Monday, March 20, 2017

Fish Gravel

One of the best ways to mark where you've planted seasonal bulbs is with fish tank gravel.  

Most every gardener, in the middle of summer, has sunk their shovel into a bare spot of soil only to discover it's where they planted tulips or other seasonal bulbs.

It's because of our NEED to fill every square inch of our flower beds with something new and beautiful.  If there's a square inch with nothing growing it calls our name and our shovels.

Seasonal bulbs do not like to be accidentally dug up.  Most likely they will come up chopped like a water chestnut heading for a stir fry.  All at a time when they should be storing up for next year's show.

Buy a bag of colored fish tank gravel.  Use a color that coordinates with your summer gardens.  Black, brown, white, clear or green aren't good choices.  

Buy cheap and average.  Thrift stores sometimes have them as do most big box stores that carry pet supplies.  

I've also used glass orbs meant for the florist industry when I've found in sacks at thrift stores.  Because they're smooth and round they tend to disappear faster than the gravel.

If you're into DIY, you could always use driveway gravel and spray paint it.  When doing DIY, remember whatever you use should be soil friendly and it will be there for a long time whether you see it or not.

After you've planted your bulbs and mulched the soil, ring the area with the gravel.  It needs to be pretty thick so it doesn't simply sink through the mulch or get moved about.   If all your bulbs are already in the ground, now is a good time to simply layer the gravel on the outside of the bulb growing patch. 

You may want to use two colors; one for spring flowering bulbs and another for fall flowering bulbs or tubers.

Example: Use blue gravel for spring bulbs:  tulips, daffodils and crocus.  Use orange for Naked Ladies, asiatic and oriental lilies.  All of these plants have periods during the growing season when they aren't visible. 

The cost is minimal, the task is easy, the look isn't intrusive and it works.  And it will help your bulbs survive another year.       

Friday, March 17, 2017

Green is Your Friend

You might think because foliage is often green you'd never want green flowers but then you'd be missing some real beauties.

St. Patrick's Day inspired the whole green flower thing.  Let's explore some of the top beauties this morning:

Nicotiana:

An annual but may self seed.  There are several kinds - old fashioned with smaller less developed petals and the newer hybrids like pictured.











Zinnias

An annual and easy to collect the seeds and replant next year.  I've never found the green zinnias in mixed packets nor in smaller sizes.

They are especially beautiful in bouquets.












Petunia

"Sophistica Lime Green" petunia is a showstopper and looks especially good when mixed with other colors.

An annual.









Hydrangea

Many hydrangea flowers start out green and then turn to other colors (white and pink are the most common.)  This picture shows the flowers from my Hydrangea "Annabelle"  mixed with the flower heads of sedum.

This is a perennial.






 Daylily

Hemerocallis "Green Flutter" is a near-green.  Quite a few daylilies have been hybridized to have enhanced green on the petals/sepals but are still short of a real green self.  Many have a green throat.  Daylilies are perennials.








Rose

"La terre Verte" Hybrid Tea Rose is lovely example of how green can be beautiful in an unexpected way.






The folks at Pantone always have their "color of the year" and this year it's Greenery.

Their choice influences the fashion and interior decorating industries.   Although slower to adapt, it will influence the garden industry as well.  An easy adaption since gardens are all about green.











Bringing in more green flowers is a rather recent gardening phase but expect more because it is so beautiful.  Beautiful alone and coordinates with other colors.

In the garden, most look best when they are in full sun as they can blend in with shadows to the point of being invisible among foliage.

In a vase, they can be alone but are really beautiful when mixed with other colors.

You'll find green flowers at your nurseries this summer and also available in seed packets.  Dive into greenery - green is your friend.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Swedish Theme Garden

Hemerocallis "Swedish Girl"
I gave this talk to the Bishop Hill, Illinois, VASA Lodge members several years ago and thought there might be some interest to a wider audience.  For those that want to infuse a little of their Scandinavian heritage into their gardens, this might be a beginner's guide.

There is no official national flower in Sweden but each province has an official flower.  The Linnea Borealis (or Twinflower) is often considered their national flower because of popularity and abundance.

57% of Sweden is covered in lush forests of elm, oak and maple.  Half of their forests are coniferous.  Mountain elevations have aspen, mountain ash and birch trees.

