The Hunt is Up

Happy May Day!

Here’s a glimpse of the baskets I created for my pals with the purchases at the plant sale, plus the addition of some strawberry plants.  It wouldn’t be May Day without strawberries!

Everyone seemed to have a good time and kudos to my friends who brought crafts and creative projects along for us to try.

Fear I now need to get out to the garden to work off all that food!

The Plant Sale

We’re members of the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, which hosts an annual plant sale that offers an impressive array of annuals, perennials, shrubs and small trees.  Usually held in early May, one of the benefits of being a member is the opportunity to attend the member’s-only preview, and get the first crack at the good stuff!

The sale has changed over the years. At one time, boxed dinners and wine were served as you socialized, perused plants or picnicked on the lawn. While that’s no longer the case, we’re really there for the plants. We arrived just a half hour into the event and eager gardeners were streaming to the checkouts with their haul of plants.

This year, the theme is the collector’s garden. We noticed many unusual varieties. We picked up some ginger, which should be interesting!

Plantsale3

Shelves display a variety of annuals and perennials

APlantsale2 small

Nurseries and greenhouses near and far donate a wide variety of plants each year

While it took many years for our garden to develop, today our modest yard can barely hold another plant  (though M. would be happy to sacrifice lawn mowing to more garden beds!).  So, my focus today was mainly finding plants and herbs to make May Day baskets.

I’m hosting May Day brunch this Sunday. May Day is a wonderful and unique tradition at Bryn Mawr College.  Sophomores rise at dawn to pick flowers for the seniors. Everyone dresses in white and eats strawberries and cream while sipping champagne for breakfast.  There’s May Pole dancing, hoop races through the blooming lane of cherry trees on the green, viewing of the The Philadelphia Story at midnight, and more. But overall, it’s a day of just hanging out in the sun on the green, which is welcome ahead of the finals coming up in just a couple of weeks.  The day ends in a step-sing, one of my favorite college traditions.

My alma mater has so many great traditions, some going back to the beginning of the college,  and I’m sure many new ones by now.  It will be nice to enjoy a little May Day festivity with these local Bryn Mawr friends, with our own way of celebrating, now so many years away from campus.

The Payoff

With a minimum amount of work and maintenance, Fall bulb planting can have a big payoff come Spring.  Aside from the time choosing the varieties to plant, the actual prep and planting is very quick (see my November 7, 2015 post).

There is nearly  no maintenance involved come Spring, aside from removing the yellowed stems and leaves, once it has fully run its course.  You may also want to add a touch of bulb fertilizer at the right time, but that’s about it.

One concern folks generally express is that bulbs can look messy once the flowers are gone and you’re waiting for the leaves to die back so you can remove them.  Your planting scheme can help here — for example, I tuck the bulbs in between shrubs or other plants that will emerge, as part of an overall scheme.  In one area, it’s tucked among an azalea and evergreen shrubs on one side, while on the other, a spirea and evergreen. Ahead of it are a variety of green perennials, including hosta, lamb’s ears and Lady’s Mantle, which will soon be in the the focal point in the foreground.

Tulip Spring Green small

As for those little tulip orphanaeda flava in the backyard, here’s what it ultimately looks like in bloom. It’s tucked among some boxwoods, a peony, climbing hydrangea and variegated hostas.  It gives the smallest pop of color with the grape hyacinths among the cool green palette.

Tulip orphaeda flava small

Try out a small area of bulbs this Fall, and be rewarded with a little joy next Spring.

Potted citrus

We had some workmen in a few weeks ago.  One of them was fascinated by the potted calomondin orange in our living room. He asked if the fruit grew to be full-sized citrus (they’re tiny).  I explained that they don’t, and while the fruit is sour, I have made a good marmalade with it.

It’s a fun tree, which does well  indoors in the winter and is just fine outside all summer

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Here’s Why

Today I was thinking about why I like to garden so much. It’s not something I’ve really given much thought about.

I love to surround myself with beauty.
I love creating art. I love design.
Then there’s the physicality of it.  The hard work of digging with shovel or spade, of moving things.
It engages all of the senses.
And, of course, I enjoy sharing  the results of my efforts. It’s nice to brighten someone’s day with something I had a hand in creating.

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I opened the community garden plots for the season today.  Wish I could capture the sun, the air and the warmth (despite a chill in the air).

Some challenging, yet quick work of weeding. Cut back dead flower heads (it’s nice to leave them on for the birds over winter). Put down two wheelbarrows of compost.

Planted the raised beds with a few cool-weather items:  A variety of beets and a rainbow carrot mix, lacinto kale, swiss chard, pak choi, and French breakfast radishes.  I’ll put in the lettuces and the peas next time around.

