Grape Hyacinths

Yesterday I spotted my first tiny muscari, the common purple grape hyacinth I had planted decades ago as an edging along my front entrance garden bed. It’s a bit early, but I don’t mind, especially as the crocuses begin to fade and the yellow tulips have yet to send up stalks from their nests of still curled leaves.

The grape hyacinth resembles clusters of tiny grapes, usually in shades of blue or purple, sometimes white, depending upon their particular variety. Its genus name Muscari derives from the Greek word for musk, a perfume fixative used for its persistently heavy scent.


As I play with this Greek derivative, I discover Muscadine (c. 1785), a Southern grape with small clusters that smell like musk. Muscadet (c. 1899) is a dry white wine from France’s Loire Valley. Muscat (c. 1548) is any of several cultivated grapes used for making wines and raisins. Muscat Canelli, in fact, is one of my favorite white wines that’s become scarce in grocery stores.  And Muscatel, from Old French muscadel and Middle English muskadell, is both a sweet fortified wine and a variety of raisin. 

Enough word play and on to the little grape-like bulb of early spring. Although there are countless varieties of the grape hyacinth, I believe mine is the Muscari armeniacum, among the more common found in home gardens. They tend to spread and, if allowed free reign, will naturalize in the lawn. I usually dig up those and transplant back along the edging. Once the tulips brighten the garden bed, the yellows and blues create a stunning vista from the street view. Walkers often stop to admire the scene. 

But the most stunning scene I once viewed was a river of purple grape hyacinths weaving between masses of red tulips in a spring woodland. Goes to show that Mother Nature mixes her hues despite my mother’s advice never to wear red with purple!

As with most spring blooming bulbs, plant grape hyacinths in autumn, four inches apart and three inches deep where the soil drains well.
After blooming has finished for the season leave the foliage in place. Late in the spring the leaves will yellow and die back as the plant slips into dormancy. The foliage may be removed at this point. Water as needed during active growth periods.
If the planting area becomes overcrowded, it’s easy to propagate simply by digging them up and replanting in late summer when the plants are dormant.
















Cultivating Snowdrops


Galanthus nivalis (poculiformis from an original watercolour by Nina Krauzewicz


According to the Royal Horticultural Society, any garden can accommodate snowdrops. You may source bulbs from a nursery or garden center where they are available, or you may order them online (for starters, try

A small cultivar selection includes:

  • Galanthus plicatus AGM — an easy species to grow; free-flowering; reaches a height of between 10 and 18cm (4-7in)
  • Galanthus nivalis — the so-called common snowdrop
  • Galanthus monostictus AGM — an elegant variety of Turkish origin with blue-grey (glaucous) leaves and reaches a height of between 9 and 18cm (3½-7in)
  • Galanthus “Atkinsii” AGM – a popular but choice form, with delightful elongated flowers; reaches a height of 21cm (8¼in)

If you order online, plant immediately into your garden bed as these bulbs are quite prone to drying out.

If you buy already potted plants from a garden center, wait until the foliage is just dying back, while the leaves are still green, called “in the green.”

In either case, plant snowdrops in a partly-shaded position in a moist, but well-drained soil incorporated with winter leaf mould mulch or garden compost. It is vital that the soil not dry out in summer.

If you already have snowdrops in an older garden, you may lift and divide just after blooming while they’re still in the green in late spring, as the foliage begins to turn yellow. Split the clumps into smaller pieces with as little root disturbance as possible, then replant at the same depth as they were in the garden bed. You may also plant the snowdrops individually to extend next year’s blooming area. Water well, then repeat daily to keep relatively damp as squirrels like to dig up dry bulbs and nibble them for lunch.

