Mystery Plants

Do you have plants in your garden that are a mystery to you? Being a very relaxed gardener, I usually have a few mysteries in the garden: plants that I just don’t know much about. At the moment I have two. One is a seven foot tall beauty that looks like some variety of rudbeckia.

mystery yellow flower

mystery yellow flower

The other is, I think, in the mint family. I didn’t expect these beautiful flowers.

mystery purple flower

mystery purple flower

In the spring time, I wrote about a different kind of mystery — when you plant something, like an iris or a tulip and you don’t know what the bloom will look like. You do, however, know what an iris or a tulip generally looks like. In the case of these two plants, I had no idea. A friend sent them to me in early spring when they were both basically just roots in a clump of dirt. She didn’t know the name of the yellow one, and I’ve forgotten what she told me about the purple one.

Watching the foliage grow, then seeing the flower buds develop, and finally enjoying the beautiful blooms made for an entertaining summer. They are adding so much color to my late summer garden, too — which is nice because it seems like the majority of my flowers are spring bloomers.

Have you had any surprises this summer? Or, have you ever planted something having no clue what you would end up with?

 

It’s Your Garden, Grow It (or Not) If You Want To

If you hang around with gardening-types, it’s bound to happen. You’ll eventually come across someone who criticizes your garden choices. They may think you should be growing more native plants, or more edibles, or more heirloom varieties. You may encounter someone who feels that your method of weed eradication is inferior to their own. The criticism may come in the form of helpful “advice”, or it may be outright. Either way, it could well make you feel uncomfortable.

Don’t let it.

If you have put seeds in the ground, gently cared for seedlings, watched birds flutter among your blooms, or watered your plants on a hot day, you deserve kudos for cultivating life.

Gardening is a creative endeavor. It allows us to enjoy color, texture, and scent in a way that other creative pursuits cannot. People choose to garden for a million different reasons, and nearly every one is good. Maybe you grow your own food in a conventional vegetable garden; or perhaps a vase of fresh-cut flowers on your dining room table makes you happy so you have a cutting garden; some people garden in order to attract birds and butterflies; others grow herbs for cooking and medicinal purposes. The point is: it’s your garden, grow what you want to.

At Green Thumbs Galore, we love to encourage people to try new things. We are happy to share our favorite plants with you, and offer our tips and tricks. But, if you choose to do things differently, you still get a pat on the back from us!

cat walking in plants

Newman in Ice Plants

Celebrate your Garden

Last night, a lovely Friday night with a gorgeous, bright full moon shining down, my family began what is sure to be a long process: preserving the harvest. We’d picked beans several times through the week and picked even more before sitting down to string and snap them. Next came washing and canning. We managed to get 14 quarts canned by midnight; there are that many more to process today.

We expect there will be that many each week until the end of the season. In the meantime, the okra is quickly ripening. We aren’t sure yet just how productive it will be, but it could well be just as generous as the beans. Since pickled okra is a family favorite, we will be happy to have plenty of jars on our shelves. I’m not so sure how we will feel packing that 130th jar.

Canning

Canned fruit. Picture courtesy of J. Sc.

Then, there are tomatoes. We have fewer tomato plants, but there will certainly be enough that some of them will need to be preserved. So far, the squash has produced in smaller quantities, but within a month or so, it’s likely there will be quite a lot of it as well.  And the corn…barring any groundhog or crow attacks, we are expecting somewhere between 800 and 1200 ears of corn.

All of this leaves out the grapes, blackberries, blueberries, and apples. There will be much smaller quantities of those to deal with, but we do want to try some jellies. The question is: how much can people who have other jobs and other responsibilities get done? The truth is, some of our harvest is likely to feed the birds, or will add nutrients to the soil as compost.

We’ll do what we can, of course, but we probably won’t get every bit of value from this year’s harvest. And that’s okay. There won’t be any guilt for not getting that last jar of beans canned, or making that last batch of chow chow. Instead, we will celebrate the achievements of the season. We’ll count our jars and feel a bubble of pride, and look at the stacks of bags in the freezer and know we did just fine this year.

