}

January 8, 2017

Nothing Beats a Greenhouse in January

A store-bought hyacinth repotted into one of my home-made clay pots, helps boost my spirits. My bulbs won't be ready to force for a few weeks so a cheat bulb here and there is OK, don't you think? It's scent is transformative on a January day.


Now that the Holidays are over, and a long Christmas break has given me a bit of time to catch up on painting rooms in the house, as well as letting me put some good long work hours into the new kitchen (it's really beginning to look less like a construction zone!). Can you believe that I only made it out into the greenhouse once during the past two weeks of December? 

I've been spending time revisiting old gardening books once again (preparing for a secret book project), and while rereading  these 19th century gardening books I'm struck by how little things have changed if one owns a greenhouse, at least in New England. The same plants listed in mid-nineteenth century books as blooming in January or obtainable from a Boston plant source, are the same plants that do well in my greenhouse. In fact, in the 1860's, it was easier to acquires what we would define today as rare or unusual South African bulbs. Catalogs listed dozens of varieties and species of Lachenalia, Romulea, and even dozens of colors of Freesia.

After a 6 inch early January snowfall, as soon as the sun strikes the glass things begin to warm up the first South African bulbs, and mid-season camellias share their show with a colder one, outdoors.

We must remind ourselves that bulbs, seeds and dormant roots of recently discovered plants from South Africa, South America , Australia, Asia and elsewhere arrived via sailing ships in the great seaports of the East, and there were such things as mail order and catalogs. What didn't exist were wholesale growers, Dutch mega-resellers and large nurseries, so in many ways, a good book with advertisements or a gardening magazine was often the only way for a plant enthusiast to acquire stock. It still surprised me though, that such plants as the tuberous tropaeolum species, where all available from multiple sources while today, only one or two sources worldwide exist. I have three books on my desk now which list T. azureum, the rare blue flowered tropaeolum, while today, with a global market, I would be hard pressed to find one tuber for sale anywhere.

These shortest days of winter can be brutal on the heating bill, especially if it is bitter cold and overcast, but we've been blessed here in New England with some mild weather, and if it dipped into the single digits, as it did last night, a good sunny day warms things up quickly. In one way, the lack of bubble wrap helps the radiant heat effect, by allowing even the weaker early January sun to feel just a tiny bit stronger than it would be if its rays had to pass through the poly-layers of it's protective bubbles.

Inside, it's a bit like summer, which still amazed me. This is the magic one dreams of when one owns a greenhouse. Jasmine vines, lemons and other citrus here are blooming and fruiting as icy snow from the trees behind the greenhouse, falls onto the glass making a threatening noises. I know that I will have to remove those trees next year, as they are getting too large, and too fragile (they are Hemlock trees weak and suffering from the Wooly adelgid infestation). That loquat tree in the center is in full bloom.





Outside, the apple espalier trees are snug as a bug, sleeping under a new layer of powdery snow. These trees will be pruned in February, so for now, they look a bit shaggy with their long stems.

It's about 5 degrees outside, so even with a bright blue sky and sunshine, the snow on the greenhouse from last nights storm, is slow to thaw and melt. What has melted, refreezes on the sides. It always looks dangerous, but rarely will the snow build up more than a couple of inches, before it slides off.

Inside, the glass defrosts around 10 am, and for about 4 hours, the sunshine warms things up enough, and temperatures can reach 60 degrees. This Nerine sarniensis cross enjoys a sunny Sunday with no idea that on the other side of the glass, temperatures are 60 degrees colder.


On a high bench near the eaves of the greenhouse, where it is warmer, are a few blooming cuttings from a double Nasturtium known as 'Hermine Grashoff' - it cannot be raised from seed, as it is sterile, so collectors must propagate it vegetatively. The ice on the curved eaves is on the other side of the glass.


Camellias are the work horses in old greenhouses, thriving in the cold, damp spaces sometimes under benches or in large clay tubs. This Japanese variegated variety (lost tag again!), is lovely, and I was surprised to see so many blossoms on the plant. Each year my camellias blooms in a slightly different way, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, but most peak in February, around Valentines day.



The exhibition chrysanthemums are just about done for the season, and this how the pots should look for a month or two. Set under benches to spend their winter, a few cuttings could be struck even now, but most will be allowed to sprout stronger stems in February when things begin to warm, and these mother plants ( or stools)  will be discarded.

The first pots of Dutch bulbs have been moved to upper benches to force for winter blooms indoors, but the South African bulbs are entering their peak growth period. Every year, the bulb benches look slightly different, which maybe is a good thing. Here you can see Babiana species  (bottom left and center) Another pink Nerine sarniensis of unknown parentage, a precious primula x Kewiness (the plant with the silvery leaves in the center) and some Lacehenalia (with the speckled foliage) on the right, to name a few.


This is a new plant for me - a rare selection of the South African bulb Velteimia  bracteata. This is a form named with the unfortunately boring name 'Cream Form'. It is available from Telos Rare Bulbs but as most good plants are,  it isn't cheap. I  think I now have 4 selections in my collections, V. 'rose-alba'  (which looks like this bloom, but much smaller), V. 'Yellow Flame' (once rare, but becoming more available), The classic pink form and this 'Cream Form'. I still need V. capensis, but not sure that that it would enjoy the cool environment here.



