Sunday, May 31, 2015

To Buy or Not To Buy - That Is The Question

With all this talk of buying plants, you may wonder what I am buying.  Aren't true Gardeners supposed to grow everything themselves?  Well, yes and no.  There are only so many hours in the day, so spend accordingly.  There are also only so many dollars in the budget.

1.  Perennials:  We always seem to be adding landscape space.  While I am generally happy to admire a well mulched, freshly edged, EMPTY landscape space, Tim is automatically compelled to fill it with something.  Well, for ME to fill it with something.   Some of my existing plantings may become unbalance because of plants dying out and not growing well.  

Once Upon a Time I bought some Black Eyed Susans....
And maybe a Hosta... or two
You can easily propagate your own perennials by Dividing or re-Seeding.  About 12 years ago I bought some Black Eyed Susans.  I now have BES in several places, have given some away, and on occasion will wheel a barrow out to the compost pile and murder them.  

And now they are every where

Same with Hosta and Phlox.  One well established and thriving planting can supply a neighborhood for generations to come.   But sometimes you just need something new.  Or something Right Now. So you pay for something that, with a little diligence, you probably could have gotten for free.

The simplest way to make sure you are matching your existing plantings
without remembering what variety they were is to divide or seed from what you already have.

2.  Vegetables:  Yes I do buy some vegetable starts.  A gal can't do everything.  There is an excellent blog here on Northwest Edible Life that perfectly explains what seedlings to buy or not to buy and why.  I plan my spring cold frame real estate carefully for early Lettuce, hardening off indoor starts, successive plantings of Summer Squash, Cucumbers, and Cantaloupes etc.  I have room for 8 flats at any given time plus a little edge space for keeping warm watering cans and a tub of potting mix.  Sometimes I feel I have room to plant Herbs or a certain variety of annual flower.  But they have to fit into the timing and space provided by the frame. 

I try to stick with a "hot" color pallet in the vegetable garden.  I only use red, orange and yellow.
Some years I buy Profusion Zinnia seeds by color so I know I will have only those colors.

I have two grow lights and heat mats (and space to put them in) to start seedlings indoors.  These are devoted to my Tomatoes, Eggplants and Peppers.  Sometimes I like to try new things like Jalapenos and I don’t have a preference for the variety so I will pick up a likely candidate at the nursery just to get me started.  The biggest problem with buying vegetables commercially is the limited selection and generic labeling (or miss-labeling).  Tag says Red Bell Pepper.  Yes but what KIND of Red Bell Pepper?  If I really like it will I ever be able to find the same variety again?  Or next year will you sell me another Red Bell Pepper variety with the same generic tag?  I am a self-professed Tomato Snob.  I want what I want when I want it.  I am also a well-rooted Eggplant Snob.  I don’t want to grow Black Beauty Eggplant every year.    And I am fast becoming a Pepper Snob.

Not everyone grows Purple Beauty bell peppers, and certainly not
people who buy their transplants around here.

There are some other vegetables that just don’t transplant well, but that doesn’t stop greenhouses from selling them to the unsuspecting public.  My neighbors routinely plant a couple of packs of Bush Bean transplants.  Hmmm… interesting.  Four plants for the price of 30 seeds.  To each his own.  The Beans transplant and produce well and they routinely have beans weeks before I do. But when they brought out the four packs of Carrots!  Now this was an experiment worth watching.  Carrots!  I kept mum but my eyes peeled.  I happened to be present the day the Carrot crop was harvested.  Neighbor Mike began pulling first one, and then a half dozen of the most fascinating Carrot Knots I’ve ever seen.  He was perplexed.  “What is WRONG with my carrots?!?”   Pest damage?  Some strange disease?  I couldn’t help but chuckle as I walked over to inspect.  “Didn’t get your roots plumbed when you transplanted them huh?”  After all, a Carrot is merely a root.  Even he managed to find the humor in it.

3.  Herbs: This seems like one of the most obvious grow your own projects in the garden.  Every housewife in America can grow that stuff on her kitchen windowsill.  With the cost and variety of seeds available only a dummy would buy a Basil plant.  Well count me in.  I don’t have the inclination to fiddle with Basil anymore.  Or Cilantro.  Just give me a couple of pots and I’ll be on my way, thankyouverymuch.  

One Red Rubin Basil seedling will soon become a shrub

I do have well established crops of the hardy, woody stemmed Herbs planted in permanent locations.  The Catnip shows up here and there in the garden each spring and I rip the little buggers out by the roots and put them in a large planter where they belong.  But they will wander off… they always do.  I doubt I will ever have to buy Catnip ever again.  I am helplessly drawn to the Herb selection at every greenhouse.  An unusual variegated variety will get me all excited.  I just can’t resist them.  I really don’t use them, not as much as they deserve to be.  So they grow happily and un-harvested to shrub size, attracting pollinators with their blossoms and self-seeding themselves all over the place willy nilly.

