I didn’t expect to stay away from posting for almost a month, time flies. With the weather swinging like a pendulum, I find myself spending more time getting the garden in order. By the end of the day I was too exhausted to do anything else. But I can’t let summer passes by with out posting about roses.
The rose bushes in our garden are doing well this year. With rain early on and cooler than normal temperatures, it’s a perfect combination for roses. The first round of blossoms are just about to fade and just in time for the arrival of the heat and humidity. Now it’s time to snip off the spent flowers and feed them again.
They present their representatives, below, to vouch for the caretaker that has kept them well fed and healthy. That is why she has been MIA for a month.
We weren’t able to enjoy our tree peonies in the last two years as it was either too windy or too much rain which brought down the flowers as soon as they opened up. This year, though we had a lot of rain, there was a brief period without and it coincided with the tree peony blooming. Not just us enjoying the flowers, the bees were also busy collecting pollen from them.
We have only two tree peonies in our garden as they grow very large and don’t like to be moved once established. The ‘Nishiki’ has been with us for 10 years and is around 3.5 feet tall. It usually produces around 15 to 20 flowers each spring. We look forward to seeing how many flowers it will produce each year since it produces more flowers as it gets older.
It’s a flower that’s worth growing. It’s not fussy and doesn’t need much attention, however, it’s a slow grower. The beauty of the flowers make it worth the wait.
When crocuses and daffodils start to fade, primroses take the baton and continue running, coloring our garden. I’ve been planting different colors of primrose in our garden for the last few years and continue to look for new colors every year. There are many types of primrose but not many are hardy enough for our USDA zone so my choice is a little limited.
What I like about primrose is that they are pretty and low maintenance. Once I put one in the garden they tend to thrive being fed only once a year, in spring, and with a little mulching. The only potentially deadly problem for primrose, at least in our garden, are the slugs. Since they are low to the ground and tend to like moist soil, it’s easy to reach for the slugs. They can make a clump of primrose disappear in a few days.
The orange and purple striped ones were devoured by the slugs. The green one is still budding, not yet open and we’re hoping the slugs miss it too. For a couple of weeks or so, we have a very welcome primrose color all over our garden.
The Earth gives us sanctuary and sustains us in all things. Aside from being a provider, she is also a designer, inventor and teacher among many other things. She is kind but can never be tamed. That last is quite likely what saves us all from ourselves in the end.
I find April to be a very uplifting and romantic month for me. Leaves sprout and start to unfurl, seedlings are pushing themselves through the soil to the surface and early flowers are blossoming. Birds sing loudly to make their territory known and start their courtship. Some birds have already built their nests. Aside from these life-affirming activities, the Academy of American Poets also designated April as a Poetry Month beginning in 1996.
Many great writers and poets have taken an interest in nature. Many of them are favorites of mine such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, John Donne and who could forget Shakespeare and Rumi. There was even a book on Shakespeare’s Gardens published last year that I immediately ran out and bought.
The Poetry month also reminds me of my mother. We would go out to the market on the weekend in search of plants invoked in poetry to add to our garden. I still do now but mostly the most fragrant ones. What flower is more apt for the Poetry month than the Poet’s Jasmine (Jasminum grandiflorum).
And the ode to it by Thomas Moore (1779-1852)*
Twas midnight-through the lattice, wreath’d
With woodbine, many a perfume breath’d
From plants that wake when others sleep,
From timid jasmine buds, that keep
Their odour to themselves all day,
But, when the sun-light dies away,
Let the delicious secret out
To every breeze that roams about.
Walking through a garden, any garden, relaxes me and raises my sense of marvel and my envy of nature. Nothing can duplicate what one has seen at that moment even just an hour after. Nature gives us art, poetry, philosophy and most of all is life sustaining. Those who understand these facts will always try their best to preserve nature, but those who don’t will always try their best to destroy nature for profit.
