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Wordless Wednesday: Lilium ‘Bonbini’



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February & March, In Retrospect

Most years, March is the busiest month of the year in the garden for me.  It’s the perfect time for planting out perennials and shrubs and a wide variety are readily available.  Mail order nurseries ship hardy plants to my zone in March or April, and the nurseries are well stocked.  There’s enough warm sunny weather that it’s nice to get outside, and there’s plenty of cleanup work to do after fall and winter.

Due to a broken ankle, my gardening time has been drastically curtailed this year.  Working around that has involved identifying tasks that can be done on crutches or sitting on a scooter, badgering the Chief of Implementation and our offspring and a LOT of letting go of things that aren’t getting done this year.  We’ve postponed starting a couple of beehives until next spring; much of the vegetable garden will be planted late if at all; and I have no plans for new flower beds this year despite having a big lot with lots of blank space.

In spite of that, we’ve gotten a good bit done in the yard and planted a lot of new plants and replacements.  Most of my mail order plants are in the ground, largely thanks to my daughter and her significant other. We even did a little direct seeding of hardy annuals in the Front Island Bed last week.  Winter sown seedlings are doing fairly well, although I planted a fair number of slow germination seeds this year that aren’t up yet.  I do have one Meconopsis cambrica (Welsh Poppy) seedling so far.  Supposedly, this is the easiest kind to grow, and reliably perennial.  I’m growing double orange and double yellow ones.

It’s also been a lovely spring, though earlier than usual.  Thankfully we’ve had enough cool weather that flowers have lasted pretty well.  Here’s a quick glance at what’s bloomed so far.

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Photo credits go to my daughter who posts her art at http://cricketwerks.tumblr.com/

Here’s to a lovely growing season for everyone!


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I’m Waiting Patiently…

When my oldest daughter was about two years old, she would stand, waiting for us to take her on an adventure, tap her toe, and say, “I’m waiting patiently.”  That’s how I feel about Spring these days.  Winter, such as it has been, has been mostly warmer than usual, but coldest of all the last few weeks, with several episodes of spitting snow.  Low temps the last week or so have been at or below freezing.

Several other gardeners have mentioned bulbs blooming much earlier than usual, but I think Spring for me will be only a couple of weeks early.  The snowdrops came up last week, two or three weeks earlier than usual and are holding very well, perhaps because the weather has been so cool.

Snowdrops, 14 February 2012

Daffodil Buds, 14 February 2012

The daffodils are stretching up their buds ever so slo-o-w-ly, with not a hint of color yet.  As cold as the nights are, I don’t blame them for huddling under the ground.

I have had time for an absolute flurry of seed planting.  My winter sown milk jug count is up to 53 jugs, although three are from last year and may be hopeless cases and four contain recently pricked out babies from last year.  This year for winter sowing, I focused mostly on seeds that definitely need a cold period to germinate or hardy annuals that I want to plant out as soon as I reasonably can.

Winter Sown Milk Jugs, 14 February 2012

I consciously tried to use less seed after I realized that I have NEVER looked at a pot of seedlings and thought, “Gee, I should have sown that seed more densely.”  I sprayed water sparingly rather than submerging because last years jugs stayed far wetter than needed.

I spent an hour or so yesterday pricking out the year old, half inch tall wintergreen seedlings (Gaultheria procumbens ‘Very Berry’.)  I didn’t anticipate this much success; there are between 75 and 100 seedlings spread out among four milk jug or pretzel containers.  The other tiny babies are Ramonda myconii, a hardy African violet relative.

Winter Sown Wintergreen after Transplanting, 12 February 2012

I’ll keep them in their milk jug greenhouses until they’re big enough to set out, perhaps Fall 2012, perhaps later.  I’ll also have to provide some protection for the wintergreen, since SOMEONE has devoured my current wintergreen plant for the second year in a row.

I also planted pepper seeds and tomatoes for containers to plant out in early to mid May, along with a flat of greens to plant out in early March.  Hopefully the Chief of Implementation and I can work out lights for the seedlings before they become seedlings!  Since I was making a mess anyway, I potted up Pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) and Peppermint Geranium (Pelargonium tomentosum) cuttings that have been slowly rooting for a couple of months.  Those are two of my favorite scented plants, and I’m willing to baby them through winter indoors to enjoy big happy plants each summer.  Everyone is installed on the new plant shelf assembled by the Chief of Implementation.

