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October 21, 2014

COVET THY CONSERVATORY

On my way up to visit my favorite conservatories at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden last weekend, I passed this impressive pile of New England squashes and pumpkins. Gotta love fall!
Raking leaves aside, we here in New England are in full, blown autumn - and it's gorgeous. It's one of my four favorite seasons, probably coming in second after winter ( I know, crazy, right?). It's true - winter just might be my favorite gardening season - mainly because of my greenhouse. I can totally see why the cold conservatories and greenhouses of the 18th and 19 centuries were so popular - their scent, their collections of plants, and their escapist environments - let's face it, there is nothing like a warm, humid greenhouse on a snowy day - all fragrant with jasmine vines, minty shrubs, forced bulbs and camellias. The same assemblage on a summer day just isn't the same.  This luxury is inexcusably rare - but there are great conservatories around worth visiting, and surely, there is one near you at a university or botanic garden which deserves a visit this autumn.

Underglass, an entirely new season is emerging - so rare and precious that I am convinced that earlier generations really knew the the value of a glasshouse - those Victorians, well, the ones who had money certainly did - a conservatory in autumn is an experience few people get to enjoy.  I can sort-of get close with my greenhouse, but it's no botanic garden. Still, it was something that I wanted to have built - I was one of those kids who decided that a new pick-up truck just wasn't as cool as a greenhouse. I understand that not all readers can build one, but if you can, you will never regret it. In America, it is curious how so few people build a glass house whereas in England, so many middle class people do - then again, they are not buying 30,000 SUV's. It's just a lifestyle choice, and one has to decide what is most important to them. 

In the man time - I encourage you to visit a well-populated greenhouse or conservatory - one with a good collection, such as the sort found at a botanic garden this autumn - bring your kids, introduce them to the wonders of scent and science - It might just be what you need before the onset of the Holidays and the madness.

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Osmanthus fragrans scents the air in my greenhouse, and in most conservatories throughout autumn and early winter. It's something everyone should not miss - there is nothing like it.


 If you live in the north east, I suggest the conservatories at the Tower Hill Botanic Garden ( there are two there, the Orangerie and a Lemonaia ( a lemon house) - full of fragrant shrubs and potted plants), and of course, the ancient range of wood and glass greenhouses at Logee's in CT. There is always the historic greenhouses at the Lyman Estate and their camellias, and the Italianate courtyard at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, but all things considered, when it comes to actual plant collections - I think to specimens at Tower Hill Botanic Garden are more authentically period conservatory plants. It's worth a visit while the Osmanthus trees are still in bloom just to inhale their almond blossom fragrance. Logee's sells Osmanthus plants, they make terrific windowsill plants for a cool window, and even better tubbed specimens for an unheated bedroom - so classic in China ( they make a tea from the almond scented blossoms), Osmanthus fragrans is perhaps the most fragrant, but if I was a teacher in a school, I would surely add one to my classroom.

Lachenalia bulbs that arrived a few weeks ago are starting to sprout, so I will pot them this weekend. If you haven't tried any Lachenalia - you really should see if you can get some. A couple of on-line retailers still have some - Google it!
Easy as paperwhite narcissus, just plant them deep in soil, and keep them as cool as you can.


At home, this was the big, busy week - the weekend when we had to pull all of the plants back into the greenhouse. It's something that we always seem to wait too long to do, I suppose if we had a gardener or a staff, it would have been done weeks ago, but honestly - I was seriously thinking about not heating the greenhouse this year - it's just too costly. Then there was the issue about the broken glass from last year. Joe has been busy replacing glass which had broken over the summer in the greenhouse, and today was focusing on some very costly curved glass that we had to have shipped from the greenhouse manufacturer in Texas. I ordered two pieces just in case one broke, but hopefully that won't be necessary - at least, I haven't received a phone call yet! It looks like we are going to try growing our collections for another year!

A few summer bulbs are still maturing like this Eucomis vandermerwei which I keep in a pot, so that it doesn't get lost. As far as Pineapple lilies go - it's a beauty, both on the deck in the summer, and for those few weeks under glass before it goes dormant for the winter.

Bulbs are still being ordered, and others are still waiting to be planted. I picked up 24 amaryllis bulbs this weekend at a local nursery - I don't know why - I just couldn't choose! So one of each made their way home. Look, I am not rich! So this impacted our household budget a bit more than I expected it to but come on! I know you've done this too! It's a week of pasta all in the name of amaryllis. Good thing we have all of that homemade sauce!


Even though I threw out many plants in the greenhouse, I just could not let the large pots of herbs freeze outside without taking cuttings. Here, lemon geraniums and rosemary await the rooting chamber.
Growing up I was more than a bit of a nerd. I loved reading old gardening books, you know the type - gardens at big estates in England that spoke of "Cyclamen under the beech trees" and "drifts of bulbs needed to be planted" and I dreamed that someday I could use that very vernacular. Well, I do - perhaps too much for a small cottage house in of all place, Worcester, MA - but one really doesn't need an estate with big fireplaces full of chestnut logs to be able to have fresh herbs or to appreciate the luxury of taking ones own cuttings from rosemary and scented geraniums. The scent of which instantly transports me back to my high school greenhouse where I could get a hall pass to skip gym, just so I could take cuttings from the scented geraniums. It's so sad that today there is no interest at my same high school to continue the horticulture program.

No fussing over these rosemary cuttings. A dip in rooting hormone and a shove into a 50/50 sand and Perlite mix will do. They will all root within a month, and --boom. Instant Christmas gifts.

As you saw in my last post - the succulents outside were hacked back - no need to bring them all in- I usually just snap off all of the echeveria and aoneum  left with 4 inch stems, they're shoved into damp sand to root in the greenhouse. So easy, and they seem to thrive on the neglect. When I don't do it, I regret it in the spring. As does my wallet.

1 comment :

  1. Thank you for sharing! You were very informative and I really enjoyed your post ! Great shots!

    ReplyDelete

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