Articles for the Month of February 2010

February begone — welcome Hippeastrum

This has been the most amazing February on record.  Very few blades of grass to be seen all month.  I can actually look back and note years when we have tilled the garden in February but this year has seen snowfall after snowfall.  At long last the Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) have come into bloom to add some flowerful color to our lives.

An Amaryllis couplet

Even the Amaryllis seem to have been delayed this year past their normal appearance.  I usually take the cue from the plants and don’t try to force their pace.  But once they start to grow they get lots of light and water.  Though somewhat retarded in time they have put forth a solid set of blooms.

Amaryllis in bloom

Though widely known as Amaryllis the flowers we grow under that name are more properly Hippeastrum.  There are 70 species and over 600 cultivars and I’ve long since lost the names of the two particular ones that we grow.  They respond well to living on the outside during the summer then a dry dormancy at the end of the fall where they live in the dry basement.  In December we start watering gently again and wait for some sign of growth.  They flower for an extended period of time and they’re well worth the small effort to grow them.

Amaryllis detail

Outside I’m seeing increasing patches of green.  The crocus are showing above ground in the spots where the snow has melted — there is still a foot or more of snow in many places— but they would still like to have some warmer weather before granting a bloom.

Crocus just starting out in the grass

And in the garden bed where the most of the snowdrops live, the same snowdrops that appeared in January are still hanging in there.  A bit bedraggled from living under the snowpack, but flowering nonetheless.  I am becoming a real admirer of these little bulbs.

Snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) still in bloom

Thawing out

I took a walk around the grounds yesterday to see what was emerging.  The first thing that caught my eye was that the snow has melted off half of the deck revealing the little three gallon pot of Witch Hazel and its straps of flowers seem to be no worse for the weight of snow that has been on them for more than two weeks.

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia) 'Diane' after the snow

Seeing its bright red flowers as a real portent of the spring to come makes it even more important that I find the right place to plant this one in the yard.  We need a spot where it will be noticed throughout January and February.  Of course its close relative the Chinese Witch Hazel is also continuing to be a bright spot in the yard.  And it is so very much more appreciated this year.

Chinese Witch Hazel (Hamamelis mollis) with its straps unfurled

Mostly the ground is still covered with snow. I can finally see the top of my the small bench in the backyard that we bought for our granddaughter.

Aoife's bench

But there are a very few places in protected locations where there is actual soil visible.  And in one of those I can see the first leaves of a Primula emerging.  Hurrah!

Primula x polyantha emerging

It’s raining tonight and if we get enough gentle rain I’m hopeful that will wash some snow away.  I’d certainly like to be able to assess the damage to the evergreens which have been flattened for the last two weeks.

Daphne flattenitus

Winter Light

The theme for the Gardening Gone Wild Picture This photo contest for February is “Winter Light”.  The pictures will be judged by Roger Foley who has quite a lot of experience with garden photography.  I recommend visiting the Gardening Gone Wild site just to see the submissions from a host of garden bloggers.  From previous experience many of these photos will be very interesting.

With all the snow that we have had this year the word Winter takes on a different connotation than it has in the past.  I mean, cmon, I expect crocuses to appear by tomorrow and it just ain’t gonna happen.  Well, it could happen but there’s no way I would see them under the snowpack.  Because of this theme I have been paying more attention to the various kinds of light amidst all the shoveling and plowing.  There was the full-blooded sunshine on February 7th with the afternoon sun creating a delightful postcard scene.  And I also posted a memorable sunset in January that would also qualify for “Winter Light”

But the particular picture that seemed most appropriate for the theme was taken late on the afternoon of February 6th.  Just after the megastorm had completed its multi-feet deposit of snow, the sun, barely breaking through the clouds, came out in sort of diffuse glow.  I guess that after a day and a half of heavy snow the light was more than magical that afternoon…

Late Afternoon Light

Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day February 2010

Novel Orchid of unknown parentage

Well we find ourselves in Boston for this Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day and the outdoor flowering is definitely limited.  So the focus is once again on orchids.

We did take a walk around the yard today and, although they don’t have the heavy layer of snow that we have in Frederick, the flowering and color is definitely on the side that requires considerable imagination.  I was struck once again by the unusual Hellebore variety ‘Red Silver’

Helleborus foetidus 'Red silver'

and there is an unusual Rhododendron with distinctive red buds in the kids’ garden.

Rhododendron 'Scarlet Wonder'

But in the end the wonderful orchids that they have sprinkled around the sun-lit interior of their house are what captures the mind’s eye.  I took pictures of the five that are in bloom right now and thought that I would share them in this posting.