Plant Shelf, Dining Room, 12 February 2012

When the Nun’s Orchid finishes blooming, I’ll section and pot up the bloom stems hoping to make more babies.

May all your gardens be fruitful, and may today in particular be filled with love!



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ROAD TRIP!!! and Winter Seeds

It’s been a couple of weeks since my last post.  Between taking advantage of every single dry sunny day possible to get out in the garden and a road trip to Tennessee last weekend, I haven’t taken time to post.  DH and I are making steady progress building raised beds for the fruit plants, hoping to finish up in the next couple of weeks.  For future reference, it’s ideal to build the beds BEFORE the plants arrive!

Evelyn and I had a great time at the Williamson County Master Gardener’s Bloom’n’ Garden Expo last weekend.  Most states have extension services and offer gardeners the opportunity to become Master Gardeners by completing a series of training classes and service hours.  The Master Gardeners in Williamson County, Tennessee organize a lovely expo each year with vendors and talks.  As usual, I came home with a van full of plants and garden decor and a notebook full of ideas for planting.

The garden continues leafing out and blooming.  The spring crescendo is building, with more daffodils and other spring bulbs, a few hardy perennials like hellebores, and some early shrubs, including one of my favorite evergreens, Pieris japonica.

Closeup of Pieris blooms

This lovely shade tolerant evergreen blooms early in the year and seems quite deer resistant, even in this neighborhood where they nibble on everything.  The photo at the top of my web is a dwarf, late blooming Pieris japonica variety called ‘Prelude‘ next to blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium ‘Lucerne’.)  Earlier this week, it was cheering to see this year’s blue eyed grass foliage emerging after this long wet winter.

In addition to planting and enjoying blooms, this is prime time for seedlings.  About a third of the winter sown seeds on the deck have sprouted, and I’m planting them out as I can, working around the vagaries of weather and location here at the garden in the woods.  This idea was pioneered by Trudi Davidoff of wintersown.org which is where I got instructions after a gardening buddy of Evelyn’s was very successful with this technique last year.  Most of the seeds are in milk jugs that are sliced open on three sides, planted and then taped shut.  After the seeds sprout, the tape comes off to let in more air, and then the top is propped open to harden the baby plants off for planting.  As you can see from the snapshot, I don’t always get them into the ground as quickly as needed!

Winter sown seeds & seedlings

Here’s hoping to keep up with the influx of new babies to plant.  Hope everyone is enjoying gardening this year!

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Spring Gold

Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.

Robert Frost

NNarcissus 'Tete a Tete' & Scilla sibericaarcissus, in all their golden glory, are one of the earliest signs of spring.  Here’s one of my favorite daffodils (Narcissus ‘Tête à Tête’) combined with another very early spring bloomer, Scilla siberica, often called Siberian squills.  The yellow and blue blooms really perk up chilly spring weather, especially rainy days like the last few.

In a few weeks, this combination of complementary colors will be repeated with Narcissus ‘Baby Moon’ and grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum ‘Saffier’) just behind this planting.  This repeated combination of striking colors gives a visual punch that lasts for weeks when most of the garden is still sleeping.

For maximum impact, plant clumps of bulbs, rather than lonely orphans.  My preference is to plant a circular clump of bulbs in three tiny staggered rows.  Bigger bulbs are planted in clumps of seven — a row of two, a row of three, a row of two.  Smaller bulbs are planted in clumps of ten, with three rows containing three, four, and three bulbs.  This particular planting also includes 30 or 40 smaller bulbs surrounding the daffodils.  This is the second year for this planting, and they’re filling in nicely, despite some canine rearranging.

When planting bulbs, there are several things to consider.  As with any plant, location and soil are critical.  Most bulbs need sunny conditions while their leaves persist and well drained soil during dormancy.  Spring blooming bulbs are often planted under deciduous trees since the bulb foliage dies back about the time the tree foliage fills in offering the bulbs sun when they need it and tree roots to slurp up summer water the bulbs don’t need during summer dormancy.  Spring bulbs aren’t generally big feeders, and mine make do with regular mulching and VERY occasional bonemeal.

