Done With Autumn….

Well that lasted about a week.  I miss summer and wish autumn would get on with it.  Yesterday was beautiful, but today it’s colder and rainy, and I’m sure the wind is pulling down all the autumn foliage just as it finally colors up here in the valley.  Here are a few spots in the garden, maybe when I look back in January the cold and ice will put it all in perspective.

The back deck in autumn

Frost is forecast for tomorrow night nearly everything still needs to come in.  Sadly enough I have less than 24 hours left to procrastinate. 

I spent most of Saturday just wasting time.  The weather was nearly perfect and the schedule was open, but 90% of the day was spent watching grass blow in the wind or birds picking through seed heads and nearly no time time was spent productively.  If we had to separate into ants and grasshoppers, I’d be all grasshopper this weekend.

October in the potager

The potager is all ready to fall apart for winter with everything dying back and going to seed.  Peppers were harvested, the rest is on its own now.

I guess I did mow the lawn on Friday.  It didn’t really need it but the mower made quick work of stray twigs and leaves which were starting to pile up and with the mower set to mulch it was not much of a commitment at all.  Also it kind of chopped up the turf clods which lay all around the back yard courtesy of Mr. Skunk.  Someone suggested I replace and tamp down all the clods before mowing… I gave him the look and said he was more than welcome to do that in his own yard.  Here we prefer to thank the skunks for their free grub removal and turf aeration services and let winter work apart the clods.

the meadow in autumn

Back behind the swingset, the meadow looks downright respectable again after a few mowings.  

Mowing the lawn takes a little longer these days now that the meadow area is back on the weekly cut plan.  To those who thought the tall grass was a reservoir of dangerous ticks and snakes and spiders this comes as a relief, but to me it’s all just part of getting the turf ready for next year’s show of spring bulbs and early summer wildflowers.  It will sprout up again just fine next spring, and ironically enough the most dangerous thing back there still remains within inches of the swing.  The bright red seed pods you see belong to the castor bean plant(Ricinus communis), and as you may know the beans are the source of the poison ricin.  Smaller children would need to be watched, but based on what a struggle vegetable eating is in this house I’m pretty confident my own kids won’t be picking beans up out of the dirt and eating them any time soon.

The tropical garden

The tropical garden just before the frost.  Not as lush as last year but the grasses are still a good 8+ feet tall, and overshadow the not-quite-as-tall-as-last-year cannas.

I may not have done much in most of the garden but at least I did pay some attention to the rock garden.  It still doesn’t have any rocks but at least the yews are trimmed.  Weird that out of all the things to do this time of year I’d be trimming up little yew meatballs, but there you have it, Saturday’s big job.  Here’s a photo from a few years ago to give you an idea of where we came from.

overgrown yew hedge

Every spring… trim the yews… I finally got so bored with it I let them go, but after a few years the neighbors started talking.

Two years ago I trimmed the yews back to within a few inches of the ground.  It was either that or remove them completely, but after the struggle of taking a single one out (so the electrician could rework the electric service), I suddenly warmed up to the idea of keeping them.  So now I have little yew nuggets along the foundation and an empty south-facing mulch bed which seems perfect for rock garden plants.  I’ve already filled most of it and it’s a constant battle to keep from doubling the size of the bed.

the rock garden

The rock garden.  You may see a single rock to the far right but for the life of me I don’t know how the name started.  -Btw the pine is Pinus densiflora ‘Burke’s Red Variegated’.  I love it. 

Eventually I’ll need to get moving if I really want to be serious about gardening again next year.  Beds need cleaning, plants need saving, things need transplanting.  There’s always plenty to do but in the back of my mind I keep figuring that cold indoor days are coming and I should take advantage of the last warm days.  That probably means doing things, but a little soaking it up doesn’t hurt either.

porch decorations for autumn

We will see how this handles a little frost.  All together I think I found about 20 of the odd little Yugoslavian finger squash once I started looking around out back, and between those and a few mums I think we’re decorated.

Tomorrow I’ll be running around.  Or not.  Most of the geraniums, amaryllis, and cordyline spikes can handle a little frost and should be ok for another week or so, so I guess it all comes down to seeing how long I can postpone the inevitable.

overwinter geraniums

Geraniums (pelargoniums) lined up and ready to come in.  Between these and a few cuttings already under lights I think I can give any geranium-loving granny a good run for her money.    