Ruining the environment doesn’t stop at the border and the effort to slow this self-destruction rests on our shoulders, the ones who love nature and see poetry in every path we take through nature. As Shakespeare put it ‘One touchof nature makes the whole world kin.’ (Troilus and Cressida, Act 3 scene 3)**
We came back from our vacation to a sharp drop in temperature. Our friends told us that while we were gone the temperature had gone up to the 60°F for a couple of days and mostly hovered above 50°F for the rest of that period. I can see the result of warm temperatures in our garden. Roses, hydrangeas, tree peonies started to bud. The silver maple in the front yard has blossomed. The crocuses and snowdrops are blooming.
Then two days after we came back, the temperature dropped again, combined with a high wind that resulted in a wind chill below 0°F. Last night the temperature was in a teens and today it is barely above freezing. It’s de ja vu of last spring. Plants started budding only to get frost burn. We didn’t have any hydrangeas last year for this reason and the first round of roses looked awful.
I don’t even know how the honeybees are. They’ve been so quiet, no sign of dead bees in front of the hives. We weren’t here when the temperature soared up to see if they were out cleansing. They’ve been too quiet for my liking and I have no way of checking on them. It’s either too cold or too windy to open the hives up for inspection. To be on the safe side, I have ordered one more package of bees to be delivered in May.
Though it will not be a promising spring, I still look forward to it. It’s time for me to start tomato, pepper, and eggplant seedlings and prep tropical plants in the basement for a warm and less seesaw temperature outside. In a little bit over a month the seedlings should be able to set their roots in the garden and tropical plants will enjoy real sunlight. And, hopefully, the hives will have survived another winter.
I love fragrant flowers and try my best to collect them in our garden. Many of them have to stay in pots as they are tropical plants. As we are running out of space in the basement, I try not to get a new tropical plant. I also try not to propagate plants I have. It’s hard to do since I regularly prune them in spring when I take them out in the garden. I don’t want to throw healthy branches away so I stick them in a new pot and they take root. Some plants have been with us for many years and have grown much bigger so space is getting tight down there.
I couldn’t pass up the Cashmere Bouquet (Clerodendrum philippinum) when I saw one in a nursery offering a couple of years ago. Even though I know how fast it can grow and its need for space, but one is enough.
It a big leaf plant with white, sometimes pale pink clustered flowers. It’s fragrance is lightly sweet and musky and cannot be replicated. It reminded me of home, of childhood. I think it’s the same reason why I grow jasmine and have been collecting varieties of them.
I mentioned that one plant is enough, but they are two now. The old habit is hard to get rid of. I repotted it in spring to give it some legroom but I also split it at the same time. I wish I could grow it in the garden so I could have a whole patch. It can be grown out side in warmer USDA Zone 7 and up. But be warned, they can produce suckers and develop a colony very fast.
If you wish to grow it in a pot, it may not bloom as it likes direct sunlight. But if you have a window with plenty of light, it’s doable. One year I had a plant light right on it, to my surprise it bloomed in winter. Keep the soil on the dry side otherwise it will rot.
Winter is my time for basement gardening. Where we live we have to put our tropical plants in the basement for the winter. It’s a lot of labor to go through twice a year. We take them in when we know that the night temperature will drop and stay below 45°F, usually around late September or early October. Then take them back out in spring when the temperatures will stay above 45°F at night. It was easy when they were small but it gets much harder once some of them grow taller than us. But it’s always a pleasure to have them around. They keep me going in winter and give us fresh herbs even when the ground is covered with snow outside.
Tropical plants that are taller than us in addition to Kaffir lime and the Ficus, are the Water Jasmines (Wrightia religiosa), of which we have two, one over six feet tall and the other is around 1.5 foot tall. I grew both of them from seeds. I did try air layering once but that plant survived only a couple of years.
