I have always dreamed about having a cutting garden that would enable me to give out endless bouquets to all my friends. One good thing about a cutting garden is that it is not designed to look beautiful in any organized way. A cutting garden has no other design purpose except to give each plant room to breathe. That means flowers can be planted in rows without consideration of whether they will clash with the other flowers around them. Rows and rows of flowers cannot help but be as beautiful in an unstudied mass as they are in considered arrangements.
When planning a cutting garden I might think of the flowers I like best, beginning with annuals which stay in bloom over a long season. Zinnias immediately come to mind because they are so easy to grow and come in so many forms and colors. I am particularly interested in the Profusion series of single zinnias because they have won prizes from the All America Selections in the U.S. and from Fleuroselect in Europe. Profusion zinnias, yellow, apricot, cherry pink, orange, white and more, attract butterflies and bees. The single form gives pollinators a landing strip on the petals pointing to the center of the flower where the pollen and nectar are waiting. Profusion zinnias are about 15 inches tall with an equal spread and will bloom all summer. Cut all you want and the plant will continue to create blossoms.
Cosmos are taller and have always been a staple in my garden. One reason I like them is because they also attract bees and certain butterflies. They come in many colors, pinks, white, yellow and gold. There is even a dramatic chocolate cosmos, with deep maroon color and a chocolaty fragrance. Renee’s Garden Seeds offers a whole palette of cosmos from single flower forms to ruffly double forms. Some have petals that are rolled tubes like a seashell. In addition to the flowers themselves, cosmos also gives you lacy, light green foliage. If you don’t plant from seed, it is easy to find six packs of seedlings.
Salvia ‘Victoria Blue’
The Salvia family is large and includes perennials and annuals. Some of the perennial varieties are sold in our area as annuals because they are too tender to survive our winters. I always buy at least three little boxes of Victoria Blue annual salvia which I plant around a rose bed in lieu of a lavender edging. But I regularly steal a few spikes for the few bouquets I do make.
There are also attention getting red salvias with names like Salsa, Bonfire and Firecracker. They range in size from one to two feet tall. Salvias are another plant family that provide nectar to bees and butterflies.
Snapdragons are wonderful annuals that come in a whole variety of colors from pale pastels to rich reds, brilliant golds and yellow. There are tall varieties, usually two to three feet tall, and dwarf varieties that are only a foot tall. The Rocket series grow to almost three feet tall and are considered an excellent cut flower.
Most of us will buy snapdragon seedlings because they take so long to come into flower, but when we finally get them into our gardens they might welcome a little bit of shade. They do not like very hot weather. Of course, our weather has been so uncertain recently, that maybe this is something we don’t need to worry about too much. I know that in Heath I have not had to worry about long spells of hot summer weather for some years. But of course, that is Heath.
Even this small list, zinnia, cosmos, salvia and snapdragon, includes a variety of flower forms and this will make a bouquet interesting.
In addition to flowers a bouquet needs foliage. Cosmos have their own lacy foliage, but you can also plant annual artemesias like Dusty Miller. Dusty Miller looks like heavy silver lace and is sold in six packs in the spring. It is valuable for its silver foliage, but it does produce a yellow flower which many people remove. The foliage can be used as a kind of collar around the bouquet to hide the lip of the vase. Of course, other foliage plants will also serve this purpose, including lady’s mantle, alchemilla, which is a perennial and that is a topic for next week.
If you are bedding out your cutting garden in rows, as I hope to do, it is easy to remove sod if necessary, then add compost to the new bed. Dig the compost in well. When I am starting a new bed I usually add some greensand to provide potassium, also called potash. When you see commercial fertilizers marked with N-P-K numbers, the last number is potash. Greensand releases potash slowly so there is no worry about harming tender roots. It is needed for root development, and plant vigor because it moves water and nutrients through the plant.
Whenever you are starting a new bed it is good practice to dig in plenty of organic matter, rotted manure and compost. I am not very scientific so I add rock phosphate (NOT superphosphate) as well as greensand because both release nutrients very slowly. I do not use commercial 5-10-5 fertilizers which are commonly available at garden centers.
After digging your bed, incorporating any compost and fertilizer, you can plant your seeds or seedlings. Keep them watered while they germinate and become established.
Next week I’ll write about those perennials that make good cut flowers.
