Friday, December 4, 2009

Holy frozen, atmospheric water vapor, Batman!

Overnight. Bam! It’s here. Another beautiful Michigan winter. It sprinkled a little bit the evening of Thanksgiving so there was a dusting of snow on the cars the following morning. Now it’s time to get serious. Is the garden completely ready? Of course not!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Garlic: A Veggie Bulb

As fall draws near, my Better Half has been asking about planting garlic. He loves garlic. I love garlic. Garlic does not love me. However, after sampling some of Mr. L’s homegrown garlic, I am going to make the attempt to grow it.

Here in Zone 5, it is recommended to plant garlic six weeks before the ground freezes. Bulbs should be purchased from nurseries or catalogs because store-bought garlic is often treated to prevent growth and not a native species. It will not make it through the winter. Thank goodness for Mr. L and his donated cloves!

Each clove can be planted 1 1/2 to 2 inches deep and 6 inches apart. Supposedly, in the spring, the garlic will sprout just ahead of the asparagus. At this time, a light feeding of fertilizer (with a high phosphorous analysis) can be given to the plants. Some gardeners will place garlic in the bed near other plants that are bug prone since garlic may be a deterrent.

Aha. We'll see if weevils like garlic.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Tick, tick, tick...

With fall setting in and blooming periods winding down, I'm finding myself doing a lot of research on individual plants on our lot. Should I deadhead? Prune? How do I get this plant ready for fall and eventually winter? My most recent research subject is our Moonbeam coreopsis (tickweed or tickseed).

This version of coreopsis is a threadleaf ground cover with tons of small, daisy-like blooms. Coreopsis is a sun-loving plant that works well in borders and poor soil. It is very drought tolerant due to those needle-like leaves. I've read that fertilizing and heavy watering is not necessary and sometimes will lessen the amount of blooms during the season. Just plant it in your bed, mulch and water if the coreopsis show signs of wilting. When pruning spent blooms from this plant, you can shear back the whole plant an inch or two instead of deadheading individual blooms.

I'm going to give our coreopsis such a haircut during this weekend. It has done fairly well, poking up from the ground in the spring and growing throughout the summer. However, I did notice it was less full of blooms than last year. What's the difference? I think last year, it wasn't used as an armrest for the lamb's ear. I think the 2 year-old lamb's ear was so huge and magnificent, it stole a bit of sunlight from the coreopsis. I'll have to be more aware of how these two plants play together next season. If it misbehaves again, the lamb's ear may end up with a panty-hose girdle.

Don’t Bother

The astilbe (false spirea, false goat's beard) in the gate bed has had spent blooms on it for awhile, so I did a bit of research to see how to deadhead it. Apparently, there is no point in deadheading astilbe other than redirecting the plant's energy into root growth instead of seeds. Unlike a lot of other perennials, the plant will not respond by producing more blooms. Other plants with the same mindset are russian sage, siberian iris, tall garden phlox and sedum "autumn joy."

Yet, other plants are not deadheaded because they provide birds with tasty seeds. Such plants include purple coneflower, daisies, sunflowers, zinnias, rubeckia (black-eyed susan) and coreopsis.

When looking for a "how to" in pruning astilbe, I came across what seems like a fairly sound guideline for deadheading perennials. You can usually cut the flower stalk down to the base of the plant. Only woody plants such as lavender could be harmed by this approach.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flowers Made from Moons

It started when we were at the Farmers’ Market at the end of last summer and I spotted a moonflower (Datura) plant at one of the booths. It had a single, huge, beautiful bloom on it. Miss A had grown Moonflower vines before, which are actually not Datura, but Ipomoea (belonging to the morning glory family). The last time I've seen a moonflower plant/bush was in my grandmother's garden when I was younger. I immediately snatched up the market plant and brought it back with us where it found a home in the gate bed. After allowing the plant to naturally drop some seeds from the prehistoric looking pod, I clipped the pod off and saved the remaining seeds for the following year.

At the beginning of June this year, there were several seedlings well on their way in the gate bed. There was no need for me to plant any of the seeds I'd collected the season before. I moved the seedlings forward in the bed just a bit so they wouldn't collide with the white bleeding heart I’d planted behind them. The timing has worked out well. As the bleeding heart starts to fade back, the moonflowers begin to take center stage. Also, the large size and fragrance of the blooms make the moonflower a perfect addition to a moonlight garden. Bonus.

One thing I am doing different this year is that I am deadheading the blooms on the moonflower. The blossoms often open as white trumpets in early morning and last a day at most. My plant's flowers seem to last a bit longer, but I think this is due to the fact it only get partial sun during the day. The neck of the stem bends and the bloom droops like a wet tissue. The bloom will eventually drop and the seed pod with begin to form. Instead of letting the plant do this, I clip the spent bloom off just behind the stem. This has been encouraging the plant to send out even more flowers. My plan is to continue this until the weather grows colder. At that time, I'll let the plant form it's pods and hopefully self-seed as it did the year before.

One last note, I have read that Datura are poisonous if ingested, so I have to be sure my four-legged garden helpers do not chew on it. They show more interest in the bumblebees buzzing around the blooms than they do with the plant itself. Even so, like the foxglove, this plant is dangerous to pets. The kittens are never left unattended when around the moonflower.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Deadheading Dragons

I purchased both white and red snapdragons this year for the white, black and red bed. After dutifully planting them in a sporadic grouping, I was rewarded the next morning by all plants being nibbled down to bare remnants. Blast! I was not a happy, fledgling gardener. After writing the plants off as having to be replaced, I was pleasantly surprised when they bounced back without any aid from me. The snapdragons went on throughout the spring to become huge and beautiful.

This past week seems to be the end of the blooms. I have never raised snapdragons, so I consulted The Internets to see if I should bother to dead head them. Apparently, if the blooms are deadheaded and the weather is cool enough, the snapdragons may give another round of blooms. As always, there were varying opinions on how to take care of the plant after it blooms. Some gardeners will snip of the blooms from where they join the stalk as the blooms fade. Snapdragons are much like hollyhocks in so far as they bloom from bottom of stalk to top. Other gardeners wait until the majority of the blooms fall from the stalk and then clip the stalk just below the lowest seed head and just above the first set of leaves. Since most of the blooms are already gone, tonight I tried the second method. We'll see what happens.