Frost will come, the garden will go to bed, and the dreams of spring will start.  I’m sure there are still plenty of perfect days to come but for now I’m dreading the end, and even worse when the clocks fall back next weekend.  I wonder if it’s too early to start thinking about snowdrops.

… haha, who am I kidding, I’ve already been obsessing about them for the last month!

Have a great week, and maybe you can find something pleasant in the soft light, beautiful colors, and crisp air of autumn 😉

Thursday’s Feature: Colchicums!

As one considers the winding down of summer and the general decay of the growing season… as I suppose one should on this first day of autumn… there do seem to be a few positive notes which make the changing of the seasons more bearable.  While other things die or flee in response to cooler temperatures and weakened sunshine, a few plants spring to life, and if you count yourself among the optimists you could almost consider this to be the start of a new growing season with flushes of new foliage for the cooler weather, healthy root growth and spring buds forming below ground, and the first of the autumn flowers.  “Good for you” I say since I am not a lover of fall and its frosty death, but even I will admit colchicums make it easier to cope, and the fresh blooms at this time of year make it all seem a little less final.

With those cheery thoughts in mind I’m again joining Kimberley at Cosmos and Cleome for her Thursday Feature, and the flowers of the autumn crocus or naked ladies (Colchicums) are what stand out in my garden this week.

colchicum nancy lindsay

A reliable Colchicum with smaller flowers and colored flower stems, Colchicum ‘Nancy Lindsay’ would be on the short list of favorites.

As a good blogger I should take this opportunity to discuss the various details of researched growing conditions and also cover the finer points of colchicum cultivation but as you may have already guessed from previous posts I bore easily and tend to laziness, so to be honest I’d recommend getting that book learnin’ elsewhere.  I’m more of a stick it in the ground and see if it grows kind of guy, so if you don’t mind, click on >this link< and you’ll find a few of Kathy’s posts over at Cold Climate Gardening which should do very nicely to fill the void I leave.  She’s like a crazy cat lady of colchicums, and in addition to growing, showing, sharing, and speaking on colchicums, she also does an excellent job of putting that information online.  She’s also a wonderful person, so I hope she finds neither ‘crazy’ nor ‘cat lady’ offensive since I would hate to offend her good nature.

colchicum innocence

Colchicum run a range of pink shades from dark to light, but the odd white form really lights up an autumn bed.  Here’s Colchicum ‘Innocence’.  Decent sized blooms, slight pink tint when you look for it, and a good grower.

Better sources of information aside, I guess I should mention some of the barest essentials of Colchicums.  They bloom bare, without foliage, hence the common name of naked ladies.  Their bloom shape resembles that of crocus, hence the name autumn crocus -although they share no family relation whatsoever.  Of course being unrelated to crocus is not the worst thing since wildlife love the crocus around here yet completely avoid the poisonous parts of colchicums.

In the early spring, colchicums quickly grow leafy, hosta-like foliage but then yellow and disappear once the weather heats up.  Decent, well drained soil, sun or part shade (the more sun in spring the better), and hope for the best.

colchicum foliage

Spring species tulips and the springtime foliage of colchicums growing in the lawn.

With their fall blooms, colchicum are a bit of an oddity when compared to the regular spring and summer flowers of most bulb catalogs.  Maybe this is why they seem expensive when compared to the mass produced spring bulbs, but don’t let it fool you.  They might require some special handling and storing, but overall  it’s an easy group to grow.  If I have one bit of advice which may be helpful it’s to plant shallowly in heavy soils.  The flowers seem to struggle when sprouting up out of hard-packed soil, and if they can’t make it up chances are the spring foliage won’t make it either, and your special new bulb will die.  Cover loosely I say, and if the bulbs (actually corms btw) are already flowering, do not cover the flowers with dirt and expect them to rise up out of the soil.  The flowers, and foliage as well, seem to take advantage of the old, dried floral tubes and follow these paths up out of the soil.  When newly planted, the tunnels from last year no longer exist, so to get around this plant shallowly and cover with some mulch once flowering is finished and you should be in good shape.

colchicum lilac wonder

Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in grass.  If planting in lawns, be prepared to hold back on mowing until the foliage has yellowed off.  I like a field of gone-to-seed grass swaying in the breeze in June.  You may not.

