April 13, 2015



I spent a good part of last year searching for a low cost, light weight pair of 36 inch wide containers for two of our largest bay laurel standards (topiary trained giants), and although I found some containers at Lowe's early in the spring, their nearly $200 price was a bit high. I thought that I might take a chance, and wait until November, when garden pottery gets marked down on clearance to make room for the Holiday decor, and my bet paid off. I was able to get both pots for 60% off. I might have been able to wait for a lower price, but with pots this size, it seemed best to not wait any longer. Since the bay laurels were already in the greenhouse, it seemed best to wait until spring to repot these giant trees. Anything to avoid moving them in and out of the greenhouse one more time.

These plastic, rotomolded pots have a nice sandstone color and finish, so much nicer than what we had before, which one one lead colored square pot, and a second terra cotta colored plastic pot. Clearly, the far East is getting better in molding plastics ( I should know, as a designer at Hasbro). The only problem I can find is that they are light weight, which is both a good and a bad thing.

 Easy to move around, but one heavy thunderstorm or wind gust, and these huge lollypop trees could topple. I had a few thick pieces from a nicer clay pot that were quite heavy that I saved exactly for this reason. Well, ok--not exactly, I was too lazy to haul them to the dumpster, and now I found a way to use them.

We use good quality Pro Mix BX for these large pots, augmented with sharp sand and some garden loam to help maintain porosity. After trimming the root ball down on these 15 year old trees, I centered them in each pot, made sure that the trunks were vertical, and then filled each pot with the soil mixture. Watered well, I was very happy -- even thrilled, to finally having accomplished this repotting task, for as many of you know, I've been stressing about finding the right pots for some time now - about two years. After repotting.....I noticed a problem....

 ...one potted in pots exactly the same size, the two trees no longer looked like they were the same height. I never calculated the fact that one of the older pots was a long-tom Italian clay pot, which was about 10 inches taller than the other pot, so although the two trees were trained to look the same, the trunks were actually quite different in length.

A little creative pruning with a nice gift of hand tools that the nice folks at Troy Bilt sent each of us Saturday 6'ers as a thank your for being a spokesperson for them for the past two years ( I am no longer affiliated with Troy Bilt),  I could see that I could trim up one of the trees, at least enough so that one cannot notice the difference as much. I am confident that with a years; worth of growth the difference will be minimal. Please look past the mess here, this was my first time working outdoors, and I have yet to clean up after the snomageddon.


It's late to prune apples, but these espalier are more for looks and garden form than they are for fruit, but after a few nice apples last year, I am going to fuss with them a little more. February is the proper time to prune apples, but these trees were completely buried until 3 weeks ago, when I pruned them first. Now, I decided to work with them a little bit more, constructing a bamboo frame based of some photos that I took the last time I visited Japan. 

Perhaps over kill, it was fun to build, and it should help support the branches in a less intrusive way than the typical method seen here in North America, where the stems are tied directly to the canes. Here, bamboo cross bars either support or suspend branches, branched which have been pruned more intensively than normal.

By the end of the day, I realized that I had spent most of my time fussing with the fruit trees (with more to come next weekend when the new pears and currants arrive). I actually got sunburned too, which kind of felt nice after, well, you know.

This was the first year that I decided to cover the tree peonies with Styrofoam cones which are designed for roses. These were costly plants which were a gift from Song Sparrow Nursery a few years ago, and I cherish them as this far north in New England, most of the fancy tree peonies are challenging to winter over. This year, each stem has a bud, and there appears to be no winter damage. I think that I will be covering all of my tree peonies next fall.

Lastly, many of the agapanthus were repotted, or potted up as well. The root systems on these tubs are massive, almost completely white with fleshy roots, but that is normal, and is to be expected. This species above is a rare and lovely one, Agapanthus innapertus, a nearly black flowered form with pendant blossoms which hang almost directly straight downward, it's deciduous here, and it blooms late in the summer, so repotting this species in spring is fine, whereas most of the other species prefer to be repotted just after blooming.

A nice last note - a robin nests in this tree every spring, I doubt that it is the same robin, nor offspring but it could be, for it seems to nest in the tree before May 1st every year for the past 7 years or so, often before I can relocate the tree. I took these two trees out of the greenhouse yesterday morning, and I had them laying on the ground until I could repot them in the early afternoon on Sunday. There were only potted up for about one hour before I heard a robin sounding an alarm sound. When I looked up from making the espalier form, I could see that a robin had already pulled rope, sweet pea ribbon and strings that I had swept out of the greenhouse into the tree. Apparently, no time to waste this spring, but then, who could blame them this year.