It’s easy to let the responsibility of the garden become a burden. Avoiding vacations, spending every free moment either picking or processing the harvest, and worrying about what you aren’t getting done when you are doing anything other than garden related chores can suck the pleasure right out of your garden.

Do what you can and don’t sweat the rest. Very few of us are subsisting from our gardens, so it’s unlikely you will go hungry if you miss a few beans or a tomato hits the ground. Enjoy what you do harvest, and celebrate your garden!

Raspberry Jam

Raspberry jam. Picture courtesy of S. B.

Playing Favorites

Each year, I try to choose a favorite in my garden. I’ve been thinking about this post for a few weeks now, trying to decide which flower would be named my 2014 favorite. I wanted it to be a new plant, but instead, it’s one that has matured and become even more beautiful: my pond lily:

pond lilyA friend bought a new house and it had a small pond, but the liner leaked. It just held a small, icky puddle — and a pond lily. She asked if I’d like to have the lily in my pond, and since I have trouble saying no to any plant, I took it home.

It was sitting on the edge of the pond and  one of my dogs ran past and knocked it over. The pot floated to the top and I thought it might not survive. But it did, and this year, there are two or three blooms each day.

They are a glorious pale pink with beautiful yellow centers. The leaves are beautiful too, with shades of green and red. The frogs love them and hide among them all the time. Even though it’s a tad invasive, and I’ll probably have to pull some of it up, for now, the pond lily is the favorite flower in my garden.

What is your 2014 favorite?

Gardening at the Home Place

Belle and I both write mostly about growing flowers and fruits, so this post is a bit of a departure because it is about a more traditional kind of vegetable garden. My family owns a small farm collectively, and this year we are growing a garden together. My grandparents always grew a huge garden and we all share fond memories of working in it — but especially of eating up the proceeds from it — zealously and with great enjoyment.

Last year, one of my uncles planted a dozen blueberry plants and some grapes. Over the winter, I added four apple trees to keep the one already there company. In the spring, we built a small raised bed for perennial herbs, and got going on the big vegetable garden. Here’s what it looks like now:

FarmgardenJune1We have several varieties of tomatoes, two lettuce beds, onions, spaghetti squash, yellow squash, LOTS of radishes, beans, beans, and more beans, parsley, rosemary, sage, watermelons, bell peppers, okra and a few cucumbers. We still plan to put in some carrots and some corn, and maybe one or two more things if we find the time. In late July or August we’ll add several types of greens, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic, and maybe potatoes for a fall/winter crop.

It’s difficult to describe the joy that working in this garden brings. It’s in a beautiful place, with a stunning view. Combine the natural beauty with a couple of lifetimes’ worth of happy memories, and you can see why it’s such a pleasant place to work.

The last weekend in May, several people showed up to work, and we had dinner together, including fresh-from-the-garden lettuce, onion, and radishes. Each week, there will be a little more on our plates straight from the garden and we’ll be sustained in body, spirit, and mind. A garden can be so much more than rows of plants!

The Final Toll of the Killing Winter in Dava’s Garden

It was a rough winter. I didn’t realize just exactly how bad it was for my garden until the last couple of weeks. Here’s the final list of victims:

  • rosemary (this one hurts the most)
  • brugmansia
  • ALL of the strawberries
  • 2 varieties of canna lilies

Canna Carnival - purchased at the Green Thumbs Galore Driveway sale in spring 2013.

Canna Carnival – purchased at the Green Thumbs Galore Driveway sale in spring 2013.

  • a fancy orange coneflower
  • a cream and pink colored rose

I bought it at a grocery store for $2.

I bought it at a grocery store for $2.

  • columbine

A gift from Belle, 3-4 years ago.

A gift from Belle, 3-4 years ago.

  • 2 succulents

Of those, I didn’t fully expect the brugmansia or one of the succulents to make it. The columbine, rosemary, rose, and about half the strawberry plants were very well established, so it was surprising they didn’t make it. From what I understand rosemary plants across the region were hit hard.

Plants come and go — I’ve had some that survived for several years, then suddenly, inexplicably died, so I’m not mourning the loss of these too terribly much. This is the first year I’ve lost quite so many to cold weather, though.

Next year, if conditions are brutal again, I may have to implement Belle’s leaf blankets!

