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It’s easy to take sundrops for granted, because they’re so easy to grow. Here I was, trying to think of a plant to feature for Wildflower Wednesday. I couldn’t think of a single native plant. Then I saw Beth Stetenfeld’s post on prairie sundrops, and slapped my forehead. Of course! Sundrops are native plants!

When we moved here, sundrops were already growing in the Slope Garden, the only garden bed created by the previous owners.

They weren’t merely growing in the Slope Garden, they were taking it over!

Be it daffodils, forsythia, or sundrops–I am a sucker for pure, sunshine yellow. I did want to keep them. Uh–at least some of them. But I wanted to transition the Slope Garden to shrubs and ornamental grasses for easier maintenance, so I needed a new place to grow sundrops.

It may have already occurred to you that sundrops are inclined to spread. Fortunately they are also shallow-rooted.

You can see there isn’t much to the roots, but even a young plant sends out runners. Those shallow roots make them good placeholder plants.

And they are tough. Do you know how tough they are? They are one of the very first passalong plants I received from another gardener. She bent over, yanked three or four from the ground, and just handed them to me. I couldn’t believe it. No digging with a trowel, no trying to keep soil on the roots. She must have seen the shocked look on my face. “Oh, don’t worry. Stick them in the ground when you get home, and they’ll be fine.” And they were.

If that kind of toughness sounds like a weed to you, well . . . some gardeners won’t let sundrops into their garden. But me, I love that sunshine yellow, and I figured out a better place to let them romp. Remember all those daffodils I planted along the road?

The roadside daffodils

I dug up the sundrops and interplanted them with the daffodils.

This is the same bed as the previous photo, looking from the mailbox corner. The daffodils are going dormant, and the sundrops are at their peak.

The sundrops’ toughness stands them in good stead at the edge of the road. Snow plows pile snow here in the winter. Reflected heat from the road bakes this area in the summer. It doesn’t faze the sundrops one bit. They haven’t choked out all the weeds, but this area is far less weedy than it otherwise would be. To check their spread, once in early spring, and once in late fall, I pull out the plants that have crept beyond their allotted area. In a dry year I might cut down all the flowering stalks and leave the basal rosettes after the daffodil foliage dies down. But so far it’s taken the daffs so long to finally go dormant (into August sometimes!), and the sundrop foliage has remained green, that I haven’t bothered with a trim.

This gives me a swath of yellow in late April/early May with the daffodils, and another swath of yellow with the sundrops in late June/early July. After that, the daylilies in these beds take over. And guess what color they are?

A sundrop by any other name . . . would just be confusing

So far I’ve just referred to these plants by their common name. That’s because I’m not 100% sure of the botanical name. The genus is Oenothera, of that I am sure. I think it’s Oenothera fruticosa, but Beth’s prairie sundrops, Oenothera pilosella, look very similar. What’s the difference between them? According to the New England Wildflower Society, “Oenothera fruticosa: with sepal appendages mostly shorter than 1 mm and erect, capsules clavate to obpyramidal in outline, stipitate, and plants subglabrous to sparsely pubescent with hairs mostly shorter than 1 mm (vs. O. pilosella, with sepal appendages mostly 1–4 mm long and divergent, capsules linear-elliptic or elliptic to narrow-clavate in outline, sessile or short-stipitate, and plants conspicuously pubescent with hairs mostly 1–3 mm long).” I don’t even know what a sepal appendage is. And this plant just might be 3mm hairy.

Can you see the hairs on the stem?

But O. fruticosa is supposed to be the narrow-leaved evening primrose (whose flowers open in the day) and the leaves on my plant aren’t narrow as depicted in some (but not all) of the pictures here. William Cullina, in Growing and Propagating Wildflowers of the United States and Canada, says “O. tetragona (Northern Sundrops) is very similar and often confused in the trade. It hails from farther north, ranging up to Nova Scotia and Quebec.” That sounds like my climate, but he doesn’t say how O. tetragona is different. Allan Armitage (Native Plants for North American Gardens) is more helpful. O. fruticosa “subsp. glauca (at one time called Oenothera tetragona and O. youngii) differs by having broader, grayer leaves and smoother stems and leaves than the species.” Broader, definitely; grayer, possibly; smoother?–well, I would have to see the species before I would know if my plants were smoother.

