Friday, March 30, 2018

Give Winter Aconite Some Love

Snowdrops get all the attention for blooming so early, in late winter when supposedly nothing else is blooming.

But what about Winter Aconite?

No one often mentions poor Winter Aconite, aka Eranthis, but for me it blooms at the same time as Snowdrops - possibly a bit earlier.  And, while Snowdrops are lovely and all, the tiny Winter Aconites are far more welcome in my garden for the main reason that...

...they aren't white.
And after a long snowy winter, I'm pretty much ready for any color that isn't white! (No offense to you, Snowdrops.)

Now I do get why Snowdrops are far more commonly grown here than Winter Aconite.  Snowdrops are very hardy, easy to grow plants, and they are decently easy to sell as dried bulbs in fall.  Winter Aconite are fussier both to grow and to sell.  Bulb growers will sell dried Winter Aconite tubers in the fall, but the tubers really resent being dried out.  Out of the several dozen Winter Aconite tubers I've planted, only a handful have actually come up.

Soaking the tubers well before planting them helps to rehydrate them and increases the chance that they will come up.  Margaret Roach from A Way to Garden has recommended buying wax-dipped tubers that are now being offered from places such as Old House Gardens, as the wax prevents them from drying out so much.  She has had much more success with these (100%!), so that definitely sounds like a better way of selling them!

Winter Aconite is also more fussy about where it likes to grow.  They prefer cooler climates (zones 4 to 7), and they like partial shade or conditions under deciduous trees and shrubs where they get sun in winter and shade in summer.  They thrive in that magical rich, moist, well-drained soil, and they don't like to completely dry out even in summer dormancy.  Winter Aconites also prefer not to be disturbed - mark where they are so that you don't accidentally dig them up in summer (which I am totally guilty of, whoops!)

Winter Aconite seedlings
Winter Aconites are critter-proof, so once you get them established, they are thankfully pretty hardy and long-lasting.  When happy, they seed around and make large colonies of Winter Aconite in the garden.  They are best divided and moved in late Spring after their foliage starts to fade.

Eranthis hyemalis
There are two types of Winter Aconite commonly sold here in the States.  Eranthis hyemalis, native to Europe, is the most common one.  Eranthis cilicica, native to Asia Minor, is now thought to be a possible subspecies of E. hyemalis.  It blooms slightly later, has slightly larger flowers, and more deeply divided foliage than E. hyemalis.  E. hyemalis is said to prefer more alkaline soil, while E. cilicica prefers a more neutral soil.  There are also several Asian species, some with beautiful white flowers, but rarely sold here.

Eranthis cilicica
There are several cultivars of Winter Aconite out there, mainly from German and Scandinavian breeders, but they are hard to find and expensive here in the States.  E. hyemalis 'Flore Pleno' has doubled flowers, 'Schwefelglanz' has pale yellow flowers, and 'Schlyter's Triumph' has orange flowers, to name a few.  I am hoping that Winter Aconite will become more popular over here, and we will start seeing more interesting varieties available.  After the long winter, though, we will take whatever color we can get in the garden!

And I so enjoy those little splashes of yellow that pop up right after the snow!
Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Veggie Garden Remix

It may be officially spring, but with snow on the ground and more in the forecast, spring still feels far, far away.  Thankfully the Boston Flower Show was this past weekend, giving us a much appreciated glimpse of spring!

The Water Wheel garden by Heimlich Nurseries at the Boston Flower Show
As spring has to come sometime, I've also been busy starting seeds indoors for this year's veggie garden.  I really enjoy planning the vegetable garden every year - since most vegetables are annuals, every year's garden is different!  I love finding fun new things to grow, and I was very excited when this book came out this year:

Veggie Garden Remix
Northern gardeners might know the Canadian author, Niki Jabbour, from her fabulous book The Year-round Vegetable Gardener.  Her new book, Veggie Garden Remix, is another great one, and I was delighted to be able to go to Niki Jabbour's talk about it at the Boston Flower Show.

Niki Jabbour at the Boston Flower Show
The book showcases different vegetables that are not as commonly grown here in the US.  While some I did know and grow myself (ground cherries, walking onions), many I'd never even heard of (molokhia?  Chinese artichoke?)

The book is ingeniously laid out.  For each common vegetable, the book gives several unusual options that people might also like and tells how to grow them.  My favorite is the section on spinach.  While I always seem to have trouble growing spinach, Jabbour gives several options that seem easier to grow, as well as some that are more heat-tolerant for summer harvesting!

Jabbour is also a fan of trying more unusual varieties of your common veggies, and her book lists some noteworthy varieties that she's tried and enjoyed.

Niki Jabbour talking about different types of beans
Less adventurous growers (and eaters) might not enjoy a book like this, but I though it was a lot of fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed her talk as well.

Here's to growing some new things in 2018!

And here's to spring, wherever it might be...


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Out of Order

A beautiful February spring:

Followed by...

a very, very wintery March.
I feel like something is wrong with this picture.

Today the third nor'easter this month has arrived, hammering us with yet more heavy, wet snow.  We are fortunate that we live in an area with underground power lines and thus rarely lose power.

Stay safe out there, fellow New Englanders.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Monarch Population Numbers Announced

Today the WWF-Mexico and Conanp announced the numbers for the Monarch Butterfly population that overwintered in Mexico.

Monarch Butterfly population 2017-2018, compared to previous years
graph source: WWF-Mexico
The news was not so good.  Nine colonies of Monarch butterflies were found occupying a total of 2.48 hectares of forest.  That is a drop of 14.77% from the previous winter, which covered 2.91 hectares.
closeup of Monarch population the last few winters, in hectares
The drop in population was attributed to the presence of two tropical storms and three hurricanes along the Atlantic coast when Monarch migration began in mid-September.  High temperatures in the midwest and northeast of the United States also caused a late migration, possibly also contributing to the decline in numbers.

Whatever the reason, it is sad news for the Monarchs.

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