March 20, 2017
Theoretically spring has sprung. The first day of spring dawned chilly, but temperatures got to 56 degrees before they began to fall again. I thought wistfully of this time of the year in 2016.
Last year I went shopping and bought potted shrubs which I planted on March 22, along with a Lindera benzoin, spicebush. Spicebush swallowtail butterflies like to eat the foliage of Lindera Benzoin. I had a wonderful day last year working in the garden, cleaning up and planting. And then . . .
the sun set and snow fell. Oh, well. Real spring will come.
Tommies – early crocus didn’t mind the snow at all
I guess Spring has to be sprung several times before it feels at home.
Kalmia, mountain laurel
K is for Kalmia latifolia, the beautiful mountain laurel, is a hardy broadleaf evergreen that blooms in May. It should be deadheaded after it blooms. Kalmia prefers acid, moist but well drained humusy soil, and some shade. In nature it is an understory shrub in the woodlands. It tolerates deer and rabbits.
The native Kalmia used to bear white flowers tinged with pink, but now hybrids bring an array of colors to the garden from a pure white ‘Pristine’ to a pink and white ‘Peppermint’ and a brilliant red ‘Olympic Fire.’ Wayside Gardens and Dayton Nursery each offer a selection of varieties.
The kalmias pictured here bloom on the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls. I bought a native kalmia for my new garden and managed to plant it in a raised bed that is sufficiently dry (I hope) to thrive. Linnaeus named the genus Kalmia after Swedish botanist Peter Kalm (1716-1779) who explored plant life in parts of eastern North America from 1747 to 1751.
Kalmia latifolia ‘Pristine’
I am participating in the A to Z Challenge – posting every day in April. So far so good.
Seed starting supplies
It is easy and fun to start seeds indoors. Seeds are just magical – tiny bits of stuff that can turn into a delicious fruit or vegetable or gorgeous flower with only the help of a little soil, sun and rain. That magic is available to us all. All of us can plant seeds, and wave our magic wands to keep ourselves busy while we watch the magic show produced by Mother Earth, Father Sun and Sister Rain.
The first thing we need to know is the likely date of the last frost. We used to think this date was Memorial Day, but weather is unpredictable. These days we might calculate an earlier date.
I plant most of my seeds directly in the garden. Some vegetables are very hardy and can be planted in April. Lettuce is a cool weather crop that can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Lettuce loves temperatures of about 60 degrees.
One of the most dependable ways to determine when you can plant outdoors is to test the temperature of the soil, not only the temperature of the air. If soil temperature is 45 degrees lettuces will germinate and grow. The Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog lists the most optimum soil temperatures for the different crops. A soil thermometer costs approximately $13.
However, many gardeners like to start seeds indoors. This doesn’t require much work or equipment. Starting your own herbs, tomatoes and peppers, or cosmos and zinnias can give you a headstart on the season, lots of plants, and some fun. Seeds can usually be started indoors between four to six weeks before you expect to plant them outdoors. By mid-May you can plant nearly everything outdoors, especially if you use row covers for the most tender.
To begin you need containers for sterile soilless seed starting mix. This can be the plastic foam containers that various food products come in if they will hold a couple of inches of seed starting mix. They would need to have drainage holes put in the bottom. You can also make pots out of recycled newspapers. I do not recommend egg cartons or egg shells because as cute as they might be, they do not hold enough soil to stay moist very long. Seeds need constant moisture to germinate.
For a small investment you can buy a plastic tray and plastic cell flats or peat pots. This arrangement will allow you to water your seeds from below which is the easiest and best way.
If you buy and use small peat pots keep them in a tray and make sure you use enough water to soak the peat pots otherwise the pot itself will wick water away from the seed. Seedlings started in peat pots will not need transplanting. The whole pot just gets put in the ground – after you have removed all the extra seedlings, leaving only one.
You can mix your own seed starting mix. You’ll need one third, sphagnum peat moss, one third finished compost, and one third vermiculite. A light mix makes it easier for seeds to grow. Do not use garden soil.
Dampen your planting mix. I use large cell flats so that I do not have to transplant seedlings twice. I fill each cell with damp mix, put two or three seeds in each cell and cover lightly with more mix. I keep my flats in a tray and put water in the tray every day which will be absorbed by osmosis into the cells. You want the soil mix to be consistently damp, not waterlogged or you may get damping off fungus which will kill your seedlings.
You can also buy a clear plastic cover for your tray. This will make a little greenhouse, slow down evaporation and warm the planting mix. When the seeds begin to germinate prop the cover up slightly so there is some air circulation. Once the seedling is fully germinated remove the cover.
Different seeds have different germination schedules. Seed packets usually tell you how long you’ll have to wait to see the emergence of a tiny shoot. Nowadays, you can buy electric heated seed starting mats, which will help germination, but these are not vital. If you do use a heat mat, the flats should be removed from the mat once the seedling has germinated.
