January 30, 2017

My Gardener's Monthly for January

In the greenhouse, the camellias are well budded, and nearly bursting with bloom.

As I lose myself in a number of 19th century gardening books and magazines, it strikes me how similar the content in this gardening blog is to these now defunct publications, (I hope that this isn't some big hint that I have been overlooking!). Thanks to Google books many of these journals have now been scanned are are searchable providing hundreds of articles about everything from the perils of steam heating greenhouses and stoves to how to collect and preserve plant specimens while journeying on a steamship. 

January 23, 2017

My Garden Projects for 2017

Each January I share a list of the garden projects I plan to undertake in the coming year. Here are about ten things I am looking at either collecting, growing to perfection and covering in detail on this blog.

People sometime ask me -
"How do you keep coming up with ideas?" And the answer is, I don't think that I will ever run out of new gardening projects or ideas, for my back-up list is so long, that it might take 300 years to accomplish all that I wish I could do. I blame this relentless drive on - my mother. I remember her tearing pages out of gardening magazines , knitting patterns and and recipes Better Homes and Gardens, and then organizing them into 3 ring binders.

My dad who was an artist, was no better. He kept hundreds of images in manilla envelopes - all torn from various art magazines ( and ok, if you really knew him - some pretty ladies from Cosmopolitan) and he organized these  all by subjects or topics - written in sharpie on the outside of the envelope. I still find stacks of "Dogs and Horses". 'Womens Hair', 'snow scenes' and 'floral patterns'. This was indeed 'early Pinterest'. (and BTW - Why the hell didn't I invent that site?).

January 20, 2017

Moving Forward

Seed catalogs provide hope during these dark days of winter.

Hope arrives no matter what the weather, politics or even life tells us. As some of you have noticed, I've been neglecting this blog for a few weeks. The now reason can be shared.

We lost Joe's nephew Curtis to a heroin overdose here in our house where he had been living for the past year. These events are a bit like auto accidents,  suppose surreal would be cliche yet accurate way to describe the experience, yet 'numbing' and hopeless seems to sum it up better. Losses like this while not exactly a surprise, are never openly expected, as hope always seems to be just within reach, and one never wants to imagine anything else.

In this case, Curt was on his third day home from rehab, perhaps at his most vulnerable time, he was expressing such hopefullness and even chatted with me that morning about how he was so grateful that we were helping him and how he never wanted to go through this again, and how he couldn't wait to get the shot that would make this all a bit easier.

I've learned so much about those suffering form addiction over this past year since Curt moved in with us, and although he had been sober for over a year at the time when he moved in, we both knew that the risk was always high that he could relapse, which happened three times between the Holiday season and last week. Curt leaves three young children (one toddler) and so many who loved him, Not to mention that at a young 36 years old, the entire future. Frankly? It just all sucks.

I've started about seven posts which are all drafts, they range from my special projects to what I am ordering this year, eventually I will complete them. Sometimes, life just gets in the way. Please bear with me as we heal and reconstruct our lives over the next week, as we rejoin with family and try to get things back to a relative normal. 

January 8, 2017

Nothing Beats a Greenhouse in January

A store-bought hyacinth repotted into one of my home-made clay pots, helps boost my spirits. My bulbs won't be ready to force for a few weeks so a cheat bulb here and there is OK, don't you think? It's scent is transformative on a January day.

Now that the Holidays are over, and a long Christmas break has given me a bit of time to catch up on painting rooms in the house, as well as letting me put some good long work hours into the new kitchen (it's really beginning to look less like a construction zone!). Can you believe that I only made it out into the greenhouse once during the past two weeks of December? 

I've been spending time revisiting old gardening books once again (preparing for a secret book project), and while rereading  these 19th century gardening books I'm struck by how little things have changed if one owns a greenhouse, at least in New England. The same plants listed in mid-nineteenth century books as blooming in January or obtainable from a Boston plant source, are the same plants that do well in my greenhouse. In fact, in the 1860's, it was easier to acquires what we would define today as rare or unusual South African bulbs. Catalogs listed dozens of varieties and species of Lachenalia, Romulea, and even dozens of colors of Freesia.

After a 6 inch early January snowfall, as soon as the sun strikes the glass things begin to warm up the first South African bulbs, and mid-season camellias share their show with a colder one, outdoors.

We must remind ourselves that bulbs, seeds and dormant roots of recently discovered plants from South Africa, South America , Australia, Asia and elsewhere arrived via sailing ships in the great seaports of the East, and there were such things as mail order and catalogs. What didn't exist were wholesale growers, Dutch mega-resellers and large nurseries, so in many ways, a good book with advertisements or a gardening magazine was often the only way for a plant enthusiast to acquire stock. It still surprised me though, that such plants as the tuberous tropaeolum species, where all available from multiple sources while today, only one or two sources worldwide exist. I have three books on my desk now which list T. azureum, the rare blue flowered tropaeolum, while today, with a global market, I would be hard pressed to find one tuber for sale anywhere.

