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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Thistle (Weedy Wednesday!)

Every now and then I'll be writing a post about the common weeds that we find in our yard and garden.  I'll save these posts for Wednesdays so we can have a bit of a creative alliterative effect by calling it "Weedy Wednesday"!  I won't be writing about weeds every Wednesday but I feel that it's an important aspect of gardening that every homeowner and gardener ought to have some knowledge about.  By learning a little about the weeds we can deal with them more effectively with fewer dangerous chemicals leaching into our environment.  To start things off we're going to begin with one nasty little weed - thistle!

First of all thistle isn't necessarily just a weed.  It's a good flower for the bees to feed from in the summer and a great source of nourishment for the birds as well.  However if you like to run barefoot through your lawn - or have children who do - stepping on a thistle can be a nasty surprise!  Imagine playing a game of backyard football and getting tackled on top of one of these spiky menaces!  OUCH!

You don't need chemicals to remove thistle.  In fact probably the most effective way to get rid of it is to dig it out.  It has a long tap root and you need to make sure that you get all of it our or else you risk a repeat performance. Additionally (although I don't do this for thistle) you could pour boiling water on the hole area where you just removed the thistle.  That should kill off the remaining roots.  No chemicals are necessary

If you have a very large area to clear of thistle regular mowing may do the trick over the long haul.  Mowing the thistle will cause it to use its stored energy to regrow which then gets cut back again.  Eventually it will be unable to sustain its growth and won't be able to produce seed.  This strategy works for many weeds but requires the repeated removal of the plant which can be a tedious process.

Bull thistle is a biennial plant and will produce leaves the first year and will flower in the second year.

So have you stepped on any thistle lately?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Garden Update From The Weekend

This weekend was a busy one in the garden! The weather was sunny, although with a fair amount of wind on Saturday but Sunday afternoon was very pleasant.  This time of year is always exciting.  Gardening activities are resuming in earnest and a lot can be done to prepare for a great gardening season. 

On Saturday we began working on the Spring Hill Children's Garden.  It's the first of its kind here in our town.  We're combining it together with a community garden and a farmer's market and because of the amount of interest that has already been generated I'm sure it will be an exciting project!  We managed to get a portion of the garden marked off and a gathering area cleared for kids to listen to gardeners and for various project activities. I'll highlight more on the children's garden later.

On Sunday I picked up my tiller from a friend of mine who is skilled with small engine repair!  The last time I attempted to run the tiller not only wouldn't it start but I broke the pull string.  That was a frustrating day.  The tiller worked great in the vegetable garden yesterday to till in a large space that was covered in chickweed.  I'm suspecting that chickweed makes a pretty good green manure.   I do most of my gardening in raised beds but I've had to remove several beds recently and needed to clear the ground of weeds before putting anything else back in that area.  Winter weed grow fast when you look at them - and ten times faster when you don't!

Here's a quick look around the garden and yard so you can see how spring (even though it technically isn't spring yet) is progressing!

These daffodils are in the garden in front of the front porch.  We call it the "Front Porch Garden."  I'm not sure where we ever came up with such a unique name... The little patches of green in the garden are from yellow re-blooming daylilies.  Daylilies are sending up their foliage all over the garden right now.  I weeded some weeds a couple weeks ago but many have grown back since.  Weeding is a constant process!  It's definitely time to start mulching the gardens for spring.

The peach tree is very close to blooming now.  I'm hopeful that we'll actually get a few peaches from it this year but I'm only cautiously optimistic.  Peach trees are tricky to get fruit from without doing a major spray regimen.  I may spray a couple times this season with some Bt to see if that will suffice in keeping it pest free. 

We have two plum trees planted for cross pollination and one of them has already bloomed!  'Bruce' and 'Morris' are the two varieties we have.  Last year we were just about to get plums from one of our plum trees when the deer stopped by for breakfast...I'll be covering them with mesh this year after they begin to set fruit!

How was your weekend in the garden?

