Mulch For Garden Beds And A Pretty Winter Plant Combination

Over the weekend, our across-the-street neighbor was raking up the many Japanese Maple leaves from his gorgeous tree, and so I ran out and asked him if I could take the leaves for my garden beds, pretty please?  He said yes (not the first time for this same reason, I might add), and so away we hauled a bunch of beautiful tiny orange and gold leaves to dress our flower and vegetable beds.  Some photos to illustrate:

Bulb bed mulched, Dec. 2011

A little bulb bed, tucked in for the winter with a couple of inches of Japanese Maple leaves for mulch.

Another flower bed mulched, Dec. 2011

 
 
In this bed I’ve left room around the rose on the left and daylilies on the right, and mulched over the top of where I have lots of bulbs planted.  From garden writer Ann Lovejoy, I learned to mulch the bulb beds, because it helps to keep the upcoming spring flowers from getting mud splashed on them from incessant spring rain that we get here.
 

Fruit trees mulched for the winter. My fruit tree row, weeded (and I was aided in this by the neighbor's chickens who like to come over and visit--there must have been bugs that they were excited to eat there) and mulched with a couple of inches of leaf mulch. Dec. 2011

 
 

Vegetable bed mulched with Japanese Maple leaves, December 2011

 
 
It’s also a good idea to cover bare soil in your vegetable beds as well, and the leaves work great for this.  In the upper left corner there are some bright green garlic leaves–I planted them several years ago, and even though they get pulled up every year, they keep coming back, and not a bad thing I might add.  They are much more pungent than garlic from the grocery store.
 
 

Japanese Maple leaf mulch

 
Japanese Maples grow readily in the Pacific Northwest.   They are gorgeous, there are many in smaller sizes, and they tend to grow unaffected by disease or pests, making them a winner for the garden.  I like to use Japanese Maple leaves in my garden for several reasons:
  • They are already naturally small, so I do not have to chop them up like would have to do with full-sized maple leaves
  • They are free
  • They are amply available when I need them

In our climate, it tends to be best to use about a two-inch layer of leaves for mulching your flower and vegetable beds.  Leave room around the plant crowns; don’t cover them with mulch.  If you put more than two inches, it can sometimes become a haven for mice and other pests that like to live in the leaves if given the chance.  I also like the small leaves better than large maple leaves, because the large leaves, if they are not chopped up fine, tend to stick together in our rainy climate and don’t break down very readily over the course of the winter, and they also become a haven for slugs, which will winter over and eat the plants that you have so carefully covered nearby.

 

Another type of “mulch”:

  

Outdoor containers covered in plastic, Dec. 2011

I just grouped my containers on the garage roof together, and covered them with several layers of clear plastic.  Old clear shower curtains also work great for this, and are made from heavier plastic, which is better.  Although it occasionally goes down as low as 18 degrees here, it is pretty rare, and this in times past has been enough protection to keep containers from splitting, and plants from dying in the containers.  (Fingers crossed.) 

Now here is a pretty plant combination (or two):

 

Gorgeous early winter foliage, December 2011

 
The yellow leaves are on a red-flowering currant, Ribes sanguineum, that I plan to begin shaping into an espaliered form on the wall.  The brilliant red leaves adorn a Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’ barberry.  This is a perfect plant if you are looking for a low-maintenance shrub to fill a tight and narrow spot in the garden.  It reaches five feet tall but only two feet wide, and is great in a small garden.  It’s deciduous, and it has semi-glossy burgundy leaves that turn green as they age, but still keep a burgundy undertone.  It also gets bright orange and red seeds in the fall as well.  I need to take a few more pictures of it, and will then present it in a “Through The Seasons” post. 
 
 

Viola and feverfew, December 2011

 
As you can see, I haven’t gotten around to emptying the hanging baskets yet, (wanted to leave them til the last minute for the hummingbirds, because they had nasturtiums in them), but there are still some purple violas along with chartreuse feverfew.  I may pull those out and transplant them in a protected spot in containers at the front of the house.
 
Some more plant hangers-on:
 
 

Snapdragons in December

 
 

Roses flying high in the sky, December 2011

 
 

A lone, bright pink 'Zephrin Drouhin' rose, Dec. 2011

 
And some winter-flowering plants:
 

Yellow forsythia and white viburnum, viburnum=hummingbird food, December 2011

 
I’ll do a post soon of holiday decorations!
 
