April 20, 2014


Few words can describe the yummy colors found in the blossoms of this particular Cape Hyacinth - perhaps the rarest of them all - Lachenalia aloides var. vanzyliae with pale true blue, teal and olive green. 

Around here, common Easter Lilies are just not going to pull it off - nor will foil-wrapped plastic pots of sky blue hydrangeas,  florist azaleas or even those bright plastic Easter eggs. There are so many gifts which come with the ownership of a greenhouse collection and a suburban garden, but perhaps one of the finest is that of rarity - a brief glimpse of nature at her finest. Around Easter, the last of the South African Lachenalia aloides bloom, particularly the most precious of all the L. aloides clan, the variety known as L. aloides var. vanzyliae - a mouthful, but delightful because few gardeners have ever seen in other then in photos.

Unconventional color palettes can delight. This dark, brown pansy was extracted from a flat of gold 'tigers eye' pansies -
I could not resist - I mean, how many brown flowers are there in the spring?

As a visual designer, I know that I appreciate color a bit more than a sane, 'normal' person - in fact, today, when my brother visited for Easter, I had to listen to him groan about how "Oh yeah, you grow flowers more than vegetables" (sometimes, I just think that he doesn't know what I grow - maybe it's better that way - but I dutifully fulfilled my little brother role, and filled the trunk of his car with pepper seedlings and a few precious pots of Oca - which took a little convincing, on my part (along with a Google search to show him what they were all about). I should have sneaked in a few 'flowers', but I let it slide.

All Euphorbia have fascinatingly complex floral forms, once you zoom in close. In the greenhouse, this pot of Euphobia characias shows off its chocolate brown eyes, and multi-toned greens. For us, best grown as a potted winter blooming greenhouse plant, but if you live in USDA Zone 7 or higher - go for it outside.

Spring in New England also means unpredictable weather, which can drive those with a greenhouse crazy. Few sympathize with us, as we rush to crank open the vents on a sunny day when the temperatures can rise to over 100º F within an hour, or when we rush home from work at lunch, to shut the vents because outside temperatures suddenly drop to below freezing, with a bitter, harsh wind and snow squalls. This week, we satisfied all of these tasks, plus one night where the thermometer dipped down to near 20º F., when we awoke to a dusting of fresh snow. Not unusual, but it does make me wonder about all of those tomato plants that I saw people hoarding at our local Home Depot. New or impatient gardeners will learn, and perhaps, this is the best lesson. Patience rewards those of us with a late sowing of tomatoes. Until late May? Most of my warm veggies stay snug underglass.

In the greenhouse, hybrid Dutch Ranunculus bloom in the back raised bed, but their visit with us will be short, as once daytime temperatures reach 85º F under glass, their show will be over. These are cool-loving winter-bloomers, and poor candidate for most New England gardens ( yet they are unrealistically tempting when sold at garden centers).

Who needs Easter Lilies ( Lilium longiflorum) when one can have pots of Tulbaghia fragrans around. A relative of the far too common lavender Society Garlic ( Tulbaghia violaceae), this rarely seen cousin seems like a mis-named plant, that is until night falls when one simple stalk will fill an entire greenhouse with a fragrance so intense, that one can smell it's warm, jasmine -like scent from outside the glass.

We all know the common Kalanchoe but this hangin form is a treasure. Kalanchoe uniflora makes a magnificent 3 foot wide hanging basket when grown well ( um...mine is not 'grown well' this year, a victim of my December greenhouse furnace 'event', when most of the plant was blasted with dry heat). Still, it's coral and pretty, and coral. 

I am sharing one more image of a pot of Cape Hyacinths today, for this pot of Lachenalia aloides var aloides is begging for a photo. I never tire of Lachenalia, but the season is nearly over, as most are going dormant for the summer.

Lacinata or Tuscan Kale seedlings, which were set out into the raised beds a few weeks ago, held up well through this weeks snow storm. Natures Manure my father always called it, I was fortunate to have kept most of my plants under glass this year, but I may have lost a flat of seedlings of Cuphea viscosissima ( argh! figures.). This is a Kale variety which does better as a fall crop here, but I am taking a chance - maybe we will be blessed with a cold spring and summer?

Seedlings are everywhere right now. Under lights in the spare bedrooms, where we keep eggplants, tomatoes and peppers, and out in the greenhouse where some red celery, chicory and lettuce have been upgraded to cell packs.

It's a South Africa flush in this sand bed, with Gasteria showing off their gastric-inspired blossoms. Yeah, that's how the earned their botanical name. The stomach shape of their blossoms.

....oh, and 'bro' I think this are not flowers, but mesclun growing in the greenhouse, so there! I may even plant some out into the garden as early lettuce 'cheats', as the extra seedlings work out well when planted in this way.

April 12, 2014


A  colony of Primula denticulata, (the Himalayan or Drumstick Primrose), which I raised from seed last year, are all emerging with nice, tight cobs. Maybe they will bloom in time for the Primrose show in three weeks, when we host the New England Primula Society garden party and then attend their show at Tower Hill Botanic Garden ( May 3-4).

Put aside your frets about that dreaded Pollen Vortex, because there are greater things to celebrate - it's here - the perfect spring ( at lease in New England).  As our second weekend passes, delighting us with warm, breezy days above 60º F. and with only the slight threat on one freezing night predicted for next thursday, I am confident that this spring will remain gloriously…..slow. And that's a good thing, for us gardeners.

I am reminded of how rare such springtime weather is here in New England. Sure, many grumble about the lack of 70º days, but in many ways, this is the perfect spring - the sort of spring weather one would experience where many of our cherished plants come from, the high Himalaya, the Alps, Western China, the mountainous islands of Northern Japan, or the mountains of southern Chile. What I mean is, this is a rare gift - a gift of a winter of deep snow, and then a single thaw, when the snow melts gradually, and the soil thaws gradually, never to refreeze again ( for it is this refreeze which spells certain death for many plants, even if they survived a frigid winter. This year, everything thawed over the past two weeks, nice and slow, with no refreeze, at least at root level - surely we will still continue to have frosts, but this is setting up the garden for what I predict will be the ideal spring.

Check out what's coming up after the break.

April 6, 2014


The back bench in the greenhouse full of early spring color, with Lachenalia, euphorbia and primula brightening up the a late afternoon in April after a rain shower.

Finally, it's beginning to feel a bit like spring around here, as most of the snow has finally melted, and daytime temperatures reached 60º F for the first time on Sunday, which gave us our first day out in the garden. There is still snow in the shade, and along the north side of the house, but most of the garden has drained enough so that it officially is no longer mud season, allowing us to rake, dig in the raised beds and to basically clean up what we never were able to get to last fall due to painting our other house. To be honest, the garden is a complete mess, but even with one days work, the good part of the garden ( the part near the greenhouse) is at least raked, the old tomato plants collected and composted, and dog poop, dog toys and a random selection of missing footwear, canned goods and potato chip bags, along with more pens, cigarette lighters and gum packages that the corner store could ever own, have been recollected, thanks to four terriers and a doggie door.