Monday, April 30

April Projects

With my new, crazy (but temporary) schedule, I am discovering that Sunday and Monday nights offer up the best opportunity for gardening. I have been able to complete a couple of small projects and begin to work on the front yard bed expansion as well.

When I planted the doublefile viburnum in 2005, I figured that I would have a 3-year grace period before I would need to widen the bed and give it more room. Last fall, I purchased a small oakleaf hydrangea with the intention of planting it in the widened bed, but on the right. I moved a silver culinary sage into the front corner, and have some other perennial and grass divisions earmarked to fill in the rest of the new bed space.

My methods of bed creation are admittedly a bit unorthodox. I generally do a lasagna bed method so I don't have to dig, but when a bed has to appear or grow in a hurry I simply turn over the dirt, plant, mulch, and pull out the occasional blade of grass that breaks through in the first year. And I don't amend the planting holes, either. In fact, I often wash the pot soil off of the roots of shrubs and plant it as if it were bareroot. My thought is that they might as well settle right into the native dirt and get used to it. Tough love, I guess!

The other main project I worked on was adding little planting pockets to the short length of retaining wall in my back yard. Mindful of comments that were left on my post about my original plan, I had been pondering how to make the pockets look somewhat natural even though the block is very artificial. The solution was to reuse the 3 partial blocks that I had removed from other sections of retaining wall.

I had to center them enough that they would still provide support to the blocks above them, but this created one bigger planting pocket and one smaller one. In the smaller one, I will simply plant more of the little green groundcover sedum that you see at the base of the wall and spilling over the top. In the larger planting hole, I'm still trying to figure out my plan of attack. I have 'Fuldaglut' and 'Voodoo' red sedums that might be nice, and a blue variety called 'Vera Jameson' as well.

Of course, I don't even have to stick with the sedums... there are so many choices for planting within a rock wall! On the bright side, evaluating my options will give me something to daydream about while I clean up perennials and sling flats of annuals at the garden center this week... :)

Wednesday, April 25

Spring Arrival: Dortmund

I had a surprise waiting on my porch this afternoon. The tagline, "Maplehurst: A Specialty Bakery," on the side of the box threw me for a little bit of a loop, but one look at the return address renewed my excitement: The package was a shipment from Mary's Plant Farm. My climbing rose 'Dortmund' had arrived!

Kudos to Mary's for reusing boxes... and an enthusiastic round of applause as well for great packaging. The roots are bagged up, the sturdy string that stretches through the bag around the neck of the rose keeps it from bouncing around, and the wads of newspaper keep the rootball from sliding back and forth.

I found Mary's Plant Farm a few months ago via the garden retail review site Garden Watchdog. I went there in search of a closer place to buy old roses than the venerable Antique Rose Emporium. Mary's is still a good 4 hour drive from my house, but it's closer than Texas.

When I finally placed my order last week, I had a nice chat (own root vs. grafted roses, the crazy weather we've had this year, etc.) with Sherri, Mary's daughter. During the discussion, I told Sherri that I have also been looking for two other roses: the yellow climber 'Leverkusen' and 'Buff Beauty,' a noisette hybrid. Might they offer either one some day? Sherri replied that no, they only offer roses that her mother has grown and evaluated over a number of years. I liked that idea, that there are still nurseries that offer only plants with which they have had personal experience.

Sherri also warned me that they would be digging out my 'Dortmund' over the weekend, and since it had been outside I might see some slight freeze damage on the leaves. After I freed the branches, I carefully inspected the rose. It looks perfectly healthy, and the branches stretch out nicely. I can't wait to get it in the ground, and watch as it grows. I hope it eventually covers the entire side of my porch... even if that means chancing an encounter or two with its infamous thorns.

'Dortmund' will be planted on Friday night, and I do believe that I will be drinking a bottle of my favorite local brew shortly thereafter. See, my family has a secret to success when reseeding a lawn: Have the whole family over to drink Coronas and "watch the grass grow." It works every time!

