A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Welcome Weeds

The two mystery plants are back, bigger and better than last year. I'm carefully watching for buds. So far the foliage hasn't looked familiar. Flowers should help with identification. Can you tell I am having one of those "Did I Plant That?" situations? As noted in a , previous post I often have trouble distinguishing between seedlings from seeds I have planted and seedlings from weeds. I let them grow until I can make a determination. Sometimes, even though they are weeds, I keep them because they are pretty.

The very first mystery plant that appeared in a flower bed turned out to be a beautiful flower. It is a biennial. Every year, I either have foliage or flowers. It has been reseeding itself for almost a decade now. It is yellow and coincidentally located in the yellow/orange garden so I have not moved it. It was only a week ago, by accident that I finally positively identified it as a Moth Mullein.

I have been invaded by the other, more common type of mullein. Also a biennial, the first year, I was intrigued by the huge, furry leaves and so left it. The second year, I was awed by the flower stalk that grew and grew just like the beanstalk in Jack and the Beanstalk. By the time it flowered, it was over 5' tall. The trouble being that it is prolific and I have been yanking it out ever since.

I have the best luck with mystery flowers locating themselves in the correct gardens. My next one was a lovely purple flower that appeared in the purple garden. It was a beautiful addition and I hoped it would reseed itself successfully. Imagine my surprise when I saw it in a seed catalog. It is a Great Lobelia.

I have a still unidentified weed growing under my lilac bush. It gets larger every year and has been reseeding itself which is fine with me because it is colonizing a spot that I have had trouble getting any else to grow in. It looks and acts like some kind of aster.

The two newest mystery plants are growing in a bed where I have experimentally planted quite a few kinds of seeds which never germinated. I am hoping for another "Dame's Rocket". In the purple garden last year, the most gorgeous purple flowers appeared seemingly out of nowhere. When I checked what I had planted in that vicinity the year before, I came across the Dame's Rocket. That year had been one of the last very dry years when I had had trouble with seed germination. Last year, quite a few seeds that had been planted in prior years but never germinated, decided to germinate. I had some very pleasant surprises.

I am hoping for two more pleasant surprises. Or, at the very least, two more Welcome Weeds.

Moth Mullein

Great Lobelia

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Pruning Rosebushes

I love heirloom roses. They are lovely, smell great and are easy to care for. They thrive on neglect. All I have to do is prune away all the dead wood once each spring before they bloom. I call it the "Annual Pruning of the Rosebushes". It is an all-day event for two reasons. One, of course, because I have so many of them and two, because some of them have become so large, I literally have to climb inside them to get at all of the dead branches. Thankfully this year we are having cooler than normal weather so I was not dressed in my usual t-shirt and shorts and suffering Death From a Thousand Cuts from all the thorns.

I had no idea there were any other kinds of roses than hybrid tea roses before I moved into this house. It took me a few years to even be able to identify the rosebushes that were already growing in the backyard. They are original Blaze roses. There is the large one at the back of the house, the two along the back fence and a fourth that was climbing the neighbors' holly bush. I found a fifth one, very tiny, amongst some azalea bushes that I was removing.

All five did well after I cleared away the weeds and brush surrounding them and began pruning them in the spring. Ignorant as I was, I purchased a rosebush, neon pink, at K-mart, figuring it would do just as well. I planted it in the shadiest corner of the yard "to brighten it up". I don't know what kind of rose it is, but it has managed somehow to stay alive under incredibly adverse conditions.

Then I saw a tremendous value in a catalog. Five "old fashioned roses" for $29.95. I got rid of the last of the azaleas along the back of the house and planted all five there. The largest Blaze was also growing there so I thought it was a good place for roses. It's not. It only gets the morning sun. Two of the five died. Reine Des Violettes is hanging on by the skin of its teeth. Barrone Prevost is doing marginally better.

Mme. Plantier is the only one of the five that can tolerate shade. It is doing tremendously well. So well in fact, that it has completely overgrown the outdoor faucet. It is an interesting rose. The buds are a dark pink, but the blossoms are white.