Large rocks shelter and warm these herbs and keep them alive through harsh winters

4.  Annuals: There are plenty of annual plants that can be started from seed, cuttings, or even wintered over.  My grandfather and mother-in-law had Geraniums as old as I am.  They would just bring the pots in every winter, put them in the barn or the basement, and haul them back out in the spring.  My mother had Petunia plant (maybe still does. ) that we picked up at my PaPaw’s greenhouse back in the early years when the Wave Petunias first came out. That was back around 1998 or 99 and I know I saw it in the dining room last year, rambling up towards the drapery rod.  I could keep a “seed” Geranium over each year and start my own cuttings in January and save myself $60 every year.  If I were so inclined.  But I’m not.  I’ve considered pulling the Marigold volunteers each spring and potting them up alongside the Catnip.  That project interests me a bit more.

A tub of Calibrocha "Million Bells" Petunias can add color to any corner

So each year I adjust my shopping list keeping old favorites and adding new novelties.  I lurk about the local nurseries and scatter color all over our acreage.  Shades of pink and white around the house, hot red orange and yellow for the garden, and on to the side yard whose remoteness enables me to play with the color pallet each year.  I don't have a "flower garden" and yet I still manage to plant almost 100 Marigolds, 20 Geraniums, a few dozen Petunias, Portulaca, Alysum and various and sundry Spike and Vinca and other fillers.  I find volunteer Petunias and Portulaca in the midst of Sweet Potatoes and Cucumbers.  I don't pull them.  They're not really weeds.  They're just trying to give me my money's worth.

What's that peaking thru the carrot tops?  A Petunia!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

To Plant a Garden is to Believe in Tomorrow

I read this sweet little inspiration phrase in a gardening book, and my first reaction was “yet so many garden with total disregard for tomorrow”  For example, people who plant in the ground before the last frost date or buy over-grown root-bound potted plants and hanging baskets they will never water. 

I guess I am the tomorrow kind of gardener.  I am always the one buying the short, stocky plants that haven’t bloomed yet.  When I see a particularly nice combination potted up, I march right past those and head out to buy the individual components to plant up myself.  That way I get younger and healthier plants that are not already root bound and hard to maintain.

A basket full of Calibrocha may look beautiful today, but buying the individual plants
and planting fewer per pot will make them easier to maintain.  These baskets usually burn out
for me within 6 weeks while my own plantings peak a little later.

Today I passed up the rack of hopelessly wind burned pepper plants and went through the show room with it’s tempting selection of a little of this and a little of that and back to greenhouse # 8 (out of 21 in the large glamorous garden center with the concrete walkways and shopping carts) and found the protected and fresh stock of pepper plants, pulling flats out so I could step back to the wall with the shortest, deepest green and most enticing plants.

Newly germinated seeds shelter in the warmth of the cold frame
along with annuals fresh out of the commercial greenhouse.

Gardening is about patience.  Sometimes you get instant gratification by going out and buying a beautiful selection of plants or shrubs and transforming a dull or unkempt portion of your garden into a virtual Eden.  But usually gardening is a long process.  In the last post I wondered how many greenhouses I would manage to visit this year.  So far six at least once, and I am on the third round for several suppliers.  I have also visited two Big Box garden departments for various supplies, and have two more greenhouses on my wish list mainly for tourism purposes. 

A trunk full of Geraniums will take over
an hour to transplant properly

Why so many trips?  Because it won’t all fit in my car all at once.  And if it did, the sheer enormity of the task would be overwhelming.  I walk into a well stocked greenhouse and I am immediately overwhelmed and underwhelmed at once.  There are so many beautiful choices, but the I can’t always find the exact variety or color I have in mind.  If I did manage to find everything I wanted all at once, I would not have room to stage everything and keep it protected until it is safe to plant and I certainly wouldn't have the energy to plant it all at once.  This must be done in stages. 

On one side the hoop house with a frost cover shelters tender seedlings
from direct sun and wind.  On the other side, sturdier, hardened off
plants await transplanting after threat of frost.

Last Friday I planted 16 gallon size perennials in the new rock arrangements between the trees.  This is in an area that was previously lawn and requires digging through sod and amending the soil.  Rain storms were rolling through and I had to do it in stages.  Plant six plants, get rained out, pack up, flee to the house, check the laundry, check the weather radar, start all over again.  Then on Sunday I planted a whole flat of marigolds.  With list in hand I made my rounds depositing the planned number of packs in each area, then I went back through with a trowel digging them in.  Saturday I filled large pots and added soil to the stationary planters, shoveling compost and wrestling with heavy pots.  Today I was back to the nurseries for another car full of plants.

