Monday, April 24, 2017

Cleaning Up and Expanding

Small stints of gardening continue as I spend about 20-30 minutes outside in two or three intervals during the day. I’m making an art of working in short timespans. I work until my body gets achy and says it’s had enough, then go inside and work on another project.

You can still see remnants of the gray driveway stone
that got plowed into the driveway this winter.

I began edging the main lily garden last Friday and it continued through the weekend. This section is on the north side of the driveway and is lower than the house. The ground here is harder. I want a better definition to the garden and perhaps create a shape. It’s not working out as I would like and it looks messy … but it will eventually come together.

This is the tiered lily section near the garage on the north side.
The green is the hyacinths.
I also started an area begun last summer -- better clearing of what I’m calling the coneflower bed. (I eventually want to come up with nicer individual names for all my little gardens.) The Echinacea plants were discovered last summer in front of a few big rocks that were placed when building up the land to put the house back in 2003. The slope changed a bit with the addition of the garage last summer and later in season, another lily garden was planted in two tiers on the side of the walkway going down towards the edge of the property. I had also extended the coneflower bed to the east in front of a couple more rocks and planted rudbeckia. Now it’s time to pretty it up more.

This oldest section in front of the rocks, the coneflower bed,
has now become the lower tier. I'm still trying to remove grass.
Now, there is still an older section of ground between the lilies and the coneflowers, and it’s this section I’m trying to clean up and the grass clumps here are horribly tough. It’s not even nice grass! I worked it a little last summer when I discovered the Echinacea, but gave up. I removed a lot of the briars (blackberries). There is also one tulip leaf and a couple inches away, a daffodil (neither bloomed last spring nor this). 

I love rocks and it is my intention to have the flowers and rocks accentuate each other. At this point, I’m wondering if I’m going to have to ask for help. Today I’ll take another go at it.

This last photo is looking down from the top tier
(the walkway along side of the garage). 

This last photo is looking down from the top tier (the walkway along side of the garage). 

It's all guesswork as to the design. I'm just trying to make everything look better.

With another year of water issues (between the drought and the old dilapidated water system in the district), I'm not sure how far I can take this. All I know is that flowers make me happy and are one way to pretty my yard and home.

Hopefully the rain barrels will help again. This year I may attempt pumping water from the brook as long as it doesn't dry up.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Gardening April 12 through 21

What a busy week this has been. I’ve gone out every day to do yard work. The most exciting thing is seeing what plants are coming up and sometimes, there are changes between morning and afternoon. It’s amazing what warm sun will do to spring plants. They almost grow before my eyes.

I finished raking out all the flower beds and as much of the road dirt off the lawn as I could get. I still have a raked pile of driveway stone on the other side of the lily bed that I need to get back to the driveway. Plowing took its toll this year, but the snow had to go somewhere.

All the lilies I planted last year are putting in an appearance in various levels of growth. They don’t all bloom at the same time, so it will be interesting to see what happens. Most everything else is also looking fine, although some later blooming perennials have yet to show.

The right side of the house facing west.
Four white crocuses bloomed on the front right side of the house. There are leaves on the other side of the porch, but no signs of blossoms yet. The bleeding heart has poked a couple of red nubs out of the ground and some iris are also showing. I’m surprised that the day lilies that line the length of the front edge of the slab are also growing under the porch. The rose bush stems are turning green.

Three of the four crocuses

The left front side with the new walkway and two of the rain
barrels in front of the garage.

The left side of the front garden was extended into a curve when the new walkway was installed last fall. There’s a clump of green leaves near the edge of the walkway and I’m not sure what that is. Guess I’ll have to wait for it to grow bigger. Something is telling me it’s a week, but I’ll wait to make sure. 

There are some things here that are growing, but the coreopsis is the looking the best so far. The viola I transplanted in the fall from the flower boxes out back to the front garden near the driveway looked great and even had a couple of blossoms while there was still some snow, but the few days of hot sun seems to have burnt them up. I’ll wait to see if they recover.

The middle garden -- I want to come up with better names
for each of the gardens. I want to extend this one.

The big middle garden, made just last year, has lots of life in it. The cornflower looks the best with its gray-green leaves looking bushy. The lavender, which I brought from Bradford, looks like it’s struggling a little, but that may be because it’s early. All the columbines are coming up, as is the clematis. The hibiscus isn’t showing anything. They are a late summer plant, so I’m not worried. 

It is in this garden that I planted the daffodils and tulips. I planted them closer to some middle rocks near the crabapple with the idea that they will be first up in the spring, then, because you need to leave the leaves after the flowers die, other later blooming plants will hide the early ones when they are not so pretty. I admit I have difficulty deciding exactly where to plant and how to make a design. I usually end up picking a spot and putting the plant in the ground. Maybe in time I’ll figure out how to actually arrange plants.