Enjoy a break from gardening.  I still have a couple of little chores left to do, but nothing major.  The temperatures have definitely dropped–it’s ranging from the low to mid-40s during the days and down to low 30s at night, so I am on winter hummingbird patrol, putting the feeder out in the morning and bringing it in right after dark.  Sun shining through the bright blue sky today–I love it!
 
Leave a comment if you like!

Through The Seasons: Red-Flowering Currant, Ribes sanguineum

The red-flowering currant, a Northwest-native plant and hummingbird favorite with the Latin name of Ribes sanguineum, not sure of the particular variety but could likely be the commonly sold ‘King Edward VII’, through the seasons at Minerva’s Garden in photos:

Ribes sanguineum, Red-Flowering Currant, in my garden blooming in April, along with hyacinth and narcisus

After the flowers on the red-flowering currant are done, the leaves on the shrub turn green, and it looks pretty unremarkable for the summer.  But this is what happens in the fall:

Red-flowering currant foliage, end of November

Pretty remarkable change, making it a great plant selection for the garden, because it gives two wonderful seasons of interest, and doesn’t require any special watering or fertilizing once it is established. 

 Hope you had a great Thanksgiving–we had company over and had a great time.  Still eating leftovers, which actually I like.  It was sunny today, but we just went through two weeks straight of rain.  Welcome to the Pacific Northwest.  I’ve left the autumn decor up in the house, and will probably switch it out next weekend for the winter holidays.
 
Leave a comment–what’s new in your garden?

Spring Bulb Planning Guide

Now is the time to plan for next spring’s bulb display.  This is actually easier and more affordable than you might think, because I will show you a couple of ways to use plants that you already have growing in your garden as the basis of creating a spring vignette with bulbs added.

Step One:  Take a walk around your garden now with a clipboard and a pencil.

What you want to do is make a list of all your spring-flowering shrubs–things like forsythia, red-flowering currant, camillia, witch hazel and others.  List those together in a group. 

Next, make a list of spring-blooming perennials that you have growing in your garden.  They might include columbine, candytuft, hellebore, ajuga, hardy geraniums and others.

Finally, make a list of any dwarf evergreen conifers that you have in your garden.

The shrubs, perennials and dwarf evergreens will create the backbone of a beautiful spring display that incorporates bulbs. 

Step Two:  Mark in the colors.

Now that you have your lists of shrubs, perennials and dwarf evergreens, write what color or colors they predominately are in the springtime.  So I would mark forsythia as yellow, because it is loaded with yellow flowers, columbine will vary but could be pink, purple or white, and the dwarf conifers might be gold, blue, or dark green.  If you are a visual person like I am, you might like to do this with colored pencils or pens, or even to be more precise paint chip colors to match from the hardware store.

Step Three:  Note the Bloom Time.

This may be a little tricky to do if you have never kept records of your garden flowers.  What you want to do is mark down when each of the spring-blooming shrubs and perennials are in bloom.  I keep detailed records of exactly when these bloom in my garden–if you want to give it a try, here is a post on how I set up my gardening notebooks to give me important information for both flowers and vegetables.  However, here is a little list of some of my plants and when they bloom to help you get started.  I live in SW Washington State, garden zone 8, so if you live a little north of here, your bloom dates will probably be a couple of weeks later, and if you live a little south of here, your bloom dates will probably be a couple of weeks sooner.   It really depends upon your particular garden’s microclimate, so your dates could vary from mine as listed.  It also varies if we have a warm spring–everything will bloom earlier– or a cold and wet spring–everything will bloom later, so take it under advisement:

Spring-blooming shrubs:

Chinese Witch Hazel ‘Arnold Promise’:  Jan. 28-March 5

‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary:  Feb 19-April 11

Flowering quince ‘Texas Scarlet’:  Feb 23-May 6

Forsythia:  March 6–April 4

Oregon Grape (when it is flowering):  March 17-April 10

Red-flowering currant:  March 13-April 30

Choiysa ternata ‘Sundance’ (Mexican mock orange):  April 10-June 10

Rhodedendron:  April 29-May 30

Spring-blooming perennials:

Candytuft:  Jam. 6-April 30

Corsican hellebore:  Feb 14-June 10

Rock Cress:  Mar. 13-May 5

Ajuga:  April 1-May 20

Hardy geranium ‘Bevan’s Variety’:  April 8-June 1

Columbine: March 29-June 15

Jupiter’s Beard:  April 25–into the fall off and on

Geranium cantibrigense:  April 29-July 10

Step Four:  Add in the bulbs.

Now the fun begins!  You will start to add in spring-flowering bulbs that bloom at approximately the same time as your spring-blooming shrubs and perennials to create a gorgeous display next spring.