Friday, February 24, 2012

5 Fun Foliage Plants! (Friday Fives)

Let's be real, foliage is more important than flowers!  Foliage is there 3 out of the four seasons and unless you have some fantastic re-blooming plant that blooms incessantly from spouting to leaf drop you aren't going to have something interesting all the time - unless you plant with foliage.  Color, leaf texture, leaf shape, and leaf size all make foliage plants focal points in the garden that draw the eye even when there isn't a flower to be seen!  Below is a list of 5 plants that I plant for foliage reasons.  Some have other attributes as well and some are quite common but are well worth planting in your garden.

5 Fun Foliage Plants!

    'Powis Castle' Artemisia
  1. Alphabetically for this list we'll start off with artemisia!  Its common name would put it at the end of the alphabet: wormwood.  Not a very pleasant name to me so we'll stick with artemisia.  There are some types of artemisia that are very invasive - don't plant those, but there are others that are awesome!  'Powis Castle'  grows to about 5' in diameter and 18-14 inches tall.  It's height and girth are dependent on the amount of sun and other growing conditions.  It's silver colored foliage is a perfect foil for purple flowering salvia or coneflowers but it's very versitile.  It's also been 100% deer proof in my garden which makes it extremely important!  Another possibility is 'Silver Mound' artemisia.  It's small size makes it more of a ground cover but I've found it problematic.  The fine foliage gets matted when it rains which makes the whole plant look like an unhappy cat after a bath!  At least it won't scratch you...
  2. Caladium
    Caladiums are a great bulb plant with the awful downside that they aren't hardy in our area.  I usually plant some as annuals because of their variegated heart shaped leaves.  It's also possible to dig them and bring them indoors for the winter.  Caldiums like the shade like a couple other foliage plants in this post.
  3. Coleus is another cool, but common foliage plant.  It's great for filling in gaps in shady area.  Keep the tips pinched for really bushy plants.  You can easily make more coleus with stem tip cuttings in water.  Generally coleus is very cheap to add to your garden but there are some more designer varieties like 'Henna' that can tolerate more sun and can be much more expensive.  Try comparing a $2 six pack to a $6 single plant.  
  4. Hostas are a foliage favorite in many gardens, including mine.  Some get quite large - over 5 feet around and 3 feet high, while others can be very tiny.  Leaf colors range from bluish green to a stark white.  The white colored leaf hostas tend to be more finicky.  For varieties try finding a 'Ginkgo Craig' which has a more pointed leaf shape and smaller size than some or 'Sum and Substance' which has large green leaves and can tolerate a little more sun than other hostas.  If you have deer just move on to the next choice unless you like providing them with a convenient hosta salad bar...
    Hostas and Heucheras in the Shade Garden
  5. Heucheras are simply amazing.  Maybe I'm overstating it, maybe not.  Leaf colors range from marbled greens to dark purples and have all kind of variations in between!  'Midnight Rose', 'Silver Scrolls', 'Dale's Strain', and several other grace our garden.  Deer generally don't bother them but will when there isn't anything else around - as in winter. 
There are quite a few other foliage plants available to choose from and limiting this list to 5 more common selections was difficult!  What foliage plants do you insist on having in your garden?

Previous Friday Fives

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Around the Garden in February

Purple Crocuses
This are warming up again around our Tennessee garden this February.  While I'm writing this post spring-like storms are pouring down outside.  February again seems more like March than February!  But that's how it is sometimes with our weather patterns in TN.  We get some crazy stuff sometimes.  The unseasonable warmth has given rise to many things that would normally be postponed until later.  Some plants seem right on schedule while others are early - too early.  For today's post here is a quick look around my garden at what's happening!

Blooms from daffodils in the Japanese maple garden are brightening up our patio area!

The daffodils in the Japanese maple garden

 More crocuses are beginning to emerge in one of our front gardens. 

This 'Autumn Joy' sedum is sprouting new growth.  'Autumn joy' has a tendency to flop over in the summer.  You can reduce that from happening some by trimming it back in mid to late spring.

Here's a mass of cilantro that was planted last fall from seed.  Check out this post for more growing tips on cilantro - it's an easy herb to grow!

