Monday, April 26, 2010


One of my favorites is the common violet. A little bouquet is so sweet.
Weigela "Red Prince" is ready to bloom.

It sure looks and acts like Spring around here - sun, warmth, wind, storms...

In talking with the owners of Red Barn Nursery, they were amazed the number of people already buying and setting out tender annuals. #1, most nursery plants are not very big or tempered off. #2, we could still get frost (it's predicted for Tuesday night here).

It's been such a wonderful Spring. I don't remember things blooming this early or this lush. Since I've been keeping my "all things gardening/weather" journal, it shows we are almost a month ahead of typical.

Since I'm having a group over this evening, I did plant my outside front-of-the-house pots. I'll either move them in the garage for the night or cover them come Tuesday.

The only things I have planted in the garden are rhubarb and asparagus, neither will be harmed by the cold. I'm babying some cabbage plants but they should also be alright. Those that plant early, should see no problems with onion sets and some other early vegetable seeds.

Tomatoes need warm soil and no frost. I would venture tomatoes set out now will not beat the neighbors in production because they simply will hunker down and not thrive until it warms.

You can plant tomatoes in pots and move them inside and out as the weather allows. If you buy a little tomato set now and do not plant, it will eventually get really leggy and it will have to be pinched back and planted deep (which kinda negates the whole buy early thing.)

Enjoy this beautiful Spring and all our famous Midwest bounty. Cut some tulips, bleeding hearts, sprigs of forsythia, bouquets of lilacs and fill vases all over your home.

Take a drive to admire the trees and bulbs blooming in other gardens. I often wonder why we don't have scenic drives in the Spring instead of just in the fall. Washington State has figured that out with their Cherry Blossom Festival and a few others around specific flowers. Locally, yards blooming with all kinds of flowers are certainly just as beautiful.

As they say in the restaurant business when they set a plate of gourmet food in front to you: Enjoy!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

It's Show Time!

Illustration of an old 1912 "Miss Jessie M. Good" catalog cover featuring a bouquet of dahlias.

I’m not sure why we don’t see more annual bulbs, tuber plants and flowers around this area. I admit they’re work to dig up every year but then they do increase and you don’t need to buy each year. They're some of the most tropical, bright and largest flowers and leaves you can have in your garden.

Today, I’m going to focus on the beautiful show stopper from Mexico, the Dahlia (part of the Compositeae family.) Named after Swedish botanist, Anders Dahl, there are thirty-six species and thousands of varieties. They come in most every color and shade except black, green and blue. Blooms are patterned, single, or double, & from 2 ins. to 1 ft. The plant is from 12 in. to 8 ft. tall. The petals come in a variety of shapes.

Dahlia plants are used as food plants for the larvae of the Angle Shades, Common Swift, Ghost Moth and Large Yellow Underwing.

It is said, “If you can grow tomatoes, you can grow Dahlias.” As with tomatoes, plant Dahlias in well drained humus rich loose soil after danger of frost. They prefer full sun. Stake tall varieties.

Dahlias are heavy feeders, especially in pots. A good water-soluble flower fertilizer about a month prior to blooming and each month thereafter should help.

Dahlias bloom from the middle of summer up to frost. For the finest cut flowers, cut them early in the day, when they first open. Cut Dahlias will last from 5-7 days.

Dahlias often become more beautiful as the weather cools. They should be deadheaded to increase blooming. Pinch back when they are one foot tall to prevent them from becoming “leggy”.

Pests: Watch for slugs, snails and Japanese Beetles (pick these off or use an insecticidal soap.)
Gently dig and store after the first frost. Brush (no water) off as much soil as possible then cut stems back to six inches. Set in a cool dry place for a couple of days. Dust with fungicide and pack them away in vermiculite or sand. Check during the winter throw away any that rot.

There are Heirloom Dahlias or new hybrids introduced every year. The “box” stores have them fairly cheap or the more unusual and spectacular ones are more expensive. Either way, it will be Show Time!

