Above, one of my backyard beds, taken April 26. This area so far (so far, because I have a path/bed configuration that goes all the way to the edge of another bed near the neighbor’s fence, but I’m only uncovering the soil for cultivation a stretch at a time) measures roughly 5 feet by 20 feet. Take away the bulbs, soon to be finished, and there are around twenty-five perennials. As you can see, that amount fills the bed sparsely. Whereas, if you went to a garden center and bought 25 plants, at an average price of $9 each, you’d pay $225, with the bed not nearly filled. To get the lush look, even for small beds in yards of ordinary size, you need hundreds of plants.
These are some of the flats I’m hardening off, plants I started from seed, and others from cuttings. And I’ve divided one or two of the mail order plants and local purchases. Seed starting, cuttings, and division (chopping the plant in two, or pulling it apart stalk by stalk, depending on the type it is) are three ways of increasing your store. The fourth is found plants, seedlings scattered near the parent, or gifts from nature. Most of what birds drop into your garden won’t be desirable, but now and again, as with my mountain laurel from last year, a real boon arrives. I counted close to five hundred plants that I’ve amassed for the post-frost-free time, when the garden gets started. And even though that makes for hours of (fun) labor, it isn’t, given the number of beds to fill, that many plants.
Last year I wanted to dig up some of the non-blooming daffodils (very old ones that came with the house) and free space in the bed where their leaves took up so much. I tried digging and found they were worked down extra deep, almost a foot for some of them. This year I went after them anyway, while I still don’t like disturbing the bed that much. Some bunches of leaves tore away with the bulbs still in the depths, but I harvested several. As you can see, they’re puny, so the lack of flowers isn’t surprising. I’m finding places to tuck them in, at a shallower level, naturalizing them to a degree without committing a lot of lawn to bulbs…though I might well consider that with my fall bulb orders.
I bought three cheap heucheras last year: the variety called Palace Purple. Heucheras can be $20 to $30 and upwards, for the really gorgeous leaf patterns. It was a compromise—to get foliage color into my shade beds at a bargain price. But interestingly, one of the two I have near each other has copper leaves, apparently having a different genetic tendency than it was meant to. Which I count good luck, since it gives me two heucheras in that bed with individual coloring.
Note the seed leaves of this beginning columbine are being eaten, almost from germination, by very tiny leaf miners. I never do anything about the leaf miners, since columbines seem completely adjusted to them. But it’s a good tip to lift any seedlings you’d like to have grow into full-sized plants, and give them a place of their own. In my experience the majority of seedlings at the feet of the parent plant will disappear, and only the ones you give special attention to will thrive.
Last year I planted hellebore seedlings that were a few years old, but small. This year they’re taking off, becoming dominant in their corner. Which means about three of the daylilies pictured among them will have to be relocated.
These tea strainers are cheap to buy, so I thought of trying them with garlic cloves, near my lilies, since the deer are continually coveting the flowerheads. Another tip: The foliage of the lily pictured is wan and yellowish, between green veins. Spring this year has been extra warm, so plants have put up a lot of top-growth before the soil temperatures have risen. Some are having trouble, as many do, drawing nutrients from cold, soggy earth. The plant may not need feeding or treatment, just patience until June, when the problem may have solved itself.