The hybrid daylily garden. I'm happy to say all I planted last
year are coming up. Next step is to put an edge around here.
The hybrid daylily garden on the other side of the driveway shows every plant I put in the ground last year survived. I’m very excited about that. Late last season I planted perennials that had been in flower boxes on the deck along the retaining wall and below it towards the back of the house, down over the embankment. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what survived or will survive due to the installation of the generator. There’s some green showing on the level of the gennie, but I’m beginning to think most of those plants got trampled and disturbed too much with the equipment and gas lines.  

Unfortunately, the water ban is still on in the district which means no outside watering. I’m bummed, but put out my three rain barrels. If need be, I’ll get some jugs (I threw away the ones I had last year not believing we’d be in a water ban this year) and make trips to the brook or lake for water.

This section is at the side of the garage. I put extra lilies up here
and made tiers down the embankment. You can't tell in the photo
but every plant is showing signs of life.

The mulched area holds two more lilies.
Behind in front of the rocks are echinacea
and rudbeckia.

Below the retaining wall I had a bunch of various plants. They
put the generator on top of half of them (not where we had
originally discussed), 

Top of the retaining wall where violas
and other flowers were planted.
I think these got beat up with the
generator install.

Sempervivum hybrid
Sempervivum tectorum -- Red Beauty
On April 19, I stopped at Agway to get a new plant to celebrate my mum’s birthday, April 18. They had some beautiful hens and chicks which are succulents and require little water. Perfect! And my mum would have loved them. I bought three different ones and later that day, got them in the ground. I started a new garden with two of the plants placing them far enough apart to give them room to spread. 

Semper tectorum -- Piloseum.

I want to better design this new garden, give it some kind of shape. This might become my rock garden with pretty stones. Like with my paintings, I start a project, then need to let it stew for a few days or a week before I know what to really do with it. Each task takes on a life of its own. I just have to wait for it to tell me what it wants.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Gardening for the Season Begins

OK, I know it’s early and I can’t plant anything new, but I can start cleaning up as the snow melts. That’s what I’ve been doing the past few days. I’m calling it all gardening because it’s about cleaning up the yard to get ready for actual flower gardening.

Driveway stone got plowed over the lily garden. I'm raking it
back to the driveway.
First up was raking the driveway stone that got plowed from the driveway onto the lawn and flower gardens. Most of this was the lily bed. This type of driveway is new to me and during the nicer seasons, it looks nice and it doesn’t get muddy in the rain, but snow plowing scraped off where the driveway was curved for water run-off. 

I’m picking at this project a little at a time to get the bulk of it back to the driveway. The smaller particles will be mixed in with mulch in the garden beds. 

I love this time of year because it’s exciting to see what the melting snow reveals. Sometimes it’s not so good, but I love finding new growth. I’m amazed to see what plants have been greening under the snow.

This week I found the first green of a few daylilies poking out of the mulch and I was totally surprised how much green is on the Jacob’s ladder. There is even a few green leaves on daisies that were over taking the garden last fall. On the other side of the front porch, the coreopsis, fully revealed yesterday, has green leaves amid the dark winter-soaked leftover fall leaves. I’ll have to get the pruners and trim that up. 

I don’t want to do too much yet. There’s still the potential of below freezing nights and possible snow. But it feels so good to get out there.

This year’s plans (at least right now) is to do some work in the back yard. The house was built on a manmade rise and slopes down in the back to the brook. The outer deck edge is a good 10 feet from the ground. The area was left to be totally natural although I did have someone come in last year to do some basic clean-up of scrub and bushes. 

This year I want to do more clean-up starting with deadfall and broken limbs. I’d also like to take out a few other trees and saplings. There’s a mix of beech, oak, pine, and hemlock. Ground cover, besides previous years’ leaves includes clubmoss (which I knew as princess pine as kids growing up) and something that grows low to the ground like a holly or winterberry, but I’m not sure exactly what it is.

I’ve ordered hostas to plant around some old stumps I like. Other than that, I just want the area cleaned up and looking nice. I don’t know how much I will actually do because all I need is to see one tick on me and that will do me in.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Houseplants and Winter Humidity

This was written on March31 as the snow was falling and a thick blanket already covers the deck. I won’t be planting outside any time soon, so let’s talk about indoor plants.

I’ve been around plants all my life but never really learned their proper care. I’d keep them watered until they died. Many times, they’d go from looking good to not-so-good to just hanging on to dead. I certainly never thought about humidity except for summer. However, the other side to humidity is air that is too dry, especially in the winter when the furnace or a wood stove is running. It makes sense when you consider most plants are grown in greenhouses where there is a lot of humidity. What a shock it must be for the plant when you get it home and the air is dry; and when the plants begin to dry out, it’s easy to over water. 