Seedlings in front of a Heath window
Seedlings also need light. You can put your flats in front of a sunny window. Once the seeds have germinated you will need to keep turning the flats because the seedlings will always be leaning toward the sun.
You can also use grow lights. I use both methods because the little grow light I inherited will only accommodate a few flats.
Your carefully tended seedlings can grow happily in this nursery for four to six weeks, depending on the crop. When there is no danger of frost prepare them for planting.
You can’t take your seedlings directly out of the house and plant them outside. They need to be hardened off. Spring breezes and direct sun are too much for the tender seedlings to tolerate. Every day, for a week or two, bring them outdoors in a protected spot for a while, increasing the time a little more each day.
If you want to transplant your hardened off seedlings into the soil as soon as possible, you can use row covers set over wire hoops. These permeable lightweight covers capture warmth and protect plants from wind and light frost. They will also protect plants from some pests.
Spring weather is exciting. Gardeners need to temper their excitement. Our weather is so unpredictable these days that it is hard to think of a schedule for seed starting and transplanting. The gardener needs to consider the needs of the particular plant and his particular site and climate.
Between the Rows March 19, 2016
Spice Bush, Lindera Benzoin
It’s spring and I went shopping for Spice Bush. Yesterday, at the Hadley Garden Center I found a Spice Bush with bursting green buds. This Spice Bush, Lindera benzoin, is hardy, takes shade, and gets big, up to 12 feet tall and just as wide. I will plant it next to the fence which a relatively dry spot, but spice bush can also tolerates some wet. One special reason for planting spice bush is that it attracts Spice Bush Swallowtail butterflies. Spice Bush Swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on host plants like the Spice Bush. This is so when the eggs hatch and the caterpillars are born their meals are waiting for them. Any butterfly garden must include host plants that will feed the particular caterpillar as well as nectar plants.
A little botanical history. Carl Peter Thunberg (1743-1828) honored Johan Linder (1676-1724) by naming the Lindera genus in his honor. As you might imagine the genus Thunbergia which includes Thunbergia alata, the black eyed susan vine. is name for CP Thunberg
These crocus were just beginning to bloom when my husband and I were visiting our across-the-street neighbors. This is our neighbors first spring in the house and the patch of crocus was a lovely spring surprise.
I think these crocus are tommasinianus, fondly known as ‘tommies.’ They are known for spreading generously because they propagate by seed and offset.
These purple crocus are growing in the garden of my down-the-street neighbor. She has quite a stand. Both neighborns have inspired me.
Next fall you will find me planting crocus under the Japanese lilac tree next to the sidewalk. These spring bulbs are so cheering, even on a day when the skies are gray. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is just one nursery that offers crocus in shades of white, gold, and purple.
Lilian Jackman is one of the presenters at this year’s Western Mass Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium,
When Lilian Jackman was 22 she worked in the gardens of three elderly Vermont women. They each had their own way of gardening in their old age. One woman was very angry because she wanted the garden to stay exactly the same – and of course she was not successful. Gardens never stay the same. This made her critical, and unhappy. The garden was no longer a source of joy.
The second woman had run a nursery and landscaping business. She knew a lot about plants, but she hired casual workers to help in the garden. No one of them knew very much and the garden went gracefully to seed.
The third woman was Japanese. “She was incredibly precise and cared nothing for my advice or opinions,” Jackman said. She grew flowers and vegetables. As her energies diminished she let her perennials do as they would, but kept the edges neat. She bartered for some help with those plantings. Then she herself concentrated on growing the Asian vegetables and herbs she loved, in a smaller patch and was happy.
“Those three women taught me a lot. I was an apprentice and they were my mentors.” Now 57 she said even at that young age, she suddenly realized that one day she would not be able to care for and maintain a garden she created in her youth.
Jackman can now mentor those of us who are coming to that time in our gardening careers when we realize that we cannot go on as we were. She will give a presentation, Gardening Well Into Your Future at the Western Massachussets Master Gardeners Spring Symposium on Saturday, March 19 at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield.
One of the reasons for our move to a house on a small urban lot in Greenfield is because my Heath gardens were no longer fun. Caring for the garden was becoming a chore so I was eager to meet and talk to Jackman about her presentation.
She studied horticulture at the University of Connecticut, but has many strings to her bow, nursing, writing, lecturing, and making art. At the same time she has built a successful business, Wilder Hill Gardens (www.wilderhillgardens.com) in Conway. The business includes growing trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals for sale on the weekends, and landscaping at different levels from a single consultation to full design and installation as well as on-going maintenance. She can also be called for pruning services, and will teach the client at the same time. That is a service she offers that I will take advantage of. I am not a good pruner.