If the lowly Corona works for grass... well, then, what better way to get my new rose off to a great start than toasting it with a few sips of Great Lakes' Dortmunder Gold?

Sunday, April 22

A Different Kind of Tired and Achey This Spring

I'm not saying that it was a bad idea to work part-time at a local garden center this spring. After all, I really need to save up money to put in a fence this year. And I get a discount. And I am allowed to set aside plants and anything else I want in a "holds" area so I can buy them next time I work.

As a bonus, I get to talk to other gardeners and pick their brains. Yesterday I spoke with a lovely young man in his 70's (yes, that's what I meant to say--he had a very youthful spirit) for almost half an hour on designing with hostas. Today I met a guy who grew squash vines across his lawn just for the foliage. (He picked up the squash and moved it every time he mowed.) How fun is that?

But on gorgeous weekends like these, I miss spending time in my own garden. I hurried home today to get some pictures of the goings-on that are going on without me. The 'White Emporer' tulips are blooming. Cherry, pear and apple trees all have flower buds, and perennials like ligularia are popping up out of the ground.

All is not clean and beautiful spring in my yard, however. Beds need to be mulched, the purple ninebark and the 'Northstar' dwarf cherry need to switch positions. Several dozen other undone chores also greet my eyes when I pull into the driveway with my legs aching and my face dusty. It makes my heart sink, at least momentarily.

And then I happen upon the 'Jack Frost' brunnera, blooming its heart out in the slanting rays of the setting sun. And I finally figure out that the little spears of green coming up in two different places must be the red Asiatic lilies that I rescued from work. I had moved them once after the intial planting because I was afraid that they were struggling in too much sun, and they promptly died back entirely. Now, they are coming up in both places.

Best of all, I was pulling a few weeds yesterday when a bright spear of yellow foliage caught my eye. "No way," I thought, even as I dug steadily and carefully around it. Sure enough, I unearthed a piece of iris rhizome from about 5 inches down. I carefully replanted it at a more appropriate depth and then went inside to put up my tired feet, happy that I will not have to beg more variegated iris from my grandmother this year.

It's a lot easier to ignore the ugly when your garden gives you beautiful little gifts like these.

Monday, April 16

She Who Procrastinates... Eats Onions in May?

Late last autumn, I was digging out a few of the 'Fuldaglut' and 'Voodoo' sedums from the Japanese rock garden to use as edging in another bed when I made a discovery: Three strays that had escaped the onion harvest. I wasn't too surprised by this find--after all, the red onion skins were about the same color as the sedum leaves, so the oversight was understandable. I made a mental note to come back and dig them before I went inside for the night.

Fast forward to... okay, well, this week. I am in the backyard taking the usual spring pictures: Groundbreaking buds of peony bushes, an amazing number of atriplex hortensis seedlings, etc. Out of the corner of my eye, I catch sight of several jaunty spears of green. Onion green, to be exact.

Being curious, I pulled a little of the dirt away from the bulb and poked it. It seems pretty firm. The greens are up about 6 inches already, and it didn't take long to find the greens from the other two stray onion bulbs as well.

I admit, I am a little bit out of my comfort zone on this one. I have always been good with the usual cycle: Plant onion sets in the spring. Harvest tasty onions throughout the late summer and fall whenever you need onions. Suffer through a NE Ohio winter with bland onions from the grocery store, and then begin the whole process again the following spring.

Anyone know what I can expect from these three intrepid red onions? Will they do something magical and give me seeds or baby onions to plant somehow? Will they flower and then turn to mush--or be tough and yucky like old grocery store onions if I try to eat them?

I'm always up for an experiment so I won't be digging them up... I'd just like to know what I might be in for on this one. And whether it's worth really whacking back that beautiful salvia that you see in the picture so the onions can get some more sun.

Thank You.

