A Gardening Year

The adventures and misadventures of an heirloom gardener

Friday, March 31, 2006

Maybe not . . .

I may have been a little hasty about Michigan Bulb. I received another delivery from them today. More peonies. I called Customer Service and they claimed I had put in two orders. One for peonies and rosebushes and another one for peonies, rosebushes and the plants that came earlier in the week. I explained to the nice lady that I had placed two orders, one for peonies and rosebushes during the blizzard in February and another the following month for the rest of the plants. I ordered online and when I finished the second order, the website added it on to the first order and apparently gave it a new order number but didn't cancel the original order number.

The resolution to this is that my first order has been cancelled. My credit card has been credited for the extra peonies which I can keep since they would not survive being returned to the company. Only one set of rosebushes will be sent to me. According to Garden Watchdog, this may not happen. I like to think well of everyone and since my experience with Michigan Bulb has been most pleasant so far, my expectation is that in the end everything will be fine.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

A Pleasant Surprise

I went a little crazy ordering from catalogs over the winter. All those two for one sales and $25 off $50 or more seemed to rob me of all common sense. Or maybe it just the fact that it was still winter, I couldn't garden, so shopping seemed an appropriate thing to do. Reality is setting in now that cartons of plants and bare roots are arriving at my door almost daily.

My Michigan Bulb order arrived today. I had been dreading this. I fell for their glossy catalog with the gorgeous pictures, their $20 off coupon and then the next catalog with the "Buy One, Get One FREE" sticker. It was only after I had placed two orders with them that I checked Garden Watchdog . It contained a litany of horrors. Dead plants, inappropriate substitutions, cancelled orders, incorrect billings, etc., etc. So it was with much fear and trepidation that I opened the box.

I was pleasantly surprised. Everything was well-packed and in great shape. In fact, the plants look better than plants I have received in the past from reputable nurseries like Springhill. My order was complete and correct. The only things missing were the rosebushes which should be shipped later anyways. Here's what came:

6 Coronation Gold Yarrow
6 Fire King Yarrow
6 Hens & Chicks
6 Lady's Mantle
1 Karl Rosenfield Peony
1 Sarah Bernhardt Peony

I've grown peonies before at my last house but all the rest are new to me. So I'm glad they're in such great shape. Except perhaps the Hens & Chicks. One side of the bag is clear and I can see that each bag has two good roots and one root that doesn't look so hot. That's okay. Remember, three of those roots were free.

The White Flower Farm catalog also arrived today. It has the candelabra primroses that I am looking for. 3 for $24.95! That's a little steep. And just for giggles, in their section on Native Plants I saw one of my mystery plants. They call it Snowbank Boltonia . They are selling it for $7.95 each. I have it growing for free all over my backyard!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

I got the message . . . loud & clear!

Just in case you haven't noticed, it's been unusually cold lately. I have no urges to be outside in the yard. I haven't even been keeping up with the birdfeeders. Instead of topping them off every couple of days, I've been letting them go. There is still plenty of seed in them. I did run out of squirrel food, but I figured they could eat what was dropped from the feeders.

Apparently they feel otherwise. This is what greeted me today outside my backdoor:

It's a crocus bulb and foliage. Much like the severed horse's head in "The Godfather", I took it as a warning. Start feeding the squirrels again or risk losing my bulbs!

Monday, March 20, 2006

First Day of Spring

Today is the first day of Spring although you wouldn't know it from the weather. Cold with a trace of snow on the ground this morning.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Could it be?

I've learned something new this year about bulbs. Bulbs that were planted years ago come up sooner than bulbs that were planted the prior fall. All of my established snowdrops are up and blooming. I've been bemoaning the fact that the double ones I planted last fall didn't come up. Apparently I was wrong.

Looks like a snowdrop to me. It's in the right spot. Ditto the yellow muscari also planted last fall. All the purple ones that have been growing for years are sprouting lush foliage. I am guessing that the sprouts that look like this in the spot where I planted the yellow ones ARE the yellow ones:
And last, but certainly not least, could this possibly be a long awaited hellebore flowerbud?
It's hard to see, but there is associated foliage with this which is why I am wondering if this is a flower or just more foliage.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Home Gardener's School - Spring Edition

I was back at Home Gardener's School at Cook College for the third time. It's offered twice a year, in March and in September. This is their 30th year. I only discovered it last year. I'm totally hooked! Rutgers Gardens needed volunteers for their plant sale table. I told them sorry, but I'll be attending classes all day.

Amazing Annuals was my first class of the day. It was taught by the director of Rutgers Gardens. He is extremely knowledgable and an excellent speaker. I honestly wasn't expecting to get more out of the course than ideas on placement and combinations. Usually these classes stress modern hybrids. I was pleasantly surprised to hear him make a case for older varieties. I made notes on plants I would like to try in my own gardens such as Persian Shield Shrub, Lantana, Lion's Ear and Brazilian Verbena.

