Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day December 2020

Helleborus niger ‘HGC Jacob’

Well it is December so it’s not surprising that the first Hellebore is blooming for Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day.  Helleborus Niger is always well ahead of it’s compatriots in providing winter bloom.  Nonetheless it’s still the camellias that are providing the most stunning flowers around our hillside.

Hybrid Fall Camellia

Hybrid Fall Camellia detail

Red Camellia sasanqua

Red Camellia japonica

The camellias are pretty consistently with us for the fall and then on again off again until into the springtime.  More surprising is the heather that is blooming right now.

Kramer’s Rote Heather (Erica x darleyensis)

And there is also a little ice plant that is flowering way out of season.

Delosperma cooperi

You can see white tips on the snowdrops and the adonis are also coming into bud.

Adonis buds

But we are expecting 10 inches of snow tomorrow (the first real snow we’ve had this year), and that means the plants are likely to slow down for awhile.

In the greenhouse we have a number of early daffodils in bloom.

Narcissus cantabricus ‘Silver Palace’

And there is also the beautiful wavy-flowered Nerine undulata still flowering after more than a month of bloom.

Nerine undulata

We have put up our traditional live Christmas tree, this time a Canaan Fir.

Canaan Fir Christmas Tree

This will be planted out in the pasture after the holidays.

December 15th is also the first day for choosing seeds from the North American Rock Garden Society’s Seed Exchange.  I was up early this morning (late last night) putting in my request for my 35 1st choice seed packets on the list.  This is great fun and I would encourage everyone to get involved.  There are 2480 taxa available including many rare and unusual varieties that you will not find from commercial sources.

NARGS Seed Exchange


Eranthis and the Daily Walkabout

Eranthis hyemalis

This is a wonderful time of year to watch the Winter Aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) emerge from their slumber.  They spread every year — into the grass and other parts of the garden.  But it’s a nice kind of spreading.  Hardly any other plants are doing anything at this time of year and in six weeks from now they will have disappeared till next year.  There are some other color forms of the winter aconite, either paler yellow or orange shades, but one of my strong desires has been to grow the white species, Eranthis Pinnatifida.  I got one flowering a few years ago, but it didn’t stay with us.  Nevertheless, the flower is so intriguing that I keep persisting.  I ordered one from Japan last fall and got it planted out in December.  I noticed on my daily stroll about the garden that It is growing but it looks like no flowers this year.

Eranthis pinnatifida from Japan

At the same time, and almost so small that i nearly missed it, I found a flowering Eranthis pinnatifida in a seeding pot that I had started in 2016 from seeds obtained from the NARGS seed exchange.

Eranthis pinnatifida

Not only was this little jewel growing but there was another little Eranthis in the same pot.  So hope spring eternal someone once said.

The seed exchanges are a wonderful introduction to new plants that you will never see in a commercial catalog.  My package from the Alpine Garden society arrived just this week.

Seed Exchange package from the AGS

But I have already started many seeds obtained from NARGS, the SRGC, and individual seed vendors.

Seed Exchange plantings

Also in the greenhouse is the first of the Ferrarias to bloom this year.

Ferraria crispa

Ferrarias are very easy to grow and easily one of the most unusual flowers you will ever set eyes on.  The curls around the edge have a fractal quality to them.

I also just brought the first of many Scilla peruviana into the house to enjoy.

Scilla peruviana

But getting back to the daily walkabout, I would be remiss not to note that many crocus and snowdrops are appearing around the yard.

Crocus tommasinianus

And the first Primula is showing it’s flowers as well.

Primula vulgaris

Like the Winter Aconite, these are happy to spread into the lawn.

A more unusual spotting from the walkabout was to see the first pink color in one of the Saxifrages in a trough.

Saxifraga ‘Valerie Keevil’

This little jewel flowered in April last year.

And I also noticed in the alpine bed that one of the Callianthemums from Japan that I planted in December has a bud on it!

Callianthemum miyabeanum

These plants are really hard to find in the U.S. and my thanks to Yuzawa Engei for the wonderful packing to get it here.


