Tuesday, April 15, 2014

April GBBD: Mixed Emotions

It's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day once again, and I'm so excited!  After months of trying to be creative in finding something that classifies as being a "bloom," I finally have some real blooms to show this month.

It's been a very late spring compared to past years, but warm weather last week finally convinced my garden that it was time to wake up from its long winter's nap.  The first blooms to appear were a few spindly snowdrops discovered hiding under a pile of leaves, as I began garden clean-up.  Next were the crocuses, which started blooming the first week in April.

By this weekend, the spring growth had accelerated, and new blooms were opening up each day.

One of the first clean-up chores I accomplished in the garden the past two weeks was cutting off the old foliage of the hellebores, and just in time.

This is 'Red Lady,' I think, and one of my favorites,
 because the blooms are more upright than the white ones.

A new bloom I'm excited about--it's hard to tell from this fuzzy photo, but this is bloodroot.  I just received this passalong plant from an elderly Master Gardener who has been an inspiration to me, and I'm so happy it seems to have transplanted well.

The early daffodils seemed to shoot up overnight.

I have planted so many other types of daffodils in the past few years, but these standard yellows (name forgotten) always lift my spirits because they are the very first to bloom.

Hyacinths are just opening up, too.  I've been wondering why all my photos have looked so washed out lately, and this morning I finally discovered the reason--my camera has been on "snow" setting for months!  There's an irony here, as you'll soon see.

A happy surprise under the lilac--I thought these were Scilla at first, but then realized they were Chionodoxa, also known as glory-in-the-snow.  I don't remember ordering these, let alone planting these, but I'm delighted to see them.  Notice I also have a healthy crop of creeping charlie--my garden nemesis--that was unfazed by our harsh winter.

Not every surprise this spring has been a happy one, however.  Walking around the garden with a friend on Saturday, we noticed many of the tulips had been chewed off.  Whether the damage is due to rabbits or deer, I'm not sure, but I am definitely not happy!  I have never had a problem with either deer or rabbits bothering my garden much in the past, but this winter has been a hard one for them, too.

It's a good thing I took photos of the garden yesterday, because this morning we had another unpleasant surprise . . .

. . . yes, that is snow covering the daffodils this morning!   Our temps dropped 40 degrees in twenty-four hours, and the steady rain yesterday turned into snow before midnight.  These white double daffs were just about to open, but I think they might decide to wait awhile now.

I didn't get a good photo of the pretty little scilla dotting the shade garden yesterday, but today they are closed up, shivering in the cold.

I certainly hope Mother Nature is finished playing her cruel tricks--it's been 24 weeks since our first snowfall, and I think that's quite enough, thank you very much.  Bring back spring!!

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is brought to you each month by the indomitable Carol of May Dreams Gardens. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Playing Plant Detective

After months of trying to find some time to get away, I finally was able to visit my daughter near Dallas last week.  I knew it wasn't the best time for her, though, as she had a busy schedule at work, but I don't mind entertaining myself during the day, especially when I could enjoy soaking up some warm Texas sunshine.  It was my first visit to her new house, and I was eager to see it, but I was also excited because she had asked me to help with some landscaping.  Now none of my children have the least bit of interest in gardening, so when one of them asks for advice on anything garden-related, I am ready to help with anything they ask!

Armed with a magazine photo and an article on design tips for front gardens, I arrived ready to get to work.  But my vision of coming up with a plan and implementing it over several trips to her home changed drastically once I saw her home in person.  Although her house is beautiful and big, the yard is tiny, typical of most of the suburban subdivisions I saw.  The house is about 15 years old which means there are already established plantings, so what my daughter really wanted was not coming up with a new landscape design, but rather revamping what was already there. Instead of being a designer, I wound up being a plant detective instead.

Granddog Bear enjoys sitting by the pool.
The back yard is dominated by a swimming pool, with a few shrubs in one corner next to the house.  What little grass there is needs to stay as a relief area for her three dogs.