The forsythia is almost ready to bloom.  Here's one flower that is just about open.  Blooms are coming along at breakneck speed!

A peach tree I planted last spring is loaded with flower blossoms.  It may need some help this year.  Deer visit us in the night, frosts may be coming, and who knows what other ailments may arise.  Peaches are picky!  

The following picture is my favorite of this post.  The frost crystals on this viburnum are highlighted by the morning sunshine from the other morning.  Very cool - more ways than one! 

How's spring coming in your garden?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tips for an Eco-Friendly Lawn

Frost on the lawn
This weekend brought forth a significant event, the first mowing of 2012.  It's a momentous event that means the active growing season is moving ever closer!  I know many of you probably don't enjoy mowing the lawn like I do.  It's probably a little crazy, I'll admit it, but when I'm out there mowing I get to see all the garden, come up with ideas for the garden, and I even get a little time to myself!  As a stay-at-home dad of three kids time to myself is in short supply.

Overseeding the Lawn!
While I enjoy mowing the lawn I'm not all that crazy about lawn care.  In fact, aside from overseeding once a year I do little else to keep my grass growing.  I don't fertilize the lawn with any chemical fertilizers nor do I use any sort of insect control.  My lawn has moles, voles, and lots of holes, but it's a natural garden and lawn where I feel is safe for my children to run and play.  The perfect lawn it isn't, but perfect for us.

Many people believe that removing lawns altogether is the way to go.  While there is merit in returning to a more natural meadow with native plants you don't have to sacrifice the lawn and play areas to be more environmentally friendly.  The problem that happens with lawns is that they are over fertilized and become dependent on those fertilizers and selective herbicides to thrive.  Everyone wants the perfect pristine lawn with no dandelions!  They also aren't allowed to sustain their natural growth cycles.  They get watered and mowed, watered and mowed, even in the heat of the summer when cool season lawns like to go dormant.  To combat these ideas here are a few tips for a more Eco-friendly Lawn!

Tips for an Eco-Friendly Lawn
  1. Stop using unnatural fertilizers and chemical pesticides!  Use organic alternatives to opt for a more laid back approach and allow your grass clippings to decompose and sustain the grass.
  2. Mow correctly!  Mow high!  Taller grass means deeper roots.  Deeper roots means better water uptake.  Better water uptake means your grass is greener longer!
  3. Don't water established lawns!  If you're planting seed try to spread it before a rain and keep your eye on the weather. Water when you have to to establish new grassy areas but not where you already have grass growing.
  4. Use the organic method for fertilizing your lawn. Spread compost over areas that have poor soil and allow the compost to seep down into the subsoil.  Compost can work wonders!  Consider the use of natural fertilizers to improve your soil. Chemical fertilizers feed the plants, natural fertilizers feed the soil which feeds the plants which is always going to be much better!  Allow grass clippings to decompose in the lawn and return nutrients back to the soil.
  5. With gas prices rising to record levels this year you're not going to want to use too much gas on mowing your lawn, so cut back!  Remember longer grass is actually better for the grass.  Do you really need to mow every 4 days?  Nope.  Every week?  Probably not!  Mow when the grass needs mowed and on a set schedule. 
  6. Plant grasses that are appropriate for your area.  If you're in the deep south don't try planting fescues, they won't make it. If you're in the north heat loving grasses aren't going to do well.  If you're in Tennessee you have a challenge because we're stuck in the middle!
  7. Be more accepting lawn weeds. Dandelions aren't a big deal and you can eat them or make wine!  Green onions are going to happen, unless you dig them up incessantly - they really aren't worth worrying about.  Thistle can be removed with a shovel.  Clover is actually beneficial to your lawn because it puts nitrogen back into the soil.  A henbit lawn in spring is just a pretty thing to look at!  You see, I've accepted what I can't change! ;)
  8. Reduce mowing areas.  If there's a location in your yard that you don't need to mow, don't!  Plant a garden there instead.  Make it natural with lots of native plants and create your own DIY Backyard Wildlife Habitat.  
  9. Plant more trees!  Trees do a great job with reducing mowing.  Often grasses won't do well under tree areas because the trees take up the moisture.  Under plant tree areas with perennials that like dry shade like heucheras.  Trees are an important part of any kids play area so plant away! 
Just so you know, this is the lawn philosophy I follow.  It works for us. You don't have to give up the lawn, just treat it nice!  Of all these tips the most important thing you can do for your lawn or garden is to improve the soil. If you focus on that you'll be happy with the result!


