It’s Time to Garden!

Actually no–it’s nowhere near time to garden–not in my part of the country.

But when my sister sent me photos of tomato transplants at her garden center (she lives in Oklahoma) I realized that of course not everyone is gardening on the same schedule and I had better address some thoughts about plant buying if I wanted to try to reach early plant buyers (well, “early” to me, anyway!)

So here are my initial thoughts about what to look for when you first walk into a garden center or a big box store (and yes, as someone who has worked at a box store, I do buy plants there–but of course, I consider myself a fairly sophisticated buyer. We’ll talk about where to buy plants in another post).

First of all, it’s spring. And if you are a gardener–or even if you are not really, but you just like flowers–after not seeing a lot of them for awhile, once there are acres of them in sight, they  are really hard to resist! So what to do and how to choose?

The most important thing to think about is your weather. Is it really time to plant? Certain plants–perennials and that dubious category of “half-hardy annuals” can take things like a light frost or a light freeze. Most things are not going to take repeated hard freezes or, worst of all, heavy snows!

So there’s no point in planting too early, only to have to go back and re-plant. Garden centers love that. You are just wasting your money if you have to do that, however. And I don’t care who you are, no one likes to run out to repeatedly cover plants–or bring pots in and out of a garage or shed!

Remember what I have said in the past: the soil is very slow to warm up in the spring. In the old days, the farmers would wait until they could walk on it bare foot (or sit on it bare bottomed).

Other ways to tell if your last frost has passed is if the oaks have leafed out. If they have, your last frost has passed.

Some folks use the last full moon but I haven’t found that quite as reliable as the oaks for me. But maybe I haven’t been paying enough attention–or perhaps oaks work better in my part of the country.

However you determine your temperatures, just keep an eye on them if you are planting as soon as the garden centers are selling the plants. I find, generally, the plants come in at least 2-3 weeks before it’s safe to set them out.

More about this on Monday.

 

 

Wordless Wednesday–the ” Lollipop” Trees

20170306_075329

These two maples are in front of our house. They are covered in English ivy, something that can be terribly invasive in many parts of the country but is kept in check in our part of the country primarily by the cold ( at least for now. In the future,  who knows?)

This time of year when the maples have no leaves, I always think that the ivy makes their trunks look sort of like lollipops.  But at least it’s some green in an otherwise bleak time while we wait for other things to start blooming!

Garden Trends–Smaller Edibles

On Friday I talked about how edible gardening was having a resurgence–and it’s having a resurgence in a huge way!

But while Friday’s post talked all about the new and unusual varieties of vegetables that we’re growing (and didn’t even touch on the great types of fruits that are now available) today I will talk about the smaller edibles that have been designed primarily for containers but can really go in most gardens (with the exception of tomatoes bred for hanging baskets, say, but examples like that are few and far between).

The trend in all of gardening is to “go smaller.” It’s happening with our trees and shrubs, it’s happening with larger perennials like Joe Pye Weed, for example, and black cohosh (two great native plants that are being bred in smaller varieties so that more folks can grow them–you now don’t need a meadow to have these plants!) and it’s happening with berrying plants like blueberries and raspberries as well.

This last category–the berries–is particularly interesting because it means that many folks can now grow fruit in containers. I’ve been growing blueberries in containers for the last 3 seasons (I store the containers in my unheated garage over the winter) and with the exception of fighting the birds for the berries, I have had great success. I probably need to net the containers but that just goes against my “lazy gardening” aesthetic.

Many of us have been growing vegetables in containers for years as well. Before I moved to this property, and in the years when I didn’t garden in a community garden, I gardened on a 12′ by 4′ condominium balcony.

I had great success growing lots of things there–green (bush) beans, tomatoes (the smaller varieties), radishes–I even had a small Japanese maple out there. Obviously it faced south. This was 25-30 years ago.

Now a few catalog companies are catering to folks like me and developing seeds for just such situations. I have noticed whole sections in the Renee’s Garden catalog devoted to collections of these seeds (and no, while Renee’s Garden is always very generous with their offers of free seeds to writers, I get nothing for this publicity!)

Another of my favorite catalogs, The Cook’s Garden, is now a part of Burpee. While they have lots of videos on their site about growing vegetables in containers, and patio tomato collections, for example, they are so huge that it can be a bit overwhelming to sort through to find the container varieties. But there are lots of varieties there, even in larger plants like squash.

Even my other two choices, Johnny’s Selected Seeds,  and my utmost favorite for selection, Baker Creek Seeds, do not make finding container varieties easy. Most of what they have for containers, when you do search, are flowers or herbs.

None of that should deter you from shopping these fine seed companies, by the way, especially if you have time to peruse their fabulous catalogs! I have been extremely happy with seeds–and plants–from both companies and I have gotten some fine tools from Johnny’s.

So it’s getting better and easier all the time to grow small varieties of edibles. And since garden trends show that that is what a lot of folks want to do, regardless of garden size, I know that the growers are on to something here!

 

Garden Trends–Edibles

They say that everything that’s old is new again, and that certainly seems to be true with edible gardening. This was huge back in the 70s and it’s come back around again (maybe parents are teaching their kids–or their grand kids?)

What’s “different” about this trend this time around is that while we’re still growing tomatoes and basil and peppers and squash, now we’re growing lots more exotic veggies too–things that if we had mentioned them in the 70s, folks might have said “bless you!”