“But each spring a gardening instinct, sure as the sap rising in the trees, stirs within us. We look about and decide to tame another little bit of ground.”
-Lewis Gantt

Happy Birthday Earth Day

Photo from "Everyday Wildlife Champions" Facebook page.

Earth Day turns 40 years old today.

NORAD and USNORTHERN Command says about the environment, "We need to conserve water, energy, and take good care of our environment for the benefit of all human beings not only for our generation but also for other succeeding generations ahead of us."

WQAD's meteorologist, Anthony Peoples, termed it "conserve and recycle" day.

Everyday Wildlife Champions quoted, "It's doing simple tasks, little by little, to make a huge difference."

For myself, I view saving the planet issues much like I do my political issues: "I'm not a Republican and I'm not a Democrat." I read and then decide which side of an issue to stand.

The learning process: I was enthusiastic about this one well-known conservation group to the point I gave them money. Then I learned to read the "fine print" and found out they used their money in ways they don't put out front in the advertising and in ways I didn't agree. Now, I always read the fine print.

I really do care about this earth and I feel I'm responsible for not only making it a better place but insuring it's a better place for future generations. I don't tie myself to a tree over the loss of a mosquito but I do try to educate myself and practice sound ecological measures in my own gardens. I also use my little bit of visibility to help educate others on what they might do in their own backyards.

I've certainly been Blessed by living in America. Daily, I wake to a beauty and bounty my imagination could not have dreamed. I praise and encourage our local farming communities and swell with pride that those very families have chosen to feed the world. I stand by the window at night and look at the vast sky and know I am a minority who are able to do this from the comfort and safety of my abundance. I'm grateful for those who choose to tackle the bigger environmental issues around the globe.

I'm not so happy with organizations, foundations or institutions who have gone off the mark by using environmentalism as a cover for political or financial gain.

Do we, as just one little citizen in one little town, have a responsibility: Most certainly; in each of our own ways and abilities. Now go have yourself a "Happy Earth Day"!

A Sad Surprise

I was reading one of my favorite on-line publications and catalogs, Old House Gardens when I saw the following:

"Bankruptcy Stuns Fans of Wayside, Park Seed, Jackson and Perkins. The economy is picking up, but it's still a tough world out there. On April 2, (2010) three of the oldest and most highly respected plant suppliers in the country filed for bankruptcy protection. According to a spokesperson for the three, "The horticulture industry is challenging and highly seasonal in the best of times. As the general economic situation declined starting in 2008, demand for luxury, non-essential purchases dropped sharply. . . . Seeking court protection and restructuring is clearly our best option for returning to a position where we can focus on delighting our customers."

There are few among gardeners who haven't received a catalog from one of the above; many have ordered from them. Jackson and Perkins also supplies many nurseries with roses. J & P was founded in 1872 and is currently owned by "outside investors".

Park Seed has been around since 1868. Wayside (started in 1916) was purchased by Park Seed in 1975. I'm not sure, but it looks as if all three are now owned by the same outside investors. Whether it's the economy or the outside investors' business management that proved to be the problem, the end result is not a good one.
Loosing these three respected large suppliers would affect American gardening in a negative way. Let's hope the restructuring will help them through this period until they can again be financially secure.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Bestow the Fragrance

Lilac Common Purple
Lilac Common White

Lilac tree "James Macfarland"

Lilac "Sensation"

Seriously, have you ever smelled anything that filled your house with a more lovely fragrance than lilacs? I have a bouquet in my home and can smell it two rooms away.

I have several different kinds and the most fragrant is the old fashioned, Common Purple Syringa Vulgaris.

The Common Purple can be seen on the lots of most old homes in the Midwest. Growing to about 10 ft and spreading by suckers. A deciduous shrub, it survives routinely to minus 35 degrees. It does not survive where there is no significant frost in the wintertime. We may not have oceans and beaches up here but we do have the most wonderful fragrant lilacs in the world!

