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Friday, April 29, 2011

Behind on my Seed Starting (Seed Sowing Saturday)

I feel behind in my seed starting. The frost date passed about 10 days ago and I haven't started my summer vegetable seeds yet. the spinach is looking great and so is the arugula - even the pak choi ('Green fortune') I got from Renee's Garden is looking great (and is very yummy)! The lettuce is a little disappointing but there are more than enough greens for some significant salads for our family. But that's all spring cool season vegetables. The tomatoes are ready for planting but many of the cucurbits that are better planted from seed haven't been started yet!

Here's what seeds I need to get started now:

  • Cucumbers
  • Yellow Summer Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Melons (I'm excited about one from Baker Creek called Tigger!)
  • Basil (direct sow in the garden)
  • Marigolds (direct sow in the garden)
  • Sunflowers
  • Nasturtiums (as a squash companion to scare away the squash bugs!)
  • Winter Squash
  • Zinnias

I have peppers and tomatoes ready to plant in the garden. There are 5 tomato plants already planted in the garden with at least another 8 still needing planted in the garden. (Don't forget the best way to plant tomatoes is to deep plant or layer them!) Most likely there will be more than just 13 tomato plants when all is said and done. I realized a day or two ago that I forgot to start Roma tomatoes and I may have to start some late. Our extra long growing season in Tennessee makes it possible to start tomatoes this late and still get a good harvest!

From Renee's Garden (links to Amazon):

Pak Choi Seeds - F-1 Baby Green FortuneWindowbox Mini Basil SeedsHeirloom Tomato Chianti Rose Seeds

How's your seed starting going?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Favorite Native: Honeysuckle!

This time of year the native honeysuckle growing on my arbor is one of the showiest flowers around. Tons of flowers are covering the controllable version of lonicera. The native honeysuckle goes by the name of Lonicera sempervirens and not Lonicera japonica. I have the exotic foreigner too but it came with the garden! And it's been ignoring my eviction notices. The difference between the two is their growth habit. The native honeysuckle grows at a pace where the garden can actually keep up with its maintenance. The only drawback is that the native honeysuckle doesn't have the characteristic honey sweet fragrance, but I've talked about native honeysuckle before

Check out that link above for more on the native honeysuckle but for the rest of this post I'll just show you some pretty pictures! Any objections? No? Good! (You really didn't have a choice anyway ;))

This variety is called 'Alabama Crimson'. They really need to hybdridize and orange variety so Tennessee gardeners can plant the 'Orange Vol'.

It's spring, the storms are done for the week, and things are looking up!

Here is a cropped picture from the last post. If you look toward the back of the picture you'll see another honeysuckle. This one isn't a named variety and came forma  cutting from my parent's honeysuckle plant.

Red honeysuckle definitely dazzles this time of year in the garden! And the hummingbirds love it too!

For more on natives join Gail's native wildflower/plant week at Clay and Limestone.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Scene Around the Arbor

A couple years ago I was fortunate to participate in the Better Homes and Gardens 48 Hour Blog Challenge. Three other blogs and myself competed with projects subject to online voting to see who would win. The winner took home $5000, unfortunately it wasn't me but the whole project was fun anyway - and it paid for the arbor! My project was the front garden arbor and I've really enjoyed how it helps to anchor the gardens nearby. Three gardens come together at this point (Self Sowing Garden, Corner Shade Garden, and Front Porch Garden) and the arbor ties them together.

On the left side of the arbor is the self sowing garden. The gas line is underneath it somewhere and I wanted a planting area that if for some reason the gas line needed to be dug up I wouldn't worry too much about.
Poppies will be blooming in a couple weeks along with many other self sowing plants.

On the right side of the arbor is the Front Porch Garden. No nifty name for this garden, just the plain old front porch garden! Near the arbor is a crape myrtle which provides summer color and several irises which should begin blooming very soon. At the base of the crape myrtle is golden ragwort a spring blooming native. 

From the other side of the arbor you can see the native honeysuckle blooming along the front porch. The arbor had a third diamond shape that fell off and needs some repair work. The Japanese maple is filling out very nicely after two years. It's no wonder so many people enjoy Japanese maples in their garden! The foliage is just very cool. I bought a new coleus the other day and planted it by the base of the arbor. I still need to plant my caladiums, the last several days have been too wet to do much of anything in the garden.

Here's Maggie, one of the neighbor's cats. If you look close you can see she's caught something - a lizard. I cheer her on when she gets the mice but I like the lizards hanging around to eat the bad bugs!

Here's the arbor and front porch area. My Fiskar's rain barrel is overflowing with rainwater, I really could use another one! The corner shade garden is on the left but hostas still have found places on the other side of the dry creek bed.

What structures hold your garden together?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sweet Potato Slipping Away!

A few weeks ago I dropped a fairly large sweet potato in an old plastic peanut butter jar filled with water to make some sweet potato slips. Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. To me having a simple baked sweet potato at dinner time almost seems wrong, it tastes like I am eating dessert for dinner! But of course the sweet potato is probably one of the healthiest vegetables around.