Half of a rainy day's work

Another reason to do this gradually is that greenhouses stage their plants in cycles.  They can’t do it all at once either.  First come the perennials and hardier plants, then the bedding plants and vegetables, and finally the hanging baskets and combination pots for the finishing touches and color refreshers.  I have hanging baskets on my list and I know the best place to get what I want, but they are still in their beginning stages and not yet beautiful and tempting.

The bad news is that half of our clump Birch tree died.
The good news is the smooth red bark of the branches make
an attractive support for the pot of 3 foot high Sweet Peas.

Back at home I have a large population of plants to harden off and coddle and protect until after threat of frost and high winds.  The most finicky live in the cold frame and must be moved in and out and placed in sheltered spots until they become hardened to the sun and the winds.  There are adolescent plants who have graduated to the garden paths and which can be covered with my miniature hoop house if frost threatens.  Then there are plants ready to go in the ground, staged beside their intended beds, waiting for a free moment between weeding and watering and mulching and carrying to get settled into their permanent homes.  Today’s work was to pot up some decorative pots of Portulaca and Nasturtium.  I still have 15 (a trunk full of) Geraniums to fetch, carry home, and plant.  But there’s always tomorrow.

The garden peas are doing well, and the oldest planting of leaf
lettuce is supplying us with salad greens.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

And All of a Sudden It's May

And it feels like June.  But that's OK by me.   This is the fun part of the year.  You can sleep with the window open, falling asleep to the sounds of tree frogs and awakening to the singing of birds.  There is a lot to do but we're still not over the rapture of being outside in the sunshine at any temperature above 10*F.  And it's Spring Cleaning time.

I was thinking the other day that the only thing I do anymore is clean.  Clean the house, wash the car, do the dishes, wash the laundry, bathe the horse, clean the saddle, scrub some boots, sweep the steps, shampoo the cat (yes, she needed it), paint the benches, shower, wash the dishes (again)... you get the idea.  This weekend we washed the front porch which involves taking all the rockers out in the sun, hosing the road dirt off the walls and floor, and washing the furniture before putting it all back again.  Now I can invite guests to come sit out there without worrying that they might ruin their clothes.  I even washed our mailbox.  It was so icky with road dirt,  Whenever I put a pretty pink enveloped greeting card in there I'd cringe.  But I felt like an obsessive compulsive nut standing out there by the side of the road with a pail of hot soapy water and a brush.

It is also Spring Landscape Blitzkreig time when we go through about 20 cubic yards (no joke) of mulch and cut over 800 feet of edging (I measured on the GIS site). It used to be 650 feet, but to streamline the mowing pattern, Tim turned five 60 inch circles around the Linden trees (80 feet of edge) into one long six foot wide swath (216 feet of edge).  Now he can zip down the line at 15 mph instead of turning precise circles.

My husband's idea of the perfect pin-up girl
Above is what I think must be my husband's ideal Pin-up girl.  It isn't her svelte figure or her lovely brunette it's that edging shovel.  Hey even I wouldn't mind if she wanted to stop by and help with the edging.  My fetching smile disappears sometime around day three (800 stomps of the 7 inch spade).   Tim is always saying to me "If you have a boyfriend, now would be a good time to fess up.  I have a lot of work to do this weekend, and it sure would help if he'd stop by and give me a hand."

The Linden trees Before and After

Besides Spring Cleaning and Landscape Blitzkreig things are ticking along in the garden like clockwork.  The peas are up, the strawberries are replanted, the lettuce is ready for transplanting and the tomatoes, peppers and eggplant seedlings have moved out to the cold frame under a layer of shade cloth.  My father even announced that he was going to go ahead and plant tomatoes well aware that he might have to cover them more than once.  Or 20 times! 

And that long swath of mulch between the Lindens has been arranged with clusters of boulders from the farm.  I plan on planting grass-like perennials around them to add interest.  Mostly day lillies and Siberian irises and strong smelling herbs and other things the deer don't bother (much).  I've been wandering the nurseries and greenhouses with a note pad writing down varieties and prices and sizes.  I feel like a secret shopper or price spy.  But the growers know me by sight and they're used to my wandering around for hours reading tags and poking at plants and leaving with nothing but a flat of marigolds and a bag of blood meal.  I always come armed with a box and garden clogs and I remind myself of my mother's favorite greenhouse patron who used to show up wearing rubber dish gloves.  May is when I indulge in my own version of Agri-Tourism.  Let's see how many greenhouses I can get to this year!

This is the porch last May 24, so no, our flowers are not this nice yet!