Happy Holidays


Dear Friends and Family:
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. Blessings to you and yours for the coming year.

Bethlehem CT
 Fellow Gardeners:
May snow cover your garden until Spring. May "The Melt" come in one day and drain quickly. May your Spring be cool and long. May you have great germination from all your seedpots. May all your transplants take. May you take all your excess seedlings to the chapter sales...

Sowing Seed

Nothing gives me more hope than the annual ritual of sowing seeds. This starts just before the longest night of the year and continues through summer solstice. Usually the alpines commence the cycle.

The first step is to clean previous year's pots. This can be an ongoing job throughout the year. But it is most often the last job that gets priority. Good thing there is an up-and-coming gardener to help. She loves the soap bubbles and doesn't mind the alcohol on her hands.

This gives me a little time to refresh my memory about seed family preferences: light/dark, drainage, peat/sand, stratification. At the start of my career, I relied heavily on Norm Deno's Seed Germination Theory and Practice and Thompson and Morgan's pocket guide. Norman & Geoffrey, my seed sowing mentors, maintained they did not need to vary their procedure - everything was sowed with the same method. The pot was filled with soil-less mix amended with the local river washed grit. It was top dressed with a sprinkling of the same grit. The grit cover, they maintained, was translucent. So the light always could get to the seed. (That never explained to me their successes with gentians.) Their success rate was phenomenal. But I still paid attention to known light/dark and like recommendations.

Seeds Arrive!

The first of this year's seed orders has arrived!. Vojtech Holubec has once again delivered an outstanding selection from his fabulous list. You can view his offerings at:
(Do not try to view his site in Firefox if you want a really good view of the photos.)
If you are worried about buying small seed lots (under 50) from overseas, know that you do not need a phyto certificate to import them. See the NARGS information page:
There were only two of my choices that were out of stock. But then, they were so rare as to be only a dream. As a consolation, I quickly perused the bonus seeds. All good choices there. I am consoled.

This year the Primulaceae are at the top of my interest list. Primulas, of course, are wonderful performers that return year after year. My experiences started with those big boys Primula japonica, candelabras, always dependable in moist soil. There are many selections: P. 'Apple Blossom', a nice pink white with a red eye; P. 'Miller's Crimson', a good red; P. 'Alba', white. All are easy from seed. I remember Dick Redfield's strain included some orange influence. His patch was stream side in a light wood. When I came upon it, it was difficult to tell if the sun was glinting through the trees to spark the stream, of if it was japonica lighting up the woods. Always a great doer, it rises with a circle of blooms and puts on layers over a long period. Dick's were quite well supported by the moisture and rose to more than three feet. It's a member of section Proliferae, which includes nice oranges like P. bulleyana , which has not been hardy here. Or should I say, has not yet found the right microclimate hereabouts. Presently, I have been separating the colors apart into various areas of the garden. My aim is to split the purples and pinks from the brick red.

Primula auricula
After that auspicious beginning with primula seed, I ventured on to the small or the farinose- P. farinosa, P. auricula, P. allionii. They are all like chocolates- one just makes me want another. Of course I am limited this year to what is in the lists. But with Holubec's list, there is satisfaction: P. blinii, P. fasciculata, and P. stenocalyx. More than satisfaction are the formidable primula relatives - the androsace. I always grow Androsace helvetica, and A. pubescens. This year there is also A. tapete. What a gem it is - prostrate, wooly, with wonderful white flowers with red/yellow eyes. I am currently growing a plant that came from Harvey Wrightman. It is doing very well in the raised granite beds. And now to try it from seed!

Paeonia x mlokosewitsii
I also ordered a few campanulas, daphnes, a paeonia hybrid. I saw the hybrid Paeonia mlokosewitsii a couple of years ago in many Czech gardens. What a beauty! It is much larger than any of that species I have ever grown and a pale yellow in flower. It will make a nice change from the borders of P. lactiflora that run along my gardens.

Trillium and other wildflower forms

Yesterday, the Monterey (MA) Artists & Artisans held their Open Studio Tour. Rosie and I went to see the floral art of Pam Johnson at the meeting house. Pam has quilted for many years now. I had seen some of her work over the years, but never a show. It was well worth the trek.

She captures so many of my favorite wildflowers - trilliums, hepaticas, cypripediums. What I like most about her work is the creative use of materials like netting as well as her French knots. Check out her work at www.jandjconsulting.info/Quilts.htm

Hepatica x transsilvanica

As a fellow rock gardener, I also wanted to share with her a pot of Hepatica x transsilvanica. Hard-to-believe shirtsleeve weather the weekend before allowed me to dig and divide it as well as a patch of double Trillium grandiflorum. Dividing was simple as they each pull apart easily. Then I potted each up in a loose mixture of composted leaf mold. After watering in, they were moved to the cold frame for the winter. Next year, they will go to the Berkshire Chapter NARGS seedling sales. Sales such as this are the reason there will always be society meetings. This is a way everyone can have access to amazing genera at reasonable costs. For BNARGS meeting details go to:


Growing from seed has fascinated me since childhood. My first attempt germinated dad's tomato seeds on paper towels. It still amazes me so completely, I am willing to start over every winter with old favorites and new species. The paeonia pictured in the header, P. handel-mazzettii, is grown from seed collected by Josef Halda around 2000.

Paeonia handel-mazzettii
See the description of this naturally occurring hybrid (P. delavayi and P. lutea) in Halda's book The Genus Paeonia. My plant was germinated by mentors Norman Singer and Geoffrey Charlesworth, seed-aholics extraordinaire. They would sow several thousand species (mostly alpines), each, during the winters, for the seedling sales of the North American Rock Garden Society as well as their magnificent gardens. It was upon their inspiration and support that I spent a couple of years as the Seed Exchange Director. (Do not miss the LIST www.nargs.org which is available on December 15th.)

Norman Singer & Geoffrey Charlesworth
I acquired this seedling from one of their legendary rock garden seedling sales and waited patiently. Since it had such tender parentage, I placed it next to a giant rock (the whale). During the wait- paeonia need years to grow to flowering size- I ordered a division of P. delavayi for a nearby micro-climate sanctum. It has not yet flowered, but probably this is due to lack of sun as well as incorrect climate. Of interest- P. handel-mazzettii rose like a heron unfolding, and proceeded to flower before delavayi put out its first leaves this year. The flowering was just about in synch with P. obovata alba, which resides nearby. The habit of P. handel-mazzettii is very loose. The flowers are reminiscent of a an old-fashioned rose. The color is unique.

Outdoor gardening season is about over here. Now comes the greenhouse and the armchair, as well as the kitchen. And now, there is a blog to share my learning adventures, html and seed, with you. Please join me.

The Rock Garden in Fall