Greening the winter landscape; ordering seeds for spring

A well maintained stone wall is not only beautiful, it can offer protection and warmth to plants. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Boulders and stonewalls are among the most harmonious elements in the Island’s winter landscape. If you are fortunate to have one or the other, it is worth maximizing its presence by clearing or repairing it. A sizeable chunk of rock is also absorbing radiant energy and serving as a heat sink. Site marginally hardy plants nearby to take advantage of the buffering effect.

In addition to stone, winter emphasizes evergreens. Privacy plantings of Leyland cypress (X Cupressocyparis leylandii) can be grim and gloomy, almost as imprisoning to those within as shunning to those without — true “stockade planting.” Our climate and plant hardiness zone supports such a broad variety of evergreen plant material that property owners and those advising them might seek a little further and use a little more creativity when choosing plants for screening.

Winter-flowering heathers (Calluna) are brightening Island gardens. Even in my clay-laced soil, snowdrops are blooming. The tips of many spring bulbs are poking their noses out; the nice days may be providing a last call for raking away fallen leaves and debris without harming them. It is not to late to lay mulch.


Houseplants are responding to the sun’s strengthening; do check watering schedules and consider renewing soil and time-release fertilizer granules. A half-strength liquid feed in addition, every other week, seems like a good adjunct to the granules at this time of year. The new growth needs to be supported by more frequent watering and feeding than would be the case during the previous low-light months. Thalassa Cruso’s classic, “Making Things Grow” (Knopf, 1969), is a great standby for the houseplant grower.

Here, the 45-year-old calamondin orange is pushing out new stems and leaves: more flower buds appear daily. The even-older gardenia is also in the process of forming its flowers: blooming usually start in June. Likewise the two pomegranates: the wand-like branches have leafed out and are dotted with flower buds. So these need adequate moisture.

The buds of potted amaryllis (actually Hippeastrum) are showing at the sides of the exposed portion of the bulbs. When originally received, as holiday plants, bulbs are manipulated to bloom then. Over time they revert to doing what they like to do, which is bloom in spring, often towards the end of March or beginning of April. These too have had their time-release granules replenished and are getting a half-strength soluble feed every other week. Avoid watering directly over the bulbs, since this can cause disease, usually red-streaked stems or leaves.

Some over-wintered plants are cut back at this time, such as ivies, pelargoniums, and the silverbush, Convolulus cneorum, that I am keeping for a client. Cuttings may be taken and rooted now from them. The C. cneorum is a delightful silvery-leaved tender perennial that covers itself with white morning-glory flowers all summer. It is worth wintering over because the plant becomes larger and more dramatic with age. A drought-tolerant Mediterranean, C. cneorum appreciates strong sun and sharp drainage.

Ordering seeds

When you are putting your seed order together for the coming season, it is good now, in mid-winter, to take stock of your culinary usage and to consider whether you can grow it, or preserve it, and, if so, whether your amounts need adjusting. Other factors to consider are what you did not grow, but wish you had, and is it pricey?

Broccoli raab is one such crop, for me. We are enthusiastic broccoli and greens eaters, and have done quite well stashing broccoli in the freezer, but I have not grown the expensive, slightly bitter broccoli raab, also known as rapini, for eight years or so. Why that should be I do not rightly know, as I like to cook and eat it, it is easy to grow, and it is cold hardy.

As with broccoli, broccoli raab does well as an early spring or fall crop, because it enjoys steadily cool temperatures, bolting if weather becomes too warm. Although broccoli raab is a Brassica, it is B. rapa; regular broccolis, which are among the so-called smooth-leaved Brassicas, are B. oleracea. Broccoli raab is closer related to turnips and mustards, where it gets its pleasant bite, I suppose. It is consequently less damaged by caterpillars but more by flea beetles.

As a spring crop it is usually direct-sown, because transplants are prone to bolt. Planting can be done when soil temperatures are quite cool, in the 40s; 250 seeds sow approximately 20 feet of row. Regular harvesting prolongs the harvest. Baked broccoli raab is a nice winter dish, which may be made almost entirely with homegrown ingredients. It can also be made substituting kale, collards, chard, or spinach:

Baked Broccoli Raab

1 bunch broccoli raab

3 Tbsp butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 eggs

1 c. half and half

1 c. milk

salt & pepper

3 oz. grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. Rinse broccoli raab and trim the base of the stems. Place in a large pot of boiling water and cook for three minutes. Drain and cool under cold water. Drain well, squeeze out the water, and chop in small pieces. Heat the butter in a large sauté pan over medium low heat and cook the garlic until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add chopped broccoli raab; mix to combine. Arrange the mixture in a buttered 10-inch ceramic tart plate or shallow 6-cup baking dish. In a large bowl beat the eggs; add half and half, milk, salt and pepper to taste. Pour over the broccoli raab and sprinkle with the grated cheese. Bake about 35 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.


Please make your potato and leek/onion plant orders; check Melinda’s cheat sheet for info. Next meeting: February 19 at the Agricultural Hall from 3 to 5 pm.