Monday, August 10, 2009

How to Prune the Rose Campion

This is the second season I have a rose campion (Lychnis coronaria) on the lot. It is nestled along the left edge of the backyard bed. This plant came to us from a co-worker’s daughter’s garden early summer of last year. The plant offers a burst of five-petaled magenta flowers on silvery, felted stalks. 

The rose campion has been blooming since the beginning of June. I do not know how I should dead-head it once the blooms are spent. I’ve read the plant will self-sow profusely if you let it go to seed. It’s just right for it’s space, so I’d rather it not spread too much. But, I also found out rose campion is considered a biennial or short-lived perennial. So, I suppose letting the plant spit a few seeds first would be a good idea to ensure this pretty plant blooms again next year. I also read gardeners will continuously deadhead the plant until the end of the blooming season where they will then leave the last few flower stalks to go to seed.

Anyway, to the pruning... The spent flowers can be deadheaded as they fade, allowing the other buds on mult-branched stem to bloom. When all buds are completely finished on a stalk, most sites recommend cutting the stalks all the way back to the base.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fieldtrip: United States Botanic Garden

My Better Half and I traveled to D.C. to attend a wedding and to visit some friends. The trip was a whole lot of fun. However, in a city oozing American History, one of my favorite stops was the United States Botanic Garden.

The gardens were absolutely beautiful, with both interior and exterior exhibits. I couldn't take enough pictures! Here is a very brief overview of the exterior gardens. All of these guys grow in D.C.'s toasty Zone 8.

The gardeners at work outside were a welcoming and friendly group. I pestered with questions about various plants and the care of said plants. Someone in the rose garden suggested a mixture of alfalfa and epson salts to keep the roses happy. She suggested also checking out the United States Botanic Garden site for additional gardening information.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Garden Tour & Ideas

Miss A and I went on a local garden tour this past weekend. In addition to suffering extreme garden envy on several occasions, I snapped tons of photos. These are simple ideas I’d love to incorporate into our lot.

I like how this container is nested in a sea of ground cover. What a simple, fun way to add a splash of color and also create height. This seems to be ideal for annuals so the appearance of the container could be changed each season.

This statue serves as a unique container. The plants almost look like a shawl or blanket tossed over the statue’s shoulder.

My other half and I would like to add a pergola to the backyard for summertime entertaining. Instead of a wood deck or tile patio, I'd like to do something like these bricks for the floor of the pergola. Lemon thyme or some other dense, aromatic, low-growing ground cover would be fun to grow between the bricks.

This is just cool. I love the frame on this mirror. We also saw a full length, wall mirror on this tour. The mirrors seemed to do the same thing in the garden as they do in houses; they give an illusion of a larger space. Plus, I like how this mirror added interest to and broken up the wooden, privacy fence.

We added hanging baskets to our backyard this summer. I really liked how this black-eyed susan vine was used with a hanging basket. It climbed up the chains, creating a really pretty waterfall like effect.

I've never seen a roof to a pergola styled like this. I liked the illusion of skylights. If at all possible, I'd like to use this technique in structure we build in our backyard.

Candlelight is so pretty on the patio table in the evening. I liked how these glass, candle holders were attached to metal rods to create an elegant twist to the tiki torch concept. Metal wedges were welded onto the end so the pole would remain upright.

Yet More Sickness
There are a few plants in the garden that aren't looking so well right now. Both are new plants to the lot. I snapped photos so I could try to do some googling of the internets and find out what could be ailing this poor guys.

This is the solomons seal in the gate bed.

Here is the columbine in the same bed.

In Bloom
Blanket Flower: tons of buds and a bit of color on a few
Hollyhocks: beautiful, deep purple blooms
Cardinal Climbers: several red blossoms and moving up the hummingbird feeder post
Foam Flower

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Exhibitionists in the Garden!

Oi with the bugs! This year I’m having a heck of a time with insects. I am aware I should take care not to harm helpful insects, but whoever chews through the plant leaves and lays eggs in the budding flowers are not considered good guys. Maybe this year I am more aware of them.

Anyway, I was admiring the hollyhocks a few days ago. They are about five feet high and ready to tilt their heads up to the sun. Then I did a double-take. What are those bugs and WHAT exactly are they doing on the hollyhocks?!  It was a regular love fest, sans the tie-die and purple haze.

These very amorous bugs looked as if they were the insect equivalent of an anteater. They are gray, beetle-like and have a very long snout. After googling around the interwebs and finding the What’s that bug? site, I found out what they are... hollyhock weevils. The female bores into the flowerhead with that huge snout to deposit her future brood in there. Argh!

Since I have four-legged garden foremen, I’d like to take care of these nasty creatures without the use of hardcore chemicals. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bites & Belmishes

One thing I’ve found very annoying about gardening is the fact that plants get sick. I know, there is no such thing as easy, non-maintenance gardening. I am also willing to work for beautiful plants. But, it doesn't change the fact I fret and even get grumpy about plants being chomped on or made ill.

Both the catnip and the foxglove are showing such signs. I snapped pictures so I can try to puzzle out what’s going on with them once I was back to the computer. With the catnip, I’m thinking a combo of the wet spring and dense foliage is causing a type of mildew/blemishes on the leaves. I don’t know yet what is stressing the foxglove. At first I thought it may be some frost damage from a cold snap we had after the plant had sent out it’s first new shoots. Now I think it’s some kind of insect. Will have to research it more.

Edelweiss are budding in the back bed and yellow day lilies are going to open any day in the sidewalk bed. The forget-me-not seedlings are well on their way in Loki’s bed and the moonflower seedlings and new black barlow columbine in the gate bed are growing well. The rose bush in the southwest bed bloomed! The flowers are a very pale pink that turn almost to white after opening.

Also, this week I brought home some different types of ground cover from a co-worker’s garden. Our lot now has some vinca, chameleon plant and bishop’s weed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Fieldtrip : John Ball Park

My Better Half and I took a stroll this evening through John Ball Park. I believe volunteers from MSU’s master gardener program care for the landscaped sections of the park. As a result, it’s always a lovely place to visit with it’s very own rose garden.

