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The coleus, in this bed where almost everything has variegated leaves, has the same red, yellow, and green as the heuchera (variety Electra, I think). Coleus are the easiest plants to start from seed, grow from cuttings, and store indoors through winter. So, for next to no money invested, you get the design impact of far more expensive plants.

 

 

The last issue of Garden Gate magazine talked about growing hydrangeas in pots. That seemed like a great answer to me, for this big pot that can accommodate a lot more root than a handful of annuals produces. First, note another good pairing with coleus, in this case almost an exact match in leaf shape and size, and burgundy to contrast with green. Second…I didn’t know when I planted the hydrangea that its flowers echoed the rhododendron’s in the background so well. But here are two shrubs that should mesh together nicely.

 

 

This year’s pots. The blue and purple ones are throwaway nursery pots, decorated with craft paint. It’s a way to keep plastic out of the environment, and I recommend painting pots as a waiting-for-warm-weather March or April hobby, and as a usual practice these days. Not just collecting pretty ceramic and terra cotta, but building your stock with repurposed plastic. Think…if as few as a hundred people did six pots each, that would be 600 pieces of plastic out of landfills, roadsides, waterways..

Meanwhile, the crate lined with paper is just a notion of mine. I’ll see how it works… And as to the annuals, the calibrachoa and petunia, I love pinwheel flowers, so these were great finds.

 

 

Meadow plantings are hot, but it’s worth noting that a meadow is a type of plant community created by human agricultural practices, from grazing livestock in fields, and from mowing. Meadows and their combination of grasses and flowers are easy to love, great for birds and insects, but there’s no set-it-and-forget-it aspect to maintaining one. You might like the effect on a small scale, making miniature meadow plantings among your beds. If so, mix in grasses, and in everything, look for sway…flowers with nodding heads that dance in the wind. Above, some grasses and foxglove, then a stand of catmint with daisies (the always good blue, white, and yellow combo); finally, some tall yellow columbines, with iris, monarda, and goldenrod.

 

 

The advice is always plant in threes. But I like the effect of one bright red flower in a bed of mostly pinks and purples. Primrose, as above, is good for spring, zinnia or dahlia for summer, and a peony or rose can stand out among shrubs.

 

 

 

 

Planting Out Week

Photo of backyard border bed

Last week, we were in the gloom; this week, serious spring has settled in, with temperatures forecast for the eighties in the coming week. Here is a view of the bed I showed a couple of posts back, when I talked about how many plants it takes to fill one. I now have it fully stocked with annuals: poppies, Centaurea, Scabiosa, sunflowers, Tithonias, ageratum, feverfew (a perennial). With luck, Clarkia and annual phlox, but I’m growing them for the first time, so I can’t be sure until they flower. Mostly choices that are deer resistant. (And one really lonely allium, that got included by mistake with the daffodils.)

 

Photo of vegetable bed protected from deer

This is the way I’m experimenting with protecting my vegetables. I’ve never been able to grow many edibles, because of the deer, but that’s been partly my not wanting to construct fencing. I may yet need to make metal grid fences, but what I have here is a double baffle, a kind of deer discourager that I’ve read about and that strikes me as logical. I have an inside section of netting, strung onto bamboo stakes, then an outside section of additional stakes. The concept is that the deer will try to push their noses in, find one baffle, the outer row of stakes; and if they try further, a second baffle, the inside netting, which confusion leaves them too uncertain of safety to venture more.

Double rows of fencing, spaced at four feet apart, are recommended for this method when you’re making the investment of a serious fence. 

 

Photo of wild aster foliage

Above, a pair of wild plants that turn up in the garden, and that have elegant, attractive foliage. The first is narrow-leaf plantain, which also will form a sort of ground cover, and has the little bullet flowerheads, that some of you, like I did in childhood, may have “shot” by wrapping the stem around itself and sliding the loop to detach the flower. The second is a late-summer aster. Some aster species have broader leaves, but this one, which will bloom with a tiny white flower, has grassy leaves that look pretty most of the season. Asters are pests as well as beneficial, seeding everywhere, but they bloom when pollinators need them, so are worth allowing (to a point).  