You see? That’s why in this case I stick to the common name. And if by some chance you can’t find a gardener who will give you some, you might look for one of the cultivars mentioned by Armitage: ‘Erica Robin,’ ‘Fyrverkeri’ (‘Fireworks’), ‘Sonnenwende’ (‘Solstice’), ‘Hoheslicht’ (‘Highlight’), ‘Lady Brookeborough,’ or ‘Yellow River.’

I agree with Cullina: “[Sundrops] have a buttercup cheerfulness about them if you have room to accommodate their wandering ways.” Even if you don’t want them in your “civilized” garden, surely there’s a little spot by the mailbox or the side of the garage that could stand a bit of botanical sunshine. Don’t worry, they’re easy to pull up!

And they support pollinators!

Posted for Wildflower Wednesday, created by Gail of Clay and Limestone, to share wildflowers/native plants no matter where you garden in the blogosphere.

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This is the third in a series of posts encouraging you to plant the earliest-blooming flowers where the snow melts first. When it comes time to plant these flowers, you won’t remember where the snow melted first unless you take photos as it’s melting. If your snow is gone, write down what you can remember of the early-melting locations and use these suggestions if all else fails. Today I present everything I know about crocuses.

To look at American bulb catalogs, you’d think there were only two kinds of crocuses–big ones (Dutch crocuses) and little ones (species crocuses). Turns out there’s so many different kinds of crocuses, an entire book was written about them (my review here). Sadly, not all of them are hardy in my climate. But I’ve found some that are, and as a bonus, they bloom earlier than the Dutch and species crocuses commonly offered here.

The crocuses with dark centers are Crocus korolkowii ‘Black-Eyed Beauty’. The slightly paler blossoms without the dark eye are Crocus x leonidii ‘Early Gold’. My previous “korolkowiis” became rodent snack a winter or two ago and I’ve missed their early appearance.

Those very early crocuses whet my appetite for the main show, which is in the lawn. By planting in the lawn, I avoid most of the predations of voles, who can’t be bothered digging in the unamended rocky clay.

I’m thankful for the crocuses in the lawn, but they somehow seem lacking. In the second planting, the big crocuses are blooming before the little crocuses, leaving big gaps in the planting. I think it’s time to plant another 400 corms. You can see the stump of the maple we recently had cut down, and if you click on the image to enlarge it, you can also see snowdrops in the top left of the image.

I listed the bulbs from my first planting here. The second planting was 25 of Crocus vernus ‘Twilight’, 200 of Scheeper’s species crocus mix and 100 of their large flowering mix. (The plant lists for the Crocus Bank at the old house are here.) Since some of the bulbs were from unlabeled mixes, I don’t know all their names, but I have been able to identify some of the crocuses.

Crocus sieberi ‘Firefly’ is always one of the first to bloom.

Crocus angustifolius ‘Cloth of Gold’ is another early one.

Crocus chyrsanthus ‘Snow Bunting’ is early and fragrant.

‘Queen of the Blues’ is an older variety that’s getting hard to find.

‘Gaudeamus’ is not in the lawn, yet. There is a gap between the first and second lawn plantings. I’ve started planting some crocuses in a garden bed so that I can transplant them into the gap when I can see where it is. ‘Gaudeamus’ is a recent introduction from Odyssey Bulbs.

A few more things about crocuses

Crocuses come from areas of the world where it’s hot and dry all summer. If your lawn gets frequent irrigation or you use chemical weed-killers on it, crocuses won’t do well in your lawn. Old House Gardens has some further tips. These lawn crocuses were planted in the root zones of an old oak and maple that have since been cut down. Those trees helped keep the area dry in summer, so perhaps my crocuses will decline without that extra help. I hope not!

Now, about those rodents. There are squirrels and chipmunks around here, but they don’t bother the bulbs in my very unpampered lawn. Let’s face it, it’s easier for them to eat the bird seed from the feeders. Also, it’s not easy digging, for them or for me. Now the garden beds are a different story. Before the chipmunks and squirrels can eat them, the voles have already been there. I have thwarted them for several years by surrounding the bulbs with grit. (Read more about using grit here.) That gave me three years of blooms before suddenly there were none. But that’s long enough to get them from the garden to the lawn, where they are not eaten.

