Archive for March, 2012

The Enduring Optimism of a Gardener

Posted in gardening with tags , , , , , , on March 28, 2012 by planthoarder

We can’t help it, can we?  Every spring someone should tie us to the mast so we don’t succumb to nature’s siren song, buying one more plant, one more seed packet offering something delicious for the eyes, nose, or taste buds. It doesn’t matter how hard it will be to find the time to prepare the bed, or a spot to squeeze our precious new flower. It doesn’t matter that last year the deer ate our strawberries, leaves and all, just as they were starting to ripen, or that the slugs turned pretty leaves to Swiss cheese. This year…ah, this year…

This year spring has come early, or maybe it’s summer. Should we try to plant lettuce, or will it bolt too soon? Should we simply wait until fall’s cooler temperatures for the plants we would normally plant in spring? Those warm days are being followed by frost warnings. The magnolia blooms are just daring Jack Frost to turn their pretty pink to brown. So far we’ve been lucky indeed.

The greenhouse has been open wide nearly every day since the brassica seedlings were put in, and some days they had to sit out in the shade, because the greenhouse was just too hot for the early vegetables. My father is wisely restraining himself from starting his tomato seedlings, but I finally succumbed. I even bought seed for a slightly longer season watermelon. I know, I know, an early start doesn’t mean winter won’t sneak up on us early as well, but to be a gardener is to be optimistic. How else could we believe that despite the hungry crowd waiting in the wings to take our place at the table, we’ll be the ones to reap what we’ve sown?

This year I’m finally trying to grow a dry bean I had given up on. It takes a longer season to mature than we have here, so hope has been hard to find. The seed is eight years old, quite geriatric for bean seed, but it won’t get better for waiting so this is the year. My expectations are low, but a germ of hope remains. What can I say? I’m a gardener.


Hellebore: looking up

Posted in gardening, horticulture on March 23, 2012 by planthoarder

Hellebore are subtle beauties. You might not notice them next to a daylily or a rose, but their eagerness to bloom when we’re so desperate for a bit of color is endearing. I’ve heard ‘Ivory Prince’ tends to bloom a bit more upright than the common Lenten rose, but mine are just seedlings offered by a friend. It’s been such an odd spring, feeling more like summer here, that I almost expect to see a rose in bloom, but here’s my little Lenten rose doing a little trick for me by blooming upright. It’s nothing to get excited about, not some breakthrough genetics that will lead to a new generation of upward blooming hellebore. You can see the flower next to it blooming in the normal way, but this up-facing flower sure brings a smile to my heart. This odd spring will come and go. Thanks to the magic of photography, I can keep this cute little devil forever.

Stowaway: Scilla

Posted in gardening with tags , , , on March 22, 2012 by planthoarder

Not every hitchhiker is as fearsome as Scotch thistle. Here’s another that looks delicate and absolutely innocent, but it sneaked into my garden with a thought to lawn domination.  For a lawn lover, it could be detestable because once there it’s nearly impossible to root all of it out. Broadleaved herbicides won’t do it in. If I had lawn loving neighbors, I might think twice before letting it spread. For me, it’s early, it’s blue, and so, it’s irresistible. My lawn lover knows that my lawn will never be a lush green carpet devoid of flowers so long as I’m tending it, so the scilla will join the violets, clover, and yes, I’ll admit it, the dandelions. The scilla  reminds me to start thinking about an order for early bulbs; the earlier the better. Should I plant them into the lawn? Hmm, better not press my luck.

Hitchhiker: Scotch Thistle

Posted in gardening with tags , on March 21, 2012 by planthoarder

Steve Bender and Felder Rushing wrote an entire book about plants that gardeners tend to share rather than buy called Passalong Plants. Some they describe are more southern plants, but four-o’clocks, mistflower, and the daylily ‘Kwanzo,’ among many others, all made it into my garden through friends and family. We wholeheartedly live by that passalong concept; when we have a plant someone admires, out comes the shovel and plastic bag for a quick division. One accidental byproduct: hitchhikers. Because we don’t wash the soil off our prizes, we often end up with the other gardener’s weed seeds along for the ride. You’d think I’d learn my lesson, but it seems so wasteful to wash away hard-earned topsoil. My latest hitchhiker to arrive is this little Scotch thistle. They look gloriously sculptural at 7′ (over 2m) with white felted leaves and purple flowers, but are spiny and self-sow. Not in my garden. Goodbye Scotch thistle, next time send a foxglove or hollyhock or other lovely self-sower for me to welcome in your place.

My Grudge Against Grass

Posted in gardening on March 14, 2012 by planthoarder

Every gardener has a story, a reason why they began to garden, mine begins in my grandparents’ garden. It wasn’t large, it didn’t contain rare plants, but it contained the seeds of my garden passion. They had an apple, a pear, a plum, a sour cherry, and even an apricot tree. They had gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, and currants. They grew vegetables, too. I took it all for granted the way children do, just nibbling on fruit here and there and washing off the occasional carrot using the spigot outside. I got most of the dirt off, but wasn’t fussy, so I bet I ate my share of dirt, too.

My parents had a garden and I was put to work weeding among the daddy long legs and swatting mosquitoes as I harvested the green beans I refused to eat. They grew enough tomatoes to give to friends as they still do. I imagined myself as an old lady with a row of raspberry bushes growing along the sidewalk for children to pick as they walked to school.