 

Photo of ground ivy in flower

Ground ivy has a certain charm when it’s in bloom, with its little bluish flowers dotting among the grasses. It was brought to North America by European immigrants, for its medicinal uses, to cure coughs and bronchitis, also arthritis and tinnitus, and a few other conditions. So while we wait for Universal Health Care 😉, try some ground ivy, free and abundant, and good for the insect population in any case. 

 

Photo of white foxglove

An almost perfect white foxglove. It barely even has spots, a claim the named white varieties don’t seem able to match. I’d have to propagate it by cuttings, since the seeds have probably been compromised already by the nearby pink foxglove.

 

Photo of clematis flower

Last year I treated my clematis with bonemeal, and this year it’s taken off, climbing the arbor for the first time. It’s an average jackmanii as far as I know, but the flowers are also coming larger and more burgundy than purple. (The camera gives a magenta appearance, but the true life shade is deeper.)

 

Photo of Japanese painted fern with green sport

One of my Japanese painted ferns, has sported (in horticulture, a sport is a stem or branch that features a different color or appearance from the main plant). Even though it’s a plain lime green, it makes a good-looking “second fern” in its own right.

 

 

May Gloom and Deer Management

We seem to get this spell each May, around mid-month, just when it looks like the weather will hold and the gardening can really start. Nights in the thirties, daytimes in the fifties! Lots of rain. Rain, I don’t complain about, but I do like some warmth. Also, it seems like every time I’ve gone around and sprayed Liquid Fence, another squall arrives with the worst timing. Ten or eleven at night, so it’s too late to go back and do the spraying over. A couple of days ago I lost the tops of a few lilies…but, I have that stand of three in a vulnerable location, and I’ve violated one of my own rules: Anything you want, plant a lot of. The plus of lilies, aside from beauty and fragrance, is that they’ll bloom the same season you plant them, and the cheap bags of bulbs at Walmart perform just fine (a dollar a bulb, with maybe one or two duds).

Above, the other sort of damage the deer are good at. I think as they make their way in the dark, they go by smell more than sight, since I often find the logs and small branches I use to border paths knocked out of place. And beds with new plantings walked over, the seedlings flattened and torn.

Meanwhile, with the oaks, all my beds are full of acorns, so the squirrels are constantly digging.

One of the ideas people get, which sounds surface-plausible, is that feeding wildlife attracts more wildlife. Environmentally conscious gardeners want wildlife, of course. But whether you do or don’t make habitat, your patch of land would normally support a certain amount of life, from fungus to barn owls. Animals, even insects, are territorial, so providing habitat suitable for deer or foxes…or snakes, or yellowjackets…can’t lead to an endless chain of new creatures, burgeoning into unmanageable numbers.

The deer have a problem to solve: they want to eat. Your yard is part of the territory the local family group forages, and did (ancestrally) before your house was built, the trees were cut down, the grass was mowed, etc. You have a problem to solve: you want the deer to leave your nice things alone. It should be clear that trying to drive the deer away, or block them off, solves your problem but not theirs. Still wanting to eat, they keep seeking to do it. Which is why I mow paths around areas in my yard I leave natural, making food lots and shelter for the deer. You can see from my postings that I have a lot of good garden, despite that fact that my yard isn’t just crossed by deer—the deer live a part of their lives here. They shelter and feed here; the mothers leave their babies in my beds while they go off to browse alone. 

