The "Difference" Weeks

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Mardi Gras came late this year. It did, however, portend the beginning of the end for this long, cold winter. As that week began, there was rain, buckets of it- over 4 inches one day- on top of several feet of snow. Yes the basement flooded, as well as the every local stream and river. Yes, trees branches broke, black ice coated the roads on the way home from work, and mud season reigned. Luckily we still made a party of the day with a great potluck feast - Shrimp Etouffee, caramelized onions, candied beets. Of course there was King Cake for the finale. No, the prize was not found, but, hope flourished for a good year.

The snow pulled back near the east side of the entrance wall. A few galanthus immediately showed the spring in their step. They arose in bud and then bloomed tall the minute the sun shone upon them. I left for work in the gloom of the early morning. The clouds left in the afternoon. When I returned home from work they greeted me. They had been hiding under their white blanket all along!
Galanthus nivalis
The galanthus lifted my spirits. Even with subsequent dustings of snow, they made their presence known. And the greenhouse kept spirits high with the intoxicating ongoing display by Camellia japonica:
Camellia japonica
Bright colors mean a lot to me this time of year. "Exotic" or strongly colored - hmmm - there is no contest. South American bulbs like Tropaeolum tricolorum and South Africans like Gladiolus alatus are easy to grow. During the summer, just keep the pot inside without water. The show they put on for the month of March warms the eyes.
Gladiolus alatus

Tropaeolum tricolorum
Outside mud season still includes a bit of the snow cover. This is probably quite lucky. There has not been any of the ice and slush that killed crowns over the past few years. But don't let me speak too soon as the month is not over.
March 12th Xeric Garden
March 12th Crevice Garden

In the meantime, I busied myself sowing the last of the seed requiring vernalization. Chris Chadwell visited the Himalayas this year. His list works by shares, which is a little different than lists. Do you know his company: Chadwell Seeds in the UK?
This April/May he will be on the lecture tour for many chapters of NARGS and the Primula Society. He is coming to the Berkshire Chapter for the May meeting. Don't miss it.

The thought of sowing seed brings to mind the flowering of a volunteer in my pots of Narcissus bulbocodium. It is much more robust than the tiny narcissus and several inches taller. These pots of narcissus had been sown over many years - repotted so there  is not telling when it arrived with them. The color is most welcome.
By the 19th, the snow receded to shady areas only. Pop. The galanthus increased their stand by dozens. Pop. The first of the witch hazels joined the rising crescendo. Pop. Helleborus niger added its stunning touch.
Galanthus en masse
Hamamelis 'Arnolds Promise'
Helleborus niger
The time change yields a chance to walk daily after work. A walk in the woods, down Ivy Mountain Road is still chilling to the bone. But the streams curled round the first of the skunk cabbage hoods.
Symplocarpus foetidus
Back home from the hike, I checked the saxes. I have always penned Sax. sancta as first to bloom. But this year S. 'Marie Louisa' is giving it a run for the money.
                   
Saxifraga 'Marie Louisa' Saxifraga sancta
Peeking round the beds, to my surprise, Lewisia redivia is emerging, throwing up some fleshy leaves. So I run over to the seedpots and lift the covers. GERMINATION has started! Hope returns...
Lewisia redivia
Lewisia redivia germination

It's NOT Too Late

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Though a very nice selection of seeds from extremely desirable plants arrived at the end of last year, they sat tucked into a cubby all through the holidays. Then came the of snows. January and February provided records of it. The snows took full attention, be it space or lack of, light or lack of, movement or hibernation. Greenhouse plants sulked almost as much as I did.

Several times I glanced at the packets, even went so far as to sit down and make out labels for them, but lost motivation to sow them. The mounting snow encouraged recriminations- why didn't I put everything needed to pot seeds in the greenhouse last fall? Finally, a trip to the garden shed to find the potting supplies was made possible by the snowplow. But it was an afternoon ordeal involving cleats. When I couldn't locate my grit, I just passed and ordered a fresh bag. Hey, isn't this a good way to support the local economy!

Upon delivery of the grit, it was time to get down to business - to sow those seeds. At the rate spring was arriving there was still plenty of time for them to freeze and thaw. But it was March, and spring impends. Continuing my love affair with crushed granite, I thought to try some in my potting mixes. Maybe it would provide nutrients as well as temper the soil.

I start with clean trays and pots. My mentors always used smaller pots for seed germination, then graduated to other sizes for growing on or giving away. That meant not only different trays, but lots more pots sitting in storage. But these taller ones are all purpose. So I line out one tray's worth at a time full of the pots.
Clean trays

Next I fill the bottom inch or so with stone. This year I am experimenting with coarser pieces of the "process" (crushed granite) instead of my usual lightweight slag.
Fill an inch with stone

For a soil mix experiment I amend Jiffy mix with perlite, grit (#3 sandblasting sand), and process.
Tub to be mixed

This yields a very nice quick draining mix. Good thing as I am betting on a wet spring. A trick or two will probably be needed though if we have another blazing dry summer. (The sand plunge bed will also tend the seedlings during the summer.)
The Mix flecked with grit and crushed granite

After filling the pots, it is essential to compact them while the soilmix is still dry. I have a specially formed piece of soapstone which does the job. However, one could use the bottom of another pot if need be. This ensures the soil level will remain the same after pots have been through several waterings.
Tamping the soil into the pots
On to sowing the seed. After a light tap of the packet, out it comes. I like to spread it evenly, holding some back for another sowing if the packet is quite full. A healthy topdressing of the same grit #3 is useful for those seeds which prefer to germinate in the dark. Even those which do better in light, like primulas, get a little bit of grit#1. This seems to give a little buffer from the soil to the fresh crowns. Penstemons have never seemed to mind being left out of this scheme, so I don't bother them with it.
Topdress and label
Then it is just a matter of a good soak overnight. Or maybe even a day or two of imbibing while waiting for a storm to abate will be appreciated. Then it's outside with the trays. And a little snow on top would be nice perhaps tonight! And it is not too late for six more weeks of freezing nights and warm days.
Seedlings soaking