Wednesday, April 16, 2014

As soon as Soil can be Worked....which Flowers?

It snowed all day yesterday.

It has taken me over a decade to welcome chilly snows to late in the season. With open arms, I can finally welcome the snowflakes. Good Lord, it helps to be a gardener (or skier) in this regard. The water not yet turned on in my community garden, my little seeds are largely dependent on mother nature's grace. As we all know deep down, there is nothing like snow and rain to really cause a sown seed to grow. There is something mysterious about the power of water that falls from the sky. Water. What we know is truly a drop. Have you seen this amazing documentary?

Anyway, it surely helps helps to have something planted, then. Which seeds are marked 'As soon as soil can be worked' under 'sowing' on the seed packet?

lettuces (with a few exceptions)
carrot (those not too quick to germinate)
broccoli raab

Bachelor's Buttons
Siberian Wallflower
*Queen Anne's Lace

*For attracting beneficial insects to the garden, at minimum.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Saving Seed nearly Beats ordering Seed for this Seed Addict

Buying seed, brings me superlative amounts of joy.

I purchased over $100 of seeds this year. No, that's not frugal by any definition. Unless,...just possibly, I was growing ALL our food for the year combined with the fact I was completely out of seed. That wasn't the case, I confess.

When I first started growing, I, like many other gardeners, was lured by the pretty pictures on the packages. Martha Stewart's seed line in Kmart – now defunct – had truly gorgeous photos of the contents all grown up. My local fave is Botanical Interests. Package pictures are hand-drawn by those being schooled in plant illustration at the Denver Botanical Gardens.

Now, though, its a journey of discovery. The philosophy which fuels my landscaping, fuels now my choices in the vegetable garden. My plants should thrive here; not struggle. Now what the heck really grows the best here? (And which plant that I will utterly adore, might lie just over the next hill?)

After my brandywines surrendered to disease two years in a row, after my bell peppers dropped all their blossoms in the 2012 season, and now that my German green tomatoes have refused to grow 5 years in a row,well... it just seems a good way to save time, heartache, and nutrients in my soil.

Really, out of selfishness, my seed-loving heart discovered a newer, better thrill. It started with flowers from mixed packets; the flowers in the bunch with the coloring I loved the best – which I otherwise couldn't find sold solo - I marked with tape flags along their stems as they grew. In autumn, I plucked off the fully matured, now drying, blossoms. JUST the ruby colored cosmos, JUST the pink rimmed ganzanias. Then, when the string beans turned to legumes before they could be harvested, they too were gathered. The fennel started indoors, and as such, did not yield nice bulbs, but bolted to seed. Some for cooking, some for....seed.

Its trendy, I know. It started as pure selfishness mixed with a little but of frugality. It has now developed into a few covert trims off the woody, dwarf herb, which just can't be held down. Every year volunteers spring up from the original parents brought from Italy two generations ago and planted in our community garden. All the old timers call it Italian Oregano. I've spent hours and hours trying to find its seeds...even on Italian websites! To no avail.

I had no idea retrieving the saved seed from its bins in my basement laundry room, would bring such thrill. This feeling was entirely different than receiving a shipment in a small bubble envelope in my mailbox. I feel connected to last growing season, to the dirt, to that which I nurtured, all wrapped in a faint remembrance of what it tasted like. I'm hooked.

So, saving seed now, is a way of boosting productivity --not just with regard thrifty household budget management -- but bolstering enthusiasm in the garden today, and with less plant failure, higher yields tomorrow.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Easter Garlic...yes, died and resurrected

I researched, I soaked, I babied, I grew.

Slender green leaves sprung up. Maybe three or four.

When they first fell over, I was convinced it was a night, which was too breezy for them. I bound them up with knit ties to a short little fence.

It did not save them. They browned and completely died back. It was painful enough, that I did not dig them up. I left them to enrich the soil and planted over them late that summer and fall. I planted Vidalia onion seeds.

Mid-winter, to my terrible surprise, leaves emerged in about each spot where a clove had been planted.

My garlic was back again?! In full form. Each is its own little bush now. Truly, truly bushy.

Back to the drawing board on everything growing garlic. But in the meantime, we'll let it grow all summer long and roast in in autumn. YUM!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tithonia, Syrphids, and Hoverflies...oh Joy!

I'm a happy gardener in my yard. I also have growing space at a community garden; in fact, I manage the daily goings-on there. There the gardening experience is completely different.

I have been given many a sideways glance when some of the space traditionally used for vegetables, has been given to flowers. Its strange really. In my current community garden, gardening is about friends. Its – at best – a healing hobby. And so much produce goes into the dumpster at the end of the season.