April 12, 2015


After cutting down our giant 20 year old Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Prommis' last summer, I knew that I would miss it's early bloom, both for the house as early forcing material as early as January, and for our first spring, woodland color. This new, young shrub, was completely under 5 feet of snow 3 weeks ago.

 I knew that it would happen eventually. really. Spring would eventually arrive, and today, as temperatures here in New England edged so close to 70º, we rejoiced (along with the bees, the crocus and even early blooming bulbs and shrubs, which have been sleeping late this year, until an unseasonably long and cold (and snowy) winter. We still have some snow in the shady spots around the yard, and even while attempting to clean up a little today, every tomato pot or outdoor tub that I moved, was still frozen to the soil below. The sun is strong, and in a few weeks, I am confident that the primula will be in bloom as the cobs on the Primula denticulata are alread emerging from their tight rosettes of leaves.

Pussy Willows in April? Typically we would pick these much earlier, my father used to take us hunting for pussy willows on March 4 every year, it was a family event - get in the Country Squire station wagon, and ride through the back roads and the first one who saw pussy willows would win. We would pick long branches ( he like big arrangements) and we would force them a few weeks longer in the dark cellar, so that they would turn pink.

I don't think that I can ever remember a spring such as this one, where the pussy willows - even the wild species are just emerging. By all accounts, it looms more like the second week of March than it does the second week of April. But in many ways, this is not unusual weather, one may even dare say that this could be the perfect spring - a long, cold winter followed by a long, cool spring with few hard refreezes ( or let's hope and pray that we don't get one in May, as that is far more dangerous to garden plants in New England than any cold, snowy winter can be), and even though plants are late, they will emerge in a timely, staged way.

I had to add a crocus image. So cheerful after this winter we had.

This bulbous Corydalis solida will need to be moved, as it has been overrun by a bamboo - Sada vietchii. I find that with a deep trowel or skinny perennial shovel, I can safely move and relocate these early spring ephemerals. Some Erythronium are on the list as well.

Chores abound, and with a big party coming up in a few weeks, I just don't know where to look first. Saturday, I focused on the greenhouse, as there is now so much damage from our big freeze back in January. Someone will need to climb up unto the rafters to trim some of the vines which froze when the furnace short circuited on the coldest day of the year. Other plants seems to have survived quite well. I have a method when I clean the greenhouse, mostly, it's about staging the benches properly. I usually like to arrange all of the Southern Hemisphere plants together on one side, and then divide the benches in the front of the house by those plants from South Africa, and then those from South America. Not this year - it's a big jumble - and go ahead, you may be thinking "well, no one will really every know, Matt". But I dare to differ - in three weeks we will be hosting  a party with many serious plant people, as we host the opening party for the national exhibition for the American Primrose Society, as well as this year, adding in two North American Rock Garden Society's as well. These people will know. (They won't really care as we shall have them suitable wined and dined).

Dendrobium 'Butter Star' an Australian cross that hints of D. speciosum in it's genes, it can handle our cold greenhouse, yet it typically blooms in late January.

Lachenalia are late as well, and even though I have reduced my collecting of these genus, a few favortites still remain.

Many plants seemed dead, so I tossed them. I did this with about half of the standard  fuchsia collection until I realized that they were not dead at all - just very dormant. I saved about a dozen, which are all showing tiny points of green. This Euphorbia, a white flowered 'crown of thorns' looked dead as well, but as I was carrying it to the dumpster, I noticed these buds.

Remember those black-centered anemones that I planted as a winter project? I know that I've been sharing a few images - they were basically a failure, and none were the black centered variety called 'Panda' which I wanted. Still, some nice purple and white ones. All in all, they grew well in the bench, and next winter I will plant many more traditional forms.

Another view of that Dendrobium but I wanted you to see this yellow flowered creature at the base of this acacia tree. I first noticed it's fragrance, for beyond that, one grows it for its bright, yellow bells which yes - typically bloom during the shorter days of winter. Hermannia verticillata, or 'Honey Bells', it's related to the hibiscus and native to Africa. An old fashioned greenhouse and conservatory plant in the north, it often looks best grown in a basket, and I will add that it is an aphid magnet. 

Gasteria seedlings, well, I suppose that they are hardly seedlings now seeing that they are about 6 years old or more,  are reacting to the warmer, and gradually lengthening days by sending up their flower stalks. This one s sending up many.

