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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query greenhouse. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query greenhouse. Sort by date Show all posts

January 8, 2015

A DEEP FREEZE IN THE GREENHOUSE



TO anyone who lives in a cold climate with a greenhouse, as freeze is inevitable. Why they always happen on the coldest night of the year is beyond me, but for what ever reason, the heater always blows up during an epic blizzard, glass breaks during an ice storm or it just plain runs out of fuel during an arctic vortex, as it did for us last year. This morning, I awoke to temperatures which made the morning national news ( -6º without windchill), and when I looked out at the greenhouse at 5:00 am in the dark, I could see that it was completely white with frost - never a good sign.

At 5:15 am, it didn't look good. Single pane glass, tender plants and -5º just isn't a good mix. I gave up.

I am not good with these sort of things. I mean, I am a realist, or a fatalist - regardless, I just turned and started to make my coffee, and then watched the weather for a bit, ignoring the facts since - well, there just isn't much I could do about it at this point. At least, that's how my head works. I was not about to run out and start hauling tender tropicals through -5º F weather as that would surely kill them, even in the short run to the warmer house. What was done, was done. I didn't real defeated, just a little 'done with it'.

By sunrise, the entire greenhouse what covered in frost - never a good sign, as usually the glass is clear near the ridge. it looks like it is crying, doesn't it?

By 7:00 am I stood in the kitchen with my coffee in my hand, stareing through the window looked to see if the furnace was perhaps on, and that due to the insanely cold weather, that for some strange meteorological reason, there was no steam emerging from the exhaust. That inside that single pane glass house, all of the plants were indeed fine, and it was 70º and balmy. After about 17 minutes of standing there watching ( yes, it I timed it), reality began to sink in and all hopes for a miracle faded.

These are the things that make keeping a greenhouse stressful - cold, frigid nights, running out of fuel - everyone who owns a greenhouse has their own horror stories of loosing everything, entire collections, plants that were collected from all over the world - and for me, a massive collection of plants which can sometimes seem like a burden, but at the same time, valuable and difficult to replace, many being in the collection for 15 years or more.

Our Calla lilies suffered significan freeze damage, but I think that their roots are fine, and I am confidant that they will regenerate new growth once cut back.

Thanks to Joe who woke up at that point, and ran out in his slippers, fiddling with the switches and thermostats, not all was lost - for he said that it was 20º in the greenhouse, the pots were just starting to freeze, and for some strange and magical reason, many of the plants looked fine, but the truth was that it was -5º outside, and the temperature was dropping quickly.


Camellias are very hardy, perhaps so hardy that I could grow them in the greenhouse planted in the ground without any heat at all, but the flowers on many get damaged easily. This Higo was frozen solid.

We called our gas company ( Suburban Propane) who are now, I am convinced, the best guys out there, as they rushed out at analyzed the situation within an hour. In the mean time Joe made me run to Home Depot to buy a couple propane heathers that were 200,000 btu's and they were able to bring the greenhouse back to a balmy 75º. Our gas men analyzed the problem and felt that our furnace was broken, ordering a new part which may or may not be in stock, and the left. We waited, with our propane space heaters on, and the sunshine which helped rewarm the greenhouse. We had to move a few benches, many pots and tubs of plants in order to make way for the gas men who would be installing a new blower, and by noon everything was moved,  and continued to wait.


Many of the plants in the collection would not mind a good freeze, this Narcissus cantabricus was frozen crisp, but thawed out nicely in the January Sun. It is native to the high, alpine meadows in Morocco's Atlas mountains.

While making lunch in the kitchen, I noticed steam emerging from the greenhouse, and thought that perhaps one of the heaters over-heated, but then I saw that the furnace had magically restarted. Strange.
They lights too, had come on in the greenhouse, all of which are on separate electrical lines, but nothing was working earlier even though the meters that the gas men used told them that we did at least have power coming to the furnace.


Velthiemias always surprise me - I was certain that I lost these this time, as the leaves were so frozen that they appeared transparent - like a head of iceberg lettuce that accidentally was placed in the freezer. Once the sun thawed the greenhouse, they became green and alive again. Magic.