Visually, bulb foliage isn’t exciting, and dies back early in the gardening year, leaving a blank spot.  Since it’s critical for developing next year’s flowers to leave the foliage until it yellows naturally, plan for disguising the fading foliage and filling in after it dies back.  Perennials and annuals are both useful to succeed spring bulbs.

Planting in clumps as described above leaves spots around the clumps for other plants to distract from the fading foliage and fill in.  The planting described above has a row of golden Hakone grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) behind each row of bulbs.  As this slow growing perennial grass establishes, it will fill in around and over the bulbs and provide gorgeous foliage through the summer and fall.  I’m planning to add a row of Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis ‘Thriller’) this year in front of the daffodils for more foliage contrast with the Hakone grass.

There are plenty of other options for ‘filler’ plants around spring bulbs. Options include hostas, ferns, daylilies, astilbe, and Japanese anemone.  It all depends on your fancy and your site.  While planning for what will come after spring bulbs, plan accompaniments for the bulbs too.  Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are gorgeous with early yellow Narcissus.  Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Viola species like pansies and Johnny Jump Ups, and Primula are wonderful early spring annuals to combine with spring bulbs. Spring bulbs can also be planted in ground covers like Vinca minor.

The biggest problem with spring bulbs is that they need to be planted months before they bloom.  The best time for planting many bulbs is mid to late fall after the weather has cooled off.  They spend the winter growing roots preparing to burst forth when the weather starts warming. This is the time of year to PLAN for bulbs, but not to PLANT them.  I’m already walking around the yard taking notes about where to add or move bulbs for an even better show next spring.

There are literally thousands of Narcissus varieties available.  Gardeners around the world have been selecting and breeding for hundreds of years, all across the world.  Local box stores and nurseries carry a small selection in the fall when most spring bulbs need to be planted.  For a bigger selection, there are a wide variety of bulb catalogs available, with prices for nearly any budget.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is a little expensive, but their quality and selection are outstanding.  The catalog is ruthlessly organized by officially recognized bulb categories like Narcissus Divisions.  It can be quite educational.  They’re active daffodil breeders and have authored some excellent books.  I order from both their Fall and Spring catalogs fairly regularly.

Van Engelen and John Scheepers are sister companies with Van Engelen’s catalog focusing on wholesale quantities.  I often peruse the glossy full color John Scheepers catalog and then order from the Van Engelen’s photo free catalog to get the fairly large quantities of bulbs I like to plant.  I’ve ordered from them several times and been very happy with the results.

Clever bulb companies often send out catalogs in spring when bulbs are the biggest thing happening in the garden and encourage customers to order NOW for delivery in the fall.  That’s correct timing for planting bulbs, and can make it easier to figure out what spots need to be filled.  Just remember all those bulbs have to be planted when they arrive months after ordering!

To wrap up, here are a couple of idiosyncratic lists:

Peggy’s Favorite Daffodils

  • Narcissus ‘Tête à Tête’ – a very early bright yellow miniature, rock solid performer and rapid multiplier.  Particularly pretty combined with Scilla siberica
  • Narcissus ‘Accent’ – a mid season pink cupped daffodil with substantial flower.  Not a fast multiplier, but a gorgeous color
  • Naricssus jonquilla simplex – a late bright yellow classic with reedy looking foliage and gorgeous tiny yellow flowers.

Other Wonderful Bulbs

  • Scilla campanulata – commonly called wood hyacinths, these bloom late spring in white, pink or blue.  They multiple rapidly, and seem to grow nearly anywhere:  dry sunny, damp shady, you name it.  Their biggest drawback is the unattractive fading foliage.  I love the blue varieties in the woods combined with bright yellow Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum.)
  • Lycoris squamigera – the most amusing common name for these is Naked Ladies.  The leaves emerge and die back along with spring bulbs, but the flowers don’t show up till August, hence the common name.  Flowers are a large pink trumpet on a two or three foot tall stem. They can be slow to establish, so be patient.
  • Ipheion uniflorum – These have a long bloom season for spring bulbs and come in white and pink as well as the more common shades of blue.  For the best blues, choose a named variety like Rolf Fiedler or Wisley Blue.  They’re durable and nice combined with mid and late season daffodils.

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