Sweden's Carl Linnaeus is one of the world's most noted scientists for developing the system of plant taxonomy.  It's still utilized today.  The Linnaeus Garden is the oldest botanical garden and is owned by Uppsala University.

Berries are abundant in Swedish forests:  Cloudberries and lingonberries (which are only found in Scandinavia,) blueberries and raspberries.

Kitchen gardens were and are a part of the Swedish culture.  Botanic gardens vary from royal to plain and functional to naturalistic.

The Swedish Society of Public Parks and Gardens is a good reference for garden planning.

What are the goals of your Swedish themed garden?  The following are all different in the outcome but may have overlapping plant choices.

  • Period to early Bishop Hill?
  • Period to early Sweden?
  • Swedish throughout history?
  • Modern Swedish?
  • Swedish by association?
  • Swedish by societal class?


Hemerocallis "Swedish Nightingale" 
Realize Swedish gardens are diverse because of age, use in Royal gardens, economic class, religious affiliation, how near it is to the sea and mountains.  To copy some would be like a Swede seeing a picture of Biltmore Estates and thinking that was how all American gardens looked.

Native plants to Sweden:

Anemone Nemorosa.  Locally known as Vitsippa or mosippa.  It's a bright white flower with a yellow center that blooms in the spring.  It will spread rapidly.  The flower petals are open during the day but close or drop at night or during rainfall.  It grows close to the ground.

Ranunculus Acis:  Locally known as Upright Meadow Crowfoot, meadow buttercup or tall buttercup.  It has bright yellow flowers with a long bloom season.  Touching can irritate the skin although it's not poisonous.  Sometimes it's considered a weed in North America.  It's resistant to herbicides so consider the ramifications carefully before introducing into your gardens.
Blueweed

Picea Abies:  Known as Norway spruce.  There are examples still living in Sweden that are 9,500 years old.  Can push new trunks out of the soil should the main one be damaged or killed.

Linnea Borealis:  Also known as Twinflower.  It's a very delicate wild plant about one-inch high and grows in the deep shadows of the Northern spruce forests.  The flowers are pin, bell-like and very fragrant.  (check out the Twinflower Bed and Breakfast located in Bishop Hill's old hospital.)

European Globe Flower:  This yellow orb-shaped flower is also known as smorboll.  It's a member of the buttercup family.

Blueweed:  It's also known as Viper's bugloss and Echium vulgare.  It's located in meadows, has light purple/blue flowers with bright pink interiors and blooms in the summer.  It has a 30-inch stalk.

Lily of the Valley:  Known as Convallaria majalis.  It spreads easily, stays 6-inches in height and has very fragrant white bells on a tiny stem.  Blooming in spring, it's a favorite of florists and brides.  Grows in sun or shade, moist or dry soil and may be considered invasive.
Arctic Starflower 

Arctic Starflower:  This shade loving flower is also known as chickweed wintergreen.  The leaves have a purple tinge and the flowers are tiny and white with a yellow center.

Viola Tricolor:  Many call them Johnny jumpups.  Small violets in shades of purples and yellow.  May self seed.

Flax:  This is sometimes grown as a field/commercial crop.  It has pale purple flowers with bright yellow centers.

If you're simply wanting to use plants with Swedish names, consider:

Hemerocallis "Swedish Girl".  This daylily has 5 1/2 inch soft pastel yellow blooms with distinct lavender edges.  Semi evergreen, blooms early to mid season and has 26 inch scapes.  Hybridized by Sims in 1987.  Was awarded the daylily "Honorable Mention".

David Austin's "Queen of Sweden".  A hardy, short upright rose bush.  It has a Musk Rose fragrance.


David Austin Rose "Queen of Sweden"
There's a whole larger selection of plants that could be added to Swedish gardens.  Doing a bed entirely in the colors of the Swedish flag is a good example.

While you're contemplating a Swedish garden, plan a trip to historic Bishop Hill, Illinois.  History, beauty, shopping, dining and entertainment.  Visit the many websites and Facebook pages for up-to-the-minute happenings.    
Twinflower B&B, Bishop Hill IL


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Slackers Unite

Daylily "Blue Diana"
New gardeners sometimes get caught up in the enthusiasm and garden pictorials.  