Another method of propagating snowdrops is called twin scaling, a more complex method involving taking pairs of the scales (like layers of an onion) that make up the bulb and placing them in a damp environment to encourage each set of scales to make new bulbs. Here’s how:

  1. Use surgical gloves or wash hands thoroughly and use a sterilized cutting board and tools.
  2. Remove outer brown scales (husk) and dead tissue and keep the basal plate intact. Slice off the nose of the bulb with a clean sharp knife.
  3. With the bulb upside down, cut it vertically into half, then quarters. Each section must have a piece of the basal plate attached.
  4. Peel back pairs of scales from each piece, cutting them free at the base with a scalpel, again with a piece of basal plate attached.
  5. Place in a plastic bag with a 50-50 mix of slightly damp peat-substitute and perlite.
  6. Shake the bag and fill with air before sealing and labelling.
  7. Place in a warm (21°C/70°F), dark place for 12 weeks.
  8. When bulblets appear at the base of the scales, pot them up individually, covered with their own depth of compost.
  9. If the scales have gone soft, remove them from the bulblets before potting them. If the scales are still firm, or have roots coming from their base, leave them attached to the bulblets.

This method of propagating bulbs probably isn’t for the novice gardener, but I think it would be worth a try. Experiment the first year with just a handful to see how they turn out the following spring.

When planting bulbs for naturalizing under deciduous trees or in the lawn, scatter them randomly over your chosen area and plant them where they fall. Dig planting holes with a trowel or, in grassed areas, use a bulb planter.

Crocus naturalised in grass



Source: The Royal Horticultural Society, a UK charity established to share the best in gardening and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place to enrich everyone’s life through gardens.












Robed in white comes Snowflake, braving wintry winds and ice, pearly “Maid of February” whom the glistening frosts entice. Gladly welcome Snowflake Fairy, on your terrace give her room. She alone in February braves the cold to shed her bloom.  ~ Elizabeth Gordon

I miss the dainty English snowdrops of my Southern childhood, the first harbinger of spring, usually in late February. Mother grew these bulbs under her kitchen window on the east side of our house. Shy little things, they were. They bowed their heads to reveal a dot of green on each white petal. At least, that’s  how I remember them. Not all snowdrops are alike.

The genus snowdrop comprises about 20 species in the amaryllis family of spring bulbs. The plants have two linear leaves and a single small drooping bell-shaped flower with six petals each. Native to the deciduous woodlands of Europe, they often are naturalized as masses or cultivated in gardens as colonies under spring-flowering shrubbery. I think Mother’s plants may have descended from bulbs brought over by an English great-grandmother named Charlotte, and she sited them among the gardenias.

The common snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) sometimes is confused with the snowflake (Leucojum) which is related but much larger and blooms later. According to my Google search, the etymological meaning of the snowdrop’s name comes from the combination of two Greek and Latin words. Galanthus, from the ancient Greek, means “milk white flower” while the Latin word nivalis means “resembling snow.” Its name also could indicate simply that the white flowers emerge in snow in England and Ireland.

Ancient legends surround snowdrops. One such legend has it that God took pity on Eve, weeping in the wilderness after the expulsion from the Garden of Eden. He sent an angel to console Eve. The angel scattered a handful of snowflakes which, when they made contact with the barren ground, sprang up as dainty white blossoms. Eve smiled and took heart at the sight of this new promise of hope.

Snowdrops do symbolize hope and a new beginning since they emerge in winter-weary gardens while spring seems far distant. Seeing them helps us overcome our own despondency, if we are prone to “winter blues” as I am, and instill a new attitude of courage just as brilliant blue and gold crocuses do here in my northwest climate. Every time I open my front door, or sit outside on the front porch bench in rare sunshine, I feel renewed.

Hope springs eternal in the human breast. Man never is, but always to be blest. ~ Alexander Pope


Galanthus nivalis (poculiformis from an original watercolour by Nina Krauzewicz


NEXT: Notes on planting and cultivating snowdrops, from the Royal Horticultural  Society



What Happens When Whipped Cream Crystalizes?

This time last  year we remained smothered in mounds of snow, whipped cream, its frozen surfaces sparkling like tiny diamonds in sunlight. It crunched under my granny boots when I stepped outside. During the day,  its edges shrank, leaving puddles that froze and crystalized in moonlight. This year’s winter of browns and greys aren’t any better.

My thought processes flounder in a mush that feels like last year’s whipped cream instead of a collection of active brain cells. I either muddle through the day or succumb to the mush. This is a good time NOT to make any life-changing decisions. It’s hard enough just to decide what to plan for supper. Maybe a scrambled egg?  Only when the sun emerges again from snow clouds does my brain wake up and my thoughts crystalize and regain clarity.

