September 30, 2012

Greenhouse Life - Moving Plants Back Indoors for the Winter

A SOUTH AFRICAN BULBS, MASSONIA JASMINIFLORA, SLOWLY EMERGES ITS TWO LONELY BUT QUITE BEAUTIFULLY PATTERNED AND TEXTURED LEAVES, AFTER BEING DORMANT ALL SUMMER UNDER GLASS.

 This time of year comes so fast, that many of us gardeners are never prepared for it. In the north, the first frost always seems to come as if Mother Nature has a secret sadistic strategy to make seasonal transition a surprise, even to those of us who know the inevitable will come, we often gamble and wait until the last moment - which, I remind you, will not come on a Saturday night, it will arrive after a long, drenching cold rain, which will make the large tubs of Agapanthus and Gardenia virtually impossible to move, requiring sheets and bed linens having to be dragged outdoors to bundle and drape over precious potted plants that would have to be moved in later, once they have dried out a bit.

We have yet to have a frost threat here in central Massachusetts, but it is near, and we travel planned over the next few weeks, I have been trying to move plants back into the greenhouse earlier than I normally would. I had been thinking about the dreaded greenhouse heating bill this winter, even thinking about not heating it for one season, and seeing if I could keep some plants in the cellar or in an unheated room, but that decision has not yet been made, so for now, the greenhouse is still being populated.



MANY TENDER PLANTS ARE BEING MOVED BACK INTO THE PROTECTION OF THE GREENHOUSE. THESE INCLUDE CITRUS, ABUTILON, THIS LARGE PAIR OF TOPIARY, COMPLETE WITH THEIR UNDER PLANTING OF CUPHEA AND NASTURITUM FOR SOME FALL COLOR UNDER GLASS, AND MANY OTHER TENDER PLANTS, JUST IN CASE FROST COMES UN ANNOUNCED.


 Since frost seems to arrive during the most inconvenient time, often midweek, while we are both working, I am hoping to avoid that dreaded phone call from Joe. The  "we're gonna get killing frost tonight Dude - get your ass home NOW" call. ( Sorry, that's how he talks).  For about two weeks now I've been slowly bringing plants back into the greenhouse, one-by-one.  An aloe here, a gasteria there. Anyone who has a greenhouse or who keeps their collection under lights for the winter is familiar with this hard task. Many feel it is laborious and others, even sad, but I look forward to it. I prefer gardening under glass in the winter, than in the summer.

When I was a child, I would help my parents move tubs of agapanthus and Angel's Trumpets into our stone cellar, and then help my mom pick every blossom in the yard - even the marigolds, which we would then place in tin buckets on the glassed-in porches, providing cut flowers for the house for at least a few more weeks. The scent is unforgettable - sharp marigold, that unique scent of chrysanthemums and even the scent of sticky nicotiana. A greenhouse adds a layer of magic to gardening, it transforms any task from being a laborious process, to one which is special, if only because it is being performed in the opposite season - snipping jasmine flowers while it is snowing outside, tending to mossy roots on a blooming camellia on a sunny, January day with 4 feet of snow outdoors. You, inside in short sleeves on warm with sunshine, bulbs in bloom, the air rich with the scent of lemon blossoms and honey bees sneaking in the open vents enjoying it with you.


CAMELLIA POTS LINED UP ON A GARDEN BENCH FOR INSPECTION. SOME NEED TOP SOIL, OTHERS, A LITTLE TRIM. THEY WILL REMAIN OUTDOORS UNTIL HEAVY FROST THREATENS, BUT A GOOD EVALUATION ALLOWS ME TO EDIT THE COLLECTION, AND CHECK ON BUD FORMATION.


Now that I have a greenhouse, scent also plays a role. During the hot summer, the greenhouse remains rather dry and dormant - it feels dead, even through there are some shrubs and tree planted into the ground, it seems that there is nothing special going on in the greenhouse - especially when it it 110 degree inside, but as soon as I begin bringing in the many ( far-too-many) pots of small shrubs tender tropicals and bulbs, the tubs of Camellia, agapanthus, the many large topiary etc, the space inside transforms from a dry desert into a moist, damp and fragrant proper greenhouse, and I just love it as a seasonal marker - not unlike the radiators coming on in the house for the first time, with their unique, comforting scent of warm dust bringing back memories of snowstorms and cozy winter, the unique scent of a greenhouse in Autumn does much the same thing.

IN 1805, A PROPER NEW ENGLAND ESTATE GARDENER WOULD LIFT THE MANY TUBEROSES WHICH WERE PLANTED IN APRIL OUTSIDE, LIFTED FROM THE GARDEN, POTTED INTO LONGTOMS, AND BROUGHT INTO THE PROTECTION OF THE GREENHOUSE UNTIL THEY BLOOMED.

 My Tuberose Project that I wrote about earlier, was essentially a failure, but I did get two plants to blooming size. If you remember, In January, one of my antique gardening books from 1805 outlined details on how a New England gardener ( on an estate) would plant Tuberose ( The Tuber Rose) in rows in the kitchen garden, and then dig them up in September, potting them into long-tom pots and placing them in rows in the glasshouse, were they would bloom in October and November, perhaps even until Christmas, providing cut flowers for the home and conservatory. Clearly, I would have lost my job as a gardener back in 1805, but my excuse is that any gardener in 1805 would have far more free time to focus on their task at hand, and not having to write a blog or work. That said, I can't wait until my two lonely tuberose bloom in a few weeks, and with 24 plants still in the garden, their roots will have become stronger should produce more flowers next year, after being dug and kept cool and dry all winter.

