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.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

June Bloom Day

It's time for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day once again, my favorite day of the month when I get the chance to show off what's blooming in my garden and get to see what it's blooming in gardens across the world.  Since I haven't had much time for posting lately, let's start off with some photos from last week of blooms that are now fading, but were at their peak a week or two ago.

This year the Knockout roses looked the best they ever have.  Red Knockouts, in particular, have become a  ubiquitous planting in both residential and commercial landscaping the last few years, and I noticed they were spectacular all over town.  I was hoping that my blooms were the result of my increasingly green thumb, but seeing the same results everywhere, I'm sure the cause was all the rain we had this spring instead.

Not as common, the yellow 'Radsunny' Knockout was filled with blossoms, too.

I'm not really a rose person--I love them, but prefer plants in my garden that can survive without too much attention from me--but I did take the time to really prune 'Zephirine Douhrin' this spring and tie up the canes so she didn't sprawl as much as last year.  The effort was worth it, as she responded with dozens of lightly fragrant blooms climbing up the arbor bench.

Alliums, on the other hand, are definitely a low-maintenance plant.  In my last post I featured Allium 'Roseum'; this one, I think is Allium 'Graceful.'

Blooms still looking good today include the spirea, name forgotten for the moment.

And Itea 'Little Henry'

Behind the butterfly garden, the rough-eared dogwood Cornus drummondii has just opened its blooms. This native tree/shrub is not particularly pretty except when in bloom, but it certainly is a bee and insect magnet.

It's penstemon time in the butterfly garden, including this passalong from Gail.  Its purple-pink blooms coordinate nicely with the nearby Phlox pilosa, which to my surprise are also still blooming.

An old standby, yarrow has spread throughout several garden areas.

Speaking of spreading, the lamium is overtaking more and more territory in front of the tall spruce tree next to the shade garden. This is one time I'm happy to see something spread.

A surprising spreader has been the 'May Night' Salvia in the arbor bed.  I brought home a small division two years ago from one of the gardens where I volunteer, and I now have at least 5 different clumps!  This photo doesn't really show the true picture, but I'm beginning to have my own little Lurie "River of Salvia":)  I wouldn't mind, but it's taking over more than I would like--note the poor little delphinium at the center bottom of the photo that barely has room to stretch.

Interrupting the presenting of blooms for a moment, my first pickings from the vegetable garden.  We had such a rainy spring through mid-May that everything has really gotten away from me. These radishes should definitely have been pulled a week or two before!

Taking the time to take a closer look every so often always reveals some surprises.  Sedum 'Angelina,' used as a groundcover in a few areas, surprises me every spring with these tiny yellow blossoms.

Another surprise--I had been watching what I thought were volunteer nigella or cosmos, but the true identity of these plants was revealed when the buds opened--Larkspur!

I was disappointed the past two years when the lily bulbs I had purchased at the Chicago Flower and Garden Show failed to do much of anything.  I guess I should have been more patient.  However, I swear I thought I had bought oriental lilies, not Asiatic, and I know for sure they were labeled a salmon color.  This hot red looks anything but subtle salmon!

The last two weeks of primarily sunny days have been busy, busy ones, mainly getting all the new plants into the ground or into containers.  I'm beginning to think I have far too many containers and need to cut down, but I have a hard time resisting some annuals like these double impatiens.

Other annuals, though, are must-haves for the butterflies and the hummingbirds.  One of the few hummingbird sightings this spring was at this 'Black and Blue' Salvia.

Another sighting was at the Agastache.  The perennial Agastache that did so well for me two years ago was a big disappointment last year, so this year I found a couple of annual Agastache instead (somewhere there's a tag for this...). The hummingbirds don't seem to mind a bit. I'm happy to report that I finally have everything planted--hooray!  But this photo is an embarrassing reminder that there is much more to do--weeding, thinning, and mulching are at the top of my to-do list before things get totally out of hand!

In spite of the fact I feel rather overwhelmed at all that still needs to be done, it's a great time to be in the garden.  As proof of more delights to come, my favorite flower of all is just starting--the first coneflower bloom!

To see what else is blooming around the country and the world and to join in the monthly celebration of Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, check in with our hostess Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Book Review and a Few New Blooms

The first of June always means the beginning of summer to me, no matter what the calendar may say.  School is out, and the pace of life seems to slow down.  Whether you are planning a relaxing getaway soon or, like me, planning to relax on the couch during the hot afternoons after a morning of gardening, you may be looking for a good book to while away those hours.  If so, I have the perfect fun read for lazy summer afternoons--The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat.

Best friends since high school, Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean were first dubbed "The Supremes" by Little Earl of the All-You-Can-Eat in Plainview, Indiana.  Now, nearly forty years later, they still gather at the diner every Sunday after church with their husbands to share good food, family news, and, of course, the latest gossip.

Not to distract you too much, but I have to show off a little of what is blooming now in my garden.  First, my big box store bargain peony is covered with huge blooms for the first time ever.

Feisty Odette is happily married but doesn't confide in her husband about some strange encounters she has had recently.  Clarice, not so happily married, is a gifted pianist who gave up a promising career to marry her high school sweetheart, the star football player, now a philandering husband.  Barbara Jean, who has overcome a troubled childhood, still turns heads with her beauty.  But a tragic loss many years before has left a hole in her heart that not even her best friends can mend.

The iris have done so well this year--this, a true-blue passalong from my mother.
The story weaves easily from present to past as events and characters from the past help to explain the forces that shaped their lives and the bond these women share.  Although a somewhat surprising revelation is made near the end of the book, this is a novel driven by its characters rather than by plot.  And what memorable characters they are!

'Nelly Moser' clematis

The three protagonists are admirable and compelling, but this book has a whole town full of entertaining and often quirky characters.  My favorite has to be Odette's mother whose habit of smoking pot (as preventative medicine for glaucoma, she says) embarrasses her family.  "Mama" is frequently visited by people who have passed on and isn't afraid to give her opinion on any subject.  Early in the book she gives this advice to Odette on dealing with hot flashes:

"You might want to get that checked out.  You don't wanna change too much.  Your Aunt Marjorie started changin' and kept it up till she changed into a man . . . Okay, maybe she didn't switch all the way over to a man, but Marjorie grew a mustache, shaved her head, and took to wearin' overalls to church.  I'm not sayin' the look didn't suit her; I'm just sayin' you can draw a straight line between her first hot flash and that bar fight she died in."

Allium 'Roseum'

Obviously, Mama contributes some comic relief in the book.

'Zephirine Drouhin,'  a climbing rose, is smothered in blooms in only her third year.

If you didn't look at the book jacket first, you might be surprised that the author is male, because the voices of women ring true throughout the novel. Edward Kelsey Moore says that his debut novel was inspired by conversations he overheard among the women in his family. "My intention in writing this novel was to celebrate the joy of true friendship and to invite readers to remember the smart, funny, and strong women in their lives."

Moore definitely succeeds--you may find yourself laughing or crying as you read, but most of all, you will wish you, too, could join Odette, Clarice, and Barbara Jean for a Sunday afternoon at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat.

And finally, with all the rain we've had this spring, I also have plenty of these "blooms"!

Disclaimer:  No compensation of any kind was received for this review.  I review only books I like and think others would enjoy reading; I either check the book out of the library, or, as in this case, purchase my own copy.

Click icon for more
book review blogs
@Barrie Summy