Friday, June 21, 2013

Lessons Learned In the Garden: Spring 2013

With age comes wisdom, or so they say.  Having recently celebrated another birthday, I can safely say I am wiser than I was thirty or forty years ago.  But I am far from a sage yet, and I still have so much more to learn.  That is certainly true when it comes to gardening. Once again I have found out how much I still don't know about gardening and am joining in with Beth at Plant Postings for "Lessons Learned" this spring.

"A thing of beauty is a joy forever," wrote the poet John Keats.  However, gardeners know that is not necessarily so.  While trees may last many lifetimes, the blooms of trees and other plants are usually fleeting.  Nowhere was this more evident to me this spring than in my Baptisia.  My lone Baptisia is in the roadside garden, and one day while working there, I noticed the first blooms on it and couldn't wait to see it covered in purple.  A week went by before I thought of it again and realized I wanted to get a good photo of it this spring.  But when I went down the lane with my camera, there were no blooms to be found!

These were the only Baptisia blooms I saw this year.

 Now you have to understand that this small flowerbed is at the end of our lane which is about 1/8 mile long, so I don't make a point of walking down to check things out every day.  However, I do pass it every time I drive somewhere, so what happened?  Was I just not paying attention as I left on errands, or did it even bloom fully?   Sadly, I'll never know.  But I have learned my lesson--even if you don't have time to work in it, pay attention to your garden every day, or you may miss something beautiful.

I almost pulled out this "weed"--which turned out to be a Rudbeckia!

Recently fellow blogger Carol posted on Facebook that she was offering a course in weed identification: the workshop would be held in her garden, participants were to bring their own hoes, and the class would last until all the weeds were gone.   Carol's post may have been tongue-in-cheek, but I really could use a course in weed i.d.--except, let's hold it in my garden, please!  I can recognize dandelions, of course, along with bindweed, henbit, purslane, and the weedy grasses that are the bane of my garden, not to mention countless others whose names I don't know but whose appearance immediately tells me they must be banished at once.  But there are so many plants I don't recognize as seedlings. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has nurtured a plant only to discover weeks later that it's a weed, or pulled a weed-lookalike, remembering later that I'm missing a new plant...unmarked, of course.

Actually, besides a course in weed identification, a good book on weeds would be an invaluable resource.  One with clear color photos of mature weeds as well as the seedlings, with an easy-to-use cross reference of  leaf size and shape.  If such a book already exists, please tell me--I'll order it immediately!

On a positive note, I have finally learned the secret to growing annual poppies and larkspur.  After several years with no success in growing poppies, I followed the advice of another blogger (sorry, I've forgotten who it was!) who recommended sowing poppy seed in late winter by sprinkling it over the melting snow in the garden. As the snow melts, the seeds sink down into the soil and germinate when they're ready.  I've done this for several years now and have done the same with larkspur the past two years. Voila!  Success!  Next winter I'm going to get out my seed packets earlier and try the same technique with other annuals that require some cold stratification.  Casting seeds out on the snow is certainly easier than filling my fridge with seed trays of 'Rocky Mountain Penstemon' and babying them for a few weeks as I did this spring, only to have nothing germinate.

The first of many poppies to come!
The only problem with this method of sowing seeds is that you never know exactly where the plants might come up or how many will germinate.  I don't just have poppies this year, I have a plethora of poppies.  I also have a plethora of volunteers. Remember the nicotania that re-seeded itself all over my arbor bed last year?  At the time I attributed it to the mild winter we had in 2011-2012.  But apparently, nicotania just likes it here.  Once again, I have seedlings all over the arbor bed. 'Victoria Blue' salvia also re-seeded itself, which I didn't discover until after I had bought a flat of it, naturally:)

This Nicotania escaped being pulled.  A pretty white flower, but a few are enough!

Last year I dug up and transplanted many of the 'Victoria' volunteers elsewhere, and I dug up dozens of Nicotania volunteers to give away.  Not this year, which brings me to another important lesson I've learned this spring: sometimes you have to be ruthless in thinning out plants.  I'm a saver by nature, and it's hard for me to throw perfectly good plants onto the compost pile, but really, sometimes you really can have too much of a good thing.  I've pulled or hoed out most of the nicotania, leaving a few in an empty spot (and will probably be pulling more seedlings out as they pop up all summer!); I've hoed out the excess 'Victorias' that have strayed into the wrong territory; and, I've thinned out some of the poppies for now, and will be pulling most of them after they've bloomed, rather than leaving the seedheads.  It's been a hard lesson to learn, but I know I will be so glad I did this as the garden fills in this summer.

