December 12, 2015

A December Tour of the Greenhouse

We're all so busy during these last few weeks before the Holidays, that it's hard to rake a break from all of the cooking, decorating, shopping and trying to finish up everything at work before the year comes to an end. I look forward to my Christmas break because thankfully, I do get one, with only a couple more days of work until January 4th. I can't wait. Hopefully, it will give me some free time to work on the blog, in the greenhouse, and to just relax and catch up on some reading. I always treat myself to one, good order of antique gardening books, which I can loose myself in.

Here are some bulbs, citrus and camellias which are dominating the greenhouse this warm December in New England.

Massonia jasminiflora, an unusual, collectable genus of low, near-to-the-ground tender bulbs from the cape of South Africa. Just a pair of pustulated leaves, with a cluster of white, tubular blossoms.

Of course, there is also the greenhouse, and work doesn't end in there; We are having some minor plumbing issues - need a new faucet, and a new hose but most of the tasks are just the fun type - repotting, staking tropaeolum vines, which I still am experimenting with in an attempt to find the perfect trellising system for these tiny vines. Some older tubers however are being a bit more aggressive this year, one large 24 inch pot of a Tropaeolum x brachyceras has so many stems emerging that I can't even count them. I wonder if it split or multiplied this year? Right now, it looks as if it could take per the greenhouse! I may just train it onto a tall column of chicken wire.

 Ipheon recurvifolium, a relative of the common blue Ipheion uniform which we sometimes see in the fall, Dutch bulb catalogs. Taxonomists continue to argue if this should be placed into Tristagma, as T. sessile, but it doesn't change that that this bulb has been blooming under glass for 2 months now. Three tiny bulbs was all I could afford of this sweet thing from Uruguay, but maybe it will set seed or divide.

I so love snow, but I have to admit that this unseasonably warm sunshine was healing. I'm definitely thankful for the break as well, since I have not been able to make time to wrap the greenhouse glass inside with bubble wrap - maybe we will be lucky and El Nino will grant us a mild winter?  I am kind-of OK with 60 degrees F in December - my heating bill for the winter so far has been $42. Can't complain about that, but it does make me sound like an old fart - I should be hoping for snow, and a white Christmas like 5 year old Matt somewhere inside of me.

Another bulb which is blooming now, is this Cyrtanthus (Fire Lily). This is a cross who's parentage which we are not sure about, but it's a reliable bloomer each autumn.

Paperwhites have been planted for Christmas. I prefer to grow them in soil, and then top dress the pots in gravel, and later, with moss from the woodlands.

Meyer Lemons do so well in the cold greenhouse. I love how they ripen starting in December, almost the same time that they ripen in California. I have two large trees now, but I may get one more. It seems we can never have enough Meyers for tea, marmalade and for cocktails.

Summer succulents were cut back, and the cuttings are being rooted in seed flats. This helps me save space, and it refreshes the plants, since cuttings perform much nicer when set out again in the spring. Plus, I can quadruple my collection, which is always nice.

Clivia miniata bloom here in March, but the interspecific crosses - those which are crosses between the autumnal blooming species such as C. caulescens and C. gardenia with the spring blooming C. miniata, tend to bloom around Christmas time. This one, which is a cross we made about ten years ago, is sending out 5 spikes.

It's nearly citrus season in the greenhouse, and aside from the Meyer Lemons, we keep adding other citrus like these Kumquats, which are still green. They should ripen in January, and will provide a nice treat when eaten whole, warm from the sun, my favorite way to eat kumquats.

Limequats are a cross, which are already ripening. Terrific in Holiday cocktails, these may not last through my Holiday break! They are tart and sweet, and much juicer than typical kumquats.

My good friend from college,Jeannie, which is Chinese but practically hawaiian now, loves her Calimondin oranges, since most of her friends are from the Philapines. She may be spending Christmas with us, so I hope to impress her with this large variegated Calimondin - it's just beginning to ripen now.

Camellia season has started under glass here in New England. We can't grow camellias outdoors, but under glass, they thrive if it is kept cold. It's been so warm, that I fear that many of mine may bloom early this year.  For now, the late sassanqua fall-blooming ones are ending, and a few Higo types like these singles.
'Yuletide', a classic fall-blooming camellia is effortless in the cold greenhouse. 

