}

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.  



February 20, 2019

The Joy (and Pain) of Growing Citrus Indoors

It's citrus season here in New England! At least, in my greenhouse where at least 10 varieties of citrus can be picked on any day in February. While easy to grow in a cool greenhouse, indoors, citrus need a little extra special care - here are my tips.


I'm often asked about how to grow citrus indoors or how to grow citrus in containers - and while I am hardly an expert on raising citrus fruit, I have been growing many citruses in pots since, well, when I was a kid. Really.  Here's a secret - my very first houseplant grew from a sunflower seed one of my mom's flower pots, but my second was a grapefruit tree that I germinated and kept growing into a thorny beast which my parents gave away (or threw into the compost pile) when I left for college.



If there is a single reason for growing any citrus indoors, it should be for the fragrance of the blossoms.


I think citrus are great plants for many to try indoors, but they aren't foolproof, nor even 'easy' as many will claim. Young plants are easy to obtain, even from seeds that you find in a grapefruit, which is a good project for children to learn. I myself remember how excited I was when I germinated my first grapefruit plant, but I later learned the realities of getting citrus to bloom and fruit indoors and how it requires a grafted plant of a named variety. No need to ruin the dream for the kids though, they already are having a blast with their science project and who knows - you may have a budding botanist in your future!



Meyer lemons thrive in cool greenhouses and cool rooms indoors, ideally, they should bloom in June and the fruit will mature in winter - just when you would want them!





Australian finger limes are very fruitful, but also very thorny so be prepared, especially if you have kids!


A few facts up-front though, especially if you want to have fruiting citrus indoors. We should work through all of the facts and misinformation out there about citrus indoors before you undertake your own dreams of winter lemons and oranges. First, sure you can plant seeds of most any citrus (I just said that I did, right? I encourage it - but know that this is just a fun science project and that your hard work and years of dedication will most likely result in a thorny shrubby plant that won't bloom for a decade or more, and when it does, the fruit will most likely be inedible.



Some citrus I picked this past weekend in our Massachusetts greenhouse. )Left to right) Ponderosa lemon, a Mandarin orange, 'Improved Meyer Lemon', 'Pink Variegated Lemon', a Limequat, a 'Fukushu'. kumquat, a Sweet Kumquat, or 'Meiwa' kumquat, a variegated Calamondin and last, the tiny Hong Kong Kumquat.


I think before starting a citrus farm indoors, you should decide what you want. Do you want flowers? Decorative fruit to remain on the tree all winter? Or do you want to actually pick fruit and use it? Sure, one might say that they want it all, and yes - you will get blossoms anyway, but not all citrus is the same. Let's go through the list of popular citrus that you can buy and see what is most growable in the home, or in a greenhouse.





'Mandarin Orange' which includes those sold under the name of 'Cuties', 'Clementines' or any of the classic varieties like Tangelo - these oranges are all related, have east-to-peel reticulated skin and are delicious, but they are more challenging for culture indoors. Forget about starting seeds from those clementines and getting oranges in the house on your windowsill. It's fake news.



A nice mandarin orange freshly picked from our tree last year.


There are named varieties of some Mandarin types, which you should seek out - Logee's Greenhouses in Connecticut carries some but between you and me, unless you have a cool room to grow them in, they are better for cold greenhouses. These varieties produce delicious fruit, but let's be realistic - the trees grow larger than most citrus, and are more difficult to grow well indoors, at least in the typical North American home. If you want to try, you must grow them in very bright light in the winter with the coolest temperatures and moist air. An unheated mudroom - one that stays above 35° F but below 55° F is ideal, or a garage, breezeway, glassed-in porch that does not freeze - anything with a slate or concrete floor - you get the picture. One could say this about all citrus, really. A house circa 1850 with radiators would be ideal. No wonder those Victorians had so much luck with camellias and lemons.






Social media just loves 'easy and fun' hacks and DIY projects that oversimplify and over-promise. While well-meaning, must of the advice found is unrealistic and can be disappointing.  When it comes to growing citrus, never start one from seed if you want to be able to pick fruit. Start instead with a grafted citrus for many reasons, but mostly because of time and overall size. Citrus from seed may bloom, but it can take many years if not decades. Citrus from seed however is still a great children's project and there is little harm in letting them dream about picking oranges!

