Early Crocuses

Spring is just around the corner. This year it seems like winter and spring have been taking turns in our neighborhood weekly. The temperature has gone from below freezing to close to 50F and back down again every week. Our tulips have started to push themselves above ground. I wish they wouldn’t do that. There is at least a month and a half of winter weather left and if Mother Nature remains angry at us, it may snow in April.

As unpredictable as the weather has been, there are spring flowers that wouldn’t mind a little cold and some snow on the ground. The Snowdrop is one. I have only a clump of them in the garden since they don’t have a great variety of colors, just white and green. The other is crocus. They come in many shades and colors. It’s a lovely site to see when growing en-mass in a variety of colors.

Mixed Crocuses on the lawn in early spring

To get a natural effect, I purchased around 200 mixed crocus bulbs and cast them on the lawn. Then I planted them wherever they landed. The second year, I added the expensive and larger flower types and over 100 more mixed bulbs. Too many? No. The first 200 I put in, maybe only half were able to evade squirrels and chipmunks. We could see a lot of pockmarks on the lawn from them digging up the bulbs. Even when the bulbs have already sprout little leaves and flowers, they still dug them up eating the bulb on the bottom. I made a mental note of any empty patches in spring so I can cast more bulbs in autumn.

What the critters missed provides a beautiful effect on our empty, brown lawn in early spring. They also provide an early food source for pollinators. Then they just disappear as the grass takes over.

Here are some colors you can find on the market:

Yellow with white under petal
Dark yellow with brown stripes
Dark purple
Purple with white trim
Lavender
White
White with purple stem
Lavender with purple stripes

They are easy to grow and each bulb will become a larger clump in just a few years, provided they are not eaten. They need no extra attention, we feed them at the same time we feed our lawn. We also leave our grass clippings on the lawn as mulch for crocus and grass.

To extend a growing season and add some color in autumn when most of the flowers are fading, plant fall crocus. This type will come up and flower in autumn for you and the pollinators to enjoy.

Hellebores

It’s still very cold here and I cannot do much in the garden aside from filling bird feeders and changing water in the birdbaths. But there are a lot of activities with regard to gardening in the house. The plant catalogs are piling up as well as weekly if not daily email from companies I have ordered from in the past. New issues of garden magazines provide suggestions for new plants on the market. Winter is a time for compiling information and planning for the coming season. I don’t mind spending money on the garden although reckless spending was never my habit, so I spend the winter down-time outside immersed in:

  • Price comparison on plants that I want to add in spring.
  • Research on plants suite for area need to be redone: dry and sunny, moist shade, dry shade, boggy, sandy area…
  • Research on plant habit and propagation: height, width, bloom time, pollinators-friendly, self-sown, invasive, pruning time…
  • New vegetables in the market and what they are good for.
  • New diseases and insects to look out for in the area

These are just some of the winter chores I do. I find myself looking for late winter-early spring flowering plants more often around this time. Maybe it’s just a longing to see colors back in the garden.

One of the late winter-early spring flowers I fell in love with are Hellebores. Their leaves are almost evergreen and they even bloom before the daffodils. It very effectively self-sows yet never becomes invasive, so I keep looking to add new colors to our garden every year. One plant per color and patience to let it grow is enough. Within a couple of years this one plant will become a patch or a colony if I let it set seeds.

After a couple of years, one plant will expand into a patch with plenty of flowers
The darker color ones grow much faster and produce a lot of seedlings
Individual flower in the colony above

I don’t remember the names of the earlier Hellebores I planted. I forgot to note the names down and there are so many colors and patterns out there that I can’t really use mere descriptions to identify mine. With the new batch, I keep name tags and note on color and location down. Below are some of them, forgive me for the unidentifiable ones. I’m open to any suggestions for identifying the unnamed flowers.