Finally, you should know that not everyone has as much trouble planting crocuses as I do. Carol Michel of May Dreams Gardens plants a thousand crocuses in a couple of hours. It’s a public service to the whole neighborhood, so I hope you will consider it for your own garden. Of course I’ll understand if the squirrels have other ideas.

Other articles in this series

Winter Aconites

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This is the second in a series of posts encouraging you to plant the earliest-blooming flowers where the snow melts first. When it comes time to plant these flowers, you won’t remember where the snow melted first unless you take photos as it’s melting. If your snow is gone, write down what you can remember of the early-melting locations and use these suggestions if all else fails.

Snowdrops are tied with winter aconites for the prize of very-first-bloom. They usually emerge from the ground well before the aconites do, millimeter by millimeter, but won’t actually open their flowers until the temperature reaches 50°F. Winter aconites are jack rabbits by comparison, emerging and blooming in the space of twenty-four hours when conditions are right. Of course you should grow both!

Snowdrops have become quite the “it” flower and single bulbs of rare cultivars can go for breathtaking prices. But save your breath and your pocketbook and invest in the varieties that multiply quickly, such as those described below. Buy a few and pretty soon you’ll have enough to make a patch. And a patch will be visible from inside the house. Just sayin’.

The first snowdrops I ever got were given to me by a gardening friend. She had found them growing “in the wild,” presumably where a house had once stood. I later learned they were the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis, and they did very well for me.

I divided up that original clump of snowdrops and planted them singly along this path (pictured above). The singletons multiplied and eventually became a river of snowdrops 50 feet long.

I transplanted some snowdrops from my former home to my new Secret Garden. These were also planted as single bulbs six years ago. Photo ©Talitha Purdy.

I was content with these sweet little things until I found out there were other snowdrops that bloomed earlier.

That got me planting ‘S. Arnott,’ a hybrid snowdrop that blooms earlier–and bigger–than the common snowdrop. It’s also fragrant, and while it doesn’t multiply quite as rapidly as its common cousin, it bulks up fairly quickly. I heartily recommend it!

Then a friend gave me the double form of the common snowdrop, Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’, whose blooms are perhaps slightly more visible from a distance and certainly more amusing up close.

For many years I was content with those three. But three years ago, I had a gift card for Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in my hand, and decided to order whatever snowdrops they sold that I didn’t already have.

You can tell Galanthus woronowii from other snowdrops because one leaf is tightly clasped around the other. They can tolerate drier soil (and perhaps warmer temps?) than many other snowdrops.

This is Galanthus nivalis ‘Viridi-apice’. Viridi-apice means green peak in Latin, except the peaks are actually the tips of the petals. The green marking is pretty faint on some, but it multiplies just as rapidly as its non-green-tipped cousins.

‘Magnet’ was selected out of a batch of common snowdrops for its especially long pedicel (the part that attaches the flower to the main stem). The outer petals are twice as long as the inner petals, and on a nice warm day (not warm when this picture was taken) the outer petals are almost horizontal. I imagine a magnet on a string for a child’s fishing game when I see this flower.

The fair ‘Hippolyta’ is a double whose inner petals are more neatly arranged and whose outer petals are wider and perhaps not as long as G. nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’. Elegant, rather than amusing. It is one of the Greatorex doubles, a hybrid of ‘Flore Pleno’ and G. plicatus, named after a Shakespeare character.

Now I always check my usual bulb-shopping haunts for whatever snowdrops they may offer, never spending more on a single galanthus bulb than I would spend on a colchicum corm. (That’s my own personal rule to stave off galanthophilia.) In subsequent years I have added these snowdrops to my garden:

Galanthus plicatus ‘Straffan’ is one of the oldest snowdrop selections still in existence. Baron Clarina, owner of Straffan House, brought back snowdrops when he returned from the Crimean War, and this snowdrop was picked out from those original ones.

‘Primrose Warburg’ was the gift of a generous friend, because she still belongs to the “breathtaking price” clique. Her golden ovary and inner markings are what set her apart. This is her first year in my garden, so I don’t know how fast she will multiply, but if my friend had enough to share, I suspect she multiplies freely.