It took a month before the sweet potato achieved the level of rooting you see in the picture. Now that it has roots I can gently remove the rooted pieces and plant them in the garden on a cool morning or overcast day. Any sweet potato slips that don't have enough roots to plant directly out in the garden can be placed in a jar of water to give them more time to grow roots. Over the summer they will grow new tubers for our family to devour later! Trust me - they won't last long! Sweet potatoes are extremely frost sensitive so don't plant them outside until all danger of frost has past. For a companion planting I may put the sweet potatoes together with bush beans.

Do you grow sweet potatoes in your vegetable garden?

Inside the Strawberry Patch

OK it's not really a strawberry patch as much as it is a raised bed in the vegetable garden that is overflowing with strawberry plants. A couple years ago I planted the bed with these strawberry plants, I believe there were twelve plants total, and let them grow in the bed. I fertilized after their fruiting was complete with an organic fertilizer and watched as the 12 little strawberry plants became many, many more. Strawberry mother plants create runners that root then become mother plants themselves. They are the ultimate in self-layering plants! In fact I had so many strawberry plants that I've given away over 150 plants this year and can't tell a difference in my garden.  My strawberries are June bearing but I don't know what variety.

I need to cover the strawberries this week with bird netting. The birds are devouring the craneflies right now and are a little distracted but soon they'll notice the bright red berries ripening up in the garden. Then it will be a competition for who gets the strawberries - the birds or Dave's daughters! I can't blame the birds, after all who wouldn't want backyard fresh produce that is chemical free?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Irises in Spring

Irises! when you think of springtime, do you think of irises? Of course I'm sure you think of all kinds of flowering plants, bulbs, and trees but irises are distinct. They offer a variety of colors, of shapes, and sizes to decorate the spring garden. The irises in my garden have recently begun to color our gardens with their displays and here are a few of the more interesting ones that have bloomed so far.

Purple Bearded Iris - Unknown Variety
 Any ideas?

Lavender Colored Bearded Iris - Unknown Cultivar - Heirloom? 
came from my parent's garden

Purple and yellow bearded irises - Unknown variety - rather plain.

This next iris is my current favorite!
'Solar Fire' iris that I planted last year. The orange and red colors on ruffled petals are amazing!

Irises are the state flower of Tennessee!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Happy Easter!

I won't be posting a Seed Sowing Saturday post this weekend since it's Easter weekend. I've included a dogwood picture and if you would like to read more about dogwoods I wrote post for the Tennessee Gardener online that you may enjoy.  Also for an update on the plants in my garden shed feel free to take a look at the video below.

I hope you have a Happy Easter!

This video was made with my Sony HDRCX130 HD Video Camera.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Beauty of a Cover Crop

Cover crops are an excellent way to improve the soil without adding chemical fertilizers - and they look great too! Today while driving home from a talk I gave on plant propagation I drove down an old country road and took a few pictures of the red clover. Most likely the farmer is using the clover to enrich the soil with nitrogen before tuning it under and planting a crop of corn. Clover is a legume and fixes nitrogen into the soil if it is allowed to decompose.

cover crop, red clover

The added benefit of choosing red clover as a cover crop is its appearance in the spring! It covers the fields with drifts of red. 

cover crop, red clover

According to Cornell red clover also supports lady beetles and green lacewings which are both predator insects and beneficial insects for the garden!

cover crop, red clover

What cover crops do you use?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

And the Willows Grow...

One of the first plants I began planting here in our garden/landscape was the Japanese dappled willow 'Hakuro Nishiki' (Salix integra). It's a beautiful shrub willow with dappled foliage that is said to grow from 10-12 feet tall. I planted it for several reasons. First of all I liked it! The dappled foliage gives three seasons of interest which in many cases beats out flowering shrubs that bloom and are finished with no more discernible interest. It was also cheap and easy to get dappled willow plants since my in-laws had a few.  All it took was a few cuttings to get new willows started. I like its form and how it blows around in the spring winds. Plus the dappled willow is fast growing which means in three years the shrub willow will grow from this:

Japanese Dappled Willow (Salix integra) May 2008

To This:

Japanese Dappled Willow (Salix integra) April 2011

Yes that is the same willow! And for reference the swing set is a tad over 8 feet tall. The high winds that came through last week blew the willows all around and eventually they settled to where they are leaning to the right. Add an extra two feet to their height to imagine what their size really is. Hopefully as the season passes and the willows grow the branches will become much more upright. They can stand a hard pruning and that may be necessary at some point.

It's amazing how plants can grow so much in a short period of time - almost like children!

Hardiness Zones: 4-9

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Place of Serenity

At my parent's house there is a small garden location where the contemplative gardener can go to relax. Nestled between the cherry trees the garden bench that my dad and I built for my mom several years ago. What I thought made this scene so special was the fallen cherry blossom petals from the nearby Kwanzan cherry tree.

Statue of a girl picking flowers surrounded by cherry blossom petals.