Between the Rows April 18, 2015
Coltsfoot, Tussilago farfara
Coltsfoot, properly known as Tussilago farfara, has other names like horse foot, foal’s foot and bull’s foot all referring to the shape of the plant’s leaves which will not appear for a while yet. Another name for Coltsfoot is Coughwort because of its use as an antitussive, a remedy for throat irritation and coughs. In both China and Europe it has been used in medicines for all kinds of respiratory complaints.
I have a cough but I have never made a tea or tincture out of coltsfoot. I just admire it as one of the earliest wildflower bloomers in my garden. This is growing on the Rose Bank where I thought it might form a ground cover, eliminating weeds. You can see this theory has not been successful.
I have written about coltsfoot many times before, and I just noticed that its bloom time has been pretty conisistent. I am just so glad to see color in the garden.
Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of all Time by Craig LeHoullier
Tomatoes are the most popular fruit in the world. First grown by the Aztecs and Incas around 700 AD, they spread to Europe in the late 16th century and are now grown all around the world.
There aren’t too many tomatoes used in dishes at your local Chinese restaurant, so it may come as a surprise that China grows and consumes more tomatoes than any other country. Still it is not so surprising when you consider that China is home to at least 18% of the world’s population. India with 17% of the world’s population runs a close second in tomato consumption, while the United States with only about 4% of the world’s population, is third on the list by eating 11 million metric tonnes of tomatoes to China’s 34 million metric tonnes. That is a lot of tomatoes! Those population percentages suggest a lot about what changes are likely over the next decades, not only with tomatoes.
In our country the vast amount of tomatoes are grown in California and Florida which means many of these tomatoes are grown to withstand hundreds and even thousands of miles of shipping. Some are grown to ripen all at once to make harvesting more efficient for food companies like Heinz and companies that can tomatoes in various forms. And yet we all long for flavorful sun ripened tomatoes to eat off the vine on a summer afternoon – which means that a lot of us grow tomatoes in the backyard. Fortunately, with the rise of local farms and farmer’s markets, it is easier to get those fresh grown tomatoes even if we don’t have yards.
Craig LeHoullier, tomato aficionado extraordinaire, has grown over 1,200 tomato varieties over 30 years and has now written Epic Tomatoes: How to Select and Grow the Best Varieties of All Time (Storey Publishing $19.95). This is a book about the history of tomatoes, and the delights of heirloom tomatoes. He does admit “To be fair, with the exception of Moreton, Supersteak, Early Cascade, Big Girl and Ultra Sweet, the hybrids did very well in terms of yield and flavor. However none of the hybrids were superior to the best of the open-pollinated varieties – Nepal, Brandywine, Anna Russian, and Polish, to name but a few of the superb heirlooms that I tested.”
Epic Tomatoes is just chock-full of amazing historical facts including the famous public tomato consumption event staged by Robert Gibbon Johnson, a leading citizen of Salem, New Jersey in 1820. Because they are members of the nightshade family tomatoes were generally considered poisonous at that time, so hundreds of people came from miles around to witness this startling event. “The story goes that when Johnson bit into a tomato some onlookers fainted, and with Johnson suffering no ill effects, the tomato industry in America began.” However tomatoes did not really become popular until after the Civil War.
History is fascinating, but LeHoullier goes on to give information about his favorite varieties which include Tiger Tom, Lillian’s Yellow Heirloom, the now more familiar Brandywine and the encouraging Mortgage Lifter. The book would be fun to read if only for the names of these historic and delicious tomatoes: Kellogg’s Breakfast, Stump of the World, Rosella Purple, Mexico Midget, Giant Syrian, Black from Tula, Green Zebra, Black Prince, Hugh’s German Johnson, and Gregori’s Altai.
All this information is as delicious as a sun warmed Cherokee Purple, one of my own favorites, but LeHoullier has practical advice and instruction to offer new and experienced gardeners. When do you plant seeds indoors? What’s the best planting mix? There is full information about caring for seedlings indoors and when to plant them outdoors. He also gives advice on buying transplants and even the new grafted transplants. He thinks the jury is still out on the benefits of grafting, but that the idea is promising.
Cat Face afflicted tomato – Now I know what cat face looks like
Chapter 9: Troubleshooting Diseases , Pests and Other Problems was particularly fascinating and useful. Clear photographs make it easy to identify the problems that can occur, with causes, and control. I had heard the term cat-face but never knew what it meant. Now I do. Cat-face causes brown corky folds at the blossom end of a tomato that usually afflicts beefsteak tomato varieties. I have grown cat-faced tomatoes.