Another old lilac is white and has a faintly spicy sweet smell. It's called Syringa vulgaris Common White or "Alba". The Common White wilts quickly when picked.

Among the hybrids, the French lilac Syringa vulgaris "Sensation" is a best seller. Purple with white edges and little fragrance, it is best known for it's pretty looks. It keeps well when picked. I have another lilac "James Macfarland" that is pink, blooms late, and has very faint fragrance. It is dainty and sweet.

My children gave a tree lilac to me a few Mother's Day's ago. Called Syringa reticulata Japanese Tree Lilac "Prince Charming", it blooms late and certainly looks like a tree. The blooms are lilac/pink and the individual flowers are small. The fragrance is lightly sweet. It has done quite well and is covered with lilacs every year. This tree does not require trimming and makes a good specimen plant.

Other than acquiring the common version, you may want to buy only hybrid that have resistance to mildew (common amoung lilacs). If you choose to plant those without that caveat, it is sometimes best to plant lilacs where they will be background green the rest of the year and not where they will be seen up close. The mildew doesn't kill the plant; only makes it unsightly.

Lilac bushes can be trimmed to return them to a full bushy look by trimming one-third down to about 5 inches every year for the three years. The thirds insures you will continue to have blossoms every year until trimming cycle is completed. If you trim the entire bush down (do not trim tree lilacs down), it will not kill them but you will not have blooms for another two years because they bloom on the previous year's stems.

Pick bouquets every day that the lilacs bloom and let them beautify and infuse the entire home with their one-of-a-kind fragrance.

Flowers leave some of their fragrance in the hand that bestows them.”
Chinese proverb
Advice says to hammer the cut stems of lilacs before putting in water. This helps them absorb water.
Gardeners who can no longer garden usually enjoy a gift of flowers from your garden. It allows them to enjoy the fruits of your labors and brings memories of times past. Put the lilacs in a an old mayonnaise jar, wrap with a pretty ribbon and brighten their day.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Garden Art Awards

It's important for gardeners to be supportive of other gardeners' designs.
It's important that we don't impose our own taste as the only "good" designs.
It's important we don't become so judgemental of the efforts of others, we stifle creativity.
That said, I may do all of that and more when I feature some garden "objects" that defy my own sensibilities for garden design. I do realize for every one of these, there may be a person out there who says, "Gee that's really cool, I think I'll get one."
And the award goes to:
I call this my "personal favorite" for the "Are You Kidding Me Award". It was called the Black Tick and was made of "found objects." Let me say this, "some objects should not have been found and should not have been made into a black garden tick."

This little number, called Robot was listed for $28. My thought was if it was given to Mom or Grandma, then put it in the garden until the kids grow old enough to be embarrassed and then remove. It gets my "Simulated 3rd Grade Art Class Award".

This was listed for $130 and the artist said it was fine art (which allows the artist to do something totally odd and say it has deep significance to sensitive types). He called it "Dove Hands" which has now received my "Huh? Award".

This one is from Bruno Torf's sculpture garden, called Tree Figure and I actually kinda like it. It receives my "Warning - May Scare Little Children Award".

This little number, called Three Eyed, sells for $75 to the hunter who has everything and wants to expand his dead room into the garden (you know who you are). This one gets my "You're Creeping Me Out - Now Stop It Award".

These are a handful of garden objects de' art I found this morning on the net for your viewing pleasure - there were thousands to choose from on e-Bay, Etsy, and some garden blogs.

The trick with using garden art: If you can't resist going totally over the top, then be prepared for critiques, complaints or to be forced to install a tall privacy fence. The good thing about some of this, it sure does allow a sense of humor to laugh out loud and that's not all bad.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Darned If I Remember

This is the time of the year when I look at my beds and think:

A. It looks like some of my tulips have stopped blooming.
B. Boy, I sure wish I had planted more Spring flowering bulbs last Fall.
C. I'm sure I'll remember this Fall to fill that space with some bulbs.

