New Things To Come At Minerva’s Garden!

Hi everyone!  It’s been really busy here, but very soon I will be having Minerva’s Garden make the switch from WordPress.com to WordPress.org, which will make the site better.  Stay tuned for (hopefully) some blog beauty!

Now, what in the world is up with the weather?  (Can you say climate change–why yes, yes, I can.)  We haven’t had much cold weather, one day of snow in January.  (You know it’s warm here when the agapanthus hasn’t died back at all, and it isn’t even covered with plastic or anything–that’s a zone 9 plant!)  All of my fruit trees are breaking dormancy already, as are all the roses.  NONE of my bulbs are blooming yet, and normally by this time of year I have snowdrops, crocus and winter aconite in bloom, not to mention sarcococa shrub flowers.  The winter jasmine is loving the warm weather, as is the Chinese witch hazel, and they are blooming away.  All I am seeing is some bulb greenery coming up.

My greens under plastic were in fabulous shape and we were eating off them a fair amount until the snow.  I haven’t had a chance to even go out to look under the plastic in a while, but that will be a project for one of these upcoming sunny days, perhaps tomorrow or Saturday.  Hopefully all is well, and I suspect it will be, because the snow didn’t crush the hoops or plastic coverings. 

My baby lettuces, radicchio and basil are growing away under lights.  I may just keep them around, and if this weather keeps up, plant them out under the plastic (of course, not the basil–it’s way too cold for them to be outside, even covered.)

What’s the weather like in your neck of the woods?  Do you have any early bulbs in bloom yet?  Let me know down in the comments!

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Happy Winter Solstice!

It’s the shortest day of the year, but I am happy in the knowledge that every day from here on out will bring more and more sunshine!

I hope you enjoy the winter solstice and celebrate it in a festive fashion!

I have a confession–

Lettuce, radicchio and basil starts under lights, Winter Solstice 2011

I have baby-sized basil, lettuce and radicchio growing under lights in the basement.  This gardening stuff is like an addiction, is it not?  Ever the gardening optimist am I.  I’ve already re-potted it up into four inch pots, and from there they’ll go into one-gallon-size pots.  We’ll see what comes of it–hopefully some useable comestables in the bleak winter months.

I’ve already got my eye on early spring as well . . .

Pelargonium hanging out under lights, Winter Solstice 2011

Pink and green will figure prominently after the Winter holidays around the house.  They will spend the winter and spring indoors under lights and in good natural light throughout the house, and then come May they will go back to their rightful spot in my hanging baskets and containers out in the garden.  These are the Energizer Bunny of flowers–they bloom all year long if you water and fertilize them.

If you like, leave a comment.

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?

Through The Seasons: Chinese Witch Hazel ‘Arnold Promise’

Just a photo journey of one great shrub, Chinese Witch Hazel ‘Arnold Promise’:

'Arnold Promise' in bloom in the winter

The  spider-webby flowers are beautiful, especially against the grey stonework  and grey sky of the Pacific Northwest in the wintertime, but here is what it looks like in the autumn:

'Arnold' in October

Go;den foliage of "Arnold Promise' Chinese witch hazel in November

We have had rain, so it has dropped some leaves, but what a beautiful plant.

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.


Rainy Day Tomatoes

We have had the most glorious weather as of late–in the upper eighties and sunny!  Today, however, is a rainy day.  It made me feel like autumn is approaching, which makes me a little bit sad that summer is almost at an end, but I do love the colors of fall, and am looking forward to it.  (I got some sheets to turn into fall tableclothes and napkins, and have been scouring the second-hand stores for dishes and serving plates in autumn colors, plus have a few other decorations to put up–I want to have fun this fall!)  It may be a rain day, but that didn’t stop me from showing you the first of our tomato harvest:

These are all various shapes and sizes of ‘Costoluto Genovese’ tomatoes, with a little ‘Gardeners’ Delight’ cherry tomato at the far right side.  The flowers are a spray of ‘Phylis Bide’ rambling roses that grow exuberantly up the front columns of our house.

I also have basil and cucumbers that are ripe and ready now.  I grow, strangely enough, ‘Genovese’ basil–it has large flavorful leaves that are great for cooking or eating fresh, and I’ve just started picking ‘Rocky’ hybrid slicing cukes, the first to ripen for me, followed by ‘Harmonie’ pickling cukes, and the beginnings of ‘Green Slam’ cukes, another slicing variety.  I hope to experiment soon with making some refrigerator dill pickles out of the ‘Harmonie’ ones. 

My eggplant and peppers are still at the small baby stage, not nearly big enough to pick yet, so I got an eggplant at the store and made an easy but good dinner last night with some of the garden tomatoes:  Slice the eggplant, and brush each side with olive oil.  I like to make a little mix of pepper, garlic powder, and allspice  and sprinkle each side with this spice mix.  Put the oven on 425 degrees, and put parchment paper down on a baking sheet, and put the eggplant slices on.  Bake for about 10 minutes, then take the pan out of the oven.  Slice some fresh sourdough bread, or your favorite bread, brush both sides with olive oil, spread on some basil pesto on one side, and then place on baking sheet, olive oil-side down and pesto side up. Then put a slice of eggplant on top of the pesto.  Slice up some fresh tomatoes from the garden, and put tomato on top of the eggplant, and then top with thin slices of mozzarella cheese–also good with provolone.  Pop it back into the oven for about 10 minutes, long enough for the eggplant to finish cooking and the cheese to melt.  Serve with a green salad, and a slice of watermelon or nectarines and French Vanilla ice cream, and you are good to go for a fantastic summer meal!

Hope you are having fun in your garden and that it is producing well for you.  A shoutout to those on the East Coast–hope all the water and winds subside and the damage was not too great where you were at.  Heard they shut down Broadway and off-Broadway all weekend because the subways were shut down–they were expecting 5-10 inches of rainwater in the streets and subway tunnels!  Have to say we are pretty lucky out here on the West Coast, all things considered.  Leave a comment–what are you growing in your garden, and are you using it in the kitchen or preserving it in some way?  I’d love to hear from you!

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.


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