Collecting Seeds

Blackberry Lily (Iris domestica) seeds

Seeing some of the fall seeds is a good reminder that it’s a good time to pack up all those seeds you’ve been carefully collecting all season long to share with the various seed exchanges.  You did remember to do that right?  If you didn’t it’s still not too late.  Many flowers hold their seeds well through the summer and into the fall.  They are not always so easy to see and harvest as the blackberry lily (which by the way is a bit too common for most seed exchanges).  Some of the species Peonies are still carrying their seeds right now.

Paonia obovata alba seeds

Generally, however, it takes a bit more effort to select and harvest seeds.

As an example I picked a few handfuls of Primula sieboldii back in June and put them in an uncovered plastic bowl.  This week I put these primula seeds through my seed strainers.  You don’t have to have seed strainers but it makes the process a lot easier.  Mine were designed for sifting for gold but the process is the same.  They stack one on top of the other and the gold (seed) sifts down to the bottom tray.  Here are a few pictures showing the process.

Screen 1

Primula sieboldii with seed pod highlighted

Screen 2

Screen 3

Screen 4

The resulting Primula sieboldii seeds from screen 4

As inspiration here are the original Primula sieboldii which I obtained the seeds from.

Primula sieboldii in April

As a word to the wise, which I wasn’t with some very nice Allium seeds, don’t put seeds that are still moist in a sealed container, or they will just rot over the summer.

In the end I sent off 22 packs of seeds to the Alpine Garden Society, the Scottish Rock Garden Society, and the North American Rock Garden Society.  Besides sharing with others this will give the donor first pick privileges when the seeds are distributed this winter.

Traveling in the Springtime

Paonia ostii

We were gone for a week in mid-April and as might be expected you will miss some things at this time of year as part of price of traveling.  We bought the above Osti’s Peony from Wrightman’s Alpines as a very small plant in 2015 so this was first time we were to see it in bloom, and we almost missed it.  Similarly  a very dwarf yellow Rhododendron that we got just last year from McCue Gardens was already past its peak in flowering when we got back.

Rhododendron ‘Wren’

Another one we missed was the first of the Molly the witch peonies.  However, the second one still had a flower bud opening.  I keep planting them in the hopes that I will end up the yellow flowers the Mollys are famous for.

Paeonia mlokosewitschii

Similarly, but more unfortunate, the Dryas octopetala that had three buds had already finished blooming by the time we returned.  We had planted seeds of the Dryas last year after enjoying them when we went to the Dolomites.  Fortunately there were still a lot of flowers to enjoy upon our return.  Especially a few more Peonies.

Paeonia obovata var. ‘Willmottiae’

Paonia perigrina

Tree Peony Light Pink

Another of Arisaemas has popped up.

Arisaema sikokianum

It is particularly striking with the bright white spadix.

Various of the Euphorbias are lighting up the garden as well as several dwarf Iris flowers.

Euphorbia polychroma

Dwarf Iris orange

In a couple of spots we have lovely little blue Corydalis flowers.

Corydalis ‘Eric the Red’ (named for the leaves)

Back in alpine bed, the Kidney Vetch that I started from seed obtained from BotanyCa is growing very strongly.

Astragalus vulneria v. coccoina

Nearby is a lovely white Pasque Flower that my son grew from seed obtained from the AGS seed exchange in 2012.

Pulsatilla hallerii slavica

And one last flower is the first Clematis of the season.

Clematis ‘Niobe’

And let me close out this post with the note that if you focus on foliage you are never disappointed by missing the flowers.

Acer palmatum dissectum ‘Viridis’

Jewels of Spring

Hepatica americana pink

It’s that time of year when I wish each day would linger so that we can enjoy all the jewels of springtime that are popping up day by day.  I’m so busy outside that I’ve not kept up with recording all the flowers coming into bloom right now.  The spring ephemerals are always at the top of my enjoyment list.  Many of them are small, transitory, and wonderfully beautiful.  Hepaticas come to mind with their small hairy leaves and colorful stamens.

Hepatica japonica purple

Hepatica japonica red and white

But there are many competitors for my eye.  Here are a few that have come in the last few weeks.

Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Blue Giant’

Chionodoxa forbesii ‘Pink Giant’

Pulsatilla grandis

Primula allionii ‘Wharfefdale Ling’

Geum reptans

This is a new plant grown from seed obtained from the Scottish Rock Garden Club seed exchange last year.

Corydalis kusnetzovii x C.solida ‘Cherry Lady’

A new addition from Augis Bulbs last summer.

Corydalis solida ‘Beth Evans’

Erythronium dens-canis ‘Rose Queen’

Jeffersonia diphylla

Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’

Arisaema ringens

Anemone blanda ‘Violet Star’

Spring Beauty ‘Clatonia virginica’

Fessia hohenackeri (note the stamens)

A favorite combo – Chionodoxa and Anemone blanda

Of course, even in springtime the greenhouse is contributing it’s part.

Ferraria ferrariola

Moraea sp. MM 03-04a blue

Tritonia ‘Bermuda Sands’

Scilla peruviana

A wonderful plant.  I have some outside as well and last year they managed to flower.

Paradisea lusitanica

This comes on a 3 1/2 foot stalk.  I’m going to try putting it outside this year.  It’s marginally hardy in our area and it would be wonderful if it succeeds.

And then lastly the greenhouse provided a lot of color to the house

Clivia in the Entryway

Strawberry Jewels & More

Strawberry jewels

Strawberry jewels

Last year we replanted strawberries after disease had taken hold in our old row.  I first put in 25 Jewel strawberries in a double row 18″ apart with pinebark mulch.  Those 25 were allowed to expand and expand they did.  I would say that the mesh of strawberries is about three foot wide and so dense as to exclude most weeds.

Double row of Jewel Strawberries

Double row of Jewel Strawberries

They have been extraordinarily productive.  We’ve been bringing in a very large bowel of strawberries every night and predominantly from this patch.  Later on last year, near the end of June I added another 50 plants (Allstar & Cavendish) and those have been contributing too, but not nearly so many as the jewel plants.  Somehow in my unreasonable fear that we would not have enough strawberries, I added another 25 strawberry plants this spring (Cabot).  I think we will need help picking next year.

3 nights of strawberry picking

3 nights of strawberry picking

Meanwhile on the flower front much has been happening.  I was really pleased to see the Martagon lily ‘Arabian Knight’ flowering for the first time.

Martagon Lily 'Arabian Knight'

Martagon Lily ‘Arabian Knight’

I love the way the Martagons have a completely different profile from the normal lily hybrids.  The foliage itself makes a statement.  We’ve also have the first flower on a small Chinese lily that I got from Far Reaches this year.

Lilium duchartrei

Lilium duchartrei

This is said to spread underground so that should be fun.  I wouldn’t mind a clump of these little guys.

I was more than pleased to see that a couple of my favorite Arisaemas (fargesii and candidissimum) have finally decided to emerge.  Take a note for future years that I should not expect or dig in these areas until June.

Arisaema fargesii

Arisaema fargesii

There are a number of little rain lilies popping out in the greenhouse right now.  They are all a bit tender for this area, but I may give them a shot at outside exposure when I have enough of them in hand.  For the moment I just take out to sit on the back porch.

Habranthus brachyandrus

Habranthus brachyandrus

Zephyranthes rosea

Zephyranthes rosea

Habranthus tubispathus var. texensis

Habranthus tubispathus var. texensis

Zephyranthes dichromantha

Zephyranthes dichromantha

You can see from the pictures that these little bulbs are multiplying in there pots, but it’s hard to compete with the oxalis which REALLY multiply in the pots.  I started separating out the oxalis from 2013 plantings this year as they went dormant and the original 1-3 bulbs have expanded a lot.

Oxalis flava 'Yellow'

Oxalis flava ‘Yellow’

Oxalis flava 'Yellow' yield

Oxalis flava ‘Yellow’ yield

They can be kept in a bag until August when they will be ready to go again for fall/winter blooming in the greenhouse.  As a reminder the Oxalis in the greenhouse are nothing like the little pests you find in the garden.

Oxalis flava - yellow

Oxalis flava – yellow

Thinking of the greenhouse, there is a South American bulb with gorgeous deep blue flowers that has been blooming steadily for the last two weeks.