Attracting Butterflies to Your Garden was my next and best class. The instructor was incredibly entertaining. He even dressed as a butterfly to explain anatomy! He had the best handout I've ever seen. The first page was perennials, annuals, biennials and vines to attract butterflies. The second page was container plants for full sun and herbs for butterflies. The third page was deer resistant butterfly plants, the fourth page was shade plants for butterflies. The fifth page was indigenous NewJersey plants for butterflies. The sixth and final page was insect deterring butterfly plants.

At lunch I ran into two members of the Master Gardener Steering Committee. They invited me to join them. I had been looking for a member of my Master Gardener class but couldn't find her even though we were taking a few of the same classes. Instead of the usual (male) speakers talking down to the (largely female) audience, they were giving out door prizes. They ranged from bags of grass seed to a snowblower. No, I didn't win anything.

Folklore of Plants, which should have been called Folklore of Trees, was where I finally found my classmate. We sat with two other Master Gardeners and were bored to death. Very little folklore. Too many "fun" facts like the wood used to make golf clubs. Eventually I just tuned him out in anticipation of my final class.

Attracting Birds to Your Garden was a class I was really looking forward to after the excellent class on butterflies. Boy, was I disappointed. The speaker (not the same speaker as the butterfly class) was AWFUL. His presentation was disorganized and incoherent. He didn't seem to know what he was talking about. He even admitted that he couldn't find a picture of a particular bird and substituted one that doesn't live in our area but kind of looks like the one that does! People were walking out in disgust. The Master Gardener I was sitting with and I managed to make it all the way through the slide presentation. When he finished, we realized there was still 45 minutes to go. We joined the exodus and went to the bookstore instead.

I browsed the bookstore then went over to the plant sale table and chatted with the Rutgers Gardens people. I'll be seeing them again Wednesday evening at the next meeting of the Adopt-A-Plot volunteers.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Did I plant that?

I have been frantically worried about The Fairy. The squirrels seemingly chewed all the branches down to stubs. Unbelievably, it is sprouting leaves all over those stubs:

This is one tough rosebush! It has more leaves on it now than any of my other larger rosebushes.

I'm finding crocuses all over. I know that I planted some when I moved in a decade ago but I don't remember planting this many in this bed:

Yes, that's my shadow again. The sun was at a low angle and much too bright to effectively show off all the clumps of crocuses. I love all this spring color. I also love surprises. I know for a fact that I have never planted crocuses in this part of my yard and yet here is one blooming at the base of one of my Blaze rosebushes:
And here is a picture of the first primrose of the season. Surprisingly, it's not yellow.
I've been reading about primroses. There are three different kinds. These that I already grow, cowslips which I am planting seed in the Wildflower Garden this year and a third kind called "candelabra". They bloom last. According to the article I was reading, they are sold by White Flower Farms. I'll be looking for another source because White Flower Farms is so horribly overpriced. I have the perfect spot for them, along the back of the house. Very little grows there because it only gets a few hours of morning sunlight. Then it is deep shade for the rest of the day.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Signs of Spring

It's not just the plants that are announcing the imminent arrival of spring. The birds are too. I'm starting to see some familiar friends at the feeder. Yesterday a flock of starlings arrived. They are still in their winter plumage but their beaks are bright yellow, their summer coloration. They love the suet feeder, two of them crowding on it at once. Today I saw first a pair of downy woodpeckers and then a pair of housefinches. They must just be setting up housekeeping. It's rare to see both male and female at the same time during the summer when they are busy raising chicks.

My Madonna lily is showing signs of life:

I planted a second one, but haven't seen it yet. Also in that same bed with the hyacinch and mystery tulips is a clump of crocuses that I didn't plant.

Speaking of crocuses, here is a gratuitous picture of crocuses growing in front of my house:

It is one of those rare photos that actually came out well. It's a great start for my 2006 slide-show screensaver at work. I'm afraid you will be seeing lots more gratuitous photos on my blog. I installed DSL over the weekend and it has made uploading photos sooooo much easier!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Am I Crazy?

Please tell me that I am not the only one who does this. I've been walking around the yard, examining the gardens. The snowdrops are all blooming. The crocuses are starting to bloom. the daffs are coming up as well as some of the tulips. In my mind's eye, I have a pretty good idea of what it will all look like when the various bulbs bloom. And I am already planning for next year!! I'm already thinking about which bulbs to plant and where. Does anyone else do this or am I just crazy?

The weather has been getting warmer and warmer. Yesterday it was in the 70's (21C). I was out uncovering some of the beds. Yes, I know it is early. I know that the weather in March can still get very ugly. I'm just uncovering beds with a lot of bulbs and iris coming up. It is easier to do it now than when the plants are bigger in April. I also have daylilies, columbine and bleeding hearts coming up. I was pleased to see the Festiva Maxima peony that I planted in the fall showing some buds. I know it will be a few years before it gets big enough to bloom.

