Blossom XIX: First Snowdrops

The first Snowdrops of spring.

The first Snowdrops of spring.

~

We were delighted, and a bit surprised, to discover these pretty snowdrops blooming on the bank behind our house today.  Sheltered, and facing the afternoon sun, these tiny Galanthus emerged to brighten our day with their pristine flowers.

Our bulbs have been popping up all over the garden during the last fortnight.  But these are the first bulbs to bloom in our yard this year.  The premier act, we expect others soon to follow.  Galanthus nivalis lead the season, closely followed by the Crocus and early Daffodils.  I’m happy to see a little clump forming here where the original bulbs have matured and multiplied.  One of the nicest things about many spring bulbs is that they naturalize over time, making spreading patches of  color to delight my gardener’s heart.

~

february-6-2017-flowers-013~

We enjoyed a sunny afternoon in the mid 60s today, and used it productively.  I made the tour and spread a bag of Milorganite around the perimeter of our garden, watching for signs of spring.  I”m still pruning, cutting back spent perennials, replenishing mulch and noticing buds swelling on many shrubs and trees.

We can’t get overly confident just yet.   We expect wintery weather to return by the end of this week.   Williamsburg often endures winter storms right through March or even early April.

~

february-6-2017-flowers-011

~

But with that said, we feel spring in the air.  The Heaths opened their  Bulb Shop up for the season at their Gloucester gardens last week.  I find it satisfying somehow that the first of our spring bulbs has blossomed within a week of their spring opening!  We will make a trip later this month to enjoy their display gardens, see what is new, and perhaps pick up a bag or two of something nice for this summer’s display.

~

These lovely evergreen Arum italicum are from Brent and Becky's bulbs. This clump in its second season, growing with Violas.

These lovely evergreen Arum italicum are from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. This clump in its second season, growing with Violas.

~

So for my gardening friends snowed under this week, please let these little snowdrops cheer you with their promise of spring to come!  It won’t be long now until your gardens will also burst into the beauties of springtime!

~

Camellia japonica opened its first blooms of the season this weekend. These are our 'winter roses.'

Camellia japonica opened its first blooms of the season this weekend. These are our ‘winter roses.’

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

 

Blossom I
Blossom II
Blossom III
Blossom IV
Blossom V
Blossom VI
Blossom VII
Blossom VIII
Blossom IX
Blossom X
Blossom XI
Blossom XII
Blossom XIII
Blossom XIV
Blossom XV
Blossom XVI
Blossom XVII
Blossom XVIII
Blossom XX

 

Advertisements

Plant Now For Spring Living Flower Arrangements

November 2, 2015 015

~

Who wants to look at empty pots for the next four months?  I am as interested in planting attractive pots for the winter season as I am interested in replanting those pots for summer.  And each fall, I keep an eye and and ear open for new ideas.

Brent Heath offered a workshop last month at his Bulb Shop in Gloucester that I sorely wanted to attend.  He even offered to bring his workshop across the river if I could pull a group together in our community.  And how I wish my time and energy had stretched far enough to invite him!

~

Miniature daffodils grow to only 6"-8" tall and work well in spring pots. Plant the entire bulb and foliage out into a permanent spot in the garden when switching out plantings for summer.

~

Brent, a master horticulturalist, teaches the finer points of loading containers with bulbs.  Now even though he and his wife Becky are known internationally for their prodigious offering of Daffodils; they sell hundreds of different bulbs and perennials.  Brent’s workshop teaches how to layer several different species of bulbs into a single pot to create a “Living Flower Arrangement” which changes over time as different bulbs appear, bloom, and fade.

I wanted to attend Brent’s workshop to learn a new trick or two.  I’ve used various bulbs in containers for many years now, but there is always a better way, when one is open to learn from someone more experienced.  But the stars haven’t aligned this season, and so I’ve been experimenting on my own with the bulbs we’ve been collecting.

~

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari. Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

~

The idea is elegantly simple:  since one plants bulbs at different depths depending on the size of the bulb, and since new growth from most bulbs is very narrow before it reaches the light,  one can plant one ‘layer’ of bulbs on top of another, allowing the emerging stems to sort out the spacing as they grow upwards towards the light.  In fact, three or four ‘layers’ of different types of bulbs may be planted into a single large pot.   This very crowded planting works for a single season, but must be unpacked by early summer.  The bulbs may be transplanted ‘in the green’ into garden beds, to allow the leaves to fully recharge the bulb for the next season of flowers.

~

 Containers for sale at the Heath's Bulb Shop last April

Containers on display at the Heath’s Bulb Shop last April

~

I modify this idea to include annuals, perennials, woodies and moss so the planting has immediate interest while we wait for the bulbs to emerge in the spring.