Best friend Beckie, aka my "plant enabler," talked me into buying this basket, so of course I had to go shopping again to find some double impatiens to fill it!
Finally, I have vowed this spring to cut down on the number of annuals I buy in the future, or at the very least be more organized when I go plant shopping.  Every year there are certain old standbys I always buy, but while I'm out shopping for the best buys on those, I always find something new to entice me.  Once I arrive home, I find I need another coleus to finish this container or something trailing for that one...and off I go, shopping again.  I spent much of the end of May and the beginning of June planting everything; meanwhile, the weeds have grown by leaps and bounds, and I haven't even begun to mulch.  Planting is my favorite part of gardening, but when it starts to become a chore, it's time to re-think and prioritize how I really want to spend my time.

The largest of the Asiatic lilies, 'Brindisi' signals the beginning of summer and lily time!

There will be more lessons learned in the garden through the rest of the year, more than enough to post some this fall, I'm sure.  And that's a good thing--all this new knowledge helps to keep the old brain cells from atrophying.  Besides, if I knew everything there was to know about gardening, it probably wouldn't be as much fun anymore!

Thanks to Beth for hosting this topic every season; you may learn something new yourself if you visit Plant Postings' wrap-up of lessons learned by other bloggers.


  1. I still haven't mastered the poppy regime. I must give the winter sowing a try. My baptisia didn't bloom long this year either. I was in the garden almost every day, except when we were on vacation. It seems like their blooms just went poof. Some of the nicotania you gave me is coming up this year. Not in the amounts that you have them but I was thrilled to see that some have popped up. I hope you have fun on the garden tour this weekend. Can't wait to read all about it on your blog.

  2. I am so pleased to read I am not the only one who can/t make a difference between what is a weat or is a seedling. Everyday I am learning eventhough I am 55 years old now. And somehow I make a mistake with planting in early spring and forget how large the other plants are going to be during the season. Your lily's are stunning.
    Have a wonderful day Rose

  3. Rose, as you I can't recognize some weeds, some of them I know 'in face'!
    Well, your advice is very useful: I will sow the poppies the same way as you do.
    Have a nice weekend!

  4. Lisa, I'm glad to hear your nicotania came up but didn't overtake your garden. I tried to give some away this spring to Beckie, but she politely declined:) The winter sowing of poppies has really worked for me.

    Marijke, Planting things too close together is one of my biggest flaws--if I see a bare spot of ground, I think, oh, I'll just stick this or that plant here. No wonder all my garden beds are too crowded:)

    Nadezda, Yes, I do know a lot of weeds, even if I don't know their names. But there are some that look so much like a wanted flower that I wish I could tell the difference early on.

  5. I could so identify with many of the things you wrote in this post Rose. I had big ambitions to take photos of certain plants, but they were finished and done before I ever got there! My baptisia had flowers, but they seemed smaller than last year. I have a feeling I need to divide this monster sized plant and give it some extra food.
    I too have many volunteers and hate to waste good seedlings. There are however only so many geraniums one gardener needs. I would transplant them into pots for sale, but they never seem to like to be moved. So I am trying to get ruthless and rip at least some of them out.

  6. I found this post especially moving, Rose. Yesterday, I noticed my heirloom Roses blooming and had planned to photograph them but didn't get to them. I'm hoping this morning's thunderstorm didn't pummel them away (the thunderstorm is also why I didn't get to my computer first thing this morning)! Thanks so much for sharing your lessons, Rose!

  7. Wow,Rose! Enjoyed reading the post. Feels so great to be back in the garden blogs world! I've missed it so much... Hope to start blogging again soon.

  8. I have two baptisias, an indigo and a blue. The blue is still young, but this year the indigo had very few blossoms. I wonder if it has anything to do with the drought last summer?

  9. Great lessons -- especially the first one about taking the time to go look. Just go look, wander about and enjoy what is coming up or blooming.

    And learning to ID weed seedlings is a real art. I'm a ruthless weeder and I mulch any spots where I didn't plant something, so I have smothered or pulled the self seeders i would have liked to come up. Never saw any nictotianas come back at all!

