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!
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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?

Autumn Color At Minerva’s Garden

I walked around the garden yesterday and took a few pictures.  It is getting later and colder in the year, and yet we still have a lot of flowers in bloom.  I’ll show you what I mean, starting with light colors and working toward deeper hues:

Viburnum in October

Fuschia in October

I love these white flowers with just a flush of light pink–so pretty.  Now here are some in slighter deeper shades:

Glossy Abelia with pink blooms and 'Lochinch' butterfly bush in October

Pink hollyhock in October

I like the pink and grey colors together.  Now a little more color saturation and moving into the yellows, golds and oranges:

Nasturtiums and dahlias in October

Yellow hollyhock in October

And a little comic relief:

Forsythia in October--what?

The forsythia decided it must be March, and shot out a few blossoms!  I’ll take ’em whenever I can get ’em!

Okay, back to business.  Some yellow to gold tones in evergreen foliage:

'Rheingold' dwarf evergreen conifer in October

 

Another gold dwarf evergreen conifer in October

 

And some yellow to gold deciduous leaf color:

Chinese Witch Hazel 'Arnold Promise' starting to turn yellow in October

 

Pergola covered with golden 'Einset' grape leaves in October

 

Now moving into some cooler shades–sometimes there are plants that combine warm and cool colors in fruit and foliage, such as:

Beauty berry in October

The beautyberry is surrounded by winter jasmine foliage.

This next vine has finally matured enough to really come into its own.  I speak of:

Ampelopsis vine with turquoise and purple berries in October

 

Ampelopsis in a different light

I am so in love with this vine–I adore turquoise and purple in a plant!  The only other one that I know of that combines these two colors as well, but not in bloom at the moment, is:

Cerinthe major 'Purpurescense'

I love this plant so much, and so do the hummingbirds!  This was taken in May, if I remember correctly.

Anyway, back to October color.  As long as we’ve introduced cooler colors, here is:

Ceratostigma plumbago in October

I am sorry this picture does not do this plant justice, because it is so beautiful now.  I love the deep burgundy stems, dark green leaves with a touch of burgundy around the edges, and then these wonderful deep blue flowers.  Here is another shot:

Dward plumbago in October

This was a hard plant to get situated properly in my garden–I ended up moving it three or four times until I finally put it here on the walkway toward the kitchen door.  It now seems to be happy.

More purple:

Morning glory and verbena bonariensis in October

 

Clematis 'Haku Oakan' reblooming in October

 

And onto the sprightly shades of orange-red and red:

Hybrid tea rose 'Camelot' buds in October

 
 

Hibiscus 'Sweet Caroline' blooming away in October

 
 

Jupiter's Beard in October--a hummingbird favorite! The golden marjoram and daylily foliage in the background help to set off these red flower clusters.

 
 

Zinnias 'State Fair Mix' with raspberries in the background in October

 
 
And even deeper red:
 

Blueberry 'Herbert' with striking red foliage in October

 

 I love how blueberry plants look this time of year–such gorgeous color.  Now on to some of the deepest shades in the garden:

 

Red raspberries and dark purple/black Aronia berries in October

 

A few red raspberries and those amazing Aronia berries.  I also love the foliage of this shrub–every day causes it to turn more red and orange–beautiful!

I could see color combinations from the flower garden and fruit garden being used indoors at this time of year–imagine deep purples and scarlets for a dramatic Thanksgiving table, for example.  Possibilities are endless–just get creative and find the inspiration that is all around you!

What is blooming for you now, and are you still eating from your garden?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

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.


September Garden Harvest

Just a quick post to show you what I picked out of the vegetable garden today:

We’ve had glorious hot weather for a bit now, and everything is ripening rather nicely.  I’ve got pictured a bunch of bush and runner beans.  This year I grew ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans, which are lovely and prolific, as well as ‘Scarlet Emperor’ and ‘Violet Podded Stringless’ runner beans (excellent hummingbird flowers, and then you get the beans, too!).  I planted them as seed outdoors on June 21st, and I finally picked them today and froze several bags.  Very easy to do–after you clean and cut the tips off, you boil them for 3 minutes at a rolling boil, and then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the beans from cooking any further.  Put in zip lock bags, being careful to remove as much air from the bag as possible (I take a straw and suck the extra air out of the bag–be careful when you do this so you don’t get lightheaded), and then label and pop them in the freezer.  If you want to learn more about preserving foods, I highly recommend the Ball Blue Book Guide To Preserving–a slim volume that gives clear instructions for safely canning and freezing just about anything you can imagine.  Also pictured are some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes, and a few ‘Green Slam’ slicing cukes.  Tomatoes are ‘Costoluto Genovese’, a ‘Gardeners’ Delight’ cherry tomato and the very first of the ‘Super San Marzano,’ which look like a larger Roma tomato.  Also the last handful of the ‘Oregon Sugar Pod II’ snow peas.  In the background of this picture is a yellow-cupped ‘Bill MacKenzie’ clematis, as well as some bright orange nasturtiums and a white fuschia.

