Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In the Garden in April

Well, as usual, I got behind with my blog as I prepared for a vacation. This time to Nashville, TN to visit relatives. We had a great time and I will eventually post some pictures from the conservatories at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel — truly a sight to behold with lush tropical plants, full size palm trees, and even a river. Just you wait and see!

In the meantime, here’s some pictures I took in my garden throughout the month of April. It has been an unusually warm and dry spring. Everything has been blooming early — from the forsythia to the wisteria to the azaleas.

Forsythia in early April.

I have both the curse and the joy of having quite a bit of wisteria. There’s wisteria growing up the posts on the front porch, growing up some trees in the front/side yard, growing on the shed/workshop, and growing on the greenhouse — all the invasive variety that requires a lot of pruning to keep it from taking over. Then there’s the wisteria tree in the back yard, which is more tame. I love when the wisteria blooms because not only is it beautiful, it has probably one of the best fragrances in the world. The smell is so strong in my yard that I can smell it inside when I have a window open. Love  it! Except when I have to get on the roof to prune it...

The wisteria tree.
This wisteria is either on the shed/workshop or growing up a tree — can’t remember which!
Wisteria on the shed with the wisteria tree in the background.

In 2010 I celebrated a milestone birthday — I won’t confess as to which one it was. My younger sister gave me a dogwood tree for my birthday that September. Really, could a gardener ask for a better gift? The dogwood is the state flower of Virginia (I hate to tell them it’s really a tree) and my younger sister lives in VA and that’s where my mom was born and grew up, as well. So it seems appropriate that I have a dogwood to honor them. I was a little concerned about it surviving, especially after traveling from VA and then getting planted next to a huge tree stump with lots of roots that I had to dig out. But in the words of Dr. Frankenstein, “It’s alive, it’s alive!” I’m so glad it survived.


I had planted a few bulbs in the fall. I can’t seem to find the list of the names, though, of course. I planted several miniature tulips in front of the shed.

Miniature tulip.

I also planted a few different bulbs by Monty’s gravestone — I still miss that crazy cat. I planted a bi-color grape hyacinth, some glory in the snow, some Poet’s Daffodils, and some of the same miniature tulips as shown above.

Monty’s gravestone urn with glory in the snow and grape hyacinths.

It’s always a thrill to see the tiny, unique flowers open on the Epimedium Rubrum (Barrenwort). This has become a favorite of mine, especially since it blooms in shade.

Epimedium Rubrum (barrenwort).

I have four bleeding hearts that look so gorgeous each spring against the greenhouse. 

Dicentra Spectabilis (Bleeding Heart).
Close up of the Bleeding Heart.

Ok, I’m really getting old because I can’t remember the name of this and I know I know it.

Love the multiple colors!

A few years ago I rescued a lilac in our front yard that had gotten completely covered in wisteria. It took a couple of years for it to do well, but it has looked better and better every year. This bloomed early this year, as everything else.


That Bridal Queen Hellebore is still going strong. Here it is with some bluebells.

Hellebore Bridal Queen and either Spanish or English bluebells.

The purple columbine are a staple of the spring garden. They reseed freely, and sometimes with a little help from me in other areas.

Purple columbine with Pass The Wine Iris in the background.

Somehow the columbine has created different shades of purple. I guess that must be what happens when they self sow.

Close up of the two different shades of columbine.

The Pass the Wine Iris look really pretty. Still not the color I expected, but I don’t mind too much. It’s pretty enough.

Pass the Wine Iris.

I have some Lilly of the Valley hiding under a shrub in the back of the garden and under the roses. It smells divine.

Lilly of the Valley

Our yard has some really nice azaleas — a couple in the back and about six or seven in the front yard.  When they bloom, along with the wisteria, it really is pretty. In fact, a neighbor who was driving by today stopped her car to tell me how pretty it looked with everything blooming.

Reddish/pinkish azalea in the back yard next to the shed.
Pink azalea in the front/side yard.

We finally got some much needed rain this weekend. Unfortunately, it rained just as my azaleas were blooming and it knocked off a whole lot of pretty blossoms.

Azaleas in the front yard
Azalea in the front yard.
Azalea and wisteria by the front porch.

And here is another sign of spring — my giant mulch pile in the driveway.

Mulch pile in the driveway.

If you notice anything amiss with my photos lately, mainly the weird focus, it is because the lens I use for almost all of my photography is having “issues.” I am currently using a zoom lens, which definitely isn’t meant for close-up shots or even further away shots of my small yard. If there was some mountains in the background, then maybe the photos would look better. It looks like I have to send my lens to Cannon to get it fixed — will have to look into that.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What’s Going on in the Greenhouse

I planted seeds a couple of weeks ago in the greenhouse. It took them no time at all to start sprouting. I used to have TERRIBLE luck at starting plants from seeds, even after moving into this house and having the greenhouse. The key to my success was the APS (Accelerated Propagation System) seedstarting kit from Gardener’s Supply Company (THE best online company for gardening supplies). The kit consists of five main parts: a reservoir for the water, a pegboard stand, a capillary mat, insulated growing tray, and a cover. This diagram shows how it all works together: http://www.gardeners.com/APS-Parts/11802,default,pd.html?start=3&cgid=APS_Cat I also use their germinating mix. Since I started using those products, I’ve had almost 100% success with starting seeds indoors. One thing I did differently this year it to buy a longer chain for my florescent light so it can hang closer to the seeds and I think that helped the seeds to germinate faster.