I'm not really sure how to adequately express my appreciation... but I want to give a heartfelt thanks to all of you kind people who honored me with a Mouse & Trowel Award nomination. When I went through the official Nominees post, I had to reread my name a couple of times before my jaw finally closed and it sunk in. Then I kind of had a Sally-Field-at-the-Oscars moment: "You like me! Right now, you like me!"

Hot on the heels of my amazement was the feeling of being deeply touched that the nomination came in the "Garden Blogger You Would Most Like to Have as a Neighbor" category. That category is most closely allied with the reason I really love garden blogging: Community.

Here, I receive assistance, empathy, and sometimes a much-needed kick in the butt as I stumble my way through my garden. I enjoyed your delight as you experienced spring in the Black Swamp with me. Elsewhere, I got to appreciate the blooms on Annie's native coral honeysuckle while waiting for my own to be shipped and planted. I sometimes ache for your losses--animal, vegetable and mineral--and you make me smile when you share your beautifully crazy garden dreams, like overgrown forests of delphiniums. Occasionally, I run across a blog post that even makes me chuckle so hard I almost cry.

After an evening of catching up with my favorite gardening blogs, I determine that I am going to revel in subtle woodland beauty a la Don in Iowa. Like Lisa at Millertime, I plan to never be without a project or twelve. Pam at Digging makes me want to plant more agaves and succulents, and pay more attention to texture in the garden. Craig at Ellis Hollow inspires me to incorporate more height and ornamental seedheads--not to mention botanical knowledge--in my yard.

In fact, I have gained so much knowledge and enjoyment from my fellow garden bloggers that I could never list it all. Obviously, we're all already neighbors of the virtual variety... peeking over the proverbial fence and sharing our trials and tribulations.

I feel as lucky to have all of you as I am to have been nominated for a "Mousie." And I appreciate the nomination both for the spirit in which it was given and for for the fact that it reminds me what a great online community of people I blog amongst. Thank you for both.

Sunday, April 15

Stop the Presses... Another Bloom for Bloom Day!

I know, it doesn't look like much. But it cheered me this afternoon to see that my fritillaria uva-vulpis (aka fritillaria assyriaca, aka Fox's Grape frittilary) were not only back to vertical after the heavy snow... they're blooming! (And wonder of wonders, they actually look like the picture on the package.)

When investigating these frits, I found some interesting information via the charming Paghat's Garden website and verified it elsewhere: This fritillary has more DNA than any other plant or animal yet discovered--about 25 times that found in the cell of a human being. Why it has that much, nobody knows.

These last-of-the-bag frits, which ended up in bare soil where I had extra space (and they have no competition) are blooming now. The 20 or so that I interplanted with thymes, 'Bressingham Ruby' bergenia, and other plants meant to better show them off are a day or three behind. It doesn't make for great pictures right now, but it is promising. And all should multiply to make an even better show next year.

And here are the tulips that didn't quite live up to their picture. I'm actually starting to warm up to these guys. My initial disappointment is past, they glow in the sunshine... and all of your comments made me feel better about them, too.

Out of the rest of my tulips, only a small handful remain mostly horizontal post-snow. Of those, the stems only seem to be bent--not broken--so I'm letting them go for now. If they remain horizontal but still bloom... well, then I'll just have a nice bouquet to bring indoors, right?

To see what's blooming in other gardens around the world on this 15th day of April, 2007, visit Carol's April Bloom Day post at May Dreams Gardens.

Saturday, April 14

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: April

In Bloom:

helleborus orientalis 'Pine Knot Strain' (x4)
pear and apple branches forced in the kitchen
phalaenopsis orchid
those frustrating tulips that are guilty of false advertising

In Bud:
'Chocolate Chip' ajuga
'Vodka' begonias (indoors)
'Bing,' 'Northstar' and 'Montmorency' cherries
'Bartlett' pear
'Sundance' and 'Honeycrisp' apples
all of my other tulips

In March, I kept thinking, "Just wait until April--I'll have so much blooming in April!" And now I'm saying that again, only about May. If you aren't already known for your patience, Ma Nature sure does force you to knuckle under and develop it fast.