I kept a small batch of the green beans out for dinner tonight.  Made a simple recipe that I got out of an old Bon Appetit magazine:  steam the beans, then rinse with cold water, drain and put in a large bowl.  Add a couple of chopped fresh tomatoes, some fresh basil, some feta to your taste, and then season with salt, pepper, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Mix and enjoy as a salad–so easy and wonderful with homegrown produce.

Hope you are enjoying a great harvest this year from your own garden, or are taking advantage of all the wonderful produce at your farmers’ markets now.  What are you cooking with your fresh veggis–I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And visit the Garden Party.


Hummingbird Plants

I have had a great deal of amusement around here lately by watching the hummingbirds feeding on the summer flowers.

I’ve tried to make it a point to have something flowering each season that the hummingbirds like.  Right now, in warm (!) August, they are relishing the:

  • nasturtiums
  • petunias
  • pelargonium, also commonly known as geranium
  • liatris
  • Jupiter’s Beard
  • verbena bonariensis
  • butterfly bushes

At the moment, what we have are Anna’s hummingbirds in the area.  We’ve got two or three that always stop by and hang out in our garden.  I use a combination of plants that produce hummingbird nectar flowers, plus I have a hummingbird feeder, in order to entice them to come to the garden. 

Here are a few tips to get hummingbirds to stop by your garden for a visit:

  • Set up a feeder.  I’ve had the best luck with a wide-mouth feeder made of glass, because it’s durable and much easier to clean than some of the ones that have a tiny opening.  My feeder has red plastic on it where the hummingbirds can sit to feed.
  • Hummingbird food you can easily make yourself.  Put one cup of sugar and four cups of water in a pot, bring to a boil, cover and boil for 5 minutes.  Let it cool, and I then like to line a funnel with a paper coffee filter and I pour the solution through it to filter it, and store it in a glass container with a lid in your refrigerator.  You do not have to add red food coloring to it; in fact, it is better for the birds if you don’t.
  • Although hummers are attracted to the color red, it does not have to be in their liquid nectar.  Instead, the bird feeders often have red on them, and this will help.  You can grow red flowers that they like nearby, like pelargonium and Jupiter’s Beard, or you can simply tie some plastic red bows from outdoor Christmas decorations nearby the feeder to help attract them.  They will go after any tubular-shaped flower, which is their key criteria, no matter what color or size it is.  They are not attracted by fragrant plants, but you might see them dining on those with tubular-shaped flowers.
  • Change out your hummingbird food, and clean the feeder, at least a couple of times a week in cooler weather, and up to daily in really hot weather, or else you can make the birds sick if the sugar water ferments and goes bad in the high heat.
  • Place the feeder nearby something that the hummingbirds can perch on and find shelter.  Birds do not like eating out in the open, so if you provide a plant with some foliage where they can go and hide in between feeding, it helps to attract them to your feeder.   In my garden, I have an espaliered belgian fence of apple and pear trees, and we have it strung with an orchard wire frame.  They eat at the feeder or flowers, and then zoom over to the trees and perch on the wire–just the right size for their claws–or in a nearby large butterfly bush.
  • Provide the birds shelter plants.  Hummingbirds like to nest in arborvitae, and so I have several growing in the back and front yards.
  • If you can provide water, this also helps.  The hummingbirds like a mist of sprinkling water, so a small fountain can work well in this regard.  In a regular birdbath, don’t fill it more than one-half of an inch deep, or it will be too deep for these little guys.
  •  This year I grew two types of nasturtiums that worked very well.  If you want a spreading variety, which is a great choice for filling up a hanging basket inexpensively and fast, try the ‘Tall Climbing Single Mix’ and for a more compact version, the ‘Gleam Mix’ nasturtiums.  I got mine from Pinetree Garden Seeds for $1.35 per package, the cheapest I found them anywhere, and they had a very good germination rate–quality seeds.  Find them at www.superseeds.com