This one I call the well bed. I’ve got Japanese painted ferns, Astilbe, Rodgersia, and Black Gamecock Louisiana Iris, so far. And rampant peppermint. When I moved here, I kept noticing how the water after a heavy rain would pool up in an almost perfect circle right here. I suspected a filled-in well from old times, when these outskirts of town that became subdivisions, had farms. I figured an old well wasn’t necessarily safe for walking over, with the water still filtering down, shifting the substrata. The whole back area of my yard seems to have an underlying spring, which as I’ve mentioned, creates a microclimate. The soil retains a lot of moisture, but the plants seem to love it. I attribute that to a huge amount of earthworm activity, keeping the soil aerated, nutritious, and not boggy. Water continues to pool in the well bed and drain off slowly.

 

A couple of years ago I noticed some delicate little leaves, a very tiny plant altogether, but one that began, after the second year of modest growth, to resemble a fern. This year, it’s put up a genuine leaf. I’ve never seen a fern grow in the garden from a spore. On a related note, I was watching an episode of the British show Gardener’s World, and they were showcasing tree ferns. Tree ferns, with a nice Jurassic look to them, can be grown from root segments, so the selling of them appears sustainable. Looking online, I found some sellers offering spores. Well, if an Ohio fern takes three years to form its first identifiable leaf, I think it’s advisable not to wait for a tree fern to grown from a spore.  

Extravagant ruffly glamor. A purple Bearded Iris that turns out to have impressive depths, with its veins and burgundy centers.

I wanted to share the most beautiful columbine. It created itself, coming up from a plainer one’s seed, and has blue semi-double center petals with what looks like white picotee edging; contrasting purple spurs. But this shot may be a little too macro. Who would have guessed columbine petals had that sheared mink effect?

A nicely crafted bird’s nest that fell from the pear tree. As clean as it is, it must have blown out or gotten knocked down by some creature, without having been used. A lot of visible care taken, with the outer large, and inner small, woven grasses.

Here’s my problem to solve, for next bulb-ordering season. I’m not the only one with Lonely Alliums…a lot of the showplace gardens in the videos have them too. They bloom when the daffodils are finished, when the perennials haven’t started, and the annuals can’t yet be set out. So what sort of complementary color and form will reliably mingle with them, and bloom at the same time? I’ll have to do some research.

Things to Notice in the Garden

Photo of backyard flower bed

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. 

Photo of used up daffodil bulbs to replant

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. 

Photo of copper leaved heuchera

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. 

Photo of columbine seedling

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.

Photo of hellebore plants

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.

Photo of garlic cloves in tea strainer for deer deterrence

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.

 

Circle of Life 😊

I was enjoying a mockingbird at my suet feeder all day on Friday. Saturday, I took my cat Ed out on his harness for that most important morning mole hunt. I saw something at the back of the yard, and after putting Ed inside for the day, went to look. It was the large field of feathers, as shown in the photo below.

They were plain grey and tan, without notable spots that would identify them as a mourning dove’s, and I didn’t see the mockingbird Saturday. So I thought I’d lost him to a hawk. Today (Sunday) I saw the nest above in my sweetgum tree, even though the nest appears constructed with pear branches. Last year the Cooper’s hawks built an abortive nest in the pear. This year they seem to have made a better choice of location, but their preference of leaf type is interesting. Probably it’s because the sweetgum isn’t fully leafed out yet, or because its sap is too aromatic for their taste.

Today, the, or a, mockingbird was at the suet feeder, meaning either a new one has taken over the territory already, the old one is fine after all, the female got taken instead of the male, or the feathers belong to a different bird altogether.

 

Here are all the feathers. This type of display tells you the predator was likely a hawk. A cat carries its prey off to a secret place to eat, and isn’t likely to sit pulling feathers while vulnerable (so the cat feels) to having its prey stolen. But to a hawk, taking off with a bird fully-feathered would be like trying to run carrying an open umbrella.

 

Several of last year’s nicotiana, nominally annuals, have come back from the roots this year. As famous gardeners Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd advised, it’s worthwhile pushing your zones. You don’t know what you may get away with growing. Southeastern Ohio not only straddles zones six and seven these days, but has the sort of hilly woodland environment that provides microclimates readily. Where there are tree roots, where water runs underground, where shrubs and grasses make shelters, where even small humps and bumps alter air currents, hardy annuals and hot-zone perennials can last late into fall and even return in spring.