The only concern Daughter had about this back area was a large tree planted next to the pool. She and her husband complained that it dropped leaves and debris into the pool, and they intended to cut it down.  I hate the thought of cutting down any tree, so I took a close look at it to try to identify it.

Now my Southern friends will probably be chuckling at my ignorance, but I'm not very good when it comes to identifying trees, other than the common ones, and this was a tree I wasn't familiar with at all.

The bark was certainly intriguing.  Later, as I explored the front yard, I discovered two similar, but shorter trees on either side of the front foundation and noticed nearly every yard had at least one, if not more, of the same trees.  A yard crew was cleaning up next door, so I approached one of the workers to see if he could help me identify it.  I wasn't sure if he spoke English, but he adamantly replied "Yes!" when I asked.  Unfortunately, when I asked him the name of the trees in my daughter's yard, he also replied "Yes."  I was pretty sure this wasn't a "Yes tree," so I thanked him and gave up:)  Later research on the internet finally gave me the answer--it's a crape myrtle!  Duh...I've always admired these trees on Southern bloggers' posts, but I'd never seen one when it wasn't in bloom.  When I pulled up images of it in bloom, Daughter and Son-in-law immediately agreed this tree was going to stay put, and they would put up with a few fallen leaves in their pool.

The two crape myrtles (Crape or crepe?? I found both spellings used in articles)  in front of her house had been severely pruned, in what some Southern garden writers call "crape murder."  It may not be the proper way to prune these trees, but it certainly is common, as I noticed similar stubby trees all around the neighborhood.

In front of her house, two narrow areas on either side of her front door had already been planted with shrubs and small trees. Daughter wanted only to add some flowers, not expand the area, and with her busy schedule, everything had to be low maintenance.

I offered to trim back all the shrubs, but I soon realized that first I needed to know what they were.  I identified the lovely Japanese maples she had (no, she had no idea what they were) and pointed out the boxwoods and a hydrangea.  But coming from a zone 5b garden to zone 8, I didn't recognize many of the other shrubs.  Thank goodness for the internet!  It didn't take long to identify this colorful foliage as a Nandina.

This one wasn't as easy, though.  It obviously needed some type of cutting back, but I wasn't going to touch it until I knew what it was.

You would think with such distinctive large leaves, it would be easy to find.  But many minutes spent surfing the internet brought up no conclusive answers.

It wasn't until later when I visited the Dallas Arboretum that I had my answer--Fatsia japonica.  Fatsia is hardy only to zone 8, so it's no wonder I wasn't familiar with this plant.  I was glad to see the specimens at the Arboretum were also in the disheveled state my daughter's were; hopefully, with the cutting back of dead leaves and pruning the stems, her plants will look much better soon.

Even though I was eventually able to identify most of the plants for my daughter, there were a few I was still mystified by.  This plant in a small area in the back yard looks like it needs some attention, but I have no idea what it is.

Here's a close-up of its leaves--any ideas??  While shopping at a garden center for some annuals, I noticed some Indian Hawthorn that looked very similar.  After a little research, I learned that it's hardy to zone 7 and produces pink or white blooms in the spring.  Perhaps once this blooms, it will be easier to identify.

Another mystery for me in the front planting--not a great photo, but any ideas on this one?  I also noticed something similar at the nursery and thought it might be an Abelia, but I really have no idea.  Again, once it blooms, it should be easier to identify.

If any of you, dear readers, can identify either of these two shrubs, I would greatly appreciate it.  Although I doubt Daughter will remember many of the plants I identified for her, I'm glad to know myself what she has so that I can answer any questions she might have about them later.  After cleaning up her small planting beds, we added a few colorful annuals and two azaleas that she picked out and mulched everything well.  It wasn't the big design job I had envisioned, but she was happy.