I have not been able to get a good picture, because they are so fast, but I will describe to you what I see nearly every morning out of our bedroom glass door that overlooks the back yard:  I look at the large nasturtium bed that grows on either side of a blue and white old gate that I use as a trellis-support structure for the nasturiums.   So, while I’m looking at the nasturtiums, I see the large green leaves start to shake.  I look up at the trees, and they are not moving, so there is no wind.  I look back again, and see a tiny hummingbird zooming in and out of the nasturtium vines, going in for nectar and insects on the bright flowers.  The leaves are much larger than the bird, so he has to get right in there to reach the flowers.  He next goes around to all the hanging baskets and feeders that contain yet more nasturtiums and petunias.  Both flowers are hummingbird favorites.  He finally finishes by lapping up (hummingbirds have tongues), nectar from the many pelargoniums that also grow in the baskets and containers.  They drink for around thirty or so seconds, and then they go away to rest for a minute or so, and repeat the process. 

If you have more than one Anna’s hummingbird around, they may battle each other for domination over the food.  It helps to spread your hummingbird food plants and feeders out around your property, rather than clustering them all in one spot, to avoid squabbles and so everyone has a chance to feed unhampered. 

You don’t need a lot of room to have a great hummingbird feeding/gardening area–I have a friend with a tiny balcony on his apartment that attracts the little birds with his feeder and some of the annuals that he grows in containers.  The birds really appreciate finding these feeding havens in city areas where it’s more difficult for them to find food and shelter.  You can easily grow hanging baskets with nothing more than nasturtiums, and you would get a good result, or add petunias and pelargoniums to make for a fuller display.  Nasturtiums will grow in even tiny containers if you keep them watered and fertilized.  Case in point”

This is a little wire container with a flat back that I picked up last year at Goodwill for one dollar.  It is approximately 12 inches long and about 4 inches wide and deep.  I lined it with a little piece of leftover burlap from the hanging baskets, and then lined the burlap with a little piece of clear plastic with no holes in it, filled it with potting soil and hung it from two little nails that I nailed into the top rail of the fence.  Planted smaller ‘Gleam’ nasturium, and this is the result.  It adds inexpensive and bright flowers at around eye level as you walk through this narrow area on the side of the house, but it also provide a little extra food for the hummingbirds.  A little chicken garden art hangs next to it, and there is a large flowering jasmine vine with white flowers on the other side, which provides a resting spot for the hummers in between feeding.

That’s all from me–do you have hummingbirds in your garden?  What plants are they eating from now?  Any gardening tips to attract hummingbirds to the garden that you have used?  Do share in the comments–I love hearing from you.  And visit the Garden Party.


I Can’t Get Started With You–Growing Vegetables in the Pacific Northwest, August 2011 Edition

A little mid-summer update for the vegetables I’ve been growing.  As anyone living in the Pacific Northwest knows, this summer has been just as cold as last summer, and the result is that all the warm-season vegetables are very late to ripen this year, as they were last year.  I hope this is not a trend, but it may be (thanks, global climate change–I was hoping we’d turn into Napa Valley here . . .)  Anyway, as I mentioned in this earlier post on Guerilla Gardening, I’m growing a lot of my heat-lovers under hoops and plastic this year.  It helps to raise the night-time temperatures a little bit, which is what the problem is.  Cold nights are not good, because the vegetables mature and ripen at night, so you want higher night-time temperatures for crops to ripen earlier.  This we have not had here at all, and thus the plastic.

Here are the tomatoes:

These are tomato plants in cages under plastic taken earlier in June.  Here they are now:

Those babies have really taken off, and barely fit under plastic anymore.  A veritable jungle of tomato vines . . . but

Green ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes, and  . . .

yet more green tomatoes–I’ve got green tomatoes as far as the eye can see, and no red and ripe ones yet.  Soon, hopefully.

On to the pumpkin and squash:

The first baby ‘Rouge Vif d’Entemps’ pumpkin, also known as Cinderella pumpkin.  They start out this pretty shade of yellow and deepen to orange as they mature.  They are wonderful for eating, but most of the time I use them for decorating in the autumn months. 

And now a grouping of vegetables:

At the bottom are ‘Mesa Queen’ acorn squash flowers, and above are fava beans, corn and the last of the peas.  (I can’t believe I still have peas–normally they are done in by mid-July here.)   I am just barely seeing some tassels forming on the corn, but the peas have been going strong since July.