  10. Rose girl I understand so much of what you have written here .. I missed such a fantastic picture of Julia Child Rose in shimmering morning light (because I was "working" in the garden) I will kick myself forever about that one .. it would have been stunning .. DUH!!
    I have baptisia seedlings which I have to rescue before the work starts on the water feature .. I had a gorgeous plant that bloomed so well but it had to come out because of the arbor bench .. why didn't I plant it some where else ?
    I must have had a good reason at the time but I can't remember it now! BIG sigh !
    You do a wonderful job as it is with pictures and posts .. so that is a positive to count !
    Joy : )

  11. That is good advice on annual poppies. Too late in Spring and there is no flowers.

  12. Plant enablers- what a lovely moniker!

  13. I was fairly ruthless in removing poppy seedheads this year, hoping that it will result in fewer thinning chores next winter. We'll see. Some years it seems like no seed goes ungerminated!

  14. Jennifer, My baptisia was attacked by the moths that seemed to affect everyone's last year, so I really wanted to see it in bloom. The foliage looks good, though, so I hope that means the plant is fine.

    Beth, That's been one of the problems this year--frequent rainstorms that make it hard to get out there and take photos when plants are at their best. Thanks so much for hosting this; I always enjoy it!

    Chandramouli, So good to hear from you again! I do hope you'll start posting again--I'm looking forward to seeing what's going on in your garden!

  15. Cassi, I wonder, too, if everyone's baptisia bloomed less than in past years. The drought or perhaps the moths that seemed to be everywhere last year could have affected them.

    Laurrie, I forget what I planted a couple of months...heck, a couple of weeks ago:) So I hesitate to pull something until I'm sure of what it is. Although I do have a sinking feeling that I pulled out a new Prairie Smoke Geum that I planted this spring:(

    Joy, I'm impressed you moved your baptisia--that's not an easy thing to do! Hope those little babies take off for you.

    Gardenwalk, I am forever grateful to whoever told me the trick of planting poppies over the snow. Another advantage to this--by the time I start weeding, they are big enough that I definitely know what they are!

    Lydia, A plant enabler is much better than any other kind:)

    Cindy, I usually leave up the seedheads because they're kind of cool, but not this year. Don't you wish other seeds would germinate as well?

  16. Sage advice indeed. I like how you relate how you learned all these lessons. Good info! P.S. I hope one day I'll get poppies growing!

  17. I, too, have not had much success with poppies....but now I have a plan with your shared tip. A lovely post that inspires us all.

  18. Isn't a weed just a plant that's out of its proper place? I still remember being shocked years ago at seeing lamb's ear for sale in a Wayside Gardens catalog. At the same time there were ads on TV for herbicides to rid crops of lamb's ear, among other weeds!

    I've had to learn a whole new bunch of weeds since moving from the Midwest to Florida. What fun!

  19. Tina, you should see all the poppies I have right now! Some years they just germinate better than others.

    Liz, Thank you!

    Sage, I hope this poppy planting trick works for others--I certainly wouldn't have tried it if not for the advice of some other blogger.

    W2W, I had the same feeling several years ago seeing milkweed for sale. We used to pull swaths of it out of Dad's soybean fields. But I guess that's why the Monarchs need it--it's virtually disappeared from so many places. I do draw the line at a few plants I still think of as weeds, though:)

  20. You have so many beautiful blooms in your garden, Rose. I love that pastel basket - looks great with the double impatiens!

    I can't always identify weeds, but I'm pretty good at telling weed seedlings from stuff I want to keep. If in doubt I leave it, watch it, and snatch it quickly when it becomes apparent it's a weed.

  21. What a fun post! I think I planted the seeds in the fall too early. I planted four kinds, and none of them came up. I wonder if birds ate them. I think the packages got taken out with the recycling. Otherwise, I'd try your idea of putting them on the snow.

    I have some good books about the weeds of our area, but I don't remember if they show seedlings or not.

    I have a few seedlings I've been trying to identify, but I did figure a couple of them. I had been hoping some were the penstemon I planted, but I just figured out those are aster volunteers. The first ones I figured out are amsonias. Oh, my eyes just landed on Garden Girl's comment. I am doing that, too, keeping the seedlings until I figure out whether they are weeds.


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