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Tips for Growing Cilantro

Cilantro is one of those funny herbs, some people like it, others don't!  You can count me in the group of people who like it.  Growing beautiful cilantro plants isn't a difficult thing but there are a couple things you should know to maximize your cilantro harvests.  Yesterday a reader asked me in my post 5 Herbs You Should Grow In Your Garden if I had any tips for growing cilantro so I thought today I pass along a few.

Here are a few Tips for Growing Cilantro!

  • First you need to realize it is a cool weather crop.  When the heat of summer comes along your cilantro doesn't have much time left!  It will begin to bolt (which just means it starts to flower) and the flavor of the leaves changes, and not for the better, more bitter.  Plants grown in part shade will take a little longer to bolt.  My advice would be to plant a couple in part shade and a couple in full sun.  
  • The white flowers of bolted cilantro.
    Let it bolt!  The easiest way to insure a cilantro crop for later in the year is to let your cilantro go to flower and allow it to set seeds.  When it goes to seed collect the hard shelled seeds and either plant them directly in the garden where you want the cilantro to grow or save them to plant outdoors in fall.  It's an annual so the only way for it to come back is through its seed. 
  • Cilantro doesn't need any fancy soil to grow.  It grows fine anywhere the seeds land in my garden.  I have more cilantro growing in my lawn right now than I do in the garden!  Lighter soil may grow a better plant than heavy clay but cilantro isn't too picky.
  • Cilantro seedlings growing in the fall.
    If you are starting cilantro from seed this year start a few weeks before the last frost date indoors or sow directly outdoors after the frost.  I usually have cilantro germinating in the fall.  Cilantro is very cold tolerant and will survive our Tennessee winters easily.  It goes dormant over the winter then explodes into growth once the spring temperatures return. 
  • There really is no need to fertilize cilantro, it will do just fine on its own.
  • Cilantro seeds are called coriander and you can harvest them for that spice also!

Are you a cilantro liker or disliker?

Friday, February 17, 2012

5 Herbs You Should Grow In Your Garden! (Friday Fives)

I couldn't imagine my garden without herbs.  Whether for making tea, dinner, or a myriad of other uses herbs are an essential part of my garden.  Some of the herbs in my garden I use as companion plants in addition to their culinary uses.  Herbs are awesome and you should grow them if you aren't already.  What herbs do I grow in my garden?  I'm glad you asked because today for the Friday Fives I'll share with you five of my favorite herbs.  Please note though that these do well in my zone 6b-7 garden and may not perform the same where you are!