I think the fava beans are quite interesting plants to look at.  Here are the flowers from earlier this season:

Other vegetable plants in the garden:

These are ‘Royal Burgundy’ bush beans (curious name, because they are decidedly purple to me).  I’ve grown these for three years and they always produce a good crop, even under these cold growing conditions.  They are just at the picking and eating stage.

I’m also growing:

‘Scarlet Emperor’ runner beans.  I love the flowers and the beans on this pretty hummingbird plant.  Here’s more of a close-up:

Runner bean flowers, with some picasette garden art thrown in the rear of the photo.

Cucumbers have been problematic both this and last year.  Just like last year, I had to restart seeds three times before they would germinate–it was just too darn wet and cold for them earlier.  And it’s still realy cold for them, because they like it to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and not once has it been that warm here.  Nevertheless, they grow on apace under plastic:

Here are the cukes tucked into bed for the night, and . . .

Here they are uncovered.  It needs to be 60 degrees at night for them to ripen, and thus my problem.  However, I am optimistically growing ‘Green Slam’, an early (ha) ripening slicing cuke, along with a new hybrid called ‘Rocky’, and some ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes.  The ‘Harmonie’ cukes are the largest so far, but only a couple of inches long, and there are lots of flowers still on the vines.  We may have some cukes come September, who knows.

Some crops thrive in cooler weather:

These are beets that I use for beet greens in salads and for sauteeing.  The green leaves are ‘Chioggia’ beets, and the red leaves are ‘Bull’s Blood’ beets.  Both grow quite well here.

One success story is in the fruit department.  In my area and at my house, the berries have been tremendous this season.  We u-picked strawberries–39 pounds–which I made into freezer preserves and individually quick froze, and blueberries–35 pounds–that I preserved in the same manner.  Raspberries did not do so well at the u-pick farm that I went to, so I only ended up with a little cranberry-raspberry freezer preserves, but my own raspberries were very prolific.  I think there was so much rain earlier that it mooshed (that’s scientific of me) the roots of a lot of the raspberry plants here, so they just died, but mine came through unscathed.  Right now the June-bearing raspberries are finishing up, in August(!), and the bees are busy at work polinating the buds and flowers on the fall-bearing raspberries.  I have these beauties ripe and ready to eat now:

They are blackberries and marionberries in various stages of ripeness.  I wrote an earlier post showing and telling about how I trellis, prune and fertilize my berries, and they responded well to this treatment.  I grow a ‘Lochness’ blackberry, which is a thornless variety.  I have to say I’ve changed my tune a lot about the blackberries and marionberries.  They needed a few years to settle in and put down roots, but once they did, youza, have they been producing.

I also have apples:

This is the ‘Spitzenberg’ apple tree, which is part of my espaliered belgian fence in our backyard.  This heirloom is the first the ripen, but they don’t ripen until probably October this year.  I will give more updates as they mature.  Behind it is a ginormous butterfly bush, which the hummingbirds, swallowtail and monarch butterflies have been enjoying for several weeks.

I also have grapes (!) this year, once I got brave and took the pruners to this vine:

This is our ‘Einset’ grape, which is a red seedless table grape.  Obviously, it’s not ripe because the grapes are still green, but I’m thinking end of September or beginning of October these should be ready.  They grow on the open-air roof of a pergola where we dine during the warmer summer months (I’m still waiting for those months.)

Lettuce and salad greens have also been very successful this year as well.

This is mizuna on the top, which is an Asian mustard green that is not as invasive as the regular mustard greens, and Tatsoi–Bok Choy with the round dark green leaves at the bottom.  Both go into our salad bowls, as does the ‘Ruby Red’ Swiss chard with the red stems growing next to them.

My best lettuce to date has been the very earliest starts that I put in the ground in chilly March of this year.  However, here is a little bed that I planted in June.  This contains ‘Two Star’ leaf lettuce in the back with the frillier leaves, and ‘Concept’ lettuce, with more rounded leaves, in the front.  Both of these have consistently produced good lettuce all season.  I will put up a results list of my favorite lettuce and salad greens seeds based on how they grew in my garden later in the year.  I’ll leave you with this garden picture:

(PS–I dug my first new potatoes of the season, called ‘Dark Red Norland’ and they were great.  Had a lot less trouble with flea beatles this year, because I think the cold weather diminished their numbers.  I forgot to take a picture of the harvest, so intent was I on cooking and eating those red round tasties.)  How are your vegetables faring this interesting growing season?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  And don’t forget to visit the garden party.