Galanthus plicatus has pleated leaves. This is its first year in my garden, and it had the misfortune of blooming just before we got a big dump of snow, and then alternating snowfalls and thaws. I would like to say it has seen better days, but I think all of its days this year have been pretty miserable. It’s a good picture of the pleat in the leaf, however.

Maybe the differences in those snowdrops don’t seem different enough to you, but I enjoy picking out the details in each variety, especially when Spring moves at a slow pace, as it is doing this year. If you want to learn more about snowdrops, a good place to start is the Snowdrops in American Gardens Facebook group. Other articles in this series

Winter Aconites

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This spring has tested the hardiness of my hardy soul. I bet it’s tested yours, too, especially if you live in the Northern Plains and parts east that were bombarded by “Winter Storm Xanto”. In light of what my fellow cold climate gardeners are enduring, I’m not going to complain about my weather, which seems like it’s finally done with snow accumulation, even if it can’t string two mild days together. Yes, Spring has been slow to arrive, but it is arriving, one treasured flower at a time.

A slow spring highlights the need to have as many early flowers as possible. Remember: take pictures of where the snow melts first, and plant your earliest-blooming flowers there. As a cold climate gardener, this concept is so important to me that I decided to write a series of posts featuring the earliest blooming flowers. We have such a long winter; by the time it ends we are just hanging on by a thread. The sooner we have some flowers blooming, the sooner our spring fever eases. Yet so many gardeners are unaware of how many flowers bloom during mud season, that nebulous period which fluctuates between winter one day and spring the next. In this series I’m going to discuss them one genus at a time, starting with winter aconites.

Winter Aconites

Perhaps, like me, you’ve been frustrated by winter aconites (Eranthis spp.).

Oh, how I love the sunshine of winter aconites! (Eranthis hyemalis)

After successfully growing them in high school, I never could get them established in my garden until a kind friend sent me some “in the green”. Later, when my sister moved to the Finger Lakes, they were growing like weeds at her new home–seeding into the lawn from the flower beds–and I begged some off of her. I’m at the point now where I really should get brave and divide them. I do see some seedlings as well, but they often get killed by naughty chickens scratching in my garden beds–or by the gardener who insists on planting one more thing.

I acquired this lovely thing a few years ago, but this is the first year it’s shown its semi-doubleness. (Eranthis hyemalis ‘Flore Pleno’)

It didn’t bloom for me until I moved it into a sunnier spot. Not that it gets full sun now, just more sun than it used to. Those seem to be the two key things about growing winter aconites: 1) get some from a patch that’s already doing well and 2) make sure they get enough sun to make a flower for next year. If you don’t know a gardener already growing them, try ordering some from Old House Gardens, which takes special care to make sure the corms don’t dry out. And after you manage to get a patch going, check out these other species and varieties.

Inspired by the words of Elizabeth Lawrence, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year,” Carol of May Dreams Gardens started Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from all over the world publish what is currently blooming in their gardens. Check it out at May Dreams Gardens.

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I know you take pictures of your flowers, but did you ever consider scanning them? Yes, with the scanner that sits on your desk. I tried it back in 2007 but never did much with it. My friend and fellow ACNARGS* member Craig Cramer found it to be “the medium that would combine [his] love for art, gardening, and technology.”

On his blog Ellis Hollow, Craig would post scanned images of his flowers for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day. I learned through Facebook that Cornell was hosting an exhibit of Craig’s and Ellen Hovercamps’s work, plus some students’ work. (They actually have a class called The Art of Horticulture which “helps students from all disciplines consider plants as the subject of art, as well as a material and artform.” Imagine that!)

Sweep of Light, the exhibit at Cornell’s Mann Library, ends on March 31st, so I knew if I was going to see it, I had to act fast. This past weekend the roads were clear and so were the skies, so I bundled up and drove over there. The images that follow were taken with my phone. I apologize for the glare (and my reflection in some of them), but they should give you an idea of what’s possible with this technique. I included the artist’s description of each image in the caption.

Craig especially wanted me to see this image.

“Naked Ladies” by Craig Cramer. October, 2009. Three varieties of Colchicum autumnale, also known as autumn crocus. They are also known as “naked ladies” because the flowers pop up in fall long after the leaves have died back in late spring.

