October 8, 2014


Black centered white anemones are practically impossible to find for the home garden, but I did find one source - an although Anemone coronaria can only be grown outdoors in warmer zones ( Zones 8 or higher), they are perfect for cold greenhouse. Soon  I will share my story about my search for the black centered white anemone but for now, I will have to settle for this black centered 'DeCaen' selection.

I've decided to add a short winter projects list to my already long annual list of projects (which are mostly summer projects - more updates on those in a few weeks). I love gardening in the winter, in the greenhouse more than I do gardening in the summer, so it should come as no surprise that I would ass a projects list for the winter season, too. My winter projects like mostly includes projects in the greenhouse, which I know may or may not be interesting to you, but I think that you will learns something from a few of these.

Read more - click below

Project 1 - Anemones and Ranunculus - cut flowers in the greenhouse

While in high school, I would work during the holidays at a local florist (and this was back in the 1970's!). I thought that I was the hippest kid because I worked in an old, wooden greenhouse range at the top florist in the city, and they had a banana tree in it (hey, I was an impressionable 16 year old!). The banana tree bloomed, and I got my picture in the paper. Bananas with snow outside - magic. Well, that sort of thing has lost some of its magic, but I remember that about a mile away from the main greenhouse range, the owner had another greenhouse range which was older - much older, perhaps left over from the late 1800's. Large, at least one hundred foot long greenhouses with row after row of holiday plants like azalea crops, poinsettia and gloxinia.

Anemone coronaria corms are quite strange looking. They look as if they would never be able to grow ( which side is up and which is down?) Don't worry, plant them at an angle, and they will figure it out for you. They must be soaked overnight in warm water for best results.

Anyway, in the back of the longest greenhouse there were these beds in the ground - concrete lined beds will with ferny foliage, and just around Christmas time, the beds would start blooming - with long stems of Anemones. Another bed was planted full of Ranunculus. Both beds provided cut flowers from the New Year until Easter - Easter, when I would be sent back to the greenhouse to pick both pink and purple anemones and sometimes a pink camellia from one of the tall camellia trees which were planted in the ground, near the end of the greenhouse - there was one elderly woman who would call asking if we had camellia corsages. Sweet. I mean, who does that now?

I am planting my Anemone coronaria ''Black Eyed White" corms in a raised bed on the south exposure wall so that they can capture most of the January sun.

The greenhouses burned down around 1980, but I often think of them, but now that I own a greenhouse myself, I really don't know why I haven't tried growing anemones or ranunculus yet. This year, I am. White anemones with black centers. How the Hell Matt did you find those? More on that in another post, it's a fascinating story, - and in case you are looking for the ones that I found, check out this site. Because you are not going to find them any where else. These are the black-eyed selection from the De Caen group, but they will be the closest you will be able to find, if you are thinking about growing some of these gorgeous commercially grown 'Panda' strain seen in these pictures. Those are only available to the handful of commercial growers who raise them for the Dutch cut flower market.

Project 2 - Winter Sweet Pea Trial - under glass, and outdoors

A few years ago, I discovered a journal from 1909 entitled The Annual Report of the New York State College of Agriculture Vol. 1, (you can view it in detail here on Google books as a free ebook) which outlines a study performed at Cornell University during the harsh winter of 1909 and 1910 where they trialed various sweet pea varieties outdoors in upstate New York. Their results were fantastic, and why? Because they sowed the seed in November.  That's right. In late autumn. So why not recreate this study and see if it still holds true? I'm in.

I am going to pair this project with a planting underglass, with some 'winter sweet peas' which are new actually, as they were popular in the late 1800's, especially just outside of New York City and Philadelphia. There are a few on-line sources ( all in the UK) for winter sweet peas - those which have been carefully selected to bloom best when daylengths are less than 12 hours. A July sowing could earn you a sweet pea harvest as early as January. Owls Acre carries a few winter varieties, as does a company called English Sweet Peas (I have not ordered from them yet, but I am curious) - they carry a variety called 'Solstice' and it is listed under 'greenhouse' varieties. You may want to try some on an unheated porch?

Seeds were soaked overnight. White seed, in particular can be hard to break through the seed coat.

Autumnal sown sweet peas are common in California and in the UK, but where winters are cold, or where the ground freezes, it is rarely if ever recommended. Still, I remember my parents doing this exact thing - sowing sweet peas in the ground in the autumn but for some reason, few bother to plant then in the fall anymore. Oh Hell, who am I kidding - who really grows sweet peas any more! I know, I sometimes forget in my tiny brain! Of course I am going to try this too.

The College of Agriculture book also goes into great detail about raising winter sweet peas under glass with special varieties from the UK. Now, in 1909 one would think that this might be terribly impractical, but remember that this was a time before air travel, and all cut flowers for florists and trade had to be grown under glass int he winter, and shipped via rail to nearby cities. There is documentation about varieties of winter sweet peas ( specific ones which do better with shorter day lengths), and I was thrilled to discover that Owls Acre Sweet Peas carries some of these same varieties. White varieties seem to do best, and to be realistic, sweet peas under glass bloom not in the winter, but in March thru June. I'm OK with that! I found a great story about sweet peas being the most popular cut flower sold in markets in New York City in 1897 in March of that year (for .25 cents a bunch!). Now that they sell for $5 a stem, I am all for growing my own. I shall be a gillionaire.

