These snow-capped beauties are called February Gold. They missed the month they are named after by a couple weeks, but they were still the first daffodils to bloom.
Yes, according to the calendar, it is officially spring, despite the inch of snow blanketing the world this morning, and the sleet-storm raging outside as I type. It has been mostly in the 40s and 50s, definitely late March weather, but a few days ago it almost hit 80! Seasons change rather erratically around here, and since I’ve never lived anywhere else (yes, I’m boring) I don’t know if that’s true everywhere else, too.
These snow-capped beauties are called February Gold. They missed the month they are named after by a couple weeks, but they were still the first daffodils to bloom.
And here, finally, is my one, lonely winter aconite. Isn’t it such a cheery flower, like a buttercup with a spiky green lion’s mane? I don’t know what happened to the rest, although I am forced to suspect those doggone voles! (grumble grumble) I guess I will try again in the fall, planting a little deeper, this time!
I have planted a few seeds inside – stock, lettuce, and an attempt at sweet peas and larkspur. They aren't supposed to transplant well, but I have sowed them in peat pots, which will eliminate the need for removing them from the pots and disturbing the roots, which is what they really hate. I decided to try, just in case those I sow outside don’t do well again, like last year. The sweet peas went in the ground a few weeks ago, but the larkspur and other early seeds will have to wait until next week – this week is supposed to be a wash out. But SOON we’ll be surrounded by color and light again! Maybe that’s another reason I love gardening so much – it is an exercise in hope.
Every year this time I have to face the grape vines. Conventional wisdom says they should be cut before George Washington’s birthday, at least in our zone. It’s important to cut them before the sap begins to run. So, every year I have to get out there in the cold wind, bundled up like a clown (the kids laugh at me), and try to turn our ancient, ugly grape vines into something manageable. Now, if any of you readers know something about grapes, you will probably look at ours and say, "Gads! Put those poor plants out of their misery!" But I can’t. When I was a young, ignorant home owner I hacked down two other grape vines and have been doing penance ever since. They’ve probably been here a hundred years, neglected for so long that they are beyond hope for nice, attractive form, but they still produce grapes. The grapes have big seeds and thick skins and I don’t even use them. They get a nasty disease that causes most of the fruit to shrivel up like hard raisins. But they’re grapes! The young children love to eat them in the fall, when they’re just right, and I always hope, every year, to get around to making grape juice (I did once, and it was delicious.) So, for sentimental reasons, they live on in my yard.
Now, I would very much love to hear from any experienced vine-dressers! I have had to figure this all out myself, and would love some advice. I am still under-confident. But when I first get out there each year I hack away all the long stuff, so I can see what I’m up against before I make my first, hesitant cuts. Once I can see where the branches are coming from, I try to determine which are the second year vines. They say the grapes grow from the second year growth, but from my observation that’s not completely accurate; they grow from the first-year growth growing FROM second year branches.
Second year growth looks brown, but not yet shaggy. (see branch pointing up in picture) It was new last summer, and should grow first year growth on it this year, from which the grapes will come, at least in my varieties. Third year growth begins to get a thicker gray bark. Older vines get shaggy. Here is a picture of 4th year or older vine with what I believe is 2nd year growth, from which I will get grapes.
Here it is after I pruned, leaving a few buds on the 2nd year growth and trimming off the old vine that was pointing in the wrong direction. I tied yarn on it, so that I can see if I guessed right as the summer progresses!
Several baby plants have grown from an old neglected mother, her drooping branches long ago rooting themselves along the ground. A couple are quite messy looking, but this one I believe has terrific form: a strong central branch that Y’s at the top, with healthy branches coming from it. So I clipped off everything coming out of the trunk and thinned out its crown,
and voila! A success!
By now I was feeling more confident in my pruning, and I bravely approached the mother. Oddly shaped and twisted, she still produces long and lanky vines and abundant grapes. But feeling emboldened, I hacked off several old and gnarly branches and gave her a significant haircut, resulting in this. Quite a change from the first picture in this post!
With building confidence, and my mind's eye finally accustomed to imagining how the plant would look by mid-summer, I approached my other vine and boldly hacked off ancient branches that refused to grow young shoots closer to the ground, and shaped its long shaggy hairdo into a neat crewcut.