 

The last of the three types of tulips I planted last fall: Apricot Beauty, Dordogne, and this one, Salmon Impression. This one is really on fire, with lots of richness in its orange-shading-to-salmon coloration. And I’ve done well with tulips overall, despite the deer, after taking a few precautions.

Some April 2021 Garden Sights

Photo of coleus starts for the garden

This year’s Coleus cuttings, taking on good mature shape and color. One of the secrets of coleus is that as the plants grow larger, their leaves develop new variations in pattern, so you may get dramatic veining, or something like the third from left, top row, which without the camera flash has an almost purple border with spiky red and magenta centers, surrounding a pale yellow. I also have two pretty freckled plants, one that mixes an almost true red with burgundy, and one lime-yellow and magenta. When you clone off the tops, you get bigger and better specimens, though they won’t produce the same plant from seed.

 

Photo closeup of Dordogne tulips

An inside view of the Dordogne tulip, one of the prettiest. It combines well with Apricot Beauty, which is shorter and smaller, but not as exaggeratedly as the camera implies.

 

Photo of Apricot Beauty tulip

Apricot Beauty’s hue and luminescence (and also a few speckles of deer repellent).

 

Photo of seedling hellebores under parent plant

These little waxy-leaved plants are baby hellebores that have seeded themselves below the parent plant. I harvested out three last year and it looks like I’ll have to find room for some others.

 

Photo closeup of a dandelion flower

What there is to see in a dandelion flower enlarged.

 

Photo of plastic repurposed as picnic dishes

 

I’m always looking for ways to repurpose all the free plastic stuff we get from packaging. It seems a little silly to buy picnic or party dishes, and then dump dishes we could harvest from our groceries, into the recycle bin. A lot of recycled plastic won’t be reused, due to lack of facilities, lack of demand, lack of profits. And recycling centers vary in the types of plastic they can pass on to companies willing to take them.

The potato chips are in a dome top from a store-bought cake. The other goodies are in trays that chicken comes packaged in. No problem, because these can go in the dishwasher; soap and hot water make them fine for general use.

The chicken trays are actually studier, a little nicer for size and balance, than picnic plates, and the sides are higher. You could easily help yourself to twice as many hot wings as shown above. And if you need drink cups, you can hang onto ones from fast food lunches—soon you’ll collect a complete service for any number of BBQ guests.

Plastic silverware doesn’t seem necessary…the point of picnic dishes is that they’re safe to jog around in the trunk of a car, unbreakable. So your own silverware from home should do.

 

A Weird Discovery

I’ve put up pictures of my Callery Pear (also Bradford Pear) before, that blooms so prettily in the spring. From reading up on the species, I was aware it isn’t well-regarded, but the articles I’d seen talk about its brittleness. The Morton Arboretum says the Callery Pear is being considered for the invasive species list.  Well, a week or so ago we had a windstorm, and a lot of little budding twigs from my tree were blown off onto the lawn. Thinking of perfumy relatives of the pear, apple and cherry blossoms, I decided to bring a sprig indoors to open its flowers in a glass of water. 

I went upstairs, where the sprig was unfolding, and noticed a rotting smell, but at first I thought it was due to hawks or owls taking apart their prey on the roof. I came up a while later and the smell was ten times worse. That’s when I realized the Callery Pear is one of those plants that wants to be pollinated by flies. Of all I’ve read about this species, I’ve never seen that mentioned. I do think we’re having an unusually ripe year for the Stink Pear, because it truly is corpse-scenting my whole backyard, a thing I’ve never noticed before. And it does, you will note when you pay attention, attract flies.

It makes me think of a sitcom gag, a disastrous dinner party, or wedding reception scenario, the naïve hostess bringing out vases of pear blossoms to decorate the room…

Meanwhile, I think if these trees weren’t problematic in other ways, rebranding them as the Corpse Pear would probably appeal to the younger generation of gardeners.