It was a nice surprise to have thyme ready to pick. It overwintered well. The fragrance is amazing.

The rhubarb, another cool-weather standby, is already underway.  M. will be happy once it’s ready to harvest.

A good day.

What’s blooming now

The pulmonaria are emerging.  Hard working, they’re great for the shade. And, after they bloom, their spotted leaves add interest in a shady border.  If they get a little ragged in the heat of mid-summer, I simply cut back any dead leaves or shear it back a bit, and new growth appears.

Pulmonaria 04-16

The Shishigarshira maple (acer palmatum) is starting to bud.  This tree is interesting in just about any season. Here, the light green buds contrast with the texture of the bark and the reddish stems. Interestingly, ours doesn’t drop any whirlygig seeds, so no babies.

Japanese Maple 04-16

The flowering pear street-side is always the first to flower for us.

Flowering plum 04-16

On Saturday, we did a lot of work on our front bed. We replaced the yews with something new… stay tuned for more!

Happy Spring: The 10-Minute Project

Okay, kids — if you’re itching for a super-simple Spring pick-me-up, plant some potted pansies to put on your porch or steps. It’s time! (At least in zone 6B.) Pansies like cool weather and most can survive a bit of evening cold, if not more.

Step 1: Your local garden center likely offers pansies in “six packs” (small cells with individual pansy plants) or a flat, which contains multiple six packs.  I’m partial to fragrant varieties, but there are myriad colors and sizes to choose from.

A six pack of pansies
A six pack of pansies

Step 2:  Pick a container that you like — make sure it has drainage. I filled three small terra cotta pots, which fit nicely into a stand on our porch.  I like how it looks when I sit at the kitchen table –  a sweet pick-me-up at breakfast, or after a long day.

Pansies 2016
The view of the porch, from the kitchen

Step 3:  If you prefer, add some terra cotta shards or gravel at the bottom. I just go right for the soil and skip that step.  Add a potting soil base layer high enough so the plants will be seen over the top, but low enough that they can be topped with soil to allow room for growth (and protect their roots). Gently remove each plant from its cell, if the root system is tight, tease out some of the roots so the transplants can develop a hardy root system.  Cover gently with potting soil. Water thoroughly but gently.

Step 3:  If you wish, add some decorative moss.  Several of local garden centers nearby offer an array of options. Here, I’ve used a lighter green moss, in line with Spring.

Step 4: Enjoy.

Happy Spring!

Blooming This Week

Our mild weather continues.  With sunny, 60-degree weather, yesterday was a great day for garden cleanup.

The hellebores (also known as Lenten Rose) are now blooming.

Hellebore

Hellebore
Hellebore

Crocuses have made an appearance.

Crocus
Crocus

The first of the daffodils are blooming, while other varieties of narcissus are still making their way out of the soil.  Toad lily (erythonium) is also one of my early risers.

Toad lily
Toad lily

It won’t be long now…

Hyacinth buds emerging
Hyacinth buds emerging

If you’re admiring the Spring color in your area and are thinking about how to capture that in your own garden, it’s easier than ever before.  The majority of the flowers mentioned above, except the hellebores, are bulbs that need to be planted in the Fall.

The camera on your mobile phone and the web can help you match what you see with valuable information — check out catalogs, gardening sites and lifestyle or home and garden magazines to understand what you’d like to plant and where it does best (look for zone information and details about light, soil and watering requirements).

I’ve been practicing heirloom and organic gardening for more years than I can remember, and there are a growing number of sites dedicated to each — check out a couple on my Resources page. However, take care to read the descriptions. As with most gardens (my own included), heirlooms may be mixed with  more modern varieties.

Take notes.  Check garden centers and websites as early as June or July to order bulbs for Fall planting. Good catalog sites will ship the items timed with the optimal planting schedule in your zone and area.

The best thing about planting Spring plants is that they generally go into the ground while you can still see the plants and perennials around them, if you live in an area where frost kills back plants. This saves a world of troubles by avoiding digging up plants you love, but may forget the exact placement of come Spring.

One last tip. If you’re the lucky person who receives beautiful flowering baskets of live blooms around holidays like Easter or Mother’s Day and you want to keep a particularly attractive plant, go for it! If it’s a perennial or bulb that is suited for your climate, it provides a great alternative to letting it languish in the basket, where it may just become leggy and pot-bound. If you’re dealing with bulbs already  in bloom, it’s likely you can plant them out into the garden (just be sure the risk of heavy frost or freeze is past).  Cut the spent blooms off and transplant it to the desired area. While it won’t bloom again right away,  the following year, you’ll be greeted with a delightful reminder of the gift in your garden.