Some folks call this state the “winter blues” but its worse than that. It’s SAD, acronym for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Its symptoms include feelings of anxiety and/or depression during most days, feeling enervated and sluggish (especially in my arms and legs), experiencing difficulty sleeping through the night or oversleeping in the mornings, withdrawing from society. I lose interest in activities I usually enjoy, anything that requires mental effort–except escaping into books or binge watching Netflix movies, not to mention binging on coffee liqueurs and chocolate chip cookies.

What actually causes these disruptions to a normal lifestyle during the winter months? According to studies at the Mayo Clinic, three levels are at play, all based on lack of sufficient sunlight:

  • Biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which play a role in sleep patterns and mood.*

Moreover, the Mayo report continues, SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This factor is due to decreased sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months, as novelist Kristen Hannah illustrated graphically in her latest book, The Great Alone, set in Alaska. That alone explains why I never suffered any of these symptoms in my native South but only after moving to the Pacific Northwest some forty years ago.

Short of waiting it out until summer returns with its brighter and longer days, what am I to do to alleviate these symptoms? After all, I can’t simply burrow like a black bear in the Alaskan wilds. As a treatment for SAD, special lamps have been developed for broad-band light therapy. The individual, however, must sit in front of the light box for thirty to sixty minutes each day. Friends with varying degrees of SAD assure me this treatment really works. I’m not so sure. I’d have to wear sunglasses to protect sensitive eyes, although I do enjoy sitting in my sunny front window–when the sun actually is shining, that is. The curtain sheers shield the ultraviolet rays to an extent.

Music therapy, on the other hand, has proven most beneficial for me. I keep my radio tuned to NPR, the classical music station. I do ballet exercises. I even mop the kitchen floor to a CD of Cuban jazz from the Buena Vista Club, a revival of 1950s Cuban jazz. And at night I bury myself in a good book or binge watch online movies.

So, what does happen when whipped cream crystalizes? It doesn’t. It just hardens, only to make a mess when it eventually thaws. That was just a metaphor.


* Copyright 1998-2018 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. Found on Google Search.




Just as I begin to think yellow—

a bowl of daffodils

some lemons

a little girl’s braids

bouncing in a game—


along comes more snow

where brown fields lie fallow

barren trees just budding

remain bereft as old maids

shivering in shame.


I know that spring is capricious in these northern parts of the country. Winter never left the Chicago-to-Boston-wide swath of the Eastern Seaboard, according to the nightly news; but a mild spell in the Pacific Northwest encouraged dogwood buds and purple crocuses to appear two months early. Last week I discovered a small scattering of violets, rather miniscule, peeping from the bracken in my front dooryard garden when I pruned the peonies. Then, like a slap in the face, winter returned with a vengeance, albeit mostly without snow, just fine mist.

 The winter of 2017, on the other hand, was the snowiest on record, it was said, seemingly never-ending. Three months of the white stuff was enough to drive me batty. All I wanted to do was hide under a quilt during those long grey days and awake only after dark settled when I didn’t have to look outside and imagine myself suspended in whiteness. Eventually, the edges of snow began to shrink and expose a bit of bare ground I forgot was there all along.

 Today’s mist is just that—a misting of leaf and blade and branch surfaces, merely dampening the streets and tops of cars parked in driveways. The only white surfaces in my garden are the glass table tops on the back courtyard. That’s enough for me. Who knows what March will bring but more wind storms.

In the meantime, I’ve arranged faux orchids amid graceful birch branches that blew down in last week’s wind storm, standing them in one of my blue and white porcelain planters. They seem to add a breath of sweetness to stale winter days indoors—or is this sweetness the fragrance of a gardenia candle on the tea table?




A Forlorn Plot of Grass

From a distance, it looked like an artist’s painting on the brick wall of the old Grady Building in Apalachicola, Florida. I first noticed it as my sister drove us down Water Street. My imagined artist had painted . . .

” . . . the hull in broad sweeps of dirty white, / a pilot house, once white, / rust hanging down from its windows / like ancient tears.”