 

Here is the strange frond of a Christmas fern. Very delicate and pretty (and scent-free), with the translucent stuff it’s wrapped in. 

Garden Prep Work

Photo of azalea roots from layered branches

A chore worth doing, is to cut low-hanging branches off your shrubs. When branches are scraping ground, you have a hard time raking out debris; and when you rake under your shrubs, your garden’s appearance is improved—but also, pests and funguses are reduced. You may find some branches that are under piles of leaves have produced roots. This is the principle behind layering, the name for propagating shrubs by deliberately burying their branches. Above are two azalea starts. The parent plant gets assaulted by mites every year, although it comes back in the spring and blooms.

Planting in shade will sometimes ward off pests that thrive in bright sun, so I’ll find out if these do better in my back yard under trees. I noticed this phenomenon with a green beetle that used to devour my sunny phlox, but never bothered the shady ones.

Photo of grow lights setup for starting garden seeds

Here is my seed-starting arrangement. Gardeners who grow their own plants tend to hang onto their lights forever, but we’re living in a good era for upgrading. LEDs are better than fluorescent tubes, and don’t create the same disposal issues because they last so long—these I’ve bought this year, at the photo’s right, are linkable, so I can use fewer plugs in my surge protectors. They draw 45 watts, times six (plus the old ones) still well below a household outlet’s capacity. I use daylight, though I’ve seen advice to mix daylight with warm bulbs for the full spectrum. I don’t, and my seedlings all do fine. The coleus and impatiens, seen on the left, are cuttings from plants I brought indoors last fall. These two species root so easily that even stripping the leaves from the stem isn’t necessary. They will sit wilted for a week and then their leaves will plump up again.

I use peat pellets to start my plants, because the peat is resistant to fungus, so the seedlings do better achieving their second set of leaves without damping off (a fungal disease). But the following year, I have to dig up the remains from my annuals. (Perennials just grow through the netting and carry on.) This year, since I’ve been improving my front border with a double-height edge of blocks, it’s occurred to me these old pellets would work well stuck in gaps and spaces, where the netting will prevent water from carrying away garden soil, a good use for last year’s leavings.

Photo of cobblestones placed on furnace filter

An idea I have about what to do with an old furnace filter. The wire mesh holds the cobblestones in place, and the cardboard should decompose into the soil. The problematic item is the fiberglass filter. Landscape fabric is a polypropylene, so its decomposition into the environment has some impact, although it’s considered outdoor-safe. Fiberglass is substantially a plastic product, too, and is used for pool and pond filters.

The alternative to finding a use for old furnace filters is to add them to landfills. This arrangement could be covered with sand, pebbles, or mulch, and the filter would block weeds, while its decomposition ought to be well contained. Let me know if you have more information.

 

A last idea for reusing plastic. The above is a large cat treat cannister. I buy lettuce for sandwiches, not salads, so I need it to last a few weeks. Transferring lettuce from the store packaging to this upright configuration, then adding paper towels top and bottom, really helps my greens last a long time. 

First Flowers

Photo of Winter Aconite
Photo of hellebore flower
Photo of hellebore flower
Photo of dwarf spruce
Photo of daffodils
Photo of crocus under netting

 

First in the lineup, cute Winter Aconites, little bulbs that I’ve never tried before, but last fall I added them to my order. Then, two interior views of hellebore flowers. You can see that they have a ring inside of what look like tiny pitcher plants. My variety is a beaut, but tends to nod, so the only way to really see the flowers is to turn them faceup. It has also grown three feet in diameter, and being evergreen, is effectively a shrub. Third, evidence that something has sprayed on my dwarf spruce. If those twigs are really dead, I’ll trim them off, but I hold out the possibility they’ll grow new needles. Fourth, daffodils, another variety that wants to nod. And finally, a little species crocus under the deer netting. Crocuses have been popping up randomly in my lawn, so maybe they are seeding themselves.