Begin with a clean pot.  I use coffee filters or a paper towel over the drainage holes to hold the soil while the roots are growing.  The filters will soon decompose.  Choose a good quality, light, commercial potting soil with nutrition already mixed in.  The annuals and perennials are heavy feeders, and the bulbs will perform better in rich soil.  Many of the ‘organic’ potting soils now come pre-loaded with worm castings!

Now one must  ‘do the math.’  Having chosen 2-5 species of bulbs, depending on the size and depth of the pot, first study the proper planting depth of each.  If you are using Daffodils, for instance, which are planted at a depth of 6″, then fill the pot with soil to within about 7″ of the rim.    Set the first ‘layer’ of Daffodil bulbs on the soil by pushing the root end slightly into the soil so that the tip points upwards.  Space these Daffodils 3″-4″ apart from one another and at least an inch or two inwards from the sides of the pot.  Carefully fill in around these bulbs with more potting soil so they are barely covered, and firm the soil with your palm.

~

Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

Violas under a potted Redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and Daffodils early last spring.

~

Choose your next bulb, adding just enough soil so it is planted at its correct depth, and arrange these bulbs by lightly pushing them into the soil.  Try to avoid setting a new bulb directly over top of a deeper one.  Lightly top with soil to hold this layer in place, and add an additional layer or two of bulbs.  I like to select a few bulbs, like Crocus, Muscari, or Galanthus nivalis, which will emerge in late winter.  These will often be the ones planted most shallow.

~

Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I've tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I’ve tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

~

If your living flower arrangement will contain only bulbs, then simply top off the soil with a layer of living moss, water in, place the pot, and wait.  You can certainly add a few branches, pods, stones or cones to the pot to catch the eye while you wait for spring.

~

Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.

Violas with Creeping Jenny and a hardy Sedum ‘Angelina’ last April.

~

But I want a living flower arrangement which goes to work right away.  I always add some annuals or perennials to the mix, which complicates the bulb planting a bit, as you don’t want bulbs directly under the huge root ball of a perennial or shrub.   I tend to place  a shrub or perennial in the pot first, then plant the bulbs around it.  This is a good use for those clearance shrubs with tiny root balls so easy to find in late October or November.  Or, for the many evergreen shrubs showing up now in tiny quart or 1 gallon pots.

~

March 20 2014 spring 006

~

Many vines and some perennials root easily from cuttings.  Simply tuck bits of Creeping Jenny, hardy Sedum, or divisions of Ivy or Ajuga into the soil of your finished pot.  These will grow in place.  Consider sprinkling seeds for perennials like Columbine, which like to overwinter out of doors.  They will begin to sprout next spring as the bulbs emerge.

~

Creeping Jenny last March

Creeping Jenny last March

~

You might complete your design with some winter annuals.  You can pot up the deeper layers of bulbs, and then plant a few Violas, Pansies or snaps in the top three inches of the pot.  Layer in your Crocus and Muscari bulbs around them.

~ April 7,2014 spring flowers 002

~

I still finish the pot with moss or pebbles.   This topdressing not only looks more attractive than plain dirt; it helps hold moisture, insulates the roots as temperatures dive, and it offers some protection from digging squirrels.  If I were using Tulips in the pot, I would be tempted to lay some chicken wire, with large openings, over that layer of bulbs for further protection from marauding rodents.  Tuck in a few cloves of garlic or onion sets to protect your Violas from grazing deer and rabbits.

~

March 20 2015 fresh 027~

Now, the ultimate ‘multi-tasking’ for this sort of planting:  hardwood cuttings.  Many of our woodies will root over winter if stuck into moist soil and left alone for several months.  If you have some shrubs you would like to propagate, take your cuttings and push them artistically into the finished pot.  If they root, fine.  If they don’t, you have still enjoyed the extra sculptural elements they lend over winter while the bulbs are sleeping.

~

I've added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

I’ve added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

~

This sort of winter ‘living flower arrangement’ takes a bit of planning.  There are lots of choices to make about timing and color schemes, size and scale, costs and placement.  You have to imagine how the bulbs will look when they emerge, so the tall ones are more to the center and the shorter ones nearer the edges; unless the shorter ones will finish before the tall ones emerge.  And the container must be large enough to contain all of those robust roots without cracking; and of material which will hold up to your winter weather.

~March 6, 2015 garden 002

~

This is an excellent way to showcase miniature Daffodils and other delicate, small flowering bulbs.  You might combine several types of daffies to include those which flower early, mid- and late season.  Daffodils with blue Muscari always look great together.