They never flower when they are in the basement. I guess it’s not quite warm enough and perhaps not enough light. The taller one gets very finicky with temperature changes too. It drops 95% of its leaves when we first take it outside or when we bring it back inside. Leaves and flower buds come out again after a month in full sun. The tiny white star-shaped flower has a light, soothing fragrance. Each flower blooms for just one day but there clusters of replacements ready to bloom in its place.
When they are outside and in full bloom, various types of bees, honeybees included, come for the nectar during the day and the moths take over at night. Its seed pod is also interesting, it looks like a wishbone. Once it’s matured the pods split open and release seeds with a silky thread attached that the wind will catch and carry to a new place. That is how I propagate it, by the seeds. The plant grown from a seed takes a few years before it will flower. Air-layer and cutting are recommended for faster flowering.
Water Jasmine is easy to grow in a pot, as I do. It needs a warm temperature and plenty of sunlight to bloom. It can be planted outside in USDA Zone 8 and up. If planting outside it can be used as a hedge. It can also be trained to create a Bonsai.
It seems to have no known pests when growing outside, however Spider mites are the main problem when growing indoors. I use an insecticide soap to get rid of them and mist the plant with water weekly. I’m looking forward to germinating some of these seeds in March and hope to have a few more to create Bonsai from.
I love eating Sweet Tamarind and spicy tamarind candy so much so that I forgot it has a laxative property. Tamarind juice is also used in many beverages and cooking. You cannot make real Pad Thai or Massaman curry without tamarind juice. Young leaves and flowers are also good in cooking. The juice is also good as a non-toxic polisher for brass and silver. Wood is also good used as a cutting board. The plant can be trained as a beautiful Bonzai. As much as I want to grow it as a tree because of the benefits it provides, I cannot grow it in our garden in this climate. So, I settled for growing it in a pot like the other tropical plants I have – for the beauty of it.
When I mentioned to my friends and colleagues that I attempted to grow tamarind (Tamarindus indica) from seed. They asked either …why? or questioned whether I know that tamarind is a very large tree. Yes, I know tamarind is a long lived, large tree that can grow over 50 feet tall. Why would I want to grow it then? It’s because I want to know I can grow it from seed in a cold climate. I love its beautiful leaves and it can be made it into a Bonsai. If they grow well, I can eat their young leaves, flowers and fruit. Fruit is less likely, actually, due to a very short high temperature season and resulting lack of sunlight in this climate, USDA Zone 5-6.
I kept seeds of Sweet Tamarind after having eaten the yummy flesh. Yes, there is a type of tamarind fruit that turns sweet when ripened. I put them in warm water and let them soaked over night before I put them in a growing medium. I put the tray on top of a heat mat that was set to 75°F. Looking back at my 2015 garden record, I put the seeds in on March 31 and they sprouted on April 11. I was surprised to see them germinate in two weeks.
Once they grew around 3 inches tall and produced a pair of true leaves, I transferred them to larger pots. They seemed to grow fast when they were very young but after a year the growing rate seems to slow down. I’m not really sure if it’s normal for tamarind or it’s because they have to spend 6 months in a cool basement, under artificial sunlight. Will they grow faster if they sit on a heat mat in winter? I don’t know but I don’t have the space to put them on a heat mat as an experiment.
Out of eight seedlings that sprouted in 2015 only four survived the first year. I think I may have watered them too much. Tamarind does better in semi dryness. In their natural habitat, they survive drought and do fine with less than fertile soil.
The survivors are now almost two years old and thriving in the basement at the moment. They are around a foot tall but branching out with a lot of beautiful leaves. I haven’t decided if I want to keep them at a Bonsai height or let them grow to four feet tall (the height that can easily be transported in and out of the basement).
I’ve learned that watering tamarind too much will kill it, so each one of them will stay slightly on the dry side. I have not encountered any pests or diseases yet. As far as I know they are fairly pest-free in their natural habitat.
I look forward to seeing them flower, maybe five to six years from now. They may not flower at all, but like our Kaffir limes, the oldest of which is around 20 years old, thrive but never flower. By then, any survivor should be something of real beauty.