5 Herbs You Should Growing In Your Garden!

  1. My then 2 year old daughter (now 4)
    examining the basil harvest!
    My number one herb, and perhaps my most favorite of all, is basil!  We use basil in pesto, tomato sauces, on bruschetta, and in many other dishes.  Essentially basil works great with almost any tomato dish.  For companion planting I always plant some basil around my tomatoes.  It repels insects like the hornworm and is reported to repel flies.  I haven't seen a hornworm in my garden since I began interplanting my tomatoes and basil.  The regular old Italian basil is great but my favorites are cinnamon basil and dark opal purple basil.
  2. Sage
    Culinary sage is another really good herb to plant.  We use it in many of our meat dishes like meatloaf or turkey and is just a great seasoning in general.  Sage is also an ally in the vegetable garden against cabbage moths and flea beetles.  One of these day's I may actually plant it in the vegetable garden!  Right now our sage is planted just off the patio where it's convenient to gather for cooking.
  3. We like our rosemary too! It was a beautiful addition to our front walkway but sadly it faded from glory over a year ago.  The cool thing about rosemary though is as long as you have a plant to take cutting from you can easily replace a lost rosemary.  Just place a 6-8 inch rosemary cutting in a glass of water and watch the roots form or stick it directly in some soil and keep it moist.  Rosemary when planted needs a location with good drainage and I don't recommend planting it on the north side of your home if you are in a borderline hardiness area for it.  That's what caused my rosemary plants to die. I have two other starts of rosemary in a better location as well as a couple in pots so I'm good to go!  Rosemary is a good repellent for cabbage moths and bean beetles so plant it around your vegetable garden somewhere!  
  4. Mint is a tricky herb.  It's great in tea and for use as a repellent for a bunch of different critters including rodents but it can spread. Let me rephrase that, it can spread a lot!  Mint loves to run its roots just under the soil's surface and reach out to new frontiers - like your lawn or your garden.  It's easy to pull though and if you like it enough you can dry it and have herbal mint tea throughout the winter.  If you don't want to go chase a running herb use a pot to hold it in its place.  You can even bury the pot with about 2 inches above the soil to give the effect of a planted well contained mint.  Only you will know the truth!
  5. Thyme planted from seed.
    Thyme is another good herb for your garden. Aside from being able to quip phrases like "I always have thyme to garden" or "there's never enough thyme in the garden," you will have a very nice evergreen groundcover herb that's also useful in the kitchen.  Thyme is another deterrent for cabbage moths like rosemary and is well worth incorporating into the garden.  I find it interesting that rosemary and thyme both repel cabbage moths and both have pine like attributes in their scents and flavors. 
There are a whole bunch of other herbs out there that can benefit you and your garden.  In addition to these five I also have lemon balm, oregano, catnip, cilantro, and stevia in the garden.

What's your favorite herb?  

Previous Friday Fives

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Still Waiting on the Warmth and a Vegetable Garden Update

This winter has been bitterly cruel.  Not bitterly cold, just bitterly cruel.  It's tempted us into believing that spring was almost here, then the ground hog predicted 6 more weeks of winter..and we laughed. The weather was warm and what do groundhogs really know about the weather?  Do they have live Doppler radar in buried in their dens?  I don't think so, but hey, I've been wrong before! Seriously though I'm ready for warmer days.

The trees are too.  One of our plum trees is only a few days of sunshine away from bursting out in blooms.  It's too early for it to flower. It would be so easy for a damaging frost between now and April 15th to completely decimate any 2012 plum harvest.  Fortunately they are small trees and if I keep an eye on the plums and the weather I should be able to protect them. The weather forecast today actually has 60 degree temperatures, but it also calls for rain which means very little outside time for this gardener.  The normal February cool weather returns soon but the warm days coming closer!

An Update From the Vegetable Garden: 

Sugar snap pea seedling
There are two updates from the vegetable garden - both of which are positive developments!  At the end of January I planted seeds for sugar snap peas and spinach and this morning I have discovered that indeed we do have those two vegetables in our garden's future.  To give you an idea of what kind of temperatures these two plants can take, the lows over the last week have dipped multiple times into the 20's and even lower.   Day time highs were in the 30's and the occasional 40's.  If your reading this outside of the U.S. please note those are Fahrenheit temps.  These are two very cold tolerant plants, even as seedlings.  

Spinach seedling
The soil in this bed needs some amending.  Notice the clumpy lumps of clay?  Clay is full of nutrients but is tightly compacted and isn't friendly to root growth.  I'll continue top dressing the soil with compost and grass clippings.  Eventually the soil will be the nice dark loamy garden soil that is in every gardener's dream garden.

The rest of the vegetable garden is in desperate need of preparation.  The weeds have grown all over and we're covered in self-sowing cilantro!  I love cilantro put we don't need it in the quantities we have.  Maybe soon the garden will dry out enough to work the soil!

What's growing in your vegetable garden in February?