As mentioned before, I do not know much about the care of roses. That’ll have to change because boy, oh boy, are some of those plants pretty. I snapped photos of the different roses in the park so I can identify them at a later date. Maybe, once educated a bit more in their care, I will purchase some for our lot.

There are also some nice “berms,” simple, circular beds whose soil is slightly raised above ground level, at the park. In one of the free gardening seminars I attended, the presenter spoke of how to construct them. I may reserve the idea of a raised bed just for a little vegetable patch. To create changes in elevation on our lot (which is very much needed), I could give a few berms a try.

Other things blooming on the lot: peonies in the sidewalk bed (pink with frills), little red roses in the front bed, the coral bells in Loki’s bed,  nasturtium, Jupiter’s beard, foxglove and rose campion in the back bed, the nicotiana in the fence bed, and the spiderwort and bachelors button in the alleybed. The lavender and hollyhock both are budding.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Roses?! Rock on.

Yes! Both of the rose bushes on our lot have flower buds. These poor plants have been receiving threats from my better half and Miss A since the day we moved in. They didn't do anything last summer, preferring to concentrate their energy on hamstringing my husband while he mows and snatching pets away from neighbors. Could it be my promises of getting them a real, genuine big-rose-bush trellis to climb on if they behave? I’m not sure. I can’t wait to see what colors they are.

The little bed I recently yanked sickly roses from has been reseeded with sweet peas and snapdragons. The sweet peas are well on their way and will need to be thinned soon. I just have to figure out how to train them up our wooden privacy fence.

The bearded iris is in full bloom. There are two versions on the lot. The first has a lavendar top, deep purple bottom and yellow beard. The second is a white iris with a deep purple trim. As mentioned in a previous post, the irises along the sidewalk bed will be adopted out. However, I will have to thin them from the SouthWest bed as well. They are on one of the rose bush’s turf and things are not going well.

The peony bush in the back bed has a lovely, white bloom. The peony in the sidewalk bed has color in it's buds. These guys really surprised me this year. They are just a shadow of the scrawny, frail plants from last spring. I’m a bit worried about moving the one in the sidewalk bed. I don’t know quite when I should do it. Plus, I’ve been told peonies are fussy about getting relocated. Any tips?

Other updates: the lupine in the south bed is in full bloom with beautiful white petals. I didn’t realize how wonderfully fragrant they were. Bachelor buttons are popping up in the front bed from last year’s wildflower mix. I’ll move those once the seedlings are a bit older. Other plants in bloom include Jupiter’s Beard and Foam Flower. Lastly, the lilies in the sidewalk bed are sending up shoots with buds, allow with the Coral Bells and Lamb’s Ear.  

Monday, May 18, 2009

One Year Mark

The tenth of this month marked our one year anniversary in our home. The lot has seemed to reset, with the Star of Bethlehem in full bloom in the front bed. I remember marveling at these little star-shaped flowers when hauling furniture to and fro from vehicles on moving day. They were the first flowers to greet us and they've returned en mass to celebrate our anniversary.

I’ve also noticed in all the beds containing irises, the plants have sent up their claw-shaped buds. I’m ready with the stakes this year! Last year, they were almost done blooming before I found out I could purchase little bamboo stakes to help support the stalks with the top heavy blooms. I also read that an old pair of pantyhose, cut into strips, is excellent material to use when binding plants to stakes. The material is more flexible and doesn't strangle the plant as a twist-tie might.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spring Nursery Crawl

Miss A and I went on one heck of a nursery run today. I called ahead and obtained hours of a handful of nurseries in the area. Some were recommended by coworkers and friends while others were discovered at the Home & Garden show I attended earlier in the year. Then it was on to Google Maps and to plot our course. We did the whole run in twelve hours with stops for lunch and dinner. My little car was packed with plant life.

Here are the spoils:
bridal veil astilbe
yellow archangel
Solomon’s seal
maiden hair fern
white bleeding heart
nicotiana (score! perfect for the moonlight garden)
dwarf irises
cardinal climber morning glories
black pansies
2 varieties heirloom tomatoes
Mt. Airy (yay! one of two on the whole crawl)
3 varieties of nasturtium
cardinal flower

some annuals for hanging baskets:
bright orange celosia
deep purple heliotrope

for a tabletop pot:
orange osteospermum

for a planter:
dusty miller
burgundy salvia

2 hanging baskets of wandering jew and licorice plant from the Farmer’s Market

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fieldtrip : Fredrick Meijer Gardens

My better half and I took a trip to the Fredrick Meijer Gardens today. It was a bit cool and breezy, but we enjoyed our time strolling about the various outdoor grounds. They have several types of environments present on the property, showcasing the types of plants appropriate for each.

There were so many different types of tulips in bloom. I liked the look of the Black Parrot tulips emerging from mounds of lamb's ear. There was also an orange and yellow streaked tulips with pointed petals paired with some grape hyacinth. The contrast of the colors made both kinds of flowers seem all the more bright and vibrant. When pairing a spring blooming bulb with a perennial, I wonder what has to be done to ensure the perennial doesn’t compete with the bulb.

From our trip there, I now am on the lookout for black pansies, a Lenten rose, and a shrub called Fothergilla or “Mt. Airy.” I first spotted it when entering the more wooded, dappled shaded area of the outdoor gardens. The bristled, white blooms looked like they were suspended in the air. While young and low to the ground, one of these would look great with our dark leaved, coral bells.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

New Blooms

Spring is so freakin’ exciting! Here’s an update on activity happening on the lot.

West House Bed
The lily foliage is very full. I’m pretty sure they’ve created a mini Everglades.

Southwest House Bed
The two surprise purple hyacinth are long gone. The tulips are also reaching the end of their blooming period. Iris blades are almost full grown and the rose bush (which I still haven’t read up on) is healthy and beginning to snarl.

South Front Bed
All flowers are now open in this bed. There are the yellow and red tulips mentioned in my previous post, two kinds of yet-to-be-identified tulips that opened after the others and the beginnings of the Star of Bethlehem.

East Sidewalk Bed
The orange/yellow tulip fully opened up. It’s absolutely beautiful. Like the southwest bed, irises in this bed are getting larger by the hour as well. I cannot remember what type of irises they are. 