I sent Craig some colchicums over a decade ago, and now they are part of an art exhibit!
Yes, I collect colchicums, but I also have a great fondness for narcissus, so the following two images were special favorites.

Spring Mandala” by Craig Cramer. April, 2016. A spritely mix of daffodils, hellebores, primroses and spring ephemerals.

May Day Bouquet” by Craig Cramer. 2016. There are many reasons to celebrate May Day. In my garden it’s the peonies pushing up and the flowering of epimediums, frittilarias, daffodils, Virginia bluebells and summer snowflakes.

New Year’s Eve Cyclamen” by Craig Cramer. December 2012. Florist’s cyclamen (Cyclamen persicum) are usually a short-lived gift plant from the supermarket shelves. This one continued to pump out flowers long after its expected lifespan, allowing me to show the progression of flower development in a single scan.

No Escape” by Craig Cramer. June 2015. Garlic scapes form an impenetrable thicket in this four-pane.

Snakeroot Et. Al.” by Craig Cramer. 2012. It’s always a challenge to have something blooming in the garden in late summer and fall. But there’s always enough to fill a scanner bed: Cimicifuga racemosa, Phytolacca americana, Vernonia spp., Allium ‘Blue Eye’, Physostegia virginiana, and Chelone lyonii.

You may have noticed that some of Craig’s images are sliced and diced to the point where the plants become abstract shapes and patterns. Craig describes how he manipulates the images here.

To make these images, you can’t use the lid of your scanner. Craig uses a black cloth draped over the scanner, while Ellen Hovercamp scans in a darkened room. Perhaps that’s why her scans seem to look even more three-dimensional than Craig’s.

“Woodland Vignette” by Ellen Hovercamp. Sampled from the lush, woodland garden at Rocky Hills in Mt. Kisco, New York. Featuring: Asiatic Primroses, Ferns and Moss

Treasures on the Vine” by Ellen Hovercamp. The fruits of late season vines are delightful sculptural forms. These are from Trout Lily Farm in New Guilford, Connecticut. Featuring: Koshare Yellow Banded, Tennessee Spinning, and Daisy Gourds as well as Cape Gooseberries.

“Cornus Contemplation” by Ellen Hovercamp. Flowering Dogwood branches, gesturing diagonally, grounded by river rocks. Featuring: Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Brave’ and Cornus florida ‘Appalachian Spring’

“Beauty and the Feast” by Ellen Hovercamp. So much of what is edible from the garden is as gorgeous as it is luscious. Featuring: Okra, Kale, Chard, Heirloom Carrot, Chioggia Beet, Onions, Cherry Tomatoes, Watermelon, Tomatillos, Pea Shoots

“Autumnal Gleanings” by Ellen Hovercamp. Foraged souvenirs from Duck Harbor Road in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Featuring: Beach Rose, Bittersweet, Virginia Creeper, Oak Moss, and Oak Leaves.

“Herbaceous Peony Denouement” by Ellen Hovercamp. The fleeting thrill of spectacularly sensual, herbaceous peonies, captured. Featuring: Big Ben, Bowl of Beauty, and Sarah Bernhardt peonies.

Want More?

My photos were pretty lousy, so I encourage you to go to each of the artists’ websites to see much better images of their work.

Most of Craig’s images are still up on his blog, and I linked the title of each image to the blog post it was featured in. You can see all of Craig’s scans here. And check out this video, where Craig describes his artistic development and also showcases some of the student work:

Scanner photography - YouTube

Ellen Hovercamp’s website features a store where you can buy prints of many of her images, as well as luscious silk scarves.

*ACNARGS stands for Adirondack Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society, which meets in the Finger Lakes region (Ithaca), not the Adirondacks.

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It only took two mild Februaries to seduce this cold climate gardener into thinking an early spring was the new normal–even when last February’s mildness turned into three feet of snow in mid-March, and the February before that (winter of 2015-2016) segued into an April where the temperature dropped to -3°F (-19°C) one night, decimating my Japanese maple and four hardy yews. All I seem to remember is snowdrops blooming in February and the soil thawed so deeply that I was dividing perennials in March.