Along with the many garden losses, there were some surprising survivors, too:

  • hostas, even though there was a late-season frost
  • all of the daylilies
  • a gorgeous penstamon, which is about twice or three times bigger than last year!

penstammon

  • all of the native purple coneflowers, which are about to explode into bloom!

coneflower buds

  • the English wallflower, which smells so nice
  • a baby hydrangea
  • some tender, newly planted sage

sage

  • the grapes, which were moved in the very early spring

grapesThere were many other survivors as well, but these (especially the sage!) surprised me partly because they all seemed to really take off this spring. Another survivor was my peony, which didn’t bloom, but does have healthy, strong-looking foliage.

Did you suffer losses due to the cold? Were there any super-tough survivors?

How to divide and plant Iris

The first thing you should know about dividing iris is that iris are tough. Most iris can withstand an amazing amount of neglect and rough handling. This is not to say you should abuse your iris, but you also don’t need to worry too much when you are working with them.

Most planting guides recommend that you divide iris about 3-4 weeks after they have finished blooming. There’s a high likelihood that they will not bloom the year after you divide and transplant them. They are just settling into their new home; you didn’t kill them!

Iris grow from rhizomes (the solid part between the leaves and the roots) . Each iris rhizome will bloom only once – and this rhizome is largest right after the flowers are done blooming. When your iris are getting crowded, you can often see the rhizomes, sticking out of the ground a little. The fact tIris plant after bloominghe rhizomes are so shallow makes them really easy to dig up. The easiest way is to use a fork — simply insert the fork near the edge of the rhizome and wiggle it around a little and it will pop up easily.

Brush the dirt off so you can see the rhizome and have an idea of what you are working with. Some guides suggest that you’ll need to get out the hose and thoroughly clean the rhizome. There’s no harm in doing that, but it won’t make a bit of difference if you skip this step.
trimming iris rootsTrim back the leaves to about 3 inches.  You can cut them into any shape you want, straight across or fans, even zigzag! Then trim all the roots to about an inch long below the rhizome and

Cut or break off your baby iris rhizomes from the center ‘mother’.  If there are no new babies on the mother yet, plant the mother.
Most likely there will be many more iris then you have space in the old location, either plant them in a new spot or share the extras with your friends and neighbors. Baby iris ready to plant
To plant, insert your rhizomes up to its neck into the ground and water them in. You should not be able to see any part of the rhizome sticking up.
I know you’ve heard that the rhizomes should be above the ground and ‘be kissed by the sun’.  If you plant them too high, they are much more likely to #1 fall over and uprooted on the new roots they are developing and #2 dry out and die.  Pretty much all iris nurseries and hybridizers from Canada to Australia plant their iris ‘to the neck’.

Newly planted iris

Newly planted iris

 

 

Success with Helleborus Seeds

If you look underneath your big plant and see all the volunteer babies, you’d think it would be quite easy to collect the seeds and plant them in a container or a new location and end up with lots of new plants shortly.  It’s not quite that simple but it’s also not as difficult to get the seeds to sprout as some people will have you believe.

The challenge lies in giving the seeds just the ‘right’ environment as they require stratification. There’s lots of info about so many weeks of warm, moist and so long in cold, moist to induce germination.  You can get as scientific about the process as you like.  But I like EASY.  So here’s my EASY method for sprouting hellebore seeds.

Brick and helleborus seedsYou will need one brick for every 15 to 20 seeds. Collect the seeds when they are ripe and fresh, usually sometime in May for most locations. Plant your seeds as es soon as possible after purchasing or collecting, you’ll want them in the ground by the end of June at the latest. Select your new planting spot. Just rough up the soil a little and sprinkle your seeds.  Top them with the flat side of your brick.  You’re done!
helleborus seeds in soil
The brick will hold the seeds in place, provide just the proper environment both moisture and temperature wise to allow your seeds to do their thing.  In warmer climates without snow cover, lift-off the brick in mid-January of the year following planting.  brick on top of helleborus seedsYou may have tiny little seedlings that are flat like pancakes, don’t worry, they’ll straighten right up.  In colder areas with snow cover, whenever your snow has melted, lift the brick once a week and check for seedlings. As soon as you see babies, remove the brick.

