January 17, 2010

A season of it's own

A white Rosemary which has grown too large as a topiary, blooms. This is acting now as a stock plant, and now has many children which need to be repotted today.

Having run out of large, clay pots, I needed to repot a Cameliia which fell off of a bench, and broke its pot. I found these old, wooden desk drawers handy, and rather attractive, for now. They most likely will deteriorate over a summer or two, but I do love plants potted in wooden boxes. Maybe I will have some made-up from Mahogany so that they will last longer.

One of our interspecific Clivia crosses, with buds.

A rare geophytic Ornithogalum species, Ornithogalum fimbriatum 'Oreandra' bloom on the cold, sill on a southern exposed wall of the greenhouse.
First of all, I had always wanted a greenhouse, and I already always loved winter, I think, even more than summer, which is odd for a gardener I know. I think I loved winter because it gave me a reason to be lazy, that my chore list was shorter ( so I imagined) and that that I found houseplants and greenhouses more manageable, less over-whelming than two acres of vegetable gardens, lawns, and hedges to trim. When I built my greenhouse ten years ago, I knew that I would love it, but what I didn't realize was how much it would make me enjoy winter even more.

Here it is, mid January, and I'm wearing rubber boots, I'm muddy and there is dirt under my nails. My jean are wet from watering plants with a hose, and my short-sleaved tshirt is hot in the bright sunshine, and damp from the mist and hose-splashing. I'm even sweating just a bit in the hot sun, and as I breath in the, warm moist, Osmanthus-scented air, I think about how I used to enjoy January. Sure, outside, it is just about freezing, a bit of a January thaw, even. So outdoors it's pleasant enough to take a hike in the woods, or to go bird watching, but underglass, in the warm sunshine potting up cuttings for the summer garden, it feels a bit like a July afternoon. Just a bit.

The other thing I've realized is that the greenhouse itself, has very distinct seasons of it's own. Starting in October, just as the large tubs of tender plants and numerous potted specimens that have spent the summer out of doors are moved into the greenhouse, there is this great shift in atmosphere. In one day, the greenhouse becomes crowded and more damp with the addition of plant material that still has it summer lushness about it.

By November, just before Thanksgiving, most of our native tree's have dropped their leaves, and suddenly, practically overnight, the quality of light changes. I notice this most on sunny days, when the sun starts to set early, and the low angle, shines into nooks and crannies like no other time of year. By December, the greenhouse enters what I beleive is it's most vulnerable time of year, which lasts from around December 10th until January 15, or so. During this time, around the winter solstice, the angle of the sun is so low, that full sun becomes limited, illuminating the greenhouse between 9:00 am and 2:30 pm because of our abundant mature trees, that give our place that very park-like setting. I sited the greenhouse purposely during this period, looking for the perfect location in January that would offer the longest direct sun.

But by mid January, one notices the days becoming longer, and on sunny days. the sunshine is bright enough to melt any ice and snow on the roof, often heating the interior to a very balmy 80 degrees. By Valentines Day, in mid-February, the greenhouse feels practically like mid-May. With most bulbs and plants from the Southern Hemisphere now reaching peak bloom. March becomes like June, and suddenly, one notices the seasons all blurring, and I rarely complain about he winter feeling so long anymore.

The tender Primrose known as Primula x kewensis, which I started from seed, is starting to pull out of it's short dormancy period, with buds emerging, I must remove all of the dead and yellowed foliage, so that the crown doesn't rot, and so the well farina'd leaves can grow into healthy rosettes.

A stem with flower buds starts to emerge on the Primula x Kewensis.

All cleaned up, the pot of Primula x Kewensis gets relocated to the front of the greenhouse, where it can get more winter sun. Typically, it spends its time on the cold ground in the back of the greenhouse slowly maturing.