~

Ornamental cabbage with Heuchera in a newly planted pot.

Ornamental cabbage with Hellebore in a newly planted pot.

~

You might also compose an arrangement of various Iris.  Include some combination of Iris unguicularis, Iris bucharica, Iris histrioides, Iris reticulata, Dutch Iris, and perhaps even a root of German Bearded Iris for a long season of beautiful Iris blooms.

If your winter is especially harsh, plant your container now, water it in, but leave it in an unheated garage or shed until February.  Bring it out into the spring sunshine and enjoy the bulbs when the worst of winter has passed.

~

Newly planted Violas with Heuchera

Newly planted Violas with Hellebores.  Bulbs are tucked into the soil, waiting for spring.

~

We enjoy the luxury of  Zone 7b, which allows us to grow winter annuals which would die a few states to the north, and also bulbs which wouldn’t survive in the warmer winters to our south.  We also have many winter or early spring  flowering shrubs to plant in our container gardens.

~

Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.

Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.  Foliage will fill this pot all winter, with flowers appearing in the spring.

~

Here are some of the plants I choose most often for these dynamic pots:

Perennials:  Hellebores, Heucheras, Cyclamen hederifolium, Arum, Iris unguicularis, evergreen ferns, culinary Sage, Rosemary, Ivy, Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny), Sedum rupestre, ‘Angelina’ and other hardy Sedums, Ajuga, Vinca Minor (Periwinkle), hardy Oxalis, Columbine, Dianthus

~

Pansies will soon respond to wramer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

Pansies will soon respond to warmer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

~

Annuals:  Violas, Panolas, Pansies, Snapdragons, Allysum, ornamental kale or cabbage

Whatever combination of plants you choose, think of these living flower arrangements as narratives which unfold over time.

Time truly is the magical ingredient for baking bread, raising children, and creating beautiful gardens.

~

March 25-28 013

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

A January Monday Vase

January 26, 2015 Monday vase 018

~

What bits of beauty can you scavenge from your garden on this last Monday of January?

That is the challenge…

Answering the challenge took me all around the garden today with clippers and a cup of warm water in hand.  We have the proverbial calm before the storm today in coastal Virginia.  It was actually sunny when I headed out mid-day, and almost warm.  The wind was brisk, though, which reminded me to make this a quick scavenging hunt.

~

January 26, 2015 Monday vase 016

~

I found more snowdrops blooming in a sheltered spot beneath some box, some white Hellebores just making their presence known in the lower stump garden, and a few bright Viola blossoms.  I’ve been admiring the bright red stems of our native blueberry bushes, and so included a few along with some evergreen Azaleas.

There are also a few stems of Forsythia, their buds still tightly closed, and some of the variegated ivy growing near the kitchen door.

Meager as that may be, it reflects the beauty of our January garden.

~

There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.

There is a bit of potting soil and sand beneath the moss to sustain the plants growing in the glass plate.

~

And yes, of course the bright vivid greens of our moss and lichen, thriving in this very wet winter.  While most of our evergreens are just hunkered down for the duration hoping to survive, the moss glows with vitality.

I have placed the vase in the midst of another moss garden, constructed in a shallow glass plate set in a silver charger.  Rooted ivy grows and a tiny fern division grow out of the living moss.  Perhaps this little vignette will last long enough for the cut branches to respond to our warmth indoors and begin to unfurl their buds.

I’ve been thinking of a friend while puttering in the garden today, who with her husband left our community a few years back to move closer to her family on the coast of Florida.  She lets me know, sometimes, how much she misses her friends here in Williamsburg, and the magic of our changing seasons.

An avid gardener herself, and very talented floral designer, I hope the photos of this little Monday vase will brighten her day and let her know that we miss her, too.

~

January 26, 2015 Monday vase 011~

I discovered the “Monday Vase” challenge a week ago while following links from gardening blog to gardening blog.  Many of the participants tend their gardens across Europe.  Perhaps more of my gardening friends from here in the United States will decide to join in with vases of their own as our gardens awaken to spring.  What a nurturing thing to do to bring a bit of the garden indoors for our loved ones to enjoy close up once a week!

If you love cut flowers, and are curious to see what others have created today, please follow the links in the comments on Cathy’s page.  I also enjoyed John’s vase of pansies and parsley today in his lovely cobalt blue vase.

~

January 26, 2015 Monday vase 008

~

Often I hesitate to cut flowers from our garden because I want to enjoy them as they grow.  We leave them for the bees and butterflies.  And I wonder if they’ll make us sneeze indoors.