YOUR HOUSE CAN SMELL LIKE 1805!
A TUBEROSE STEM, ALMOST READY TO BLOOM WILL RECAL THE DAYS OF 1805, WHEN THE TUBEROSE WAS A TREASURED GARDEN AND CONSERVATORY CUT FLOWER IN ANY OCTOBER NEW ENGLAND ESTATE.  HERE IS A SCENT THAT CAN TRUY TRANSPORT ONE HISTORICALLY TO THE PAST.


OSMANTHUS FRAGRANS, A SCENT OF FRESH ALMONDS, SO TRADITIONAL IN MANY OLD NEW ENGLAND GREENHOUSES DURING THE FALL AND WINTER

 In the greenhouse today, with a gentle, cold rain falling down, it is beginning to feel very fall like. It's the scent really, that annually bring s me back to that first visit to Logee's greenhouses in the mid- 1970's, or a garden in southern France in 1990 - scents which here in New England mean very little to native residents, unless they added  some travel memories into their mind. I treasure my personal collection of scents-which-recall - those of Rosemary, the sweet almond smell of Osmanthus fragrans,  geranium leaf, sweet violet flowers, lemon and rose scented geraniums and of course, the scent of chrysanthemum foliage. It all marks the beginning of an entirely new season for gardening just as everyone else is putting their garden to bed.

A NEW COLLECTION OF RHODODENDRONS HAS YET TO BE PLACED INTO THE GREENHOUSE, I AM ALLOWING THEM TO GET SOME RAIN OUTDOORS UNTIL FROST COMES. THE RHODODENDRON SECTION MADDENII ARE VERY INTERESTING AND QUITE COLLECTIBLE BY PLANTSPEOPLE. ONCE COMMON IN NINETEENTH CENTURY NORTHERN CONSERVATORIES, THEY ARE NOT HARDY OUTDOORS HERE IN NEW ENGLAND, AND THEREFORE, HARD-TO-FIND. 


Ferns and tender cutting of succulents are moved in first since any temperature changes can affect the tropical ferns, and cuttings root better with some warmth.
NERINE SARNIENSIS BULBS ARE QUICKLY SENDING UP THEIR FLOWER BUDS, WITH THEIR LONG, THIN STEMS LOOKING LIKE COLORED WANDS, WAVING AROUND TRYING TO GET THE STRONGEST BEAM OF SUNLIGHT. SOME POTS OF THIS CHALLENGING SOUTH AFRICAN RELATIVE OF THE AMARYLLIS ARE SENDING UP THREE FLOWER BUDS EACH. DARE I BRAG :)

8 comments :

  1. hopflower10:37 PM

    Good lord. And here I am battling 98 F heat in California. Where is the autumn weather for us? My nerines however, are doing quite well outside now.

    A gardener for an estate would certainly have time to transplant and pot up tuberoses: that was part of a gardener's job; which was full time, of course.

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  2. Have you written about how you came to have/purchase a greenhouse? I'd love to have a greenhouse (msotly to overwinter tender perennials), but I'm getting overwhelmed by the considerations: separate building or adjacent to house? floor? ventilation? maintenance? cost of heating over winter? Size? If you have any pearls of wisdom on this subject, please share. I love the idea of having a whole 'nother gardening season!

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  3. Miss Kelly, That's a great idea for a post. I wonder if anyone else will find it interesting? There are many ways to build a greenhouse, ranging from a simple poly hoop house, to a glass and steel structure. I will admit that our venture was a bit of a nightmare, but it was also one of those projects that was exciting. I think I could share the story if there is enough interest, and, share what I would do differently.

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  4. I'd be interested in hearing about a cheap way to make a greenhouse. Time is ticking and I need to decide how to take care of my potted plants this winter!

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  5. hopflower10:45 AM

    I don't need one where I live (quite like yours, anyway!) but would love to hear the story of your glasshouse, Matt. By all means put a post up about it. I would love it; and I think it would be helpful to others hoping to acquire one.

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  6. I for one would be VERY interested in the greenhouse story. I keep saying "one day", but in the meantime I live vicariously through the likes of others like you.
    In the meantime I am washing the windows in the house to maximize what little the plants get.

    THat said, what do you do as a pre-emptive strike against bringing critters into the house with the plants? Last spring was the first time in a decade that I had scale. This time on the citrus. And a few lears ago I started spraying for mealy bugs on the succulents (cacti, agaves and assorted crassula and echivera dishes and pots. Are your plants ever attacked in the greenhouse?

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  7. Thanks, Matt. I can't be the only one out here longing for a greenhouse, but a bit afraid of the whole process. It will cost a lot of money any way you do it, and there seem to be many ways to make mistakes!

    Great site you've got here, so inspiring.

    Mary Beth (aka Miss Kelly)

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  8. Just found your blog this morning Matt & i know i will look forward to seeing it often.
    My husband built me a beautiful glasshouse from donated insulated windows & it truly is my sanctuary. I garden for fragrance and I too have a few tuberose pots brought inside for the winter & hope to have a few blooms this Christmas. :)
    I also have a meyer lemon, ginger flowers, parma violets, osmanthus, cyclamen, daphne, sweet peas emerging & a monster staghorn fern.
    I'm a bit warmer than you, down here in NC.
    dabney

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