Over the last two years I’ve been adding colchicums to the meadow garden, and so far have been pleased enough to want to add more this fall.  I’m hoping they do well enough amongst the root completion of the grass and so far so good on that.  Another plus is I prefer the flowers when set off by the green grass, even though in most years this area usually has more of a brown grass look to it.

colchicum lilac wonder

More Colchicum ‘Lilac Wonder’ planted in the meadow garden. This is my favorite colchicum right now, it really does well here.

colchicum in meadow grass

A more sparse planting of an unknown colchicum.  This one will sulk if the spring is too short or dry, or isn’t exactly to its liking.  I’d blame the lawn, but the same lack of blooming happens in my flower beds as well.

I’m going to wrap it up here since although I can stare at and talk colchicums for hours in the garden, I am way past the limits of my attention span here at the computer.  But before ending I have to show Colchicum x aggripinum and the remarkable pattern of its blooms.  Many colchicums show tessellation in their flowers and of the ones I grow this one shows it best.

colchicum x aggripinum

The smaller, shorter foliage and flowers of colchicum x aggripinum still show up very well in the garden.  This clump liked being divided last summer, but didn’t like the late freeze and short spring we had, so I hope it fills in better next year.

colchicum x aggripinum

Tessellation on a flower of colchicum x aggripinum.  I love this patterning.

If you’ve made it this far I might as well apologize while I still have your attention.  There are still a few weeks left in the colchicum season and it’s very likely you’ll see more of them at some point or another as I try to work my way through this otherwise miserable new season.  In the meantime though, please consider giving Kimberley a visit to see what she and others are posting about this Thursday.  Perhaps they have a higher opinion of autumn.

One word…. Dichelostemma

I inherited my mother’s habit of randomly picking up and trying out just about any odd, looks-like-it-might-be-nice bulb that shows up in the garden center’s bins.  Together we’ve failed at freesia, ranunculus, ixia… but every now and then something gives a surprise, and lately it’s been Dichelostemma.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Dichelostemma ‘Pink Diamond’ out in the meadow garden

The first one which made its way into the garden was a selected form of the naturally occurring hybrid ‘Pink Diamond’.  I love the totally tubular pink flowers and the waxy thickness of the blooms and was surprised it actually grew since the bulbs came via a November closeout sale, and late planting into a cold, wet clayish soil is typically not a recipe for success for drought tolerant bulbs from the western reaches of North America.  But they came up fine the next spring and when the wiry flower stalks matured to bright pink clusters of bloom in June I was hooked.

dichelostemma pink diamond

Daisies and Dichelostemma in front of a worse for wear Queen of the Prairie.  The Queen still presides over the back forty, but between acidic rainfall and wayward groundhog nibbling her reign may soon be coming to an end.

‘Pink Diamond’ may or may not become a permanent resident in the meadow.  The first planting returned to bloom the second year but has not put up flowers in the third.  I blame rabbits for nibbling too much of the spring foliage, but we will see what happens next year, as this spring with all the new crocus flowers to chose from the rabbits didn’t quite get to the Dichelostemma foliage before moving on to freshly planted lettuce and broccoli in the vegetable garden.

The ‘other’ Dichelostemma (D. congestum) has been going strong though, putting up its beautiful lilac-purple flower clusters for three years now… in spite of also being nibbled.

dichelostemma congestum

Dichelostemma congestum has the common name of fork toothed Ookow.  When you get tired of introducing guests to your dichelostemma I’m sure switching to the common name will clear things up. 

I love how these plants look among the weeds and grass of the meadow.  I can imagine this isn’t entirely unlike their native habitat in the Western edges of the continent and from a gardeners point of view the yellowing foliage is completely disguised by the surrounding greenery.  Not to get distracted, but I wonder how alliums would work out back here since many of those also share the trick of letting their foliage go to pot just as the blooms reach their peak.

Dichelostemma ida-maia is my last of the D’s and I suppose ‘firecracker plant’ is a decent common name for this one…. although it’s no Ookow.

dichelostemma ida-maia

Dichelostemma ida-maia.  The shape and color of this flower has ‘hummingbird plant’ written all over it.