But after enjoying the beautiful arrangements others have made to join this challenge, I’m inspired.  And I plan to make the garden tour with clippers in hand a Monday ritual from here on.

Woodland Gnome 2015

~

January 26, 2015 Monday vase 009

 

It Is Inevitable

Hellebores and emerging bulbs

Heuchera  and emerging bulbs

Our feet  are now firmly set on the long slow journey of the unfolding year. 

Crocus

Crocus

As with any journey, there may be set backs from time to time.  Yet the journey continues.  Our journey may take us to unanticipated stops along the way, and progress may be a bit slower than we wish; but the path still lies before us.

March 2 garden in snow 012

Yesterday’s snow, blowing in from the west, proved a set back for our journey towards spring.

March 3 budding 002

The intensely cold air, blowing down from the north, brought us record low morning temperatures across the Eastern half of the United States.

March 2 garden in snow 021

It was 17 here this morning at 4:30, but I’m so grateful for that bit of warmth.  Our neighbors to the north, around the Great Lakes, had a far colder morning when the sun finally rose.

March 2 garden in snow 005

Yesterday’s snow is now hardened into ice. But that ice is quickly melting and evaporating in our morning sun.

Daffodils emerging from the sun, buds ready to open one day soon.

Daffodils emerging from the sun, buds ready to open one day soon.

We can find inspiration in the budding daffodils, surrounded by snow, still standing tall as they wait for their day to open.  Snow melts from around their still green leaves, watering the Earth where they grow.

Snowdrops

Snowdrops

We find inspiration in buds on lilac and Forsythia shrubs, showing color, but waiting to unfurl their petals.  Unfurl they will, one day soon.  The earliest of spring’s flowers inspire me with their courage and fortitude, opening to an uncertain world.

Forsythia and lilac

Forsythia and lilac

Their timing must be correct if they are to open at the perfect time to greet the insects who must pollinate them, and for their pollinated flowers  to have the opportunity to set seeds for the coming season.

Kale

Kale

I wandered around in the falling snow yesterday, finding a thin layer of frozen whiteness  blanketing new spring growth like fragile veils of lace.  The very energy and vitality of the emerging leaves and buds seemed to shine through these icy mantillas, laid gently across the garden.

Mahonia

Mahonia

It was clear that they would  melt swiftly away, like a bridal veil, after the first kiss of sunshine.

March 2 garden in snow 022

Because spring is an inevitable force of nature.  Each day subtly lengthens in our vernal journey back towards the sun.

March 2 garden 026

With every passing day the sun’s rays probe more deeply into the cells of every bough, leaf, and bud.

No matter what winds may blow across the surface of our planet, spring unfolds as the Earth’s deep energy responds to the sun’s approach.

March 2 garden in snow 016

We can not let the illusion of winter distract us from knowing the growing presence of spring.

March 2 garden 006

Our path is set.  Followed year upon year beyond memory, our journey follows the familiar landmarks.  We are pilgrims in time, following an ancient map; making inevitable progress along the path of eternal change.

March 2 garden 016

Grape Mahonia in bud

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“A tree can be tempted out of its winter dormancy by a few hours of southerly sun—the readiness to believe in spring is stronger than sleep or sanity.”

Amy Leach

March 2 garden 007

“The hopeless hope is one of the early harbingers of spring, bespeaking an innocent belief that the world might right its wrongs and reverse its curses simply because the trees are coming into leaf.”

Aleksandar Hemon

Waiting For Snowdrops

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 045

I remember golden yellow daffodils blooming in mid-December of 2012 near the James River.  They looked so unnatural nodding their cheerful yellow heads right as Christmas lights were shining and we were deeply into holiday preparations.  They brought with them a horrible foreboding that our seasons were dangerously out of whack.

This December brought a few late roses and early Forsythia blossoms, but blessedly no daffodils. Those of us who choose to live in the temperate areas of the planet appreciate each of our seasons.  When they are out of whack, we feel a bit cheated to have missed out on the special joys and beauties of that time of year.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 001

No, wintery cold weather came early in 2013, and has settled into our Virginia landscape much later into the spring than we’ve come to expect.  Our bare winter landscape is browned out.  Even some evergreen leaves, normally vibrantly green throughout the winter, have been frozen into dull brownness.