It is easier to find heirloom tomato seeds, and even transplants, than it used to be. Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds (www.rareseeds.com) offers dozens of varieties from green, to yellow, pink, red and purple as well as paste tomatoes, cherry and plum. Local garden centers also offer an array of these heirloom seedlings. How to choose from so many? LeHoullier provides a list of 250 recommendations, across the various spectrums, listing size, season and flavor.
In spite of the discouraging snow cover around our house, it is time to start gardening. It is time to start planting tomato seeds indoors. It is time to start visualizing fresh picked tomatoes eaten on the way from the garden to the house. With juice running down your arm. LeHoullier has definitely put me in the mood.
I do not expect to have a vegetable garden this year, but I was given a couple of fabric Smart Pots to test, and I plan to Smart Pot up some small heirloom tomatoes. Expect to hear more about Smart Pots, and my heirloom tomato adventures.
Between the Rows April 11, 2015
Thomas Affleck Rose
Thomas Affleck is not blooming yet, but I did clean out the Herb Bed where this rose is the western anchor. It looks like it came through our horrendous winter well. All that deep snow was a blessing for many plants. Chives and parsley and marjoram are showing new growth, but I am going to have to wait a while more the roses to bloom.
Thomas Affleck came from the Antique Rose Emporium where many of my most beautiful roses. They have Old roses, new roses, and roses in any shade of pink, red, white and yellow.
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Herb Garden before weeding
The first garden day came on Sunday when temperatures rose to 60 degrees. The Herb Garden in front of the house has been clear of snow for about a week but there has been no sun, only grey skies and lots of wind. You can see that I did not cut everything back in the fall.
Herb Garden after weeding
I only made the first pass, so it doesn’t look new garden bed neat, but everything is cut down, raked out, and I did pull out grass and a few weeds.
Herb Garden – long viiew
I’m sure this is a new kind of selfie – I didn’t notice my shadow. You can see how wonderfully strong the sun is. At last! The herb garden is about 34 feet long. It always surprises me to find out how much is green and growing underneath the winter debris. I found chives and garlic chives which was no surprise, but also lemon balm, autumn crocus shoots, golden marjoram, horseradish shoots, yarrow, and Fulda Glow sedum. The real surprise was some tiny fine parsley shoots. Parsley is a biennial which means it send up a flower to make seeds in its second year. Theoretically you should get two springs of usable parsley, but that has never happened for me. I only expected soft rotting old parsley remains, but in one spot there were parsley shoots which should be usable before I can start snipping the new parsley starts that I will plant soon.
It must be Spring!
Carolina Silverbell on the Bridge of Flowers
Blooming trees are an important part of our domestic landscape, giving it substance as well as beauty. Planting a blooming tree requires more thought than planting a perennial or pots of annuals. A tree cannot be moved at will.
No matter what we plant in our garden we have to consider the site, sun or shade, and we have to consider the growth rate and the ultimate size of the plant. With a tree these considerations become even more important. We planted five ginkgo trees in our new Lawn Beds 16 years ago when we had five toddler grandsons belonging to our three daughters. The trees were a nod to our years in Beijing, and pleasing to me because of the unusual fan shape of the foliage which turns a beautiful shade of yellow in the fall.
Ginkgo in October 2012
Ginkgo trees are dioecious which means they need male and female trees to fruit. We did not know whether we had male or female trees so we couldn’t be sure they would fruit or not. Male ginkgoes are more desirable because they will never fruit, and the fruits are famous for their bad smell. We didn’t worry about this because even if we had male and female trees they would probably not mature and fruit for many years – when we would no longer be around. We might seem thoughtless, but it is my position that we can see only so far ahead into the future, and in the case of plants we can usually please ourselves. The only exception would be deliberately planting something invasive.
We had the room in our country garden to plant trees that would get fairly large. In a suburban yard or garden you will have to be more discriminating about which trees to plant. When I look at the dimensions of trees labeled ‘small’ they can still be larger than you might expect. For example, there are many crabapple varieties that range from 12 to 25 feet high with an equal spread. Donald Wyman crab, one of the ten most disease resistant, produces white flowers in spring and small red apples in the fall. Prairiefire is also highly disease resistant and has bright pink flowers in the spring. The foliage begins with a purplish shade, changes to bronzey green and finishes with a yellow/orange shade in the fall. Crabapples are wonderful trees, with beautiful spring bloom to please you and support pollinators, with small apples in the fall that you might use in the kitchen or that the birds will enjoy.