It’s easier to remember that I was dividing perennials on March 27th than to remember it was followed by sub-zero temperatures the following week.

So when the end of this February was mild enough that I could weed out the grass from the snowdrops around the wellhead, of course I expected it to thaw even further in March.

If I can pull the grass out from the edges, surely spring is on the way?

I couldn’t have been more mistaken. We got 17 inches of snow the first week of March.

And every time the snow melted off from over the septic tank, we got another several inches of snow.

It’s demoralizing.

But cold climate gardeners are hardy souls, resilient in the face of adversity and prepared for setbacks before winter is gone for good.

When I heard the big storm was coming, I picked these snowdrops for the house.

They are ‘S. Arnott,’ which is known for its fragrance–and early bloom.

I also fortified myself with forced hyacinths.

These came from Aldi’s, and each bulb had two blooms. Of course I will save the vases to force with some bulbs of my own next winter.

‘Sweet Nymph’ amaryllis obliged me by opening up four blossoms, one after the other.

I can’t say enough good things about these ‘Nymph’ amaryllis that Longfield Gardens sent me a few years ago. This amaryllis had just bloomed in December, and it’s now sent up another flower stalk–with four flowers–in March. I didn’t even fertilize it in between. And my other two ‘Nymphs’ also have flower stalks emerging.

The big orchid is from a few years ago, and the miniature orchid arrived on Valentine’s Day.

They almost look like mama orchid and baby orchid, don’t they? The miniature orchid didn’t seem to hold onto its flowers for very long. I don’t know if that’s typical for the wee ones, or if it didn’t like the change of scenery.

And my clivia continues to put on a show.

Meanwhile, I check the ten-day forecast every day for signs of a warming trend, and I’ve been getting out in the sunshine wearing snowshoes. I cling to the thought that spring flowers grow under the snow, even as I scan the horizon for the first sign of spring. And guess what? The snow is melted off the septic tank once again!

Inspired by the words of Elizabeth Lawrence, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year,” Carol of May Dreams Gardens started Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from all over the world publish what is currently blooming in their gardens. Check it out at May Dreams Gardens.

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Precisely describing the subtle variations in flower color is a challenge for me, so one fine June morning as we were sitting on the front porch, I asked my eldest daughter whether she would describe that rose (‘Darcey Bussell’, pictured above) as crimson, or a red leaning towards purple. She looked at me like I’d grown two heads and said, “It’s pink.”

Pink? Scarcely believing my ears, I turned to my youngest daughter and asked the same question. Almost apologetically, she said it looked pink to her, too.

“So, then, you probably can’t see how the color of this rose plays off the other colors in the bed, can you?”

“Frankly, Mom, I can’t see much rhyme or reason to the plants you grow around the porch.” I started to despair. The hours I’ve spent looking at these borders from every angle, walking around with a plant in my hand, carefully considering where it would be most effective–but to her–and how many other people?–it just looks like a hot mess? Then I remembered the time my middle daughter had told me she really appreciated the interplay of color and texture I had created in the front borders. I had floated on the pleasure of that compliment for the rest of the day. It reassured me that at least one person could see what I’m trying to achieve.

But I want everyone to see my garden the way I see it!

The idea that some people didn’t see my garden the way I did was disturbing, and I wanted to fix it. But do any two people see colors the same? How would we even know? Surely there is a range of color perception from color blindness to the visual equivalent of perfect pitch? And who gets to decide what the “correct” perception of a color is? Furthermore, how did my eldest daughter get a different understanding of color than me? I taught her the names of colors. “Do you want the pink cupcake or the white one?” I taught her what pink looked like. We used the same box of crayons. But now pink means something different to her than it does to me. How did that happen?

I eventually realized there is no fix to this. My garden is lovely to some people, and to others it’s not. So be it. Of course, the best gardens are about a lot more than color: form, texture, space, leading the eye, creating mood. Yet there must be some consensus about color, otherwise how would certain gardens become well-known for their use of it?

Will the real ‘Darcey Bussell’ please stand up?

Further complicating this issue, the same flower changes color depending on the time of day, or with more or less cloud cover. This is the same ‘Darcey Russell’ rose as above, photographed at various times of day and different seasons. Even I will admit this rose looks pink in certain pictures, but the photo at the top is what I consider its true color.

