December 4, 2016

Finding Peace Under Glass

I think I have only stepped out to see the greenhouse once in three weeks. I'm discovering that in November and December, a little break from gardening is somewhat welcome. Maybe it's because one preoccupied with other more pressing things (you know - like the Holidays, work, family issues and life), or maybe it's just a case of Post Traumatic Gardening Syndrome - recovery after a crazy hot, long (a record-breaking drought) and all that which comes with those last few weeks of gardening in which one packs into every last moment of ever-decreasing daylight - chores which have little to no chance of ever getting completely done - digging dahlia tubers, garden clean up and deciding what to do with buckets of frozen, rotten tomatoes and peppers. Not to mention still having to wrap the inside of the greenhouse with bubble wrap (let alone actually ordering it before Thanksgiving!).

A little gardening under glass this weekend really helps me decompress. Even paperweights deserve some love. I plant mine in clay pots and soil, not gravel. Topped off with sheet moss from our woodlands, these should be ready for Christmas - and maybe will be displays in our new kitchen (if it is complete!).

After a few weeks of hard frost, and even a few more weeks of greenhouse ignoring, I find that now - just before the Holidays, I begin to journey out on nicer weekends for a few free moments to take inventory of what will need to be done over my holiday break. By now, the greenhouse is a mess since tubs and large pots of plants some of which (such as the bay laurels, phormium and agapanthus) are still outdoors waiting for the really cold weather - and waiting for room once the chrysanthemums are done with their splendor.

I have yet to order any amaryllis, but even though I am a bit of a plant geek, I still adore paperwhite narcissus and attractive winter houseplants, bulbs and ferns. Winter windowsills in the house deserve to be decorated nicely, and now that I have a new poured concrete table and a plant window in the new kitchen, I will need lots of plants to bring in for displays.

I like this sort of puttering. Reorganizing pots, moving things from one bench to another. Cutting back certain plants like the flowering maples so that they can regenerate new growth, and digging out semi-hardy sub-tropicals from outdoor containers to repot for a winter under glass and perhaps for some Holiday display. Lemon cedars for instance, which can handle temperatures in the high teens, will eventually need to be be brought in and repotted to survive in the protection a glasshouse offers.

Camellias are quite cold hardy, but here in New England they must spend their winters in a greenhouse as our frigid cold of January and February won't hurt their flower buds and roots. Pots of camellias do spend part of the winter outside, but only if the nighttime temperatures remain above 20 deg. F. By now, all pots have been brought into the greenhouse, and even a few early bloomers are starting to put on a show. The classic variety known to many in warmer climates as a reliable Holiday bloomer has an appropriately festive name -'Yuletide', which one can imagine Santa may cultivate in his hothouse, or a blossom that would look appropriate in a Japanese woodblock print.

The autumn blooming sassanqua camellia's are just about done, but there seems to be little to no downtime in the camellia aisle here - as early winter blooming types are starting to open. Between now and early March, camellia's put on the big floral show in this New England backyard greenhouse. I know that they will looks so much better once the snow starts flying - which happens to be by tomorrow morning, we are told.

Gravel trays on our window seat area in the new kitchen will welcome large pots of greenhouse shrubs for temporary displays in winters to come ( and maybe for part of this winter). Camellias like this one, as well as acacia trees, clivia and most any forced bulb can be worked into a display filled in with ferns and other greenery.

The sweet fragrance from this Acacia podalyriifolia or 'Pearl Wattle' which I ordered last year from Annies Annuals is delightfully spring-like. A drought lover, don't over water it as I did with my first two! I plant it in a sandy mix and water rarely in the summer.

Other tender trees and shrubs are beginning to bloom, most of which are native to the Southern Hemisphere - Africa and Australia. I have such a fondness for the genus Acacia, most of which goes back to my very first exposure to these trees and shrubs mostly with fragrant golden yellow mimosa-like flowers. The great spring flower shows in Boston and my home town of Worcester, MA often hosted the famed Stone Family Acacia collection - forced mostly Australian species (which tend to have the better species for containers and fragrance) which enchanted visitors to flower shows in the 1950's until the late 1970s at most of the flower shows held on the East coast, from Philadelphia to Boston.

