February 10, 2013

A Blizzard Strikes

The greenhouse looks cold and frozen, in this weekend's blizzard, but even with winds howling over 75 MPH, thanks to protective evergreens, and a deep, 35 inch snowcover with ten foot drifts, everything survived the storm.

When I look up our town on Wikipedia,it states "Worcester's unique geographic location, jutting out into the North Atlantic, also makes the city very prone to Nor'easter weather systems that can dump more than 50 inches (130 cm) of snow on the region in one storm event.". This is a fact that rarely goes un-noticed here in central MA, as it seems deep snow becomes an annual event each winter ( two winters ago we had over 130 inches in one season). This year, has brought us a rather normal winter, that is except for this weekend's storm which dumped 35 inches on us in 24 hours.
As the storm began on Friday, the wild birds came out to feed, as they do, before the storm. Here, an unlikely couple share some suet. A Tufted Titmouse ( left) and a Carolina Wren.
Winter finches chow down as the storm begins to become fierce, with snow falling at a rate nearly 3 inches an hour. Goldfinches, Common Redpolls and House Finches enjoy thistle and black oil sunflower seed.

By the next morning, the drifts were high enough to cover the kitchen windows half-way up, making the interior of the house darker than normal.

On the back porch, snow sticks to the windows, and the door could not be opened since with 35 inches of snow, one has to first shovel out room for the door to open..but the dogs had to go pee....

That is....if they could get down the stairs. The snow was so soft and fluffy, and deep, that they would sink
in until the snow was over their head.

"Really?" Weasley decides to do a quick dive, do his duty, and then race back into the house where he
napped by the fire along with his favorite new toys - damp wool mittens.

The boxwood hedges near the greenhouse

The greenhouse fared well, even under 10 - 12 foot drifts. Once the sun comes out, as it does after most nor-easters, any snow left on the glass will quickly melt as the warm February sun will warm the interior of the greenhouse quickly.

In the greenhouse, the Cape Hyacinths ( Lachenalia) are just starting to reach peak bloom, along with other pots of winter bulbs. Valentines day marks the peak season for winter bloom under glass with violets, camellia and winter bulbs
coming into bloom at the same time.

Japanese Maple branches catch the morning sun Sunday, the day after the blizzard. Saturday, the sun came out only for a couple of hours at the end of the day, enough to melt the snow on the glass, but cold winds frosted the glass, and
by dawn, the temperatures dipped to below 0 F.

The next morning, everything was calm, and with the snow melted off of the glass, the greenhouse appears frosty, due to the frigid cold temperatures that arrived after the snow. I awoke at 6:00 am and the temperature was -2º F. When it is that cold, the glass will frost, but inside, everything is safe and warm. Once the sun reaches the greenhouse, the entire space will feel like May ( and smell like it too!).

A few more shots of the Lachenalia, along with other small bulbs like Oxalis, Nerine, Ornithogallum and Scilla.
On days like this, the greenhouse feels more like a garden than a greenhouse, as it seems everything is in bloom.
 I do grow many bulbs, but anyone who keeps a cold greenhouse will learn to depend on winter-blooming bulbs, for not only their ease of culture, but for their winter bloom. Even in the 21st Century, I find that keeping a glasshouse brings relaxing moments, much in the same way that such glasshouses did 200 years ago, often with the very same plants. Imagine in 1850 what such a scene must have been like, yet today, with our fast lifestyle, 2000 TV stations, electronic media and instant communication, one can still appreciate the scent of a Lachenalia or the tender petals on a rare oxalis that chose to bloom in a sunbeam just hours after a blizzard struck. Pure magic indeed.

I think you could look at this very same week on this blog, and find many images of the same plants in bloom, but
perhaps in different locations. Not everything blooms at the same time every year, but generally, most of
the South African collections blooms together. The tall Velthiemia (left) is early this year.

What does one do when it snows this much? Write, design and plant. Oh yes, and enjoy a bit of February sunshine and
fragrance in the warm greenhouse. I love winter ( I really do).

A last note - I wrote something for WILDER QUARTERLY ( not your average gardening magazine, but rather a nice-paper-quality version of what a gardening magazine should be). As if I have time to write gardening articles, but it is something I am deeply interested in doing in the near future. As many of you can tell, there is nothing I love more than design, new ideas and introducing others to appreciate the deeply interesting aspects about plants and gardening, many of which just become lost in todays easy-to-do, short, 'sound-bite' culture. Now you can see my regional 2013 WINTER GARDENING TO-DO list on-line (for free) as well as in the high-quality WILDER QUARTERLY for $18.95 via mail, or at STOCKISTS worldwide.

The only thing I was surprised at was how my article was edited. It looks like someone changed all of the botanical Latin names to common names, which they obviously Googled. (i.e. Auricula primroses were changed to 'Mountain Primroses'. I know Latin names can sometimes be challenging for people, but Auricula can also be a common name, at least in this case. I guarantee no one has ever heard of Mountain Primroses before. Look - if Big name chef's can use fancy French terms in their recipes, then gardening deserves the same respect. Come on WILDER - establish your standards beyond hip and easy. Add a good heavy dose of authenticity, something your competition cannot deliver.

On that note, I heard that GARDEN DESIGN is going out of business - let me know readers, if you have any thoughts on that rumor.


  1. Nope nope nope. One of the reasons I moved to California is that I never wanted to deal with snow again. As nice as a greenhouse full of bulbs is I much prefer being able to just walk around my yard and see my little self sown annuals already coming into bloom in mid-February. No snow for me!

  2. What a reassuring weather report. Glad to know all are safe, snug and still blooming.

  3. With every picture I see such history, and yes, magic! Your glasshouse looks like genius to me, and you prove that anything is possible. Good luck with the writing; it seems to take quite a bit of discipline! haha As for the snow and the puppies... it is your destiny! Lastly, glad you stand for authenticity. It is so very important in this homogenized world. I actually enjoy using my brain when I read your work! Thanks for inspiring my morning, Mr. Matt.

  4. Your Lachenalias are gorgeous! How about a few update puppy photos? I bet they're really cute now.


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