This babiana is just the typical hybrid form sold by the Dutch bulb catalogs as mixed colors. I thought that I might try a few in a pot over the winter - it's been an interesting study as my species collection of Babiana are going dormant, having bloomed last month, but these are just taking off - maybe they think that they are in California?

Rarely seen in northern gardens, Ipheon are borderline hardy as a bulb plant here in Massachusetts. I grow mine in pots and containers, and then will bring them outdoors if the weather becomes mind. This is a pink cultivar.

Even the camellias are late. This is a new one for me, an old variety from dare I say, the 1970's called 'Elegans Champage'. It's one of the 20 new varieties I added to the camellia collection  this autumn. We need to raise them in containers and tubs, which are brought under glass for the winter.

My seeds from NARGS are germinating! The North American Rock Garden Society seed list has many gems, but wonder if I should have sown these Massonia so late in the winter, as it is a winter grower. I will try to keep them growing on as long as possible, and allow them to go dormant around late June or July.

April 6, 2015


Books tend to pile up by my bedside - maybe they do for you too, but my book stack won't ever make it on a house tour on Apartment Therapy - it's more of a pile, a pile that evolves slowly over winter. Why it;s a pile, I'll never know, for I only have an hour or so  night to read before I can't keep my eyes open, which is probably one reason why it takes me so long to write a review on a book that I've bee asked to write a review on. Call it a fault, or a good trait, but I am one who really wants to read a book before I write about it. Believe me, I do get books that don't merit a completely positive review (more often than not, in fact). Not that any book is THAT bad, for usually there is something nice to say - a good book for a beginner perhaps, a book full of inspirational images, more often than not, I lose interest in a book before I actually finish it, which tells me that something is wrong.

Helena Attlee's book about citrus entitled 'THE LAND WHERE LEMONS GROW - THE STORY OF ITALY AND ITS CITRUS' was offered to to me by the publishers first in late 2014, for one reason or another, I declined - I really don't know what I imagined the book to be about, perhaps just another book that would bumble on about the virtues of Lemoncello, how it helped the author find love in the Amalfi coast with a dark haired stud after her devastating divorce (or something like that) anyway,  I could surely wait for the movie.

 Then, ( OK- I can't believe that I am admitting this, but... I read a review about this very book in Hortus or Garden's Illustrated, I don't remember right now, but it's late a night and I am writing this in bed and too lazy to go look for it - but this review was not just gushing with praise, it was written so eloquently that I felt as if I needed to get the book as soon as I could find the email from the publisher, but alas, I deleted it.

The following weekend, I received a reminder email from the same publisher, and I jumped on it. It's rare for a book to capture my mind for such a long period of time, but this one is such a book, on so many levels ( and there are many), From the moment when I received this book in the mail, I was impressed. First, It was a hard cover book ( it seems to have been published in the UK first, and now in the US by a different publisher. I get it,the publishing industry works this way. Before I even read on page, I took note of the fine paper stock (a particularly nice uncoated rag stock used for the text was refreshing - don't laugh, in a world of digital books, this is a lost art. The paper quality and type is as important to me as the content it, as I appreciate the feel and weight of a book), and it had - of all things, a colophon.  This told me that my book was typeset in12pt over 14.75pt Dante MT std. Thank you Milton Keynes ( the typesetter in England). Clearly, this is a publisher who cares about books.

As I said earlier, there are books which end up not being completely read,  and although this is not uncommon for someone such as me who has a nasty habit of not following things in the first place, I should add the caveat that there are some rare cases when a book is so good, that I actually slow down the reading process.  Just so that I can delay the ultimate end.  Books to me are experiences, and this book is such a book - an experience .

 As a citrus grower myself ( I mean, there are about ten potted trees in the greenhouse here), I at first felt as if I could not relate to the content of such a book - after all, it's not as if I live in southern Italy or southern California even. Far from it, but after a few chapters, I not only quickly learned about some insanely curious citrus fruits, their long and interesting history with humans, but I also realized that many of these fruit were raised in the same manner I am growing mine - in large tubs, kept under glass in the colder months, and brought out into the garden for the summer. This is a book that will teach you much - you will be inspired to make notes, lists, to jot down facts and to perhaps even try a recipe or two.