You don’t need to measure your home humidity levels. The plants will tell you when they are not happy. They will begin to wilt, leaves will get brown edges, buds won’t develop, fall from the plant before opening or shrivel soon after opening. My plants are in colorful pots with a hole in the bottom with a small lip creating a place to hold a little water. Still, they dry out quickly and I can’t tell if I’ve given them enough. 

Research showed me many tips to keep indoor plants healthy:

Place them in groups – they help each other by creating pockets of humidity, plus they look good together.

I used gem stones and minerals collected over the years
for my pebble trays.
Use water-filled pebble trays – this can be a fun design feature to create if you have the room. I use a pretty tray (purple, of course). I’ve been collecting stones for years from gem stones to interesting ones found in the yard or out walking. Put enough water in the tray to almost cover the stones, then set the pots on top so the roots don’t get waterlogged. The evaporating water provides moisture for the plants.

If you don’t have room or if you don’t want to put water in the tray, place a dish or cup of water near the plants. I keep pretty glasses near the plants where a tray won’t fit, and because I didn’t want to put water in the pebble tray, I put a glass of water in the middle surrounded by the stones and plants.

Misting plants is also very popular – however, it’s a more temporary measure as the water dries up quickly. Just remember not to mist plants with hairy leaves like African violets.

A humidifier also works.

The other side of low humidity is high humidity on plants kept in places like a kitchen, bathroom or laundry room. Again, let the plant tell you what it needs. You may just need to move it into another room if it’s not looking healthy.
Something else to remember about houseplant care is that dust forms on the leaves. The plants’ leaves draw in light which is crucial for its survival. Dust blocks the pores needed for that light. It’s important to either gently wash them with room temperature water or use a soft brush (like an artist’s brush) on plants with hairy leaves. (The hairy leaves of my African violet are a magnet for cat fur.)

Primrose (perennial/annual)

My education in gardening continues. I’m always surprised at the information I find. There’s a fine line between purchasing plants, throwing them in the ground and hoping for a beautiful flower garden, and actually learning to take good care of them.

I'm doing more exploring on the ins and outs of spring flowers purchased at the end of the winter season. These are force-bloomed to bring a spot of color during the dreary season. Some people use them for a one-time blossoming while others hold onto them to plant outside when weather permits. Most of mine are past their indoor-winter bloom time. There's still another month or so before it’ll be safe to do outdoor gardening. So how do I keep my new babies safe until then?

I purchased one small primrose plant on Feb. 10. I know these plants have been around for a long time but, for some reason, I’ve never had any. This is a cute little plant with a spherical umbel (a blossom that grows on a short flower stalk). The flowers can be in a variety of colors and most have a bright yellow center. It’s one of the first flowers to bloom after winter and many varieties can grow in containers. They grow best in zones 5-9 and prefer cooler temperatures. The flowers and leaves are edible, tasting like a bitter lettuce. The leaves can also be used for tea.

The few blossoms remaining when I made my purchase soon faded. I cut the stem back as directed. Soon, however, the leaves died off and I cut it back to about an inch above the crown. A friend told me this is normal and it will come back next year. I hope so as I feel bad when plants die on me. It’s hard to trust this process of winter dormancy – when to stop watering and put the plant in a dark place for six to eight weeks or so.

When safe planting time arrives, primrose can be moved outdoors. (They can also be transplanted while in bloom). Primrose like to be in a cool, partly shady area in the garden or on a balcony with light morning sun (avoid afternoon sun). Place them 4-6 inches deep with the crown even with the soil. The soil should be well-draining and slightly acidic. Position multiple plants six inches apart.

Keep the soil moist but don’t over water. Prune dead leaves and blossoms; fertilize once a month while blooming – do not fertilize during winter dormancy. If needed propagate after blooming (late spring) by division.

A little extra care is needed to grow primrose indoors. Daytime temperatures must remain below 80 degrees with filtered sun and moist soil. Nighttime temps should be 50-60 degrees. It’s also a good idea to place the pot on a pebble tray because in the winter with the furnace running, the air will dry out quickly and affect the health of indoor plants. 

However, after they finish blooming in the house, it’s best to plant them outside for the summer. They can stay in their pots and come back in the house in the fall.


My education in gardening is never-ending. I am amazed how much there is to it. When I was young, my mother used to have beautiful flower gardens but I realize now that she was lucky … and had a green thumb. I know she didn’t have any of this professional gardening knowledge. I guess, maybe, she learned by trial and error and sharing info between neighbors or she was very intuitive about flowers.