Monday, February 13, 2012

Vegetable Garden Layout for 2012

Every year I tweak the vegetable garden layout a little.  I new get ideas, want to try different arrangements, and theorize about what might work better.  This could mean one of these days I'll strike the right balance of form and function, but until then it just means a whole lot of tinkering, moving, shoveling, mulching, and probably quite a bit of muscle soreness!  Whenever I do change the layout of my raised bed vegetable garden I aim to do four things:
  1. Make a better (more functional) arrangement for planting and harvesting vegetables.
  2. Plan for good access for equipment like wheelbarrows or tillers.
  3. Arrange the beds so that the insides of the raised beds can be reached easily.
  4. And try to make the garden so it looks great!
Those four things are part of a larger list I put together a while back in this post called Designing a Raised Bed Vegetable Garden: 12 Things to Think About

Last year I began the adaptation to a parterre style garden layout. This year I'm simply continuing the idea but I am making a few changes.  The biggest change is the creation of the border bed.  It's about 2 feet wide and will completely cover the perimeter of the vegetable garden when it's finally completed.  For now the lower right quadrant and the circle are the only areas in progress.  Everything else will probably remain as it was last year due to time and, of course, money.  If money grew on trees we gardeners would be rich, very rich!  My old raised beds have deteriorated and I'm trying to replace them with stone but stone costs more and takes time to install (and a fair amount of effort). 

In the outer right perimeter beds I'll be transplanting my strawberries. Along with the strawberries I'm considering adding a companion planting of sunflowers and pole beans.  The sunflowers will entice the bees to the garden and the beans will fix valuable nitrogen into the soil that the strawberries may need. The circle bed is already planted with sugar snap peas and spinach seeds.  The snap peas will do fine but I may have jumped the gun on the spinach.  We'll see how this latest cold snap shakes things out.  The left hand perimeter bed may be used for tomatoes or peppers.  Since the bed is on the edge of the garden maybe I'll just plant the hot peppers to give those pesky deer something very interesting to taste! 

If you would like to see last year's vegetable garden layout here's the link. 

How often do you adjust the arrangement of your garden?

Friday, February 10, 2012

5 Easy To Propagate Plants from Cuttings! (The Friday Fives)

One of my greatest gardening pleasures is that of making a new plant, for free!  Well I don't actually do the work the plant does, but knowing how to give the plant the optimum conditions for rooting is important for success!  The plants I'm listing today for The Friday Fives are easy to propagate from cuttings.  In case you don't know what a cutting is it's a piece of plant tissue that is removed in order to propagate another plant.  Cuttings can be leaves but more often are sections of the stem.  Not every plant propagates easy from cuttings, some are quite challenging, but you can be assured that the plants below are the proverbial "piece of cake!"  Or perhaps I should say "Piece of plant"...

5 Easy To Propagate Plants from Cuttings

  1. Sedum!  Sedum is one of the easiest plants to propagate.  This most likely comes from the fact that they are succulents and retain a large portion of water inside their leaves.  This enables sedums to survive for longer periods of time without water from their roots which makes conditions good for rooting.  Sedums will propagate from both the stems and the leaves.  A stem cutting taken and placed in a moist medium works better than one just placed in water but that can work too.  The neat thing about doing a cutting in water is you are able to watch the roots grow.  The leaves, when removed from the plant with a bit of a heel, can be stuck in a rooting medium (i.e. sand, soilless potting mix, perlite etc.).  Smaller leaves like those of 'Blue Spruce' can be stripped from the stem and pressed into a pot of soil.  
  2. Coleus is another easy to root plant.  Coleus works well in water too but you get higher quality roots when it is rooted in some sort of rooting medium.  I use sand a lot since it is cheap but other mediums will work fine too. Take coleus stem cuttings of about 3-5 inches and they should root within a week.
  3. Rooted catmint cutting
    Catmint!  I love catmint.  Not to be confused with catnip, although they are related and are both easy to propagate.  A 3-4 inch stem cutting of catmint can be rooted in about 5 days but may take longer.  It all depends on the growing conditions.  Warmth can speed rooting which is why heat mats are frequently used to root cuttings. 
  4. Red twig dogwood!  That beautiful red stemmed, winter interest shrub needs cut back to replenish its bright red stems so why not use the cuttings to make more?  For red twig dogwoods I will just stick a 6-8 inch hardwood stem cutting into a pot of soil.  I keep it moist and in about 2 months it will begin growing roots.  You can even bundle the stems together and heel them into the soil.  
  5. Willow
    Willows are just about the easiest plant to root!  You can stick willows in the soil or in water and expect to get some nice rooting in about 2 weeks.  I recently trimmed the green weeping willow in our back yard and put the trimmings in a vase of water.  It's beginning to leaf out now inside the house and is beginning to show little tiny root nubs forming on the stems.  I have some dappled willows I need to trim back as well that could potentially make quite a few more plants.   

