Home Depot. New or impatient gardeners will learn, and perhaps, this is the best lesson. Patience rewards those of us with a late sowing of tomatoes. Until late May? Most of my warm veggies stay snug underglass.

In the greenhouse, hybrid Dutch Ranunculus bloom in the back raised bed, but their visit with us will be short, as once daytime temperatures reach 85º F under glass, their show will be over. These are cool-loving winter-bloomers, and poor candidate for most New England gardens ( yet they are unrealistically tempting when sold at garden centers).

Who needs Easter Lilies ( Lilium longiflorum) when one can have pots of Tulbaghia fragrans around. A relative of the far too common lavender Society Garlic ( Tulbaghia violaceae), this rarely seen cousin seems like a mis-named plant, that is until night falls when one simple stalk will fill an entire greenhouse with a fragrance so intense, that one can smell it's warm, jasmine -like scent from outside the glass.

We all know the common Kalanchoe but this hangin form is a treasure. Kalanchoe uniflora makes a magnificent 3 foot wide hanging basket when grown well ( um...mine is not 'grown well' this year, a victim of my December greenhouse furnace 'event', when most of the plant was blasted with dry heat). Still, it's coral and pretty, and coral. 

I am sharing one more image of a pot of Cape Hyacinths today, for this pot of Lachenalia aloides var aloides is begging for a photo. I never tire of Lachenalia, but the season is nearly over, as most are going dormant for the summer.

Lacinata or Tuscan Kale seedlings, which were set out into the raised beds a few weeks ago, held up well through this weeks snow storm. Natures Manure my father always called it, I was fortunate to have kept most of my plants under glass this year, but I may have lost a flat of seedlings of Cuphea viscosissima ( argh! figures.). This is a Kale variety which does better as a fall crop here, but I am taking a chance - maybe we will be blessed with a cold spring and summer?

Seedlings are everywhere right now. Under lights in the spare bedrooms, where we keep eggplants, tomatoes and peppers, and out in the greenhouse where some red celery, chicory and lettuce have been upgraded to cell packs.

It's a South Africa flush in this sand bed, with Gasteria showing off their gastric-inspired blossoms. Yeah, that's how the earned their botanical name. The stomach shape of their blossoms.

....oh, and 'bro' I think this are not flowers, but mesclun growing in the greenhouse, so there! I may even plant some out into the garden as early lettuce 'cheats', as the extra seedlings work out well when planted in this way.

April 12, 2014


A  colony of Primula denticulata, (the Himalayan or Drumstick Primrose), which I raised from seed last year, are all emerging with nice, tight cobs. Maybe they will bloom in time for the Primrose show in three weeks, when we host the New England Primula Society garden party and then attend their show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden ( May 3-4).

Put aside your frets about that dreaded Pollen Vortex, because there are greater things to celebrate - it's here - the perfect spring ( at lease in New England).  As our second weekend passes, delighting us with warm, breezy days above 60º F. and with only the slight threat on one freezing night predicted for next thursday, I am confident that this spring will remain gloriously…..slow. And that's a good thing, for us gardeners.

I am reminded of how rare such springtime weather is here in New England. Sure, many grumble about the lack of 70º days, but in many ways, this is the perfect spring - the sort of spring weather one would experience where many of our cherished plants come from, the high Himalaya, the Alps, Western China, the mountainous islands of Northern Japan, or the mountains of southern Chile. What I mean is, this is a rare gift - a gift of a winter of deep snow, and then a single thaw, when the snow melts gradually, and the soil thaws gradually, never to refreeze again ( for it is this refreeze which spells certain death for many plants, even if they survived a frigid winter. This year, everything thawed over the past two weeks, nice and slow, with no refreeze, at least at root level - surely we will still continue to have frosts, but this is setting up the garden for what I predict will be the ideal spring.

Check out what's coming up after the break.

April 6, 2014


The back bench in the greenhouse full of early spring color, with Lachenalia, euphorbia and primula brightening up the a late afternoon in April after a rain shower.

Finally, it's beginning to feel a bit like spring around here, as most of the snow has finally melted, and daytime temperatures reached 60º F for the first time on Sunday, which gave us our first day out in the garden. There is still snow in the shade, and along the north side of the house, but most of the garden has drained enough so that it officially is no longer mud season, allowing us to rake, dig in the raised beds and to basically clean up what we never were able to get to last fall due to painting our other house. To be honest, the garden is a complete mess, but even with one days work, the good part of the garden ( the part near the greenhouse) is at least raked, the old tomato plants collected and composted, and dog poop, dog toys and a random selection of missing footwear, canned goods and potato chip bags, along with more pens, cigarette lighters and gum packages that the corner store could ever own, have been recollected, thanks to four terriers and a doggie door.