The pagoda dogwood, Cornus alternifolia, is a native dogwood that can reach a height of 25 feet with an equal spread. Its airy while blossoms do not resemble the more familiar flowers of Cornus florida or Cornus kousa, but there will eventually be small blue berries that will attract birds. The name refers to the attractive layered arrangement of the branches.
The Silverbell is slightly larger, possibly reaching a height of 35 feet. You can see this tree on the Bridge of Flowers. Clusters of small white bell-like flowers appear in mid to late April.
Rate of growth will depend on your soil, but I once listened to an arborist explaining to a friend that she could control the size of a tree by regular pruning. This is good to remember when a small blooming tree that you have planted becomes larger than you and your garden’s definition of ‘small.’
Careful planting is important to the future of a tree. Dig a generously wide hole and loosen the soil within the hole. It should be only as deep as the roots, or balled roots, or the container that your tree came in
If you have a small bare root tree support it in the middle of the hole so the root collar is even with the soil level. Fill in with the original soil. Tamp it down to make sure there are no air pockets and that the tree is firmly held. As you fill in the last of the soil make sure it is just below the root collar and that there is a shallow basin to collect water. Water well. Then mulch with two inches of wood chips or bark, but make sure to keep the mulch away from the trunk. No mulch volcanoes!
If your tree came balled and burlaped place it in a good big hole so it is at the proper level. Then cut away and remove all the wires and the burlap. If there is burlap left underneath that is fine as long as it is not plastic burlap. You want to free all those roots. Fill with original soil, water and mulch as for a barerooted tree. If you have a landscaper do this for you, make sure the wires and burlap get removed. I have heard horror stories of inept landscaping help not doing this resulting in the loss of the trees.
If your tree comes in a container and you find the roots are rootbound you should cut an X at the bottom of the root ball with a sharp knife, and make three or four cuts down the sides. This root-pruning will encourage new root growth. This is not unlike firmly combing out tangled roots in a rootbound perennial before planting. As with any plant, keep it well watered for the first year while it is getting established.
Trees give us so much: sculptural form, shade, the whispering of breezes among the leaves, seasonal flowering and food and shelter for many creatures. Choosing the appropriate tree for its site and planting it well will give you decades of beauty.
Between the Rows April 4, 2015
View from the bedroom window April 10, 2015
The view from the bedroom window shows a world iced with crystal and shrouded in mist.
Yellow Birch – Iced and shrouded
I love taking photos of this yellow birch in the west field. So mysterious shrouded in fog.
Iced trees on April 10, 2015
I didn’t worry about all the perennials buried under three feet of snow all during the frigid month of February, but ice on the weeping cherry is definitely a worry.
Ice on the wisteria April 10, 2015
I wonder how the wisteria feels about all the ice. Probably not happy.
Little Bulbs – Crocus and Glory of the Snow
The Little Bubs are the earliest to bloom. This collection is crocus and Glory-of-the-Snow, otherwise know as Chionodoxa will be blooming on the Bridge of Flowers any minute. I have Glory-of-the-Snow down by the vegetable garden, still covered by snow. Crocus and Chionodoxa and deer and rodent resistant, and both will increase over time.
Most of my snowdrops are also still under the snow, but temperatures got to 50 degrees today, so I think they will emerge from their white blanket very soon. I got smart a couple of years ago and put a few snowdrop bulbs in the Herb Border which warms early, and lets the snowdrops claim the crown for first bloomers in my garden. I love these Little Bulbs, including scillas and grape hyacinths, because they are no trouble, increase in numbers every year and bloom early in great patches – once they get going. Mine are planted in the lawn and I try to get the grass mowed very short when we go into winter, to let them shine more easily.
All the small bulbs should be planted in the fall. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs have a multitude of spring and summer blooming bulbs. Still
Bird Bath – Still water
For years putting water in the garden was a problem for me. Beverley Nichols was one of my favorite authors when I was younger and spent a lot of time reading English garden books. He is wonderfully witty (the British are never merely funny) and I can certainly identify with many of his adventures with plants, and other gardeners. I did take against one thing he said with great energy which was that a good garden required water. How the heck was I supposed to get water into my garden? All I could manage was a birdbath and I didn’t think that counted. In my defense I have to say this was before the advent of solar powered fountain pumps, and electric recycling pumps that came with the fountain urns sold in every garden center.
