Crocus in April
The little bulbs, those that bring us the earliest spring blooms include the familiar crocus, but they can also be from a host of other spring bloomers. Here are a handful of little bulbs that can help you get spring off to an early start.
Possibly the least well known and earliest bulbs to bloom are the winter aconites, Eranthus heymalis. These are members of the buttercup family and the bright yellow flowers look very much like buttercups but the plant is usually three or four inches tall, and never more than six inches. Because it is hardy to Zone 4 it can take temperatures of -30 degrees; it can bloom very early and may even come up through the snow.
Winter aconites like rich humsy soil that is moist and in partial shade. If it is really happy it will reseed itself. This is a very small bulb and in order to get a real show it should be planted with about 15 to a square foot. Fortunately you can get ten bulbs for $5 and 100 for $39.
Snowdrops – Galanthus
Snowdrops are a member of the Galanthus genus which includes about 20 named species, most of which are six inches tall or less. However, Sam Arnott can reach a height of about 12 inches, as will G. nivalis Viridia-apice. These flowers are a bit larger than the aconites, and the standard is to plant 10 to a square foot in rich humusy soil in the shade. All snowdrops have nodding white blossoms with a green dot on the petals. They are hardy to Zone 3. Like aconites they may bloom in the snow early in the season. Prices vary depending on the species ranging from 50 for $36 – $107.
Crocuses have more substantial blooms about six inches tall. They come in colors from white to pale blue, to deep purple, and gold. They like dry soil, but all bulbs appreciate good humusy soil. After all, we want them to stay in the same place for years, increasing the population every year.
One species, Crocus tommasinianus, produces a small blossom but it does self- seed energetically and is a species most likely to thrive in a lawn. It blooms very early so the foliage dies back before the grass too unkempt. Other advice from the MissouriBotanical Garden, a favorite site of mine for dependable information, is that lawns planted with crocus should not be fertilized, watered or aerated. Well fed grass will out-complete the crocus. As with any bulb the foliage must be allowed to ripen before it is mowed down. They can be planted 10 to 15 per square foot. The ‘tommies’ should definitely be planted more densely.
Squirrels can do damage to crocus bulbs, but squirrels are less likely to find those planted in the lawn than when they are planted in flower beds.
Scillas are petite, but when planted thickly they are a reflection of the spring sky. Scilla siberica which reaches a height of about 10 inches will give you that sky blue but there are others. The white Scilla siberica alba is a bit shorter and blooms slightly earlier as does the delicately pink S. bifolia Rosea which blooms in the very early spring. Again, it is not very expensive to start a mass planting of scillas beause 100 tiny bulbs will cost $50 or less, and can be planted 10 per square foot.
Grape hyacinths – muscari
Scillas will be happy in sun or shade, don’t mind a dry site and are pest resistant. I love grape hyacinths, muscari. I used to think they came in only a shade of bright blue, but there are now many varieties including Bellevalia which is almost black, to White Magic. In between is Golden Fragrance which is self explanatory and Valerie Finis, a very pale lavender with a long bloom period and M. armeniacum is very pale at the base of the bloom. All the grape hyacinths are pest resistant. No creature will be digging up the bulbs and eating them.
I planted snowdrops many years ago in what we called the orchard just beyond the vegetable garden. However, I rarely got to see them because I hardly ever walked down there in the very early spring. I finally dug some of them up “in the green” which is to say when they were blooming This is the only time I would be able to see where they were growing. I was much happier having them right in front of the house in front of a low stone wall where the snow melted first. I also planted a few snowdrop bulbs in the open space beneath a shrub. I could admire those sweet blossoms from a window.
I am now preparing to plant a border of crocuses, or maybe aconite, right along the sidewalk at the edge of what is striving to be a grassless lawn. There is sun for several hours before our giant sycamore leafs out. The soil is quite dry there, but I will enrich it with compost after I remove the sod, but before I plant the bulbs. With such tiny bulbs that need to be planted in relatively large numbers, it is easier to dig a clear space and scatter the bulbs, rather than digging a hole or even making an opening with your trowel to plant them singly.