Gate Bed
The ice stick tulips have run their course. However, having opened later than the others, there are still some grape hyacinth in this bed. The hosta I rescued from the willow and moved to this bed survived! I was worried because I had moved it so late in the season last year. Just the beginnings of the leaves are emerging from the ground. The chocolate mint I planted here is doing well. The foam flower now has stalks extending with tiny clusters of buds. The fiddleheads of two of the Japanese painted ferns appeared a week or so ago, and one of them is doing very well. I also found, at a hardware store, a bare root jack-in-the-pulpit for this bed. I’ve planted it but am very dubious as to if it will do anything.

Fence Bed
The ice stick tulips in this bed were finished about a half week ahead of the same tulips in the gate bed. The hollyhocks in this bed are getting huge. I guess the whole self-sow thing was a success for that plant. I’m curious to see if they will be the same color as the mother plant or if they will each have their own hue. The Queen of the Night tulips are in full bloom. The hibiscus is looking...well...dead. I’ve read they are late to wake up, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. (Hey, it worked for the scilla.) Last but not least, I bought two different types, four each, of snapdragons for this bed. 

Loki’s Bed
This bed is going to be adorable. I'm pretty excited about it. Miss A helped me to border the bed with violas. One of these little flowers is in my favorite photograph of my dear Loki-cat. He seems so peaceful in the photo, lounging in the sun at the edge of my mother’s garden, that I thought it appropriate to place violas in his memorial bed. Late blooming grape hyacinth are at the corner of this bed. I was going to move them this fall since they seemed to struggle this spring, but now they look so healthy and good with the violas I’ve changed my mind. Oh look, a new ivy found it’s way into the bed. Now, how did that happen?!

Backyard Bed
The blanket flower and plumago have finally broken above ground. Everyone has returned from last year. Even the violas and morning glories successfully self-seeded. The russian sage already looks like it’s due for a trim.

Alley Bed
Some deep pink tulips and grape hyacinth are in bloom here. They look wonderful with my  neighbor’s weeping cherry which is also in full bloom. The remaining hosta in this bed is already several inches out of the ground. The snake wort and some asian lilies have caught up with the sedum. I’m pretty geeked about the lilies. I have no idea what color they’ll be. The bulbs were abandoned in a planter left on the front steps of the porch. Miss A helped to give them a more permanent home in this bed.

New Bed!
Yes, that’s right...a new bed. Actually, this one was existing last year, but is very unkempt and full of lanky roses. The two rose bushes seemed to come up healthy at first last year, but then grew sickly looking. It seems to damp and they don’t have enough room. For about ten minutes I tried to carefully extract the plants so I could give them to Mom G. However, near the end, I was using all my strength in trying to bust through the mile-long roots with the shovel. My better half finally yanked five bushes out of the ground. Yes, I thought there were two but there were actually five. Yikes. I filled the bed with new soil from the compost pile and realigned the bricks. It’s now a blank canvas.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Double the Daffodils, Double the Fun

I’m doing a bit of a time warp, using the date of my photos to backtrack and log the happenings about the lot. The crocuses have left our lot to be replaced by a whole-lotta tulips. The front bed is going bonkers with red and yellow tulips popping up all over. I’m seeing these tulips all over the neighborhood in the front of homes. Since our house was built in 1927, I’m wondering how old these flowers are. Was the neighborhood planted all at once? Were classic, red and yellow tulips in vogue one year? Or, maybe the bulbs have been divided over the years and gradually migrated down the streets, being handed from  neighbor to neighbor. 

As a pretty accent to the tulips, there are several groupings of double daffodils throughout this front bed. This is an introduction for me to the concept of “doubles.” A double flower has many overlapping petals that make the bloom appear very full. Personally, I think it makes the flower look like a poser, the flower actually wanting very much to be viewed as a type of rose. But, that does not mean I don’t find them pretty!

There are also some pink tulips and orange/yellow striped tulips in the southeast corner bed. Another orange/yellow striped tulips emerged from the sidewalk bed. In this bed, the scrawny, non-blooming peony from last year is well on it's way with a full bunch of leaves. It has at least doubled in size. There are two other peonies in the backyard bed. Maybe I’ll see more than one bloom among the three of them for this year.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Bloom Update

Wow. I had not realized how much time passed since I last made a post to the blog. I have to get better about making regular updates if I want this to be the handy garden tracker I’d hoped it to be.

Here are several more bulbs that popped over the last few weeks. This first is an Azure Grape Hyacinth ordered from Breck’s. I snapped the picture around the 15th of this month. The size of the mulch is a good indicator as to how little and dainty the flower is. The flowers pictured are planted in the main backyard bed, receiving sun all day long. The other five bulbs were planted in Loki’s garden, receiving a very small amount of sun in the morning hours. The buds of those are just breaking up through the leaves.

Saturday was absolutely gorgeous with sun, a nice breeze, and temperatures in the high 60s. My Ice Stick Tulips, also ordered from Breck’s, finally opened up. The blooms had been ready to do so since Easter. As shown here, they seemed to enjoy the sun as much as we did. These guys are very sensitive to the weather. Today was very chilly and rainy, so the buds were sealed up tight. This fence bed receives more sun than the neighboring gate bed where I planted the other half of the ice stick tulip bulbs. Again, the bulbs in the gate bed, receiving a half of day's sunlight are several days behind the fence bed tulips.

This next flower was an absolute surprise when it started emerging. Two purple hyacinth are living in the southwest corner bed.

Finally, the Scilla survived! These bulbs, picked up from a local nursery, are part of my experiment in naturalizing an area with flowers. I planted the bulbs in the fall as directed on the package. However, instead of placing them in a bed, I cut circles into the turf and planted the bulbs directly into the back lawn near the alley. I can’s wait to see what these will look like in a few years.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bulb & Bed Update

The main reason I‘m using blogging in combo with gardening is to keep track of what is blooming when, which plants I’m introducing to our lot and what in general is and isn’t working. It’s a bonus to discover other gardeners and read about their garden experiences through their blogs. Being the beginning of April, here is an update on what is going on in the lot’s beds.