So, here we are, mid-January, and on a sunny, January thaw day like today, I can work in the greenhouse in shorts and tshirt. This was the first weekend where underglass, if felt, and smelt like springtime. I found it pleasant enough to take time organizing the back potting bench, and I repotted a tray of cuttings which I hastily took on a cold, October evening just before a killing frost. The many Salvia species, geranium and abutilon are now all rooted, all with very little effort beyond cutting with whatever knife I could find, and some old soil in an even older plastic tray. I also took a number of cuttings off of a large topiaried White-flowered Rosemary, which I was going to let freeze, although I still brought it into the greenhouse for now. It's too woody and needs to be let go.

I admit that I rarely take the time to carry through the winter, such summer stock, opting to buy new plant material each spring. But the cost savings is now so great, that I really need to take the time, and develop a routine on managing carry-over material. This weekend, I also went to Logee's Greenhouses to visit and pick up some plants, and now when I see to cost of even a simple Euryops, I can easily calculate that just this one tray of cuttings, has resulted in a few hundred dollars worth of plants for the summer garden. And, the abundance of certain varieties of Salvia will allow me to plant larger drifts, resulting in a more impressive garden.

A Rosemary cutting, becomes a baby topiary. This white flowered form will be trained to become a potted topiary form, since the parent plant has grown too woody.

Seeds of other genus find their way into other pots, all the time. Here, a Cyclamen coum grows in a pot of Narcissus 'Mineo', and N. romieuxii cross. I find this sort of behavior magical, and rarely will repot believing that mother nature sows plants in places better than I could ever imagine. Probably why these plants tend to grow better than the ones I've sown.
A tropical Rhododendron, a Vireya species from Borneo, has sent out a few flowers on this sunny, winter day.


  1. It looks as though you've been having a great time!

    I'm a big fan of propagating as opposed to buying new stock. Like you I have propagated so much Rosemary this year.

    I have no room for a greenhouse in my current garden and I have always envied yours. Did you grow many of your species bulbs/plants from seed?


  2. Matt, So many of the plants you post are ones that I grow and love. Right now I am also enjoying Cyclamen and Narcissus in the greenhouse. In fact in my pot of N. romieuxii I have one plant that is different from the others. I realize that there is a lot of variance in these species but this is quite unique. Can you suggest some source that could help me identify it?

  3. Oh, what I would do to have a greenhouse! In the meantime I do enjoy seeing yours.

    I know a VT gardener who overwinters many of her tender plants as does Stonecrop Gardens. You would not beleive the size of the plants that you will get doing this.

    I am sure you have heard of this book, but just in case you have not, I'm passing on the title.

    "Bulbs in the Basement, Geraniums on the Windowsill: How to Grow & Overwinter 165 Tender Plants"

  4. What a beautiful, garden blog you have. The desk doors as plant pots are inspiring. There is so much that we can do with found objects. It is a very, rainy day in Northern Cal and everything is turning remarkably, wonderfully green.

  5. HI Ryan
    I think you are closer to the bet source, Ian Young's bulblog ( great name!) at the Scottish Rock Garden Club site. He inspired me, shared seed and truly kept me going with these easy to grow Narcissus. I suggest writing him or chat with club members in their very active forums.

  6. Hey Barry, same message for you too. Check out the SRGC site, or in the USA, join the National Rock Garden Society, and get their seedlist ( it's online) these are best grown from seed. Also, bulbs are available at only one source that I know of, which is Nancy Wilson's site for miniature narcissus ( google it, I can't seem to place the URL in here.


  7. Enjoyed your comments about the rosemary. I don't have a greenhouse so usually propogate in the Spring. It's always difficult for me to let plants die so I have large rosemary plants along with scented geraniums, lemon verbena, various tender herbs, etc. overwintering. I should get over this...my back room with grow lights is getting quite crowded! But I'd be happy to adopt your rosemary should you ever decide its life has ended.... I can see me becoming like one of those cat ladies, but with plants! Enjoyed your blog, Linda


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