When you order your bulbs they will come with full planting information including the depth at which they should be planted. For example,crocus should be planted 2-3 inches deep.
The older I get the shorter each season seems to get. Autumn is now officially upon us and I am planning for the spring.
Between the Rows October 1, 2016
Low growing woods aster – ready to be divided
Once Labor Day is past it is time for the year’s second planting season to begin. Many garden centers and nurseries will be putting potted plants on sale. Many friends will realize they have to move plants and will have divisions to pass along. Each gardener may have her own plants to divide, to share or to move to a new location in the garden. We gardeners are lucky. We get a second chance every fall to act on second thoughts, correcting decisions that didn’t work out as we had expected, or acting on new ideas we saw over the summer in the gardens we visited. It’s time to dig again.
In my own garden I have worked over the past two summers to cover the ground. My goal is a garden that needs less maintenance. For me a low maintenance garden, to a large extent, translates into large shrubs and groundcovers. It has not been easy but I have worked hard to plant my shrubs far enough apart to allow for growth. When I do this, of course, I end up with lots of empty space between. I filled those spaces by planting perennial flowers and low ground covers closely together knowing that they would grow and spread and soon need dividing.
I have just started moving some of my plants. We are working towards a grassless front yard and have planted low growing conifers, a low growing rhododendron with pink flowers and a deutzia which will have white flowers in the spring. I dug up two dark leaved heucheras, one nearly dead from the drought, and one with amazing strength but a dusty demeanor that did not bode well for its survival. Both now share space in the front garden. I brought a few little Woods Blue aster divisions down from the Heath garden and planted them in our South Border. They grow low, bloom late and spread energetically to cover the ground nicely behind and around a viburnam. Some of these new plants will be moved to the raised bed at the northern border of our lot where I will be very glad to have them continue to spread.
Perennial ageratum – Blue mistflower
That raised bed is so large that I am also planning to move some of my perennial ageratums, Conoclinium coelestinum. These vigorous spreaders are also called blue mistflowers and bloom in late summer into the fall. A friend gave me a few for my new garden last year. Because they were transplanted in the heat of mid-summer they never looked vigorous, but they still produced a few flowers.
This year I have a great swath of blue even though it has been so dry. I don’t know about you but I have a few mystery ground covers in the South Border. They have done their job in covering the ground, and it is now time to move them where they can spread further. I am particularly fascinated by an interesting succulent that I have replanted where I can admire it better. We are still in the process of enlarging planting beds so I am glad to be able to move these mysteries. Maybe one day a visitor will identify them for me. Before and after moving any plants they should be well watered to help them make the transition.
As summer draws to a close you will find bargains at garden centers. I saw that trees and shrubs are 30% of at the Greenfield Farmers Coop on High Street, and perennials are also on sale. Sale plants may look a little tired, and when un-potted they may be quite rootbound, but they have plenty of life. I use my garden claw to pull those roots apart. Tearing or breaking them a bit will encourage them to make new roots so don’t feel you have to be very gentle. Then give them a good watering before you put them in their new planting hole, along with some compost, and then water again. I am also mulching all my new plantings. Take advantage of garden center sales! No matter where your plants come from this fall, you’ll be ahead of the game in the spring.
Last week I mentioned mulch volcanoes. Since then a number of people has asked me to explain. The term mulch volcano describes the way some well intentioned gardeners, and even landscapers, pile mulch around and up the trunk of a newly planted tree. The mulch pile can resemble a cone rising six inches or more up the tree trunk, or the effect can be that of a cupcake with a candle in the middle. Either way, piling mulch up a tree trunk stresses the tree and does it no good. Tree roots need water and air but a deep layer of mulch will suffocate them. Deep mulch around a tree trunk has the same effect as planting a tree too deeply. Two or three inches of mulch is all you need to spread around a tree to conserve water, moderate temperature and protect it from mowers and string trimmers.
Between the Rows September 10, 2016
I haven’t posted on Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day all summer so I wanted to make as full a record as I could as the season comes to a close.