Spring bulbs are loosely classified as early blooming, mid-season blooming, and late blooming–this information is typically marked on the packaging when you buy them.   Here is a quick list of some that I have planted and when they bloom:

Early Blooming Bulbs (January-March)

Winter aconite and yellow crocus

 1.  Eranthis hyemalis (Winter Aconite)

  • -3-4 inches tall
  • -bloom February and into March
  • -best to soak tiny bulbs overnight before planting
  • -plant 1-2 inches deep
  • -do best where they get full sun in winter and spring but shade in summer

 

2.  Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrops)

  • -6 inches tall
  • -can start blooming in January
  • -bloom well in sun or shade

 

Iris reticulata

3.  Iris reticulata

  • -blooms February to March
  • -6 inches tall
  • -plant in groups of 10 or 12 for best effect
  • -like sun and well-drained soil
  • -don’t overwater in summer or let other plants elbow them out

 

4.  Iris danfordiae

  • -the yellow version of Iris reticulata
  • -They sometimes don’t return after the first year. This is because the bulbs split into dozens of little bulblets after first year bloom, then they disappear.
  • -To prevent this, plant them 4-6 inches deep instead of the usual 2-3.

 

5.  Scilla sibirica (Squill)

  • -5 inches tall
  • -blooms February to March
  • -like well-drained soil
  • -likes winter and spring sun

 Spring-blooming bulbs (April-June, depending upon the variety):

1.  Allium

  • -varieties bloom April through June
  • -easy to grow
  • -multiply rapidly; control by deadheading or dividing
  • -need sun, space, well-drained soil–curb strips!

2.   Grecian Windflowers (anemone)

  • -bloom early, and for a long time
  • -the tubers are tiny–if you can’t figure out which end is up, plant them sideways–the plant will figure it out! (I got this tip from Ann Lovejoy–smart!)
  • –like exposed places, but bloom best in good garden soil with moisture in winter and spring

    Mixed crocus

     

3.  Crocus

  • -bloom February through March
  • -bloom earliest in sunny areas, but will grow in less than ideal conditions
  • -can naturalize in a lawn as long as you let their leaves ripen
  • -look best planted in larger groups–10 to 20

 4.  Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)

  •  -Can grow to four feet tall!
  • -Need well-drained soil = put some gravel in the planting hole, prefers full sun but will tolerate light shade
  • -They like water in the winter and spring, yet dry during summer dormancy
  • -Plant them 8 inches deep and tip the bulb to the side a bit so it doesn’t get crown rot (another good tip from Ann Lovejoy)
  • -Add one teaspoon of dolomite lime in and around the planting hole to help combat our acidic soil

    Checkered fritilaria

 

 5.  Checkered Fritillaria (Fritillaria meleagris)

  • -They top out around 12 inches tall
  • -They really do look like a checker board
  • -Cream and purple, or solid whites, purples and rose colors
  • -The bulbs are dried out when you buy them. Soak in warm water a few hours to help hydrate them, then plant
  • -Like light shade and nutrient-rich soil

    Hyacinth 'Jan Bos'

     

6.  Hyacinths (Hyacinthus orientalis)

  • -Pretty, very fragrant, and easy to grow!
  • -Need decent soil, some sun,
  • -Nice for forcing indoors in winter
  • -Older bulbs tend to bloom a little looser, and the flower heads are slightly smaller

    Mixed tulips, grape hyacinth, and forget-me-nots

 

7.  Grape hyacinth-

  • The common deep blue Muscari armeniacum tend to take over your beds-a beautiful beast. Keep that in mind when you place them in the garden–try them around rhodies or shrub borders, or a spot where they can run wild a bit.

    Narcissus: 'King Alfred type, 'Geranium' with orange center, and white 'Thalia', along with Spirea 'Goldflame'

8.  Daffodils (Narcissus)

  • -Easy to grow
  • -Likes full sun to part sun
  • -Likes good drainage

 Good ones to try:

Early, with small blooms:  ‘Tete-a-Tete’, ‘Jetfire’

Mid-season:  ‘King Alfred type’ single daffodils, ‘Tahiti’ double yellow with orange eye daffs

late-season, double flowers:  ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’, ‘Winston Churchill’–a white version of Yellow Cheerfulness

Red tulips with Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing' in the back

 9.  Tulips

  • -plant them deep-8-10 inches so they’re more likely to return
  • -well-drained soil
  • -sunny spot
  • -ones more likely to come back next year are labeled “single early tulips’ and ‘Darwin’ tulips