I finally began to do some research about roses and discovered heirlooms. My next purchase was an Apothecary rose. They were grown by monks in medieval monasteries. It is the most amazing pink. It also has fantastic hips. Instead of making rosehip jelly or tea, I leave them for the birds.

My final purchase before this year was Harrison's Yellow. It was bred in Philadelphia in the 18th century. Women carried them with them as they spread out across the continent and they can be found at homestead sites all the way to California. It has become known as the Yellow Rose of Texas. It is a messy flower, not handsome at all and the bush is extremely thorny. I like it more for its history than its looks.

Heirloom roses only bloom once a year, in the spring. For those few brief weeks each year, my backyard is filled with incredible color and scent.

Program Note: For some reason, Blogger is not allowing me to post a spectacular picture of Mme. Plantier and the hidden faucet.

Blaze. The one that started my heirloom rose mania. After a few years of pruning, it went from this . . .

. . . to this. This year it has grown up to reach the roof.

Unidentified rose from K-mart

Barrone Prevost

Apothecary Rose

Harrison's Yellow aka The Yellow Rose of Texas

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Nuthatches and Fritillarias

We have been having a long stretch of warm, dry weather. Each day is warmer than the last. Today is supposed to reach 80 degrees. I have been wearing shorts to work outside since Sunday. I think the heat is speeding things up in the gardens. I can almost see the plants grow. The tulips are beginning to bloom. They are following the "Yellow First" method with their own twist. The white ones bloomed BEFORE the yellow ones. Now that they are both finished, the rest of the colors are beginning to bloom. The bleeding hearts, both the fern-leaf and the old fashioned are budded. The violets are in full bloom. There are almost none in the lawn. When I first moved into this house, they were all over the lawn in the backyard. They have been dwindling for the last few years and I can't figure out why.

The fritillaria that was supposed to be so difficult to grow is in full bloom. I planted it in the medieval garden even though they were grown in the 17th centruy. It is shorter than I expected. Perhaps it will get taller next year. Nevertheless, it is really neat looking. The smell is pretty bad though. The entire plant smells really badly.

The newest visitors to the birdfeeder are White-breasted Nuthatches. These were another type of bird that I thought only existed in illustrations because they are so crazy looking. Nope. They are real and just as funny in person as in the pictures. They supposedly travel in pairs year round, not just during mating season. Sure enough, there was a pair. I think it was a male and female because one was trying to feed the other. Nuthatch seduction!

White-breasted Nuthatch


Monday, April 18, 2005


I'm not a big fan of hyacinths. I tried them at my last house. The first year, they were gorgeous. I had planted them around the wrap-around porch and every time I walked out of the house, I was literally surrounded with their fragrance. But each succeeding year, they declined like tulips until after a very few years, they were quite scraggly and downright ugly. I decided to stick with grape hyacinths which were multiplying in the beds and in the lawn.

I didn't bother planting any hyacinths at this house. There was one pathetic one in the backyard next to the shed. I considered digging it up and throwing it out, but I thought it was on its way out anyways, so I would just let nature take its course. I dug a bed along the side of the shed and planted around it. Every year I cultivated the bed, being very careful not to disturb it. I dug in compost every spring and shredded leaves and grass clippings every fall to nourish the sunflowers and pumpkins I grew there.

Imagine my surprise when the hyacinth didn't die. My amazement grew as the hyacinth grew. Each year it has returned bigger and with more flowers.

The little hyacinth that could

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Woodpecker Sighting

April 15 will not longer be Income Tax Day for me. It is now the day I saw my first woodpecker. I was watching a pair of house finches on the new birdfeeder. I turned away from the window and when I looked again, the finches were gone and there was a woodpecker on the feeder. I was thrilled to say the least.

After a little research, I have determined that it was a female downy woodpecker. The males have red on their heads. This one did not. The downy wood pecker is supposed to be the same size as the finches, but this one appeared much larger. Perhaps it was an optical illusion. The hairy woodpecker, which is larger, also is more white than the one I saw. Also, it is a woodland bird. The downy woodpeckers are more common at backyard feeders so I am pretty sure it was a downy woodpecker.