Cosmos took a long time to bloom this year, but they do make me happy
This is Firelight hydrangea snuggling with Alma Potchke aster, but Limelight and Angel Blush are also thriving and blooming
Daylily ‘altissima’ is the only daylily still blooming
Perovskia, Russian sage, is such a great pollinator plant
Sanguisorba canadensis has no common name I can find, but it likes wet sites, should we ever get substantial rain
Lion’s Fairy Tale – Kordes rose. I planted new roses like Kordes varieties in the South border
Polar Express is another beautiful Kordes rose – disease resistant
I had to have “The Fairy” rose
Thalictrum has delicate blossoms but stands tall and beautiful
A bit of an annual salvia,Limelight hydrangea, Blue Paradise phlox and Purple Rain rose
Dahlias and perennial ageratum. Other dahlias also blooming
Closeup of the low growing Wood’s Blue aster
Turtlehead, chelone, did fine this hot dry summer
Red geraniums were stunning pot plants, especially after I moved them into the sun
My new angelwing begonia has been happy on our front porch.
This very late blooming aster on my hellstrip had me wondering all summer if it was a weed
This is my catalog for September. I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting this wonderful series. To see what else is blooming over our great land click here.
July 25, 2016 Expansion of Lawn Beds
The view from the window at the end of July shows the expansion two of the Lawn Beds. We wanted to plant Calycanthus in the bed on the left along with two geums , and the low growing sumac on the right.
View from the window August 31, 2016
At the end of August, with only the merest rain shower, the only change, besides the increasing drying of leaves on the horse chestnut, is an attempt to refine the borders and do a little more mulching. More refinements clearly needed. I did also bring the pots of bright red geraniums to the back garden because as welcoming as they were in front of the house they were not thriving. The garden in front of the house gets a lot of shade.
With luck there will be more bed expansion and plantings before the snow flies.
The Greene’s dahlia windowsill arrangement
Eric Greene grows fabulous dahlias, among other wonderful plants, but says he is “the laziest gardener in the world” but he really means he is an efficient gardener. He doesn’t want to work any harder than necessary.
His lazy techniques result in an amazingly large garden that shares his in-town property with a swimming pool enclosed on two sides by shrubs, enormous vegetable and flower gardens, a gigantic compost pile and a small front lawn.
When I first visited the Greene garden during the Greenfield Garden Club Garden Tour I was amazed by the long dahlia allee, and the dahlias weren’t even in bloom yet. I quickly made a date with Eric Greene and his wife Jeanne to find out how the ‘world’s laziest gardener’ handled all those dahlias which grow from tender tubers that need to be dug after the bloom season and stored until the spring.
His long history and love affair with dahlias began when he was given a white dahlia decades ago. That dahlia taught him about exponential growth. When he dug it up in the fall that one dahlia had produced five new tubers. When he planted those tubers the following spring he harvested 25 tubers in the fall. You can see where this story is going. Those white dahlias were planted and replanted and bloomed all around the swimming pool he had at the time. At this point he has 100 varieties of dahlia, and only keeps two tubers of each one in the fall. “I always have plenty of dahlia tubers to give away to friends,” he said.
Amazingly he loved the white dahlias so much that it was many years before he considered color. Nowadays he has a rainbow of dahlias from pale to brilliant colors. Many are bought from Swan Island Dahlias in Oregon.
Greene happily explained the dahlia routines he has followed since moving to his current house 14 years ago. He begins by ordering a load of compost from Martin’s Compost Farm every year. His soil is heavy clay which is not hospitable to dahlias.
On the first weekend in May he digs all the planting holes on both sides of the walkway, removing the soil and placing it where he needs more soil. Then he fills each hole to within three inches of the top with compost, and puts an extra pile of compost off to one side. When all the holes are dug and prepared he begins planting his tubers. The eyes of the dahlia tuber must face up. If there are long tender white roots, put out during winter storage, he removes them. Any green shoots growing from the eyes of the tuber have to be planted so they are fully underground and protected from a frost.
According to his own records his frost free period usually is from May 1 to October 15.
After the tuber is planted he puts a tomato cage around it, and pounds a wooden stake outside the cage. He ties the cage to the stake as extra support because his tall healthy dahlias are heavy and need that strong support. He waters the dahlias after planting, and then as needed. “Dahlias are thirsty,” he said. “I try to make sure everything in the garden gets an inch of water every week.”