Besides adding more ‘Pink Diamond’ last fall, I also put in a few D. ida-maia… in spite of my thoughts that I wouldn’t like them.  I was completely wrong in my lack of enthusiasm.  The sad anemic version I saw a few years ago is nothing like the group I now have swaying in the dappled light amongst the grass.  I’m far too greedy a collector to commit large spaces to a single plant but I would have no problem adding another hundred or two (versus the 10 I started with) to this end of the meadow, which is entirely do-able since these small bulb are relatively cheap even when not on clearance.

dichelostemma ida-maia

I trimmed up the lower limbs of the aspen and love the Rocky Mountain glade effect it has given.  Add a Western NA native Dichelostemma ida-maia and we may be on to something here 😉

I’m not sure what the hardiness on these plants (both species and their hybrid daughter) is.  To be honest I didn’t think they would make it through their first careless planting (really careless… cold November fingers so one shovel swipe into the turf, dump bag contents into hole and stomp sod clod down again on top), but they did survive, and it was a winter where our lows reached -6F (-21C) with a solidly frozen soil for months.  So they’re at least that hardy, and I think the extreme summer dryness of the meadow also helps them return in spite of any issues with poorly drained, wet winter soils.

Dichelostemma.  Think about it.  I think they’re pretty cool.

Spring keeps rolling along

As it is with most things here, the gardener is not exactly on schedule with his gardening.  He’s not exactly on schedule with many things, but the late freeze and the discouraging damage it did to so many spring greens has left him slightly unmotivated.  Then the relentless rain and cold damp brought on rot, and now dry weather is bringing spider mites to the phlox.  So the gardener will restart his spring in mid May and deal with the mites.  He’ll also accept that many projects will again not happen, and will just clear his conscience and move on.  Iris are beginning to bloom after all, and once the iris start to fill the flowerbeds with color and perfume it’s hard to hold onto a black mood.

narcissus keats

One of my last daffodils to open, narcissus ‘Keats’ was voted ‘ugliest thing to bloom’ by a more serious daffodil friend.  I’m always one to love the underdog. 

One minor project (which seems to be the only project type I’m capable of tackling this spring) which was finally taken care of was the long suffering heuchera plantings.  A few summers ago I dipped my toes into the hybrid heuchera world and since then they’ve been suffering along in my garden.  My planting beds get too dry, my shade isn’t as high and dappled as they’d like, and my soil is too heavy for their roots but I try nonetheless.  They still have plenty of filling in to do but if you saw the before picture I’m sure you’d agree this is an improvement.  Unfortunately the tan lawn clipping mulch doesn’t do much to set the foliage off, but it’s better than weeds I suppose.

transplant and divide heuchera

The woody stems of the heuchera clumps were dug up, ripped apart and carelessly stuffed back in to the re-dug bed and the plants actually look much happier after their tough love treatment.    

As summer heat settles down on the garden this holiday weekend, I just wanted to celebrate the meadow and a few of the newer plantings which did well this spring.  Number one on the list were the tulip clusiana bulbs which planted into the turf.  They looked perfect out there and I hope they return just as nicely next spring.

tulipa clusiana

Tulip clusiana (I think they were a named variety but I’ll need to dig out the tag) were scattered around in the meadow garden.  I will be extremely happy if they settle in here!

A few Anemone blanda look nice in the shadier parts of the lawn.  I tried throwing them around in several of the outer edges of the garden and then promptly forgot until little sparkles of blue started showing up here and there.  My goal for this one is to recreate the neglected show which used to pop up each spring around my first apartment in upstate NY.  If this plant can naturalize around a ramshackle college boarding house I think it stands half a chance here.

blue anemone blanda

Blue Anemone blanda in the “lawn”. 

Muscari is practically a weed everywhere so I added a few of those as well.  The flowers on these grape hyacinths were nice enough but now I keep looking at the seed heads with their kind-of aqua tint.  I wonder if it was the cooler temperatures or if they’ll always have this attractive look…. or is it just me that thinks they look cool?

muscari seed pods

Seed heads on the grape hyacinths (Muscari).  In other parts of the garden I clip them off to limit their seeding around, but here I’ll risk it 🙂

Most of the bulbs were brought in as bulbs, but if you know me you know there are a few seeds coming along as well.  My little gravel covered pots are bursting with new plants this spring and even though the last freeze did a few things in the majority seemed to enjoy our mild winter.  I’m always a bit surprised anything will grow up through gravel, but in some pots even the tiniest of seedlings make a crowded moss of new green sprouts…. which will soon desperately need thinning!

hypericum albury purple

Hundreds of Hypericum ‘Albury Purple’ seedlings sprouting in the center pot. Realistically I need about two.