West House Bed
The daylilies are well on their way. After cleaning up all the old foilage last month, healthy new blades are springing up.

South West House Bed
The bed houses a rose which I should probably trim soon. I’m a bit hesitant though since we’ve still been having some frosty nights here and there. This bed also has iris blades, a dash of purple crocuses, some Star of Bethlehem and a huge grape hyacinth. The grape hyacinth was a surprise, having just popped up last week.

South Front Bed
This bed is full of tulips and Star of Bethlehem. I also found several daffodils. In addition, I noticed this last week two of the three lupine I planted at the end of last summer are beginning to wake up. I hope the other one makes it as well.

East Sidewalk Bed
Toward the south end of this bed, there are a whole lotta yellow, white and purple crocuses. Beautiful. Also in this bed the sedum and irises are well on their way. The lilies, coral bells and astilbe are beginning to stir.

Gate Bed
As the snow has melted and rain has fallen this spring, I noticed this bed is very damp. It only receives sunlight for a fraction of the day. Also, a downspout from our gutters runs underneath the sidewalk and discharges underground near this bed. This summer I would like to run the pipe further into the backyard before allowing the water to discharge. However, there is still activity over the past several weeks. The silver mound I planted late last summer is beginning to show new growth. The foam flower is also beginning to perk up. No signs yet from my painted fern, hosta, moonflower, maiden grass or blood grass. The ice stick tulips have finally broken through the ground this past week. I thought for sure the squirrels had dug those up, but it seems some have survived.

Fence Bed
No sign at all from the balloon flowers or hibiscus, but the savory and hollyhock are both waking up. Also in this bed, more ice stick tulips appeared and queen of the night tulips are well on their way. I haven't seen signs of the red anemones or butterfly tulips yet.

Loki’s Bed
This bed is also very damp and currently the only full shade bed on our lot. The catnip has shown new growth. The grape hyacinth planted in this bed have just broken ground this past week.

Backyard Bed
This was the most established bed on the lot when we moved here late last spring. I placed some grape hyacinth here as well near the garage door. It’s interesting because these hyacinth are above the ground and already showing parts of their purple blossoms. I wonder if it’s due to the fact this bed gets sun all day long and isn’t as damp as Loki’s bed. New growth is appearing on the foxglove (thank goodness), sage, lamb’s ear as well as others. There are also some Star of Bethlehem that found their way back there.

Alley Bed

Tulips are well on their way. The sedum is also happy and prospering. Opposite the drive from the alley bed I planted Scilla bulbs within the lawn. I’m afraid the moles may have gotten them, but my fingers are crossed.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Preparing for Feathered Friends

My better half and I purchased a beautiful, new hummingbird feeder last weekend. This will be the first time we’ll be making an attempt to entice these fascinating little birds to stick around our lot. I called Mom G for her hummingbird feed recipe.

Here it is:
• 1 part sugar / 4 parts water
• boil water
• measure and add sugar
• let cool
• do not add food coloring, honey (ferments) or artificial sweetener (no nutritional value)

Any excess can be stored in the refrigerator. She usually starts with 1/2 cup sugar to 2 cups water and puts only half of the mixture in the feeder. When the hummingbirds find the feed, she will add the rest.

Mom G suggests cleaning the feeder with hot water and a mild (10%) bleach solution between refills. This will inhibit any mold. Rinse thoroughly before refilling. However, she admits at times to just giving the interior a good blast with the garden hose.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Free Gardening Courses

I’ve been passed a slip of paper listing some FREE courses on gardening! I will be attending all sessions.

Landscaping for the Senses
April 13th

Gardens for Four Seasons
April 20

Compost 101
May 4

If you are in the mid-Michigan area, you may want to check these out. Call 616.452.3191 for more information.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pruning, Containers and Guerillas

Pruning Mission Accomplished
Last weekend, Miss A stopped by our lot to help me with some pruning. After doing the research on butterfly bushes, I took a crack at trimming ours by myself. I think it turned out okay. Here are some “before” and “after” shots.

However, when it came to pruning the dappled willow and a few other multi-stem shrubs, I called Miss A. She has much more experience under her belt with gardening than I do. She patiently walked me through the process, answering my constant questions. Even my cringes when the little handsaw came out were politely tolerated.

Here’s what I learned.
  • Keep up on your pruning! Growth neglected last year gave us some difficulty this year. Plus, constant upkeep gives more control over the shaping of the tree or shrub.
  • Remove older canes near the base. This was important on the dappled willow since the new canes are usually the shoots that have the prettier, dappled leaves and red bark. In most instances, removing the older canes will lower the overall height of the shrub. Plus, it will thin out the interior of the shrub, allowing more light in and encouraging new growth.
  • Afterward, we inspected how the branches of the shrub were growing. In some areas, the branches had crossed. This leads to the branches rubbing together, opening wounds and possibly introducing disease to the shrub. So, I had a few hard choices to make about which branches would stay and which branches would go.
  • The next step allows more fine-tuning of the shrubs height and shape. Miss A and I clipped off any winter damage we found and any longer branches seeming out of place. She said this is also the point we could lower the shrub further in height if desired.
  • Overall, when pruning a shrub, be sure the cuts are at an angle. The cut should be made between the length of the branch to be removed and the “collar” area where the branch meets the shrub. This area will allow for the cut to properly heal.
Bulbs Sprouting Indoors
Remember the bulbs I had forgotten about and tossed in some containers? Here’s an update.

Three of the five containers have healthy bulbs growing in them. As my better half commented of the other two, “if these haven’t shown activity yet, I’m not sure we’ll be seeing anything from them.” I think I may be leaning toward agreeing with him, though I think I’ll give the containers a bit more time. After all, I’m not in need of the pots right now anyway.

Notes for This Fall
This picture is from Miss A’s cottage garden. My better half expressed genuine affection toward these little guys. Note to self: order snowdrops for next spring.

Guerilla What?!
This is just fantastic. I’ll be looking around on the community boards to see if there is a chapter near us.

Crocus-time Continues
Hoorah! We also have purple AND white in the sidewalk bed.