March 31, 2014



It's rare today, to find an author who will not only research each topic well, but who will bother to jump not on the Internet, but into a car or onto a plane, to go visit a nursery - to experience it, and then to write so thoughtfully about the entire experience. Ruth Kassinger is such an author. I'm not sure how to say this eloquently, but here's the honest truth - her two recent books A GARDEN OF MARVELS and PARADISE UNDER GLASS sit next to my bed table ( well, sometimes on the floor - but hey, that's where I keep my favorite books - you know, the ones I actually pick up and read most every night).

***** The Winner of this book away is AmyO ( who, full disclosure, I know very well - but again, thanks to Random.com - is indeed the winner. Congratulations Amy!******

A GARDEN OF MARVELS is one on those rare books that I can read a few chapters of each night, whispering out loud "Oh wow" or," Oh my God" and still jot notes down in my notebook, for a plant that I might need to find. It's that sort of cross-over book, that I can read, appealing to my horticultural geekyness, and yet I can share it with a non-gardeners, who would find it equally as interesting.

For what it's worth, for  book to remain on my side table for so long is perhaps the best praise I could ever bestow on a book (Really - that Real Estate is hot in my little world - a silly world which is jam packed with journals, iPads, laptops, lorazapam, empty glasses of wine, tv remotes, Candy Crush and bottles of Evian and an alarm clock.) I admit, I am a piece of work, but I do love my personal time when I can read - and there are far too many books that just remain in the bookcase.

So, althgouh I am a bit 'picky' what I choose to read - any book  that can hold my short attention span on the downside of Ritalin for weeks on end deserves praise. Ruth joins a handful of selected favorite authors in this private club of the bedside table including the likes of Wayne Winterrowd, Thalasa Cruso, Bernd Heinrich and Ruth Stout. Yes, all light reading, but totally an informed and immersive sort of reading environment - exactly what I crave.

I spent some time Saturday repotting seedling and orchids in the greenhouse, taking short breaks to read Ruth Kassingers latest book. Here, a Dendrobium linguiforme blooms on a post.

I first met Ruth Kassinger at a garden bloggers conference last September. After I spoke to a large crowd, she came up to me and introduced herself briefly - we chatted about greenhouses, and conservatories, and she handed be her card, all the while telling me about her newest project, a book about building a conservatory, her journey through the process ( which included everything from a diagnosis of Cancer, to overcoming many hurdles in both dealing with a life change, a family death, and rebirth through plants).

Later that month, I received a package in the mail from her publisher with her book Paradise Under Glass. I didn't have high expectations at first, feeling that this could very well end up being a book about dealing with a horrid disease, and then, recovery perhaps. Not something I am sure that I would want to relive right now, at least, not before I go to bed. But once I passed through the first chapter, I discovered that Ruth and I shared a lot of passions in life, and even though she was more on the learning/beginner end of gardening, and in constructing a greenhouse, I could not only relate, I found that while spending each evening on the journey with her, helped me rediscover my passion for plants.

In her most recent book, A GARDEN OF MARVELS, I am continuing on her same journey, but on deeper mission. To be honest I have not finished the book yet, as I am a slow reader, but as I said earlier - there are very few books that I read completely - page 1 to the end, but Ruth's books are in my top 7. I am one third through the book, and delighted with it even more than the first. It's a beautiful hardcover book, with a nice deckle edge and great cover design ( I am a sucker for nice books, with good hand feel, paper quality and typography, and this book has all of that - so refreshing today.

A GARDEN OF MARVELS, By Ruth Kassinger, available at bookstores everywhere, and at Amazon

Ruth must love researching, as she can jump from the history of glass greenhouses, to poly hoop houses in Florida where citrus grafting takes place, back to the 19th century, all within a single chapter. If she has an interest in begonia's or rare tropical conservatory plants, she actually drives north to Logee's in CT to find out from their owners, the exact history of a plant, or even their greenhouse business. She is a story teller supreme, but a factual one - the best kind. No fiction here, just interesting curious backstories, which all seem to connect in various chapters to help her make a point.

I am going to give away my second copy of A Garden of Marvels, so please leave a comment and I will draw next Friday night. Good luck!

March 30, 2014


I am thinking about adding weekly or biweekly ( really? You all know that it might end of being more like bimonthly!)  infographics, just as a nice way to share more info on Pinterest, where these graphics are popular, then shared and thus, helpful to a blogs health. I am in a unique position where I can design my own infographics, and a friend of mine who works at Google suggested that I might improve my ratings with a few infographic posts ever now and then. Please feel free to share wherever you want. I promise that they won't take the place of regular posts. I am certain that there will probably be about a half dozen a year, if I know myself!

As for content, you may discover that a few of these graphics will be directed towards new gardeners who could use some inspiration beyond manure tea recipes and epsom salt tips, and then more than a few will be targeted towards you more experienced gardeners.  I think that I will be staying away from the sort of information that is already out there. No need to repeat content, or to waste space. At the very least, I promise that they will be pretty, and I will do my best to check my spelling!


The winner of the yellow Velthiemia giveaway is number one - Mariane Kuchel! Weird, as I've never had someone who I know, actually win, but so be it. Mariane, congrats! Please contact me about shipment! I will have another awesome plant giveaway this week.


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