Veltheimia ' Cream Form', showing the overall size of the plant. It is much larger than all of my other selections, and the foliage isn't rippled or wavy.

I always have enjoyed the winter blooming Kalanchoe species, particularly K. uniflora. This specimen should be in bloom within a few weeks and I can't wait for its warm, coral colored blooms which will last all winter.

A view of the front bulb bench, with a few tuberous tropaeolum beginning to vine around a balloon trellis, just about exactly like images in those 19th century gardening books.Of course, parlors in those days were wood fire heated, and allowed to drop down to 40 degrees at night, so the environment indoors made their indoor culture more successful.

This variegated lemon is extraordinary - it has pinkish fruit as well! Nearly ripe, I anticipate a very interesting marmalade this year.

The white marble was installed in the kitchen this week. I guess this project is about half complete. The painted cabinets in the back still need to be replaced and basically, everything that you can see here, is still the old kitchen. Maybe by June?


On the new side of the kitchen, I was able to spend some time with vintage books on the new concrete table top.  Having a new place to work and research is so delightful. It was a perfect way to spend a snowy January day.



December 25, 2016

Making the Best of it, at Christmas


I could have cleaned the glass better on this cloche, but with the amount of stone dust around here. this gives you an idea of what I am dealing with. Still - no stopping Christmas and Hanukah!  A few clippings from the cold greenhouse bring a bit of fresh winter cheer indoors for the Holidays. Camellias, Nerine and some tender winter-blooming greenhouse shrubs.

As the kitchen remodel comes along, the Holidays (the original deadline) seemed to have beat us out. So rather than cancel our traditional Lithuanian Christmas eve fete, we kept our invitation list open, cleaned-up a bit, and cranked up the stove to make lots of yummy food, since we know what friends and family really care about - good food and good drink. Along with great friends, this is was the Holidays are all about, right? Thanks too, to the greenhouse, which helped as I scooted out just before sunset last night to grab a few bits of greens, herbs and winter blooms from the early camellias and sub-tropical shrubs which do so well in a cold, winter greenhouse. A few Nerine sarniensis were also in bloom along with a large acacia tree.

Merry Christmas everyone!  Here are a few pics from last night, as our kitchen remodel continues - ( I certainly won't bother you with that nonsense! f you've been through one before, you know exactly what I am talking about!).

Camellia 'Yuletide' tries to distract house guests from walls being torn down. I was pretty effective, except that my brother thought that I has wired some flowers to the stems of some branches.

I brought in many plants from the greenhouse to help hide construction.


A very special gift from my dear friend Abbie (Zabar) - one of her infamous hand-made potholders (we both share a family story and memory bank regarding this vintage simple weavings. I love them, and adore this one even though I know it will eventually get dirty from use (hey, I'm a foodie and a cook!), she understands - once sending me laundering instructions.



So this Christmas day, the kitchen remodel which involved combining two rooms to create one great space, it coming along, but no complete - we just had to make the best of it. Here is a shot of our new concrete-topped parson's table (Crate & Barrel), and the Bodbyn cabinets from Ikea.

The dogs are adapting well to all of the changes. Daphne here doesn't care where she eats her Christmas dinner, and even our new dog ( a temporary visit from a dog named 'Bob' a rescue from France who will be staying with us for a while. He is blind and will be going to Tufts Animal Hospital for evaluation).

One of the new cabinet units awaiting hardware for the drawers and doors.

This window seat will be painted then set with copper trays with gravel so that I can use it was a large display plant window, but painting won't begin until next week once the board and batten walls are installed/ These will be painted white,  the plant window in a dark slate grey, and the beadboard which runs along the upper part of the walls, in a light grey.

I can't wait for everything to be complete, until then, I am driving our builders (Joe's nephew Curtis and his friend Phil) crazy by bringing in plants.

...and Christmas decorations. Even though I have only used a few.


Last night we celebrated our traditional Lithuanian Kuchia's (sp?) a Christmas Eve dinner with traditional foods from Lithuania, Scandinavia and other northern European countries. Friends and family dined on many fishes, beef, herring rye, salmon and sweets. Not to mention cocktails enough to keep everyone happy.

Cake decorator extordinaire my friend Jess, created this masterpiece in homage to mix-match Holiday decor. I loved it - it reminded me of my mom's old tin of vintage buttons that she would dump out on here bed when I was a toddler to play with. How simple times once were, right?



Acacia (Mimosa) blossoms from the  greenhouse helped decorate a side table with rye and smoked salmon. Our countertops won't arrive until early January, so we had to improvise with bits of chopping blocks and old countertops balanced onto new cabinets.


When the kitchen is complete, we will have much more storage, but for now, we are trying to stash things were they fit, as we dream about one of those kitchen where everything has a place. When the countertops arrive (white marble) we will be happier.


We had a few hours to hang a few lights outdoors.

