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January 1, 2013

Twelve Months of Awesomness


JANUARY - Mixed greenhouse pickings on a cold, winter day made for an interesting composition to start the new year off with.

Here is my look back at the 2012 garden. I was going to skip sharing such posts, but as I filed my images from the past year I found looking back at some of these images inspiring, so I felt you may think so as well. So here are three posts showing some of the highlights from last years garden. Later this week, I will share a quick recap of those study projects from 2012, the highlights as well as some of the failures. Then I will share what study project ideas I am thinking about working on for this coming year.  As most of you know, I like to choose a few projects to deep dive with - such as what I did with the English Sweet Peas this past year. If any of you have any ideas for projects that you might like me to attempt, please let me know. 

In many ways, these garden projects are like New Years resolutions. Plants that I have never been able to grow successfully, most likely because I never really took the time to research exactly what their needs are. As with my Sweet Pea Project, I decided to grow as many varieties of Spencer Sweet Sweet Peas as I could find, and then attempt to grow them in the most proper way, often the results are so rewarding, that the effort of time and labor pays off. Sometimes, as in my Japanese Morning Glory project this past year, I ran out of energy, became lazy and the results showed. But more on those later. For now, the best photos month-by-month of 2012.



JANUARY 2012 - Starting the New Year off inspired by a book I purchased as a Christmas gift to myself published in 1805, when domes covered floral displays, apparently to keep 'poisonous gasses', which people believed could be emitted from fragrant flowers, from entering the bed chamber.


FEBRUARY - A Valentines Day arrangement of camellias made it to one of my chalk board pieces. Oh, I do love my Camellia collection. I think it might be time to join the American Camellia Society.



MARCH - By March, the alpine troughs were beginning to come to life. This Primula marginata bloomed an entire month earlier than the previous year due to the lack of snowfall.



APRIL - For Easter, I picked various wildflowers, hellebores and some small bulb flowers from the alpine garden, arranging them in vintage milk glass ( white jadite) spice bottles.




MAY - Spring arrives full force, with bees, ducklings and wildflowers. Baby ducks, turkeys and geese share a pen in the new grass as Joe works the bee hives.





JUNE  Brings Poppies. Papaver rhoeas bloom in savory tones in the warm, June sunshine.
Also known as Shirley Poppies, these annual poppies were one of my annual study projects last year. In a future post, I will be sharing more of these projects from last year, as well as some ideas I am tossing around for 2013.

Some of the fantastic Shirley Poppies that captivated most of June. That is, until the Sweet Peas began to bloom.



JULY - Our Mid Summer Garden Party to Celebrate the Sweet Peas Blooming

The Sweet Peas bloomed just as we were celebrating my friend Jess's departure from work to start her own design business. Our summer Solstice dinner features locavore selections and garden produce. Best of all....the sweet peas cooperated and reached peak bloom on this warm summer evening in the garden.




English Sweet Peas are a favorite of mine not only because of their colors, but also because of their fragrance.



AUGUST - Olympic Spirit as expressed through our garden.


SEPTEMBER - We visit the New England Poutry Show and add some Barred Plymouth Rocks to the heritage breed fowl collection.


OCTOBER - A trough of autumn blooming rare bulbs that I brought with me to the North American Rock Garden Society annual meeting in Pittsburgh, where I was a guest speaker.


NOVEMBER - Chrysanthemums seemed to be everywhere, and these exhibition varieties were very choice as I photographed them at the annual Chrysanthemum show at Smith College.



DECEMBER - The greenhouse, last week before our first snowstorm of the winter. Still messy, but I was in the middle of picking up the garden during my Holiday break from work. Today, with a blanket of deep snow, and howling winds, then entire garden has been tucked in for a long, winters nap.



December 30, 2012

Snow Day Antics

THE PUPPIES ARE GETTING BIG. ON THE LEFT, (WEASLEY?), THE BOY, AND ON THE RIGHT, THE GIRL.

After eleven inches of new snow last night, and after some back breaking shoveling, we let the pups out for their first romp in the snow.  Lydia, their mom ran around the race track that we cleared, but the pups soon were shivering and although not eager to return to the house, we brought them back into the warmth.

IT'S A PUPPY RACE WITH MOM

One in the house, they promptly pooped and peed ( sigh - training puppies in winter can be so difficult!), and then went to sleep. Fergus, our male Irish Terrier refuses to have anything to do with the pups, but once they are older, he should feel more like playing with them.

I was surprised to see a Carolina wren snacking on one of our suet feeders this afternoon. 


