Posts by: Jodi Pritchard

Hmmmmmm……

If you garden, “Hmmmmm…..” has come out of your mouth at least once. What kind of tomatoes do I plant this year? Do I have room for another hosta in this bed? Should I weed or pour myself a glass of wine and call it a day?

 

Like they say in real estate: lots of potential!

 

This week, it’s been this bed. Sure, there are lots of pretty things going on, but some stuff isn’t working. I’ve got a big gap in the middle, which was supposedly going to be filled with foxglove and poppies. They declined the invitation and stayed stunted. Those foxglove were expensive, too, when I got them last year! Wankers! There is short stuff behind taller stuff. I apparently can’t grow mint to save my life. (For the novice gardener who may be reading, this is like not being able to boil water.) The Japanese iris didn’t bloom very well, despite being quite large. (The mint needs more sun. The iris needs to be split and planted with the rhizomes closer to the surface.)

So, I’ll be moving a few things around in late August. It’s too hot now, and by not doing this task next spring, everyone should have a good headstart so they are fabulous next year. Meanwhile, I’ll be settling into one of those Adirondack chairs with a book and a glass of vino, enjoying the view, ignoring the flaws and imbibing in the scent of the heliotrope planted nearby.

In contrast, here is a part of the garden that is hitting it out of the park this year.

Poppies, daylily, tradescantia, lilium, volunteer daisies

 

 

 

Busy.

Oh, hi. I’ve been busy gardening, and now the big spring push is done. I’ve re-planted a couple beds, cleared another of lily-of-the-valley and got the vegetables in.

The freshly weeded seating area

I absolutely love this time of year. Not much has gone wrong–there’s been no time, really–and all the plants are small and perfect, with even more perfect futures ahead of them. My beets and chard will sprout and grow unmolested by rabbits. I will certainly never forget to water the pots: no wilted gerbera daisies this year! The sickly dahlia I managed to step on will nonetheless grow tall and hardy with countless blooms.

The garden in miniature

Ok, a few things have gone wrong. The daisies have already wilted.Slugs have razed the lungwort. I began seed-starting late and the tomatoes plants were all of 4″ tall when I planted them a week before Memorial Day. (That went right! It was early.)

I finally found the right combo for this tough spot

But holy cow, check out my peas–planted in what is usually the dead of winter, March 18th. They will be put into a spicy rice noodle and  beef concoction this week.

Naturally, I meant to get these tied up....

What are you most excited about this year? Are you growing anything for the first time, or looking forward to old favorites?

The seating area with Geranium 'Biokovo' in full flower with Tradescantia--spiderwort--doing back-up

From this Small Speck

Seeds amaze me. Within these small ships, large cargo looms. Without seeds, our earth, our lives would be so different. Without them, no linen trousers or cotton t-shirts. No honey to put in my coffee. No coffee. No plants to feed the animals, so no ice cream or cheese. Without seeds, there is no bacon.

New seeds meant a great germination rate

 

This is where I go in my mind when I plant seeds every spring. The promise of tomatoes, basil, chilies, and Shirley poppies beckon each year. I always try new things, often flowers that I can’t readily find. This year, a mix of pink zinnias,  penstemon, a new coreopsis, Columbine flabellata and ‘Mrs. Scott Elliot.’ Sunflowers go in the ground when it’s warm enough, chard and carrots a bit earlier.

 

These penstemon need new homes

I keep old six-packs for planting and grow it all under two 4-foot shop lights propped up on phone books on the floor. For some things, I use a seedmat which keeps things around 75 degrees.  I use soilless potting mix and water from the bottom, placing the packs in a tray of water. Even though I’ve been doing this for about 20 years, I nearly always forget to check for dryness at least once and things wilt. I had to re-start the zinnias this year because I killed off many of them.

Two sizes of cells help the wee plants thrive

 

I love the process of potting on, or teasing apart the tiny seedlings and putting individual ones in cells of their own. I usually listen to music or a book on CD; this year, a spy novel set in Greece during WWII kept me company. My tools are low-tech: a spoon to fill up the packs and a cheap seed-company paring knife I’ve had since I can’t remember. (f you grew up on a farm, you can see this knife in your mind’s eye now.)

 

The 'Shirley' poppies now have growing room

In about four weeks, I’ll begin to “harden off” the plants by putting them outside for a bit at a time, getting them used to the intense sun and wind. Every day, they spend more time outside. Then, after about 10 days, I’ll gently tap them out and put them in the garden proper, talking to them all the time, introducing them to their neighbors, assuring them of great things to come.