Gelasine elongata

Gelasine elongata

I always enjoy seeing these new bulbs or seeds bloom for the first time.  I recently planted out several Anemone multifida ‘Rubra’ that I grew from the NARGS seed exchange in 2014.

Anemone multifida 'Rubra'

Anemone multifida ‘Rubra’

Similarly this little Dianthus that I planted in tufa was grown from the NARGS 2014 seed exchange.

Dianthus spiculifolius

Dianthus spiculifolius

Speaking of seed exchanges, now is the time to be gathering seed from the early flowering plants.  For many of them, like the Jeffersonia, you have to watching carefully to see that you get the seeds before the wind and the insects do…

Harvesting Jeffersonia dubia seeds

Harvesting Jeffersonia dubia seeds

Jeffersonia dubia seeds

Jeffersonia dubia seeds

Identifying the seeds for these large seeded plants is pretty straightforward but many plants are pretty tricky.  Helps you appreciated what goes on for a more wide-ranging seed collector like BotanyCA.

I had a perfectly wonderful time at the NARGS annual meeting, but that deserves a posting in itself.  I will say that I brought back a number of exotic plants including this little Conandron that I’ve put in the alpine bed.

Conandron ramondioides

Conandron ramondioides

The alpine bed continues to be very successful.  I’ve added another Lewisia since they seem to like it so much.

Lewisia longipetala ‘Little Peach’

Lewisia longipetala ‘Little Peach’

And the alpine aster has returned from last year.

Aster alpina

Aster alpina

Out in the main garden beds the astrantia is coming into bloom, along with the horned poppies.

Astrantia 'Moulin Rouge'

Astrantia ‘Moulin Rouge’

Yellow Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

Yellow Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum)

Orange Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum var. aurantiacum)

Orange Horned Poppy (Glaucium flavum var. aurantiacum)

There is one little garden mystery.  Somehow a european spotted orchid has appeared on the opposite side of the yard from where it bloomed last year (and where it has no flower buds this year).  I have no memory of having planted one in this spot.  But nonetheless it seems to be happily blooming away.

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Dactylorhiza fuchsii

Let me close with the first thing I check in the morning — the spuria iris.

Spuria Iris 'Cinnebar Red'

Spuria Iris ‘Cinnebar Red’

Spuria iris 'Stella Irene'

Spuria iris ‘Stella Irene’


Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day

Primrose vulgaris in the greenhouse

Primrose vulgaris in the greenhouse

It’s Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day and there could be few days that would seem to be less promising for flowers.  The temperature topped out at 19º today and is headed for 3º tonight.  There was no real full-throated flowering outside in Maryland today, at least not on our hillside.  I did manage a few spots of interest as I took a short, well-wrapped walk around the yard.  It’s not surprising that the Adonis is fully ready to flower if we ever get a break from this weather.

Adonis amurensis 'Fukujukai'

Adonis amurensis ‘Fukujukai’

Despite the picture we don’t have much more than a smattering of snow.  Mostly it’s just cold.  I guess the good part for the plants is that it hasn’t been the same cycle of warm then cold that we had last year.  Any plant with good sense is staying well curled up right now.  The first snowdrops were out a few weeks ago and they were knocked down by wind and the tiny bit of snow we had last night.

Snowdrops driven into the snow

Snowdrops driven into the snow

The other hint of spring that I saw outside was the first coloring up of the red witch hazel.

Hamamelis × intermedia 'Diane'

Hamamelis × intermedia ‘Diane’

Every little bit of color gets bonus points right now.

Most of the flowering that I have to offer is in the greenhouse.  The greenhouse got down to 31º last night with all the heating I normally use.  And that was on a 9º night.  So I’ve added another temporary heater to the 110v circuit in hopes that I can cope with the 3º in the forecast.  There are a lot of plants out there worth protecting.  We have enjoyed a lot of oxalis.  Some even go through a second flowering.

Oxalis compressa double form

Oxalis compressa double form

The oxalis are particularly interesting from side and back views as well.