In the Fall, I look at my beds and think:

A. Now where were those tulips that have stopped blooming?
B. Darn I hate planting bulbs when it's already turned so cold.
C. I have no idea where it was I wanted those bulbs planted.

I can state the above because I've done this routine almost every year I've gardened. BUT, this year I have a new plan.

After I've put down my newest layer of mulch, I'm taking a can of yellow spray paint and making a circle of where I want bulbs. It's not like there will be thousands but too often all the remains of a summer's worth of flowers hides any traces of where I might plant.

I don't want to dig up good bulbs or put in places that don't show well in the Spring. I figure yellow won't be too noticeable through the Summer and Fall foliage yet will still mark the spots.

I've noticed several of my tulip patches aren't producing or have slowed. Tulips are considered a short lived perennial and this is to be expected. I've tried digging and replanting and fertilizing but eventually they just stop putting on flowers.

Have you ever noticed buying 100 daffodils in the Summer sounds reasonable but in the Fall you seriously think you've lost your mind?

Painful Roots

The four little pansy starts are examples of different root systems in pre-started nursery sets.
The left one has pretty good root condition. The middle set has more roots. The third from the left is root bound (little soil and almost totally roots). The one on the right has the roots torn down the middle (by me) on both sides.
The reason to tear the roots down both sides is so they will start growing out and not continue in the circle or current mass. If they continue in the circle, they will not get the nutrients from the new soil and eventually will be stunted or die.
Pulling the roots loose is a good idea with any set. With root bound sets is is a necessity.
Although some growing directions tell you to use potting soil around a plant set, the current thought is either amend all the soil in the bed or don't amend anything. The plant needs to start off growing in the kind of soil it will eventually live within. (The exception is vegetables sets that seldom send out long roots. I make the hole big enough to hold every eventual root.)
A plant that has potting soil in the hole and the rest of the area is not amended will want to live in the potting soil and the roots may simply grow in a circle instead of venturing out in the real world.
This doesn't mean plants should not be fertilized and it does not mean the entire bed or pot should not be amended to improve the nutrients. It does apply to spot digging and no till.
If the plant set is root bound, as in the picture above, it is necessary to cut through them and they will send out new roots from the cut ones. If you do this, you should also prune the green or top portion by cutting off flowers if it's a low growing plant and if it is a tall plant, cut the stalk down to about 6 inches for large plants, two for small ones. Be sure there are leaves still on the plant as these absorb nutrients from the sun.
Annuals should establish new root and start new growth in a few weeks. Perennials may take the entire growing season to put down a good set of roots. This means the first summer you plant the pernnial, it may not be that perfect beauty you want. Still-if you are in it for the long hall-it's giving that plant the best start. If your familiar with Biblical scripture compare to building a house on sand or on a firm foundation. You will be building a strong plant on solid roots.
If the plant is not root bound, but the roots are circling the soil ball, gently coax them out before planting. If they don't coax, cut down two sides with a clean knife.
With all these to-do and to-don'ts, the top picture is a pansy that came up from a discarded seed head (when I was deadheading last year) without the benefit of it knowing it was an annual and not suppose to overwinter nor grow among stone.
Have I ever mentioned "Nature bats last"?
Of course I have and it always proves true.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Old Gardens

Walden-Bluff’s Edge Bridge, Lake Forest, Ill.
Photo by Robin Karson.

Another site for those who like the "different" on-line gardening experience, check out

This is the Library of American Landscape History. I know it may sound boring, but, it's a beautiful site, full of the history and pictures of many old gardens. Their newsletters are only every few months and never becomes cumbersome.

There is information about many public landscapes throughout the world and many restored to the previous beauty. The site has information about the history of the gardens, the designer, and often the original owners. Much is devoted to the process of restoration and preservation.

