}

January 25, 2018

January Blues, February Brights

Time to get out of a mid-winter January funk. A record crop of Meyer lemons in the greenhouse might help.

It's been tough. I mean, I expected this. Book deadline looming and I just started writing. Even though I lost my job last winter I was fortunate to have a severance package, but it runs out in a month. I'm not ignorant to the fact that I am still quite fortunate, but I also know that changes are on the doorstep, and maybe I haven't prepared enough for them (hello? Health insurance?). Ive been trying to squeeze in doctor appointments and dental work before March.

I usually like January too - not only do I love snow, it's my birthday month. I should mention that I've officially reached that time in my life when it's like "birthdays? Really? I'm not talking about it.

Then there is this funk which is probably just a combo of everything. Not to mention Post-Holiday Diets, the unusually cold and snowy weather we've been getting here in the Northeast (bomb cyclone and the coldest weather in over 100 years).

This all seems to have manifested itself into a "might-as-well-just-wear-sweatpants-all-day-long-and-watch-Netflix" mentality.

Not healthy.

I have no interest in opening mail. In ordering seeds, or even for looking at nursery sites. I've kind-of lost interest in these things. I dont think that it's depression really, more like the fact that I feel as if I've grown everything and I cant find something new to be interested in. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

I am feeding the birds which is begining to really sound like a very old-man thing - (don't say it).  Still, I'm not doing much more.  Its really only a function. Thistle feeder is out again, dump more in. I'm not 'watching' the birds, which is probably worse now that I think about it. Guilt feeding.

They eat alone, (which they probably like).

I had little problem writing for the book however, so I suppose that is a good sign. Sitting in my office with the snow falling outside has been one of the most favorite things to do. Yet my problem still seems like that I don't feel like working, or not working for that matter don't dont feel like buying plants, nor watering the ones I have anymore either. Nothing seems interesting anymore, and I've lost confidence in what I am doing.

This week our weather seems to have entered another phase -  bit milder (fingers-crossed that it sticks). With these more average temperatures (highs near freezing and lows in the 20's) much of the drama from the early weeks of January has passed. I even am beginning to think about the future more.

I actually sowing a bit of seed today -some flats of mesclun.  I even smelled the first whiffs of the Sarcococca hookeriana in the greenhouse (which we need to grow in a pot here in Massachusetts - don't taunt me Oregon or North Carolina!).

I'm good with the potted semi-tender shrubs like Sarcococca because under glass on a snowy, January day the greenhouse smells just like Tahiti (OK, more like early spring in the Himalaya - whatever...). It warms my soul and I kind of need that lately. At least it provided some hopefulness that I'll 'like it all' again.


Some casualties from the cold include this Canarina canariensis, but after following lots of chatter on the Pacific Bulb Society newsgroup, its bulb-like root may be OK. Many say that I should plant this tender geophyte that has gorgeous orange bell-shaped flowers like in this post, in the ground in my greenhouse, and it might do better. I'm going to try this. I need something to do.

A few freezes didnt hurt the South African bulbs. I kept the soil dry through most of January, which helps the cells expand in case there is a hard freeze. We had the coldest weather in over 100 years with a week of night temps below -12° F.



My book on vegetable gardenings is underway, mostly photo editing and writing at this phase. So, that has been my focus - choosing the best pics, researching at the library at the horticultural society and writing.




The cyclamen are sturdy fellows, able to withstand some very frosty nights with no harm. As long as the roots don't freeze the more tender species like C. graecum, I'm OK. I was able to fertilize them this week on my first visit out the greenhouse this year,.


South African bulbs really don't seem to mind the cold and the wet. These Babiana fragrans may bloom by springtime. As you can see, I never cleaned up the foliage from last season. It's very fibrous and tough and needs scissors to remove it in when the pot is dormant in mid-summer. I figure that this is what happens in the wild (there are no baboons out there cutting the dead foliage down, just digging and eating the bulbs). The iris-like flowers will be pretty though in a few weeks.

Citrus like these Calamondin oranges are blooming, even though half of the plant died from frost.




Other citrus are just not handling this winter all that well. This is what is left of my big Kumquat tree. Not a victim of frost however, but of a misplaced electric space heater.