We  discovered what was killing our ducks over the past few weeks - I heard Joe yelling for me to come out ( from way out back, thinking that maybe he slipped on ice or something I rushed out -  but this is what he found. A snowy white owl!!Illuminated with his high power flashlight,  we first presumed it to be a Snowy Owl, but now believe that it was a Barred Owl in light plumage. It's not a great shot, but he took off just after I snapped this. He was mostly white with some spots - the all black eyes may indicate that it was a very white Barred Owl as a Snowy Owl would have yellow eyes. He was eating a duck on top of a dead tree.



December 20, 2016

Have Yourself a Very Mandarin Christmas

Mandarin oranges are a seasonal treat around the Holiday season but have you ever wondered why?
(I apologize if you had tried to read this post earlier in the week, somehow I accidentally deleted it. I had to rewrite it but this time, I kept it much shorter.).

Christmas time and Mandarin oranges - it's a pairing that started long before there branded varieties marketed under catchy brand names such as 'Cutie's' and 'Halo's', even before there were clementines. the truth is that these sweet, easy-to-peel citrus have a far more interesting story than simple being seedless tangerines.




Those stories from your grandparents about getting an orange in their Christmas stocking and being thrilled about has some truth to it. They weren't just telling tales. Of course, that lump of coal was something else.




Mandarin oranges have a long history in Asia where their juicy sweetness brightened up the winter months, but across North America and Europe, the Mandarin changed how cold-weather folk thought about winter fruit.





 It all began in the mid 1800's when ships arriving from Japan and the Philippines brought crates of imported Mandarins into the ports on the west coast of the US.These crates of sweet Mandarins then traveled via train to the big East coast cities.  So popular around Christmastime, that local papers from Toronto to New York City often announced their arrival with headlines like ''Japanese Oranges Arrive Just in Time For Christmas!'.



My father remembers as a four year old child in 1918 receiving sweet Mandarins in his Christmas stocking (his brothers once told me that he would hide them under his bed so that his other 7 brothers wouldn't find them).

Trains were often painted promoting the arrival of the Mandarins. This began in the 1920's but continued into the 1970's as seen here.


Today, we are seeing a resurgence of Mandarin appreciation, with the introduction of new varieties, marketed under catchy brand names like 'Cuties' and Halo's. The true Mandarin though is larger, and not unlike apples, encompass a whole group of named varieties which share the loose skin and easy-to-peel characteristics.



In Japan, the choicest varieties are known as the 'Satsuma' type. But understanding the various classes of Mandarins is a skill few of us really need to know or master, but why not try to explain the various differences? It's just what I like to do!

Here are the several classes of Mandarin Oranges:

Class I - Mandarin (One class is actually called - Mandarin)
This class includes the varieties named 'Changsa', 'Emperor', 'Oneco' and 'Willow-Leaf' or China Mandarin'.

Class II - Tangerines:
This class includes: 'Cleopatra' , Ponki', 'Spice', 'Dancy', 'Ponkan', 'Sunburst' (the Tangelo)

Class II - Satsuma Orange: Includes varieties of Satsuma such as 'Owari', Wase', Kara' and King Tangor. There are many hybrids as well.


Mandarin oranges in my greenhouse are just beginning to ripen. This variety is once that I purchases a few years ago from Logee's Greenhouses named 'Gold Nugget'. It is much larger than the catalog description, as it is not 5 feet tall, but it bears plenty of large, easy-to-peel fruit every winter. They rarely make it out of the greenhouse, though!


The very choice 'Satsuma' Mandarin has an easy-to-peel skin, is seedless and has a flavor unbeat in the citrus world. Their short season in December makes them something to look forward to around the holidays.

Old Christmas cards often featured festive greenery and oranges.

While researching for images and stories, I discovered this blog - InkwellInsirations by a Canadian writers group with a post  written by Anita Mae Draper entitled "What happened to Christmas Oranges?". The images are terrific, and the newspaper clippings are even better.

For me, the Mandarin orange is tops. Tangelos and honey tangelos are a top favorite in January, but he December Satsuma is king.  Nothing beats a good, sweet, juicy easy-to-peel Satsuma Mandarin - seedless, with flavor that could almost be artificial (but in a good way! Like the tangerine Life Savors), but in the end, I think that its the nostalgia and history that makes the Mandarin so appealing (sorry!).

A fresh, easy to peel sweet orange must have been a real treat at a time before there were motor cars or even sushi chefs at every supermarket. Certainly worthy of a cherished place within a Christmas stocking on Christmas eve. SO this year, celebrate the Mandarin and be thankful that they are still a festive Holiday treat, even 150 years later.

Cultural Note: If you do find some seeds in those Clementines, forget about trying to grow them into full-grown trees. They won't come true, and the resulting plants will just be thorny shrubs. I know some blogs are suggesting that you can raise your own from seed, but with citrus, that just is impossible unless it is a pure, wild species, and few if any of those are edible. But if you want to grow some citrus seeds with your kids, definitely do that - it's how I first started growing plants! By the time I reached college age, those grapefruit plants that I started in first grade where taller than I was - but still no blossoms or fruit. They did their job, though!

Happy Christmas everyone!



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