MYTHS ABOUT STARTING CITRUS FROM SEED

There is this image that's been going around on mommy blogs and even some DIY gardening blogs that shows a cluster of lemon seedlings growing in a teacup along with the headline'  Grow your own room freshener!' I'm not usually a grumpy dude but that image drives me crazy because it is such bad advice.  Can you germinate a handful of citrus in a teacup? Sure. But the only way that it's going to act as a room freshener is if you totally smash the leaves until they are crushed. Is it long-lived? Of course not because crushing the foliage will kill every seedling. Don't get me started. For some reason, no one seems to call out these fake bits of advice, but I thought that if you don't know already, that maybe you would like to know the truth.


Citrus seeds as a kids science project, however, a great thing. It's how I actually got the gardening bug - a grapefruit seed that was already sprouting in a grapefruit was planted in a larger pot of one of my mom's houseplants, and I was so excited when it germinated (I was in first grade) that I kept that plant growing until I left for college - when my parents threw the thorny beast into the compost pile. But just know that you'll want a good, grafted citrus (the rootstock is usually a Fortunella species, or something more hardy vigorous and allows a blooming branch - a clone, really - of a named variety that is proved to be delicious and fruitful, to bloom and set fruit as soon as the following year. Not to mention that the rootstock for potted citrus are specially selected to keep the grafted plant smaller, and room-sized.

I should mention that sometimes a grafted citrus will send out a sucker, or a branch from below the graft. Always keep a look out for these, they will be more thorny and usually more vigorous than growth on the top. Remove them as soon as you see them.


Calamondin oranges make a good option for indoor citrus. The variegated variety is very lovely both as a potted plant and as a decorative one that can be set outdoors for the summer where it will bloom and bear fruit the following winter.


Another good indoor citrus is the 'Calamondin Orange', popular with Philapino folk, it has been a popular houseplant since the house plant craze of the 1970's. Look for the variegated one as it is the prettiest. The small fruit is edible, and not a bad substitute for lemon when added to tea. Like any fresh citrus, the oils in the skin alone make for a tasteful experience.

I want to mention Kaffir lime leaf, which is a citrus as well - a very handy plant to keep in the house, and outside in the summer especially if you are an adventurous cook. One leaf added to cocoanut rice or Southeast Asian dishes and curries is transformative, and it makes the often unwieldy plant worth its real estate. Just allow it to grow large first before pulling leaves because if you are like me, all the leaves are used up before the end of summer! With one or two growth spurts a year, I really need a big tree of this one!

In our central Massachusetts home which (is just over 100 years old and poorly insulated), it kind-of friendly to citrus as long as they are kept in the cooler rooms. We even have this huge unheated room and with big windows, the ceiling is 16 feet tall and there is a concrete floor - exactly what so many potted citruses appreciate ( and camellias).  Not everyone has that perfectly cold room, but some folks have a cellar with big windows or a glassed-in porch or a garage with big windows. Even an unheated bedroom will do.


Many hybrid kumquats are now available, a(this one is Fortunella obovata 'Fukushu', or the Changshou Kumquat. All kumquats make delicious and fruitful indoor citrus as long as you can provide the cool conditions they desire. In our cool greenhouse we have enough kumquats to eat fresh all winter long. This one is one of the best (it looks like an orange) but it's round fruit are sweet, and yes - you always eat the peel on kumquats! 


Kumquats became our favorite though. Also maturing in the winter, the fruit is absolutely delicious when picked right off the tree and popped into your mouth. Nothing at all like store-bought kumquats - in fact, I would peel kumquats if I ever had to eat one, and I would never ever know what a treat they were until I ate one whole right off of the tree.

The citrus also never seem to get insect problems in the greenhouse. Scale, mealy bug and particularly spider mite problems seemed to plague us every winter no matter what we do. In the cold, damp and sunny greenhouse, the foliage remains dark green and healthy.


Citrons come in many shapes and sizes. More of a novelty than anything else, a football sized 'Etrog' can be an impressive show stopper. Beware though, these plants grow large (10 feet tall in a couple of years) and the thorns are deadly - I mean - poke your eye out deadly. I always have to set them in safe areas with no traffic from us or the dogs. Still, every year someone gets an arm scraped or a scalp scrath that requires stitches! 