Tropaeolim - tjhe vining, high-elevsation tuberous types from the Andes seem to relish this weather though. They look so tender and frail, with thread-like stems yet after the hot, summer dormancy, take off covering little trellis' in just a month - blooms will soon follow.
Tuberous Tropeolum grow from round tubers like potatoes. Here is a new species I am growng -  T. ciliatum, a tuber that I acquired from a collector in September. Its  growth is still small and weak. I think that it will appreciate being moved to a sunnier spot in the greenhouse now that it is getting warmer in there.
Another tropeolum species T. tricolor  looked completely dead, and I feared its late emergence meant that something ate the bulb, but it was just last winters growth that I hadn't cleaned up in the summertime (see a trend here?). Not watered since May, I noticed a bit of thread-like growth earlier this week, and after carefully removing the dead foliage found these new stems twirling around.

Last weekend the sun came out, so after journeying out into the greenhouse - sweatpants and all - I coudl see that most of the Dutch bulbs and South African bulbs were emerging. I moved them all to a sunny sand bed, watered them and in just a few days, things have come back to life.

Scilla messeniaca a lesser-known scilla is beginning to show its buds.
The camellias that were planted in the ground always seem to bloom well even in the coldest winters.  One snowy night in a blizzard two weeks ago the gas man wanted to see what I had in the greenhouse around 2 am, but I told him that it wasn't pot - but I could tell by his expression that he didn't believe me so, I shown a flashlight through the frosty glass and this thing was illuminated. He said "Wow, what the Hell is that?". "Not pot, I replied."

Camellias in pots are hardy too if the roots dont freeze. More sturdy than the insulating bubble wrap it seems.

The South African plants are remarkable cold hardy. This Erica 'Winter's Flame' is just starting to bloom.


Narcissus cantabricus, a native North African narcissus species blooms early in the greenhouse sand bed. It is sweetly fragrant - like cottoncandy (which reminds me - when was the last time I smelled cotton candy? It's sweetly scented like a vanilla candle from Target.).


If I was to grow one Nerine, it would be this one - N. alata or N. undulata. I have six stems in bloom this year. It too didnt seem to mind a few light frosts in early January.


The chili peppers didnt like the frost. And while many people keep some chili pepper plants from year to year for a while (like Chiltepin type), these probobly wont make it. I do have some Chiltepin and Tepin pepper plants in the house, however.

The biggest citrus I have is a massive tub planted with a Mandarin orange tree. It was hit by the blast of the propane furnice, and I fear that it wont recover.





Moving forward, I have all hopes that I am moving out of this funk I'm in.  No worries, I'm a pretty positive guy and maybe I just need a challenge. I can't tolerate 'meh' for long.

You're probably thinking that I am just depressed.  Maybe - just a little, but most likely I'm not sleeping because I'm scared, bored and for some reason not motivated because of a combination of all of those things - which is probobly completely normal, right?

After all - this is a big life change I'm going through over the next few momnths. With my severance runnings out in march health insurance is my greatest concern (Cobra?).  IT seems that there is no shortage of freelance projects and consulting on my doorstep, but just how much and how fruitful or consistant it will all be, I dont know. I dont do well with inconsistancy - you know, used to that pay check every two weeks.

SOrry for thinking aloud here, but if you've read this far, you can probably see that this is just like therapy for me. Social therapy.

I've never collected an unemployment check in my life either, but ick - I may have to. I just feel like a failure too I guess.

Yet I promise to not let things get to me too much, this blog which I thought that I would have so much time to redesign and improve, will still go on.  I need to move forward and think about the garden again - and what's next on the horizon for my projects.

I have jsut started thinking about my annual 'special projects' list, which is a bit overdue.

 I am thinking about gladiolus again, a genus I have been putting off for a while now because dahlias got in the way - there are so many lovely crosses if you've even attended a gladiolus society show you know what I mean. Then there are fuschias to try again, but raising them in a different way - training them as standards or as large tubbed specimens, and then perhaps exploring how to create a mini-cut flower garden at home, designed to offer cut flowers for every week of the summer and fall, a mini-flower farm, if you will.

Last year I was reminded of how great coleus looks in group containers, and I am imagining an entire collection of coleus - growing them in odd or creative ways - espalier comes to mind. -

Asian gourds, a big chapter from my book has inspired me to try on a greater scale. Especially after visiting Chow's parents (a Vietnamese friend of mine) whos family grew so many types in their back yard near where I live. Those will definitely be on my grow list this year - including luffa, sponge gourds and bitter melon and how to grow them, because even though many of us know what a bitter melon looks like - who knows how to cook with them? I've learned this year, and want to share it.