My visit wasn't all work, certainly--I had plenty of time to relax, including a visit to the Dallas Arboretum one day, just in time for the "Dallas Blooms"  celebration. No need to be a plant detective here--this tulipaholic was in a state of bliss surrounded by all these spring beauties!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Chicago Flower and Garden Show

One of the highlights of March for me every year is attending the Chicago Flower and Garden Show at Navy Pier.  There's nothing quite like seeing masses of spring blooms and creative displays of plantings to get one rejuvenated and inspired, especially after a long, hard winter like this one.  In case you missed it or don't live close enough to visit this annual show, here's a quick tour of what was on display this year.

It was a gray, rainy day when best friend Beckie and I headed north.  All thoughts of the weather left us, though, as we entered the exhibit and were greeted by masses of blooms and the heady scent of hyacinths and other fragrant plants.

Blue hydrangeas seemed to be a popular choice in several plantings. 

Asian-inspired accents always appeal to me.


The theme of this year's show was "Do Green, Do Good" and featured creative ways of repurposing old materials.

At least two different exhibits used old metal filing cabinets as planters.

Maybe I could clean out my basement and put all the castoffs in the garden:)

One of the most clever creations was in the display created by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences.  One of the students explained to me how these planters were made--holes were cut into fence posts, and then pieces of PVC pipe were inserted and filled with soil for the plants.  The fence posts were then inserted into plastic pails, which served as a water reservoir, I believe.  This school has an exhibit at the show every year, and I'm always so impressed by the creativity of these students.

The most elaborate exhibit was built by a company specializing in water features and hardscaping.

A fire pit at the end of the pond.

I'm always amazed by the work that goes into what is, after all, only a temporary display.  Creating an area like this in your own garden, complete with large rocks, stone walls, and flowing streams would probably take weeks or months, but the sales rep told me it took eight men only eight days to complete this...and then they have to take it all apart a week later!

There is so much to see and do at the Chicago Show--gardening seminars, cooking demonstrations, and a photo exhibit, just to name a few--that it is hard to fit it all in in a short day.  Beckie and I always enjoy the exhibit by the Women's Journeys in Fibers who have used hats and shoes as their medium in past years.  This year's theme was "Paradigm Shifts," and the artists were asked to take a basic shift dress to express themselves.  This particular dress traced the progress of civil rights in our country.

Another illustrated the shift in the roles of women, from the 50's housewife to today.

This one was entitled "In the Garden,"  expressing the artist's growing love of gardening.

Look at the detail on this dress!

Some other sights along the way . . .

. . . an interesting plant marker--a dried mushroom, perhaps?

Before we had to leave to catch our train, we made sure to allow some time to stroll through the vendors' booths at one end of the exhibit hall.  Last year we finally discovered that the gorgeous display of tulips that always entices me is presented by a wholesale bulb distributor who has a booth in the vendor marketplace, where any of  the tulips in the display can be ordered for fall planting.  These caught my eye last year, and I just had to have them.  I'm still waiting to see them in my own garden, but I hope in a few weeks, my "namesakes" will be blooming here.

This year my eye was caught by these 'Flaming Flag,'  but darned if I didn't forget them by the time I placed my order.  Oh well, maybe next year.

I did, however, order two collections of 'Patrick's Mix,' above--my favorite shades of pastels.  I even got to meet Patrick, a friendly bulb grower from the Netherlands who assured me that these were sturdy, long-lived beauties.  I can't wait to see these in my garden a year from now!

Someone commented in either a Facebook or blog post that she thought this was the best Chicago show ever.  Beckie and I disagreed; it was an average show, far from the best we've seen.  Some of the regular exhibitors had smaller displays than past years, and few, other than the pond company's, weren't as elaborate as some we have seen in the past.  Perhaps that was due in part to the theme this year which emphasized recycling and planting edibles.  Past themes, like the theatre theme from a few years ago, seemed to invite more whimsy and creativity.  Still, this year's show was certainly worth the trip, and it was a breath of fresh spring air for this winter-weary gardener.  We'll definitely be making plans to go again next year!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

March GBBD and Some Lessons From Winter

It is time once again for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and while I expect my gardening friends farther south will be showing lots of colorful spring bloomers, no such luck here.  But there is hope, as you will see later.