Older gardeners sometimes get caught up in thinking they must do everything they've done in the past.

Busy job-holding/children-rearing gardeners sometimes feel they must do everything for everyone all the time.

OCD gardeners sometimes think they must have it all completed and perfect.

Impatient gardeners sometimes want it all done yesterday.

All of these gardeners need to take a lesson from our friend, the garden slacker.
Daylily "Carnival in Mexico"
The lesson isn't to STOP everything and let your garden turn into a wasteland.  The lesson is to do gardening in little time parcels - little bits of energy - little portions of physical expenditure - little quantities of cash outlay.  

There is nothing wrong with slacking off of perfection.  Oh! My! Gosh! did she really say we don't need garden perfection???  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I did.  And, here's the reasoning:

Nature is made up of little bits and pieces of perfection snuggled between imperfection.   My favorite flower, the daylily, is a good example.  It carries a rather ho-hum bud for days before it unfolds a beautiful flower.  Only to be followed in a few hours by a less than pretty dead flower.  It's the cycle of nature.

To think every moment and piece of our garden's life should be perfection is as unrealistic as expecting that daylily to leave out the bud/dead stages.  Once you can accept the boundaries and limitations of the cycle of life in your garden, you are better prepared for your new garden slacker philosophy.
Daylily "Lunar Max"
Some suggestions:

Buy only one bag of spring flowering bulbs to be planted this fall.  Next year do another and etc.

Weed a designated area only.  Decide before you go out that you will only work within a 6 x 6 foot plot (or whatever your limits) and stop when it's done that day.  

Trim or prune bushes for a set time limit - no matter how far that takes you in one day.

Paint one lawn chair (or whatever) and then clean up the mess and be done for that day.

Go to one nursery, pick out only the amount of plants you can carry to the car in one load.  Go home and plant them and be done for the day.  

Notice: I haven't said do one thing and never do it again the rest of the year.   I'm talking about reasonable steps. 
Daylily "Nuit D'Amour"
Another example:  No one wants to listen to the complete works of Led Zeppelin or John Denver or Elvis or Luke Bryan or Beverly Sills hour after hour with no break.  A few songs and it's exquisite.   A marathon turns it into torture.

Your gardens should never be turned into torture or you've massively missed the point of gardening.  Take a hint from our slacker buddies!             

Monday, March 6, 2017

Growing Pineapple?


Do you grow pineapple?  Me either!  Not outside in our Zone 5.  

Since I'm in the gardening mood but we're not into gardening warm weather, I thought I'd take a little pineapple trip into my recipe book.

My mother was at the beginning of the commercially canned food era in the Midwest farming scene.  Previously, we pretty much ate what we grew.  Occasionally, we would see a beautiful orange around Christmas, but typically not much in the way of tropical fruit made it to our table.

When commercial canning arrived at our local groceries, pineapple became a huge favorite.  It was used with pork, salads, desserts, jellies and snacks.  Every farm woman had cans of sliced, cubed and crushed pineapple ready for every meal.  

My first 4-H salad project was a leaf of lettuce, a pineapple slice, a ice cream scoop of cottage cheese (we made our own) and topped with a maraschino cherry.  Yes, I was a culinary whiz kid!

One favorite was pineapple upside down cake.  An easy replacement for the pie we had every single day of our lives.  On birthdays, we were always treated to homemade angel food cake iced in a combo of whipped cream (we had our own cream) with bits of pineapple or fruit cocktail.  Heaven on a cake plate!

Following is the pineapple salad considered our "company food"; always on the table for Easter Sunday's family feast.  I still like it although the rest of my family look at it as if I'm trying to poison them.  Today it's not that special treat we had when we were given something rare and exceptional.  




Pineapple-Cheddar Cheese Salad

1 - Egg
1/2 Cup - Sugar
2 Tablespoons - Flour
1 Cup - Pineapple juice (drained from a can of pineapple tidbits.  Add water to equal one cup if needed.)
Dash - Salt

1 Cup - Pineapple Tidbits - drained and liquid reserved for above
1 Cup - Cheddar cheese (Dice into small pieces)

Cook first 5 ingredients over low heat until thickened.  Stir to keep from burning.  Cool completely, then gently stir in remaining ingredients, blending well.  Keep covered until served.