Three years ago, in lieu of buying a whole fountain with urn, reservoir and recycling pump, I bought a little fountain setup with some bamboo that rested across a small livestock waterer and a recycling pump that sat inside the waterer. I thought the bamboo made it look serenely Asian. (We all do have our fantasies.) I placed it on the Welcoming Platform next to our piazza where we sit in the shade of the wisteria to eat or just to relax and enjoy the view. I surrounded the not very attractive black water basin with potted plants and hid the electric cord almost invisibly.
The day was fine and sunny. I took my book, about American gardens, out to the piazza, plugged the fountain into an outlet in the wall near the door, sat and waited. What I really wanted from my fountain was the burble of falling water. I could hear only the slightest sigh from fountain. What was wrong?
My husband came home and we fiddled with the depth of the water, the fall of the water into the basin but nothing made much difference to me. Why not? Well, the problem was my ears. They just were not working as they had 20 years earlier. It then occurred to me I hadn’t been hearing the birds as much as I used to either.
Something had to be done and I did it. I now have almost invisible (not that I care) bits of silver in my ears that help me hear the birds, but my little bamboo fountain never burbled sufficiently.
A friend gave me a wonderful bird bath that we put in front of the piazza. It had a solar pump that sent the water splashing and that was lovely. But the pump died and I could never find a suitable replacement pump. Now the birds on our hill have still water awaiting them, but birders tell me that it is the sound of moving water that most dependably attracts birds.
Over the years I have had the pleasure of being invited into many gardens and many of those gardens have had water. Jane Markoski has a fountain made of an old millstone, but she also has a lotus pond. The water is still but the lotuses, holding their heads above the water are magnificent.
Rose Deskavitch’s stream and fountain
Rose Deskavich has a burbling fountain in her front yard, and a bit of woman-made stream with pool and a spouting splashing fountain in her backyard. Except for the fountain spout in the pool I thought it was a natural stream, and thought she was awfully lucky to have a stream emerge from her property line the way it did. Deskavich laughed at me when I exclaimed at her good fortune, but my husband now merely rolls his eyes and thinks I am the most gullible person he has ever met.
But I digress. Other gardens have bowls of water in the sun or in the shade, resting on the ground or supported by handsome columns, but always surrounded by shrubs or trees so that birds stopping by for a drink or a quick bath can also find quick shelter if they suddenly feel threatened. Whether you have a stream or a pond or a small birdbath, it is possible to have water in the garden and it all counts.
The good news is that solar or electrical fountains on any scale from small to grand, are now available in garden centers. When I attended the February New England Grows exhibits in Boston there were booths filled with fountains of every type. There were splashing fountains and silent fountains where water slid down stone plinths, or granite balls resting on a plinth, or large stone bowls resting on a plinth. Our own Bridge of Flowers has a silent fountain in the shade that I call the Stone Spring. A beautiful boulder that is set on river stones has been slightly hollowed so that water collects and then silently slips over the edge into the reservoir where it is recirculated, setting the mood for contemplation after the riotous color of the sunny Bridge of Flowers.
And fortunately for people such as myself, beautiful or amusing birdbaths are still easy to find in garden centers.
Jane Markoski’s millstone fountain
Do you have water in your garden? What is it that you most enjoy? The sound of moving water, or the way water attracts birds and butterflies to your garden? Does your fountain or birdbath serve as a work of art? I would love to hear about the water in your garden. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Between the Rows March 28, 2015
View from the Bedroom Window March 2, 2015
February ended cold, and March began cold. 10 degrees at 7 am on March 2. The fountain juniper is almost completely covered.
View from the Bedroom Window March 4, 2015
More snow yesterday, but warmer temperatures – over freezing.
View from the Bedroom Window March 16, 2015
Temperatures are staying at freezing or below – but the fountain juniper begins to reveal itself. The only place to find color is at the Smith College Spring Bulb show.
View from the Bedroom Window March 22, 2015
More sun, but still freezing temperatures. And yet melting – or subliming – continues. ”Sublime verb – to move from a solid (ice or snow) to vapor.”
View from the Bedroom Window March 26, 2015
I wouldn’t have taken a photo today but the early morning fog is so beautiful. Last night there was rain, then snow. By noon the sun was shining and the temperature had risen to 50 degrees! Not for long.
View from the Bedroom Window March 31, 2015
And so March finally ends. The snow is still deep and frozen over most of the landscape. Last year there were patches of bare ground. What will April bring?
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