Today, I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon working on my tally sheet for Project FeederWatch. I decided to participate in the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 2012-2012 Project which helps scientists learn about winter bird populations. The main goal of Project FeederWatch is to combine the interests of backyard birders with the needs of ornithologists who study bird populations. By making simple standardized counts of the birds in ones back yards and reporting them to the FeederWatch database,FeederWatchers are contributing directly to the scientific understanding of bird populations. All once needs to do is to register with the Cornell Lab, and then dedicate two consecutive days in any given period to watch ones bird feeders and tally up the species and then report them online. Today, I noted 16 species on our feeders and one American Kestrel who was watching birds dine from a nearby Hemlock tree.

A TURKEY REFUSES TO LEAVE THE COOP UNTIL WE SHOVELED A PATH. YEAH, THE BAGS OF GRAIN HELP HIM FEEL MORE LOVED, WELL, NO ONE EVER SAID THAT TURKEYS ARE STUPID.

THE TROPAEOLUM SPECIES LOOK ODD AGAINST THE SNOW, LIKE SUMMER AND WINTER MIXED UP, BUT IT DOESN'T SEEM TO MIND, IN FACT I MIGHT ADMIT THAT THIS SPECIES IS GROWIN BETTER IN THE COLD WEATHER, WHICH DOESN'T SURPRISE ME SINCE MANY OF THESE CHILEAN SPECIES PREFER TO GROW IN TEMPERATURES BELOW 50º F.

In the greenhouse, I patched up some glass which had slid, since tonight temperatures are expected to drop to 11º F. Of course, we almost ran out of gas today. I checked the tank this morning, and the meter  indicated that only 5% was left. After calling our gas company, they wanted to wait until tomorrow, as it was Sunday, and they felt that I might be able to make it through the night. I know from experience that I usually need 7 gallons of gas on a cold, January night, so I hitched up the electric heaters and turned the thermostat down to 38º just in case we ran out.


Thankfully, the gas delivery man on duty today was someone who understands our unique situation, so when we returned from the market at 5:00 PM, we caught him scaling our 8 foot fence with the gas hose. He deserves a few Duncan Donut gift cards this New Years Day! In anticipation of the possibility of running out of gas, I brought in a few treasures from the greenhouse - plants that I felt that I could not possibly live with losing. It's an interesting study, deciding what plants to possibly save from death, and which ones to leave. I decided on only a few new Vireyas. a couple of Rhododendron maddenii  species and two dwarf clivia's from China. Now that the gas is full, I will need to return them in the morning.

GLADIOLUS PRIORII

I found a surprise in the rear of the greenhouse, a wild species of Gladiolus , G. priorii ( syn Homoglossum priorii) which I forgot arrived in a batch of seed from wild collected specimens in South Africa. I only have one growing in a pot of G. alatus. This fall blooming species is always the first of the Gladiolus species to bloom for me, but I find it interesting how irregular many plants are each year. For example, this G. priorii sometimes blooms in October, in other years, in November or even in January. Other plants in the greenhouse are also off. Most of my Australian dendrobiums are in bloom now, or in spike. Dendrobium speciosum typically blooms for me in March but spikes have already emerged. So some things are late while other species are early, all in the same year.



Without Bubblewrap inside the glass of the greenhouse, I will be losing more heat but the light quality will be better. These next few weeks will be the coldest, but by the last week of January it begins to feel like spring, at least under glass as the days become longer, and the sun becomes stronger. The plants will all respond. By February 15 the sun will be so hot that I sometimes have to open the vents for the entire day.


Camellias are starting to bloom earlier this year too.  The anemone form variety is called 'Lipstick'. It's one of the more unusual camellias. I like its compact habit, which makes it a terrific pot plant.



 THERE WAS A TIME WHEN I TRIED TO KEEP CAMELLIAS INDOORS, BUT THE DRY AIR AND HEAT MAKES INDOOR CULTURE PRACTICALLY IMPOSSIBLE. AGAINST A BACKDROP OF SNOW, THIS SINGLE RED CAMELLIA IN THE GREENHOUSE MAKES A PERFECT HOLIDAY MOTIF COME TO LIFE.

SPEAKING OF THE HOLIDAYS, IN MY PLANT WINDOW, IT'S ALL ABOUT CONVENTIONAL. YES, RED AMARYLLIS AND PAPERWHITES. 
OH YES, AND GOOD 'OL CAMELLIA 'YULETIDE'

WISHING YOU ALL A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR! (IN CASE I NEVER GET A CHANCE TO POST TOMORROW!)

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.