Down The Garden Path

Sorry I haven’t been posting as much as I usually do–I took a spill down some cement stairs and did a number on my foot, so I’ve been out of commission for a while.  However, I got out to the garden today, and snapped a few photos for your enjoyment.  Come with me, if you will, down the garden path . . .

The roses have made a grand appearance (just in time for Portland’s Rose Festival):

‘Phylis Bide’ repeat-blooming rambling rose dresses up the entrance to our home.

“I’m ready for my closeup, Mr. DeMille . . .”

Graham joins the party . . .

‘Graham Thomas’, a David Austin rose, on a blue arbor.  And in for the closeup . . .

As you can see, I have a thing for cabbage roses.

And now . . .

The thornless climber, ‘Zephrin Drouhin’.

I love that this rose does not scratch my arms to smithereens when I prune it.

This is a lovely single-blooming climbing rose that my mom gave to me.  I have no idea of its name or origins, but I can tell you that it is a very tough customer–it survives my parent’s zone 4b climate and thrives there.

And now hail to the chief . . .

‘Mr. Lincoln’, to be precise. 

Farther down the garden path . . .

A vibrant, summer blue delphinium with allium heads about to bloom nearby.

Persian Jewels in a pathway consisting of gravel and bear-paw metal stepping stones left by previous owners.

Three sisters, probably a singing trio like the Garland Sisters, the Boswell Sisters, or the Andrews Sisters, holding court in the golden creeping  jenny.

‘Romantika’ clematis gets in the mood with Golden Hops.

Getting tired?  We can sit for a bit . . .

Just the place to be for flower and bird watching.

Is it time already?  As the lyricist said, ” Ah well, we’ll catch up some other time.”

The garden fairy says goodbye.

 


Columbine, Clematis and Friends

I got my first columbine plants as pass-along plants from my mother’s garden when we first moved into our home.  I’ve never purchased a columbine plant; I have several now, and many have undergone changes over the years, so that there are variations on the original plants that I started with.  I don’t know the specific variety names of the columbine that I grow, but I do know that they are spectacular now in the garden.  They require no special care, make excellent cut flowers for flower arranging, and the hummingbirds adore them as a nectar plant.

Here are a few that I grow:

This one shares its spot in the garden with another pass-along plant that I got from a friend, a hardy geranium in bright pink.  I love this really deep, dark purple color, with the little spot of yellow in the center setting it off nicely.

Here’s a variation on purple:

This purple columbine has a white edge that is quite striking.  I don’t recall that the first ones I planted here had that white edge, and I think these have developed in this way over time, but I could be wrong about that.

Another type of purple:

I like this purple ruffled double columbine–it reminds me of antebellum dresses that were worn in Gone With The Wind!

And now for some pink:

I love this delicate shade of pink.

Some variations on a theme:

A pink columbine with the white edge, nestled among other columbine.

A grouping now:

I like them grouped together, to play up all of their subtle differences–they are interesting to look at.

Some other plants in bloom at the same time as the columbine in my garden:

This is clematis ‘Asao.’  It grows in a large container, along with a few annuals that I pop in with it during the spring.  This container receives morning sun and afternoon shade, and it gets watered as needed and fertilized twice a month, except right before it blooms and of course when it’s dormant in wintertime.  It has been growing happily here for several years. 

Other flower friends nearby:

The stately foxglove.  These were growing here when we moved into the house, and over the years I have transplanted them all throughout the gardens.  If you like a really tidy, formal garden, these may not be the plant for you, because they reseed freely, but they are not what I would call invasive–they are easy to pull up and plant them where you like, or just give away or compost the excess that you have.  But what a gorgeous flower–the bees and hummingbirds also really love this flower.  Sometimes in the summertime, I will find bumblebees asleep inside these large tubular flowers early in the morning, before they have warmed up enough to fly away!

A closer look at the amazing color variations inside these lovely foxgloves.  I have some that bloom in white, as well as a deeper rose color.

Purple bearded iris that were given to me by a neighbor, dark Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Raven’s Wing’ with the white Queen Anne’s Lace-type flowers, and gobs of sky blue forget-me-nots surrounding.

And finally, blooming away inside is . . .

Amarylis ‘White Christmas.”  (Kind of misnamed–this one always blooms for me in May, lately.) 

What is new and in bloom in your garden?  Do let me know in the comments, and visit An Oregon Cottage for 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.


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