The squirrels continue to amaze me. Much as my cat uses his scratching post to "file" his claws, the squirrels use my old wooden shed to gnaw on to keep their constantly growing teeth in check. This is what they were doing all winter (click on the picture to enlarge it):

That's the TOP of the door. How did they get up there? What did they hold on to while they were chewing? Even funnier were half a dozen squirrels chasing through the trees. The group was comprised of a female in heat being pursued by five males. Three of them were either very young or way down in the pecking order. Their pursuit wasn't as ardent as the two older, more dominant males. The female made it quite clear she had no interest in any of them but every time she turned her back on them, they made a dash to get close to her. Again and again she would turn, bare her teeth and chatter menacingly. The more dominant male stayed close. Every time the other male got close, he would chase him away and then run back to the female who then shooed him away. Over and over and over again!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Loss and A Gain

I've lived in my current house for over a decade. The neighbor's oak tree which shades my driveway in the summer has always had a squirrel's nest in it. Unlike the other squirrels' nests in the neighborhood which are located in the branches of trees, this one was built in a crotch:

I've always marvelled at how sturdy those nests in the branches are, seemingly made of only sticks and leaves. Why do they never blow away? What holds them together? What holds them on to the branches? I never worried about the nest in the oak tree. Nestled securely between two trunks, it seemed invincible.

After the blizzard in February, I checked on all the squirrels' nests in the trees around my house. As usual, they had all weathered the storm with no problem. But horror of horrors, the nest in the oak tree was gone!

I've missed that nest. I never realized I always looked for it when I came out of my back door. The squirrels still chase each other up and down the oak tree. They still run up it for safety when I come out of the house. But it seems empty with no resident squirrels.

This morning, as I was pulling into the driveway on my way home from work, I noticed a new squirrel's nest. I know that it is a new one because it is located in the tree in front of my house. That tree has never had a nest in it. For years I have wondered why there was no nest in that tree. I wondered what it was about it that made it such an undesirable location. Not large enough? Too close to the street? Too close to the house?

Whatever the reason, it didn't stop this squirrel. Thanks to all the wind storms we have had lately, there were lots of sticks and leaves for him or her to use to build his/her new home. I left some sunflower seeds at the base of the tree as a house-warming gift.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Mystery Tulips

Like most gardeners, I find myself pacing the yard, peering into all the beds, willing the bulbs to come up. Some of them continue to disappoint. Only one clump of daffodils out of at least three that I planted in the Green Garden last fall has appeared so far. The double snowdrops continue to be MIA. Grape hyacinths are popping up all over except for the new yellow ones I planted last fall. The Thalia daffodils that I planted two years ago and that bloomed so prettily last spring are making an exceptionally early appearance. However the (free) ones that I planted last fall have not yet come up.

A pleasant surprise has been the Rip Van Winkle daffodils. Not only are they coming up again, they appear to have multiplied. Instead of individual plants, small bunches are appearing. If this keeps up, in a few years this small plot will be a sea of yellow in the spring.

Around the corner, is The Little Hyacinth That Could. I was considering moving it last fall, but chickened out at the last moment. After everything it has been through, I didn't want to risk damaging or even killing it. It is really going gangbusters as you can see below. But wait . . . what's that behind it?
Don't bother clicking the picture. I'll enlarge it for you:

It's a tulip growing where no tulip has ever grown or been planted before! There's even a second one in that same bed. How did they get there? What kind of tulips are they? It's stuff like this that makes gardening so much fun. I'll post more pictures as the season progresses.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

I'm Gardening!

Well, sort of. I planted poppy seeds today. Planting poppy seeds in March worked well last year. I saved seed from those poppies (Corn Poppies - Papaver rhoeas) and planted them by the composter. That was another idea that worked well last year. The poppies bloomed while the balsam was growing. Then the balsam blooms all summer into fall until the first frost.

I received a free packet of something called Red Poppy ("Striking red petals with black swatches that form a Maltese Cross). Those I planted in the Orange/Yellow Garden. A third variety, called Flemish Antique (Papaver paeoniflorum) from Select Seeds went into the new Cottage Garden I am creating where I had the New World Garden last year. It's supposed to look like this:

Inspired by Kasmira's winter sowing, I'm going to plant more seeds in April. I did a lot of reading this winter on seed germination. I discovered I have been operating under a false assumption for years. I always assumed that the planting temperatures referred to were air temperatures. Turns out they are SOIL temperatures. No wonder I have had problems getting certain seeds to germinate. I normally do all my planting in May when the soil has warmed up as needed by most seeds.

On my spreadsheets that I created in January, I have a column for germination info. As the seeds arrived, I recorded the requirements listed on each packet. Based on that information, I'm going to be sowing Cowslips, Bells of Ireland, Larkspur and Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate next month. All of them either state they need cooler temperatures or should be planted in early spring rather than the usual "after last frost" or "after soil has warmed".

I am still puzzled as to when I should be planting foxglove seeds. Some sources say late summer and other sources say any time until midsummer. I've tried both and still have no foxgloves.