These shortest days of winter can be brutal on the heating bill, especially if it is bitter cold and overcast, but we've been blessed here in New England with some mild weather, and if it dipped into the single digits, as it did last night, a good sunny day warms things up quickly. In one way, the lack of bubble wrap helps the radiant heat effect, by allowing even the weaker early January sun to feel just a tiny bit stronger than it would be if its rays had to pass through the poly-layers of it's protective bubbles.

Inside, it's a bit like summer, which still amazed me. This is the magic one dreams of when one owns a greenhouse. Jasmine vines, lemons and other citrus here are blooming and fruiting as icy snow from the trees behind the greenhouse, falls onto the glass making a threatening noises. I know that I will have to remove those trees next year, as they are getting too large, and too fragile (they are Hemlock trees weak and suffering from the Wooly adelgid infestation). That loquat tree in the center is in full bloom.

Outside, the apple espalier trees are snug as a bug, sleeping under a new layer of powdery snow. These trees will be pruned in February, so for now, they look a bit shaggy with their long stems.

It's about 5 degrees outside, so even with a bright blue sky and sunshine, the snow on the greenhouse from last nights storm, is slow to thaw and melt. What has melted, refreezes on the sides. It always looks dangerous, but rarely will the snow build up more than a couple of inches, before it slides off.

Inside, the glass defrosts around 10 am, and for about 4 hours, the sunshine warms things up enough, and temperatures can reach 60 degrees. This Nerine sarniensis cross enjoys a sunny Sunday with no idea that on the other side of the glass, temperatures are 60 degrees colder.

On a high bench near the eaves of the greenhouse, where it is warmer, are a few blooming cuttings from a double Nasturtium known as 'Hermine Grashoff' - it cannot be raised from seed, as it is sterile, so collectors must propagate it vegetatively. The ice on the curved eaves is on the other side of the glass.

Camellias are the work horses in old greenhouses, thriving in the cold, damp spaces sometimes under benches or in large clay tubs. This Japanese variegated variety (lost tag again!), is lovely, and I was surprised to see so many blossoms on the plant. Each year my camellias blooms in a slightly different way, sometimes earlier, sometimes later, but most peak in February, around Valentines day.

The exhibition chrysanthemums are just about done for the season, and this how the pots should look for a month or two. Set under benches to spend their winter, a few cuttings could be struck even now, but most will be allowed to sprout stronger stems in February when things begin to warm, and these mother plants ( or stools)  will be discarded.

The first pots of Dutch bulbs have been moved to upper benches to force for winter blooms indoors, but the South African bulbs are entering their peak growth period. Every year, the bulb benches look slightly different, which maybe is a good thing. Here you can see Babiana species  (bottom left and center) Another pink Nerine sarniensis of unknown parentage, a precious primula x Kewiness (the plant with the silvery leaves in the center) and some Lacehenalia (with the speckled foliage) on the right, to name a few.

This is a new plant for me - a rare selection of the South African bulb Velteimia  bracteata. This is a form named with the unfortunately boring name 'Cream Form'. It is available from Telos Rare Bulbs but as most good plants are,  it isn't cheap. I  think I now have 4 selections in my collections, V. 'rose-alba'  (which looks like this bloom, but much smaller), V. 'Yellow Flame' (once rare, but becoming more available), The classic pink form and this 'Cream Form'. I still need V. capensis, but not sure that that it would enjoy the cool environment here.

Veltheimia ' Cream Form', showing the overall size of the plant. It is much larger than all of my other selections, and the foliage isn't rippled or wavy.

I always have enjoyed the winter blooming Kalanchoe species, particularly K. uniflora. This specimen should be in bloom within a few weeks and I can't wait for its warm, coral colored blooms which will last all winter.

A view of the front bulb bench, with a few tuberous tropaeolum beginning to vine around a balloon trellis, just about exactly like images in those 19th century gardening books.Of course, parlors in those days were wood fire heated, and allowed to drop down to 40 degrees at night, so the environment indoors made their indoor culture more successful.

This variegated lemon is extraordinary - it has pinkish fruit as well! Nearly ripe, I anticipate a very interesting marmalade this year.

The white marble was installed in the kitchen this week. I guess this project is about half complete. The painted cabinets in the back still need to be replaced and basically, everything that you can see here, is still the old kitchen. Maybe by June?

On the new side of the kitchen, I was able to spend some time with vintage books on the new concrete table top.  Having a new place to work and research is so delightful. It was a perfect way to spend a snowy January day.