Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Since I lacked a more appropriate picture, here is one from New Orleans two months ago that at least helps me forget about the brutal cold outside.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Due to all the renovation chaos, our tree is a bit more modest this year...

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Just in Time

The forsythia branches that I brought back from the Michigan garden to begin forcing on Barbaratag are just beginning to bloom. For almost two weeks they did not seem to do anything in my relatively cool sun room and then suddenly all the buds began to swell and soon the first specks of yellow appeared.

The whole straggly, sprawling bouquet

Some of the first buds to open fully

In other good news, we had our heating system checked out and now all the radiators - including the one in the sun room - are working properly, which should make for more even temperatures throughout the apartment and benefit both its human and vegetal inhabitants. We are also in the process of getting many of the windows replace, which will make the place look much nicer but also hopefully help with insulation and bring the heating costs down a bit. However, the really big home improvement project we are currently dealing with is the building of a new kitchen, which my dad is undertaking pretty much by himself. Always the engineer and serious do-it-yourselfer, he has completely redone a number of kitchens - as well as bathrooms and pretty much any other feature of a house - before but of course there are new and unforeseen challenges in each new project. I really consider myself very lucky that he is always willing to tackle these things.

Monday, December 16, 2013


My collection of coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) is currently quite a bit smaller than it used to be in my old apartment, where these shade-loving foliage plants were one of the few truly colorful things that would grow reliably. However, of the remaining three varieties, one is doing particularly well right now.

Pink coleus selection (Solenostemon scutellarioides)

Unlike the other two surviving selections, whose ancestors came from cuttings, this one originates with a chance seedling in a pot of something else on a windowsill at the house in Michigan. It was not very vigorous, but the extremely vibrant coloring of an almost chartreuse light green, deep crimson, ghostly creamy white and a screaming neon pink prompted me to take cuttings and grow it on. Two generations later, with a big pot, plenty of fertilizer, and a bit more sun than I usual give my coleus, it is really coming into its own on.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Tis the Season...

My Christmas cacti (Schlumbergera cultivars of the Truncata Group) are quite punctual this year, having just begun to open their blooms in the last couple of days:

The red one...

... and the white one...

... and a close-up of the red one.

Perhaps I should add to the collection with varieties with light pink and garishly magenta blossoms. They are such grateful little plants.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I have previously written about the feast day of St. Barbara here, here, here, and here. In the German-speaking world, there is an old custom of cutting branches of spring-flowering fruit trees or ornamental shrubs on this day in order to force them into bloom for Christmas. Branches of sweet cherry (Prunus avium) are most traditional where I come from, but unfortunately I do not have access to a cherry tree from which to cut any. However, while home for Thanksgiving I was able to cut a good bundle of branches from the forsythias in the Michigan garden. They, too, look nice and should actually be quite a bit easier to coax into unseasonal bloom.

My Barbarazweige for this season

For a more general discussion of forcing flowering branches, I would refer you to the relevant chapter in Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd's Our Life in Gardens. Their writing is exquisite and never fails to inspire me, regardless of how often I re-read a piece.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy First Advent Sunday!

This year's Adventskranz or Advent wreath, courtesy of my mom