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Note to self: Babies and cacti are a combination to be avoided at all costs in the future.

— Gardening Lesson #1 for 2013

Hello Spring!

Today, the little one and I swung by our local garden center. It’s one of our favorite things to do. She’s crazy about plants and so am I.

As we walk through the parking lot, I can feel her little body tense with excitement in my arms. She recognizes the buildings, the colors, the trellises, and the big bags of garden soil.

“Flower! Flower! Flower!” Her hands flail in the air. She is all smiles, but she wants “Down! Down! Down!”

The minute we’re in the greenhouse, I set her down. She runs to the nearest ranunculus and gives it’s big red blooms a big, baby kiss. My heart melts.

Hello spring! We’re all so happy you’re finally here.

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

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Are You Jealous of My Trellis?

I am over the moon about the new “Green Arrow” shelling peas I ordered from Seed Savers for this season. I’ve never grown peas before, nor have I shelled them, so this counts as a garden experiment for me.

Of course, peas need to climb. So I tasked my husband with building a trellis system for me.

(FYI for those considering a trellis: there a lot of ways to build one. A lot. Just google “pea trellis” and you’ll get a more choices than you can shake a bamboo plant stake at.)

photo of a pea trellis

An easy-to-build trellis!

We picked a simple design. It’s essentially two three-foot-tall wooden rectangles leaned against each other at the top. The crossbar at the bottom keeps the trellis from collapsing… until we need it to fold down and overwinter in the attic. You can make the trellis as long or as high as you want.

I strung twine to give the peas something to climb. I intentionally chose a natural sisal twine over string. Once the season is over, I’ll cut the twine and plop the whole shebang – spent pea vines and all – into the composter. Easy peasy! (Pun intended.)

Between the cedar boards, nails and twine, you can pull this baby together for less than $15 and an hour of work.

Which is totally worth it for a crop of these beauties:

green arrow peas

Photo from seedsavers.org

Starting anew

There have been a lot of changes since last year’s growing season for me.

This winter, my husband and I bought a new house.  We weren’t really looking, but we weren’t really NOT looking either… you know, checking out the MLS every once in a while, dreaming of more space and a bigger garden.

You know what they say: careful what you wish for!  We found our dream house, a beautiful old house in Prospect Park.  It had been empty for a few years and needed some TLC, but the price was right.

But while we were dealing with plumbers, electricians, heating contractors, and mold abatement companies, I was itching to get out to the garden!  The biggest selling point for me was the gorgeous yard, with a screened-in porch, giant arbor, and huge pond.  I could not wait to see what would come up, and learn a little bit about water gardening and koi!

As we met more of our neighbors, we learned that the former owners were avid gardeners, hosting the neighborhood garden club, and even appearing in a gardening magazine.  Suddenly, it seemed like a lot to live up to.  Plus, the front yard is shaded by some magnificent big trees and I know nothing about shade plants.  And what was I thinking, adding a big pond to the list of things to learn about and take care of??!?!

Panic was setting in.

So we’re trying to take things one step at a time.  We had the guys from Definitive Aquarium come out to get our pond cleaned up and repaired.

Working pond, plus gorgeous redbud!

What a treat!  The running water is so peaceful and already two toads have made their home among it’s banks (we love to hear them chirping at night).  I’m not yet brave enough to add koi, we still need a lesson on pond maintenance.  But it won’t be long!

 

 

 

 

There is a lot of work to do but it will surely be rewarding.  I’m excited to make this garden a showpiece again but I’m intimidated about all that needs to be done.  And I’ll be looking to you, readers to help me identify some mystery plants.  I know there are some gems hidden among the weeds!

 

Hoarders — the Seeds Episode

Our spring was too beautiful and I just couldn’t wait. The ground thawed (was it even frozen at all?) and it called to me. I even got sunburn from garden clean-up on St. Patrick’s Day. Mid-March, people! But we all know what the fickle MN spring holds for us. With the last frost date being May 10 here in zone 4b, planting was almost worth the risk. Almost, but not quite.

Nikie's seed stash

Does anyone else’s seed stash look like this?

So I started buying seeds.

A packet of forget-me-nots here, a few herb packets there. Then a few bulbs. And more seeds. Then more. Oh look, round carrots! And these awesome “green arrow” shelling peas!

Suddenly, my garden stash had outgrown its modest little storage box. And more importantly, the stash had outgrown my modest little yard.

Where will I find space to grow a 30-pound pumpkin? In between the seven types of lettuce? Over by those poppies and columbine I just couldn’t live without? Next to the Brussels sprout forest I’ve been dreaming about? And what about that sunflower mix, or the two varieties of swiss chard?

I’m still not sure how I’ll fit all veggies and flowers into my smaller-by-the-minute city lot. But, dammit, I’ll find a way. Those Grandpa Ott morning glories are way too cute to stay wrapped 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

 

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