Wednesday, April 11

Just Three Days Left to Nominate Your Favorites...

... for the 1st annual Mouse & Trowel Awards!

Begun by Colleen over at In the Garden Online, the aim of the M&Ts is to give some recognition to great garden blogs. If you can't think of three blogs to nominate in each category, just nominate the one or two who come to mind. If you (like me) have never actually listened to a gardening podcast, then skip that category entirely. (Like most gardeners, these awards are serious but go with the flow a little, too.)

However you nominate, just nominate... and even if you don't get a chance to make some nominations, check back next week to vote for the finalists. It's a great chance to recognize some of your favorite garden blogs, and bring them to the attention of others, too!

Tuesday, April 10

The Great Melt, Part Deux

There is some cautiously optimistic news out of snowy Cleveland. According to The Plain Dealer, Northeast Ohio's fruit farmers should be okay in spite of the late cold and snow. Most local apple and peach trees (we can grow peaches here?!) have not yet flowered. Early crabapples and all magnolia flowers are considered goners, but as those are not really "crop" trees I wouldn't call their loss devastating. Just a bummer for those who planted and love them.

I've been reading some interesting comments on other garden blogs and forums about this cold snap. Yes, people in my zone take a chance with late cold snaps when they plant any sort of spring-flowering fruit tree... but does that really mean that we should not do so?

If we get apples and cherries and other fruit at least 9 years out of every 10, shouldn't we be happy about those 9 good years instead of letting the 1 bad year shut us down entirely? I may not take those odds if I was depending on fruit farming as my livelihood, but I gladly accept them as a home gardener.

The snow is starting to melt here but I still have over a foot in many places in the yard. You can now see my sedum alboroseum 'Mediovariegatum' emerging from the top of one of my chimney tile planters. They and the rest of my perennials will be fine--as Annie and others noted on my original snow post, the snow has insulated and protected them.

Where the amount of snow we received might cause trouble is in my front garden. It was a very heavy snow, and came in quantity, so it might have caused my spring bulb stems to snap. The second picture shows fritillary foliage and a rosette of salvia lyrata leaves on the edge of the front bed, newly uncovered by the receding snow bank.

I'm not sure whether the frits will bounce back and stand upright again, or what I will find when the tulips reemerge from the front snowbank. But I do know that whatever small setbacks occur in my yard, I will not complain. As Don so eloquently stated in his "Elegy For A Garden" post: "But our garden is a trifle... a pleasant hobby; I reserve my sorrow for those who try to make their living by growing; especially the orchardists and produce growers." And with the wacky "spring" that we've been having, I'm afraid that those folks may not be out of the woods just yet--even in Cleveland.

Sunday, April 8

Sunday Snow Update

This is the backyard that awaited me when I woke up this morning. Notice the thick layer of snow on top of the mostly uninsulated garage, and the huge icicle that is hanging from the small section of roof over the picture window? The terracotta tile I mentioned in yesterday's post is identifiable only by the extra mound of snow that finally covered the sedum completely. Where the lions used to be, misshapen cones of snow stand guard near the front porch instead.

My boyfriend is using a hard plastic shovel to clean most of the snow off our cars until using a regular scraper is actually doable. Here's my car (a Chevy Impala) that was completely clean when I got home from work yesterday at 7:30pm. To be fair, some of that snow probably blew off of the neighbor's roof... but still. That's a lot of snow! And do you see the top edge of my neighbor's 3 ft tall chain link fence in the upper left corner? There are drifts where I can only see the top 2 rows of chain link "diamonds."

I would say that the "low spots" are about 14 inches deep, and there are drifts well over 2-1/2 feet tall. It's still snowing as I type (hence the greyness of these pictures) and it's supposed to be so cold all week that I have no idea when the snow will finally go away.