Oh yes, and dahlias. And sweet peas. And the tastiest tomatoes - Amy Goldman Fowler's great book THE HEIRLOOM TOMATO has reminded me that the tastiest ones are not any of the varieties I have grown in the past. Thank you Amy! Get it and read it closely - it's fabulously rich with information and well researched.

See? I'll be OK.

There are then other projects which failed once again that I want to retry until I master them. More about those later. Those potted tubs of 19th century Miognonette are going to be mastered - I know it.


January 1, 2018

How a Gardener Reinvents His Kitchen

As anyone who had lived through a major kitchen renovation knows, the process seems endless until that moment when it is complete - I'm a cook and a cook and gardener, so perhaps that didn't help! Curtis, Joe's nephew above helped convince us that he could handle the labor like plastering, removing walls like the mural on the right, and flooring.


It's been a long year since we began this kitchen remodel, now that the project is finally we can move onto other projects (like writing my book, and for this blog which I have been neglecting - not to mention trying to regroup myself after being laid off last March. Our greatest setback has been the tragic loss of Curtis last January - when we just didnt feel like doing anything more with the kitchen, until this October when we decided to just move ahead and finish it the best that we could.

I'm sharing this project here because I know many of you have been asking about the kitchen, or you've been here while we had been under construction. Now that it is complete, the good thing is that we finally have a great new kitchen and dining area, the bad thing is that we can no longer use the excuse that the house is a mess because of the construction!


Our brand new completed kitchen reno is spectacular, and just in time for the Holiday season.


This post is long, but it shows before, during and after images of how we combines two big rooms in an old house which was my parents, and my grandparents. I had to overcome some emotional attachment with murals that my dad painted in the 1940's and 1950's, as well as cabinetry that he also custom painted back then.

We also were working with a limited budget, one that we probably went over now that we were not getting labor from Curtis for free, but without adding it all up, I think that all of this was completed for less that 20k, which whh broke into smaller installments, 3k here, 4k there, $500 there, etc. No one really wants to know but one day, I may sit down and add it all up.

 I'm open to share anything about this project if you want, especially comments about Ikea, Pergo, paint colors or any lighting, tiles or fabric. No one sponsored this post or offered free produt (what was I thinking?) but that does allow me to be honest about everything.

December 8, 2017

Old and New Holiday Plant Memories

Plant geeks and new gardeners enjoy the simple joys of forcing paperwhites - it would. be a sad winter season if I ever skipped planting a few dozen.


As the winter holidays creep up on us, many are thinking about Holiday plants. While it's nice to buy                        pre-grown plants, raising something from a bulb is even more fun. Amaryllis and paperwhite narcissus are classic standbys for the season, but with three weeks until Christmas, this is the last weekend one can plant bulbs of paperwhites if you want blooms by Christmas Eve. I am fine with blooms anytime before New Year's Day.

Paperwhite narcissus (and amaryllis) bulbs are some of the first plants many of us began growing, they make terrific gifts for children who are showing a slight interest in gardening, as their fool-proof and often spectacular display is easy to achieve and will reinforce a love for the magic of gardening.


Paperwhite narcissus are virtually foolproof. We all probably have a personal memory of our first paperwhite adventure, mine began in the late 1960's when as a kid I would go shopping with my parents to a local landmark store named Spag's, once located in Shrewsbury, MA.


I found this 'Spagtacular' watercolor of Spag's on the site of a local artist (a neighbor, really just a few a streets away from me!). Michael Wackell, Sr. suffers from Parkinson's Disease diagnosed in 2012 yet he is able to paint these amazing watercolors After chatting with his daughter at  Southpaw Watercolors. I was so impressed with his work I just had to share some of it here. This piece really captured the essence of the store in the 1970's  - check out that car! I nice gift this season might include a donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation which is dedicated to finding a cure.


'No bags at Spag's'  was a familiar tag-line to many residents in central New England, for the store was packed with many odd rituals. A family run business, Spag's himself wore his trademark cowboy hat which was featured on the outside of the store in a large illuminated sign. Customers would enter through a revolving steel - pipe door, find a box and then follow a standard path through a maze (no one could deviate from the flow, much like Ikea, which snaked through the store.