In September, when he knows the bloom season will soon be ending he takes his woodsman’s tape and identifies each plant by type, size and color. The names are not as important to him as knowing what they look like.
Frost will kill the dahlias in the fall. He leaves them in the ground for a couple of days and cuts off all the foliage, leaving about two inches of stems. Then he digs them up and lets them sit in the sun all day. He shakes off the loose soil but never washes them.
The identifying tape follows each clump into a grain bag. The woven plastic grain bags do breathe and protect the tubers. All the grain bags then go onto wood pallets in his basement where temperatures stay in the low forties or less. It is essential to keep the tubers cool all winter.
In mid to late April Greene goes through the clumps separating and cutting off the tubers that have at least one eye, and attaching an identifying tape to each separated tuber. The identified tubers then go into boxes, separate boxes for each variety. That way he can easily share particular dahlias with friends. Many tubers are also donated at plant sales.
Jeanne and Eric Greene
The dahlia walk is just a part of the gardens on the western side of the house. Tall sunflowers, majestic red cannas, airy cleome, small calla lilies and zinnias. The garden is a veritable bouquet. Jeanne keeps the house filled with bouquets, artful arrangements of a floral mix, or single dahlias in separate vases but lined up together on a windowsill.
Greene is a man with many strings to his bow. While he had his first garden as a 10 year old trying to grow corn next to the driveway, he also fell in love with crystals and minerals. After enjoying careers as a sculptor, an art teacher, and manager of companies that mined Herkimer diamonds, he and Jeanne now own and operate Treasure Mountain Mining, an online company selling crystals from all over the world. I have to think there might be some connection between the brilliant beauty and variety of the dahlias in his garden, and the sparkling beauty and variety of the minerals and crystals he sells online.
Between the Rows August 27, 2016
Stupa (Buddhist sacred sculptures) to be dedicated on September 4
These two stupas at Wilder Hill Gardens on Shirkshire Rd in Conway will be dedicated this Sunday, September 4 from 3-5 pm. There will be Tibetan dancing, food and fun for young and old(er). Come and help celebrate. This is also a chance to see Lilian Jackman’s beautiful gardens. There is no charge, but donations are welcome. I can’t wait.
I have written about Lilian before here and here and here
Shade. Green shade. With the recent 90 degree days I have been thinking that every garden has to have shade. I thought I had a very shady garden, but my husband and I did a shade study. We took photos of the back garden every couple of hours to see how shade moved across the space. It turns out that most of the garden gets six to seven hours of sun which counts as the full sun required by most vegetables and many flowers.
On a cloudy day you can’t tell where the shadow of the River Birch falls
Trees Make Shade
Now I am thinking about ways to add more shade to the central portion of our garden. We have already planted one multi-stemmed river birch, and a weeping cherry. Before the summer is over we will plant another fairly large (at least six foot) river birch. We think another small tree would be desirable, but can’t quite make up our minds which one. Should it be a redbud, with its purple/pink flowers in the spring? Should it be a dwarf crabapple with its spring blossoms and fruit for the birds? One advantage of a dwarf crabapple is that its size can be easily controlled by pruning. Maybe we should plant a pagoda dogwood which has distinctive tiered and layered branches and foliage.
Then there is the decision where to place the tree. We know the river birch will be towards the south side of the garden. Where would another tree go? Perhaps the better question is where do we want the shade to go? To be decided.
Yellow twig dogwood in a center bed
Shrubs Make Shade
We have already planted several shrubs including red twig and yellow twig dogwoods which will reach six to nine feet tall. They will also throw shade.
Clethra alnifolia, also called sweet pepperbush or summersweet because of its fragrant upright flower panicles, will easily be six feet tall, again throwing shade. Highbush cranberry, Viburnam trilobum, is not a cranberry but the red berries that appear in the fall will attract some birds. It will grow to between eight to 15 feet and can be controlled by pruning. Aronia, chokeberry, can be classed as a small tree or a large shrub. Ours has really settled in and will increasingly throw more shade. As you can see, there are different ways to create shade in the garden.