Such as home-grown tomatoes on a late-summer BLT. With seeds, all things are possible.

The Shimmer of Tulips

At first, I thought it was me. When I first grew tulips, they were smaller every year, decreasing in size and number. Then I found out it’s them. I learned to let them grow for about three seasons, then replace them. Happily, breeders have been creating new tulips for a very long time, so I can always try something new.

Tulips, mid-April

Last fall, I decided to put in a lot of tulips in a small space. There was a time when I thought 25 bulbs was an extravagance. Hey, when you’re putting yourself through college, tuition does indeed trump plants. When I order a good chunk of bulbs, I like to plant them in clumps instead of singles here and there, or in an appalling straight line. (OK, I’ve only seen this twice, but still! A straight line of tulips lining a sidewalk?) Last fall, I ordered 50 ‘Ouillile’ and 20 ‘Negrita.’ I thought the contrast between the light pink and dark purple would work well. I also made sure to get bulbs that bloom at the same time.

The bulbs came, and I will just admit right here I lost sleep trying to figure out how to exactly distribute the bulbs so each group of seven would have the same number of light and dark bulbs. (I tend to like things even, lined up, and tidy.) Finally, in a gesture of amazing, willful carelessness, I mixed them all up and put in 10 groups of seven bulbs each.

The contrast, it works, no?

The light ones are the “Ouillile’ and the darker are ‘Negrita.’ At first, I thought the ‘Ouillile’ were a disappointing buy: they are rather grayish and dull. Twenty-four hours later, they darken and get that beautiful white edge. A keeper.

'Ouillile' at first blush and later, better

 

Best spring ever?

(Please note: I wrote this on March 21st, with the best intentions of getting it posted. I don’t even have the excuse of a new baby or new house!)

Spring came so early, on the heels of a winter that was not
really a winter. I went cross country skiing precisely one time, patiently
waiting for that big snowfall. That wish remained unfulfilled.

 

Emerald chives

Then, a warm bubble of air came and stayed, unlike the teaser
days we usually get in March. As of March 21st, we had nearly two weeks of temps in at least the sixties, and have kissed 80 once or twice.

And don’t the plants know it! The chives are five inches
high and all my early perennials are shaking off the cold and shoving up
through the soil. I see something new every day: from the early oriental
poppies to the sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ to trollius ‘Cheddar’, bright spots of green
punctuate the beds.

 

Iris reticulata 'Cantab'

The forsythia bloomed on the 19th, the earliest
it ever has. Buds are visible on the lilacs, and on the 21st, a lone
miniature iris bloomed. The buds of my azalea are straining to crack the hard
shell, and the feathery leaves of the tree peony have broken forth.

Of course, many bulbs are up: I have a coolish yard, so no
crocus yet bloom. But in time, they will be there, as well as bloodwort, muscari,
daffodils and a batch of new tulips I planted. I am most excited for the
dogtooth violet I am growing for the first time. I have no idea when it usually
makes its appearance, and look for it every time I take the dog out. Dog’s
happy; she’s going out a lot these days.

I wonder if the hellebore has survived; I bought it last
year at the master gardeners’ sale. At the same sale, I bought white anemones
and nestled both among the hostas.

 

Tree peony bud

 

A long time ago, when I was a baby gardener who read a lot,
I learned that the traditional date to plant peas was March 17th. I
harrumphed; the ground’s still frozen and snowmelt doesn’t happen for weeks
around here. Until this year. I planted peas on the 18th. (They emerged about 9 days later! Oh, the thrills!)

 

All the potential of the season

Will it last? I have lived through enough Minnesota
springs—and summers—to know that setbacks and disappoints await, but at this
moment, it is spring, glorious spring!

Gardens in the Cinque Terre, Italy

The Cinque Terre is a beautiful area on the west coast of Italy named for its five villages that nestle in the hills on the coast. There are hiking paths between each village, as well as trains and ferries. Each village has lots of little shops filled with everything from tourist tchotchkes, gelato, and local goodness such as pasta, soap and limoncello. Seafood abounds on the local menus. My niece and I were there the last week of June before moving onto Rome. I had hoped to learn about Italian gardens, but due to my limited Italian, I was able to take pictures and just observe. I did get the sense that the people just garden, like my mom gardens. You do it to raise food, not make a statement about how local your food is or to show you’ve got a bigger, better garden than your neighbors. Here are some highlights.