This is becoming a long story which surely no one really wants to read, so I will shorten it. After finding an electrician who come come right away for an emergency call, and who thankfully travelled out from Boston just at dusk, ( Thanks so much James! You are AWESOME!) we discovered that the problem ( he discovered that the problem….) was just a plug which rusted, got wet and somehow triggered the furnace to short - or something like that, I clearly know nothing about electricity.


The tuberous tropeaeolum also survived the hard freeze, and these looked so tender and small, that I didn't even bother to carry the pot into the house. By the end of the day, they looked as they would have looked on a warm, day in May.


The surprising fact here is that it looks like most of the plants have survived, even though at 7:30 am the temperature inside the greenhouse was 18ºF. My greenhouse has frozen three times now, at least, frozen to low temperatures that were below 25º F, and each time I am so surprised to see how many plants survive, especially given that many  plants freeze and die in a frost when outside. The reason so many survive is that most of the plants in the collection come from either areas of the world which experiences extreme temperatures, such as the deserts or alpine areas, or they come from South Africa, Chile, cold areas of China or New Zealand.


Some plants are native to cold altitudes, yet still from tropical climates. The Vireya are alpine forms of rhododendrons from Mount Kinabalu in Borneo - but they grow at such a high elevation that they can handle light frosts. Only the pedicels on these plants were damaged.

Plants are also kept somewhat dry, which helps the cells stretch a bit when a freeze happens. Amazingly, it appears that we only lost a handful of plants, and we are grateful to everyone who helped or offered to help haul plants into the house today. Thanks to Bob and his assistant from Suburban Propane in Rochdale Ma who drove out first thing, thanks to the ladies in the office there too - you deserve lots of chocolates! Many thanks to Glen Lord who stood by on call for most of the day offering to help us move everything into the house, as he has helped us before, and thanks to James Holske our new electrician who truly saved the day with his skills in sleuthing out what the problem was.

This species of Vireya is more alpine in nature that most of my other forms, and the only damage appears to be frozen and wilted new, tender growth. The flowers were still fine.


Australian vines like these hardenbergia violaceae came through with no damage at all - with many plants, as long as the roots or pots don't freeze, all is well. These are planted in the ground, which remained cold, but did not freeze.


Succulents behave differently with frosts, most can handle such freezes well if they are dry, or wilted. This Aeonium was pulled out of its pot in October and just set on the ground, where I found it frozen solid with little hope of recovery, but it looked fine - no longer transparent and turgid again by nightfall.



Begonias were another story, most suffered some damage, but many froze partially, with half of the plant wilted and the other half still alive. Whether they will all survive is yet to be discovered.



I hate to share this all with you, but since many of you follow our dog's lives on this blog too, I am.

Yesterday we were told that our sweet Fergus has cancer, and only has a little time to live with us. His lungs have nodules throughout them and it has spread to organs. He started coughing this weekend, yet appeared so healthy after some dental work two weeks ago.

We have decided of course to not prolong any suffering and opted to not treat him other than with pain medication and some steroids. He is is super good Fergie spirits, full of energy and hungry, but coughing terribly at times. Today was a good day for him, no coughs which we feel was due to the steroids, but we've been told that it could be a matter of days or at best, a month or two. He is 12 years old, and surely a senior, but as many of you who have beloved pets, one is never really ever ready for this. He did chase a squirrel today.

February 27, 2011

Greenhouse Mecca - A visit to The Lyman Estate

The Camellia's are in full bloom this month, at the 200 year old greenhouses at the Lyman Estate, a half hour west of Boston.

View from the service entrance, of some of the oldest greenhouses in America at the Lyman Estate, in Waltham, MA.
Camellia's in the Camellia house at the Lyman Estate. February and March is the peak blooming season for Camellia in New England ( in greenhouses, since they cannot be grown outdoors here).



Today we visited the Lyman Estate, which is one of the properties today managed by Historic New England, and it is open to the public year round. One of the best times to visit is in late winter, when their famous Camellia collection is blooming. Historically important for many other reasons, for people like us who keep home greenhouses, the estate holds a noteworth record of having perhaps the oldest greenhouse in America.

The entire greenhouse complex was built over the span of the nineteenth Century, far before electricity and furnaces. In the UK and Europe, early greenhouses were still being perfected, with primitive glazing systems, complex heating systems using everything from manure to heated air which came from coal and wood fired stoves ( early greenhouses were even called Stove houses).