IS a greenhouse essential? Of course not, and I'm not trying to make you feel bad about not owning a greenhouse at all (believe me, you wont want to pay the heating bills!), but I wanted you to know what I have experienced when it comes to citrus culture, and it changed dramatically once I moved plants from the house into the greenhouse, and there are some learnings that came from that. Indoors, citrus certainly can be grown, but now I try to replicate what they experience in a northern winter greenhouse as best I can. I think I always felt that citrus were southern plants, trees that liked heat and summertime temperatures, but really, they like a cool, Mediterranean climate, wet in winter and cool, but hot and sunny in the summer. I mean - no wonder they love California!


Last weekends' pickings included 9 types of citrus from the greenhouse.


Today we grow about ten citrus varieties in the greenhouse at any one time, and while everything isn't perfect (I lost 2 kumquat varieties this year and one lemon tree due to the hose being too far away and the heater burning one to a crisp), but each reason was due to operator error. I also house a few citruses from friends over the winter - a sort-of boarding school for citrus, but I always have to be careful as more often than not, they come covered with spider mites and mealybugs. The cold temps in there keep those pests at bay but I have to isolate the plants and scrub the stems and foliage.

Would I grow citrus indoors again? Maybe, especially since the greenhouse is really getting too costly to heat (this may be the last winter I splurge on it), so plants could be relocated to a large unheated room that we have (the studio) where I think they would at least survive the winter just fine.

Fortunella hindsii, or the Hong Kong Kumquat has a near cult following by collectors, but not to eat, as the fruit contains just one seed or two, but is mostly skin and no larger than a large pea.


My favorite citrus happens to be any or all of the Kumquat varieties ('Fortunella species, and for named varieties, there are many), as well as the tiny, inedible Hong Kong Kumquat (Fortunella hindsii) which we grow purely for novelty sake. Who could ever resist its 1/4 inch 'dollhouse oranges' but be careful of its thorns - this wild species is thornier than a crown of thorns!  A large topiary of this plant sits on a high bench in the greenhouse and I have to warn visitors to duck, or their head can become scratched. If it's hard to find, try asking for it at a bonsai nursery but then pot the rooted cutting up as a tree in a large pot and don't tell them! It's a popular bonsai specimen.

Some of the most aggressive growers I've had include the pink variegated lemon (not very edible but the foliage is pretty) and the Australian Finger Lime, which quickly grew in the greenhouse into a large and thorny shrub, eventually having to be tossed as no one wanted to move it anymore. I did buy a rather expensive Mandarin orange that grows very edible and large mandarins, now trained as a sort of standard in a large tub, it's one of those citruses where I hate picking any fruit just because it looks so nice on the plant, but I've learned that picking fruit on all citrus is important especial;y if you want them to bloom again and on time.

POTTING-UP A CITRUS
Many sites also advise one not to overpot citrus, and that they enjoy being potbound. I will say that we pot-up citrus the first few years into larger pots, especially if they are Logee's plants which often come in  2 to 4-inch pots. They are still young grafted plants and rather fierce growers but are watered every day or even twice a day at the nursery because they are pot bound. While citrus will always fill a pot with roots, most of these roots are at the surface, much like a camellia in a pot. Once settled into a 14-24 inch pot a grafted citrus will remain in that pot for much of its lifetime, but any citrus you buy in a  2- 4-inch pot will need an upgrade to a larger pot almost immediately.  I would move small citrus into an 8 or 10-inch pot as soon as I get home from the nursery, and then once that pot is pot bound, move it to the14 or 24-inch pot where it will stay for at least 5-10 years, with biannual refreshing the outer soil.

Citrus has surface roots which will eventually take over the top of the pot, making a pot look like it's pot bound when it actually is not. I topdress most citrus once a year with a bit of new soil (always using Promix BX or PRomix HP (High Porosity) which I think these acid-loving plants appreciate. The plants are fertilized only in the summer with a balanced chemical feed (RapidGro) as they like high nitrogen during foliar growth, and then hit once or twice with a commercial citrus feed. Every year we get yellow leaves because of Iron deficiency or boron deficiency, which is when we repot a plant usually into the same pot, but with fresh soil.