The original owners were often the wealthy who owned mansions on thousands of acres, brought in the most famous of landscape designers and architects and the land has now been bequeathed or sold to form the parks of today.

They also feature historical cemeteries and their landscapes.

For those who like to visit gardens during vacations, it's a good resource. For those of us who like to borrow ideas or simply look at beautiful gardens, this site will help.

Side Note

This site has the guarantee "Safesubscribe". I mention this because we must be cautious about subscribing to e-mails to make sure you're not tied into a site that won't allow you to drop membership, breach your PC's security or sell your address. It has many contractual rules the web site must agree before being authorized as Safesubcribe. I've learned not to subscribe or give information to any site that does not use Safesubscribe.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cone Heads

Picture of Coneflower seed heads in the winter.

Hybrid Coneflower in bloom.
The native Echinacea purpurea or Purple Coneflower is the slightly faded pink seen along Midwest roadsides in late summer. It's in the same family as the daisy.
Coneflowers like those dry, hot, sun baked areas and only need water until established. This makes them perfect for water conservation efforts. It will probably die if it sits in water-clogged clay soil.
Other wildflower cone flowers are:
Pale Purple, Green-Headed Coneflower, Gray-Headed Coneflower (both actually have yellow rays (petals) but the button (middle where the seeds will be) are these colors. The gray has extremely reflexed rays which makes them look like they've been in a wind machine as they are pushed down. Thin-Leaved, Orange, Sweet, and Showy are similar to the Black-eyed Susan with some small variations.
The new hybrids have sensational color (magenta, lime green, orange, cream, gold, red, coral and shades in between. Some are fragrant.
The new shapes are quite varied. Some look like zinnias, others have a flower on top of another flower, others the center is more pronounced than the petals. Heights range from 12 inches to 5 feet.
Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies are all over Coneflowers and each little spike on the center button is a source of nectar.
Coneflowers have a long vase life.
They may self seed but will not become invasive. I leave them standing during the winter to provide garden structure and interesting photographs. Birds may eat the seeds in late winter.
The Coneflowers are happy little flowers - meaning they make you smile when in bloom. They are a good companion plant with daylilies and other sun loving plants.
Try to buy only a healthy substantial plant as the survival rate is much better than the small little starts.
Side Note
Has anyone noticed the price of nursery grown perennials and annuals have increased dramatically this year? On a recent trip to a nursery, smaller tubs were from $9 to $13 each. 4-pack small flats were almost $25. Yikes, that could make the cost of planting a good sized pot over $50. My daughter said her local big-box store prices have increased, also. Not saying their expenses haven't necessitated the price increase, but, I'm guessing it will cut down on sales.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

For The Love Of Gardening?

My mother had no interest in plants other than the necessity of “putting up” produce from our huge vegetable garden. My father, a depression era farmer, thought anything on the land that didn’t make a profit or food was “nonsense.”

How on earth did I get the love of all things gardening? I had this love from the time I was a small child, picking violets and dandelions for bouquets and making hollyhock dolls.

As I got older I was given the chore of mowing with a big difficult-to-maneuver piece of machinery. I was always sure it was my punishment for dawdling away my time over the flowers. In truth, my older brother was expected to help with farm work and I was “it” by default.

We lived in a big old barn of a farmhouse and some prior owner had planted beautiful perennials. There were two large round beds out front that held what my mom called “French iris”. I’ve never found that variety but it had tiny royal blue flowers.

Another beautiful attraction for me was the row of pink, rose and white peonies that ran beside the clothes line. The fragrance from a vase full would perfume an entire room.

The climbing rose bush was situated out by the garage (actually it was placed to strategically hide the outhouse.) The rose was a single yellow and had a strong sweet fragrance. I never let a season go by without picking those little roses to float in a bowl of water.

The yard had many large trees. As all Indiana farmsteads did, it had a large catalpa grove out in one of the pastures. We would spend many an afternoon among the trees playing cowboys and Indians.