Waldsteinia – barren strawberry
Perennials for shade
Shade trees, and shrubs that create shade also create a need for low growing plants that enjoy shade. Deciduous trees and shrubs like the ones I have, or am thinking about, allow the sun to penetrate to the ground in the spring, and allow spring blooming bulbs from the small crocuses and daffodils to bloom. Some slightly more unusual bulbs include snowflakes (Leucojum) which look very much like a large snowdrop, and bloom after the snow drops have gone by. Iris reticulatas are small irises, often no more than six inches tall.
In addition, there are other low growing spring bloomers that welcome the dappled sunlight. Tiarella, or foam flower, not only produces foamy pink or white racemes of blossoms in the spring, the low-growing heart shaped leaves spread rapidly covering the ground. A related, more lush plant is the heucherella, a heuchera (coral bells) and tiarella hybrid. The foliage is similar but the blossoms are more substantial.
One of my favorite spring blooming groundcovers is barren strawberry or Waldsteinia. Its name refers to the strawberry like foliage, and habit of sending out runners. It also has brilliant yellow flowers that look like cousins to white strawberry blossoms.
A groundcover that I appreciated first for it delicate heart shaped foliage is the epimedium. I think that is because I never saw the early spring bloom. Epimediums, sometimes called fairy hats, are a large family and the dainty flowers on firm slender stems come in a whole range of colors. We have a famous epimedium nursery right here in Massachusetts, Garden Vision Epimediums in Templeton. The flowers range from pale whites, yellows, and pinks to plumy and deep purples. There is also a range of foliage color and form. I have several epimediums and realize now that I have to move them into the back garden where I can see them better and enjoy them more. One special benefit of epimediums is that they will thrive even in dry shade.
There are many shades of green in the shady garden, but a patch of light can be a stunning accent. I recently bought a Goldheart columbine with its brilliant foliage for what will be a shady bed.
Vignette of mixed green at the Bridge of Flowers, hostas, lamium, hakone grass and bloodroot foliage
Hostas come in various shades of green from the blue-green Wishing Well hosta to the creamy white of Dancing Queen. Both of these produce tall flower stalks, but for me, the tall blooms are unimportant. Another family of familiar plants are the lowgrowing lamiums like White Nancy which produce insignificant blooms, and a variety of foliage variegations. Always dependable and very pretty.
Of course, not every plant in a garden needs to bloom. The golden Hakonechloa aurea Aureola, Hakone grass, will supply that bit of sun in a shady spot. I also have a small patch of shiny green European ginger. Both prove that flowers are not a necessity in a garden. Patches of green give the eye time to rest before moving to a more colorful vignette.
What patches of green do your eyes rest on as you survey your garden?
Between the Rows July 30, 2016
The garden in early April
The view from the window in mid April doesn’t tell much about the plantings, but if you look closely you will see a few cut up log pieces along the back of the garden. Our neighbors had a tree come down and shared their logs with us. The Hugel has begun. The Hugel is our hugelkultur effort to control standing water in the garden. We’ll see how it works.
May 4th View from the window
May arrives with the green of spring. It looks like plants have survived the winter, and the Hugel is taking shape with additional logs collected from friends.
May 22, 2016
Towards the end of May you get a clear idea of the construction of the Hugel.
June 22, 2016 View from the window
A mere month later and the view from the window shows that the Hugel logs are covered by 8 yards of a soil and compost mix, and Mr. Demers and his crew have put in a beautiful stone wall to turn the practical, functional Hugel into a beautiful space. Additional soil was spread in front of the stone wall to help correct the grade, and aid in drainage. Also, again, notice carefully the bed to the right where several heucheras have been planted. The bed and the curves have been enlarged, allowing for a few new plants.
July 25, 2016 View from the window
Another month has passed during which we did not do too much, because we were also busy all month with the kitchen/bath/laundry room renovation. However, we could not let a month go by without a bit more progress. Hence the enlargement and curves of the river birch bed and the weeping cherry bed. As usual, we used the lasagna method. Curves will need to be refined, and perhaps a little more widening of the beds.