Good ones to try:

early tulips:  (end of February into March):  ‘Johannes Strauss’ tulips–these are low-growing and tend to multiply; they have red and yellow striped petals

Mid- bloomers (for tulips, this means middle of March through first week of May):  ‘Triumph Beau Monde’-single pink and white stripes, ‘Atilla’-Purple, lily tulip ‘Aladdin’s Redord-red with a yellow to white edge, ‘Triumph Judith Leyster’-single pink

late bloomers (for tulips, this is April well into May)generally speaking, all the Parrot-type tulips are late blooming, and they are usually double flowers: ‘Rococo’ parrot tulip–double deep red, Darwin tulip ‘Golden Apeldoorn’-yellow, ‘White Triumphator’ lily tulip, 

Step 5:  Enjoy some spring-flowering shrub/perennial/bulb combinations to whet your appetite:

More tips:

  • Get a simple colorwheel–you can print them out for free online–and pair your shrub and perennial colors to your bulb colors.  You can use colors that are complementary, or next to each other on the color wheel, for a more subtle look, or go for contrasting colors, which are opposite each other on the color wheel, for greater dramatic impact.  (Guess which I prefer?  You got it–contrasting, in most cases, but not all!)
  • The absolutely best book I know of about planting bulbs in the Pacific Northwest is Seasonal Bulbs by Ann Lovejoy.
  • If you don’t have a garden, don’t worry–you can combine these plants just as easily in containers that you group together for a lovely display–even indoors if you can chill the bulbs in a cold garage and have good lighting for them when you bring them in to bloom.  Try a dwarf evergreen conifer on its own in a big container, and surround it in front with winter and spring-blooming bulbs.

 

Hyacinth ‘Blue Jacket’ at work in a mixed border: combined with ‘Ice Follies’ narcissus, ‘Tete-A-Tete’ mini narcissus, pink tulips not yet in bloom, a huge annual, Cerinthe major ‘Purpurenscense’, that wintered over and is blooming purple, a burgundy-leaved Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond Pillar’, and in the cage is Veronica ‘Goodness Grows’, which will flower later in the season.

Another hyacinth combo: Hyacinth ‘Pink Pearl’ with a pink primrose, a Corsican hellebore, and grape hyacinths (Muscari). There are additional purple tulips behind that are not yet in bloom, and to the side is a clump of ‘Stella d’Oro’ daylily. Behind is the dwarf arborvitae, Thuja occidentalis ‘Rheingold’. Now a baby, it will make a nice backdrop for all of this when it matures.

‘Red-flowering Currant’ partnered with ‘Carnegie’ and ‘Blue Jacket’ hyacinths, grape hyacinths, and ‘Ice Follies’ narcissus. Hummers love the northwest native Ribes, as well as the grape hyacinth. TheRibes will also have glorious fall leaf color to boot. Hard to see, but to the left as a backdrop is a dark green arborvitae, a hummingbird home.

Another great grouping: Lamb’s Ears for an edging, then grape hyacinth, with white mini narcissus ‘Thalia’, pink and white ‘Beau Monde’ tulips, ‘Ice King’ double daffodils, and ‘Salome’ pinkish-centered daffodil. Notice how the firm grey stone background sets off the flowers.

 

A classic combination: grape hyacinth with mixed yellow and white narcissus, along with a dusky purple sage ‘Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurascens’ 

Notice the perennial Coreopsis ‘Moonbeam’ coming up to help hide dying bulb foliage later on. Also Blueberry ‘Sunshine Blue,’ and Daylily “Driving Me Wild.”

Blue and Yellow partners: ‘Tuscan Blue’ rosemary, caryopteris ‘Worchester Gold’, chinese witch hazel-Lorapetalum chinense ‘Razzleberry’

This is a group of mixed narcissus–white single ‘Ice follies’, short yellow ‘Tete-a-Tete’ in the front, yellow ‘King Alfred type’ single, ‘Geranium’ singles with orange eyes- growing alongside a spirea ‘Goldflame’ and backed by a ‘Lochinch’ butterfly bush with grey leaves.

‘Angelique’ with new dance partners: New Zealand Flax and Lamb’s Ears

Bulb-Buying Tip:  There are lots of spring-blooming bulbs for sale right now, and the best selection is at garden centers, although they are the most expensive there as well.  I like to shop sales.  Bi-Mart, and likely other sources, will sell bulbs at a reduced rate late in the season, likely when it starts to get colder around the end of October or so–this is when I dive in and get a bunch.  If planted late, they will bloom late next year, but will get back on track the following year.