I keep a few acacia species in the greenhouse, but they grow so quickly that I often need to cut them back or start new ones from seed. These 'wattles' are precious, for many reasons, but moreso because one rarely sees them as a container plant today, unless one keeps a cold greenhouse. They are challenging as indoor houseplants, and too tender for those in the North East to grow outdoors. I cherish their powderpuff blooms, or long golden yellow catkins which to me, signify spring. A few autumn flowers are welcome too, as well as a few winter blooms.

Correa 'dusky bells' makes for a nice container plant in the cool greenhouse.

South American plants are also welcome bloomers in the greenhouse. Plants from Chile, Argentina and Patagonia are finding more room on my benches. But the Australian shrubs are still just as lovely. The genus Correa do quite well when raised in pots under cool glass. I find that they can often be in bloom from December until mid February.

Plants from the Canary Islands are new additions here - I can't wait for this Canarina to bloom - maybe this winter.
Native to the Canary Islands, a precious vining herbaceous plant  - Canarina canariensis is a seldom seen vining plant which plant collectors surely will know, but one no one sees outside of the nerdiest plant person. When it blooms, the large terra-cotta colored campanula- like blossoms hint of their relationship with campanula, but may take a few years as the roots need to form a sizable mass. This is my second year with my stock, and their vigor seems much more promising than last year. I think it is time to repot these roots and plants into a larger pot now.

The South American tuberous Tropaeolum species most of which are native to the high Andes, each produce a tumble of micro-fine vining stems which will find their way up any trellis or nearby plant. Blooms will follow, but first, they must tangle their way onto some sort of structure. I am always impressed by how much cold they can handle.
Iphion recurvifolium, or Ipheion sessive, or maybe even Tristagma recurvifolium - as taxonomists try to decide where this bulb from Uruguay sits, I am fine with my few blooms from my two bulbs. Someday - I hope to have more (got to save seed!), but until then, I shall enjoy this precious and rare bulb even if it is tiny.

Erica 'Winter Fire' promises to bloom in the winter time. This South African introduction may do well in an acidic mix in a container - I have high hopes for these ericas.

South African plants see to do the best in my greenhouse, so this year I was fortunate to finally add a collection of South African erica species and selections. Think of these are African heathers - most with needle-like foliage and tubular red, pink and white blossoms - often much larger than those of more familiar erica species.

This Erica umbellata has smaller needles, but like the others, it has begun new growth just as the day length has grown short. This one won't bloom until April or even May.

Erica cruenta is a spectacular winter-blooming large shrubby erica from South Africa. I am trying a few in pots as a cold greenhouse winter blooming plant.Each of the ericas have foliage which is different from each other.  

Haemanthus albiflos is a classing South African bulbous plant which always blooms for us here just before Christmas. I now look forward to these shaving brush like blossoms, which seem to capture the low light angles of a December sun in a special way. These plants now remind me of Christmas time.
Haemanthus albiflos even makes an easy houseplant when raised in a sunny and cold windowsill. The foliage alone is impressive with wide leaves but the blossoms are unique as well.

Lastly, this isn't a good sign at all - Winter Moths (Operophtera brumata) seem to be reaching us here in Worcester, MA. Hatching and mating in November and early December, their egg cases will hatch in the spring at the base of trees where they were set into the bark, and the larvae will crawl up the trees and defoliate everything in their site. Last year, a few miles south of use as well as much of Rhode Island was defoliated through most of the summer. I dread next summer as this invasion reaches us. there isn't much that we can do. You can read more bout this invasive insect here.


  1. Thanks for your helpful article

  2. What is the bicolor splash camellia? I'm hoping it's zone 7 tolerant.

  3. So jealous of those beautiful camellias and that acacia. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Svetla5:24 PM

    completely off-topic - penstemons. I found your post from 6 years ago, and you were not a fan. Still not a fan? Have you tried some of the Sarah Raven recommended varieties? I am thinking Raven and Alice Hindley. I am in central PA, zone 6, so we get some humidity in the summer.

  5. Anonymous8:11 AM

    What an amazing article! Thanks so much for sharing ����


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