Male Downy Woodpecker

Female Downy Woodpecker

Dividing Perennials

I went to Rutgers Gardens for another gardening course yesterday. "Techniques for Dividing Herbaceous Plants: The Applied Approach" Another great course. The only downside was that we spent the entire day outside dividing and replanting, so I got way too much sun. I wasn't prepared with a hat and sunscreen. But it was worth it. I learned a lot and I won't be afraid to divide anything in my own gardens. We were allowed to bring home any of the excess plants we wanted. Most of them were grasses which don't interest me. The only thing I brought home was a golden leaved hosta for the shady garden. Once I got it home, I realized that the spot I want to plant it in is currently occupied by tulips that are about to bloom and shouldn't be moved right now.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Yellow Flowers

One of the first flowers I planted when I moved into this house were primroses. Every year, I would order a few plants from a catalog. They did absolutely nothing for the longest time. Then, one year they started blooming. All different colors. They looked like little jewels. They also are the world's ugliest plants when they finish blooming. But for a few brief weeks in the spring, they brighten up the semi-shady garden.

One thing I noticed each year was that the yellow primroses always bloomed first. By the time they had finished, the other colors bloomed. I thought this was peculiar to primroses but this year I realized it happens to other plants as well. The yellow crocuses were the first to bloom this year before the purple and white ones. Now the yellow pansies are brightening up their beds before the other colors which haven't even budded yet. I'll be keeping an eye on the hollyhocks to see if they also follow this blooming convention.

The first primrose of the year. Yellow, of course.

The first pansy of the year. Also yellow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Thalia daffodils

The Thalia daffodils bloomed today. They are taller than than the Rip Van Winkle, but still small and delicate. Each stem has multiple flowers. Unfortunately, they are lost against the white shed. They need a different background to really stand out.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Spring has sprung!

I've been sick for two weeks, first with the flu, then with bronchitis. While I was confined to bed, spring arrived. It was perfect planting and transplanting weather, rain then warm then rain then warm. Of course Springhill delivered my plants right before I became ill and in the teeth of a late snowstorm. So, except for the Japanese fern I managed to get into the ground before I could no longer get out of bed, the plants are lining my window sills and the roots are staying cool in the basement. I planted the fern, by the way close to the hellebores which were a complete bust. One never made it through the winter, one is dying even as we speak and none of them bloomed.

I couldn't work in the gardens, but I could look at them. I took a mental inventory for the fall. Bulbs. I need more bulbs. I got out of the habit of planting bulbs every fall. At my last house, I always planted a minimum of 100 bulbs each fall. After ten years, that's 1000 bulbs which I know sounds impressive but reality was very different. First of all, they were spread out in beds scattered around a 50' by 150' lot. Second of all, they didn't all bloom at the same time. Third of all, not all of them survived every year. The tulips especially died off in huge numbers. That's another thing I learned at the Home Gardeners' School. The reason tulips don't last is due to their origins in Afghanistan and Turkey where the summers are dry. Our summers are too wet for the bulbs. The only solution is to dig them up every summer and replant them every fall. I am much too lazy for that. And lastly, the squirrels ate quite a few of the bulbs after I planted them until I finally figured out how to stop them after I moved to my current house.

Making up for all that, were the bulbs that multiplied. At my last house it was the grape hyacinths. I wasn't a huge fan of them until I noticed they had filled the beds and spread out into the lawn. My front lawn didn't get mowed until May so I could enjoy them. At this house, it is the crocuses. When I first planted them, they looked pretty pathetic but ten years later they have become big bunches of color. I lost a lot of bulbs, especially crocuses and daffodils when my front yard was dug up in 2002 to replace the sewer line to the street. I never replaced the bulbs. This fall, my mission is to finally remedy that.

My first heirloom bulb, the Rip Van Winkle daffodil, has bloomed. I noticed today that the Thalia daffodils are ready to bloom also.

Rip Van Winkle daffodil

Close up of Rip Van Winkle daffodil