Bulb-Planting Tips:  You can plant your spring bulbs at the recommended depth for each bulb.  It is sometimes faster to use a big shovel and dig a bigger hole if you are planting a dozen or more bulbs in one spot, rather than dig little holes for each bulb.  Also, put a handful of complete organic fertilizer or, if you don’t have that, bone meal, in the bottom of each planting hole, put in a little soil to cover, then the bulb and refill the hole.  Water after done, or let the rain do its thing.

October is also the time to fertilize your previously planted spring blooming bulbs.  If you don’t fertilize them now, they won’t bloom well next year, so sprinkle on some complete organic fertilizer or bone meal on those bulbs, preferably when it is getting ready to rain so the fertilizer will disolve right into the soil. Fertilize again in late winter, and you should be good to go for a fantastic season of blooms!

I hope this helps to inspire you and also takes some of the mystery out of combining spring-blooming bulbs with other plants in your garden!

I always love to hear from you, so feel free to leave a comment below.  And visit the Garden Party.


Flowers and Food

A quick post to show you a bit of what we got done over the warm and wonderful (and dry) weekend:

First the food part (future food, I should add) of the gardening weekend:

We prepared and planted a Swiss Chard, Beet and Spinach bed.  My earlier hardy salad greens bed that I put in back in March is about ready to start picking greens at the baby stage, and the lettuce bed I put in last week is looking good and starting to put down some roots.  We also put in some peas and I am trying this pea trellis I saw in Fine Gardening magazine, made out of some sticks and twine:

The peas are not super heavy, so hopefully this will be enough support for them–we’ll see how it works.

And now the flowers:

These are some tough English Daisies that I started inside from seed several years ago.  They are growing in a container, and I didn’t cover the container or anything over the winter, and when it starts to warm up, there they are.  I love the rings and gradiations of color in these.

‘Queen of the Night” tulips are some of my favorite.  (Always reminds me of her solo in The Magic Flute.)  I like the contrast in color with the silvery-grey lamb’s ears.  Anthriscus silvestris “Ravenswing’ is the dark foliage on the left, and behind the tulips are some blue irises that are putting out some flower buds.

And I guess this last one could be considered both flowers and future food:

Our crabapple treee is blooming now, as is the ‘Barlett’ pear tree and several other apples about to bloom.  Along with the crabapple blossoms is a sea of blue Forget-me-nots, and a couple of parrot tulips–pink ‘Angelique’ and a purply-blue double.  I discovered that the late parrot tulips bloom at the same time as the apple and pear trees, and so they make a nice plant combination together in the garden.

Hope you had a wonderful weekend out in your garden–let me know in the comments if you wish!  And please visit the Garden Party.


A Garden Walkabout

A rare sunny day, so I walked around the garden with my camera.  Here are the results:

Lots of different types of tulips in bloom now:

These are ‘Beau Monde’ tulips, a favorite of mine.

Some red mixed tulips, a bright double yellow narcissus, and on the right side an ‘Atilla’ purple tulip not yet in bloom, but close.

A bright yet elegant combination of red tulips and Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Raven’s Wing’, a perennial that features this gorgeous chocolate foliage and later in the season white flower umbrells that look like Queen Anne’s Lace.

This is an interesting combination of ‘Blue Jacket’ hyacinths, ‘Judith Leyster’ tulips, and a Berberis thunbergii ‘Helmond’s Pillar’, which features this burgundy foliage, and later in the season yellow flowers and in the late summer to fall red berries.  It stays tall and very narrow.

Now other bulbs:

This is a grouping of ‘Goldflame’ spirea on the left that blooms later in the season, with mixed narcissus including ‘King Alfred’ type (the bright yellow ones), ‘Geranium’ narcissus (a confusing name, but they are bright yellow with orange centers), ‘Ice Follies’ single light yellow narcissus, and toward the front shorter ‘Thalia’ narcissus.  I love ‘Thalia’–the shape and drop of the petals.

These are Checkered Frittilaria–about twelve inches tall.  I am always struck by the rose and white coloring of these.  They strike me as unusual, when compared with other spring-blooming bulbs.

Now some Northwest Native Shrubs:

Ribes sanguinium, or Red-Flowering Currant–such a brilliant pink color.

This is Indian Plum, another native deciduous shrub.  The white flowers are so delicate in person–I’m not sure that this picture does it justice, but it is quite beautiful.

To finish, a flowering vine:

Evergreen clematis, or Clematis armandii.  If you have space for it, (it gets pretty big), it is wonderful for early and fragrant spring blooms.