With new seedlings coming along each spring there are always new surprises as youngsters open their first blooms.  A couple years ago I thought I’d dabble in a few species anemones and see how they do in the meadow, and although I’m not sure they’re all correctly labeled, for now I’m just enjoying them for whatever they are.

aneomone caroliniana

Not Anemone caroliniana?  Pretty regardless, and it looks like it might be able to hold its own if I move it out into the thinner areas of grass.  

One seedling which has a positive ID is this cool little Japanese Jack-in-the-pulpit or snow rice-cake plant (Arisaema sikokianum).  I was surprised to see any of these three year old seedlings flower, and although the actual flower is definitely on the small side for this species they say size doesn’t matter in these things and I’ll just keep admiring the fancy little bloom.

arisaema sikokianum

Arisaema sikokianum.  Although my picture doesn’t do it justice, I hope you can appreciate the mottled foliage and bright contrasts of this flower. 

So that’s the basic update.  I promise this will be the last time I moan about freezes and such, but I can’t promise some other weather event won’t come along shortly to take its place.  Whatever happens it’s a great iris weekend and I’m sure I’ll be going on about that next 🙂

Snowdrops part II

By now I’m going to guess several of you know I have a “thing” for snowdrops.  It’s a lonely thing since my nearest fellow snowdrop lover lives miles and miles away, but it’s a thing and like all things you just have to deal with it.  With that said I will forgive anyone who glosses over this post since not everyone will ‘get’ this thing, and many will not even want to appear as encouraging this thing, but that’s fine.  Once the daffodils open I’ll move on and we can again comfortably ignore my little secret until next year.

Luckily for you the season is practically over in my garden (so this will not drag on for the weeks which it normally does)  and here’s only just the briefest summary of a few of my favorites from this year’s snowdrop season.  We will begin with a new one, ‘Daphne’s Scissors’, which came via Carolyn’s Shade Gardens last spring.

galanthus daphnes scissors

Galanthus ‘Daphnes Scissors’, an early bloomer with me and early enough to open at the same time as the winter aconite (Eranthis Hyemalis).

‘Blonde Inge’ sometimes gives trouble as far as her blonde highlights go, but this year there’s a nice touch of yellow to the insides of her flowers.  This is her third year in the garden and she seems to be settling in nicely.

galanthus blonde inge

Galanthus ‘Blonde Inge’, the covergirl for Naomi Slade’s great little book “The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops” which I had the pleasure of reading this winter.

I’m trying to stick to snowdrops which don’t all fall under the same old same old category… this is still a stretch since green-white-yellow is the slightly limiting range which we’re always working with, but to the obsessed even the plain old white and green can be something special 🙂

galanthus straffan

Galanthus ‘Straffan’, an oldie but goodie which has been gracing the gardens of snowdrop lovers since 1858.  This is year three for my plant and I’m quite pleased to see its graceful upright blooms multiplying.  Maybe someday I’ll be up to the hundreds you see in other gardens 🙂

Galanthus ‘MoretonMills’ was the first expensive snowdrop I splurged on.  I won’t say how much I paid but it was a ridiculous amount for such a tiny little thing and each spring I hold my breath until it sprouts.  Fortunately it’s one of my favorites and is also beginning to multiply.

galanthus moreton mills

Galanthus ‘Moreton Mills’, a poculiform snowdrop where the three inner petals are as long as the three outer petals.  If this plant breaks the four inch barrier I’d call it a growth spurt.

As a variation on the green and white theme, here’s one which is more green and green and white 🙂

galanthus kildare

I love this one, it’s Galanthus ‘Kildare’ doing very well in its second year in the garden.  The blooms are huge. (relatively speaking of course!)