I do miss my 'old' community garden in that regard. In my last community garden, I was the only to speak English. All others were of retired age and refugees from abroad, to boot. There the gardeners were so thrifty. They used every last inch to the max! They counted on their gardens for food. They'd have days of hunger in the winter, if they didn't grow intensively. Flowers and herbs abounded. They knew how invaluable they were to literally hiding their veggies from pests. How valuable there to creating a balanced eco-system in their garden for vegetable productivity.

A fellow gardener let me know she was unhappy I was growing Tithonia. ''But they are so tall! And they attract swarms of wasps!'' she protested. When I planted them for the first time, I had not idea they'd tower as they did, truth be told. But, these wonderfully gorgeous flowers, casting a barely a shadow on our garden shed, attract syrphids, i.e., hoverflies! These lovely little beasts prey on aphids, thrips and other insects that suck the life out of my plants. Yes, do watch closely. Hoverflies' appearance mimics that of wasps and they are often mistaken for such.

But oh! What a lovely to find in your garden. Especially in large numbers. Consider yourself truly, truly blessed.

I kindly invited her to a seminar to be given soon, by local Master Gardeners. A subject on which other gardeners asked we educate them – flowers in the garden.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Xeric Plants for a Butterfly-Lovers Garden

Butterfly sightings are no more rare today, for me, than they were when I was a kid growing up in a small agricultural community in the Midwest. Still, I like everyone else has a magical memory or two, of these fragile-winged, floating insects. Two stand out for me. At twelve, more migrating butterflies than I could count in hours, rested on a large patch of lavender phlox in a  park. Having only ever seen butterflies as solitary, this kind of large togetherness stunned me. Later, as an adult, visiting an indoor butterfly sanctuary, wearing a pink floral shirt, a butterfly alighted on my shoulder content to be there as long as I'd allow. This was the same sanctuary where John Denver performed his nature-loving repertoire on prime time television as I watched - a small child,in my pajamas marveling at his interaction with butterflies so gently tame.

Recently, I suggested to an environmentally-minded, well-educated, once-farmer's-daughter & friend that we plant a stalk of milkweed or two for the sake of the butterflies. Her reaction? ''A noxious weed?!'' she blurted, laughing scoffingly. I felt a kind of pain for butterflies I've never felt before. No wonder butterflies are in crisis.

Off I trotted to a seminar on Butterfly Gardening, hosted my my local greenhouse. The speaker cleverly wrapped her plant suggestions in her overarching concern for butterflies' disappearing habitat. Would a butterfly mind flying over 'burb after 'burb, yard after yard, filled to brimming with their favorite foods interrupted only by homes? Likely not, I mused after hearing her comments.

Is a butterfly garden just about the plants in our yards? No. There is a bit more. Think lush meadow clearing in the woods. Sheltered, but sunny. Tall groundcovers for little caterpillars and a few marshy spots...well, perhaps downright muddy. Actually, some male butterflies require some salts, which would come from muddy compost and dirt nicely stewed together, for reproduction.

But the most important part? Landscaping designs take a bit different form when dedicated to welcoming a butterfly. You see, the butterfly prefers the monotony of a large patch of phlox to a smorgasbord of its faves...say, a butterfly bush, next to butterfly weed, next to a coneflower. The plants you choose should be ones you adore, and thus tolerated in large swaths of sameness.

Here is a list of water-shunning natives and butterfly faves, which do so very well in my climate. The majority of perennials and annuals, are not so difficult to grow from seed.

Trees and shrubs:
1) Serviceberry
2) Chokecherry
3) Butterfly bush
4) Blue Spirea
5) Rabbitbrush
6) Lilac
7) Viburnum
8) Potentilla
9) Sand cherry 'Pawnee Buttes'

1) Yarrow
2) Agastache (Anise hyssop)
3) Aster
4) Jupiter's beard
5) Coreopsis (tickseed)
6) Dianthus
7) Purple Coneflower (Echinacea)
8) Fleabane
9) Joe Pye Weed
10) Ironweed
11) Blanketflower (Gaillardia)
12) Maximilian sunflower
13) Daylily
14) Lavender
15) Liatris
16) Mint
17) Cat mint (Nepeta)
18) Penstemon
19) Sea Holly
20) Russian Sage (Petrovskia)
21) Rudbeckia (Brown-eyed Susan)
22) Salvia
23) Stonecrop (Sedum)
24) Goldenrod (Solidago)
25) Zinnia Grandiflora
26) Monarda (Bee Balm)
27) Western Sundancer Daisy (Hymenoxys acaulis v. ivesiana)
28) Allium
29) Purple Prairie Clover
30) Pink Cotton Lambsear (Stachys lavandulifolius)
31) Gray Headed Coneflower (Ratibida)
32) Blue Globe Thistle
33) Gaura lindheimeri
34) Orange Live Forever (Dudleya cymosa)
35) Missouri Evening Primrose
36) Iceplant
37) Origanum Rotkugel
38) Chocolate Flower
39) Hollyhock

1) Cosmos
2) Gomphrena
3) Sunflower
4) Mexican Sunflower
5) Verbena
6) Veronica (Speedwell)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Drought Tolerant Annuals

Its the time of year, when I am a bit exhausted from starting edible seedlings and my mind wanders to flower-filled landscapes.