All of the plants listed in this Friday Fives post are very easy to root.  In fact they are so easy to root that you don't need rooting hormone for anything on this list.  Rooting hormone is useful for some plants to speed up the rooting process but will just be wasted on these 5 plants.

Have you tried propagating plants yet?  Tell us about your best plant propagating experience! 

Previous Friday Fives

Thursday, February 9, 2012

I've Got Sunshine On a Cloudy Day

Rather than continue with lyrics that will end up stuck in your head for the rest of the day, let me tell you why I say "I've got sunshine on a cloudy day."  The weather has turned back toward winter which brings with it clouds and cold, but the unseasonable warmth of the last month has led to earlier show of spring flowers.  Most of which right now are golden yellow.  Our sunshine is not in the sky on these cloudy days but in the garden in the form of daffodils and winter jasmine.

Here's a look around the garden at my "sunshine"!

The winter jasmine brings a bright gold to the front porch area. Currently the jasmine is in a vining form but most prefer to be more of a shrub.  I like it how it is so I'm not sharing that bit of information with it.

These daffodils are brightening up the area underneath a...Bradford pear tree.  Yep I still have two of them. I'm just waiting for the day when a storm will take them away!

And a closer look at the daffodils under the pear tree. Deciduous trees are great places for early spring bulbs.  Daffodils and other bulbs brighten the landscape then fade away as the trees foliage emerges for the year. 

Beyond the blue solar globe is my Japanese maple garden (the link is to a very old post about this garden area, it's changed a lot since then!) just off of our patio.  The daffodils are the first round of color which will soon be followed by hyacinths, reblooming irises, Japanese maple foliage, and herbs.

More sunshine from the Japanese maple garden.

But not all is well in daffodil land.  These daffodils were in a great spot a couple years ago when I planted them between the dwarf boxwoods.  They need moved now that the boxwoods have grown and filled out. These boxwoods will be trimmed up into a mini-hedge off of our back deck but there is no more room for the daffodils. It's a good time to transplant daffodils since you can easily find them while they are blooming.  If you would rather wait to transplant daffodils but some sort of a marker like a little flag or a stone because daffodils will bloom then fade away before you know it and you may lose the opportunity.  But really we have several weeks to transplant them.

Is there any sunshine today in your garden?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What New Vegetable Seeds Am I Planting for 2012?

It's bound to be an exciting year for the vegetable garden!  In fact every year I get excited by the potential new varieties of seeds to try.  The catalogs are full of amazing, mouthwatering, and delicious pictures and descriptions. (Don't worry I'm not eating the catalog - although I'll bet you thought about it too!) Whittling down the choices to a reasonable amount of seed for my garden and my budget is a challenge.  I always like to add a few new plants to the vegetable garden.  When I say new, I really mean new to me.  I prefer to garden with heirlooms for their seed saving capabilities and what I believe is a tendency toward superior taste.  Today's hybrids tend to be bred for better travel or disease resistance and there isn't as much focus on flavor. 

So here are a few of the new choices I'm adding to my vegetable garden this year:

New Vegetable Varieties in My Garden for 2012
  • Brussel's Sprouts: 'Long Island Improved' - We've become fascinated with Brussel's sprouts lately.  Brussel's sprouts are extremely healthy vegetable and very tasty when roasted in grape seed oil with salt and pepper!
  • Purple Tomatillo - I'm looking forward to making some salsa verde this year!
  • Radicchio 'Rossa di Verona Dragon' - At my wife's request we'll be adding this radicchio to our salad mix!
  • Eggplant: 'Rosita' and 'Rosa Bianca' - Anyone up for some eggplant parmigiana?  Eggplants are delicious but tricky to grow.  I've tried several times and haven't gotten any to survive very well.  Usually they get eaten by some garden invader.  Last year's eggplant survived but never produced.
  • Pepper: Quadratto D'asti Rosso: A sweet red pepper.
  • Tomato: T.C. Jones - A yellow beefsteak variety that sounded interesting!