FEEDING, SOIL AND FERTILITY
Fertility with citrus is tricky, especially with container grown plants as most citrus fertilizer is sold for use outdoors, on trees planted directly into the soil. I prefer a water-soluble or time release feed (or both) on potted citrus, but soil chemistry factors are as well. All peat or coir based potting mixes will change physically over time as they decay, affecting pH and soil structure so they often need refreshing. Many recommend a low analysis like 5-2-6 which is similar to the Espoma citrus food but be careful if using this in a pot as it can burn roots near the surface. If using, sprinkle the granules on in the summer on top of fresh soil that you've added to the pot. Miracle-Gro for acid-loving plants works well too but look for high nitrogen and high potassium.

CONTROLLING INSECTS
As for troubles with insects, unfortunately, scale and spider mites are difficult to control without insecticide, so if you plan to eat your fruit of have issues with using a systemic insecticide, the only option is to toss your plant and get a new one. Mealybug, which difficult to treat without chemicals can be scrubbed off carefully, and then the soil replaced as best you can and hope for the best. I have never, ever had any luck with any organic insecticides with these pests on citrus, but as I shared with you earlier, our plants in the cold greenhouse never seem to get any pests which tells me that they are healthier if grown in damp air at low temperatures.

HOW I GROW MY CITRUS IN A GREENHOUSE
A note about the cold greenhouse here - I keep our greenhouse set to 38 - 40 degrees F in the winter, which is how cold it gets on the coldest nights - even if it is -10° F outside. Sure, it may get colder near the floor but on a sunny day even in January, the air temperature can reach 65 or 70° F. Most of the mature citrus are in large 24-inch pots which are set high in the greenhouse where it is a bit warmer  (this bench is above my head). This provides a bit more warmth and even bright sunlight as the fruit can ripen near the glass.

I still lose a  citrus plant or two each year in the greenhouse but not because they are difficult to maintain, it's due to my neglecting them. It's easy to forget to water a lemon that sits on the opposite side of a walk or move a plant to the wrong place.  Even though we've experienced a couple of freezes (when we've run out of fuel) this has done little harm to the trees. One night last January the furnace ran out of fuel and the air temperature dropped down to 20° F for a few hours, but there was no visible damage to the plants. Any lower and the roots might have been killed, but what did a few plants in was that once the furnace came on, hot, dry air blowing from it killed two large Kumquat plants because  I had temporarily moved them to a new part of the greenhouse so that they would be further away from the wall - but they then sat right in the path of the furnace fan.


January 27, 2019

Winter Gardening Ramps Up - Book Reviews Pour In


There are still endless lists of garden chores for those who garden where winter is mild - California, the Pacific coast, the British Isles, or the US south, but here in New England - winter gardening can often be defined by most people as dreaming and planning. Ordering seeds, starting seeds, making lists with nursery catalogs and websites, and of course, by reading gardening books and magazines. But don't be fooled in thinking that the Northeast gardener is lazy - for more serious gardener often have a long list of projects which go far beyond seed ordering (and beyond. cleaning tools - as who really does that!).






Of course those who are fortunate to have season-extenders, be it a cold frame, a hoop house, a protected porch, a heated greenhouse or inside gardening lights - the summer season is just ramping up in one way or another. I seem to fail in delivering on all the projects I seem to plan on doing. Things like propagating perennials from root cuttings taken in the fall (oriental poppies), or sowing alpine seeds for the rock garden (I'm always too late to send in my order to the North American Rock Garden Society. the Scottish Rock Garden Club or to the Alpine Garden Society in the UK due to my own Holiday drama), but there is probably time to still submit my order for the second round of seed.

It's worth mentioning here that these three societies offer many of the hardest-to-find seeds for home gardeners who are about to move beyond marigolds and who are looking for that 'something different'.  Many of these seeds just which may seem intimidating to germinate or grow, just need to be sown in a loose, gravelly or sandy soil mix, covered in chicken grit and set in trays outdoors for the balance of the winter. By spring, they will naturally germinate.






THE VALUE OF BOOK  REVIEWS ON AMAZON - 

If you have a moment - could you please write a quick book review on my book or simply click how many stars you think it should have?

Silly, I know, but apparently - it's as important as those Yelp reviews for small restaurants. I 'get it' now. Believe me - I've been just as out-of-touch about these things as anyone, until now. Reviews place a book higher in ranks, higher on lists, which means more sales, and while not really any money for me - as no one really makes money on a plant book - but it will lead to other books, better books and more books in the future.