Hyacinths are often associated with spring and rebirth so this is good timing to mention them. I bought two potted plants last month (two different shades of purple) and will plant them when the ground is ready. I had grape hyacinths in Bradford. Every year they would spread farther across the lawn and I want their early-season blooms here.

My research taught me that grape hyacinths and the hyacinths I recently purchased are not the same. The common grape hyacinth (muscari) flowers are blue-ish, tight, urn-shaped and resemble bunches of grapes. The hyacinths I now have are in the Asparagaceae family. The blossoms come in a variety of colors and are bell-shaped resembling little starfishes.

Hyacinths bulbs, light purple or cream in color, are covered with dry, papery, skin-like layers and are usually planted in the fall for spring blooming. The bulbs are poisonous, containing oxalic acid. Handling hyacinth bulbs can cause mild skin irritation. I’ll have to wear protective gloves when transplanting them outside. 

This is the third hyacinth purchase. The first two were purple.
A compact spike of flowers grows six to 12 inches from the bulbs with long, narrow leaves folded lengthwise. I found the highly fragrant blossoms a little too potent inside but outside they will be wonderful. Once the blossoms fade, cut the entire spike off. Do not cut back the leaves; let them die back naturally. The bulbs store energy received from the leaves to prepare them for blooming next spring. 

My plants, which were blooming when I bought them, means there are going into their dormant time. Here is another learning experience: Just like outdoor plants and nature winters, indoor plants also need their dormant time. And to keep indoor plants healthy and vibrant, there are times to allow them to die back (they’re not dead) and go into sleep mode. Some do well in a dark closet, a basement or covered with a paper bag for a few weeks. Then they can be brought out, watered and fertilized and they’re ready for another round of blooming.

I’m still getting my head around that. Logically, it makes sense but to hold onto a plant that looks dead …
My hyacinths, though, will go into the ground with compost, good soil, and a layer of mulch sometime in May. There I will let nature take its course. I’ll leave the leaves intact until they totally die off. Yes, they will not look very good during this period but annuals or other perennials can be planted around them to keep the garden space looking nice. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Late Winter-Garden Blahs

How bright and happy is a host of daffodils
Last month I bought crocus, tulips, and more hyacinths to go with the other hyacinths and daffodils. They were in bloom and brought color and brightness to the house. Now all the blossoms are spent and these spring-blooming bulbs and tubers are slipping into their dormant period.

After buying two purple hyacinths, I bought a pink one.

Normally these plants are bought as bulbs and planted in the fall for blooming in the spring. Nurseries will plant some in pots and force them to bloom early in greenhouses to sell during the dreary winter months. The plants I purchased were past their prime and on sale (can’t turn down a bargain!) and now I’m worried about getting them through the next month or so until I can plant them outside. 

Tulip in bloom
I’m struggling with the indoor gardening aspect of this. The air is very dry and I need to water often. I’ve read a number of websites and there’s just enough differences to cause doubt as to the best for the plants in my house and conditions. 

I read that it’s important with these plants to cut off the stem and spent blossoms, but allow the leaves to remain until they turn yellow and brown. The green leaves will gather nutrients needed to store in the bulbs for next year’s blooms. Some sites say to stop watering and let them go dormant for a few weeks to a couple of months. Some say to water once a month. And, even though these bulbs are normally planted in the fall, I will plant them as soon as I see similar plants popping up in the garden.

Pele hasn’t bothered the plants much lately. I put most in the studio and close the door at night because she wouldn’t leave them alone when I first brought them home. I started leaving the geranium out. I’ll occasionally find a bite in a leaf, but other than that, the plant is growing beautifully and now has some buds. I started leaving the tulips out, then the mini roses and hyacinth. 

The crocus begins blooming
I’d put the crocus pot on the window sill during the day and she didn’t touch it, however, not that it’s stopped blooming and the leaves are turning brown, I took it out of the bright light. Now Pele won’t leave it alone. She doesn’t actually eat the leaves, she just bites them off. What a silly kitty. 

Pele won't leave the crocus alone. The daffodil, tulip, and crocus
are done blooming and going into their dormant stage. I want to
get them planted in the garden as soon as I can.
Oh, just let me get my plant babies through April and the beginning of May. I read one website that said when these types of bulbs start poking up in the outside gardens, it’s OK to plant others. 

Yesterday in my walk-about-the-yard, I noticed daylily shoots just barely poking up along the slab of the southwest side of the house. However, there is still a foot of snow three feet wide from that point to the front edge of the garden. I’ll see how these next couple of days of 60-70 degree temperatures do the snow. Still, it will be too early to plant.