White with purplish freckles
Yellow & Pinkish
Pure white with greenish base
‘Painted Double’
White with green base & maroon pattern
Maroon & green
Double pink
‘Winter jewel-Golden Sunrise’

I love them in part because there are so many colorful choices of Hellebores to select from and they also come in single and double layers petals. They are winter hardy, no fuss for drought either. They can be grown in semi-shade. Since they are a low grower, I grow them under the trees, by a rose trellis and along a shady path. They are not invasive. They produce seedlings but the seedlings may not be true to the parents especially when I grow a variety of them close to one another. That’s the fun part of it; I’ll never know what the flowers from any seedling will look like until it blossoms. Pollinators love them; they are a good food source for early spring when other flowers have yet to blossom. If you want to reproduce the ‘exact’ color as the original plant was, you can do it only by division. Dig the plant you want to propagate up and separate an individual from the clump, then replant it.

Last year, I added ‘Onyx Odyssey’ to the garden. As the name suggests, the flower is black. I can hardly wait to see it bloom. I’ll keep you posted.

Winter: Planning Time

Winter is a great time to sit back and enjoy the emptiness in the garden. Our garden is not quite empty since I left a lot of seed heads intact for the birds and insects. Some brush piles for them to take refuge in from the cold, situate here and there. Still, it’s much emptier than during the growing season.

Winter is also a time for planning the next phase of the garden. Plant catalogs start to pack our mailbox. I’ve been mindful of what I select for the garden, one or two new plants a year and they have to be multipurpose. Aside from looking good in the garden, it has to be a food source for birds or insects. Native to northeastern part of the U.S. is a plus. Otherwise it has to grow vertically like all the climbers and ramblers.

Those who have limited space like us would understand that last reason for choosing plants that grow upward rather than outward. This is the reason we added clematis to our garden. Clematis can grow on a trellis, mailbox or entwine on shrubs or roses. We have planted five different clematis so far but I would recommend only three of them.

Clematis ‘Betty Corning’ on a trellis with ‘Sundrop’ to the left

Betty Corning‘ produce hundreds of small lavender flowers with a slight scent. The flowers look like small bells swaying in the wind. Bumblebees love them. This clematis seems to bloom forever once it starts to bloom. Ours bloom from late May to September. I cut it down to a foot and a half in late winter and feed it. Throughout the growing season, I keep cutting the spent flowers off so it will continue to produce new flowers.

‘Ville de Lyon’ produces plenty of deep red flowers

Clematis ‘Ville de Lyon‘ is another clematis with a long blooming time. Though it’s less dense than ‘Betty Corning’, it has bigger flowers which can make a trellis disappear underneath. The bright red petals get even redder in the rain. I cut the dead stems off in early spring (when I see no new buds sprouting from that stem). I also cut the unruly, overgrown stems off as well.

‘Crystal Fountain’ produces a very big flower with lighter color fringes in the middle

We have ‘Crystal Fountain‘ clematis growing up a trellis and entwined with ‘Himalayan Musk’ rose. It makes a really good statement with very large flowers, plenty of them.

I plan to add one more clematis in the garden this spring, maybe another yellow or white. I want to add more colors to the garden without taking up too much space and clematis seems to be a perfect choice.

New Year, New Dawn

Happy New Year 2019 everyone

As I have been doing since my childhood, on the first day of the year: I wake up early to watch the first sunrise. And, for the past few years, on the morning of January 1st, I also capture an image of the sunrise. No matter how pretty or moody the sky is, it’s worth getting up early to watch the new dawn and breathe the morning air. It was a little bit cloudy this morning since it rained through the night. The sky was a little moody but the morning’s gold was there, pushing through the clouds.

Golden ray peeking through the dark clouds at 7:23 am

It wasn’t a cheerful morning but the sun finally came out in the afternoon. A strong wind chased out the clouds and kept me inside most of the day. But it’s a good start for the New Year as I was able to get a lot of things done including this blog.

To balance out the moody image of the first morning on top, I present to you ‘New Dawn’, our climbing rose.

‘New Dawn’ rose last summer
Up close

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year. May you succeed in what you do no matter big or small. May you have a satisfied year ahead and may all your dreams come true.

Thank you very much for reading.