As for marketing my Vegetable gardening book - don't fret -  it's not in my nature to over-promote here. This may be it for a few months - it's really not my thing.

A tiny note about your thoughts on this book will be much appreciated.  My goal in writing this first book was first and foremost -- to write an honest book with advice that would be useful to either advanced or beginner gardener.

My premise?

No hype, no trends, no fads, no 'hacks', no lasagna, no hay bales, no eggshells, no peeing on tomatoes, no molasses (homemade fertilizer), no manure teas, and as for organic vs inorganic fertilizer? I provide want the plant really needs to grow perfectly, and you - the end-user can decide what you are comfortable with. We are all adults here.

Briefly stated, this is the sort of book I would want to read. I hope you might find it useful in that way, too.

TO MAKE IT EASY, YOU CAN RATE WITH STARS OR LEAVE A BRIEF REVIEW OF MY BOOK HERE on Amazon. Even if you didn't buy one there.

I promise that I will never ask again.


Hardy herbs like this rosemary globe that I've been training, are doing well in the greenhouse. As well as the tiny Haemanthus spp. (yet unnamed but with hirsute or hairy leaf margins).




ALSO, BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR ME SPEAKING THIS SPRING

I will be starting my speaking tour in February and my book tour so many some of you will see me as I travel to some botanic gardens and plant societies with book signings and talks. If you don't have my book and are interested in it, I will be giving away a few copies here in February in a blog giveaway, and of course, it is available at most on-line bookstores globally, and on Amazon. Just google and find it.


LAST SUMMER, A PAIR OF CARDINALS WHO ALWAYS RETURN TO MAKE A NEST IN OUR BAY LAUREL STANDARDS WHICH ARE USUALLY SET OUTSIDE THE DOORS IN MARCH WERE ANGRY WITH US FOR BEING LATE - SO THE FLEW IN THE OPEN VENTS AND RAISED A FAMILY IN A FLOWERING JASMINE. WHO COULD BLAME THEM?



ONWARD, IN THE GREENHOUSE

Thank God for our mild winter so far. As January is the time of year when our home greenhouse is threatened by heating problems (blizzards, nor-easters and deep freezes). This all happened last year if you remember when early January brought us record-breaking cold and snow. Today, the greenhouse reached 70 degrees and I took the opportunity to begin cleaning and organizing it for spring seed starting. I was surprised at what was already in bloom - many camellias, some tender shrubs, and South African bulbs, but I also bought some Primula obconica and carnations to brighten dark corners, and to use as 'color-fillers' through these dark months. No harm in that. I just repot them into larger clay pots and keep them cool and bright, swapping them out of the plant windows every week or so - which sounds snooty I know - but why not? Less than a grocery bill for a weeknight meal, and it brightens our hearts. I will add that the cool greenhouse extends the life of many potted florist plants, so they'll 'keep on tickin' until their batteries run out around late April.



Single and semi-double camellia's like this pink, variegated one 'Happy Harlequin' are slow growers, but set outside all summer (when buds form) they come into bloom quickly just as the sun begins to brighten in late January. Even light freezes don't bother them. I love camellias so much, that I wish that I lived in a slightly more mild climate (like North Carolina) where they can be grown outdoors year round. You folks are lucky!


I am noticing that while many plants are blooming, some are ahead of schedule which always surprises me. Camellias are well on the way with at least a half dozen varieties in full bloom. Here in Massachusetts camellias cannot live outdoors so ours are potted and kept under cold glass where they provide us with endless blooms from December until March, with the peak season usually being February just around Valentines Day. Appropriate as most camellias either pink, red or white.



Camellia's lead the show in the greenhouse for much of the winter.



I really can't have enough potted camellias in the winter. Sadly they sulk when grown in modern homes, but there was a time when most every Victorian home in New England kept camellias as the rooms were heated by coal or wood, and temperatures would drop to either just above freezing or remain around 40 if the fires were allowed to run out. If you have a cool or unheated room (we have a large great room which we keep unheated most of the winter and camellias would thrive in there) or a garage, even a glassed-in porch, many camellias might do well for you. 



I fertilized my camellia pots (first with high nitrogen then a balanced feed bi-weekly) much of last spring and early summer, and it seems to have paid off with a high bud count. Cottonseed meal was also added to the soil surface just after blooming last winter.