Demosthenes George Margomenos arrived at Ellis Island in October 1900, with his wife Mary. A skilled craftsman, George built not only his own house but also designed and constructed a fleet of shrimp boats for his seafood business, the Standard Fish and Oyster Company.

Apalachicola Fish & Oyster Company, 1947. Image courtesy of The Florida Memory Project

Sadly, a century after George came to America and, in due course, Apalachicola, his Venezellos was ordered demolished into smithereens by a modern self-proclaimed environmentalist.

“It was ugly,” he said.

Gone now is this lovely relic of Apalachicola’s maritime history, along with George’s fishing business. The old boat was not at all an eyesore but a piece of Old Apalach for visitors as well as townspeople to enjoy viewing. Only the picket-fenced grass plot that served as home for the boat remains, a forlorn site for a once storied past.


NOTE: This post was written in response to Word Press/one word prompt, “forlorn,” for January 8th, 2018.















A Winter’s Garden

“For You, O Lord, my soul in stillness waits . . .” as my garden sleeps under snow fallen only yesterday. Not much, just enough to cover lawns and junipers and bare branches of birches, their bark already white and peeling bits of nature’s poems. My little dog gawped through the opened library door to the courtyard, then pranced out to frolic in the stuff, again and again.

This morning the sky is cerulean, sun bright. Christmas is two days hence. With temps climbing, the snow will not wait, but melt into the ground. We’ll have a deep South kind of Christmas this year while the Deep South itself was buried. Perhaps January will bring more? We’ll see.

Nonetheless, this year’s winter garden retains its own charms — bare branches stretching against blue heavens, as they do today, or a grey leaden dome leaking drizzles of light rain. The Colorado spruce and Mugo pines glisten. Chickadees and buntings sweep down from the Cascade foothills and finish off the dogwood berries. They ignore dried rose hips for now, instead flock to the gazebo bird feeder we try to keep filled with mixed bird seed. Dried perennials sway in a whisper of breeze, drop their own seed to sprout again come spring.

In an earlier post, I talked about bringing the garden indoors for winter, especially the geraniums and ferns, and harvesting herbs to dry on screens laid out on kitchen counters. In December, I send my husband out, armed with red clippers I gave him one Christmas, to gather evergreen branches to bring inside, first for the Advent wreath on the dining table, later for filling blue and white planters. I then add birch twigs and faux berries indistinguishable from fresh ones that make a mess when they dry and fall onto the floor. Every year I bring out the pine cones we used to gather from the woods when the children were little, and arrange them in the clipped greenery. Sometimes I insert juniper pieces among the Christmas tree branches to fill out gaps, and line the window sills with spruce and pine cones.

This year I decided to retain my autumn arrangements of dried materials from the garden and simply add snippets of spruce or juniper, a couple of small Ponderosa pine cones, an extra gold ball or two left over from tree decorations. Lack of early snow inspired me, especially since I was loathe to relinquish a long beautiful autumn season. Instead of red plaid ribbons and bows, I created an olive green and gold effect for the garland on the mantel and the wreath on the wall, reflected on the tree in front of the bay window. However, I succumbed to the traditional red plaid for outdoor wreaths and garlands in the front of the house because it shows up better from the street, and on the courtyard sconces and lamp posts. The birds don’t notice.

In the South, gardeners with magnolias gather fallen leaves turned brown and combine them with fresh green ones for wreaths and mantel arrangements. This month “The Enchanted Home” blog and the December issues of both The Cottage Journal and Victoria magazines feature this idea. Is this a new trend? Interesting, but not really my style. I prefer Florida oranges nestled in a silver bowl of juniper and pine clipping and set on the kitchen table, while a mince pie bakes in the oven.

This year, in spite of a three-week Advent season — or, perhaps, because of it? — I have experienced the most relaxed, non-rushed December of my life, beginning with a lovely Thanksgiving week without feeling any urgency to “get on with it.” The Christmas cake I baked on Stir-Up Sunday is resting, wrapped in an old linen kitchen towel, growing more pungent. I planned my preparations, step by step, week by week, and tried not to succumb too much to snuggling under a plaid blanket on those dreary grey days. Now, my house waits in readiness for the high point of my year. My soul in stillness waits.

The blessing of peace to you wherever you are!