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Mother’s Day – Time to Make Your Own Bouquet

Wood poppy

Mother’s Day arrives and daughters and sons often choose flowers as a gift. You can buy roses and other beautiful flowers at the florist. Or, we gardeners could walk through our spring gardeners and choose bright and sunny flowers and make a unique bouquet.

The wood poppy is also known as the celandine poppy that will bloom now and into June. The 18 inch plant will be covered with sunny golden blossoms and will be sure to to create happy smiles. Tolerates lots of shade.

“Goldheart” bleeding heart

Bleeding heart plants now come in different shades. The foliage in “Goldheart” is as brilliant as the sunny wood poppies.

Daffodils

And of course daffodils, which come in a multitude of shades of white and gold, make beautiful bouquets for many days after Mother’s Day. And Mother deserves more days of bouquets. Where would we be without her?

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers, grandmother’s and those who care for us like mothers.

Phenology – The Science to Help You Plant Your Garden

These lilacs are just beginning to bloom – past the date of a mouse’s ears, but almost time to plant beans

Phenology is the science dealing with the relationship between climate and the recurrent natural events in relation to seasonal climatic changes. That may sound difficult to understand, but those who watch for the arrival of migrating birds, or the opening of flower buds are studying phenology. Centuries ago the Chinese did not know about the science of phenolgy but they did understand that spring was recognized by plants before the farmers did.

Eventually farmers around the world learned to watch for the signs that said it is time to plant. I  remember the first time I was told that when a lilac leaf was as big as a mouse’s ear it was time to sow peas and lettuce. This year, in my tiny vegetable garden I did plant lettuce when the lilac leaf was as big as a mouse’s ear. I was thrilled to see the little seedlings greet the sun. The dandelions blooming in my lawn told me it was time to plant beets and carrots, as well as lettuce. I planted beets.

Treasure your dandelions. They feed the pollinators

Lilacs have a lot to say about when it is time to plant other plants. When the lilac is in full bloom it is time to plant beans, and when the lilac flowers have faded it is time to plant squash and cucumbers.

Of course, it is not only lilacs that give advice to the gardener. When daffodils begin to bloom I’ll know it is time to plant peas and when oak leaves are as big as a squirrel’s ear it is time to plant corn. Apparently little ears can tell you a lot.

The dogwood trees in our neighborhood are just beginning to bloom but when they are at their peak bloom it is time to plant tomato seedlings. Or you could check the lily-of-the-valley flowers. They also know when it is time to plant tomato seedlings.

There are problems in the garden and the plants help here, too. If the crabapple and wild plum are at budbreak it is time to watch out for the eastern tent caterpillar. Steps must be taken The eastern tent caterpillar is not a friend.

The study of phenology has been useful for thousands of years, but it was not until 1736 in England when Robert Marsham   began gathering information about the seasons and birds, insects and plants – began to use the word phenology.  In 1875 the Royal Meteorological Society  included  this science and began keeping records of those creatures.

For more about phenology  BUDBURST, a project of the Chicago Botanical Garden will provide information and interesting projects for you.  (https://budburst.org.)

Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook – All Natural Solutions

Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook

The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook by Susan Mulvihill (Cool Springs Press $26.99) is a book that will be useful to experienced as well as beginners in the garden. First there is information about the whys and hows of organic gardening. The brief beginning reminds us that that it is vital to pay attention to the needs of the soil including the needed organic fertilizers for healthy growth of your plants. The dangers of herbicides and insecticides are clearly explained.

The rest of the first chapter is given to basic information about organizing your garden space, planning for the room each crop will need, how they will get sufficient water, and prepare you for weeding. There is the first mention about identifying bugs and learning about Integrated Pest Management. Spraying poisons is never the answer. Fortunately, nurseries that usually sell fertilizers and such are aware of the dangers of many plant poisons. The chapter closes with the pleasurable tasks of learning how to attract pollinators and other beneficial insects, as well as the birds. More and more we are aware of the necessity to support these creatures in our environment.

Asparagus beetle in garden

Asparagus beetle

The second chapter Meet the Bugs will identify plants from artichoke to turnip with the damage that can be done to each plant, and the possible culprits. The longest section in this chapter is a list of Pest Profiles with clear images of each one. There is information how they live and how they can be controlled. I found this particularly fascinating about how  they work – and how beautiful many of them are.

There are lots of unpleasant bugs, but there are also kind bugs, the Beneficials. The assassin bug doesn’t sound or look like a helper but it will eat aphids, cabbage worms, cucumber beetles, cutworms, and more! This is one important bug to welcome to the garden. Many more beneficials are shown with advice on how to attract these important bugs.

The third chapter, Organic Pest Management Products and DIY Pest Control is so encouraging with advice about safe and healthy ways to kill those bad bugs. It also gives great directions to DYI projects like making row cover hoops, sticky traps and more.  Vegetable garden pests

The book concludes with the alphabetical Mugshot Gallery – a really clear photograph of 122 creatures.

Susan Mulvihill began growing vegetables as a teenager, but that was just the beginning. She has written garden columns for the Spokemans-Review for more than 30 years. She now also has created youtube how-to-garden videos and posts daily on Facebook – facebook.com/susaninthegarden. She give us lots to learn and to enjoy.

First Time Gardener – Growing Plants and Flowers

The First Time Gardener – Growing Plants and Flowers Book

With The First Time Gardener: Growing Plants and Flowers by Sean and Allison McManus ($29.99 Cool Springs Press) new or new-ish gardeners will find lots of information about working in the garden.

During this long pandemic year many of us have taken another look at our back yards and our gardens. So much of our chores around town, and pleasures with our friends have been put aside during these long, sometimes lonely months. Starting a garden or taking a new look at our old garden have been ways that we can bring some pleasure and joy to these days which still continue.

When I first browsed through the book with its colorful images I saw just the advice I needed. You would think after all the years I have spent with my roses I would be an expert. Alas, not. I was so happy to see the images of the ways to make the proper pruning cut of a rose stem. Needless to say roses are very prickery and so when you prune them in the spring it can be hard to get your clippers in just the right spot without pricking yourself. Of course I am always agonizing over what the right spot is. I think I often cut too close to the bud on the stem, and I think now I will be able to make better cuts.

Setting Garden Goals

The book title starts with The First Time Gardener, but there is a lot of information for many of us. The chapters begin with Basics, from plant types, and the plants that will entice pollinators – bees, birds, butterflies, etc. The next chapter is about what the plants need, how to layout a garden, and information about containers. Becoming familiar with your garden space and your own desires will find this chapter helpful. It is a chapter you will turn to more than once.

As you move through the book you find information about taking an inventory of your wishes, plants, your tools, and sunlight. Gauging the quality of your soil is important, as well as learning how to improve it.

Nutrients

Essential basics continue in this useful and enjoyable 164 page book. Want to learn the different ways to mulch, prune, compost, recognize plant diseases, and deal with animals? Squirrels are always hiding nuts in my lawn, and dig up the lawn everywhere in the spring. This  book is  sure to help you.

Sean McManus worked on his family’s rhododendron farm in Washington State, and continued his interests with a Master’s degree in environmental horticulture. He has been spent more than 12 years in a private landscape and consulting company. His wife, Allison McManus has always loved the natural world and has a Master’s degree in teaching. Together they now have a website – spokengarden.com; spokengarden.com/blog; and Instagram, Twitter and more.

Watch for the next important garden book – The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook by Susan Mulvihill.

Celebrate Earth Day, April 22, 2021- Restore Our Earth

Husband working in the new Stroll Garden – Native trees and plants for bees, birds, butterflies (July photo)

Earth Day, an event born in 1970, is a day that encourages us to take stock of the way we live. This year the Earth Day organizers  have named the theme Restore Our Earth.  “Workshops, panel discussions, and special performances will all focus on Restore Our Earth™ — we’ll cover natural processes, emerging green technologies, and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems.” This is a brief description of what will be discussed.

In addition, Greta Thunberg, one of our youngest youth climate activists, along with Alexandria Villaseñor, and Licypriya Kangujam will be speaking. The health of our climate is certainly vital to our young people who will have to live  (we hope and plan for) a healthy world.

Those of us who are older, have to look for our own ways to Restore Our Earth. I spent part of my young life on a Vermont dairy farm in the 1940s. I was familiar with cows and manure, chickens and manure, plowing, seeding and harvesting. A plow was used.

It was not long after that first  Earth Day that I was read a poem about Louis Bromfield’s book  Malabar Farm that was written by E.B. White. That is when I learned about no-till farming. I grant you this poem is an odd way to learn about such things, but there are wonderful way we can learn things. The poem is much longer  than this snippet.

“Malabar Farm is the farm for me,

It’s the proving ground of vivacity.

A soil that’s worn out, poor, or lazy

Drives L. Bromfield almost crazy;

Whether it’s raining or whether it’s pouring,

Bromfield’s busy with soil restoring;

In fact Bromfield became one of the earliest proponents of sustainable and organic agriculture. I planted my first tiny garden, an organic vegetable garden, in 1972.

However the the moldboard plow is still with us, but there are many farmers who have moved on to no-till farming.  A couple of years ago my husband and I were traveling across Iowa in the spring and we could see green shoots of some crop coming up through the stubbleleft from the previous year’s harvest.

I have been a gardener for almost 50 years. As my new garden has taken shape over six years I have learned more about working with my soil. Because our backyard area becomes a swamp during heavy rains we have created raised beds. We did this laying down cardboard and then covering it with yards and yards of rich soil from our local Martin’s Compost Farm.

It is wonderful to be able to plant in good soil, but that soil needs regular enrichment. We do not rake up many leaves in  the fall. There are creatures that may shelter under those leaves all winter. Neither are we quick to rake up all the leaves in the spring. We let leaves continue resting under large shrubs. If the leaves are wet and rotting be leave them alone and plants will grow up right through them, letting  the leaves rot and enrich the soil.

Compost bin for kitchen scraps and leaves – needs stirring from time to time

We have two black compost bins that allow one full bin to decompose and rot, while we start putting our garbage and leaves in the second bin. We have three big leaf bins. We try to stir up those bins with an aerater tool  that helps break up the materials more quickly. This compost gets added to our soil when we are putting in new plants, or top-dressing the soil with our compost. Compost is sequestering carbon dioxide. Our garden includes trees and shrubs because they absorb more carbon dioxide with their trunks and branches than smaller plants. We need to improve our atmosphere by lowering the amount of carbon dioxide.

American Goldfinch – welcomes sunflower, aster, and thistle plants for food and some trees for nesting

I have chosen mostly native trees, shrubs and flowers that will welcome and feed pollinators like bees, and birds, especially baby birds, who will eat caterpillars and insects. All these creatures are in decline.

I am in my ‘golden years’ and there is only so much I can do to Restore Our Earth. We can each do something. What are your interests and capabilities? What can you do? Will you act?

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day – April 15, 2021

Grape Hyacinths on Bloom Day

Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day is finally showing off some of the early spring bloomers. Grape hyacinths are such vigorous plants that I have divided them and moved some to the other side of the garden, and given a couple of clumps to friends. They are amazing plants, with foliage that waits for the flowers all winter long.

Mary Gay Lirette daffodil and scillas

I bought about 100 Mary Gay Lirette daffodils last fall. My intention was to create a river of the same daffodils and Mary Gay Lirette seemed like a good choice because the flower would change  from cream and  yellow to a salmon shade – which is happening. The river of daffs runs in front of my rose bushes. I don’t remember planting the scillas along with the daffs, but I think they make good companions.

Two kinds of small daffodils

Needless to say, I have other daffodils here and there. I have planted a few the past four autumns as we began making our new garden for our new house.

Mystery plant

It seems I always have a mystery plant. This one will provide taller flowers and I think  its name has something to do with lion.  Any ideas?

Epimedium

I have a lot of epimediums, and they are good spreaders. The color  of this variety is unusual and if you get out your magnifying glass you may be able to see that there are buds ready to bloom.  Most of the foliage comes in shades of green.

Double bloodroot

These double bloodroots are just beginning to bloom. I don’t know if I have lost the other clump, or it might just be late. We’ll see.

Fringed bleeding hearts

These lovely fringed bleeding hearts were growing against the house foundation facing  the sun. It is  one  of my earliest bloomers and I love it.  It blooms for a long time.

Maid of Honor hellebore

Last spring, given a nudge by a good friend, I decided to give hellebores a try.  I planted three, and found a weakling hellebore among the fallen leaves. I don’t remember planting that  fourth plant. Looking at my line of four hellebores and some epimediums I decided I needed more hellebores for a neater arrangement. I bought two more, different colors and forms, all lovely. The epimediums have been moved to the back garden.

There are shoots coming up everywhere and  some of those shoots  will bring  us more spring flowers.

I thank Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for giving us Bloom Day and this opportunity  show off and share our gardens. There  is always something new to discover.

National Gardening Day April 14 – Time to Grow

My new daffodil river

Last fall I wasn’t thinking about National Gardening Day, but I was thinking I wanted more early flowers. The answer was 100 daffodils to create a daffodil river in front of my rose bushes, who won’t give me bloom for two more months.

Actually, I didn’t know anything about National Gardening Day until it jumped up on my computer. Thank you computer! I think April 14th is definitely the day that wakes us up and says it’s time to get out in the garden. The spring shoots coming up through the autumnal leaves covering my ground woke me up.

Helleborus hybridus “Ivory Prince”

Last April  a friend invited me to her garden which was blooming with daffodils and hellebores.  It was thrilling to see so many flowers blooming so early in the year. I had to have hellebores. I immediately went out and bought three plants. When clearing the space I also found a surprise, a hellebore I completely forgot about.  I was happy with my  four  hellebores, but this spring I said I must have more.  I bought and planted two more. In garden order I have Helleborus caucasicus ‘Wedding Party-Maid of Honor’; H. hybridus Lenten Rose ‘Ivory Prince’; H. hybrid ‘Wedding Party-Flower Girl’; H. x ericsmithii Lenten Rose  ‘Shooting Star’; H. ‘Wedding Party – First Dance.’ And of  course, there is my deep purple mystery hellebore.

These early bloomers are so encouraging in  the early spring. Gentle raking was on my list and I have been watching green shoots rising through the leaves. Grape hyacinths, snowdrops and not-yet-in-bloom giant snowdrops, bleeding hearts, daylilies, columbine, and ladies mantle. The roses are beginning to leaf out, as is the willow. We are so glad it rained last night.

Are you ready to step out in the garden?  What is sending up shoots? Have your crocus come and gone? Are the daffodils in bloom, are more sending up shoots of late bloomers?  What is happening in your garden on National Gardening Day?

Grape hyacinths beginning to send up blooms

Japanese pieris   Japanese pieris is noted for blooming early in the spring. This photo was taken 4-12-21.

Pruning for Hydrangeas and Other Large Shrubs

Fire Light – paniculata hydrangea

Hydrangeas are  the first shrub we thought of when we bought our Greenfield house. It would provide privacy between us and the house next to us, and it  would  take up a lot of room. It was a major part of our garden plan to include plants that would not need a lot  of work.

However every shrub will need some work and pruning is the major need of hydrangeas.  We planted three hydrangeas, Limelight, Angels Blush, and Fire Light. I specifically bought Angel’s Blush because its tag said it would grow very large, just what we wanted as a friendly barrier.

The hydrangeas were all planted in 2015. By 2019 it was definitely time to start pruning.

Limelight hydrangea

This Limelight hydrangea is closest to the sidewalk. Not pruned at that this moment.

Pruning instructions for a mature plant

I turned to my old Pruning Simplified by Lewis Hill book. He covers every kind of pruning. He says you can prune pack half the crowded hydrangea stems one year, and then take out a few more the following year. I have started taking  out some of those branches. In addition, I once attended a talk by Lilian Jackman of Wilder Hill Gardens and she talked about cutting those branches down. Her business included making flower arrangements so she knew how to make her plants, including shrubs, give her the most flowers.

Angel’ Blush hydrangea in early spring

Angel’s Blush can grow 8-12 feet high and 6-10 feet wide. We are not that large yet. This is a closeup of the lower half of Angel’s Blush. I started to take out a very few large stems, as well as crowded small branches so the shrub isn’t just a thicket. I am also cutting back the high branches which should increase the flowers. These paniculata hydrangeas need their pruning done in the spring.

Before and after photos do not work very well, but the three hydrangeas are done. Some of the larger stems  have been removed, and the flower-bearing branches have been cut back.

Angel’s Blush hydrangea has large and looser blossoms

Limelight hydrangea 2020

Limelight is supposed to become more and more  a shade of green – but in addition to its pale lime color I think it kissed the Angel’s Blush. I enjoy watching the shades of these wonderful shrubs as they change with the seasons.

We were sitting out in the garden yesterday and by chance I was sitting just where I could look at our very tall viburnum. I was not alone, but when our son left I asked my husband if he would do some major pruning. I won’t say he lept to the  opportunity, but he did get the saw and the loppers and set to. In this case he took three relatively large stems out at the bottom. Then he attacked crossing branches and when it was cleared I was able to do some of  the minor trimming.

Big pruning tasks make a great difference in appearance individually and in the look of the garden. I’m lucky to have a man with a saw and loppers always at the ready.

Hellebores – A Surprise in Very Early Spring

Hellebore – Maid of Honor series

Hellebores, Helleborus x hybridus (formerly Helleborus orientalis) strikes me as a very odd plant. I planted my first hellebores last spring after admiring  the hellebores in a friend’s beautiful early spring garden. She cleverly planted hers in a three foot high raised bed that made it more likely to be able to see the full blossom.I planted the potted hellebores I bought in front  of a wood fence, a site that provided some morning sun but was in shade the rest of the day. Last year I got to enjoy a bit of the flowers, but I also found the  foliage very attractive. Somewhere I read that  the foliage should NOT be cut back in the fall.

This early spring I didn’t see much of anything. The old, but still handsome foliage, was tangled in all the dead winter  leaves. But after a few days I brushed away the leaves and  saw that it was beginning to  bloom.

Hellebore – Lenten rose, Maid of Honor

It was time to clean out around the other hellebores.

Hellebore – Ivory Prince

These hellebores are also called  Lenten roses because they bloom at the same  time as Lent. The hybrids have been given different names. It is easier to see the blossom in the Ivory Prince. There are very few that are so  congenial.

Lenten Rose – First Dance in the Wedding Party series

The dead leaves are gone but it is past time to get rid of  the old foliage.

The First Dance is more willing to provide a good look at the  flowers, but  I still need  to  cutback foliage.

Mystery hellebore

I did see this plant at the edge of this bed last year and had no recollection of when I planted it. It was barely noticeable, even though there was any foliage from last year. I am determined now to bring it into stronger health. I will  soon have lots  of compost to to give a top dressing to all these hellebores – they love compost.

Aside from adding compost from time to time, remember that hellebores like neutral soil. They seem to be sturdy plants and I am looking forward to watching these increases.

Gardening Hacks – Time and Money Saving Hacks

Gardening Hacks: 300+Time and Money Saving Hacks

When you talk about the work of gardeners, you think about digging, planting, weeding, and making spur of the moment trips to the Farmers Coop, Home Depot or some such place. Those shopping trips can range from fertilizer, soil, tools – and more plants. Of course there is a price to pay at the check-our counter.

Or, you can take the suggestions of Gardening Hacks, a small book by Jon VanZile (Adams Media $15.99) with over 300 Time and Money Saving Hacks. It is useful for people who are not practiced gardeners, and for gardeners who would enjoy the simplicity of many of these hacks.

Starting last year the whole country has been running off to garden nurseries and stores to buy plants and proper tools. After shopping and driving home novices often find they need another tool or fertilizer or container. Instead of making frequent trips to the store, we can read up on all the Gardening Hacks and see what would be easy and practical – or satisfying fun.

The book is divided into five short and clear sections that covers the needs of seeds, seedlings and cuttings as well as tools, pests, and harvesting. Three of the sections are devoted to different kinds of gardening – outdoor, indoor and container gardening.

It is planting time right now. Want to mix up your own seed starter soil? Number #27 will give you all you need to know – peat moss, coconut coir, perlite and vermiculite is all you need. It’s fun and a money saver. We can turn milk jugs into plant covers (#45), propagate succulents from their own leaves (#50) and embrace air layering to propagate large plants (#63).

Many of us don’t have big yards to fill with  shrubs and flowers. Even in small spaces there are ways to have beautiful plant arrangements in containers. You can even create your  own pots, recycled culverts (#77) and terra-cotta chimney flue liners (#81). Transform your old sinks and tubs into amazing planters (#89) and you’ll have sturdy and inexpensive pots.

Create a water wick to keep  your plants watered while you are away (#106) and make your own fertilizer tea from compost (#111). There is a lot more to learn about container gardening.

Happily there is lots of gardening to do outside. Make a tomato trellis from string (#155). I wish I had known about this idea. Some ideas are familiar: water the garden early in the morning to conserve water (#168); mulch to grow better plants (#178) ; and  convert old wine bottles into planting bed edging (#186).  At our house  we call those wine bottles our hose-minder which keeps the hose away from the plants. An extra idea that pleases me is to keep a photo record of your plant labels in an album! (301).

Indoor gardens can take you into whimsy like fairy gardens (#229) or turning an aquarium into a water garden (#235).

Finally, we come to information about tools, tips and harvesting. I never knew one could put an apple in a bag with tomatoes – to make the tomatoes finish ripening (#278). I never considered to making my own pesticide by taking a garlic bulb, a small onion, cayenne and water and putting it all through a blender (#285). There is also a fascinating recipe for making Bokashi composting (#346).

Gardening Hacks is  the kind of book that is a lot of fun, and makes your garden a better and richer place. The gardens are already showing shoots of green. It’s time to get to work . Enjoy it!