I have friends who keep camellias in the glassed-in-porch of their farmhouse in Carlisle MA, and they never heat the porch - just opening the door to the inner house on the coldest night to allow just enough heat in. Many of these woody Asian natives can handle air temperatures that drop to near 20 for brief periods, as long as their roots don't freeze. There are estate greenhouses outside of Boston that have some camellias more than 150 years old.



An Agepetes serpens (from the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden catalog) shows off it's long branches and hanging stems. I'm still waiting for the pendulous red, waxy flowers to appear one of these years, but I'm not that disappointed as the foliage alone is nice. It goes out in the summer, as it is semi-epiphytic (lives on mossy tree branches) and it dislikes high heat that our summers bring.




'San Dimas' is a well known red Higo camellia that always gives us a good show even when grown in a large tub.


Lily of the Valley 'pips' or dormant buds with roots are being potted-up for indoor bloom and fragrance. I look forward to these blooms every year, but this year I splurged on some nursery-grown stock.


It's bulb forcing time, but as I didn't get a chance this year due to the book to get plenty of bulbs potted up in the autumn, I decided that I just couldn't live without Lily of the Valley forced (some hints here about my next book!). I usually dig some pip's from the garden in November which works perfectly well, but I thought I might splurge and order some fancy ones from White Flower Farm. These are much larger pips and have been grown specifically to be forced by flower farms and home growers. There was a time when forcing Lily of the Valley was a popular winter activity for any plants person, but those days have passed along with other Victorian charms, but January is THE time to bring pips into the warmth, and warmth is what they need if you want to experience blooms in winter. 


A pot of planted-up Convallaria majus pips (Lily of the Valley) is an old-fashioned thing to be treasured. Talk about experiential - Many drawing in old Victorian gardening books show these being grown - forced on winter windowsills, but the real trick is to keep them and their pots, warm. The greenhouse here is too chilly and they will remain slow growing until I bring the pots into 70 F. degree sunlight (or under lights).



I pot my pips (which have long roots) in deep, clay pots - only because I like how they look that way. You can trim the long roots down a bit with scissors if your pots are smaller or shallow, it doesn't make a big difference but it may delay flowering by a few weeks as new roots don't begin to emerge until after they bloom so don't be too aggressive with your manscaping. 

The pips are potted up in a clean, fresh potting mix - No wait. Be honest Matt. really not that clean - I should admit that I used a recycled potting mix from the bottom half of a hot pepper that died. It doesn't matter as I'll be tossing these once they have bloomed - potted in dirty, recycled crappy, used potting mix left over on the bench from some pots used in the garden last summer. That's more like it. I'm not that worried here about virus' or disease. Pots are kept in the cool greenhouse for a week or so and watered well which I think helps them get acclimated. They've already been vernalized (chilled for a period). All that needs to be done now is to bring the pots into the warmth - and bright light (artificial is best) and in four to five weeks the house will smell like May.



Imported Amaryllis are set out to be potted-up into fresh soilless mix. These large bulbs are of newer varieties and were not grown for Holiday bloom. As such, more buds per bulb (up to 3 stems) and they will bloom until March or April.


On this cold yet sunny day, it's warm in the greenhouse so I took advantage of the sunshine and potted up the rest of my amaryllis bulbs. Another dozen of fancier varieties not commonly found at retail or garden centers (spidery ones, new introductions) most of which are late bloomers - I know this as those specially treated to bloom for Christmas are all done with their show, while the larger bulbs like these are just starting to show bud tips. These too appreciate indoor warmth, so they'll be taking up a toasty spot in on our new slate window seat once the carpenter completes that job - hopefully this weekend. Hopefully.

It's been a few years since I've indulged myself with plenty of late winter blooming amaryllis so I am excited to see a spectacular show. All of these bulbs will go into deep and heavy clay pots as this helps keep the tall stems from tipping over. These too I bought at White Flower Farm ( I know, you are going to say that they are expensive) but I promise you - if there is anything worth buying from WFF it's amaryllis. Believe me - I've bought them from most every nursery and these will all have 2 or 3 buds, not to mention the varieties are exceptional. Go ahead - do your homework and you'll see that the price is worth it, at least for amaryllis.