One of the villages, with terraces in the distance

Here is a closer shot to show how the terraces were organized

Almost everyone supported their tomatoes in this same manner

I only saw one garden enclosed in this way

This machine was ridden down into a large terraced field of grapes to assist in harvesting

To the left, you can see the track used to go down the terraces

I can personally attest to the excellent quality of the white wine produced in the region!

We loved the scenery, with the beautiful sea, hills and buildings and were very impressed by the many stone walls built up over the centuries to cultivate what was once a very wild land.

 

Worst garden year ever, and that’s OK

Usually, my kitchen window gives a wonderful view to the seasons. I look at the five feet of snow in winter, and try to remember what it really looks like out there, how it’s meant to look: verdant, lush, filled with scent. This year, I’ve turned my gaze away. A lot. The snow lasted forever. Then it seemed as if it were cold and rainy for, oh, about three months. Then I went away, taking my niece to Italy as a graduation present. I returned, elated but exhausted. Then I went away, to Denver, to support my brother as he turned 50. Then I returned, and the air was a damp, heavy down comforter pressing on my chest, for, oh, about 45 days.

Think I’m going out in all that mess? Besides, nothing happened till about June 30th. Partly, this is my fault. I just wasn’t into the garden this year. I started my seeds two weeks late and thought about how lucky condo-dwellers are. I did some desultory weeding and mostly neglected the compost, taking out just enough to put in all the planting holes.

Sure, there were nice moments. Like the 175 daffodils I planted last fall, and the new bed I created. Mostly, though, I was bitter and just tired of stupid weather. Oh, and the rabbits decimated my hosta. Then, we got some nice weather. What do I do? Plan social events every day leaving me no time to garden. I even had serious gardeners over and didn’t care what they thought. I focused on making great food and clearing the house of the biggest dust bunnies.

So what happened? Things got, well, frowsy out there. I’ve got a million flowers that need to be deadheaded and I haven’t staked my tomatoes. The bachelor’s buttons are done, as are the breadseed poppies. Their sad, tired bodies are just standing around.

But it’s OK. The garlic still grew, and I’ve got tomatoes. My tiger lilies, verbena, liatris, and daylilies look fantastic.

And, over the last two days, I’ve spent some beautiful hours out there. The compost bin was emptied and is nearly full again. I’ve got garlic curing. The tomatoes did get staked after all, and best of all, you can tell I deadheaded. I feel as though I have June gardening energy, where only hunger and the promise of a good meal make me pack it all in. I’m irked I have to go to my stupid job. (It’s actually a great job. Just not now.) I’m not making any playdates for this weekend.

Garden, I’m back, and I’ve missed you so much.

 

 

There’s always something

Every year,when I finish some moderately challenging project—a new garden bed, digging up and re-seeding an area of lawn that’s infested with a terrible weedy grass,
creating a seating area, arranging for dying shrubs to get taken down, then
moving everything around because there is no more shade—I think to myself, “I’m
super glad that’s over. Next year, all I’m going to do is do the spring
clean-up, plant out my goods and enjoy.” I’ve been waiting for that season for
about seven years now.

This winter, our curly willow succumbed to a very heavy snowfall; most of its major branches broke and there was no way to salvage it. I’d planted this tree in 1995 when I
bought my home. It was about five feet high and adorable. As it grew, I realized
I’d sited it too close to a neighbor’s tree, so it leaned a bit to catch the
light. It grew to about thirty feet and was unusual and pretty. Friends and I
gathered the curly branches for decorations—crazy cheap, when five of them go
for between seven and ten bucks depending on where you shop.

An old friend, fallen

I wasn’t too sad to lose the tree, even though I really liked it. After a brief mourning
period of about half an hour, I began plotting. I could get a different tree,
something small, planted away from the neighbor’s tree, and make it the star of
a new bed of shady plants! Winter went on and my garden mind slept. In early
April, I got a notice about the Tree Trust program in Minneapolis. You can buy a tree for $25.00, part of an effort to get more trees in the cityscape. I checked out what they
were selling and found it: The Perfect Tree. Ok, the Really Most Perfect Tree
would be a fast-growing magnolia, but they don’t make those. Look, I’m 46 and
don’t feel like I have time to wait 15 years for a tree to do its thing. What I
bought instead is a serviceberry tree, or Amelanchier canadensis.  They grow to about 25 feet, have clouds of white flowers, purple berries that feed birds and stupendous fall foliage.

The pile of soil, waiting to be shaped and raked. The dog was included at no extra charge.