A pine tree that was as tall as our two story house held my brother’s tree fort and my swing. I found this old swing when we were sorting things for my dad’s estate sale.

A large arborvitae had a tall rock beside it and it was always “base” on those nights when the children of family and friends would play hide and seek. A large willow tree swayed in the summer breeze and caused my mother endless chagrin when the branches continuously dropped.

My folks, my grandparents and my great-grandparents homes were all destroyed in the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado that tore through Indiana. In addition to the lives, livestock and buildings lost, it pretty much wiped away all significant yard landscaping.

At the time, we mourned much more than the loss of flowers. My aunt had been killed as had hundreds of others. At my father’s age, it eventually proved too difficult and costly to start over with new farm equipment, livestock and buildings.

Almost everything in their home and outbuildings had been destroyed. Even though we celebrated that they and the rest of our families had survived, it was not a time when even the smallest thought centered on pretty.

All these years later I realize I am drawn to little royal blue iris, old fashioned peonies and an heirloom yellow rose bush. I have pines, a willow, and a couple of catalpas.

I’m not trying to hold on to or recreate the past. Heirloom plants from my past bring a bit of comfort from childhood memories. They’re an affirmation that these good things shaped a lifelong love of the soil. Perhaps, it’s for the love of gardening.

Spring Skies

Spring sky - 04-06-2010.

We had just left Hanna City, after enjoying a day of watching our youngest grandson, when we saw this beautiful and rather scary sky. It is a reminder how Spring in the Midwest can turn quickly.

Our little guy's father had told us how a tornado had been spotted near Decatur yesterday and they had all gone to a shelter. Decatur, headquarters for my company, holds a couple of tornado memories for me.

The first: I had three people in the car with me, we had just left a meeting and were heading back home. We had left early because of weather predictions for bad storms. On a country road, rain and wind hit hard and at one point the car was sliding sideways from the force of the wind. I barely saw a driveway, turned in, we jumped out and banged on the door until a kindly farmer let us join him in his basement. Later, we learned we were in the middle of a tornado.

Another time, I had stopped at a friends home to see their new baby before heading home from Decatur. The little girl slept the entire time and I was heading out the door when she woke crying. As I picked her up, the town's tornado alert went off and we went to their basement. It stormed a bit, I loved up the sweet baby, and headed home. As I got to the spot where I would have been had I not stopped to love up baby, a tornado had done significant damage. I call her "my little life saver!"

According to the Farmers Almanac (doesn't every Midwesterner read this?), "The coming of April could mean potentially severe weather in the Midwest and East, with tornado activity across Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and western Kentucky." Not to diminish the FA predictions, but, that is a pretty fair description of any Spring in the Midwest.
Spring frost map.

The Farmers' Almanac has a good map of the "average or typical" last day of Spring frosts that you might want to check out if you are setting out plants. It is a gardener's frailty to want to get out in the yard and plant gardens and flowers as soon as the first warm weather arrives. Unless you enjoy endless covering and uncovering (plus, loosing some plants), I'd advise a little patience. If you do buy plant sets, place pots in a sunny location during the warm days and take back in during the nights.

May all your Spring storms be gentle, may all your rain be just enough, may the sun warm your back but not burn your nose, and may you take the time to simply enjoy the many Blessings of this grand land!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sunday Drive

Easter Sunday was Henry County's first Tornado Watch of the year. Fortunately, none materialized but it's a good reminder we do live in one of the "tornado allies". For more Spring weather information, check out my article
"Spring Weather" number 11, published on 04-24-09.
"The Evening Thyme Garden Club's 12th Annual Garden Fair"

Clark County Fairgrounds in Marshall IL

9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For sale: bulbs, bedding plants, yard ornaments & garden decor.

Demos, raffles, and food available. Free admission.


"The Third Annual May Plant Sale"

Red Bud, IL

8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For sale: 20" herb bowls & 10" hanging baskets.