April 9, 2018

I'm Back! OK, Spring, we're ready.

After a few month hiatus so that I can focus on finishing my upcoming book 'Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening' (Dec. 2018) I am back.  I must be rusty at blogging as it took me three days to write this and then when I tried to post it this morning, I lost everything, and now have to rewrite the entire post. Well, maybe that will allow me to edit a bit more and keep this first 'return' post shorter.

The Hammaellis are late this year, as everything is due to some extraordinarily cold weather, and a very snow winter here in New England. What else is new?

This is where I've been spending my time lately. Sometimes for 14 hours a day for a few months. I thought that I would use my new office upstairs which I created out of a spare bedroom but it seemed that the new counter in the kitchen was nicer (and warmer as a radiator sits underneath this window~!).

Our exceptionally cold January held-back many greenhouse plants including the camellias which are just now starting to put on a show. It's so late in the greenhouse season that the sun is strong enough to burn them on sunny days but with late snow storms arriving every few days we cant put shade cloth up yet as it will hold the weight of the snow. Such as weird winter or spring.

This is how it looked two weeks ago with a dump of heavy, glue-like wet snow of just over a foot that broke and split most every Japanese maple and the following winds near hurricane force pulled down some hemlock trees, one hitting out chicken coop.

Last week, another foot of wet snow covering the onions in the garden and again breaking many trees. Luckily nothing hit the greenhouse.

Inside the greenhouse things are pretty toasty though as the radiant sunlight heats it even on overcast days.

The last camellia season is still welcome maybe becasue the snow is still falling outside? 'Margaret Davis' is a particularly nice one and this year it sent out a few all-white sports.

This camellia without a label is exceptionally floriferous this year. It's been in bloom since January.

The tiny blossoms on the tuberous nasturtiums from Chile are back again and welcoming/ No bigger than a pea they come by the hundreds on this Tropaeolum brachyceras.

Outdoors things are much later than normal. THe snow melts in just a day or two and doesnt harm the early flowering cobs of the Japanese Butterbur (Petasites japonicus ssp giganteus). A favorite mid-winter pollinator for the earliest bees/

Crocus love this weather, and these where bargain-basket 50 cent ones that I bought at Home Depot last January. They still grew and I planted hundreds becasue they were such a value. If these were tulips, forget about it, but often narcissus and crous can handle a bit of abuse.

Alpine plants though are designed for this weather. This saxifrgaga growing in a piece of limestone rock relishes a late snowfall. I've seen these in the high alps in July blooming in snow. If you love rare or engangered plants consider the high elevation saxifrages in a colletion (get them from Wrightman Alpines) or at one of the spring plant sales hosted by local rock garden societies. As anyone at a table at one of these sales and they can direct you.

Saxifrages as hardy and tough, especially if grown in tufa rock - a porour limestone rock in which once they are rooted and set into a trough garden can last for years. Most of mine are over ten years old, and while a bit of a challenge to find if you fine the right place for them, they are rather care free. These troughs that sit on our deck are basically left alone year round.

If you live in New York City or nearby, this is a great sale to hit. Alpine plants are not only important to save as our high-elevation zones are at risk from climate change and skiing resorts, these plants are perfect city rooftop or terrace plants (after all - tall buildings are just like mountains). These are plants that can handle wind, severe weather and most anything a balony can throw at them. They talke some knowledge to master but it's fun and interesting. Consider joining your local chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society as well (Far more than rocks! The society brings together folks who love woodland plants, native species, trees, shrubs, bulbs, ferns and most plant geeks join too!).

My dear friend Abbie Zabar who is a long-time member of the Manhattan chapter of NARGS designed this poster for them. Aren't they lucky in New York to have such generous talent? I first met Abbie at a NARGS national meeting in NYC about - oh geesh - maybe 18 years ago now. Boy, does time fly!
In teh veg garden the first crop bold enough to face the weather has been the perennial bunching onions.

In the greenhouse, I've revised much of what I raise from seed given new knowledge which I write about in my book. I've stopped raising brassicas in early spring, no brocolli, cabbage or brussels sprouts once I learned why we shouldnt sow them now and things like snapdragons are kept dry between waterings to encourage thick stems.
Parsley is a fav around here, but I learned much about researching parsley. I am growing six varieties as there are many fine types, and none are available at retail it seems. I want top chef restaurant quality. These won't see the outdoors until the temperatures warm to above 60 degrees, for I dont want parsley that will bolt and go to seed by July like those plants being sold right now at the nurseries will. Parley and fennel will stop growing foliage and bloom if plants are exposed to temps below 50° F for even a few days. Pansies yes, parsley? No. Are you listening Lowes and Home Depot?

One thing I learned last year was that chile pepper enthusiasts often save some types indoors, wintering them over in pots to continue growing the following season. It works best with the tepins and the rocotto-types, and mine are just starting to come out of this false dormancy. Kind of amazing.

The Reticulata Group Iris often sold in catalogs as simple 'Iris reticuta' are early blooming bulbs that often emerge just after the snowdrops. "Katherine Hodgekins' is a perennial favorties of many gardeners, and this one is no exception.

The species or snow crocus 'Prins Claus' is in a pot, but while hardy enough for the snowiest spring weather, in the greenhouse it can be apprecieated at a completely different level. It looks like a catalog photoshoot subject here.


  1. This past week I was sowing carrots in the garden and it started snowing. I was thinking 'only in New England...'! Thankfully it turned to rain. Your camellias are so pretty. I miss those from living down South and have thought of trying a more cold hardy variety in a sheltered spot. I'm very intrigued by your book. No broccoli sowing this early? Interesting! I've heard of overwintering peppers before and really should try it, as my husband loves them.

    1. Thanks Indie. Sure, broccoli can tolerate the cold, but are more succeptble to cabbage root maggot which has a big flight in late May. One is safer waiting until mid June to sow most brassica crops, targeting a later harvest. There are more hatches of flies, but plants will have stronger root systems by the time the second largest hatch happens in late August.

  2. Anonymous3:50 PM

    Good to have you back Matt,

    Your book is already listed on Amazon in the UK, with a purple Chinese lettuce on the cover. I have put it in my basket!

    In an often frost free garden we had -6C this year in Cornwall. I now have some much needed space to try new things in after a significant number of 'losses'.

    Rare seed is already set, new things will fill the gaps all too soon!


    1. Hi Chad - funny, I just saw it on Amazon US about 5 minutes before I read your note! I guess it's official now! (yet I am still working on it!

  3. Great to have you back. I'm a new reader, but already in love with so many precious and inspiring information you share with us! BTW, I love the Deuterocohnia in your greenhouse :)

  4. This has been a crazy winter-spring change, right? At least we know we're never alone when it comes to trying to keep a garden in these situations.

  5. Your greenhouse always makes me smile. I think spring has finally arrived in your area. It is nearly summer in mine. We didn't really get spring, but that's ok, because winter finally left. I'll take the heat. ~~Dee


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