Monarch

Raising More Monarchs This Year:

As much as I want to complain about the heat and heavy rain, the garden seems to enjoy it.  The lawn that I haven’t invaded with extended garden yet is lush green.  Vegetables and flowers are growing profusely.  Except for tomatoes, the heirloom types don’t do well at all.  And insects, they follow their food in.

We are happy to see more Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) this year.  They are not just visiting the flowers, they also mating, laying eggs and producing a new generation in our garden.

Monarch
A male Monarch on Garden Phlox

Monarch
This one taking nectar from Zinnia

Monarch
This female really loves Lantana. She traveled from flower to flower for almost 30 minutes

And then……

Monarch
Mating

I keep checking underneath Milkweed leaves for their eggs and caterpillars.  I found some eggs but it’s hard to look for caterpillars especially when they are small.  They are very good at hiding.  But, I did find some….

Monarch-caterpillar
Probably hatched a day or two ago, with a hole on the leaf that he chewed off

Monarch-caterpillar
A full grown Monarch caterpillar. It’s as beautiful as it’s metamorphosed version

Seeing them in all stages in our garden makes us happy to be contributing to slowing down their possible extinction.  Hopefully they can make it safely back to Mexico for their winter hibernation.

 

 

Hibiscus

The Color Of Summer

Staying away from social media for almost two months proved very productive.  I don’t mean to offend anyone who has been reading my blog or bloggers I’ve been following but I needed time to reflect, get things done and read books.  I did get a lot of things done, have read more books and even started baking again.  Now I’m back, refreshed.

Summer is really here with extremely high temperatures and humidity.  Aside from sunflowers and echinacea, another flower that represents summer really well is hibiscus.  I have two hardy hibiscus in the garden, ‘Plum crazy’ (plum color as it’s name suggests) and ‘Midnight Marvel’ (deep red flower with maroon leaves).  Their flowers are almost the size of a dinner plate.  I put them in the ground in a sunny spot and left them there.  I cut the dead old stems back to two inches above ground in spring, feed them and let them be.  They have come back up every year when the heat hits the area.

Hibiscus-Plum Crazy
‘Plum Crazy’ with plum color and very large flowers. This one has been at this spot for more than five years.

Hibiscus-Midnight Marvel
‘Midnight Marvel’ with eye-catching flowers and leaves

The tropical ones need a little bit more pampering as they have to stay in pots and go back in the basement in winter.  They need to be watered and fed regularly.  They also need plenty of sunlight.  With food, water and plenty of light they will flower continuously throughout summer.  I prune them once a year in spring so they won’t grow too big.  Flowers that develop before I take them to the basement still bloom but they rarely produce new flowers until they come back outside again.  Spider mites and whiteflies are the main pest when they are inside the house.  I spray them with insecticide soap to keep the critters under control inside.

Hibiscus 'Bon Temps'
I have been growing ‘Bon Temps’ in a pot for three years. It’s still doing well and flowering all summer.

I purchased the ‘Voodoo Queen’ last year because I wanted to see if the color really changes as the nursery claimed, though I hardly have space left for more plants in the basement.  She didn’t disappoint me.  Here are two shots of the same flower on the same day.

Hibiscus-Voodoo Queen-morning
Hibiscus ‘Voodoo Queen’ in the morning

Hibiscus-Voodoo Queen-evening
Her color changed to this color in the evening. Looks more like a Queen than a Voodoo Queen

With a few hibiscus on the pool deck and in the garden and 90 degree heat and high humidity, I feel like I’m in the tropics.  A little cool breeze would make it seem even closer to that reality.

Growing Jasmine

In A Cold Climate

There are many types of jasmine and most of them prefer warm weather.  I love jasmine and refuse to be deterred by cold weather.  When I lived in an apartment I grew a couple of Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac) on the windowsill as there was plenty of sun on that side.  Now I’ve moved further north and have a garden, I grow more of them and more varieties too.  But they live outside only in late spring until early autumn, then back down in the basement during winter.