Corner Shade Garden - April 2011

The Corner Shade Garden - April is when it all gets seriously growing. It's not completely full of hosta foliage since the season has really just begun but as the days pass, the plants will grow, and the garden will fill in very nicely! Looking at the corner shade garden through the arbor you can see a Japanese maple that is completely full of leaves already. Head on is the eyesore of the garden - the heating/AC unit - we have to have it, I just need to find a way to screen it. The rock borders have been collected over the years and added to the corner shade garden and several others.

Immediately to the right as you pass beneath the arbor is the Japanese maple again along with a rain barrel I bought last year (Amazon link). It's from Fiskars and has done a really nice job of collecting extra water for watering the gardens. I've been loading up plastic jugs and bringing them down to the garden shed to water the plants there. I hope to eventually add a rain barrel by the garden shed too. Irises are just to the right and several feet behind the Japanese maple.

Here's the main part of the corner shade garden. Hostas like 'Gingko Craig' and 'Patriot' accompany heucheras, Japanese painted ferns, hellebores, an oak leaf hydrangea, astilbe, and Solomon's Seal.

These two ajuga plants used to be just one that I divided in the fall. I'm going to let them fill in around the stepping stones to crowd out any potential weeds and weeds I have! The major culprits in this bed are the chickweed and wild strawberries.

From this position we're looking out from behind the 'Constellation' dogwood back toward the rain barrel.

And a little closer! The Solomon's Seal is on the left top. The really big hosta on the left came from a plant swap two years ago.  To the right of that hosta is a heucherella called 'Stoplight'. Heucherellas are hybrids of heucheras and tiarellas (Foamflower).  Most of the heucheras in this garden are 'Palace Purple' but there is also some 'Southern Comfort' hanging around! With a name like that how could your southern garden not have it?

Plants in the Corner Shade Garden:

  • Oak Leaf Hydrangea
  • 'Lady in Red' Hydrangea
  • Astilbe
  • Hostas: 'Ginkgo Craig', 'Patriot', and several unnamed
  • Hellebores - 2
  • Heuchera: 'Palace Purple', 'Southern Comfort', 'Mocha', 'Fireworks'
  • Ajuga
  • Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum')
  • Japanese Painted Ferns
  • Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola')
  • Pokeweed - those Mockingbirds planted it - time to weed!

What plants are in your shade garden?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Basil and Pepper Progress Report (Seed Sowing Saturday)

It's time for another seed starting update! This week it's the peppers and basil seedlings that get the spotlight. I plant basil and peppers every year in the vegetable garden. I find that basil is indispensable as a seasoning and for making pesto. It also has a some companion planting benefits when planted alongside the vegetables in the garden (particularly the tomatoes!) I don't worry as much with the peppers as I do many of the other vegetables. We just don't use them as much in our cooking. Stuffed peppers are pretty good and I love peppers in an omelet (with mushrooms and shallots!) or on a pizza but peppers just aren't the one vegetable that rules the garden for us!

Pepper Seedlings
For basil I've planted 'Dark Opal' which is a purple basil, an Italian basil, and some 'Spicy Globe' basil. I've enjoyed all three in the garden and have to keep adding them in to the planting plan. Last year I tried a purple ruffle basil which was very cool for its ornamental value. Cinnamon basil is another neat basil that hopefully I'll get going again this year. I saved seed for it but haven't started it yet! The frost date has past so it's time to get planting in the garden!

Basil Seedlings
It's finally time for us here in Middle Tennessee to safely begin planting our hot season vegetables and annuals. Zinnias, sunflowers, beans, marigolds, and all kinds of other plantings should be safe from the killing frosts. Now's the time when all out gardening begins!

You're invited to join in Seed Sowing Saturday! Post and tell us about your seed sowing activities of the week!

Friday, April 15, 2011

April is for Awesome Blooms!

Spring is hitting us full force right now in mid April. Flowers are blooming everywhere! The mailbox garden is covered in spring time flowers and in just about every other garden is a spot of color to talk about. This post is plant and garden photo heavy so be prepared!

April Blooms in the Mailbox Garden

We'll start the garden tour with the mailbox garden! It's changed a lot over the years but still has some of the same plants like:
'May Night' salvia

Creeping Phlox with Pansies

'Homestead Purple' Verbena
'Homestead Purple' Verbena is a staple in my garden and is propagated every year to spread around as a filler.

Creeping Phlox, Dianthus, 'May Night' salvia, Verbena in a wider photo shot.

The Front Gardens

More Creeping Phlox

Golden Ragwort

The Corner Shade Garden

It's a sterile hybrid of the Japanese dogwoods (Cornus kousa) and our native Cornus florida.

Japanese maple

Ajuga - Bugle Weed

Solomon's Seal (toward front) and Hellebore (Lenton Rose) in center.

Photos From a Few Other Gardens

Red Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

Snowball Viburnum
Still kinda green!

'Shasta' Viburnum (on left) and Lunaria - Moneyplant toward center next to a hosta.

That's it for today! I didn't take pictures of the strawberries - they deserve their own post!
Stop by Carol's blog for more April blooms.