Today it’s not uncommon to find mesclun or leaf lettuces in lots of people’s gardens–I grow it in my own. If we were to dissect some of the different varieties of “leaf” in some of those mixes, we might find arugula, bok choi, red and green romaine lettuces, mizuna, totsoi, rocket and all manner or different things.

Broccoli raab, celeriac, edamame and kale are almost common place in the garden. And if one gardens in a community garden in an urban area, one is even more likely to be exposed to the vegetables and herbs of different cultures–all to our benefit.

And swiss chard–in lovely colors too–might be growing in your garden.

Another thing that is new and different from 40 or more years ago is the size of the plants we’re growing. The tomatoes we grew back then were almost all indeterminate–or vining–type tomatoes that needed a lot of support and a lot of room to grow. These days there are lots of determinate and patio type varieties that are suitable for smaller gardens, containers and even hanging baskets.

But it’s not just tomatoes where we have seen such a change. Almost all vegetables have gotten smaller, more compact and suitable for our smaller gardens (although you can still find the older varieties as well).

Why this change to more compact varieties? Well, first off, it’s not just happening among edibles. Plants of all sorts–trees and shrubs, larger perennials and even annuals have been becoming more compact for decades now. It suits our lifestyle–think back to where we started this “garden trend” series–the “tidy” garden.

And I hate to say it, but none of us is getting any younger. So many of us are downsizing our homes or gardens (or both). So a container vegetable garden allows those folks who grew up gardening to continue that without giving up what they loved when they owned a larger home. And it also lets them eat healthy produce.

So this is one trend that doesn’t show signs of slowing down. And I am happy about that. Because I am all about helping folks enjoy their hobbies as long as they want to. That’s what keeps folks young, after all!

 

Wordless Wednesday–No, It’s Not All Currier and Ives

20170219_105845

For those of you who don’t live in areas that get a lot of snow, here you are.

This is one of our parking lots at a box store.  But it doesn’t matter.  All our parking lots look like this–and will for months. Notice where the snow is piled. It’s up to the lower branches on this good sized tree.

We have mounds like this everywhere,  although some recent warm weather has brought them down a bit. What that means, of course, is that to proceed into any intersection,  you have to nose your car forward very carefully–because you can’t see past the snow pillars.

What the recent warm weather means is that every night we have a re-freezing and the following morning there is ice at the edges of the roads, the ends of the driveways,  in puddles in various places–you get the idea. You hope it doesn’t snow on top of these icy patches.

By now you must be wondering why we all don’t just move? After really bad winters,  many of us wonder that same thing.  But for the most part,  we like “seasons ” and the other three seasons and their beauty and mild weather outweigh this. At least most years, anyway.

Garden Trends–Natural Pest Control

This is a trend? Integrated pest management? Seriously?

If it is, I am very grateful–but I know it’s been a “thing” among gardeners who weren’t quite totally organic for years. Even gardeners who weren’t entirely committed to using no pesticides or only organic pesticides would “buy ladybugs” or some such thing in an attempt to keep insects under control in their yards.

I am delighted–utterly overjoyed really–to see whatever it is that home gardeners are willing to do that doesn’t involve putting things that endanger insects, bees, birds and bats on their lawns and gardens. Because once gardeners realize that all of these creatures are dedicated to the good of their yards, then I think our world literally becomes a healthier place.

One of the best thing that’s happened is an awareness of the plight of the pollinators–all the pollinators. I think people are seeing bees disappearing literally before their eyes. They don’t see butterflies anymore. They don’t see fireflies. They don’t see a lot of things that they grew up seeing–and they realize that in order to attract these things to their homes, yards, etc., they have to make some changes.

No longer is it perfectly acceptable to spray along the foundation every spring–or several times a year –just because some bugs might want to come into your house. No longer is it acceptable to put up bug zapping lights that kill moths but not mosquitoes. No longer is it acceptable treat the lawn four or more times a year when the birds–who, incidentally, are some of your best friends in the war on insects–might scoop up those little bits of fertilizers, eat them, and die. Instead, find out when your cooperative extension service or Ag station suggests that your fertilize–and only do so after a soil test, please!

And while we’re at it, to assist our friends (the birds, bats and bees) in helping us with natural pest control, let’s not manicure our lawns to within an inch of their lives. We’re not living on putting greens. Leave some nice flowers in your lawn for the early pollinators. Bees love clover and its nitrogen feeds your lawn. If you do that, you might not even need to put down a spring feeding!

Garden Trends–Gold Foliage

Gold foliage is the “trendy” foliage color of the year (despite the fact that the Pantone color of the year is “Greenery” I guess).

We go through these various color fads in the garden. I have had some customers in my retail gardening days say that they didn’t like “gold” colored foliage in the garden because it made the plants look dead–particularly on evergreens. I have had other customers say the same thing about chartreuse. But here again, I think color is a very personal thing–and as those internet “memes” with the dresses have shown us, we certainly don’t all perceive color the same way! Oh well.

If you think about hostas, for example, a variety of colors, including blues and golds, can give the garden interest and movement, even if you are using all the same plant. The same thing would be true of a plant like coral bells (heuchera) or even an annual like coleus.

Evergreen, or conifer gardens also benefit not only from a wide variety of textures but of colors. An evergreen garden of just greens would be rather uninspiring. But when you add a variety of blues, golds and whites, the garden takes on a liveliness that cannot be obtained from just design alone.

So this year when you are planning your garden–whatever type of garden you plan–look for the gold! You won’t be sorry that you did.