Her annual Mother’s Day weekend sale celebrates the beginning of the growing season, and an opportunity for us to see the gardens and the way she uses hardscaping. You will also see the two new stupas which will be dedicated on Labor Day.
Even the entrance to the PYO Blueberry field is beautifully planted
When I visited Jackman I enjoyed a tour of the gardens and saw the changes since I last visited to buy plants a couple of years ago. The 100 bush pick-your-own blueberries stand looks neat and fruitful. That blueberry field is what she calls her pension plan, and she has added currants, gooseberries and Asian pears. She said that this fruit acre fulfills the permaculture principle that any planting should provide at least three benefits. In this instance she has food for herself, beauty, and a harvest for sale.
The riotous zinnia bed that I have admired in the past in now sandwiched between two new wide shrub borders. She commented that the different beds are beautiful, but they also hold the nursery stock that she can sell. What has always impressed me about Jackman’s gardens is how beautiful they all are even though they function to provide stock for sales or to harvest for wedding bouquets.
Her talk will include the need for sustainability, for the gardener as well as the design. Jackman will show how to think like a landscape designer, addressing obstacles, tools, hardscaping and other aspects of gardening. I was interested to see a proposal for using 30 to 50 percent woody plants, trees and shrubs. That is the direction I am heading in for our new Greenfield garden.
Karen Bussoloni, gardener, lecturer and photographer will give the keynote talk, Survival in the Darwinian Garden – Planting the Fittest, a look at how plants arrange themselves in nature and how we can use our knowledge of those arrangements to choose plants that will thrive in our own gardens.
Other talks and workshops include caring for hydrangeas, and grapes, as well as vertical gardening, seed saving, creating a healing garden, planting raised beds and containers, composting, and dealing with pests. For an extra fee you can even make a tabletop water garden or a log inoculated with mushroom spores to take home.
Vendors will also be on site selling local products. Books published by Timber Press and Storey Publishing will be on sale.
Preregistration is advised. This is a very popular event. Full information including a printable registration form is online at www.wmmga.com . Cost is $35 plus $8 for lunch.
A final note. Beginning April 15 through May 30 Jackman will have a selection of her lino-cut prints titled Los Trabajadoros de Grenada (Workers of Grenada) on display at McCuskers Market in ShelburneFalls.
Between the Rows March 5, 2015
Smith College Bulb Show
The theme of this year’s Smith College Bulb Show is The Evil Garden of Edward Gorey. There is more black and white in this show than usual, but the tongue-in-cheek tableaux next to various Gorey drawings, a dark but humorous look at the garden.
Smith College Bulb Show
The photo above is a reference to a Gorey drawing Great Uncle Franz being strangled by a snake.
Smith College Bulb Show
But I ask you – how evil could any garden be with all that fragrant pink? I’m sure the Gorey House is equally charming.
The exhibit is open daily from 10 am to 4 pm EXCEPT Friday, Saturday and Sunday when it is open until 8 pm. A donation of $5 is suggested.
While there don’t forget to look at the new Permanent Exhibit – Plant Life Through the Ages: A Mural of Plant Evolution painted by Richard Evans.
Panel 3 – Rise of Land Flora
Mt Holyoke College Flower Show
The Mt Holyoke College Flower Show, with its theme The Emerald Isle includes the fragrant spring flowers that we can enjoy in our own New England spring. The fresh fragrance that meets you as you enter the Flower Show greenhouse is the perfume of spring. I wonder why more of us, including me, don’t think how easy it would be to enjoy that scent in our own houses. A few pots of hyacinths, and may a couple of a particularly fragrant daffodils like Cheerfulness would do the trick! Maybe next year? Forcing a few bulbs takes very little money or effort.
The Mt Holyoke Flower Show at the Talcott Greenhouse will run until March 20 from 10 am to 4 pm daily. There is no charge, but donations are always welcome.
First dandelion of 2015
The first dandelion seems early this year, an indication that spring has arrived almost all in an instant after our very long and very frigid winter. The grass is suddenly green and the green veil across the trees at the edges of our field is becoming more opaque. The lilac leaf buds seem to double in size every day. Violets are blooming in the hots spots along the house foundation, too thick with weeds to make a good photo.
Van Sion daffodils
Van Sion is an old variety of daffodil, multi-multipetaled and very early. It has been blooming for over a week, while the other daffs are just beginning to bloom.
When we moved to the end of the road in 1979 this forsythia never bloomed. Just as a bud or two began to open there would be a hard freeze that would blast all the buds. Forsythia is very hardy so the shrubs themselves were not really damaged, but never any bloom. Last year we were shocked by the brightness of the forsythia hedge for the first time. This year is another year of bloom, just beginning. The cold lingered and lingered, but was not freezing and so now that we are having instant spring the bloom is beginning. How appropriate that so many spring bloomers, dandelion, daffodil and forsythia shine with a reflection of the warming spring sun.