Friday, March 20, 2009

First Day of Spring

Even though it was only 30 degrees outside this morning, when I returned home from work I was greeted by the first splash of color on our lot. We have crocuses. Now I know what flowers will be emerging from all the thin, dark green blades with light veins. These guys are in the sidewalk bed with what looks like some tulips. I wonder if there will be some purple as well. I hope these yellow ones open this weekend since the weather forecast is calling for sunshine and warmer temperatures.

Also, I found the first signs of bulbs I planted last fall. I believe this one is a “Queen of the Night” tulip. I mixed some of these with red anemones in the new fence bed. I scratched down what I planted where, though I have to find my notes to be sure.

There is activity in all the garden beds now. Tulips and star of Bethlehem are growing like crazy in the front bed. Sedum is budding up from the sidewalk bed and daylilies are poking out from house bed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Coral Bells

When I found our Midnight Rose coral bells (or alum root) plant last year during a nursery trip with Miss A, little did I know I was purchasing a “2007 NEW & EXCLUSIVE! The Newest Coral Bells available!” Wow. I just thought it’s dark leaves with hot pink speckles that changed throughout the season made it a cool looking perennial. Plus, around late spring, it has the prettiest little white flowers atop tall, delicate stalks.

Our Midnight Rose is currently living in the sidewalk bed. That means I will have to find it a new home for the season while we are regrading the side of the house. This plant grows up to 10" high and 16" wide. It should do well in either sun or part shade. However, I read the foliage of these plants (Heuchera) vary in color from amber to deep purple. Apparently the darker the leaf, the better the plant fares in full sun. As of right now, I think the gate bed will be where the coral bells will spend this season.

Recently I tried to find some gardening podcasts to listen to. That’s how I found the gardenerd site. Very fun. One of the podcasts had a great recommendation for composting. When collecting scraps in the kitchen for the compost pile, first dump the contents in a sealable container in the freezer. Then when the container is full, you can dump it into the compost pile. It prevents you from having a smelly container of compost goodies in the kitchen.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A Weekend Outside

After a frosty week, we had beautiful weather this weekend. All of our snow is gone except for a small pile behind the garage. Instead of doing the usual gardening reading/research the last two days, I was outside in the yard. Here are a few things I managed to accomplish.

  • majority of the leaves were cleaned up
  • emptied some planters that should have been emptied last fall. I have three terra cotta pots to mend. 
  • compost pile tidied up
  • crazy, wooden vine not yet identified was trimmed back and pulled out of the fence and gutters
  • day lilies were cleaned up
  • gardening tools cleaned and sharpened
  • backyard measured out for landscaping map
  • pruning date set with Miss A
  • husks/roots of old wildflowers pulled from front bed
  • tons of awesome seeds received from Mr. D

More later. Now I have to transfer my backyard measurements to my drawing program.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

To Do

This past Thursday and Friday, the temperature around here spiked into the upper fifties. At the stroke of 5:00, I rushed home and was outside cleaning up the garden. It was wonderful. All of my irises, sedum and ornamental grasses are cut back. Bulbs are poking out of the ground all over our lot. Some of them I haven’t seen before. I’m so excited. It’s like Christmas.

Today it’s raining. Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain. So, I’m stuck inside thinking of the projects I would like to accomplish outside this season.

Transplant Sidewalk Bed
We have water coming into our basement whenever there is a hard rain, so we’ll be redoing the grading on this side of the house. As a result, everything in this sidewalk bed has to be moved. There are irises, lilies, astilbe, sedum, coral bells and a peony. Last fall, I already gave Mom G two carpet roses from this bed. She has much more room at her place for the sprawling type of plants. 

Transplant a Rose Bush
I have so much homework to do on roses. My friend, Miss A, has the most unbelievable gorgeous rose bush at her place. I on the other hand, don’t know what I am doing with roses. What I do know is I cannot have our rose bush in the front bed climbing out of there again and trying to catch neighbors. I think it was getting ideas from those irises. Anyway, the rose bush is tucked between two evergreen bushes up front. It doesn't have enough sun or room to do well up there. I’m going to attempt to move it into the backyard along the fence line.

Learn about Composting
When we moved in, there was already a compost pile started in the back yard. However, much of it was lawn clippings and leaves that had not been shredded. Being a free standing pile of “stuff,” it was quite a task to get it into something resembling order. I’m not sure how I want to handle it this summer. It’d be nice to contain it somehow. Last summer it was in the process of kicking down our fence. This one will require some more brainstorming and research.

Build a Rain Barrel
Many gardeners I know swear by rainwater. They say their plants are just happier receiving rainwater over city/well water. My grandmother who lives in Europe is an avid gardener. One thing I noticed about the gardens over there are the different containers used to collect rainwater. The rainwater is then used to water the plants in the garden. What a great idea. It seems a much more efficient use of resources.

After reading various sets of instructions on how to build one, I think I can handle it. I’ll be referencing a combination of this and this when it’s time to construct one.

Friday, March 6, 2009


When I began my attempt-at-gardening adventure, I asked my better half if he would like me to install certain models of plants into our lot. He is a great cook, so he requested some basic herbs he could walk outside and pick when required for his various kitchen masterpieces. Not a problem. Otherwise, he seemed indifferent.

That is, until he spotted the foxglove.

The foxglove was my introduction to the concept of a biennial. Annuals are good for one season unless they self seed. Perennials winter over and will come back in the spring. But biennials produce blooms every other year. I was happy to find out this was the reason the foxglove didn't produce any flowers after I brought it home and planted it. I just hope it blooms this summer or both of us (him more than me) will be disappointed.

When reading up on foxglove, I discovered every part of the plant is very poisonous. Apparently there is a chemical in it that affects the heart. I’ll keep this in mind when I have our future four-legged foremen on the job in the garden with me.

Yet another interesting thing I found out about foxglove is this from the Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin site:
The foliage tends to be evergreen, so do not cut back in fall, but you can cut back any remaining flower stems down to the base. Prune off winter-damaged leaves in spring.
Here are some other plants on our lot which benefit from a spring versus fall pruning.

Astilbe Astilbe don’t require much maintenance. Fall clean-up is unnecessary and may weaken the plant’s tolerance for cold. Minimal spring clean-up is required.