This year, rather than spend all my energies on hunting down the last few water-wise perennials which I haven't planted yet, I've found some water-wise *annuals* which I am anxious to watch grow.  A few have the added benefit of attracting beneficial insects to my veggie patch, and will be planted in close vicinity of such. (Denoted below with an asterisk.)

I did comb through list after list in a Google search of 'annuals tolerate drought' just to see if my seed collection is missing anything. Holy Cow! Everyone from Vermont to San Francisco, Home Depot to 'This Old House' and every blogger in between, has their list. The problem is, they rarely describe the soil, which is best for that annual. Additionally, some will tolerate humidity, some not; some do high altitude sun, others wilt under these intense rays. Its rarely clear what assumptions the writer has made for his/her selections.

Some I recognize as 'old stand-bys' in my continental climate growing up; people would plant these nearest their pavement and sidewalks. They're good 'inferno strip' annuals in places where the environment *does* get more than our 15-18'' of rainfall annually. These little troopers do well with warm roots. So, in my climate, then, they're great flowers for containers; that is, my containers get watered quite frequently as opposed to my yard and landscape, where I count on Mother Nature's grace. They wouldn't be tough enough for the yard. I call these mildly drought tolerant.

The others in my latter list, these are the real tough guys. These are what will work in a high desert climate; our soils are clay.

Mildly drought tolerant.  Great for containers with a nice potting soil:
1) Zinnia, esp creeping zinnia (Sanvitalia procumbens), narrowleaf zinnia and the 'Zahara' series. Persian Zinnia (zinnia haaagenana or x. mexicana)*
will attract beneficial insects to your garden.
2) Cock's comb (Celosia)
4) Dusty Miller
5) Cup flower (Nierembergia hippomanica)
6) Alyssum
7) Snapdragon - I like Moroccan lineria, which prefers a bit of sand in the soil, but loam is great, too.

Tough guys in straight-up clay:
1) Moss Rose
3) Cape Daisy
4) Ganzania
5) Sunflower *
6) Rudbeckia
7) Nasturtium
8) Strawflower (helichrysum bracteatum)
9) Statice *
10) Bachelor Button
11) Cosmos *
12) Globe Amaranth (Gomphrena)
13) Mealy cup Sage (Salvia farinacea)
14) Mexican Sunflower or Mexican Torchflower (Tithonia)*
15) Rocket larkspur - (Consolida ambigua)
16) Blanket flower or firewheel (Gaillardia)
19) Rose Campion
20) Love in a mist
21) Scarlet flax
22) Desert bluebells
23) Marigold- Tagetes tenufolia is said to reduce nematodes in your soil.
24) Talinum
25) Zulu Prince Daisy

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Long Winters strain my Patience

I grew up in harsh winters. Coldsnaps with artic temps. But thaw always showed itself – at least a little in March.

Today – again – my kale, chard, mustard 'Ruby Streaks,' lettuces all lay under 5 inches of snow. Late April! Even the lovage, which had become so lush on a single, warm weekend and the peas, just germinated, have been punished for their enthusiasm. This is the longest winter I believe I have ever lived. At high elevations, spring rains fall as snow. More snow was due in 5-6 days, but today the weatherman seems to indicate that instead we'll have 70 degree temps. Typical.

Romaine lettuce under snow, Vivian
As early as February, last year, we had 80 degree temps regularly. I missed being able to plant cool spring crops altogether! Its unavoidable; recent history writes a story on your subconscious. But certainly a spike in illness a month ago, gives witness to how natural and widespread our collective expectations were. As hearts sank, and winter coats were prematurely shed on expectations, illness rates soared locally.

I reached for 'Rocky Mountain Garden Survival Guide' a tiny little paperback with invaluable empathy for those dealing with extreme changes in springtime weather written by Susan J. Tweit. Its the only gardening guide I've run across which acknowledges the extreme challenges of finding a low-risk Spring planting date where I live.

Nature's manipulation into confusion. There's nothing like this kind of swing in a season's character to destabilize what you might have expected lies ahead further on into the growing season. Is hail around the corner? After waiting so long to transplant slightly-overmature plants into my beds, this could lie in store for us all.

Letting go. Sitting in the midst of a maelstrom of change and opening your palms to abandon any plans. Living in peace in complete uncertainty. Its a talent; not one I was raised to know. This year I shall be challenged to practice it.