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.


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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.

 


Stump Grinding

So we had this situation in our backyard:  when we moved into our house, there was a large maple growing in the backyard at the fenced edge of the property.  The tree was 40 feet tall, but it was a scrubby tree that should have been removed years ago, but problem was nobody did.  So we had this tall and scrubby tree.  Over time, and in my zealous pursuit of expanding my gardening space, I managed to disturb the tree roots enough that I killed the tree.  So then in time we had a scrubby maple that was also dead, and now it was a hazard if it were to come down in a wind storm.  Solution:  Our nice neighbors came over and carefully cut down the tree in sections for us.  We cut up the wood for firewood, hauled off yards of limbs and tree roots that we dug up over time.  Problem:  We still continue to this day to have the tree stump in place.  Right after the tree was cut down to ground level, I made a compost pile on top of it, to try to rot it out.  After 4-5 years, the edges of the stump have rotted a little, but the center is still pretty solid.

This last weekend, we removed the compost pile, which had also turned into a brush pile, and exposed the stump.  My thought was to try to get rid of the stump.  So I called a nice man named Joe of Joe’s Stumping Grinding service, which is located in Washougal.  (You can reach Joe at the ( local area code ) 837-1300 if you need stumps removed.)  Joe came out to our house today to look at the stump and assess the situation.  Here were the problems:

  • no driveway or road access to get the stump grinder to the location
  • stump is up on a hill
  • The only way to the stump is via tight garden paths
  • the stump has a fenceline with a fence running through part of it

After looking at it, it was decided that there was no practical way to remove this particular stump.  I asked about burning it, but Joe said that even if we had the stump completely removed from the ground, it would take a very long time to burn it because it is full of compacted soil.  Chemicals, which are highly toxic and not good to use around pets, children, or organic vegetables, are not really effective in breaking down the stump either.  The smallest stump grinder requires three men to lift it into position, and that is if you can get it up flights of stairs and narrow pathways.  Joe said to try to work it into the landscape, perhaps by placing rocks on top and putting a container of flowers or garden art on top.  Or by placing large rocks around it and filling the indentation with soil to create a place to plant.

Sometimes you have to have an objective person come out and take a look at the garden to give you a realistic answer to a question you have about it.  And now my wheels are turning, and I’m coming up with other ideas for the space than I had originally planned.

I wanted to grow a row of arborvitae shrubs along the fenceline in order to provide more privacy, which is needed in that area of the property.  I think I still can, but the shrubs will now have to be placed around the stump.  However, it could be really cool to place some garden art in between the shrubs, using the shrubs as a partial backdrop, which will help set off the art.

Now we have to remove a large rhodedendron from this fenceline to another location on the property, which unfortunately will be a big job because I suspect it will have a very large rootball, but then I will have more room for the arborvitae where I want them positioned, so it has to get done.

The garden never ends, and there are always new possibilities, aren’t there?

Leave a comment if you like–I always enjoy hearing from you!

Come To The April Gardening Talk!

I’ve been invited to speak at the Camas Public Library Gardening Series, so if you are in the area please come!  It’s a free event, and all who are interesting in gardening topics are welcome!

Here are the details:

Who:  Athena from Minerva’s Garden

What:  Gardening Talk:  Cozy Garden Seating Areas

Where:  Camas Public Library, 625 NE 4th Avenue, Camas, WA  98607

When:  Tuesday, April 26th, 7-8pm

Why:  The talk will cover creating cozy and intimate seating areas in your garden–it’s free and it should be a lot of fun!

Every Tuesday evening in the month of April, the library will hold its Gardening Series, a yearly event with area garden speakers knowledgeable about different gardening topics coming in and giving gardening talks or demonstrations.  It’s always informative and a fun way to ease back into gardening for the year.

As anyone in the local area knows, it’s been really rainy and kind of on the cold side for this time of year.  Yesterday, however, brought a tiny bit of sunshine and at least some dry weather, so I got outside and pruned the hydrangea shrubs.  I took off all the dead flowers and foliage, and thinned out all the dead wood, making them look a lot neater.  I then tied them up to small trellises by the house, so that they stay somewhat out of the pathway that they edge.  I didn’t have a chance to take a photo, but the little early salad greens bed I planted under plastic a few weeks ago is germinating, so that is hopeful.  I’m also finally starting to see some germination in the pepper and eggplant seeds–it is taking them a long time to germinate, but they are worth the wait.  I’m growing my favorite and so far most reliable varieties this year:

  • ‘Nadia’ eggplant–big purple eggplant

  • ‘Casper’ eggplant–good-sized, early producing white eggplant that tastes the same as the purple ones

  • ‘Marconi’ Sweet Red Italian Frying Pepper–a sweet pepper in the shape of a bull’s horn–very productive

(All of these pictures are from my garden in the last few years.)

