March 27, 2019

Create An Original Spring, Indoors and Out

New spring. growth on pomegranate trees in the greenhouse emerges very early, even have a freeze. It's often our first sign on spring. Trees can be kept on a very cold porch or even in a garage bare all winter and rather dry if the temperatures don't drop below 20 degrees. Their new growth always looks fresh and like April (but in March).

While there are great things to say about the democratization of design, retail stores  - the whole  'Target' thing,  and how today even garden centers and plant producers are bringing us more and more choices with branded plants and amazing products in nicer sizes and early enough plant, that in many ways we are better off than our parents were. But then again, if you are like me, you go to the garden center and peruse the aisles at the big box store where there are only circus colored pansies or weird combinations of colors that I frankly wouldn't buy.  When it comes to designing your own spring containers, sometimes a little creativity and forethought will go a long way. If you settle for convenience, you may just end up with containers that look lovely, but with ones that look just like everyone else on the street.

Lily of the Valley, forced is a perfectly original indoor statement, and something that few will have,

Our new plant window and library window  is still under construction (I still need to decide what color to paint the woodwork) but I had to bring in pots from the greenhouse for some well-earned spring display. Lachenalia, Cape Primroses, rare ferns, camellias and that palm-looking plant which is a Dioon (cycad) in Guy Wolff pottery really helped me feel good about the delay with the window seat. I had it covered in green Brazillian slate so that heavy pots could be set on it.

The system is simply set up that way, with so many evaluators along the way that by the time a pansy or succulent shows up at your local nursery - the palette has been edited - often by criteria such as cost, your economic zone where you live or by someone who frankly (I'll say it) doesn't have a great aesthetic. It happens everywhere, but I think more so in the plant business. The person making the decision to buy 2000 flats of pansies may prefer double, brilliant yellow or bright purple over the newer introductions like bronze, brown or tiger striped. It's just a matter of taste, but as we all know, taste is a subjective thing.

Spring in the greenhouse means moss on the pots. Which many love visually (me too). Of course, it's not always a good thing as pots must be washed with a bleach solution each spring to sterilize them - but don't try telling that to interior designers who love the look. Must like moss in the garden, it just grows where it wants to grow and no one can force it to grow where it doesn't. I think I know a few people like that! But there are plenty who keep trying to promote moss as a design element even if it can't be forced to grow. 

Indoors and outside spring is slowly coming on here in New England. This year it's been a nice, slow spring which is great for the plants, but not for impatient gardeners. Our snowdrops are just emergins as are the crocus and other early spring bulbs. There are those years where they all bloom in late February, but this year, it's more typical if not normal.

Snowdrops in this Maryland gardens that I saw last week were all in full bloom, but this is when they should be divided as it is easy to dig and separate clumps into smaller clumps to speed-up division. This grower started with just a few bulbs 30 years ago, and now her woodlands are full of flowering clumps. So lovely under the deciduous trees, which is what they really enjoy.

The lawns are Longwood (near Mr. DuPont's house) were planted with thousands of crocus and eranthis. The trick here, as we have a crocus lawn in the old golf putting green that my parents had installed in the 1940's is to use freshly dug bulbs if they are eranthis, which are difficult to find, and as for crocus, avoid the large hybrid Dutch varieties and opt for a species type or Crocus. tommasianus selections which is by far the finest species to use.
Crocus Lawns should be raked and thatched very early or you risk damaging the flowers.

Eranthis hymalis - the winter Aconite -will self seed and spread if fresh bulbs are planted in the fall. Find a friend who has some or dig and spread around your own if they are self seeding, but it may take time to get good stock that isnt dead when you order it.

Anemone's (the dutch sort like these) and commerically raised ranunculus are the darlings of the internet and local flower farm movementm, and whille you will see pots sold at garden centers, if you winters are cold and the ground freezes dont expect them to return. Treat them as annuals. While cold-tollerant, if you buy corms in the fall plant them in a hoop house or a cold greenhouse and you will be rewarded with early blooms in spring.  Beyond that, enjoy the ones you buy for early spring containers and dont worry about it.