For more (almost) Wordlessness this Wednesday, click here.
A cutting garden needs annuals to give you a particular blossom for your bouquets all season long, but it also needs perennials to give you blossoms in their season - and more new plants next year.
In my garden the first perennials that make a big splash are the peonies. They bloom in June. I began growing early season peonies, but soon added late season peonies. My reasoning was that visitors to the Annual Rose Viewing, held the last Sunday in June, would have a glorious show of pink, white and red peonies, even if the roses were a little slow to bloom.
Peonies are a long lived plant, are mostly disease free, and need very little care. Unlike most perennials they don’t even need dividing. The clump will just get bigger and more beautiful every year. It used to be that you were supposed to plant peony roots in the fall, but nowadays you can go to many garden centers and buy a potted peony in the spring. The secret to success with peonies is good, well drained, slightly acid soil, and careful planting. Peony roots should be planted no more than two inches below the surface of the soil. If planted too deep they will not flower, although the foliage will thrive. The cure is to replant at a shallower depth.
Alchemilla or lady’s mantle blooms in May and June. This low growing perennial has round scalloped foliage that is very pretty, and useful, in flower arrangements. The lacy flowers are greenish, a striking element in any bouquet. Lady’s mantle spreads and makes a lovely ground cover as well as abundant flowers and foliage for bouquets.
Achillea ‘Terra Cotta’
Achillea or yarrow is a care-free plant that is not fussy about soil, and is drought tolerant. It repels deer, but attracts bees and butterflies and gardeners who like a guarantee when they buy a plant. Yarrow guarantees success.
Yarrow usually grows to between 16 and 24 inches tall. It has flat flower heads with many tiny flowerets in shades of white, peach, red, yellow and gold. Coronation Gold which also makes a great dried flower, and Moonshine are favorites. Terra Cotta is a favorite in my garden, and I keep waiting for Paprika to gain the orange tint that shows up in the catalogs. There is no guarantee that flowers in your garden will look exactly like their catalog images.
My granddaughter, a new gardener, was telling me she likes plants with straight stems. She planted tulips, but critters ate all the bulbs. I suggested she try alliums with tall straight stems like Globemaster, which grows to a height of over three feet with a 10 inch globe shaped violet flower head made of tiny star shaped blossoms. No deer or rodents go after these ornamental onion plants. Other varieties include the 8 inch purple Firmament with silver anthers, the Gladiator with 6 inch pinky-purple blossoms and Graceful Beauty which has more delicate white 3 inch blossoms. They all need rich, well drained soil and a sunny location. Alliums in an arrangement are very dramatic.
Helenium, heliopsis and gaillardia are three flowers that seem so similar to me that when I see them in the garden I never know which is which. Heliopsis has sunny yellow/gold petals and centers. Summer Nights and Summer Sun are between 3 and 4 feet tall Songbirds will love the seed in the fall and you will have endless bouquets.
Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’
Helenium and gaillardia are daisy-like flowers in sunny colors, shades of yellow, gold, orange and red. Both come in similar colors but heleniums have slightly reflexed petals like a skirt, around deep brown mounded centers. They are about 3 feet tall. I have Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’ in my garden and it hearty, hardy and makes great bouquests.
Most gaillardias are smaller, and include varieties like Arizona Apricot and Goblin that are suitable for containers. Like the heleniums they have colorful rays arranged around a dark center. They need sun and well drained soil, and the bees love them.
The large dahlia family gives you everything you need in a cut flower, different flower forms and sizes, good long and strong stems, and a long vase life.
Most dahlias start to bloom in midsummer and there are many sizes from low growing tiny pom pom varieties to blossoms so large, 10 inches or more, that they are called dinner plate dahlias. Hummingbirds like dahlias. The Swan Island Dahlia catalog and website even have pages devoted to their best cut flower varieties.
Once you have your cutting garden you’ll be making bouquets on a regular basis. Some people have natural artistic talent. I cannot lay any claim to artistic talent at all, but putting together a bouquet is a relaxing activity, and in the end the flowers, leaves and grasses are so pretty in you can hardly make an unattractive bouquet. The flowers themselves will help and speak to you.
Needless to say there are many more excellent annuals, perennials, grasses, and bulbs suitable for flower arranging than I can include here. Years ago I bought A Garden for Cutting: Gardening for Flower Arrangements by Margaret Parke and it is a book I turn to time and again because it is so beautiful and inspiring. Used copies are available on Amazon, but there are new books like The Cut Flower Patch: Grow your own cut flowers all year round by Louise Curley.
A cutting garden is an easy way to have colorful flowers, and uncountable bouquets for your friends – and yourself.
Between the Rows April 28, 2015