On the Lyman estate, there is a well known older pit house, which most likely is the oldest greenhouse structure in the United States. It was featured in a rather unsuccessful yet collectable book from the early 20th Century entitled Winter Flowers in Greenhouse and Sun Heated Pits by Katheryn S. Taylor, which is one of my favorite books on keeping a cold greenhouse ( you must track one down if you are ever to grow such plants in the north!).
Images from Kathryn S. Taylor's books on Sun Heated Pit's showing the old pit house at the Lyman Estate when it was still in use.
Today, you can see the same pit house in the back, covered with plastic while it is being repaired. It most likely is the oldest greenhouse in America.

The Grapery with 200 year old vines of Muscat grapes.

Cast iron heating pipes keep the Grapery just warm enough for the fancy grape varieties to winter over.

In 1804, the Lymans began building a new greenhouse system, starting with a ‘Grapery’, which was heated by a boiler in the new ‘English style” popular at Kew, with pipes, glass and brick walls that could hold in the radiant heat from the sun where they could grow fancy Muscat grapes which required protection from New England’s harsh winters.

Grape vines are trained on wires that lead the vines along the panes of glass. This greenhouse must be cozy in the summer with the canopy of leaves.


Mr. Lyman also collected grape varieties from his business trips to England, bringing back via ship Black Hamburg grape cuttings  from the Royal Greenhouses at Hampton Court, to grow on trellises that elevated the vines near to the glass, these vines are still alive today. Green Muscat of Alexandria grapes were a popular table grape in the late 1800’s, and they are golden colored, with a brownish bloom, and extremely sweet.
The grape vines are just starting to come out of their dormancy.


The long greenhouses are actually lean-to's, which take advantage of a southern exposure. Backed with a brick wall which retains heat, the system is still efficient, even today.

January 17, 2010

A season of it's own


A white Rosemary which has grown too large as a topiary, blooms. This is acting now as a stock plant, and now has many children which need to be repotted today.

Having run out of large, clay pots, I needed to repot a Cameliia which fell off of a bench, and broke its pot. I found these old, wooden desk drawers handy, and rather attractive, for now. They most likely will deteriorate over a summer or two, but I do love plants potted in wooden boxes. Maybe I will have some made-up from Mahogany so that they will last longer.

One of our interspecific Clivia crosses, with buds.

A rare geophytic Ornithogalum species, Ornithogalum fimbriatum 'Oreandra' bloom on the cold, sill on a southern exposed wall of the greenhouse.
First of all, I had always wanted a greenhouse, and I already always loved winter, I think, even more than summer, which is odd for a gardener I know. I think I loved winter because it gave me a reason to be lazy, that my chore list was shorter ( so I imagined) and that that I found houseplants and greenhouses more manageable, less over-whelming than two acres of vegetable gardens, lawns, and hedges to trim. When I built my greenhouse ten years ago, I knew that I would love it, but what I didn't realize was how much it would make me enjoy winter even more.

Here it is, mid January, and I'm wearing rubber boots, I'm muddy and there is dirt under my nails. My jean are wet from watering plants with a hose, and my short-sleaved tshirt is hot in the bright sunshine, and damp from the mist and hose-splashing. I'm even sweating just a bit in the hot sun, and as I breath in the, warm moist, Osmanthus-scented air, I think about how I used to enjoy January. Sure, outside, it is just about freezing, a bit of a January thaw, even. So outdoors it's pleasant enough to take a hike in the woods, or to go bird watching, but underglass, in the warm sunshine potting up cuttings for the summer garden, it feels a bit like a July afternoon. Just a bit.

The other thing I've realized is that the greenhouse itself, has very distinct seasons of it's own. Starting in October, just as the large tubs of tender plants and numerous potted specimens that have spent the summer out of doors are moved into the greenhouse, there is this great shift in atmosphere. In one day, the greenhouse becomes crowded and more damp with the addition of plant material that still has it summer lushness about it.