Oxalis compressa double form backside

Oxalis compressa double form backside

Oxalis cathara backside

Oxalis cathara backside

Since December we’ve been enjoying a sequence of hoop Narcissus as well.

Narcissus 'Firelight Gold'

Narcissus ‘Firelight Gold’

Narcissus catabricus 'Silver Palace'

Narcissus catabricus ‘Silver Palace’

These frost-tender narcissus all come from Spain or North Africa and I don’t find they have the distinctive fragrance that I associate with Narcissus.  Nonetheless they are easy to grow from seed and make nice companions to the oxalis to brighten up a winter day.

One of the things that leads me out to the greenhouse every day is checking on the new seedlings from the seed exchange plantings.  I never fail to be amazed at the rapid development of the plants that come in those little tiny seeds.

Dracocephalum heterophyllum

Dracocephalum heterophyllum

Silene hookeri

Silene hookeri

Draba loiseleurii

Draba loiseleurii

These plants are all tickets to adventure.  Researching these plants often leads me to reading the history of the species or the journals of the expeditions the plant explorers still take in the search for new plants.  Google the names of the seedlings above and see what you discover…

There was another sign of spring in the greenhouse today.  I saw the first growth on the pomegranate.  After last year I am looking forward to harvesting our own pomegranates again.

Pomegranate leafing out in the greenhouse

Pomegranate leafing out in the greenhouse




Botanically Inclined

Lewisia pygmaea

Lewisia pygmaea

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

Erodium carvifolium

Erodium carvifolium

Formosa lily

Formosa lily

Gentiana paradoxa

Gentiana paradoxa

Calandrinia spectabilis

Calandrinia spectabilis

Besides being beautiful flowers, what do the above lewisia, lobelia, erodium, lily, gentian, and calandrinia have in common?  All were grown from seed distributed through the various plant societies.  Specifically I participate in seed exchanges that are conducted by The North American Rock Gardening Society, The Alpine Garden Society, The Scottish Rock Garden Club, the Pacific Bulb Society, and the Species Iris Group of North America.  Each of these organizations brings access to seeds that are otherwise very difficult to come by.  This year I’ve already received my NARGS distribution of 35 seed packets and many choice elements are going to get planted this week.  It includes Linum elegans, Bukiniczia cabulica, Eranthis pinnatifida, and many other items that you probably won’t find in the average seed catalog.  I’m still waiting for my packages from the Alpine Garden Society to see which items I succeeded in getting.  You get to choose from thousands of varieties of seeds but which ones you get depends upon when you sent in your request and whether you were a donor or not.  In the past I’ve gotten over half of my first choice varieties even though I am not a donor for the overseas societies.

Besides the wealth of interesting seeds from the seed exchanges there are also other interesting sources of unusual seeds.  We subscribed this past year to Chris Chadwell’s 29th expedition to the Himalayas in search of seeds.  Our distribution arrived this month with 50 different seed packets gathered in Nepal.

Chadwell packages

Chadwell packages

In order to bring in seeds from overseas you need to apply to the USDA for permit for a small lots of seed import permit.  And you need to be cognizant of which seeds are restricted.  I’ve found the USDA folks to be very helpful and cooperative.  I got a phone call on the day after New Year’s asking for clarification on the shipping address for my shipment from Chris Chadwell.

There are also some other wonderful sources of seeds gathered in the wild.  I think in particular of Allen Bradshaw at Alplains who specializes in seeds gathered in the western U.S.  Or Bjørnar Olsen from Norway who gathers seeds in China.  There are a number of famous collectors in the Czech Republic.  One I’ve used is Vojtech Holubec who has the most amazing pictures of his travels in asia.

More recently I was researching a Delphinium (Delphinium tatsienense to be precise) that is in my NARGS seeds for this year and I came across a very nice website in Canada (BotanyCa) that specializes in wild-collected seeds.  She has choice list of seeds for sale and a lot of information about propagation and plant lore.  Highly recommended.

The bottom line for all these ramblings is that now is the time for acquiring and planting all those unusual plants that you have been meaning to grow.

Greenhouse with many little seedlings needing separation

Greenhouse with many little seedlings needing separation