So what’s new in your garden this week–let me know in the comments section!

Molasses In The Garden

Over the weekend we got to visit the lovely Portland Japanese Garden with a group of Master Gardeners and Watershed Stewards from Vancouver. We got a tour with a couple of the volunteer gardeners who have worked at the garden for years, and it was very informative. So many beautiful plants, even in the waning autumn season. This was a great time to visit, because you can really see the beautiful structure of the trees and shrubs that have been meticulously pruned. The garden design does a superb job of framing magnificent views through the use of a hidden reveal provided by hardscape or shrubbery as well as the use of curved paths. Meticulous care is taken to have the garden always at its prime–they remove by hand evergreen needles on trees and shrubs that have turned brown, for example, and the gravel paths early in the morning are raked into beautiful designs, so it pays to get there early to see them. They have many lanterns in the garden, and light them around September 20th or so for certain ceremonies, and the cherry trees blossom along with Japanese iris in the spring, so both times are also superb for visiting this gem of a garden.

One tip that Alan, our tour guide, gave to us follows: Mix 2 tablespoons of blackstrap molasses into one gallon of water. You can use this solution as an organic plant nutrient that is good for the soil. If you use it as a foliar spray, it will kill sucking insects like aphids and thrips, but not harm the beneficial insects. The only down side is that it could perhaps cause some mold on the leaves of the plant, but if the air circulation is good, that would likely be minimized. This solution is one that they use at the Japanese Garden to good effect, so I thought I would pass it along. I have not tried it myself, but plan to next gardening season.

***A note:  I read recently in the April/May 2010 issue of Organic Gardening magazine, page 50, that “Researchers caution that molasses and other microbial foods used in brewing compost tea can boost the levels of pathogenic bacteria, such as salmonella and O157:H7 E. coli.  Because of this significant health concern, aerated compost tea should be used with care, and should not be used on food crops” (Shoup).

What’s new in your garden–do tell in the comments.

Gotta add a photo, so here is one I took in the autumn at the CASEE garden back in 2006–a beautiful, natural garden that works well in providing food for birds naturally.

Please visit Jamie’s Oregon Cottage Blog for her Garden Party.

Before and After

These pictures were taken beginning in 2001 up to the present day.  Enjoy the progression!

Before:

An individual flower before and after:

And finally . . .

Please visit the Tuesday Garden Party over at Jami’s place.

Make An Inexpensive Outdoor Candle Chandelier!

I made an outdoor chandelier for our new pergola, and it was pretty easy to do.  This original idea came from an old Country Living magazine, but I refined it to suit my tastes.  You will need:

  • Some wire garden edging, long enough to make the circle of wire that will form the base of your chandelier.  Part of it has single straight pieces of wire that would normally be the part that you push into the ground, and the top part features curved wire and is decorative.  I found this locally at the Camas Plant Sale, but likely it can be found from online sources, or if you are lucky a thrift store or garden center.

  • Some glass punch cups.  These I got second-hand at a local thrift store.
  • Light-weight wire
  • Wire cutter
  • Needle-nose pliers
  • Some tea lights.  I prefer these to votive candles because they keep your punch cups cleaner.
  • A long-neck candle or fireplace lighter
  • Three pieces of chain, cut by the hardware store to your preferred length for hanging the chandelier.
  • Single chain links with a screw mechanism on the side.  You unscrew the link, insert the ends of the chain lengths, and screw them closed to attach the chain to the chandelier, and the three chains together at the top for hanging.
  • A hook or additional piece of chain and chain link for hanging the chandelier

Here is what I did:

1.  Turn the wire edging upside down, so the curved parts are facing downward, and form the wire into a loop the size that you would like your chandelier.  Cut the wire to size, leaving a couple of loose wires on the ends.  Use the loose wires to wire the circle of edging closed, trying to match the pattern as much as possible so it all blends together somewhat invisibly.

2.  Using lighter-weight wire, wire the punch cups to the wire edging.  These will hold the individual tea lights.  Use the wire cutter to cut the wire as needed, and the needle-nose pliers to wrap the light-weight wire around the heaver wire tightly.  I wrapped the wire around the handle of each punch cup, then around the “belly” of the cup to the other side.

3.  Attach each of three pieces of chain to the top of the chandelier’s ring, equally spaced so that you can use them to hang the chandelier.  Use the individual chain-screw links by unscrewing one, slip the end of the chain length inside it, and then screw it closed around the top wire ring of the chandelier.  Repeat with the other two chain lengths.

 

4.  Attach all three of the chain lengths together with another single screw chain link.

5.  You are now ready to hang the chandelier.  You could put a heavy hook into the wood where you want to hang it, but we chose to instead place a chain loop around the top beam of the pergola, and hang the chandelier from that.  Use individual chain screw links to attach the chain around the beam, and then to attach the chandelier to the chain loop.