By November, just before Thanksgiving, most of our native tree's have dropped their leaves, and suddenly, practically overnight, the quality of light changes. I notice this most on sunny days, when the sun starts to set early, and the low angle, shines into nooks and crannies like no other time of year. By December, the greenhouse enters what I beleive is it's most vulnerable time of year, which lasts from around December 10th until January 15, or so. During this time, around the winter solstice, the angle of the sun is so low, that full sun becomes limited, illuminating the greenhouse between 9:00 am and 2:30 pm because of our abundant mature trees, that give our place that very park-like setting. I sited the greenhouse purposely during this period, looking for the perfect location in January that would offer the longest direct sun.

But by mid January, one notices the days becoming longer, and on sunny days. the sunshine is bright enough to melt any ice and snow on the roof, often heating the interior to a very balmy 80 degrees. By Valentines Day, in mid-February, the greenhouse feels practically like mid-May. With most bulbs and plants from the Southern Hemisphere now reaching peak bloom. March becomes like June, and suddenly, one notices the seasons all blurring, and I rarely complain about he winter feeling so long anymore.

The tender Primrose known as Primula x kewensis, which I started from seed, is starting to pull out of it's short dormancy period, with buds emerging, I must remove all of the dead and yellowed foliage, so that the crown doesn't rot, and so the well farina'd leaves can grow into healthy rosettes.

A stem with flower buds starts to emerge on the Primula x Kewensis.


All cleaned up, the pot of Primula x Kewensis gets relocated to the front of the greenhouse, where it can get more winter sun. Typically, it spends its time on the cold ground in the back of the greenhouse slowly maturing.

So, here we are, mid-January, and on a sunny, January thaw day like today, I can work in the greenhouse in shorts and tshirt. This was the first weekend where underglass, if felt, and smelt like springtime. I found it pleasant enough to take time organizing the back potting bench, and I repotted a tray of cuttings which I hastily took on a cold, October evening just before a killing frost. The many Salvia species, geranium and abutilon are now all rooted, all with very little effort beyond cutting with whatever knife I could find, and some old soil in an even older plastic tray. I also took a number of cuttings off of a large topiaried White-flowered Rosemary, which I was going to let freeze, although I still brought it into the greenhouse for now. It's too woody and needs to be let go.

I admit that I rarely take the time to carry through the winter, such summer stock, opting to buy new plant material each spring. But the cost savings is now so great, that I really need to take the time, and develop a routine on managing carry-over material. This weekend, I also went to Logee's Greenhouses to visit and pick up some plants, and now when I see to cost of even a simple Euryops, I can easily calculate that just this one tray of cuttings, has resulted in a few hundred dollars worth of plants for the summer garden. And, the abundance of certain varieties of Salvia will allow me to plant larger drifts, resulting in a more impressive garden.

A Rosemary cutting, becomes a baby topiary. This white flowered form will be trained to become a potted topiary form, since the parent plant has grown too woody.

Seeds of other genus find their way into other pots, all the time. Here, a Cyclamen coum grows in a pot of Narcissus 'Mineo', and N. romieuxii cross. I find this sort of behavior magical, and rarely will repot believing that mother nature sows plants in places better than I could ever imagine. Probably why these plants tend to grow better than the ones I've sown.
A tropical Rhododendron, a Vireya species from Borneo, has sent out a few flowers on this sunny, winter day.

September 30, 2012

Greenhouse Life - Moving Plants Back Indoors for the Winter

A SOUTH AFRICAN BULBS, MASSONIA JASMINIFLORA, SLOWLY EMERGES ITS TWO LONELY BUT QUITE BEAUTIFULLY PATTERNED AND TEXTURED LEAVES, AFTER BEING DORMANT ALL SUMMER UNDER GLASS.

 This time of year comes so fast, that many of us gardeners are never prepared for it. In the north, the first frost always seems to come as if Mother Nature has a secret sadistic strategy to make seasonal transition a surprise, even to those of us who know the inevitable will come, we often gamble and wait until the last moment - which, I remind you, will not come on a Saturday night, it will arrive after a long, drenching cold rain, which will make the large tubs of Agapanthus and Gardenia virtually impossible to move, requiring sheets and bed linens having to be dragged outdoors to bundle and drape over precious potted plants that would have to be moved in later, once they have dried out a bit.

We have yet to have a frost threat here in central Massachusetts, but it is near, and we travel planned over the next few weeks, I have been trying to move plants back into the greenhouse earlier than I normally would. I had been thinking about the dreaded greenhouse heating bill this winter, even thinking about not heating it for one season, and seeing if I could keep some plants in the cellar or in an unheated room, but that decision has not yet been made, so for now, the greenhouse is still being populated.