So what’s new in your garden–leave me a comment if you wish.  And visit the Garden Party.


Indoor Spring Flowers

I’m super-busy right now so no time for a long and detailed gardening post.  Instead, I took a few pictures of plants that are flowering inside our home at the moment.  The amarylis is called “Appleblossom,” and the other picture shows three pelargonium, commonly and confusingly known as geraniums in bloom (there are plants that are true geraniums that are called hardy geraniums, and they will grow very well here outdoors), along with some assorted other amarylis that are hanging out in the southern-facing window and growing.  The pelargonium I like to winter over inside under lights, so that I have flowers inside even during the cold winter months.  I’ve tried leaving them planted outside both in the ground and in containers, and it just gets too cold here for them and they die, so inside they go in the fall before it freezes.  I then use them in my outdoor containers and hanging baskets in the late spring and summer months, so they get to go outside and play, so to speak.

Here they are:

And now a close-up . . .

The pelargonium and other amarylis not currently in bloom:

I have just the beginnings of tulips that are about ready to bloom outside, but just a few at this point.  The rain and cool weather continues on apace . . .

What’s new in your garden?  Do you have some indoor plants that are flowering now?  Let me know in the comments.


In Bloom Today!

Just a few photos from this warm late winter, dare I say it, early spring day:

 

This is yellow crocus, a few winter aconite, and the dark chocolate foliage of Anthiscus silvestrus “Ravenswing.”   Tulip foliage as well, but no flowers there yet.

Just a mix of crocus–it looks like the Easter Bunny’s basket exploded!  I love how the orange stamens contrast so nicely with the lavenders, purples and whites.

An unnamed hellebore that I picked up from the Master Gardener’s Plant Sale several years ago.  I love the rosey hues and gradiations of color that this flower offers. 

Across from the hellebore, I just put in yesterday an early salad greens little bed. 

This is what it looks like opened.  No germination yet, but I only planted it yesterday.

Some deep purple mini iris, a little shot of blue scilla in the front, with a dwarf golden evengreen on the left.

A favorite early flowering combination:  ‘Pickwick’ crocus with ‘Tete-A-Tete’ miniature narcissus.  There were the first bees that I’ve seen this year buzzing all around the crocus.  A little clump of forget-me-nots, not yet in bloom.

‘Flower Power’ crocus on the sidewalk that leads to one of the doors of the house.

What’s blooming in your garden?  Leave me a comment.

And while you’re at it, visit Jamie’s Garden Party.

Early Gardening Activities For February

I got my vegetable and flower seeds ordered and bought last week.  I normally do this in person, but circumstances this year did not allow for that, so I ordered almost all online.  I ordered from Territorial Seed, Johnny’s, and I am trying Pinetree based on their great prices as well as Jami’s word of recommendation at An Oregon Cottage.  They have a glorious selection of coleus seed, and I went a little crazy with that, but I should have some really gorgeous hanging baskets and containers this year, because I could get seeds that had been sorted into individual colors rather than mixes–I cannot wait!  I will be starting flower seeds around Valentine’s Day, so they’ll be ready to transplant in the middle of May.  I was actually a little late apparently getting my order in at Johnny’s, because they had already run out or had backorders for a couple of the seeds I wanted, but I was able to get my second choices, so it all worked out.  They are really expensive for their shipping costs, but they are also the only place I know to get ‘Nadia’ eggplant seed (a must-have for me because it grows well here, or rather, as well as any eggplant grows here), and they were cheaper in certain instances than Territorial.  I had to figure out the seed cost on a per seed basis (I was seeing double by the end of that mathematical experience), and sometimes Johnny’s was cheaper and sometimes Territorial.  (If you buy a lot of seed, the cost adds up very quickly.  All those packets look so innocent, and you think,”Well, it’s only a couple of dollars.” but it ends up being a lot of money if you are not careful.)  It’s best to get all your seed in the spring, because seed is not always available later in the season, so it always seems expensive to me, but when you consider how much food and flowers it will produce, it’s actually much cheaper than other options, like buying transplants from a nursery.

I got a few little jobs accomplished yesterday out in the garden.  First, I started a little bit of onion, lettuce and spinach seed inside under grow lights to get a few transplants to go outside under plastic in March.  Today I started sprouting my early ‘Dark Red Norland’ seed potatoes inside under lights, as those will be planted out later around the first weekend in April, depending on the weather.  You can read how to do it here.