Balloon Flower (Platycodon grandiflorus) If pruned for sturdiness, Balloon flower blooms late in the season and remains attractive until frost. Since it is late emerging in the spring, it helps to leave the old foliage as a marker.

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida) Although not particularly attractive in winter, the seed heads will feed the birds.

Butterfly Bush (Buddleia davidii) To lessen winter kill, wait for signs of green at the base and then cut back to 6 - 10 inches.

Coral Bells (Heuchera) Heuchera are prone to heaving in soils that freeze and thaw. Leaving the foliage in tact helps to mulch the plants through winter.

Hosta Although Hosta foliage gets ugly over winter, some Hosta varieties can be damaged by spring frosts and benefit from the protection of the collapsed foliage.

Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) Lady’s Mantle doesn’t really like to be sheared back frequently. Occasional shearing or selective deleafing may be necessary because of sun scorch, but Lady’s Mantle will over winter better if left in tact and cleaned up in the spring.

Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina) There’s no point in trying to clean up Lamb’s Ear for the winter. Let it be and remove winter damage when the leaves perk up in the spring. 

Lavender (Lavandula) Many areas have a hard time over-wintering lavender. The problem is more often moisture than cold, but cold is a factor. Don’t prune lavender late in the season, as new growth is extremely cold sensitive. Wait until new growth appears in the spring before removing winter die back.

Lupine (Lupinus) Lupines are temperamental, short-lived perennials and they do not enjoy winter. Leave the foliage on for protection and hope for the best come spring. 

Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) There’s not much left to this plant in winter. But many gardeners like to leave it standing so they’ll remember where it is, since it is late to emerge in the spring.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) Like its cousin Lavender, Perovskia doesn’t like to be trimmed back in that fall, because it’s tender growth is too sensitive to cold. Wait until new growth appears in the spring and then cut back to about 6 - 8". If the only new growth is from the base of the plant, the entire top woody section has died back and it can be pruned to the ground.

Sedum Many of the tall Sedums can remain attractive throughout the winter, even holding caps of snow on their flowerheads. ‘Autumn Joy’, in particular, holds up very well. The basal foliage appears very early in spring, so Sedum can be one of the first plants you prune in the spring. 

For a full listing, look here.

And finally, here is another great gardening blog I found.

Garden Envy

My better half and I are residents of Zone 5. Mrs. M and her family are residents of Zone 11. This is what she gets to do in late February.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Bulbs and Containers

I’ve been reading a lot lately about forcing bulbs. I’d meant to do it about two months ago because I had some bulbs I was not able to plant before winter pounced on Michigan. Bulb forcing seems like a complex ritual involving a delicate balance of temperature and light... and possibly sacrificing a goat. Right now, it seems to me like almost as much work as starting seeds inside. Yes, call me lazy, but I’m just not ready to take that challenge on at this point in my education.

So, I questioned some fellow gardeners this past weekend about what I should do with my bulbs stored away in the bottom drawer of our buffet. Their advice was “Well, if the bulbs are still good, throw them in a pot and put them in a sunny window.” Excellent. I can do that. In fact, I did so tonight. I potted tulips, irises and crocuses. It was amazing what a good mood potting a few bulbs  put me in.

My method? Can “potting with reckless abandon” be considered a method? After searching The Internets for instructions on planting bulbs in containers, I found everyone seems to have their own way of going about the same task. Finally, I combined some common pointers (there were fewer than you’d think) and started in on planting. 

I used handfuls of smaller rocks to line the bottom of my pots to help with drainage. One thing I read over and over is how bulbs do not like to sit in wet soil. Then I added at least two inches of potting soil for the roots. This measurement seemed to be the flexible one in case your pot is a bit larger than you need. Next came snuggling the bulbs together in the pot. Oh yes, no spacing, the little guys are nice and cozy. This is supposed to create a more stunning display. And really, if given the choice, who wouldn’t want to be more stunning? Then I topped the pot off with soil, leaving about an inch from the top of the soil line to the top of the pot. Throughout the process, I made sure to plant the bulbs at the depths suggested on their packaging.

Are the bulbs good? I think so. I found I was correct in keeping them in a dark place. However, the buffet in our dining room was too warm. The bulbs had started sprouting. They weren't waiting on the lazy wanna-be gardener that had stuck them in the drawer last fall and forgot about them until a few weeks ago. In the future, I’ll store bulbs in the basement. We don’t heat the room down there, so it’ll be a dark, cool environment for the them.

Tomorrow I’ll bring out the plant stands and set the pots in the front window on the south side of the house. We’ll see what happens. Hmm... could that be my gardening theme for this year?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Butterfly Bush

Ugh. What a week. Mother Nature continuously mocked us. "Oh, you want some spring weather? Well, here’s a 45 degree day. What, what’s that? You have a problem with no sun and torrential downpours? Fine! I’m going to take all that water and freeze it!!! Now it’s 20 degrees again. How do you like crunchy, muddy grass? Ha!” 

You get the point. 

Tonight I looked up some info on butterfly bushes. We have two toward the back of the lot, each holding up their corner of fence and garage. My friend trimmed them both way back shortly after we moved in last spring. The bushes sprang back over the season, producing pretty, pale purple spear-like flowers. The bees and a handful of butterflies enjoyed the plants.

From what I gather through browsing, the butterfly bush (Buddleia) actually came from China where it’s referred to as “summer lilac.” It blooms from midsummer through September. Each March, the plant should be drastically trimmed back to about 12" above the ground. Any dead branches can be removed, along with branches shooting out at odd angles or tangling with others. Deadheading throughout the season will promote new blooms. I read on one site that butterfly bushes do not drop their old blooms. I’ll have to watch for that this season.

Sometime mid-season last year, our two butterfly bushes began to wither a bit. Since the plants are supposed to be fairly drought resistant, I think the odd behavior was a result of pests. I found this recipe for a simple soap spray to apply to the undersides of the leaves:
  • 1 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp dish soap
  • 1 quart water
The creator of this mix sites the only drawback being extreme sun plus oil and water droplets causes sunburn on the leaves. She recommends spraying in later afternoon or twilight. Oh, and watch out for the bees and ladybugs! Those are the good guys.

Finally, here’s a bonus of tonight’s homework. I found a fellow Michigan gardener! I would like to hunt down and explore more gardening blogs this weekend, hopefully selecting a few to follow on a regular basis. I’m so new to this hobby, any type of guidance would be a plus. 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Dappled Willow

Today I had some time to sit down with the Month by Month Gardening in Michigan book I mentioned a few posts ago. I studied the February sections (yes I know it’s the 22nd of the month) on bulbs, herbs & vegetables, perennials, roses, shrubs, and ornamental grasses.

I found deciduous shrubs can be pruned back after mid-month. The sap is still safely nestled down near the roots of the plant. Hoorah! I get to play outside in the garden. Well, when it warms up again I’ll do so. The plant that will be receiving my early pruning efforts will be our dappled willow (Hakura Nishiki).

A neighbor to the monster sedum mentioned earlier, this plant started out as a pretty, modest-sized resident of the alley bed. It exploded over the summer, growing very large at a swift rate. It swallowed two tulips and a hosta. (Don’t fret, the tulips retreated back into the ground and I saved/relocated the hosta.) 

Apparently, this is a trait of the species. In fact, some sites recommend trimming the plant back more than once. The National Gardening Association suggests: 

This plant can be pruned back in the spring to remove winter damage and to encourage branching and bushiness from the base. You may also need to prune periodically during the season to keep it that small. To avoid a sheared effect, trim individual older branches off near the base to thin the plant, and then trim longer tips off individually by reaching deeper inside the shrub.

Many gardeners seem to agree with this. In fact, the severity of the first pruning is often described as “vigorous” and “thorough.” Not only does it keep the shrub at a manageable size, but the best dapple-like pattern appears on new growth. The dappled willow can be trimmed back to 12" or 1/3 of the branch can be removed.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is it spring yet?

I forgot to post this picture I snapped earlier this week. The plants seemed as excited as I did about the bout of warm weather. Too bad it snowed all day and another 8 inches are predicted to arrive by morning.

Bearded Iris

My favorite color, next to black, is purple. This must be why I find the irises on this lot absolutely beautiful. When we purchased the house, the irises in the front needed to be thinned. Some of the friends who helped us to move in are seasoned gardeners. They spotted the crowded plants in the front bed and relocated some to the backyard. The relocated irises did not bloom that summer, but OH BOY did the front ones bloom. I told my better half I suspected the flowers of feasting on neighborhood children.

Continuing with my research on spring cleanup, I found the irises should have been trimmed back in the Fall. Whoops. Throughout summer, spent flower stalks should be trimmed back to the plants base. Seed pods should be immediately snipped off. It allows energy to be spent more efficiently, focusing effort on the healthy parts of the plant.  Then when the first killing frost arrives, the sword-like leaves can be trimmed back until they are 4-6 inches long. This prevents pests and disease from wintering over. Most iris foliage are trimmed in a fan-like shape. I read this technique is not necessarily only for decorative reasons. The leaves at the center of the plant are often raised higher out of the ground. Buzzing leaves straight across risks trimming them to close.

So, what am I to do this spring? After Googling various arrangements of “iris,” “prune,” and “spring,” and browsing through quite a few sites reminding me I should have pruned my irises in the fall, I finally found this advice at (wait for it)
Bearded Iris of all types tend to carry some green leaves through the winter. Carefully pull off any dead leaves in spring and dispose of them, since they can harbour the dreaded Iris borer.
Great. Not only did I forget to trim back my poor irises, but I indirectly created a safe haven for their mortal enemy... possibly even their “nemesis.” When the snow disappears, I’ll remove and trash any of the brown leaves, asking for forgiveness as I do so. I hope the irises will forgive me and again grace our lot with those beautiful blooms.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


While I’m awaiting spring to arrive, I thought I’d start doing some homework on garden cleanup. I purchased a great book last year, Month by Month Gardening in Michigan. This weekend will allow me more time to browse through it, but I do know it doesn’t go into detail beyond basic plant categories. Therefore, I'm going to look up some individual plants to see how I should be catering to them in a month or so.

I remember this as being the only type of succulent we have on our lot. Out of all the different types of sedum, I believe our plants are Autumn Joy. There are several around, but the largest by far grows in the back alley bed. This guy grew enormous last year with beautiful color arriving in late summer or early fall. I read Sedum prefer well drained soil, so this full sun bed more than likely kept the moisture level down and the plant happy.

As far as spring cleanup, most sites recommend using pruners to trim old stems and flowers back to the ground. Be careful not to prune the new growth. Mulch around the plant, but avoid placing mulch right up to the stems or else rot may occur. Since Sedum likes well drained soil,  rocks are suggested as a mulch option for this type of plant.

Let’s return to the enormous, beautiful Sedum from last year. By early fall, a hard rain would soak the flower heads and cause the plant stems to droop. The thin stems grew so long they couldn’t support the water weight. The Yardener site suggests trimming stems by about 1/3rd in early summer (late May or early June) before the flowers form to avoid this problem in the fall. I’m definitely going to give the technique a try.

I was wondering last year if the monster in the alley bed would have to be divided this spring. It seems sedum tell you they need to be divided when the center of the plant no longer has stems growing from it. I’ll keep an eye on the plants this spring and will address the “how to” when/if  necessary.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Midwinter Thaw

Last week we had a thaw in the middle of our frigid, Michigan winter. Temperatures reached a high of 55 degrees. The majority of the snow melted from our little city lot. Of course I had to peek in the various beds around our yard to see if anything was stirring. Sure enough, near our garage, some of the bulbs I’d planted last fall were beginning to send up shoots. It’s the first time I’ve planted bulbs, having just acquired the home last spring, so I was pretty geeked.

However, being a Michigan native, I know we will be blasted at least once more by Mother Nature before our true spring season begins. Worried about the new shoots being damaged, I asked a few friends if there was anything I could do. Some suggested covering the anxious bulbs with leaves I hadn’t managed to rake up at the end of last fall. Others believed a new blanket of snow and the proximity of the bulbs to the garage would protect the new shoots. 

I thought I’d try the leaves, but the weather had other plans. By the morning I had a break in my schedule, another blanket of snow covered the back yard and beds. Ah well, I guess it’ll be the snow, garage and finger-crossing then.