It will take about 3-4 years before your new babies will be large enough to bloom and each baby will be a new plant that may or may not resemble its parent.  Here’s a picture of one of my seedlings that I really like a lot:

My burgundy  rim helleborus seedling

My burgundy rim helleborus seedling

Starting Herb Seeds

Herbs add color, fragrance, and texture to the garden — not to mention flavor and variety to the kitchen. Many are perennials and few require special care.  In my time as a haphazard gardener, I’ve grown herbs almost every year. Lots of them have died, due to neglect and/or ignorance, but I have finally hit on a method that works for me. Growing herbs from seed is the most economical way to go, but if you find seeds challenging you might be reluctant. Maybe my method will work for you, too.

Rosemary is probably my favorite herb, but thyme, oregano, sage, tarragon, cilantro, basil, and parsley are also usually in my beds somewhere. The viciously cold weather last winter seems to have killed my rosemary, so I’ll be starting a new one this year.

Last summer.

Last summer.

 

This spring.

This spring.

The oregano did just fine.

IMG_20140421_101013

So did the sage, which was surprising because last year was its first year in the ground. I thought it would still be tender.

IMG_20140421_101041

I tried, unsuccessfully, to grow rosemary from seed for a number of years. It would usually germinate just fine, then whither away. The plant that died last year was about four feet tall and absolutely luscious. I would touch it every time I walked by to enjoy its piney scent. The trick for me was to keep it in a pot for a few years.

That has turned out to be the best way for me to grow a number of perennial herbs — get them started in a pot, and bring the pot in over the winter for 2-3 years. Then, when it is firmly established, it seems to do better planted in the ground.

The method I use will probably never be endorsed by any expert, but it has consistently worked:

  1. Fill a pot (any pot with drainage) with potting soil.
  2. Sprinkle some seeds around.
  3. Put the pot outside.
  4. Keep the soil just damp.
  5. Start picking leaves off to use for cooking as soon as there are leaves to pick.
  6. Bring the pot in for the winter.
  7. After 2-3 winters, transplant to the garden.

Of course, some herbs, like basil and parsley work better as annuals, and I just plant new seeds each year for them. Others, like mint and chamomile can be invasive. I don’t mind if they start spreading, but you may prefer to keep them in containers rather than transplanting them into your garden.

Growing herbs from seed is inexpensive, and can have big rewards. It’s certainly worth trying if you haven’t.

 

Vertical Gardening: Up. Up. Up

There are lots of reasons to try vertical gardening. The most frequently mentioned is space, but even if you have plenty of room you might want to try it for aesthetic reasons. A vertical garden creates an attractive screen, a focal point similar to a painting on a wall, or shade.

Your imagination is the only limit when it comes to vertical gardening. One of the first times I encountered it was in reading Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew. As the title suggests, space was the main concern in that book. Bartholomew lays out instructions for growing a number of vegetable garden crops vertically, including watermelon! He uses nets for the melons.

Some plants must be grown vertically for best results. Peas, cucumbers, some varieties of beans, and plenty of other vegetables — not to mention the many types of climbing roses —  require poles, stakes, or trellises. Our fence row is decorated with gorgeous (if invasive) morning glories every fall.

My own current efforts at vertical gardening include a grape arbor:

grape arborsome peas on an old cast iron gate (the pea plants are still tiny):

pea trellisand a structure for a sweet autumn clematis that appeared magically growing up a tree in my front yard last year (I haven’t moved the plant yet — just put together the structure):

clematis trellisBesides an indulgence of my unpredictable whims, all of these vertical structures are simply to provide interest in the garden. I worry about having too many plants that are roughly the same height — or the same color, or that bloom at the same time. (Sigh. The complications of haphazard gardening.)

Belle uses succulents in a really interesting vertical structure. The wooden structure creates a frame, and the succulents are a variety of color and texture. The whole thing looks like a work of art.

Regardless of how much space you have, you may want to try your hand at growing some plants up and up. The most important thing is to make sure your structure is sturdy enough to withstand the pull and tug of your plants. Before we built the grape arbor, our grape vines pulled down the flimsy gate they were growing on.