(If you stir in the cheese before the mixture is cooled, it will melt and then it doesn't have that contrast of flavors in your mouth.  Even if you serve it warm, make sure it's cool enough to keep the cheese from melting.  Having a contrast in flavors is also why I dice the cheese instead of using grated.)

Served warm - it's considered a side.  Served cold - it's a salad.  Can be made the day before if kept refrigerated and covered.

It's good with baked ham and that's probably why we always had it for Easter dinner.  It's bright and cheery with just enough tang.   

Serves 8.

To make it into a dessert (served cold) add when cooled:

1 Cup - Chopped pecans
1 Cup - Miniature Marshmallows

With the dessert additions, it must be used the same day as the pecans will get soft and the marshmallows will start to melt.

Pineapple is still a favorite of cooks - plain and gourmet - because of it's nutrients, flavor and now availability.  

Friday, March 3, 2017

Bonanza vs. Bedraggled

Bonanza vs. Bedraggled?  What does it all mean?
Flowering Quince
Spring flowering shrubs and trees are a bonanza of beautiful flowers as winter fades into warmer weather.  Crab apple and red bud trees, forsythia, lilacs and quince bushes; all and more are covered with wildly fabulous flowers in the Spring.
Forsythia

What happens after the flowers?  They all tend to look a bit bare; some to the point of downright bedraggled.

The catalogs all show huge rows of a particular Spring flowering bush or tree all packed and perfect with bright flowers.  Gardeners have been known to rush out and buy several, plant them together and weep at the scrawny exhibit the rest of the year.  

Should we give up on them?  No!  We need to position them where it won't really matter how they look the rest of the year.
Old Fashioned Lilac

A row of Spring flowering shrubs in front of the house will be regretted.  A row running down a side fence or across the back will be forgotten when other things start to bloom.

Spring flowering trees and bushes bloom before most other deciduous trees get their leaves.  This allows them to be planted where another plant may shade them a bit during summer.  An example:

Nestle a golden flowered forsythia in an arrangement with an oak, a couple of dwarf evergreen bushes, a climbing clematis and some daylilies.  The oak won't be leafed out until later in the spring.  The evergreens will pull the eye away from the summer forsythia branches and add some depth in the winter.  The clematis will use the forsythia as a trellis and the daylilies will fill in around the front.
Ornamental Plum

Spring flowering shrubs and trees will not do well in deep shade.  They also should never be pruned in the spring until AFTER they've flowered.  

Spring flowering trees can be used as specimens since the usually have pleasing branching.  I try not to plant too many things under them so they can make the most of any moisture.  And I don't plant them near patios or where dropping their flowers and fruits can be a messy cleanup task.  
Cherokee Dogwood

Spring flowering trees are especially beautiful in Asian themed landscaping. 

You can also choose Spring flowering trees that have interesting leaves in other seasons (the Cherokee Dogwood leaves turn a deep mahogany red in the fall.)

The Red Bud tree has long interesting seed pods in the fall.  Many fruit trees are now bred to only be ornamental and not produce fruit.  




These Red Bud tree pictures show Spring blooms and Fall seed pods.






In the middle of summer, it may not seem important to plant spring flowering bushes and trees but OH they are so very wonderful bringing us out of the winter grays.  Don't banish these beauties from your yard simply because they tend to be average the rest of the year - position them to fill all your need.  

         

Sunday, February 26, 2017

What Claude Said

As we're looking forward to March inching it's way closer to Spring, this famous quote from Claude Monet seems to speak to me:



I miss warm-weather flowers.  I've been know to bring in cut flowers from big box stores, put out some nice artificial flowers or have a flowering house plant but nothing is as soothing as looking at a plant blooming in my yard (or your yard for that matter.)

Since we had some record-setting warm February days, plants are spouting up, trees and bushes are budding and robins are looking around wondering "where's the beef".  

The leaves from in-ground flowers will live but may be a little ragged around the tips.  Fruit and flowering tree/shrub buds are a different story and we'll just have to wait and see if their flowers survive the resuming winter temps.  The good news is it won't kill the plants.  

Have a good end of February and join me in looking forward to flowers because we must have flowers always and always!