Hints of autumn here in New England are everywhere – beyond the pumpkin spice everything at the market, the plants are definitely signaling the seasonal shift. Hummingbirds, which seem to be more numerous than ever this week, continue to feed on the salvia and tithonia, but under glass in the greenhouse, the summer-dormant bulbs in the bulb beds which received their first watering for the season, are quickly coming into bloom. Maybe because I’ve learned to soak them much more deeply than I had been. Knocking a plant out of its pot, even after a five minute soak from the hose, sometimes shows where the dry spots are. The entire pot must be soaked deeply and completely if one wants a proper root system.
Every year around this time, I start thinking about whether I should heat the greenhouse house through the coming winter or not. Of course, it doesn’t stop me from continuing to buy plants, or plan on what plants to move into the greenhouse first (once it is cleaned and sterilized for the coming season). What will end up happening is that even though I will fret about heating costs, electric bills, how I will insulate the glass walls this winter and how will I ever haul the increasingly heavy tubs of plants back into the space, somehow it all comes together in the end.
|Amarcrinum ‘Fred Howard’ is also quite fragrant. I purchased mine from Plant Delights this past spring. I remember seeing photos of large tubs of Amarcrinum on display at Longwood which inspired me to try a few in pots.|
Autumn for me is when an entirely new gardening season begins. I know I’ve waxed on forever about how I prefer greenhouse gardening to outdoor gardening (the control over the environment, the limits that a smaller, confined space places on you, the magic of snowy days and jasmine, forcing bulbs and warm, moist air and sunshine in January), but truth be told, I think it’s really more about discover. In the winter, I can experiment a bit more, like a chef in his or her kitchen or a scientist in a laboratory, and artist in his studio.
|It’s been a week since I sowed my first trays, and some seeds are already growing. Here, pots of Layia platyglossa or Tidy Tips, a yellow and white western US wildflower are already germinating.|
The greenhouse allows me to set up projects which are somewhat controlled, build collections which can be displayed and appreciated at eye level, closely and in details one can obsess about, and it provides me an platform on which I can step back and appreciate more – time to observe. A gallery, a studio, maybe even a church.
Maybe this is why the Victorians created ferneries – because plain, ol ferns are nothing but forest weeds when set out in the vast, generic shady nooks of an outdoor garden, but when carefully collected, labeled and displayed in a staged fernery – they transform into magical theater – museum-like because they are on display, yet more approachable since one can touch them and study them, comparing the various species and their differences.
|This completely yellow and white selection of the Firecracker Vine named ‘Citronella’ is a more difficult variety to find in the US ( it’s available at Chiltern Seeds), and it’s new for me. I love it when there are color breaks like this.|
I suppose, it’s all about experience then, some of us can just enjoy plants better when a frame is set around them. Pottery, the physical design of both container (pedestal) and the “wall” of the gallery (the greenhouse glass, or lattice. The entire, collective visual experience of ‘presentation’. I like that sort of thing.
|This tall Four O’Clock, or Mirabilis jalapa is a pure white ‘wild’ form I received as a gift from Blythewold Mansion. I adore it – fragrant, and as tall as I am, the only creature who loves it more are the hummingbirds.|
There is another thing about keeping a greenhouse collection that I’ve touched on in the past, and that is the inevitable boredom of maintaining a collection one keeps year to year. Sure – plants are living things, and they grow ( and grow, and grow), and one cares for them, and cares for them, and to be honest – some just grow less interesting. Horticulture is not just about keeping things, it’s about learning and discovery. One of my greatest fears is reaching that point when I have grown everything, and then nothing means anything anymore. Over-familiarized I guess. To avoid this, I try to raise some new things each year. I hope that I don’t run out of new plants to try!
This year, I am planing both repeat rituals and discovery projects. Freesia are something I have not grown for a while, and Dutch Iris (those from bulbs) have never made it into my greenhouse beds. I still am seeking carnations (sources please?) to set out in a cutting bed, but I just may plant ranunculus, since last year, my anemone crop was a bit disappointing.
One thing I am trying which is new, but which has been on my bucket list for many years now, is trying winter annuals – species which were once so popular in the 18th and 19th century in cold greenhouses, but which today are never grown ( probably because few people bother with keeping a greenhouse). These annuals, at least here in the Northeast, are often those which might be common in California or in cooler winter gardening areas where some tender plants can be grown, but which could never be grown in the summer, since our summers are too hot and humid.
My seed orders arrived this week for salpiglosis, nemesia, swan island daisies and other cool-loving annuals which reportedly were once s standard potted plants for winter greenhouse displays a hundred and fifty years ago. Sown in late August or September, they promise to make flowering plants for mid to late winter and early spring. We’ll see.
So, yes – it looks like I will at least start to heat the greenhouse this year! The reasons are many, including ALL of those chrysanthemums which will need to come in for display in November. I may begin moving plants in later this week, of course, while Joe is away conveniently at the national terrier shows in Montgomery County, PA for a week. Funny how he times it perfectly every year!