As I told Snappy in response to his comments on yesterday's snow posts, having snow in April is not unheard of here in Cleveland. Having it in these kinds of quantites that actually stick to the ground is... unless you're in the snow belt on the eastern half of Cleveland. (And don't you dare feel sorry for those people, even if they did have 30 inches of snow this weekend. They knew about this snow belt thing before they bought a house there--this isn't a new phenomenon!)

On the bright side, my "sled dog" was having a blast mushing down the sidewalks during our walk last night. She's not smart enough to keep from getting tangled around the rustic platform birdfeeder that we put up temporarily for the spring rush now that my twine-and-bamboo border edging is buried in the snow... but she can pull me through the drifts whenever I need a little extra assistance.

Saturday, April 7

I'm Dreaming of a White... Easter...

I double-checked the calendar, and yes, it really is April. Ma Nature must be getting her kicks this year by switching up Christmas weather with Easter weather. That's really all I can come up with to explain... well, this.

See the poor little 'Matrona' sedum stem sticking out from the top of one of my chimney tile planters? I had just pinched it back for the first time on Monday. There is garlic planted between it and the blueberry whose branches you see on the left. The garlic is--was--about 8 inches tall. Since we "only" have about 6 inches of the white stuff now, I'm guessing that it has been flattened and buried. It handled similar treatment just fine throughout the month of February, so I'm not too worried about it now.

Speaking of buried, those unexpected red and yellow tulips would be much more welcome right now... except that you can't see them at all. Like the 'Bressingham Ruby' bergenia, carex buchanii, heucheras, hellebores, and all the rest, they are all tucked in underneath a blanket of white in the front garden.

In the backyard, the pyracantha that I am training as a wall shrub was bent horizontal and heavy with snow. After taking this picture I gently brushed off the largest clumps of snow so it wasn't too stressed, but left a little for interest.

I have also had to brush several inches of snow off of the new platform bird feeder that we put out this week. After each cleaning, I discovered that it needed to be refilled as well. The birds have been relying heavily on us this weekend, so I'm glad that we have a half bag of black oil sunflower seeds on hand. The roads today are an adventure, to say the least...

Tuesday, April 3

What is Promised and What is Delivered

I was excited to see a flash of color this evening as I pulled into my driveway. Inspired by various other garden bloggers who wax poetic about the joys of spring bulbs, I had decided to take a deep breath and plant some tulips in the front garden this fall.

Mindful of others' advice to plant tulips closely for the best look, I planted my bulbs at the minimum recommended distance. Since I'm better with the digital camera and a computer than a digital notebook, I took pics of each package in the place where its bulbs were planted. As you can see in the first picture, this little area between my hellebores and a flat rock was destined to sport a voluptuous beauty of a tulip: inwardly curved, orangey red petals with yellow edges.

So... maybe the tulips succumbed to the modern notions of fashion and went on a diet over the winter? The colors are right, but the proportions are all wrong. Would I think that this was a lovely little beauty if this is what I meant to plant? Absolutely. But with the false advertising on the package, it feels kind of like I went home with Dolly Parton only to find out that it's all just smoke, mirrors and a big wad of tissues.

Beyond that, I did learn a valuable lesson. When other gardeners tell you to plant your tulips close, they mean close. Don't even read the package if you have a hybrid tulip that's only going to give you a year or two of color at best--just plant those suckers 3 inches apart if you want them to look like big fat bouquets in your garden.

I have lots of other tulips planted that have yet to flower. In the next few weeks, I allegedly will be seeing flowers in creamy white, fringed orange, and a purple so dark that it can be mistaken as black. We'll see. I won't be the last gardener to be sucked in by a Photoshopped picture, and I know that I wouldn't be the first to discover that my White Emperor tulips actually bloom yellow. Nothing that pops out of the ground will really surprise me at this point... and lucky for them, it's early spring. Any color is a welcome color in zone 6 in April.