I enjoy books more when they don't have too many images - and this book has only a few maps, which by themselves seem not to connect to much of the content in each chapter, so I can easily dismiss them. The authors language paints such a visceral scene, that each night I find myself either lost on coast of Amalfi picking bitter lemons or cruising along the shores of Lago de Garda searching for rare lemon varieties in a thunderstorm - and, I will attest to being caught in a number of thunderstorms on that very lake, and in the hills behind it searching for the elusive golden yellow primula auricula that grows there, so once again, this books gets into my head and I am lost in its pages. Pure delight.


Through Attlee's writing, I have learned so much more about some of my own plants - about the many large citrons that we raise in pots here in the greenhouse, which I have been collecting for the past few years - their flesh either crispy like an apple or soft and sweet like a guava, but each coming with a long biblical history of giant football shaped Etrog, to the many different types of finger lemons, which had many rare selections at one time,  grown and collected by the Medici's to name a few. I have to admit, the citrus fruit is fascinating, and as this is a book which clearly involved plenty of research which I can only imagine occurred over the authors many years of living in Italy, it has a unique personal touch - clearly not a book which was researched on the Internet. I know, because I have made lists of many of the fruit and locations listed in this book, and this information is not easy to track down.

This is book which has not only convinced me to visit tally again, it has caused me to make lists of placed to visit and worst/best of all, made lists of citrus varieties that I just have to search out for both the home greenhouse, and if only to discover and taste just once. A book that goes far beyond Lemoncello and mandarins, which is frankly what I had at first expected, Attlee's book has me dreaming of citron blossoms raw in salads but maybe not for the recipe for Tortoise Pie and other delights from the 1500's like porcupine, cow's udders or stag's testicles.

 Still, when a author is intelligent, curious and informed about the history and story of food and plants, the read can be so delightful. Here, Attlee's passions seem to not only cross and blend, but her curiosity and passions keeps her searching deeper for connection, always in search for the true story. Her drive to learn herself, helps her uncover each and every nuance about something which many might find boring (like a sour lime, 16th century wax models of distorted fruit from the Medici's, what the Pope like to eat in the morning) but what an ordinary author could easily overlook or dismiss, she dives in deeper. This is exactly the sort of book I can get lost in forever, which sounds a little silly when it's just a book about citrus, yet my point it this is really a book about so much more. It's book about the history, ethnobotany, cultural quirks and curiosities, a book about the kitchen, about the food we once ate and the food we should eat more of, it's about fragrance, travel, art and creativity. Mostly though, like many things Italian, it's about living a life well. And who doesn't want that.

April 4, 2015


One of the hardiest and sturdiest perennial plants one could ever grow, is still not commonly seen in many North American gardens, and I don't know why. Maybe it's just because plants are already out of bloom by the time nurseries open up for spring sales, but I encourage each of you who live in USDA ZOne 6 and lower to seek out any and all species and selections of Pulsatilla, commonly called the Pasque flower because of its blooming period, usually around Easter or Passover. This high mountain plant is not only easy to grow, it can be raise from seed as well.


I find pulstilla easy to grow from pre-chilled seed (gold-nugget seed) from Jelitto seed in Germany, (versus from regular wild-collected seed, which can be more fussy to pre-chill and stratify properly). It's not cheating really, it's just practical - pre-chilled seed is not only easier, it is practically fool proof. I will admit to you however that I have not tried raising these from seed sown indoors, I do use the greenhouse, so that may help, but I would imagine that a careful sowing under lights should work well too. The seedlings are quite sturdy, and even first year seedlings have wintered over in large pots - I have even had them winter over in 4" pots that I allowed winter over ( i.e. forgot to plant) which spent the winter outdoors. So, yes - very hardy.


Early to emerge in the spring or late winter, pulsatilla are often the second flower to bloom in the garden ( following the snowdrops). Their colors stand out against all of the decaying foliage of other plants, which just makes the colors of the petals, and the golden yellow boss of stamens even more noticeable.  Relatives of the ranunculus and the anemone ( it's easy to see the resemblance), pulsatilla are perhaps the sturdiest of the bunch. These are plants that will wait until the snow melts though, which is when you will see their fuzzy new foliage emerging first - like downy feathers. In a few weeks, buds will follow, unfurling long before the crocus and narcissus. Our first bee food for sure, aside from the skunk cabbage in the swamp out back.

With 33 species worldwide, pulsatilla are common in the Rockies and Cascades in the US and Canada, and in the Alps where we have seen some beautiful species in bloom high in the alpine meadows.
Hikers are most familiar not with the flowers of pulsatilla, but with their seed pods, which look like long, feathery fronds, lasting throughout summer and autumn in high, alpine meadows.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Most Popular Posts