Indoors you all know that I am a big fan of Cape Hyacinths, or Lachenalia. The newer hyubrids like these African Beauty strain varieties are so easy to grow (if you can find the bulbs in the fall) that they should have replaced paperwhite narcissus in popularity, but sadly, few know about them. I like that they were far more popular in the mid 19th century than today.

The old fashioned winter or greenhouse primroses like these Primula obconica were once so popular (They still are in Tokyo) but here? Forget about it. Old catalogs from 1910 show pages and pages of them for early spring color in windows and containers, and their color palette of apricot, periwinkle and coral is so on point today, but few growers offer them. I know - Pacific Plug and Liner even offered the almost extinct Primula sinensis but buyers and agents are not familiar with it or they feel that consumers wont be familiar with it, so they rarely offer them to clients.

Another view of my new plant window. Later I will share more photos, and yes - more Primula obconica.

Another flower in spring that has completely falled out of favor is the Schizanthus. I have a 1920 catalog from Suttons in England that has 5 pages of seed varieties but who today has a greenhouse or staff to grow these for their conservatory? Then again, who has a conservatory? But wouldnt you love these "butterfly orchids" in your home or spring containers? Just try to find them though., I've only seen them grown well three times in 30 years. First at Butchart Gardens when I was kid in Vancouver while visiting, once at Kew in the year 1999 and then last week at Longwood. Yes - I grow them myself from seed and I have a few flats ready for special clients, but beyond that, good luck.

The color palette of Schizanthus varieties is varied and odd, and maybe not for everyone, but they sing for me. There are wild and a couple of species forms from seed available. which are better in the garden but they must be raised from seed at home. A few commercial strains exist, that a handful of capable growers to grow regionally, but these cool weather plants would surely be marketable if only people knew about them.

Check out this camellia I brought into the house last week. The anemone form is so rarely seen, but what a show it puts on.

FYI - My English Spencer sweet peas are growing fast. - especially those for friends and a handful of special clients. I am growing 62 named varieties this year. More than ever, but there are never enough, right? Iam gorwing pots of dwarf sweetpeas this year. - all white vintage varieties and some pink. Just a trial, but they look great so far. Most of the truly dwarf varieties from 1900 are lost so tracking some down was a surprise.

Also in our new plant window is this pretty pale yellow camellia. So floriferous, but it only comes in while in bloom then whisked back out to the cool and buoyant greenhouse. Got a heated porch or a bright garage window? A mudroom that is cool? Then this one may be good for you.  


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  2. Hi Matt! (Waving from Oklahoma!) Well, it's a fit and starts spring here. One day really warm, another needing a fire in the fireplace to keep my blood flowing. Sixty-two varieties of sweet peas! You constantly amaze me my friend. I have to agree with your opening paragraphs. It's hard to find the unusual among everything else. I searched out everywhere for some pretty pansies and violas I wanted to grow. I can't get over the clown pants mixture of garish yellow, purple, hot pink and white with dark faces that everyone here grow in commercial settings. Maybe they want us to see them at 60 mph? I don't know. I went a bit more subtle and then realized my fall-planted pansies were in fall colors. I'd forgotten so now I have clown pants of my own. Oh well.....

  3. It is sad that options are so limited, aren't they? I love that cape hyacinth! I have some of my indoor carnivorous plants that are in bloom at the moment. (My horticultural tastes walk a little on the weird side.) I love a lot of the blue pansies and will always have a nostalgic fondness for the Jonny-jump-up, but I don't care for the very formal primroses commonly sold. There are so much prettier primroses that I've seen in gardens but never in stores. One of these days I'll have to get some seed.

  4. Hi Matt...
    I discovered Schizanthus years ago and grew them every spring. Then seed became almost impossible to find. I located a source for it this winter and am once more growing it. Can't wait to see them bloom!


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