I also became determined to have one of those nice orderly beds that has space between the plants.  This is a very different approach—my usual m.o. is to buy plants that I like and cram them in where I find space. This results in a garden full of really cool things, but a very full, some might say, chaotic look. This time, I really, really promise I will stick to my plan. The bed will be an oval, about fifteen feet by five at its widest. I’ve picked
out three big hostas to put at one end, two bleeding hearts, maidenhair ferns,
Heucherella ‘Stoplight’ and Brunnera ‘Jack Frost.’ I’d been thinking about the
bush quince, Chaemoneles ‘Camille’ but I think it’s too weedy looking overall.

You can just make out the tree

This was to be quite the project: after getting an estimate for sod removal, I decided I was going to dig that out myself. Then I thought about that some more, and paid the guy. Also, when you plant a tree, you have to dig a hole three times the diameter of the root ball so it grows really well.  Thankfully, you only dig as deep as the root ball. I also decided that a raised, mounded bed would look really pretty, so I got a bunch of soil—a cubic yard was perfect. Even better, my partner took pity on me and moved it from the alley to the front yard. She didn’t count the number of wheelbarrow trips.

Those very tiny plants in back are the hostas. In three years, they will be giants

Spacing of plants has always been a challenge for me. I set the pot down, look, and think I’ve got it right. I plant. Then, and only then, do I notice I missed the plant 6″ to the right. (See tree story above. Although that took about five years to show.) I think I did all right with this bed. I also walked around it, as it will be visible from every side. Some of  it’s empty; I couldn’t find a white bleeding heart, and since brunneras are so expensive, I’m hoping to split mine next year.

I think I already know the next project: I have a shade garden filled with large plain hostas. Some of those have to go, to make room for fancier ones, as well as other shade plants, such as dogtooth violets, hellebores and anenomes. Yep, there’s always something.

All kinds of Daffodils

My partner has a saying about food: “I like stuff in my stuff!” I’m pretty much the same way when it comes to the garden. I love trying out different versions of the same thing. We’ve all seen the ‘King Alfred’ daffodils: the yellow big-trumpted ones. They’re early and reliable. Also, boring. Yeah, I’ve got some, inherited from previous owners, and I’ve done enough coddling that sixteen years on, they still do their thing.

'Dreamlight' comes with a pretty scent

But then the real fun starts. And it really starts months prior. Each fall, I read my journal entry from the spring (yep, I’m that kind of gardener) and lose myself for hours in the bulb catalogs to find stuff to fill in the empty spots I noted five months earlier. I’ve grown split-cups, miniatures, small-cupped, triandrus….

Hawera' with Tulip 'Lilac Wonder in the background--the daffs are 1" and adorable!

I’ve found daffodils do die out; I’ve never had much luck with naturalizing.

'Serola' (Lighter cup) and 'Ceylon' made a pretty pair

It’s fun to mix the varieties together and with early perennials or other bulbs.

'Sorbet' with Tulip 'Pink Impression'--I'll be choosing a better tulip for next year

For next year, I’m already planning to fill in the ‘Serola’ and ‘Ceylon’ mix with some orange lily-flowered tulips. Then there are the ‘Quail’ jonquils I saw at the Arboretum, and this year I’m really liking the white-petal-yellow-cup varieties.  Just as well they don’t naturalize–this way I get to pick out new stuff for my stuff every year.

'Thalia' and Fritillary meleagris--one of my favorites of spring

The most adorable violet ever: ‘Freckles’

Many years ago, I came across a newspaper article telling the story of Violet ‘Freckles.’ It was discovered in the woods near Baraboo, Wisconsin and ended up being sent to England.

Each flower looks as if it's been splashed with purple kool-aid

In the late eighties, it was sent back to the US commercially. I saved that clipping for ages and in 1996, saw seed offered in Thompson and Morgan’s catalog. 25 seeds for $3.99! I had to have it. I planted all 25 seeds. One germinated. I babied it, watched, it put it out in the garden. It bloomed the second year and was every bit as adorable as I’d thought it would be. Through the years, it’s spread, sometimes into the lawn. The dandelion weeder takes care of that.  

The violets make a fun foil for the daffs

Now I have a patch that’s now about 18” across, and am diligent about pulling up strays. It hasn’t needed extra protection for the winter.  It usually blooms in early to mid-May, and makes a pretty pairing with daffodils and the nearby catmint, or nepata.

The violets look even better with early nepata or catmint

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