Seedlings growing in the greenhouse.

What’s growing? Mammoth sunflowers, cappuccino sunflowers, sugar snap peas, sweet basil, and blue boy cornflowers. I also have four large pots that I planted with rhizomes of Canna Wyoming. First time trying that, so we’ll see how they do. My sunflower seedlings are ready to be transplanted to larger pots...

Mammoth sunflowers and cappuccino sunflower seedlings.

While in the greenhouse, I noticed something completely new: My carnivorous pitcher plants had flowers! I actually had no idea that pitcher plants developed flowers. I don’t remember seeing them last year. I still have to split up my carnivorous bog plants into two separate containers because they’ve gotten too crowded. But man, look at these cool flowers on my purple pitcher plant! The white pitcher plant has buds and will bloom soon, too.

Purple pitcher plant flowers.
Close-up of a purple pitcher plant flower. So cool!

Not even remotely as exciting is the begonia that’s flowering in the greenhouse. I had taken cuttings in the fall from a begonia and coleus and here they are now...

Begonia and coleus.

Colorful and I love the dark purple leaves, but yeh, not nearly as exciting as those pitcher plant flowers. I was practically jumping for joy when I first discovered them, then I decided to look up in my carnivorous plants book to see exactly what was going on. I highly recommend “The Savage Garden” by Peter D’Amato if  you are interested in carnivorous plants. Great photos and great information.

There are plenty, and I mean plenty, of other plants crammed into my greenhouse right now, but those are the highlights. Soon I’ll be starting seeds outdoors under row covers. And come Mother’s Day, a lot of my greenhouse plants will move back outside.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Lecture: Designing the New Kitchen Garden by Jennifer R. Bartley

I went to a lecture at Longwood Gardens on Sunday. It was part of the “Branching Out” lecture series that are free to members. This one was about kitchen gardening presented by author Jennifer R. Bartley. The full title of Jennifer’s book is “Designing the New Kitchen Garden: An American Potager Handbook.” Her newest book is a companion to this called “The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook.” 

Ms. Bartley is a well-spoken, landscape architect who specializes in creating kitchen gardens that are inspired by French potagers (www.americanpotager.com). She started off the lecture by describing what defines a potager, or a kitchen garden, and its origins. She shared drawings and photos of gorgeous kitchen gardens at monasteries and French chateaus, talking about how you can gleam ideas from these gardens for your own smaller space. These gardens are linear and symmetrical, giving a formality to edibles. They are as beautiful as flower gardens. Instead of being “painted” with colorful blooms or foliage, they are painted with swashes of color and texture from the leaves and fruit of vegetables – green lettuces, orange pumpkins, etc. They are utilitarian, yet ornamental.  A wonderful example is the vegetable garden at Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley where there are nine equal sized squares planted in different geometrical patterns. (www.chateauvillandry.fr/)  

The French liked to have their kitchen gardens within close proximity and within sight of the house. The word potager means “the garden for the soup pot.” To the French, the garden, the table, the home, are all a part of one unified whole. It is a philosophy of living connected to the garden and the seasons. Flowers are as much a part of the kitchen garden as are vegetables and fruits. They attract beneficial insects, as well as give you beautiful blooms that you can gather to bring into the house along with your fruits and veggies. We were given a list of fruits and vegetables by season and a list of flowers by season, as well, to help you time bloom times with your edibles. A suggestion was to plant perennial vegetables and fruits with perennial flowers, and plant annual edibles with annual flowers. 

Ms. Bartley’s one rule is the kitchen garden should be near the kitchen for easy access. Well, she probably wouldn’t approve of my kitchen garden, which is at the back of my yard to take advantage of the best light. Potagers are often enclosed, either by walls, fences, flowers, etc. I am working on the enclosed part, using plants and shrubs as my “walls.” If my neighbor would finally put up that fence they promised two years ago, that would help as well. Sigh...the fence farce continues. 

I enjoyed learning more about kitchen gardening. I will admit that I have not read either of Jennifer Bartley’s books. Instead I read “The New Kitchen Garden” by Anna Pavord. This lecture intrigued me enough to consider picking up her first book. I believe her second one may be too similar to the one I already have.

(An interesting tidbit I learned: Jennifer said that any plant name with the word “officinalis” in it is a plant that would’ve been grown in a monastery. Hmmm, I did not know that.)

Future Branching Out lectures at Longwood Gardens that I’m really excited about and plan on attending:
“10 Tips to Better Garden Photography” presented by Rob Cardillo in September
“Wicked Plants” presented by the author Amy Stewart in October (see my 2/8/12 post on this book)