Another of my very favorites is ‘Primrose Warburg’.  It’s been doing very well here and is actually becoming what I could optimistically call a clump.  The downside to collecting unusual little bulbs is that you must often start with just one and to be completely honest a single snowdrop, no matter how special, does not exactly put on a major show in the garden.

galanthus primrose warburg

Galanthus ‘Primrose Warburg’.  Even those who yawn at the sight of snowdrops will acknowledge the bright yellow differences on this one 🙂

I’ll leave you with my lovely little golden snowdrop patch, and repeat that the snowdrop season is essentially over here.  It was a weird one, and for me it was a lame one with harsh late freezes damaging many of the blooms followed by a warm couple days which wilted the rest.  Add a few days out of town for work and snowdrops which came up before my schedule allowed me to fully admire them…. well enough said.  At least I was able to enjoy a few crocus.

natuaralized crocus

All the crocus came up nicely in the meadow garden and even the rabbits couldn’t keep up with them all.  Luckily mother nature and global warming stepped in and wiped them all out with back to back hailstorms.  Oh El Nino, you’re really having your fun this year.

The crocus season felt like it lasted three days.  They burst up and bloomed and then the weather did them in.

dutch crocus

A few of those fat hybrid Dutch crocus growing by the front steps.  To get really nice clumps it helps to dig them up and spread them around every three of four years.  Forgetting where they are and accidently digging them up in June is my method of choice.    

Fortunately there’s still plenty of spring left since it’s only just the end of March.  A cold spell last week slowed everything right back down, but the first weeks of April look remarkably mild and I’m sure there will be plenty of things sprouting up and blooming and helping me ease my snowdrop hangover.  Don’t get your hopes up too much though, I did visit another snowdrop garden last weekend and have one more white and green post yet to come.

If I don’t speak with you before Sunday, have a great Easter!

Plant those bulbs deep

It might be optimism, it might be delusion, it might be weakness, but whatever it is around here there always seems to be an unreasonable amount of bulbs in need of planting….  or there might not be enough.  No one is ever really sure but one thing is definite.  I have never regretted planting too many bulbs, so until I do it’s always better to err on the side of caution and overdo it if possible.

planting spring bulbs

Last weekend I tried to put everything out in order to see exactly what still needs planting.  Tiny bulbs add up, and this innocent collection is well over 1,100 bulbs.

There’s no denying that I’m a bulboholic and I think if you keep up with this blog you already know that fact.  They’re my favorite plant type and for good reason.  Each spring they just explode into growth, bloom like there’s no tomorrow, and then politely fade away, all within a few weeks.  They’re like a spring fling which burns hot and then ends on good terms.

Somehow the bulbs just find me during the summer.  I dig a clump of daffodils to thin them, find a clump of tulips when moving something else, more daffodils come out when I move a bed… before you know it there are bulbs in saucers, bags, and boxes all over the garage, plus a few I pick up at the nursery.  This year an early clearance sale at Van Engelen’s added a few hundred more crocus and muscari.  You can’t overdo crocus and muscari, so obviously those needed to be purchased as well.  Since I don’t enjoy planting bulbs, 850 new crocus corms can border on autumn torture so I try to deal with them as efficiently and quickly as possible.  Here’s a trick I read online which I now love that really moves things along when planting larger numbers of small bulbs.

naturalizing crocus bulbs

Tools of the trade for naturalizing larger numbers of small bulbs in turf.  Gloves, masonry hammer and small bucket stolen from the children.

A masonry hammer seemed necessary at some point for chipping stones and breaking cinderblocks, but it’s now become invaluable for planting small bulbs in the turf of the meadow garden.  Using a shovel is much more work than I’m willing to do and when you’re trying to naturalize bulbs, or make them look like they just seeded out into your lawn on their own, then digging large sections of turf up is just out of the question.  I find the hammer much easier to use.  One swing and it’s into the ground, a pivot back and you have just the hole you need for a tiny bulb or two.

naturalizing crocus and small bulbs

One down, 849 to go.

I start off carefully, trying to get the sprouting end up and the bulb gently eased down into the hole, but after the first 100 they’re getting dropped in and jammed down whichever way works.  A quick swipe with the hammer also closes the hole.  After about an hour and a half (including two 20 minute breaks to unlock my knees and back) all the bulbs were in.  People talk about the joys of gardening but for me I far prefer sitting back after the job’s done and visualizing the results.  I have plenty of other things which need doing in and out of the house, so the less time spent prepping cute little holes and overdoing a job the better.  If one had to sum up my entire bulb planting philosophy I think ‘shallow graves’ might not be the worst term to apply.  For larger tulips and daffodils I’m not above digging out a shovelful or two of dirt, throwing in a handful of bulbs and carelessly kicking the dirt back over them without bothering to prep the soil or put the bulbs right side up again.  In the vegetable garden some bulbs go into trenches so shallow that by the time the compost rots away from above them the tops of the bulbs are actually at the soil surface…. although this has just as much to do with thin soil and poor drainage as it does with a lack of enthusiasm for digging.

shallow tulip bulbs

These tulips might be on the shallow side. The original bulbs have split in two and both appear to be healthy blooming size bulbs, but if left uncovered mice and rabbits will likely find them and have a nibble.