What will have been accomplished by the end of August? All interior work will have been done. Maybe we will have figured out how to handle the area in front of the stone wall. We are not done yet. Well, a garden is never done, is it?
Amy Murphy, me and Rebecca Warner
For the past three days I’ve been travelling around the Minneapolis-St. Paul area with 60 other garden bloggers including my sister Massachusetts bloggers Amy Murphy (OF GARDENS) and Rebecca (THE SUSTAINABLE-ENOUGH GARDEN). We’ve seen beautiful plants, stunning design, and some real surprises.
Prairie Dock Leaves at Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden
The enormous Prairie Dock leaves we saw in a field at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden were among the many amazing plants we saw on our tour.
We found red baneberry in the wetland area of the the Wildflower garden, but we saw it in other gardens, as well. It is very poisonous!
Vera’s Garden on a steep, erosion prone back was turned into pollinator’s heaven by volunteers who worked at Vera’s Cafe. The cafe is gone, but the garden remains which keeps the bees, butterflies and other pollinators very happy.
Some times wild looking and sometimes elegant, Vera’s Garden is right in the center of Minneapolis.
Lee and Jerry Shannon have many garden beds in their 2/3 acre including this unusual scree bed. Scree is a term for gravel, so this is not quite a rock garden, but it is not planted in a deep soil bed either.
Pollinators on dill
The Shannon garden includes many pollinator plants like this dill. Buzzing away.
Ordway Japanese Garden
Too little time was available for the Ordway Japanese Garden. We were having fun but we were on a tight schedule. Even the koi seemed to feel the rush. They were leaping about.
Squire House Gardens formal vegetable garden
I have never seen such a formal and productive vegetable garden as Martin Stern’s Squire House Garden. But still more delight is found along the curving paths.
Looks like asparagus, but how could this climbing, weeping thing be aparagus? I don’t know, but it is! Weeping asparagus at the Squire House Gardens.
Woutrina deRaad mosaic blackbird
This mosaic sculpture of a blackbird was only one of the many mosaic sculptures created by Woutrina DeRaad and arranged throughout her amazing gardens. This garden was the last of the 22 gardens/nurseries we visited during our three day tour and you will be hearing more about them over the next few months.
Garden tours, whether local or in more distant locales always provide food for thought, and new ways to handle old problems. I know that I was particularly inspired by two of the gardens and I’ll fill you in soon.
Shadow. My husband and I have not been in complete agreement about how shady our back garden is. The question is how will our shade loving plants fare if the garden is not as shady as I think it is. Hence, our Shadow Study.
Shadow at 8 am
Shadow is not only an afternoon phenomenon. Our house is sited directly facing east which means the house throws a long shadow in the morning.
Shadow 9 am
The shadow is moving, but the South Border and most of the North Border is still in full shadow.
Shadow at 10:15 am
At 10:15 most of the planting beds in the back garden are in the sun. Half of the south border is also in the sun.
Shadow 11:30 am
The back garden is essentially in full sun, although a portion of the North Border is shaded by our neighbor’s maple tree, and a portion of the South Border is shaded by our lilac tree.
Shadow 12:30 pm
The Shadow at 12:30 pm. Full sun in the back garden.
Shadow at 1:20 pm
The whole back garden is in full sun. This photo show how the shadow is beginning to creep across the Hugel Project in the west.
Shadow 3:40 pm
The western edges of current beds are beginning to be touched by shade.
Shadow at 5:25 pm
We have come full circle. The back garden is again in full shade. My numbers are not precise but we can comfotrably say that from 10 am til 5 pm the back garden is in full sun except for the northwestern corner which gets shady earlier. That is 7 hours of sun. The rule is that 6 hours of sun counts for full sun on plant cultivation cards. My husband is right, BUT (a wifely but) I want to say that plants can be very adaptable.
The Shadow Study has been done when the days are the longest in the year. We didn’t get the Study done on the Solstice, but maybe we will do another study at the Fall Equinox and see what we learn then.
These photos also show that work is moving apace on our kitchen/bath/laundry room renovation. Give us another month and the garden will be glorious and so will the kitchen, etc.