I know, it's a blurry shot, but still, so pretty. This is a new single red, but I can't find the label! 

Many of the large Higo camellias are blooming, now, and most will last throughout the winter, especially those which have been planted in the ground in the greenhouse, like this one.

Chrysanthemums continue! A stunning apricot spice colored quill-type.

One of the great benefits of an unseasonably warm winter? I can order bulbs on markdown from the mail order catalogs, in volume. Most are %50 or more off right now, as are peonies. Check your favorites sources - it's not too late as long as they can still ship, and while your ground is still thawed. I plant bulbs until the ground freezes in January in some years.


  1. Anonymous2:16 PM

    dear matt
    great fun visiting your greenhouse virtually. everything looks immaculate!
    my sunspace can only be ventilated manually. the warmth i fear will lead to whitefly galore this year.
    i am interested to know how long your variegated calamondin has been in that pot (it's a beauty). so is the plant.
    all best,
    ~ 02568

    1. Thanks! 02568,
      The Calamondin is not that old. I bought it at Logee's about 2 years ago, I think, but it was one of their larger-sized plants in a 4"pot then. This would be it's third winter, but it put a lot of growth on last summer, and this is the first time it has produced fruit.

  2. Stunning, all of it!

  3. Matt,
    I live in New England, RI to be exact. I always looked at winter as down time. But reading this post I am finding just the opposite. This past year my neighbor was telling me about onions and garlic, to start them in the fall, and that is what I am doing now I will expand my garden this year. Now I have a greenhouse a walk in one no glass, should I leave it up and plant winter plants in there. I know my herbs will never last in the cold, but you have some beautiful flowers. This will be my second year and I plan to go bigger and much better. I am very interested in winter gardening. Looks like I can still play in the dirt after all. Thanks for the info.

    1. Hi Marc - If your greenhouse is closed, but not heated, you can grow many vegetables in the ground, especially greens like arugula, beet greens, and lettuces. I know a few flower farms who are raising anemone coronaria and ranunculus in un-heated hoop houses. If you are in south county or near the coast, you could try some cold-hardy camellia's - check the few sources on-line who carry some new crosses created from species collected in higher elevations - most descriptions will identify them as such. Daphne odoratum is great for winter scent, but not as a cut flower, but if you plant a few shrubs in the ground (if you can), try Sarcocca (any species) or Correa for winter color. Some plants which are typically impossible to grow unless they receive cold, frozen and dry winters include primula auricula and some saxifrages, as well as many alpines, which, if you house gets ridiculously cold and remains frozen, will thrive in such conditions as long as they dont defrost and refreeze too often. So, you can see the variables - if your house is open to the ground, plant winter veggies directly in the soil - ( but these would have been best to sow in Sept). A spring crop could be sown in Feb., and late fall sown crops would provide veggies through the winter, but I would need to know more about your greenhouse conditions. For flowers, it's more challenging if the house is unheated, but if closed off from the elements, I would start with scented viola planted directly in the ground, and any bulb would need to be planted in the ground, and not pots, for the bulbs and roots cannot handle freezing and refreezing after warm day thaws. Herbs like bay laurel and rosemary should winter-over nicely, if your house is big enough. Sorry for the ramble!

  4. We have those Fire Lilies too. They are really beautiful, especially when there's a lot of em blooming. I like some of your flowers too. Hopefully to have them before the year ends. :)

  5. Your greenhouse is nothing short of absolutely gorgeous. That lemon tree especially, just wow.

  6. Dean Wiegert10:09 AM

    I enjoyed the virtual greenhouse tour also. I wonder how cold your "cold greenhouse" gets? Do you keep it from going below 32F? How do you mitigate the fluctuation when it warms up during sunny days only to cool way down at night?

  7. Your winter garden is fabulous! I really consider buying a green house so I can also continue gardening in the winter. I find it really satisfying and relaxing to have a garden and I am incredibly eager for the spring to come so I can do it again. A greenhouse will solve my problem, I think. Thank you for sharing!


Oh yes, do leave me a comment!