Next, I moved on to the flower beds.  Slugs are always around, and so I took Sluggo and put it around all my emerging bulb foliage, the hostas, tradscantia and hellebores.  (That’ll fix ’em .)  I then picked the dead leaves off of my ‘Asao’ and ‘Louise Rowe’ clematis vines.  The weather has been fairly warm here, and many of the clematis and roses are starting to break dormancy, so there was a lot of new growth on both.  (The fruit trees and hydrangeas are also beginning to break dormancy as well.)  Now they look a lot neater.  I tied them back into position, so they are all ready to go.

I then noticed the curb strip was looking a little worse for wear, so I went down and cut down dead foliage, and raked up leaves that had caught around the plant crowns.  I used those leaves to mulch nearby flower beds, so that worked out well.

After that, I picked a little mustard greens, arugula and swiss chard that had wintered over under plastic in the garden!  Made greens and feta with penne pasta for dinner with some of it. 

I have yellow crocus and winter aconite blooming–so pretty.  My snowdrops have been blooming for a couple of weeks now, and the winter jasmine is in gorgeous display.  ‘Arnold Promise’ Chinese witch hazel is blooming, but it had a lot of the flower buds blasted by freezing temperatures early this winter, so not so many flowers this time around.  The ‘Texas Scarlet’ flowering quince is about to bloom.  There are even one or two blooms on the forsythia, very early.  And the viburnum continue to bloom off and on–they got their buds frozen late last year, so fewer blooms there, but more appear as the weather warms.  The ‘ Tuscan Blue’ rosemary has also been blooming for a couple of weeks, but much more now as the weather warms.  The rosemary is situated right in front of our dining room windows, and the hummingbirds are often out there eating from the rosemary flowers!

Hope your garden is doing well–leave me a comment and let me know what you are doing in yours.

Please visit An Oregon Cottage for The Garden Party.

The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow . . .

. . . and I hope to be outside in the garden because of it.  Just mostly weeding, but it will be nice to be outside for a while.  A lot of bulbs are poking up out of the ground already–I went around and Sluggo’d them yesterday, because they are prime food for the little gastropod mollusks.  The snowdrops are also about to open, and the primroses are blooming away right now.  All got chomped by slugs, and so they all got a dose of Sluggo yesterday.  The birds, including the hummingbirds, have been having a great time at the bird feeders in recent days.  The Chinese Witch Hazel, ‘Arnold Promise’ has buds that are swelling, so will have some flowers soon if the weather holds.  I have a bit of mustard greens and arugula still holding on under plastic outside, but I’ve been busy and haven’t checked them out much lately, so that’s on my list for tomorrow as well.  When February rolls around, the weather warms just enough that some of those tough salad edibles that have been languishing in the garden tend to spring back to life, so I am looking forward to that as well.

Also, an addendum to my last post about Molasses in the Garden.  I read an article in Organic Gardening Magazine that said that using molasses in compost tea is not safe to use around food plants, as it may spread salmonella and e.coli bacteria to them, so be warned.  Fine for use around ornamental plants like flowers and shrubs, though, which is where I am going to use it.

The winter jasmine is blooming away, especially when we get a few warm days in this bleak midwinter.  It’s grey days like this when I dream about March and daylight savings time beginning on March 13th this year.

It’s not far off–in the meantime, I need to get busy and look at seed catalogues and decide what to get.

The Promise of Spring . . .What is your gardening promising you in this New Year?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Things You Can Do In Your Garden Now

It is kind of rainy and drizzly here this morning.  We had planned to go to a u-pick strawberry farm, but the weather put a damper on that.  Instead, I think that I will do a few little clean-up type tasks around the garden today.  These are the things that I will try to accomplish in between rain showers (at least I don’t have to water today):