My grandparents passed away and their garden went with them as gardens often do. The house was sold and the new owners built a garage, got rid of the garden, planted grass and surrounded it with chain-link fence. So began my grudge against grass. I’ve owned grass as long as I’ve owned houses, but at each new home I nibble away at the grass, putting in new garden beds. My favorite garden, that of a friend, has only a strip of grass near the road and a few clumps of ornamental grass in the garden. My Love taught me to whistle through a blade of grass held between two thumbs, however I’m still not convinced enough to love grass.

My Love loves lawn, but I’m the one who tends to it, so I merely mow it and hatch plans to do away with a little more each year. The elderly lady who passed away here was an avid gardener. If only I could have seen her garden in its glory. What’s left? The trees; three blue spruce, a burr oak, two arborvitae, a honeylocust, three red maples, and a black walnut. The shrubs: a bridal wreath spirea, a mockorange, a lilac, and some bush honeysuckle. The perennials: lily of the valley, a line of hosta, a short red daylily, a yellow chrysanthemum (found hidden, unblooming, and barely alive behind an arborvitae), some reverted phlox, and some pale fragrant iris. For fruit there was a substantial patch of raspberries the Japanese beetles relish. There is also a bulb: a red tulip. It sounds like a lot, but this garden had so much more as  a tag here and there from one of her roses proves.

Spring brings new plants to my doorstep, and a little less grass to make room for them. Hopefully my grandparents would approve.

p.s. I just want to add that Tangly Cottage’s Gram’s Garden was the inspiration for this post.

Greenhouse Dreams

Posted in gardening, horticulture with tags , , , , on March 11, 2012 by planthoarder

What gardener wouldn’t want a greenhouse? We’d love to stretch the growing season (and growing zone!), but not many of us have the money or space to run an ideal glass house. Lately there’s been a temptation lurking in big box stores: plastic covered metal framed greenhouses. Last year my father succumbed. It’s 6’x8′ (1.8m x 2.4m) and ended up not fitting well into his garden (at least that’s what he told me), so now I have it. Hmm, how to make it work…

We put it up on gravel and attached it to 6″x 6″ boards anchored into the ground, because the wind from the west can be pretty strong around here. It was obvious that it was built to have good ventilation; there’s a flap at the bottom that never seals and four screen windows that close with Velcro. A professional greenhouse grower told me about her losses from a night when cold air slipped beneath a closed door and damaged frost sensitive plants. It will be just over two months before our average last frost, so frost is a concern.

How do we make the greenhouse safe for our seedlings? We’re going to try a passive solar technique: heat sinks. We picked up some cheap used barrels and filled them with water. The barrels were white, so we threw a sheet of used rubber roofing over them. After a week, it seems the temperature inside the greenhouse is about 10 degrees (F) warmer than outside, so today we’re trusting our first seedlings to it: parsley  (yes, they sprouted yesterday!), cole crops, and ‘Mignonette’ strawberry seedlings. Hopefully it will be warm enough soon to grow tomato and pepper seedlings.

Cross your fingers for me!

What are you garden groupies thinking?

Posted in blogging, gardening, horticulture with tags on March 9, 2012 by planthoarder

As a freshly minted garden blogger, I’m curious to know what attracts you to a blog, what turns you off, and what keeps you reading, so I’m going to try a poll or four.

They’re Here!

Posted in gardening with tags , , , on March 8, 2012 by planthoarder

Mail order is such fun, picking the perfect plant, the anticipation, and then….they’re finally here! So, okay, I know they don’t look like much, just a few twigs in pots, but oh the potential in those few twigs. I see ‘Royal Frost’ birch in its full glory of burgundy foliage and light bark, and the “Summer Fun’ dogwood loaded with bloom. It will be years you say? Eh, I’ll probably be around, after all, they’re worth the wait.


On a practical note, you can see there are two types of pots in my order from Forest Farm, black plastic and paper tubes. Those tall slim black plastic pots come in handy for a plant that likes a bit of a root run, but doesn’t need a really wide pot. Clean them and bleach them the way you usually do and line the bottom with a used paper coffee filter to cover those 1″ (25mm) holes in the bottom and plant as usual. Voila! Who said recycling can’t be fun?

PS: My hand is small enough to fit into the pot, but it occurs to me that a man’s would not. Plop a handful of potting mix onto the filter, pull the sides together and place into pot as low as you can, then tap the pot straight down onto a table so the filter gets to the bottom, then fill as usual. Being big and strong must be so tough for you guys.

An Argument for Untidiness

Posted in gardening, horticulture with tags on March 6, 2012 by planthoarder

Late every autumn it’s time to clear up all the vegetable garden debris and tidy up the garden. We don’t want any hiding places for pests and disease to bide their time waiting for the succulent shoots of spring. The flower garden gets no such attention. Why? Winter. Just as we can almost taste sweet spring, Mother Nature dumps a load on us (of snow, of course). No matter, we still have last year’s seed heads to remind us of this year’s promise.

Achillea, Sedum, Hydrangea, and Phlomis are all quite charming in winter, and the quaint puffed seed heads of poppies and love-in-a-mist serve double duty as they seed themselves into the garden.

No, untidiness is not for everyone, and the stark, subtle beauty of the winter garden is not the same as the glory of summer, but we’ll still have that in time. Soon, very soon.

Wanting What’s Weird

Posted in gardening with tags , , , on March 4, 2012 by planthoarder


Confession: I like weird plants.

My family asks why I grow plants no one would want and I ask them why I should grow what everybody else has.

Not that I have anything against what everyone else has, I want those plants too, but oddities have a special place in my heart and a spot in my garden.