Saturday, January 17, 2009

"Don't Look, Ethel!"

As I write this, the thermometer outside the kitchen door (which usually registers a few degrees warmer than the one at "the bottom of the garden") is reading 15 degrees F; we usually have one or two nights like this every winter, and a couple of days like yesterday, when the temps never made it out of the 20's. My policy at times like this is to try not to look at things and trust that I've done my best to prepare the garden for these inevitable cold spells. Actually I feel better about this one than many in past years, since it's not following several weeks of warm weather during which plants are fooled into breaking dormancy, thus rendering themselves more vulnerable to freezes than in a progressively colder winter such as this. These pics were all taken before we entered the deep freeze, but I'm fairly confident that most things will survive, no worse for the wear, in the long run.

My grandmother's camellia, most likely 'Debutante', will sport brown flowers rather than pink once things thaw out; it's not the best choice for this area, since it blooms at this most hazardous time of year, but it's a sentimental favorite and one I would not be without. The huge mother plant (since removed by the new owners of the property) froze to the ground at least 3 times over the first 40 years of my life, always rebounding over time to at least 15 feet high, and looking better for the rejuvenation. I would never wish that for my camellia collection, but I have been reading lately in the journal of the Southeastern Camellia Society that the only sure way to eliminate tea scale, with which many of my shrubs are naggingly infested, is to cut the plants to the ground and allow them to regrow. I don't have the nerve to do this on my own, but a night or two in the low single digits might make that decision for me.
This primula, one of three I purchased last spring which were bred for heat tolerance by Dr. Clifford Parks of Camellia Forest Nursery in NC, managed one bloom before the cold snap hit. More importantly, all three plants look great, even after a long, hot, coastal VA summer.

These pansies were an impulse buy last fall, but they do make this planter look useful in the winter. I hate spending money on annual plants, but summers here are just too hot to germinate viola seeds in a timely manner.
A nice little bonus- these leftover paperwhite bulbs were in the compost that I dumped on this bed in August, and produced a few spikes of bloom before the freeze occurred. I would never pay money for these to plant outside (and Ron won't let me grow them in the house because of the smell), but these bulbs came out of some big nursery pots full of perfectly good potting soil left on the curb by someone in the neighborhood last summer. I never let useful organic matter go to the landfill!
Everybody's posting Mahonia blooms this week, and for good reason. The best thing about these shrubs, aside from these blooms in January, is the flock of cedar waxwings that pass through every summer and strips them of their grape-ish berries. I've been lucky enough to be looking out the kitchen window once or twice over the past few years when that's happened.
There are hundreds of Hellebore buds in the garden right now, but not many in full bloom, which is probably a good thing given the weather. This is H. x ericsmithii 'Pink Beauty'.

H. niger 'Nell Lewis' strain is just coming into bloom now.
A chance seedling of H. foetidus with a few buds already open. This species never lasts long here in any given position, but usually seeds itself around so that at least one is in bloom every winter. I believe it's a drainage issue, into which category most of my gardening problems fall.

A new (to me) Galanthus cultivar, one of three single bulbs which constituted my only non-clearance sale bulb purchases this fall. This is 'Lady Beatrix Stanley' and it's double, although one has to wonder why that matters in a flower that's so close to the ground.
A Cyclamen coum plant raised from a batch of seeds purchased from Seneca Hill a few years back. I'm glad I got them then, since Ellen has since stopped selling cyclamen seed as part of her retail operation. Although C. hederifolium does pretty well in the open garden here, my only success with coum has been in raised beds or large outdoor planters, where this one resides. I covered it with a sheet of spun-bonded row cover last weekend, although that probably isn't necessary, even with these temperatures.

I'm just turning a blind eye to things right now, being thankful (?) for the forced inside time. I'm actually reading a few great books, something I've done less and less as the computer has taken over my indoor time. Garden Open Today and Garden Open Tomorrow by Beverley Nichols are as entertaining as they've always been reputed to be, and Planthropology, by Ken Druse, is spectacular eye candy, even for the non-gardener. By far my favorite, which was purchased as a consolation prize when Snowdrops: a Monograph became too rich for my blood (I just couldn't justify paying over $100 for it), is Buried Treasures: Finding and Growing the World's Choicest Bulbs by Janis Ruksans. It's not a picture book; rather, it contains tons of first-hand growing information gleaned from years of raising bulbs under nursery conditions in Latvia, of all places. Strangely, Ruksans's climate and growing conditions correspond to mine in many ways, so I'm finding it extremely informative and enjoyable.

So who knows? Maybe the Christmas tree will come down today, that back bedroom will be cleaned out, or the freezer will get defrosted. Those are noble aspirations, but I wouldn't bank on any of them actually happening - there are still flats containing hundreds of Bletilla and Sinningia seedlings under lights in the garage needing attention, not to mention a cramped Begonia prismatocarpa hybrid ('Buttercup') screaming to be liberated from the gigantic boiling flask terrarium in which it's been imprisoned for two years now...


joco said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
joco said...

The scale thing: I cut our grape vine back to the ground two years ago and just like you said about the camellias: the scale infestation has't come back and the vine is healthier than ever.

Les said...

Drastic measure that scale cure. I would need to be sedated while someone else did it.

Jeff said...

I know - it's kind of like the way I had to leave the kitchen last night after a party while Ron put the remainder of the chocolate fondue down the garbage disposal. I would have forced him to stop and wrestled the bowl from his hands (I develop superhuman strength where food is involved) had I stayed in the room!

Phillip M said...

How can you possibly get that begonia out of the flask?!?

Jeff said...

Hey Phillip! It's good to hear from you. The begonia...hmmmm...I found a tool at Northern Tools, etc...(one of my favorite places, btw) called a wire puller. It has a long, flexible wire shaft with a button on top which extends four little wire "grippers" out of the hollow end. My plan is to get them around the crown of the plant and maneuver it somehow through the neck of the flask, although I suspect I'll have to chop it into pieces first (the plant, not the bottle). I know there'll be some serious damage, but it'll grow back, and I might get some extra plants out of the deal. It's hard to figure out what to plant in that flask, since it's only about a foot in diameter in lots of things outgrow it, as has this "miniature" begonia. Wish me luck!

Phillip M said...

Good Luck!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.