  • Deadhead and fertilize the roses:  This is an ongoing project throughout the summer months.  It is easy to do, and it helps to keep your rose bushes flowering throughout the bloom season.  You will need garden pruners and a bucket.  It is easy to get scratched while doing this, so wear long sleeves and garden gloves to protect your skin, and always wear eye protection when pruning shrubs–little pieces can easily break off and you do not want them in your eyes–trust me, I know from experience.  Or you can get a ‘Zephrin Drouhin’ thornless climbing rose–it is a beauty with deep pink blooms.  Simply look at the plant, and anywhere there is a dead rose blossom, cut it off. I like to take my cut down to the nearest 5-leafed stem, and cut just above the five-leafed stem.  This way the growth hormones of the rose will produce another bloom there.  You can also cut off any dead, broken, or diseased stems off.  Place all this in your bucket and do not put in the compost pile if there are diseased plant parts present, but put in the trash can instead.  I will also be fertilizing all my roses.  I do this once a month during bloom time, and I use Miracle Grow, but you could use any good rose fertilizer as well.
  • Deadhead the clematis as needed and fertilize them:  I fertilize them, along with the roses, once a month with Miracle Grow, but they respond well to rose fertilizer as well.  Some clematis will rebloom if deadheaded.  I do this with my burgundy ‘Niobe’ and purple ‘Daniel Deronda’ clematis.  My late spring-blooming clematis are still blooming because spring was delayed here due to cold weather, but after they are done, they can be pruned back and fertilized for rebloom in the fall.  It could be tricky this year because they were late in blooming, so it might make rebloom in fall come too late with colder weather.  Would have to play it by ear on this idea this year.
  • Stake and weed beds; remove fading bulb foliage:  It seems like staking and weeding is a neverending process during the growing season.  Bulb foliage that is yellowed can be removed from the beds.  It is also time to add some compost to where your bulbs grow.  This will help to improve the tilth of the soil, and depending on the potency of your compost, may give a bit of a light feeding.  Those bulbs will be beginning to store up food for next spring’s blooms, so you can help them do so by giving them a bit of compost now.
  • Plant a basket container:  I ended up with a cylindrical dark brown basket that I no longer use indoors, but I thought if I lined it with a plastic bag, it would make an interesting container for plants.  I still have burgundy and green coleus starts that I grew from seed, and I have quite a few ferns that tend to appear on their own without any help from me in various spots on our property, so they will go into the basket.
  • Clean and fill bird feeders:  I have a roofed tray feeder that many types of birds really like, because they can see into it and fly through it.  In this I put black-oil sunflower seed in the shell, which many birds like.  I found that if I use the cheaper kinds that are full of millet, they push all the millet out of the feeder in their search for the apparently tastier sunflower seeds, and millet makes a mess under the feeder because it grows into a matting grass that I don’t like.  The hummingbird feeder will also be cleaned and refilled today as well.  I have a great feeder that is made of glass and plastic, and it has a wide mouth so I can put a soapy sponge all the way down to the bottom to get it really clean.  I also try to cleanse it by placing 1 capful of bleach into a sinkful of water, and letting the bird feeder soak in that for a minute or two.  You could also use hydrogen peroxide in the same amount if you don’t like bleach.  Then I rinse it well and fill it with nectar that I make using four parts sugar and one part water in a pot on the stove, which I let gently boil for only 5 minutes with the lid on, then remove from heat.  After it cools a bit, I strain it using a paper coffee filter in a funnel, and store it in a closed jar in the refrigerator.  No food coloring is needed.  I clean my feeder 2-3 times per week, but you could do it more, especially if the weather gets really hot.
  • I had planned to chop the bigger, bulkier stuff that has not broken down in my compost pile, but that plan is averted due to rain.  It clogs up my little chopper something fierce to try to run wet matter through it.  Will wait till it is all dried out again.

I always get motivation to make the garden look nice when I have company coming over, and in fact we’re having guests over tomorrow night for dinner, and hopefully the weather will cooperate so we can eat outside under the pergola!  I’ve been so busy getting the vegetable garden in that the flowers tend to take second place at this time of year, but I will try to whip things into shape a bit.  Also I like entertaining outside because I don’t have to clean the whole house prior to guests arriving, just the rooms they will likely see, like the bathroom and kitchen, so it’s a little easier to accomplish.  My husband accuses me of being Martha Stewart’s sister when it comes to perfectionism in entertaining, and I am trying to curb my unhealthy ways by throwing more small and impromptu dinners that I don’t have to stress over, which is more fun for me as well, and so the outdoor pergola helps in this regard as well.  My office is right near the pergola, so I want to try to come up with some fun youtube music playlists and then I can open the window and put my speaker into it, so we can have some nice music playing while we eat–we’ll see how far I get on that project.

We have our first raspberries ripe and ready to eat!  Just a few, more will come as the season progresses.  Lots of sugar snap peas still as well, so they may play a role in the dinner I have in mind for tomorrow.  My huge ‘Bill McKenzie’ summer-blooming clematis is starting to bloom–yellow bell-shaped blossoms, blooming at the same time as my purple ‘Jackmanii’ clematis–good timing this year!  Here is a picture of Bill:

Weather reports for next week show that it is supposed to go up into the 90s–I will believe it when I see it, but a girl can dream, right?

Please leave a comment–do you have some great tips for easy outdoor entertaining?  I’d love to learn!

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