Every year, before I head out, I have to reread an article from a thirty-year-old copy of Fine Gardening and review my notes from previous years. But after a while outside, I remember what I’m doing and have a great time molding my spider-like bonsai plants. And best of all? The day was not too cold, there was no wind… and I heard BIRDS!
Ah, well, the cold weather’s back. Thank you, Lord, for a week of spring to keep us hoping!
I just ordered my seeds. Now, I’m sure most avid gardeners have their favorite catalogs, and I’m no different. I peruse many before making my choices, but because I’m thrifty out of necessity, I make lists from each catalog, compare prices and shipping costs, then go with the cheapest combination. And over the years, I have found that the best deals and the speediest service come from Johnny’s and Pinetree Garden.
What’s great about Johnny’s is the amount of information they give about the plant. It’s like a mini gardening reference book. And they generally show how the plant actually grows. I hate it when catalogs lump a bunch of blossoms together to get you to fall in love and buy it, only to end up disappointed because each plant only produces a few spikes for a few weeks. Johnny’s usually tells you all that. Handy and honest. And I get my orders within a few days! Just amazing. Thompson and Morgan is a great catalog to look at, and often has unusual seeds, but last year my $160 order from Johnny’s arrived three days later, but the two packets I ordered from T&M the same day took three weeks! So they do not have my business any more.
My other favorite is Pinetree. I like this one because they are frugal, with a non-shiny catalog and simpler pictures, so it feels more like a small business (which Johnny’s is, too, just a bigger small business!) and they seem to cater to the smaller grower. If you only want to grow a few plants, you have to pay $3.95 for a whole packet at most places. Pinetree will offer you 25 seeds for $1.25, or 50 seeds for $1.50. And their shipping is so cheap! I wish I could have ordered more from them and less from Johnny’s, but there were some specific varieties they didn’t carry, darn it.
However, I advise you to check your local Agway or supermarket before ordering from anywhere. Wherever they sell packets of seeds, you may find what you need at the same price or better, and best of all, no shipping! After spending happy weeks gazing longingly at catalogs full of color, I took my handy dandy list to the Agway and got half my seeds there, and a much better bang for my buck. For instance, I wanted Rudbeckia Cherry Brandy, a lovely red version of Black Eyed Susan. Johnny’s offered 100 seeds for $4.70, but Pinetree offered 20 for $1.50. Since my needs are small, Pinetree looked like a real deal. But then I went to the Agway and found a packet of 250mg for $1.39. Well, it sure felt like more than 20 seeds! In fact, I sat down at home and counted them– over 270! Yes, I’m that silly when I want to make a point. Hare’s Tail Grass? Pinetree had 50 seeds for $1.35, but the 300mg packet from Agway had over 300 seeds for $1.99! Love-in-a-Mist, Bachelor Buttons, Love-Lies-Bleeding, all over 400 seeds for under $2. I won’t bore you with my other great deals for which I patted myself on the back (although more than one child walked through the kitchen thinking Mom was absolutely loony to count tiny seeds just to make sure she'd actually saved a few dollars. "You’re doing what?" But how else would I know how many seeds are in 250 mg?) Anyway, point is, usually picking up packets by weight is a better deal, except for really large seeds like sunflowers, borage, and hyacinth bean. Most of the seeds I bought were by Botanical Interests, which has a lovely website.
I am so excited to be thinking about starting seeds in a few weeks! I’ll save my thoughts on my little flower business for another blog entry, but ogling flower catalogs and rereading my gardening books help me get through the cold gray months. I am SO glad I don’t live any farther north!
Now this is more like it! For the past week we have had weather in the forties, even up over fifty. The 2+ feet of snow on the ground has begun to give way. In past years, when we rarely got snow, the first sign of flurries drew children to the windows in crowds, with cheerful cries of "Snow? Snow, snow, snow!" But yesterday, when I looked out the window and wistfully sighed, "Ah, grass," Anna-Grace came running. "Grass? Grass, grass, grass!" What a laugh I had!
But seriously, in a little more than a week, this plant has gone from this,
For a color-starved gardener, it’s a real relief.
I have been intending to do some evaluations of plants through the four seasons (please forgive the delay), but as a precursor, I thought I’d show you how well several low-growing, so-called evergreens have survived two months of a thick snow blanket.
Happily, my heuchera didn't mind the snow at all! Its leaves stand tall and confident in the cool air.
Liriope had mixed feelings. It generally looks ragged by the end of the winter anyway. Though many of the leaves are tinged brown, there's enough green to make me smile, and some black berries cling to its stalks.
Here was a nice surprise! The oregano I planted last summer came through the deep-freeze virtually unscathed. I went out looking for it last week, as a recipe called for fresh oregano, but it was still so smothered I couldn't even tell where it was. Now, I'll be ready for the next recipe!
Bergenia... well, the leaves look lovely and undamaged, but tired and limp. Nice color, less-than-desirable form.
Ice plant certainly lives up to its name,
And lamb's ears is hardier than a weed.
But, Ah! The best surprise of all! My winter bulbs are arising! Soon I will have winter aconite, iris reticulata, February Gold daffodils, and Blue Pearl snow crocus to cheer me. What a joy that will be! That is, if we don't get another foot of snow...
Ta-daa! The front bed is done. Oh, I know it doesn’t look like much now – I had to buy tiny bushes, due to financial considerations (welcome to the blue-collar garden), and the hosta and sedum were stressed by the transplanting. But, ah! imagination is a wonderful thing!
Imagine with me now a bright and cheery winter scene, full of life: the green and white of the variegated boxwood, the purple of bugleweed, the peachy glow of an unnamed arborvita, along with the dark prickly green of dwarf alberta spruce, the spikey green of liliturf, and the dark glossy green of rhododendron, plus the glowing silver of lamb’s ear. Lovely! Then, in the spring, highlighting all these shades, happy daffodils will pop up, followed by purple spikes of bugleweed, pink dianthus, and lavender rhodies. In the summer, besides a sea of annuals, there will be stella d’oro daylilies and later, purple spikes of liriope and fragrant, lily-shaped hosta flowers. Come autumn, white montauk daisy, purple asters, and pink sedum turning burgundy will take us into the cool months, and back to the many shades of winter! All the while my bushes will grow larger, covering the ucky porch supports, and the bugleweed will fill out, providing a blanket of protection against grass and weeds and giving me a mosaic of year-round color.
When the snow melted in April...
Of course, I prefer NOT to imagine the likelihood of further disturbance from voles (I will be poisoning all winter! Argh!), the regrowth of grass I undoubtedly missed, and the probability that the sunnier side will grow larger than the shadier side, making my garden lopsided. No, I imagine the perfect garden – and that’s what gets me out there, month after month, year after year, the pursuit of the perfect garden. Good thing the joy is in the journey!
I received the nicest complement the other day! The president of our local garden club, whom I had not previously met, came to my house with her husband who was delivering mulch. She got out of the truck to ask me the names of a few plants, then exclaimed, "Look at your flowers! Except for the fallen leaves, it looks like spring!"
Well, I was flattered, considering the source. It made me realize that I am still looking at my gardens for what they are missing, rather than appreciating what they have.
I do think I have made some good decisions, and I am working on a few more to make the gardens even nicer, in every season. But I am happy with them.
Yet, alas, the time of color is winding down, after two good frosts the last two nights. My patio gardens still look much as they do in these pictures, but I have lost some of the flowers I had intended to post as still hanging on late in autumn! So I ran out and collected what color was left, to enjoy a few last bouquets. They aren't perfect, and I do not claim to be an expert, but they are the last bouquets of the season, making them all the more precious to me!
The theme for this little bouquet is old garden favorites, those that you might find in your grandmother's garden - old roses, lavender, salvia, and snapdragon, with a touch of dill and yellowing asparagus ferns for interest. I put it right next to the sofa so we can enjoy its last perfume!
This is such a cheery little bouquet that the picture doesn't do it justice! The calendula came back with abandon when the cool weather returned, begging my forgiveness for being so rude and absent during the grueling summer. I forgive them. By evening they had all turned their repentant faces up to show us their cheery centers. And don't you love the little maple? It was growing where I would have pulled it anyway, so I added it to the bouquet.
And finally, my 'kitchen sink' bouquet. This has everything else in it. It's much prettier in person, with each flower standing out and giving its last hurrah. One lonely cosmos, a lovely forget-me-not, and a monch aster snuggle in with dill, globe amaranth, calendula, silene, statice, blueberry branches, red wild amaranth, and another volunteer maple tree. If you look closely, in the right-hand calendula, you'll see a desperate honeybee that visited the bouquet within seconds of my setting it down! Well, all things must rest. "For everything there is a season." Although I do not like the cold, I have put in a number of plants that should give me at least a hint of color through the winter, to hold me until the spring colors return!
Well, I just couldn't resist! I should have been inside taking care of important paperwork, but it was just too beautiful. I didn't get out until after 3pm, when I was done teaching my children, cleaned up from lunch, and had figured out dinner. That left me only about 2 hours. So I changed into my jeans (I only wear pants when gardening), grabbed a semi-willing helper, and out I went!
First, I practiced my golf-swing! It was time to hack down the sickly-looking peonies, so I set Christina to doing that, but first I had to show her how. I don't really like golf (sorry, Mom), but whenever I get that manual weedwacker in my hand, I just can't resist. Christina tried it a few times, but said she preferred just taking baseball swings (although, that would mean practicing going for the low-balls, which you're not supposed to swing at! Whatever works.)
While Christina did that, I weeded around the back walkway one more time for the year, finding some last purslane, sorrel, and lady's thumb "weeds" to add to the salad. I also determined it was time to move my pulsatilla out from under an encroaching bush, and to dig up my rosemary and pot it to have inside for fresh rosemary through the winter. I think I'll try to turn it into a topiary!
Here's my happy pulsatilla. Pulsatilla is a wonderful plant, which I will give a description of in upcoming months as you dream about your future gardens in the dead of winter. Peonies, too. In fact, I may start with that one, giving the pros and cons, and what work goes into them. I think it will be a very helpful feature, and I hope you like it!
After all this work, we turned to collecting flowers. And boy, did we collect a lot! The beginning of October, and still they are going strong.
In this bouquet, set out on our chair-shaped stump to take advantage of the waning sunlight, I focused on wild offerings and filled in with late summer garden blooms. From the wild I collected goldenrod, red amaranth, lady's thumb, lamb's quarters turning pink with seed, and various attractive grasses, then added such everlastings as statice, globe amaranth, hydrangea, and hyacinth bean. Zinnia, aster, ageratum and cosmos fill out the arrangement. I ascribe to the philosophy that every arrangement should have something a little surprising and unexpected in it, and for this one it's the huge orange rosehips right in the middle!
In this bouquet I focused mostly on everlastings, primarily in quiet tones, creating a globe-like form. For this one, the surprising element is two hints of orange next to deep purple hyacinth beans.
In this bouquet, the fuschia themselves are the surprising element! Aren't they fabulous! They don’t last long in a bouquet, but for a special evening, they’re terrific. More pinks, several soft pink roses, and purple to bring out the purple in the fuschia finish it off.
A close-up of this unique flower.
And, finally, a bouquet of late-blooming edible flowers to adorn the weeds, veggies, and lettuces in the salad. I will also be providing lists of edible flowers through the gloomy months, so that you can incorporate some into next year's gardens.
Yes, it was a lovely and productive afternoon.
PS – If you like my blog, please pass on my website to friends and family, gardeners, homeschoolers, and the nutrition-conscious. Thanks!
Autumn officially arrived on Thursday, September 23, and soon we will breathe a sigh of… relief? or sadness? Well, relief from the heat and drought, yes! So oppressive it was this year that I actually found myself anxious for the summer to end. I do love the fact that the seasons change, and I would not want to live where it is always hot or always cold. But most of the time, there is a slight sorrow that the warm days are passing and the cold is approaching, that my gardens will lie mostly barren and the sky will be frequently gray. Sigh.
And yet! And yet! Autumn has so many joys of its own! While the evenings are getting chilly, the days are still down right hot, so the flowers are still blooming! Mother Nature offers some beauties this time of year, as this bouquet shows – to the grasses, goldenrod, fleabane and pokeweed that I gathered I added some late sunflowers, a few asters and nasturtium, and a red spike or two. Lovely!
This bouquet includes just a portion of all that early autumn offers in my garden: cosmos, gaura, tall ageratum, Victoria and Lady in Red salvia, statice, globe amaranth, plumbago, asparagus fern, nasturtium, and tansy, along with bachelor button and calendula which returned with the cooler weather. A late July planting of zinnia has resulted in an abundance of blossoms that I didn’t even include in these bouquets. I wanted to showcase the more delicate autumn choices. But zinnia’s pizzazz brings sunshine inside, even when there is a dreary autumn sky outside.
Many plants still yield beautiful flowers for bouquets in late summer and early fall, although the plants themselves look shabby, so keep a cutting garden out of sight of the house or road. You will be able to collect color from it late into the fall, even if the garden itself looks tired and ready for a winter rest.
Well! Remember that wisteria that I forgave in the spring? I hate it again. And you can see why. I should have attacked it sooner, I guess, but life intervenes, and the cause became desperate. This vine had gotten so large and thick that an eight-foot sumac and a six foot oak were able to grow up in its midst undetected.
My first job was to whack at the exterior enough for me to get close! I cut anything sticking out, and chopped down the sumac. Then I attacked the vines wrapped around the gutter heading up to the roof, severing them from their source of life. But that was about all I could do. The leftover vines from last year are still wrapped around the gutter, because I couldn’t reach them and had expected them to deteriorate and fall off. But they didn’t, so I guess my husband will have to get up on a tall ladder to get down the accumulation of growth from the last two years. Sigh. (Or maybe we could get our big grown weightlifting son to do it! Now there’s an idea! Put ‘im to work for all the food I feed him.)
Then I went around to the porch and attacked from the rear, getting the vine off from around the post and hacking down the foliage billowing onto the porch and extending out under it.
And lo and behold! I found my favorite fork and shovel that had been missing since spring!
Now, here is Angela having fun! She discovered one of the very long, multi-stemmed branches that had stretched out under the porch and re-appeared going across the steps and into the next flower bed. It made a perfect whip! She couldn’t resist. She began humming the Indiana Jones tune – "taa ta ta taaa, taa ta taaa…" flipped the whip, and – "OUCH!" you guessed it! The whip got her in the face, just like it got him in the movie! Fortunately, it won’t leave a scar, and she got the hang of it, as you can see.
It was dinner time and I left the debris, so after dinner the mess became a playground, as Angela and Christina covered Teresa with the trash, then she rose up like an Ent Wife and attacked!
After that they decided to decorate themselves. This resulted in peels of laughter. Even pruning a wild wisteria can be an occasion for wonder!
A post will come in the near future with the crafts we will make out of the wisteria cuttings, yet another opportunity for fun from gardening.
*** (3 stars)
Botanical name: Wisteria
Type: Deciduous vine
Growth Habit: grows 30 ft or more!
Zone: USA zones 4-9
Ah, wisteria! I battle with "the great green monster" all throughout the summer, trying to keep it at bay. Every year I toy with the idea of tearing the darn thing up. Then spring happens, and its orchid-like lilac clusters fill the air with a heavenly perfume – all is forgiven!
If you wish to plant wisteria, by all means, DON’T plant it near your house! Its vines climb under the siding, up the electric meter poles, across the telephone wires, and under the porch. It’s truly a menace… except when in bloom! The blooms come out before the leaves, and my plant, due to the indiscriminate war I am waging against it, does not have a perfect shape when "naked", so it looks a little funny. But the smell and the color are exquisite.
I took a cutting from my grandfather’s wisteria shortly after he died in ’92. I think it was my grandfather who caused me to love plants. His home was like a fairyland to me. His wisteria was in the middle of his front yard, with other flowering trees, and was beautifully shaped, like an umbrella. Little did I know the fight I was in for, planting the beast near my house! Who knows how often Poppop pruned it? But it was perfect. Perhaps mine can be someday, too, if I just remember how perfect its parent plant was, and think of my dear Poppop. OK, that’s my goal this summer. Try to turn the wild animal into a pet. Poppop, help!
Welcome to Growing Goodness! This website is dedicated to growing good things, both plants and children. It's a gardening blog with maternal overtones, as I discuss the goodness and value of plants, both wild and domestic. In the process I hope to help you pass a love of nature on to your children. Happy Gardening!