Snowdrops, Galanthus nivalis, is the earliest bulb of spring.  Even their name explains their special place in the late winter garden.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 036

The genus, Galanthus, is derived from the Greek for “milk,” gala,” and “flower,” anthos.  All Galanthus are creamy white, so “milk flower” is an appropriate and descriptive genus name.  The species name, nivalis, means “of the snow.”  Named by Carl Linnaeus in 1735, the snowdrop is called, “milk flower of the snow.”  “Of the snow” refers to both its pristine white appearance, and also to the fact that snowdrops often bloom so early that snow is still on the ground.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 041

Snowdrops are our earliest bulb in the garden this year.  Not even Crocus, another early bloomer, or Muscari have opened yet.  Although I found Crocus last week on a sunny bank along the roadside in our community, none have appeared yet in our own garden.

Perhaps because our own winter has been so long and unusually cold, we treasure every jewel like bloom.  Each one is greeted with appreciation and happiness because the clear message each holds is the promise that spring has begun unfolding for us.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 033

Even during this warm stretch of four days we’ve enjoyed, the local weather forecasters have kept up their warnings of more snow on the way.  We’ll drop back to freezing tonight, and we expect an inch of snow on Wednesday, followed by more freezing snow and sleet by the weekend.  By Wednesday morning our own snowdrops will bravely bloom above a white carpet of fresh snow.

Galanthus nivalis are native to Northern Europe.  They are well adapted to grow and bloom in the freezing weather of late winter and early spring in zones 3-7.  Williamsburg, Virginia, is on the southern border of their range here in the United States.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 003

Perhaps because they are the first bulb of spring, they’ve been hybridized and planted widely throughout Europe and the British Isles.  In fact, they are so popular in Britain, Scotland, Wales and  Northern Ireland that many of us assume that to be their native habitat.

Although widely naturalized in beautiful drifts in woodlands and meadows, snowdrops, or “February fairmaids” as they are often called, probably first crossed the Channel with the Romans.  Popularized in the early Sixteenth Century, they were part of the nursery trade between Europe, The British Isles, and the Colonies in North America.  Snowdrops are so treasured in the British Isles that many avid gardeners take tours in February to see them in bloom, alongside Hellebores and early shrubs.

February 16 spring flowers 037

Snowdrops, like many bulbs, are absolutely simple to grow.  Although it’s always wise to prepare the ground for anything, tiny snowdrop bulbs can be set into tiny drills in the ground, about 2 inches deep, covered, and left alone.  They are quite beautiful naturalized into lawn, under trees and along ponds and creeks; planted in  beds and borders or pots; or even grown in tiny pots to bring in as houseplants during late winter.

Planted in autumn, they need several weeks of cold weather before they’ll begin to grow.  I bought several dozen bulbs this year in December and planted them “second knuckle deep” in outdoor planters where I am growing Violas, Heucheras, ferns, and shrubs.  When I switch out the winter/spring plants for summer ones, I’ll lift the Galanthus bulbs and “plant them in the green” elsewhere in the garden.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 039

All bulbs need several weeks after bloom time for their leaves to create sugars for next year’s growth.  It is important to leave their leaves freely growing until they die back naturally in early summer.  Doing this prepares the bulb for next spring’s show, and also allows the bulb to create offsets, or new baby bulbs around its base.  When you dig bulbs out of their pots in May you’ll notice several tiny bulbs surrounding the one originally planted the previous fall.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 028

This is how bulbs spread, and eventually naturalize an area.  Many Galanthus, won’t produce viable seeds.  They are hybrids.  The only way to increase your bulb display year to year is to dig and divide them.  “Planting in the green” means one carefully lifts the bulb, leaving all of the leaves intact, and then gently replants the bulbs at the same depth where they will permanently grow.  Water the clump in well, and allow the foliage to continue growing until it naturally dies back.  No fertilizer is needed, but if helps any plant to give it a drink of dilute fish emulsion or sea weed emulsion from time to time.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 042

Galanthus really shine in a natural setting.  They are beautiful growing at the base of trees, along paths, creeks and ponds.  They are individually so tiny, at only about 5″ tall, it is best to plant a great mass of them for a big impact.  Plant them where you’ll pass them frequently and pause to enjoy their delicate beauty up close.

You might also want to mark them so you won’t forget where they are and accidentally dig them up later in the season.  Ignored by deer, they grow well in a wide range of soils, in part sun to partial shade.  They prefer moist soil when in active growth, but winter soils are generally moist in our area.

February 24, 2014 snowdrops 003

So in our Forest Garden we are waiting and watching for snowdrops to uncurl their petals as our first tangible harbinger of the change of seasons.  Even though winter is returning to our garden tonight, we know its days are numbered, and our snowdrops promise that spring has already begun.

February 23, 2014 spring bulbs 006

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

“The snowdrop and primrose our woodlands adorn,
and violets bathe in the wet o’ the morn.”

Robert Burns

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 677 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest