February 28, 2015


The lily of the valley that I dug and potted in October is now in full bloom, and oh so fragrant. Hyacinths and nice, but lily of the valley takes ones mind deep into mid-May, and with snow as deep as it is around here in the Boston area, it really helps one cope.
As most garden blogger do during the late winter, I am going to share some of my seed list with you. I was reminded (and inspired) by my friend fellow garden blogger Dee Nash from Red dirt ramblings who listed the seeds she is ordering for her Oklahoma garden and greenhouse, and then when one of my designer friends asked me if I would share my list, I decided that it might be worth a short post.

I too like to see what other people are ordering, especially if they are really into raising interesting plants, or good gardeners, for each year the list is different. We might try something that we have not grown for a decade or so, or we might have our must-have favorites that just must be grown every year, and then, some of us like to try something challenging, and I usually try to grow something that I have never grown before.

I missed the Massachusetts Camellia Society show this weekend at Tower Hill Botanic Garden, but I had a little cold, and I think so did most of my camellias - most are still in tight bud, but not this one - it's a color that could melt snow.

This list covers just common garden seed from the major seed sources, of course I have very rare or wild collected seed from plant societies that includes alpine, tree, shrub and bulb seed, but I will limit this list to general garden seed. These are plants that I will be raising in the greenhouse, and in the garden this year.

Those rare double Victorian nasturtiums in my collection and still blooming, even in the cold greenhouse. It dipped to -2º F again last night. When will it end? Another 7 inches of snow is due tomorrow, which will make our total since Jan 26  peak out at 115 inches I think. I am really ready now for any sign of warmer weather.

From Chiltern Seeds (UK)

Acacia baileyana, A. dealbata and A. verticilata (for greenhouse shrubs)
Asarina antirrhiniflora 'coccinea', a vine that I will raise in a container
Basil - Greek bush - 'Finissimo verde palla'
Coleus blumei 'Dark Chocolate - that dark brown coleus we see at garden centers
Dianthus caryophyllus 'Chabaud Giant Superd' - the super old fashioned garden carnation
Cobaea scandens  var. alba - the white form, which is hard to find
Clematis napaulensis - this tender clematis has been on my must-get list for some time now as a winter bloomer in the cold greenhouse.
Ipomoea tricolor 'Heavenly Blue' - because, it's heavenly blue, naturally.
Cuphea viscosissima - I need to try this one more time after last year's disaster!
Calendula officinalis 'Touch of Red mix' - if you've never raised this calendula, it has nearly beige and brownish buff flowers that are amazing.
Quamoclit lobata 'Citronella' I love the coral and orange selection, but this one is yellow! It's a great vine not unlike morning glories - Google it!
Tagetes tenuifolia 'Starfire Mix' - this marigold is close to the wild form, but this color selection is great.

I love this variegated camellia which also has variegated foliage. As you can tell, insect damage from spending the summer outdoors has helped keep this plant from being entered in the camellia show.

From Johnny's Selected Seeds


These four are new tomatoes bred to be similar to heirloom varieties, but with increased vigor, better producers and with greater disease resistance. I will warn you they they are terribly expensive, but I believe that one gets what one pays for with good plant breeding and science - they are non-GMO if you worry about such things, as they are tomatoes (there are no GMO tomatoes by the way).

Tomato Marnero (F1) - this new hybrid is expensive ($19.00 for 12 seeds), but it's a new F1 hybrid that's all the rage with those 'in the know' about plants. It looks exactly like a purple heirloom, but it promises to be even more disease resistant and a far better producer. Developed for greenhouse growers, many tomato geeks are growing these outdoors.

Tomato Bigdena - same as above, expensive but for a reason - new, stronger and promises to have a flavor  described as 'an amazing breakthrough' and "as if sea salt was sprinkled on them". Look - Johnny's Seeds rarely uses such hyperbole, so I honestly believe that these will be extraordinary plants.

Tomato - Margold - Bred as a new hybrid that promises to be an improved Striped German, but higher producing and more disease resistant. It's a golden yellow - and yes, it is also $19.00 for a pack of 10 or12 seeds. It just has to be good, as there is not other reason why the seed costs so much.

Tomato Marbonne - An improved Marglobe, the old European favorite for years. Bred for the greenhouse tomato trade, it might be worth trying in the garden as well - there is alot of chatter about it on the tomato fan sites like this one.

(I should note here that most of these new premium tomato varieties are all back ordered until mid April or May, but that is OK with me, as I never sow my tomatoes until  April 15 to May 15 anyway, learning over the years that small plants set out into the garden in June perform much better than any started any earlier.

Tomato Clementine - yes, this new orange tomato looks just like a clementine tangerine, I can't wait to try it.

Tomato - Celebrity. A classic, but I need some standbys. As you can see, I am growing few if any heirlooms this year. I may order a few from Baker Creek, but I might just wait and just buy a few plants from the nursery.

I have to be careful with the snow as if falls off of the greenhouse and builds up. Since I traveled last week, I could not shovel down the edge. Now, what is already on the ground is not melting, but with the now  stronger sunshine, it just gradually turns into a hard and icy rock encouraged by the brutally cold night temperatures which are below zero. Now, With more snow coming tomorrow, I will have to watch how it builds up when it slides off of the roof.
In addition to these tomatoes, I also ordered:

Cucumber - Northern Pickling
Cucumber - Marketmore 76 - a classic. (there are many 'Marketmore's developed by Cornell, every few years  throughout he 80's and the 90's, but number 76 is still often considered the best, and it comes true to seed too if you are one of those seed-savers.
Cilantro - Calypso - (I ordered a 1/4 lb, because I sow it every two weeks).
Pepper - El Jeffe -  It's a high producing Jalapeno
Pepper - Joe E Parker - This Anaheim type will keep us well stocked with green chili!
Carrot - El Jeffe: I love home grown carrots, and I have taken a few years off from growing any. I just miss that flavor in the fall. I also like big carrots, and these are pelleted seed so that I can sow them individually in the soil outdoors. One must never transplant carrots.

The interesting thing about the greenhouse is that the sun is brighter and stronger now as we near March 1st. Its now bright enough that the sun is burning some plants like ferns and orchids, so I had to move plants around - usually, I add shade cloth to the greenhouse by March 15, but not this year, as the snow outside is still 4 feet deep, higher than the foundation and higher then the eaves.

Zinnias are on my radar again this year, especially the new Scabiosa type. I think that I ordered all of them!

SO, from The Cooks Garden I have already received:

Zinnia Scabiosaeflora Mix
Hyacinth Beans
Pepper - Anaheim ( Ugh, see? I am ordering doubles again! - Maybe I should type out a list for myself.
Nasturtium Purple Emperor

Another winter fix we had to do was to add snowfence to the 5 foot high fence that runs around the eastern side of the yard, where the dogs are, since the dogs can now just walk over the fence - which Weasely did today again. We had to go find him using both cars, but he was OK.  The last time he ran away last month, he was caught and had his embedded microchip scanned, and AKC called us within an hour, a reminder to all, to get your pets microchipped.

Yes, the fence is even uglier than our tacky, old lattice fence, but we have few options.

From Stokes Seeds I have also already received:

Kochia - Burning Bush
Zinnia - Zinderella Lilac - it's been sold out everywhere, so I'm glad that I found some here.

Swallowtail Garden Seeds has already sent me:

Zinnia Aztec Burgundy bicolor
Zinnia Burpeana Giants Mix
Zinnia Zinerella Lilac ( ugh - again? See what I mean? I am getting old.)
Zinnia Macarenia
Zinnia Mazurkia
Zinnia Peppermint Stick

And like the tomatoes, these zinnias will not be sown until mid June, when I will sow them outdoors where they will grow. As I proved to many last year, Zinnias and Cosmos grow much better when direct sown in early to mid summer where they are to grow. One can have flowers in a months time, from plants that will out-grow any started indoors earlier.

In addition to all of these annual seeds, I have ordered some perennials too:

If you live in a warmer part of the country and don't know what Ice Dams are, here you go. Snow falls on the roof, and then over time, the heat of the sun or heat radiating out of the attic slowly melts the snow, which immediately freezes again due to the sub zero temperatures. Ice forms near the edge of the eaves, as do massive icicles. Any water then that travels down the roof finds its way into the house. So much is ruined already, our cabinets, the pantry, even our dishwasher shorted out.

From Jelitto in Germany:

Delphinium elatum F1 Hybrid New Millennium 'Blue Lace', which again, are costly - nearly 5 times the cost of regular old varieties of Delphinium, but oh, the colors and the vigor.... these promise to be a big improvement on an already challenging to grow perennial for many.

Primula vulgaris ssp. sibthorpii
Primula vulgaris 'wild form'
Primula sieboldii
Primula x pubescens Exhibition Series Blue
Primula amoena (elatior ssp meyeri)
Primula juliae
Primula elatior Victorian Laced Primroses

Lastly, Icicles are so long, that some are 12 feet long as these are. They are so heavy, that one needs to break them with care, as they can weigh nearly 100 lbs or more.

 If you have never tried perennials from seed,  it's not easy unless you have a greenhouse, but Jelitto offers some of the best seed, especially their pre-chilled (Gold-Nugget Seed®) seed, which makes raised plants like primroses and other hard-to-germinate seeds much easier. By far the most economical way to raise many plants.

February 21, 2015


My potted  collection of alpine bulbs greets visitors this weekend at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden first annual Spring Flower Show. 

It's a feeling one gets when you are bundled up, your face hurts from the frigid wind but your eyes glimpse a site - it's "oh, thank GOD" colors of the William Sonoma catalog.  With icky, brown snow and icy grey icicles reaching to the ground, regardless of ones religion or nationality the tones of robin-egg blue and pale pink  - the commercial tints of the Easter season sooths us, or at the very least, it provides a bit of hope that this 'arctic vortex' might actually come to an end.

We humans are fickly, though.  Spot Halloween decor in late August and we Facebook about it. Catch the first glimpse of red foil Valentines hearts before Christmas (really - another red holiday?) and we groan, and God forbid if we see Christmas wrap in September, or better yet - Back-To-School supplies in July - see this and all Hell breaks lose on Instagram and Twitter,  but something happens to us when we spot those soothing tones of 'preemy' Peeps, custard yellow Kitchen Aid mixers and pale blue Cadbury eggs. I feel that big business has not capitalized enough on the value of what I call 'seasonal hope'.

But then... we stop into a supermarket after a long day of work to find something for dinner and our noses note a specific scent - 82% Diorisimo, 15% dirt - and 3% bunny piss - but 100% spring. Not so deep within each of us we are reminded that:  yes, we are still human beings. 

Hyacinths can do that.

February 19, 2015


 Even just 5 bulbs of Iris 'Katherine Hodgkin' makes a scene. Bred in the 1960's it's a cross between two rarer small iris, I. winogradowii and I. histriodes, both delightful choices to force if one dares to risk ruining their bulbs ( I prefer them in the garden) but 'Katherine Hodgkin' is easy, and relatively available - it just sells out early in the catalogs.

The snow here in the Boston area is insanely deep, the icicles are nearly 15 feet long, and connect the roof gutters to the ground, and although I am tempted a bit to snowboard off of our roof into a snow drift, now that we are back from New York, I am focused on the bulbs I have been forcing for a mid-winter flower show, being held this weekend at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden (you MUST come visit it, as nothing will lift your spirits more!).  I've talked them into regenerating the classic winter bulb show, very much like the way most spring flowershows began in Boston, Philadelphia and New York in the mid 1800's - it's in their DNA to to sponsor such an event, and I have so much hope that this event will inspire others to grow and enter plants during the winter months.

Even though I knew that I wanted to force many plants for this first of what I hope will be an annual show, I just didn't realize,  back in October when I started potting up bulbs, that this last week of February would require me to be traveling (New York Toy Fair and Westminster Dog Show). This is a critical time when one is forcing different types of bulbs, as timing can become tricky - snowdrops rush ahead as tulips need care, when coaxing them into bloom, small iris can burst into flower within a couple of warm, sunny days while the rarer muscari slug along hoping for a sunny week of 70º weather in the greenhouse. Needless to say, it's been a challenge to time everything to bloom on a single Friday.

Click below for more!

February 18, 2015


A bit off topic here, I know - - but as many of you are dog lovers, I thought that I might share our week in New York City attending the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and Meet the Breeds event held this weekend.  Not only was our male Irish Terrier invited to compete this year, we were also selected to design and man the Irish Terrier Meet the Breeds breed booth ( and, since it was also a competition, I had to pull out all the stops to see if we might win!).

It was also New York Toy Fair, so I was busy in many ways with meetings, that trade show at the Javits,  and a few events to attend but since I took the week off as vacation, I spent much of it at the Kennel club events. 

Doodles ( our Daphne) was one of the breed ambassadors at our breed booth, which made her feel better as her brother was in the Westminster show all week. The AKC Meet the Breeds Experience, held at the Piers in NYC featured most of the dog breeds clubs entered at Westminster, plus, it too was a competition -  for Best in Show with breed booth design.  (Oh, OK, I'll spoil the surprise, we won Best Booth Design in the terrier group) Yay!

 The AKC 'Meet the Breeds' it is such a good idea, as attendees can come and see all of the dog breeds in person. It was a very cold weekend in the city, but nearly 20 thousand attended the event, which is incredible given that it was snowing all day. This event is held on the Saturday before the Westminster Event at Madison Square Garden.  I was asked by our breed club to create and design a booth which might win - and we were all so excited to find out that we did indeed win Best of Group  in the terrier group, which had a lot of competition. People even wanted to buy our fake potato bags after the show.

Click below for more!


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