December 27, 2012

December Greenhouse Tour

A December bouquet completely from the greenhouse. 
As it snows outside today here in New England, I thought that I might share some images I took yesterday in my greenhouse - it will help me in justifying the heating costs, as seeing images in iPhoto just satisfies me as it makes everything look nicer than it really is. Don't get me wrong, I love my greenhouse, but sometimes, late at night while I am laying in bed, I stare awake looking at the cieling thinking ' I'm bored with all of the same plants, so why do I keep paying the heating bill every week? It's a reality many home greenhouse owners experience at one time or another I think. It's not that I have any regrets, but after 12 years of the same camellias, the same lemons, the same velthiemia, it all starts to feel more like part of the garden which I am not only heating, but watering and maintaining.

Velthiemia bracteata varieties are budding early this year. Looking like the perennial Red Hot Pokers, these South African bulbs make easy winter blooming house plants.


Yeah - that's it. The risk is if one doesn't edit a collection in a greenhouse, the experience can easily move quickly from 'experience and discovery' to maintenance.  I keep many plants just because I  feel obligated to keep them. The giant 48 inch tub with a giant gardenia that was given to me by a friend who kept it at an estate for 40 years - who would want to throw that out, yet for 12 years, I've hauled it into the greenhouse in the fall, and then back out again in the summer. The two giant standard bay laurels are nice, but they now fell merely decorative - architectural elements in the summer garden which would be missed if I left them outdoors, but somehow I only feel nostalgic about them, and the few leaves that they supply for the kitchen may help me keep them, but again, it becomes maintenance more than enjoyment.


Jasmine vines and other vines bud and bloom as the snow blows outside. Ahhhhh.

Each year I try to edit the greenhouse collection, but somehow old plants end up back in, sometimes just out of plain guilt. An old olive tree, which I have had for 15 years just ended up back in the greenhouse yesterday, as I felt bad about seeing it covered in snow, and yet still alive. Beside, my friend Abbie Zabar in New York City would never let me forget it, if I let my olives freeze. ( Abbie - I do have some nicer varieties trained to you precise topiary standards in the greenhouse - this was an old one, but I suppose, still worth saving).


Alpine Vireya Rhododendron plants - a new addition to my collection, which was a Christmas gift to myself, may make things more interesting this winter. These are all from a collection of forms found at high elevation in Borneo, and are crosses made with what I believe is the finest Vireya - Rhododendron macregoriae


This year I added some new plants. A few new Jasmine vines which I planted in the ground to crawl and creep up the posts. A few other vines which will be in bloom soon. Vines are tricky if not risky things to plant in a greenhouse, as they always become too aggressive, but I kind of like that look. If I don't like them after a few years, I can always cut them out. Since my greenhouse is 16 feet tall, vines and tall trees do very well, and all of that extra space above my head, is essentially wasted - and hey - that's where all of the heat is anyway!


Seeds from expeditions and seed collections from plant societies often need to experience cold temperatures for one or two winters before they germinate. These seeds have been in pots for two years from a Burma collection, and now that they have frozen for a second winter, are being brought into the greenhouse to grow,


Seeds are always helpful in making things more interesting.  I try to always plant some seeds in individual containers each autumn of unusual South African bulbs, Primroses from expeditions which cannot be purchased anywhere else, and seeds from seed collectors ( it helps that we know many individual collectors who often stay with us when in the US for speaker tours at botanic gardens and plant societies, so we sometimes get special seed gifts in the mail - nothing says Merry Christmas better than a wax envelope of rare Tibetan poppy seeds!).


Hard to find South African bulbs such as rare species forms of gladiolus such as these, must be sown from seed collected in the wild as they are impossible to find in the trade. This is one of the gifts that a home greenhouse offers.

I also try to amp things up by sowing some of my own seeds of rare plants. This may simply mean saving seeds from the many species of Cyclamen I keep in the sand beds, or sowing seeds from my own crosses made with South African bulbs which generally grow during the winter months.  Sometimes, more often than not, seeds self sow into other pots, which can be both a curse and a gift. Self sown seeds often planted by ants, or by messy greenhouse care, always seem to do better than seeds which I sow myself. Go figure.