In winter all my tropical plants stay under plant lights, with the timer set from 8 am to 7 pm.  That includes the jasmines.  There is no extra heat provided aside from a furnace that heats the house.  The flower buds that developed while they were outside will still bloom under the lights.  I stop feeding them when they are in the basement to prevent them from growing too lanky.  Plant light isn’t the same as the sun, of course, so they still try to reach up to the lights, but still grow more slowly than they will outside under the summer sun.

Jasmine
Arabian jasmine in bloom in summer

Two problems with growing jasmine inside are spider mites and root rot.  To get rid of the tiny spider mites requires monitoring, checking the leaves for them before there are too many of them.  When my jasmine were small, I gave them a shower once a month.  Put them in the bathtub and spray them with water both top and bottom of the leaves.  This will provide them with moisture in a dry winter house as well as washing off the mites, if any.  Once the plants get bigger, if I find mites, I spray them with insecticide soap (approved by OMRI for organic gardening use) and mist them with water once in a while.  Too much water will make their roots rot.  I will let the soil dry a little before I water them again.

When spring arrives and nighttime temperatures will stay above 50ºF, I take them outside, let them enjoy real sunlight.  I start feeding them a month before I take them out.  I also prune them at this time; cut out dry, weak, crossed branches or branches that are too long for my liking.  I also remove most of the leaves from the plants, my grandmother’s method.  Jasmine leaves grow in pairs, remove them alternately.  This will encourage them to grow new leaves and flower buds.  Then I feed them monthly while they are outside.

Jasmine
New leaves sprouted after most of the old leaves were removed

Jasmine
Plenty of lovely flowers and a sweet fragrance in summer

I let the flowers bloom on the plants if we plan to sit outside in the evening so we can enjoy their fragrance. I pick the flowers and keep them in the house, especially in the bedroom since the fragrance has a calming effect.  I also put them in water to infuse their scent into it.  Cold jasmine water is very soothing for a hot summer day.

With attention and care a jasmine plant will last for a long time.  Some of mine are over 15 years old and still bloom profusely every summer.

 

Spring Colors

Getting Vibrant Again

Spring is finally here or should I say summer is finally here.  The temperature was over 90°F for a couple of days which broke the record.  I’m not complaining after months of snow and freezing temperature.  The plants in our garden are not complaining either.  They’re pushing out shoots and buds all over the garden.  Dragging on as winter did, spring is still giving us a very promising new life especially after the recent rain.

After we successfully fended off the deer for the last two years, and relocated the last rabbit last year, we decided to grow tulips in the garden again.  I’ve been planting tulip bulbs I rescued for years but only a few of them survive the animal raiding parties.  But as I didn’t spend a penny on them, it didn’t feel very wasteful.  Last autumn, I picked tulip bulbs from the catalogs for the first time and they’re looking good so far.   Hopefully these beautiful flowers will come back up next spring.

Mixed color tulips accompany our ‘Pollinator Habitat’ sign.  By early summer this area will be filled with variety of flowers especially the ones that have plenty of pollen and nectar

We cannot be certified a ‘Wildlife Habitat’ since we’ve fenced off most of the four-legged locals around here: deer, rabbit, woodchuck, raccoon, skunk, fox and coyote.  We would’ve welcomed fox and coyote but once the deer net went up, that was it.  Access to the garden is limited to birds, insects and small rodents.  Any gardeners who have a problem with deer, I would recommend a deer net.  It’s the only thing that works.  I no longer have to spray a mixture of garlic and rotten eggs in the garden or use other methods only to find that they aren’t effective.  The fact is there aren’t any plants that the deer will not eat.

Anyway, we have colors and the scent of perfume in our garden again after a long wait.

Primrose after rain

Bleeding heart is another indicator of the Hummingbirds arrival

Hellebore is one of the flowers I grow as an early spring food source for bees

Common blue violet, a beautiful weed soaked in rain

It’s nice to see colors again.  It’s even nicer to see not just our honeybees but many local bees getting busy looking for pollen and nectar.

 

 

 

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