 

6.  Add a tea light to each punch cup, and light using a long-neck candle or fireplace lighter that will reach inside the punch cups easily.

7.  Enjoy!

The directions are more complicated than the actual making–this is really super simple to make!  Give it a try–having outdoor lighting adds so much to your seating areas, and allows you to use them even into the evening hours.

Head on over to the Tuesday Garden Party, too.

Planting Perennials In Your Established Garden Beds

With the advent of the local plants sales, I thought it might be helpful to offer some tips on how to plant those perennials once you get them home.  Here is what I do when adding a plant to an established bed:

  • Dig a hole about twice the size of the rootball, and about twice as deep.
  • In the bottom of the hole, add a shovelful of gravel.  This helps to improve drainage for the plant in our clay soil common to our area.
  • Add a bit of dirt on top of the gravel.
  • Next, add a good shovelful of compost, homemade preferably but storebought is okay as well.
  • Add a bit of dirt on top of the compost.
  • Now you can take your new plant out of the pot, loosen up the roots a bit with your fingers, and place it in the planting hole.  This is the time to adjust the amount of dirt in the hole so that the roots are covered and the crown of the plant is level with the surrounding ground.
  • I like to add a quart of compost tea at this point, then quickly backfill the hole with soil to create a mud slurry around the plant roots–it helps to lessen transplant shock.  Make compost tea by taking a large plastic container with a lid or a plastic garbage can with a lid, add a bucket or so of compost to it (pick the worms out first!) and then cover it with water, put the lid on and let it sit for a week.  After a week, you can use it.  This step is optional, but it will help your new plants get off to a great start if you can do it.
  • Backfill the hole with the soil you took out.
  • Water the plant thoroughly.

That’s all there is to it!  Have fun planting your new acquisitions, and leave a comment if you wish.

Add Seating To Your Garden

Over the last couple of years we have been in the process of building our garden from scratch, and part of that process is to add seating areas to it.  I didn’t consider seating at first, because I was so intent on getting the plants in place, and having more places to plant.  This involved tearing up the backyard and adding a series of terraces and stairs, which was a huge project.  However, that is done, and so we are focusing more on making living spaces in the garden.  Our garden is not large, and thus the seating areas are in keeping with the scale of the garden.  However, there are several of them, and they make the garden much more fun to be in, because if you get tired pulling weeds you can always have someplace to sit and take a break.  Also, I am thinking that part of the joy of having a gardening is being able to sit back and watch it, which requires some place to sit.

One thing I have tried to do is to create some private seating areas.  This has been accomplished through the siting of fences, trellis, and plants.  Here is one example:

This is a tiny area, maybe 8 by 10 feet square, and exposed to the main street traffic and neighbors on two sides.  It originally started life as a muddy slope.  We leveled it and brought in gravel and edging.  In terms of plants, we have a gigantic clematis montana, variety spooneri, growing at the back of the picture.  This plant blooms in May mostly, and then it provides green foliage that completely blocks out the view of the street.  To the left is a four-foot tall fence upon which I have placed fan trellises to provide more height, and there is a narrow–maybe a foot wide–strip of dirt that has been amended and edged.  This is where I grow assorted bulbs, perennials that can take morning sun and afternoon shade and three clematis–‘Bill Mackenzie’, a summer-blooming yellow-belled beauty; ‘Jackmanii’, a stalwart vine producing dark purple flowers that anyone can grow; and ‘General Sikorski’, a more tender vine that produces amazing lavender flowers.  This provides foliage to the left of the photo that offers privacy when we use this patio area in the summer months.

You will also notice a mirror in the background; there are several along the fence that are not visible from this photo angle.  I learned this trick from a wonderful theatre director and designer–adding mirrors expands any small space.  All of the mirrors were free or came inexpensively from thrift stores.  Mirrors help to make your space look even more full of plants, and they provide extra light to an area when the sun hits it.  Containers with plants are also added to the spot–these go around the bare base of the Spooneri clematis in the back and around the base of the white column, as well as on top of the column.  This is a really cozy spot and perfect for having morning coffee or tea.

Sometimes it’s nice to have a single chair placed somewhere convenient to sit.  For example:

This is a landing where two different levels of the terraces and pathways meet.  I had my husband make this area extra large, for the purpose of adding a small table and a chair.  There are stairs leading upward on the left, and a step going down on the right.  From where the picture is taken is a gravel pathway that leads to this seating area.  Adding a table makes this chair a great spot to bring out a book or drink, and sit and take in the view of the garden terraces.  No one wants to sit with their back exposed, which is why the chair is placed against the fence and why I used foliage to create a backdrop for the seating in the previous picture; also, the view is best is this direction.  You can add colors not usually found in nature to complement your plantings, by painting chairs and tables in complementary colors.  I love the purple Verbena bonariensis against the turquoise chair.  Out of frame but to the immediate right of the blue chair is an apricot-colored rose, another great contrast of color with the blue and purple.