Haemanthus albiflos is a South African geophyte (bulb-like) plant that clearly has a semi-dormant period in high summer when it sulks and prefers to remain bone-dry, but the roots are always active - looking for trace bits of water, as many South African bulbs do (including Amaryllis and Nerine - which is why getting the bulbs to re-bloom the following year is tough - as the roots had been removed the previous year). Haemanthus though is a genus worth growing - even on a sunny windowsill, where they shaving-brush-like flowers emerge in early winter around Christmas. Left potbound though, they will eventually break out of their bindings - like Clivia so choose a sturdy one!



Other southern hemisphere bulbs and geophytes are blooming too, such as this Haemanthus albiflos which very characteristically has broken a heavy, clay pot. Yes, an expensive clay pot that was handmade, naturally. So easy to grow, I love their shaving brush blooms every December, not to mention their vigor (I mean - this one wasn't watered since October, forgotten behind another larger plant and it's still alive. Talk about abuse. I should have known better to use a good pot, or I should have known better and just repotted it earlier.



More small Narcissus cantabricus are blooming like these which self seeded into another pot. So fragrant (like vanilla, not pissy like other winter narissius). The smaller hoop species are all so desirable and easy under glass.


Sometimes I feel like I am boring all of you with repetitive posts. Every January there is a post like this. The same plants in bloom, but usually in a different week. Truth is there is little more to write about here right now, and I think some of you might appreciate an old-school Matt post that is a diary in style, like this.


Japanese primroses - like these Primula sieboldii cultivars from a collector in Japan that we acquired - would do just fine outdoors in our Zone 5 garden, (and many do live here) but these are a bit more precious - new introductions and selections not in the trade (and we are forbidden or asked - not to share with nurseries) as they are gifted. We treasure all of these - some doubles, nodding flowers, and a lovely palette of pink, lavender, and white. Eventually, we will set these out in the garden, but we are allowing them to bulk up a bit in these pots for two years. Kept in the cold greenhouse, they emerge earlier than they would outdoors, where their normal blooming time here would be mid to late May.

Many of my tuberous 'nasturtium' (Tropaeolum species) from Chile and Argentina have emerged with vigor, and are just getting buds on their stems. I still want to try planting a few of these valuable tubers into the ground of the greenhouse as I've been told that when grown that way, they can really show off, but for now, they remain in large, clay pots.



Not all of these Tropaeolum are winter flowering. This T. ciliatum is late spring and summer flowering, and it really never went dormant for me. This is the first year that I am growing it (or second year?) so I am curious to see how it fares.


Winter greenhouse primroses include some store-bought ones as well. I don't bother with those tiny pots of purple, yellow and white primroses sold in 4 inch pots -that appear in supermarkets in January, as they will just die - indoors from the dry heat, or in the cool greenhouse because it is too wet - but the species popular in the late 19th century and early 20th century are very desirable. I still wish that I could get my hands on the most desirable - P. sinensis (to be correct, it's now considered to be P. praenitens)- Cultivaris introduced named varieties in 2016 but just try and find them anywhere. I keep looking, but only a few west-coast growers have trialed them. Surely - buyers will resist until it becomes more common.   P. sinensis was once a very popular potted plant and a winter standard in greenhouses until 1920 or so. Old seed catalog often featured 6-8 pages of varieties. Now, it's lost and no one has it.

A good standby is this - P. malacoides - the Fairy PRimrose, which would do nicely on a cool and sunny windowsill for much of the winter as long as you repot it and never allow it to go completely dry so that it wilts (not an easy task).  In the cool greenhouse these thrive, and are even slightly fragrant when the sun warms them up.




Primula obconica may slowly be making a comeback, or at least, you may be able to find some pots of this wonderful winter-blooming perimrose that will outside any hardy one for your winter window, or outside if you live in the South.

Primula obconica has always kept its popularity in Asia, but here in North America, one needs to look for it. Once I found a few pots at a Trader Joes in January, another time, at a large nursery - the sort that carries ALL of the Holiday plants at Christmas is a good sign that their buyers might snatch-up something more unusual for mid-winter sales. Here in the Boston area I once found them at Brigg's Nursery in Attleborough, and these I found at Mahoney's Rocky Ledge in Wilmington - but don't try finding them there - I bought them all! All 8 of them.


Even a common geraniaum (Pelargonium) such as this gold-leaved variety named 'Janie' can add bright color to a winter window. I happen to love the scent of the leaves (nostalgic, I guess) but who could resist this lime and bronze color? In many ways - who needs flowers?