A garden well-known for its use of color

Later on that summer, I visited Buffalo, NY for the Garden Writers Association annual symposium. We toured the garden of Joe Hopkins, which was noteworthy for its use of brilliant color. Some would say there was too much color, because Joe relied more heavily on high-contrast complementary colors than analogous ones. (Complementary colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel; analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel.)

The chartreuse foliage massed on the right complements the hot pink alliums floating above it. The purple sage flowers complement the orange-red coleus at the bottom of the photo.

The dark purple foliage serves as a buffer to rest the eye. The orange-red coleus relates to the similarly-hued begonia in the center, and the birdhouse on the left echoes the color as well. Those echoes help add structure to the riot of color.

In this photo of the same seating arrangement taken from a different angle, you can see some of the plantings echo the colors of the umbrella and the garage door.

The color in this garden was so intense it was almost palpable. It worked for me because there was just enough color echo and dark purple foliage to keep it from being overwhelming, and the design of the garden was structured so that you couldn’t see it all at once. It was a nice place to visit, but it would be too much for me to live there. The most interesting thing about this garden was only revealed at the end:

I am certain I didn’t perceive the colors in this garden the way the owner did!

If a color-blind man can create a garden worthy of mention in several local publications and the Martha Stewart Living radio blog, I guess I shouldn’t worry that my sense of color doesn’t precisely line up with how the rest of my family sees color. Or the rest of the world.
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A January thaw I expect. A thaw in February–however pleasant–makes me nervous. Last year we had a mild February–and three feet of snow in March. I would much rather have my seasons in chronological order–first winter, then spring–than to be ping-ponging back and forth between the two. But whether or not I approve, it appears we are having a thaw. In February.

Today the temperature rose to 59°F (15°C). The average high for this time of year is 32°F (0°C). According to the ten-day forecast, every one of those ten days will be warmer than the average.

These are the very first snowdrop sprouts of 2018.

The rest of them are still under snow. And no, I can’t tell you what’s on that label, because I always stick the written-on end in the ground so it stays legible longer, and it’s still frozen in the earth. So, there hasn’t been much thawing yet. But we have at least ten days…

When I sit at my desk and look to the right, this is what I see.

A cold climate gardener expects it to be cold in February, and she prepares for it. In this picture an orchid I’ve had for a couple of years, a miniature orchid I was given yesterday, and the forced lily-of-the-valley–now on the wane–all bask in the southeastern exposure. These are the types of plants I expect to be blooming in February, and indoors is the only place I expect them to be blooming.

My mom gave me this clivia when she moved out of her apartment.

The flower stalk is supposed to be more elongated before it blooms. I probably didn’t withhold water long enough, or the living room didn’t stay cool enough, long enough. No matter. I feast my eyes on the flaming orange petals just as readily with the flowers at half-mast, so to speak.

I know I’m not fooling anybody. I will be thrilled if I have blooming snowdrops–or eranthis–in February. I will enjoy each mild day as it arrives, and if winter comes back to bite me and my garden–well, we’ll deal with that when it happens.

Inspired by the words of Elizabeth Lawrence, “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year,” Carol of May Dreams Gardens started Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, garden bloggers from all over the world publish what is currently blooming in their gardens. Check it out at May Dreams Gardens.

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Cold climate gardeners are used to hearing “that doesn’t grow in your climate.” Niki Jabbour’s Veggie Garden Remix is a refreshing change from that. Not only does she describe 224 New Plants to Shake Up Your Garden and Add Variety, Flavor, and Fun, but she tells you which varieties are best for growing in short seasons, which ones appreciate and grow best in cool weather, and which ones need a little help–either by starting them indoors or covering them in the fall–to get from germination to harvest. But if she can grow them in Halifax, Nova Scotia, there’s a good chance you can grow them, too.

Like spinach? Try these greens!

Clockwise from top left: New Zealand spinach, orach, green amaranth, magenta spreen, tricolor amaranth, sweet potato leaf, molokhia, and (in the center) purple amaranth.

Every section is introduced with a common vegetable and some interesting alternatives–spinach, in this case. Some of the suggestions are much cold hardier than spinach, and some are more heat tolerant.