This next area is one that has taken a lot of work to create, but it is now a very usable area that we will enjoy for many years.  I love country gardens in Europe, especially Italy and places where grapes grow, which have a garden pergola in them.  A pergola is a four-sided structure with an open roof.  It can be stretched into a rectangular shape to form a walkway, but our space requirements meant that our pergola would be around eight feet square in size.  Here is a picture:This is the basic idea of it.  We needed to block a view of the neighbor’s house on the back, and hence the trellis with a giant rose growing behind it.  Four by fours were used for each corner and two by fours for the square frame and rafters at the top of the roof.  The four by fours were placed into metal brackets that were seated into three-foot columns of concrete that are underground, providing support.  Notice that the four by fours closest to the house are eighteen inches away from the wall, so that if we ever need to replace siding, we can get in there and do it.  You should keep at least an eighteen-inch wide pathway all the way around your house, free of plants, so you can get in and do maintenance, a trick I learned from Ann Lovejoy (go to my garden book recommendations list for some of her books that I love).  Obviously, this photo was taken when the site was under construction, so hence the piles of bricks and flagstone and sundry tools laying about.

This area got finished yesterday, and here is the look now:

The floor is roughly 8-10 inches deep.  We lined the bottom with a large piece of old carpeting that a neighbor ripped out of his house when he was redoing a room.  It’s water-permeable and thick, and frankly works better than landscape fabric, which I almost never use because the weeds grow right through it and I think it’s a rip-off.  We used some largish one- to two-inch sized rocks as the base on the carpet because we had them to use from other areas of the property.  Next, my wonderful husband, who deserves all the credit for building this and most of my garden design ideas–many backbreaking trips up flights of stairs with gravel to gain access to this area (let’s just say I owe him big-time),  placed 5/8ths minus crushed rock, or gravel, on top of that, then sited the flagstones and bricks.  Flagstones came from another spot on the property where they had been placed by previous owners, but I wanted a flower bed there (big surprise, huh), so the stones got removed and stored until now.  The bricks were being given away by a neighbor, so they became ours for free.  More gravel was poured into all the cracks, and then swept clean.  This provides a nice flat area for a metal table and chairs, and rainwater will easily drain through the gravel down to the earth below, so there should be no water buildup here at all, an important consideration in our very rainy climate.  Also it is much cooler temperature-wise to use than a concrete flagstone patio, which will become unusably hot in the summer months–those stones can act as little solar heat collectors.

There is just enough room for the table and four chairs, but I normally keep a couple here, and move extras in if we have company.  The table, which I love because it can be folded up for storage, came from a garage sale for ten dollars!  I will be playing around with the top to decorate it with rolled colored glass beads and a plexiglass cover.

The large rose,  an old-garden rose recommended by Linda Beutler (see my recommended garden book list for more on Linda’s wonderful books) called ‘Jacques Cartier’ that has soft pink clusters of roses and repeat blooms if it is kept deadheaded, is poking in through the trellis.  I, putting the cart way before the horse, planted a grapevine on the right-front post of the pergola before the concrete and post were in place!  But it survived the experience, and it is a lovely red seedless table grape called ‘Einset’ for which I got a cutting and started it myself for free–It now grows up onto the roof of the pergola-vive la Italy!

The wall of the house provides a secure backing for the chairs, as does the trellis and plant foliage.  In the upper left-hand side of the picture you will see (barely) a metal hook and a scraggly hanging basket from last year.  I have baskets on either side of the pergola’s main entrance, and it looks great to have flowers at eye level in the summer time.  It’s too early to do hanging baskets here, however, so that will wait until end of month or even May.  This is now the perfect spot for dinner and just hanging out in the garden, because the view is of all of the terraces that are full of plants, as well as an espalier of apple and pear trees off to the left out of frame.

I will not lie to you–this was a big project, and one that cost a bit more than some of the others (in the neighborhood of a couple hundred dollars for wood and metal brackets, plus around eighty dollars for gravel; garden furniture comes from garage sales or discount stores and varies), plus took many more hours to install.  However, we were able to use recycled building materials for a lot of it, cutting down on the cost.  Now it’s done and I love it, and we will get a lot of pleasure out of it for many years to come.

All of this to say–you do not need a gigantic amount of property to add seating areas throughout your garden.  It makes the garden both more usable and more enjoyable.  A single chair and a little table will do nicely, but as evidenced in the photos, other arrangements are also quite possible.

I would love to hear about your home garden seating arrangements, especially those where you have used recycled materials such as we have.  Leave a comment if you like!