I think my little Christmas cactus is feeling sorry for me, because it has put out fresh blooms the past few weeks.  Perhaps it's a Christmas/St. Patrick's Day cactus instead.

As winter winds down and spring approaches--or so the calendar says--it is also time to join in Plant Postings' quarterly meme of lessons learned in the garden each season.  With the garden under a thick blanket of snow most of the past few months, I didn't think I had learned very much this winter,  but the more I thought about it, I realized there were some lessons to be found in spite of the cold weather.

I learned that I really enjoy watching the birds from my window during the winter.  There may not be colorful blooms outside, but is there anything more beautiful than a bright red cardinal on freshly fallen snow?

This winter has certainly taught me patience.  Not only am I anxious to get out and work in the garden again, but I'm anxious to know how a couple of my experiments are going to turn out.  I was worried how my new Encore Azaleas would fare through the winter, since they are marginally hardy here.  I carefully read some tips for overwintering on their website, which included the suggestion for covering them.  I drove stakes into the ground last November and stapled burlap to the stakes as a wind barrier.  I didn't cover the tops, though, which I hope wasn't a mistake.  I added some leaves around them as extra mulch, and then the snow added extra insulation.  I'll have to wait to see if they survived, but I am so glad I took these precautions--this winter would surely have killed them otherwise!

Another experiment whose results won't be known for awhile involved bulb planting.  As usual, I had some extra bulbs leftover from my fall planting, and rather than find one more bare spot to dig up some dirt, I decided to try planting them in a pot.  I had never done this before, and while it sounded simple enough, I thought I'd better check if there were any specific tips for pots.   Dee at Red Dirt Ramblings  had written about just this very topic, so I asked for her advice.  Because of the smaller area of a pot, they should be treated as two zones colder than normal.  In other words, while my garden is in zone 5/6, the bulbs in this pot would feel like they were in zone 3 or 4.  I placed the pot on the back porch, which is usually sheltered from the fierce winds, but Dee suggested adding a layer of bubblewrap for even more protection. I didn't water it, but whenever I shoveled snow off the driveway, I dumped some clean snow on top--one pile sat there for two months before melting! Surely, the worst of winter is over, so this week I'm going to move the pot onto the patio and remove the bubblewrap.  If these tulips are a success, I'm going to try Dee's idea of "lasagna planting" in a pot next year.

This winter has been a reminder of what true winter in the Midwest is like.  We've been spoiled the last two years with mild winters, so this year has been a challenge in many ways.  Plants that have been happy in the garden for a few years may have been so shocked by this year's fierce weather that they won't survive.  I'm especially concerned about a few new plants I planted last fall, including this serviceberry, a tree I have been wanting for a long time.  It's a native, though, and pretty tough, so I am pretty confident in its chances.  I mulched it well after planting, and Frank the pug has made sure it has been well-watered all winter, though that "watering" may have done more damage than winter itself:)

Despite my complaints this year, I really do enjoy winter.  It's just that when it drags on and on, I've had enough.  One of the ways to combat those winter-weary blues is to start some seeds indoors, which I started this week.  With our average last frost date over eight weeks away, I have plenty of time to fill up several more trays in the next couple of weeks.  There's nothing like playing in a little dirt and opening seed packets to chase away the blues and get excited about gardening once again.

Winter has taught me a lot about patience, but the best part of winter for me is that it makes me appreciate spring that much more.  After months of looking at white or brown, finding these green shoots poking through the soil and matted leaves yesterday makes me so excited.  Tulips? Daffodils?  It really doesn't matter, because to me they represent hope and a reassurance that, yes, spring will come after all!

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is brought to you the 15th of each month by May Dreams Gardens' Carol, who is probably out getting ready to plant peas this weekend.

Lessons Learned in the Garden is hosted at the end of each season by Beth at Plant Postings.  Check them both out!