Soaked seeds were added to folding root trainers, for long, deep root growth.

For this project, I have split it into two sub-projects. One involving greenhouse grown sweet peas which I started sowing last week, in late September,  mimicking the study in the book. I am using the special winter-sensitive active varieties from Owls Acre, focusing on the white varieties, as old literature seems to confirm that the white varieties are stronger growers in the winter.

The second part of the Sweet Pea Trials will be Spencer varieties sown outdoors, also mimicking the New York State College 1909 study, with 20 foot rows of each variety sown outdoors and mulched, ranging from Octover 20th until when the ground freezes near November 20th. In the New York Cornell trials, the seed sown closest to when the ground froze performed the best, with flowering occurring around June 10, 1910. So I amy forego the earlier sowing, but as I am growing newer selections, I might try a few earlier. Some of the original varieties used in the 1909 study are still available such as Mont Blanc which makes my little trial a little more interesting. The 1909 study resulted in white and blue varieties doing best, with some reaching a success rare near 85%, and although the spring sown varieties bloomed only 3 weeks later, the seed sown in autumn produced 'far superior quality cut flowers".

These conservatory camellia specimens in the Limonaia ( like an orangerie) at Tower Hill came from the collection which was housed at the Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum in Boston. My plants will not have such a provenance, but they are nearly this size. I am ready to try a few on our glassed in porch, to see if they will survive the winter there.

Project 3. Camellias on a New England Porch - Inspired by the old porch at the home of our friends Jan and Marty from Joe Pye Weed Gardens, where camellias bloom in January and February - I am going to try it. It will involve adding a layer of plastic over the ugly jalloisie glass windows that we have there now ( so it can't look any uglier!), I am going to try it. This was one way old, yankee New Enlanders were able to grow camellias back in the 1800's.

Project 4. Muscari Collection - Yes - growing as many varieties as I can ( about 18 so far) for a special display at a spring flower show. I once saw a display at Chelsea with dozens of pots filled with a single variety of Muscari, each pot a different strain or variety. Loved it, doing it.

This amazing grey auricula was raised by my dear friend, and primula expert Judith Sellers. She gave me a piece of it, but I ordered more varieties from England to try these most striking of the primula clan once again.

Project 5. Primula auricula - In many ways, this is the same project as the camellia one, as it involves wintering over plants on a glassed in portch, but it might include more detail, such as a raised sand bed, maybe even a heating cable - but who doesn't adore these rare, hard to grow primroses - clearly the most regal of all primula, if not of all potted plants, but notorioiusly challenging to grow. They demand cold, frozen temperatures, or near freezing without freezing. I really have no idea what conditions will be on our glassed in porch, but I am going to attempt this sort-of 'alpine house' project with a set of new auricula imported from England.

I had to work last week, so sadly I could not attend this years show - so this is how I watched him winning this highest of prizes in his world of dog shows. Live, on FaceTime. It worked fine, but all the dogs sort of looked the same. At least, I could drink wine while watching!

Our Irish Terrier Weasley, or should I say Red Devil's Irish' 'Grand Champion Lucifer's Fire' just won a major show - an OMG moment this past Sunday. He won Best of Breed at the National Terrier show known as Montgomery County Kennel Club Terrier Show in PA. It was also our breed club specialty, which means that he also won Best of Breed at the Irish Terrier Club of America's national finals. Amazing. Go Weaz! He also came in 4th for Best of Show, which was against all terrier breeds.  We couldn't be prouder. Today he came home, pee'd on my computer and then chased some red squirrels up a tree. Dogs.

Weasley with his handler, the talented Adam Bernardin, who has been his agent since last year. Now - off to Westminster again, but this time with some real cache.

Weaz was happy to be out of his crate and adjusting from a few weeks on the show circuit. He passed out on the seat on the way home, only awakening for some McNuggets.


  1. Your cut flower obsession is just yet another highly impressive part of your portfolio. But I've got to say, all that aside, your handler is a snazzy dresser.

    1. Thanks Susan, hey, I'll let Adam know that you liked his threads!

  2. Dear Matt,
    wow, what a list, what fantastic pojects, what a wonderful dog and an interesting blog! Have to come back and read read read....
    Thank you and all my best from an Austrian gardener

    1. Welcome, Elisabeth! And all the way from Austria - oh, one of my most favorite countries! I love the Alps, in case you cannot tell!

  3. Anonymous8:04 AM

    I knew I shouldn't read this post as soon as I read the title. You're feeding my addiction. Now not only do I need to care for the dozens of tuberous begonia I grew from seed obtained in England, graft any tomato plants I produce and try to find locations for all the dahlia tubers I purchased, now I need to plant sweet peas and attempt over-wintering of ranunculus and anemone in my cold greenhouse. Actually, I'm looking forward to it all.


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