In some cases, Niki recommends unusual varieties of vegetables most people already grow, such as peas, carrots, and beets. But many of the unusual vegetables she profiles are enjoyed by other cultures around the world. In fact, that’s how Niki got started experimenting with “weird” vegetables: her Lebanese mother-in-law recognized as a Lebanese summer squash the snake gourd Nike was growing. Nike had no clue it was edible in its immature form. She had planned to use it in its mature gourd form as a Halloween decoration. That discovery led Niki on a search for other ethnic vegetables she was missing out on.

Cucamelons! Photo ©Niki Jabbour

One of the cutest of her discoveries has got to be cucamelons. Cucamelons (Melothria scabra), also known as Mexican sour gherkins or mouse melons, are “small cucumber-like fruits, shaped like baby watermelons [with] a cucumber-like taste with a touch of lemon,” as described in the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed catalog. Nike says her kids like them so much there’s hardly any to bring into the kitchen. They sure do look fun! Not for deer only

The most surprising vegetables were those that started out in the flower garden. I actually had heard of both daylilies and sea kale being eaten, but not hostas. Yes, hostas. There are a few more garden flowers featured in her book, and I’ll let you discover them for yourself. Niki also lets you know when the vegetables are pretty enough to plant in your flower garden, or in a pot on your deck.

Your ancestors may have eaten something from this book. Mine did!

Back to that Lebanese squash aka snake gourd–it’s called cucuzza. Reading that name reminded me of a squash my great-grandfather grew. He called it gagootz, or maybe cucutz. Yep, same thing. According to Niki, cucuzza is grown all around the Mediterranean, but I had to google Sicilian summer squash before I was sure it was the same thing. Most of the search results I visited didn’t seem to realize it could be harvested and eaten when only a foot long.

If you’re starting to get a “been there, done that” attitude about your vegetable garden, or if you’ve seen unusual varieties in a seed catalog and wondered if they’re any good, or if you’re looking for a vegetable your grandparents always talk about–this is the book for you! It’s fun to read even if you don’t grow vegetables!

Book giveaway

One commenter, chosen at random, will receive a copy of this book. Sorry, but only United States and Canadian readers are eligible to enter. One entry per person. Giveaway ends on Sunday, February 18 at midnight Pacific time. For other chances to win, check out these blogs:
More Than Oregano
A Way to Garden
The Impatient Gardener
Red Dirt Ramblings and look for a blog post at Garden Delights tomorrow.

For this post, I received a copy of the book to read, along with a copy to give away to one of my readers. All the opinions are my own. I loved this book! Links to Amazon will give me a small commission if you order something.

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I‘m glad you enjoyed my post on forcing lily-of-the-valley. What I didn’t tell you in that first post is that I had plans for those flowers. I intended them to be the centerpiece at my daughter-in-law’s baby shower. (Yes, I’m going to be a grandma!)

Lily-of-the-valley looks even prettier in a soup tureen fancy container.

I wanted to transfer them from their clay pots to a pretty container. (I didn’t take any pictures of the transfer because it was the day of the party, and I was on a deadline, and I forgot.) It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. For one thing, the pips were really jammed in there. I had to run a knife along the inner edge of each pot, and poke through the drainage hole, several times before they loosened up. I was really afraid my grip would slip and the beautiful flowers would smash into the table, totally ruined. But that didn’t happen.

When they finally slipped out, I was surprised to see how dry the soil was at the bottom, where the roots were, even though it was moist at the top. The tureen I wanted to use wasn’t as deep as the clay pots they had been in, so I had to gently remove the potting mix from the roots, smoosh the pips into the tureen as carefully as I could, and then repack the mix around the roots all the while holding individual plants upright.

I didn’t have room for all of them in the tureen, so I planted the rest in this mug.

The flowers fit in well with the shower’s tea party theme.

I was very pleased with how it all turned out. And I think my daughter-in-law was, too, since she enclosed her thank-you note in this envelope:Since the tureen has no drainage hole, I’m going to have to be especially careful to water not too much and not too little. If the plants start looking poorly, I will repot them once again in a container even bigger than the clay pots, giving them as much room to grow roots as possible and better drainage. But as long as they seem happy, I’ll keep them where they are, and plant them outdoors this coming spring.
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