Fuschia colored moth orchid (Phalaenopsis)

Miniature Cattleya

Miniature Cattleya Orchid detail

Speckled Moth Orchid

Phaelenopsis orchid branch

Lovely Oncidium Orchid

Despite my hopes that winter will begin to pack up its bags I note that another 5 inches of snow are expected in Frederick tonight.  I guess we will be a long time thawing out this year…

And didn’t it snow!

Hillside after the Feb 6 storm

It is hard to believe that just ten days ago I was in sunny California gardening in a tee-shirt.  There was a brief snowstorm just before I came back that Beth managed to clear from the driveway by herself.  One should always have a tractor or a wife for such occasions.  And then another one of 4 to 5 inches midweek.  Followed by the megastorm over the weekend.  And just when we thought we had exceeded all expectations yet another one hit the mid-Atlantic.  And Frederick was just about storm-central for the last two.  The good part is that we have holiday pictures for years to come.

We had lots of warning for the megastorm so we got supplies in and settled back to watch.

White Pine in the backyard as the snow was falling

From the back door you could see the normal outlines of our backyard.

Picnic Table by the Cherry Tree on Friday afternoon

And by Sunday morning we had a quite different scene.

Picnic table hump

It helped that we have the Kubota tractor but even so this took some serious digging.

Digging out with the Kubota

And then by Tuesday and Wednesday we did a reprise of the snowstorm — this time with wind.  We were still well prepared as long as power persisted (which it did) and we had logs for the fireplace.

How to spend a snowstorm

And we kept the birds well fed, though I think they honestly wanted to come inside.

Titmouse in snow

This morning the aftermath of the two big storms left us with a very wintry look, more like our northern neighbors.

Snow on the deck

Frontyard after 2nd snow

Backyard after second snowstorm

We are dug out once again and we still have some staggering icicles hanging down from the roof.  So much for the added insulation we put in last year.

Serious icicles

And where indeed are those lovely little snowdrops and the first Winter Aconite buds that I saw before I went to Calif…

First Winter Aconite buds on Jan 25th

Playing in California

This is the time of year when I venture to California to visit with my mother.  While yet another snowstorm covers up the snowdrops again I visited my mother last week and checked up on the plants that are growing vigorously almost any time of year.  The outstanding elements in January are always the pair of Camellias that dominate the side of the house.

Camellia blooms dripping off the bush

Camellia wall

They grow so easily and flower so vigorously that it seems almost criminal.

Another spot that gets my every couple of months check is the back bed.  The back of the yard was once a lovely flower garden that my Dad planted but it got overrun with nut grass.  My cure was to build up the bed and put in pots with a drip irrigation system that waters only the pots not the surrounding earth.  This I did quite a few years ago and by and large it works pretty well if the irrigation tubes don’t get knocked off or the timer reset.

The back garden

There are now three dwarf citrus trees along the back wall and numerous perennials.  My mother pointed out last trip the value of pinning down the drip irrigation tubes and that has proved to be a very valuable step.  The citrus are yielding less than last year, but everyone is still pretty much alive back there and that’s a major plus.  That’s Cape Honeysuckle with the orange flowers hanging down from the porch.

Cape Honeysuckle (Tecomaria capensis)

This is a vigorous plant with attractive flowers the year round.

It’s a little bit early for the plants in the back bed to be flourishing, but I did notice that because of the heavy rains last month the part of the garden outside of the pots that does not get watered by irrigation was covered withs seedling Calendulas, a number of which were already up to flowering size.

Calendulas self-seeding

One could do worse than having Calendulas go wild.

I added a few plants this trip, as is my common practice.  This time I found a really nice tall Pink Coral Pea.  It fit in very nicely where the Dahlia had been eaten by snails and next to where the Bougainvillea has not made up its mind whether to grow or not.

New Pink Coral Pea (Hardenbergia violacea)

The large vine provides instant color to the bed.  However the joke was on me.  As my mother pointed out we already had two very large specimens of this big shrubby vine at the side of the house.

Existing Pink Cora Pea

Because the nursery plant was well ahead in flowering I didn’t realize that the same plants were already in the yard.  Credit one to the supervisor.

The Supervisor

I also put in a Peacock flower and an Anemone Coronaria, but the final step as an investment for the future was to add a little tomato plant.

Tomato seedling (Celebrity)

This one is surrounded by diatomaceous earth to provide an ancient drying spell against snails which run rampant in California gardens.  We’ll see if it makes a difference to the slimy sort…