Cyclamen seeds mature in May, and seeds must be sown fresh, before or just as the seed pods open. These C. hederifolium seedlings are from a white blooming form. The pot in the foreground is this years seed, the pot in the rear, is a year old. Dry seed will rarely germinate, but if sown fresh, and if the pots are kept dry until September, nearly 100% of the seeds will germinate. They need a summer of comfortable sleep in the soil before the cool weather of autumn tells them to grow.

My friend Jess will complain about this post saying that I am being too geeky again, but I think many of you, even if you are not a serious plant collector, might find some of these images interesting. Look, it's the only way you will learn, and believe me - there are plenty of blog posts out there telling you how to force paperwhites and amaryllis right now. It's time to grow a pair and raise the bar bit.

If one wants a collection of Cyclamen like this, sowing ones own seed will allow you to edit and select the forms with the most interesting foliage.
 Winter bulbs are the standbys of the winter greenhouse. Cyclamen species, some of which might grow in cold outdoor gardens, do look best when kept in a winter glasshouse. When grown at waist height, one can appreciate the fancy foliage patterns, for Cyclamen species have amazing patterns. I don't grow any of the hybrids one sees at florists and garden centers, but even they ( which are all developed from C. persicum - a tender species from Turkey) can make interesting displays in a cool sunroom or windowsill when not in bloom. If I were to buy florist cyclamen, and I am often tempted to, I admit to searching carefully for the ones with the most interesting foliage more than the flower color.


Lachenalia are starting to bloom in the greenhouse. The first species to bloom is always L. bulbifera, a red and purple flowered species from this easy-to-grow relative of the common hyacinth.

This year I added many new Lachenalia bulbs to the collection, and thanks to my friend Nicco (Nick de Rothschild who keeps an important collection in the UK), I now have many new species and varieties, and many L. aloides forms ( or new species?) that will be blooming soon. I think I added about ten new selections this year, so that will be something to look forward to.

South African bulbs such as Lachenalia species and Oxalis species dominate the winter greenhouse floral display.

 South African bulbs form a good part of my winter blooming bulb collection. Even on an overcast day, they look interesting. Once the sun comes out, the buds will open. Others, like many Lachenalia have curious foliage with speckles, pustules or colors that look great even when not in bloom.

The unusual blue-flower coleus, Coleus thyrsoideus looks like a weed, that is, until it bloom in a month or two. It's cobalt true-blue flowers were once common in Victorian glasshouses, but it is a plant rarely seen today. In the pot on the right, Shirley poppies that were self sown, grow, and may bloom under glass if I am lucky.

Other plants may seem like odd things to keep in pots, but once they are in bloom, it is clear why one keeps them. Often, seeds of summer annual and perennials self sow into pots which are kept outdoors for the summer, as I often place large pots and tubs of tender shrubs in the perennial border. During the winter months, it's not uncommon to find self sown hellebores, camellia and even poppies coming up in pots of acacia and other sub tropical plants that spend the summer outdoors, and the winter under glass.


A rare Brunsvigia bosmaniae bulb in a large tub has yet to bloom, even though the bulb is massive. My size 14 boot shows how thick the leaves are now, and even though I thought this pot was too large, now that it has filled it with roots, I now think I need to find even a larger pot.  You know what they say about big boots. Big bulbs.

Other plants I keep simply because they have yet to bloom, as many rare South African bulb plants can take 10 or 20 years to bloom, or, there are shrubs such as citrus that provide some produce for the kitchen, for cocktails or simply just for aroma therapy during the shortest days of the year. I mean, who really needs five plants of various citron, yet I can't seem to live without them, as they make me smile with their large, goofy fruit and their fragrant flowers in late winter.

This giant Citron is an unusual selection of Citrus medica, not commonly seen in many collections. A selection known as 'Turunji' it is surprisingly sweet and can be eaten like an apple ( I've never tried it, but this is what the Internet says!). 


The small Australian finger lime, will drop most of its fruit during the winter when kept in the greenhouse, but they will still ripen, even when found on the ground. Great in cocktails or deserts where the segments pop like pop rocks, its texture if often compared with caviar, but I think they taste like red ants. You know, they way red ants smell, not taste.