There's a few of the new for 2012.  There are several more on order that I'll probably mention in future posts as they grow, as I plant them, or as I find something interesting to share!  All these plants can be found at Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.   

What new vegetables are you trying this year?

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Few February Photos

The garden is coming alive now that February is in full swing.  The extra warm winter is supposed to become much more normal over the next week but that won't stop our spring growth.  Yesterday I saw the 'Okame' cherries beginning to bloom.  Unfortunately I don't have any here in our garden to show you but it won't be long before I have the 'Yoshino's in bloom.  'Okame's are the first cherry trees to bloom in our area.  The trees I witnessed flowering are located on an island between two sections of asphalt and receive a considerable heat benefit from the blacktop but it won't be long before the trees in our garden begin to bloom.   

Here's what's going on in our garden so far!

The daffodils are out in force now.  The early flowers are blooming all over the place but many others are only now emerging.  It's amazing how different regions of the yard and different types of bulbs can effect their growth cycles. I like the effect of the Stipa tenuissima ('Ponytail Grass') behind the daffodils. 

The clover is greening up.  I snapped this picture the other day because I thought the drops of water looked very interesting! Almost like little globes of glass.  Many people consider clover a weed but you shouldn't.  Clover is a legume and adds valuable nitrogen to the soil. Clover is frequently used as a cover crop because of its nitrogen fixing property.  Also clover is a great natural flower for the bees.  They love the stuff!  If you like bees, beneficial insects, natural nitrogen fixers, and clover honey don't eliminate the clover in your yard, learn to appreciate it

The pansies are beginning to bloom again too.  I planted them in the fall at a cost of about $0.50 a plant from the discount rack.  Pansies take the cold really well and when planted in fall come out strong in the spring.  I don't really understand why being called a pansy is an insult.  They are tough little flowers!  Of course they don't like it hot, I guess it just depends on your perspective.  Next to the pansy is foliage that belongs to a tulip just beginning to come up.  It won't be long before the tulips fill out our front garden

What's going on in your garden?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sunny Flowers from Sunny Summer Days

The rainy weather and "normal" temperatures seem to be headed back our way, so why not take a look back at some sunny blooms from summer's past? These flowers all came from the July of 2009 version of my garden, some are annuals and others are perennials and some are somewhere in between!  The in between flowers are generally perennials but tend to be short lived or just marginally hardy. 

This rudbeckia (I believe) is called 'Cappuccino'.  Perfect for starting off a post on a rainy morning! I planted it from seed. 

Sunflowers are always an easy way to brighten up the garden. They add a height element that can attract the eyes as well as the bees!

Zinnias are simply an awesome summer flower.  Easy to grow!  So what if zinnias get powdery mildew, just space them out well and enjoy the beauty they add to the garden.  Zinnias are great for cut flowers and grow really well from seed planted after the frost.  You can also save the seeds and replant each year which saves you a little bit of money while making your garden more impressive each year!

Two of my favorite plants are in this picture: 'Powis Castle' artemisia and a salvia.  I think this is 'Mystic Spires' salvia in the picture. It didn't return but other salvias that do return reliably can provide a similar effect.

'Jethro Tull' is another one that is fits into the in-between category like the 'Mystic Spires' salvia.  It's a beautiful coreopsis but it just didn't want an encore in my garden.  Sometimes that's how it goes with plants.  Their presence in the garden can be fleeting depending on the weather and growing conditions.

On these drab winter days it's fun to take a look back and remind yourself of what the garden looks like in the summer.  It's easy to forget that while Tennessee summers mean flowers, it also means 90-100 degree temperatures and high humidity!