I often read that in order to have bulbs such as tulips last longer and re-bloom reliably they should be planted as deep as possible, sometimes up to a foot deep.  This sounds like a lot of unnecessary work and I’m completely against it.  Perhaps a shallow bulb is more likely to split due to stress such as drought, but for the most part mine come back best when the spring is long and cool, tulips are deadheaded (daffs and hyacinths don’t seem to care), and tulips are either dug up for the summer or not watered in a spot which is nice and dry.  Planting depth, as long as it’s at least a couple inches down, doesn’t seem to factor in much at all and unless someone shows me actual research to prove otherwise I’m going to say deep planting is one of those often repeated bits of advice which don’t really do much here or there.

pink impression tulips

I planted these ‘Pink Impression’ tulips a few years ago and finally got around to getting more this fall. The new bulbs are from a good nursery and huge, so I know they’ll add to an even more awesome show next spring!

So we’ll see this spring if my lazy planting methods pay off again.  Good soil prep and proper planting depth are always a great thing, but I prefer to not overthink gardening.  If a squirrel can successfully plant sunflowers and oak trees throughout my flower beds, and the best iris can survive a year under the compost pile, I think I can pop a few bulbs into the ground without a PhD and still get good results.  I’m already looking forward to seeing the ‘bulked up’  meadow plantings next spring.

crocus lawn of dreams

The crocus plantings in the meadow garden began with approximately 500 bulbs,  this fall I’ve more than doubled that number 🙂

Two issues may still stand in my way.  Rabbits have huge appetites once they discover fresh crocus flowers, so I may have to do something about that come springtime.  The second worry is that the mixed crocus were irresistibly cheap when compared to the single color varieties I had been planting in the past.  Hopefully the Technicolor patches look as nice as the solid color patches I have now.  I did try to keep the single colors closer together and the mixed ones more spread out but who knows how this naturalizing theory will work out in the real garden.  If worse comes to worse the bunnies will make quick work of any mistakes.

Have a great weekend and I’d love to hear which bulbs have made the cut for you this year.  One request though,  please don’t rub it in too much that you’ve already completed your planting 🙂

A lull in the storm

I promise this is the last time I will complain about the brutal freeze which ended our growing season.  I’ll also not mention the weeks of warm weather which followed, and I won’t show a picture of the dahlias which are resprouting due to some misguided notion that winter came and went.  Instead I’ll focus on the mellow colors of autumn which are slowly winding the year down, and I’ll just enjoy the warm lull we’ve been having until winter returns again in earnest.

the front border in autumn

The front border is about as tidy as it will get prior to winter.  Whatever’s left will hopefully hold the snow nicely and keep things interesting until spring returns.  The golfinches approve of the leftover coneflower and sunflower stalks.  

Last weekend I finished up the last of the leaves and tried to wrap up the last of the fall planting and weeding.  I have to admit I like the way the gardens open up and empty out this time of year, and I love the way the fall rains have left a lush green lawn to set off the emptying flower beds.

Muhlenbergia capillaris pink backlight

Earlier in October the pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris)  finally came through and put out the airy pink flowerheads which look so nice in the low autumn light.

Three years after transplanting, my pink muhly grass has finally bothered to bloom.  I’ve come to accept that I’m just too far North to enjoy this plant.  It looked pathetic until August, finally put out enough leaves to look alive by September, and then for 12 days in October it impressed with it’s pink seedheads…. and then was promptly browned out by the first freeze.  The effect is still nice enough, but I wouldn’t have minded a few more weeks of the pink.

pink muhly grass after a freeze

Pink muhly grass after a freeze.  Still nice, but not the amazing, glowing pink you look for in this plant.   

I’m going to give the cultivar ‘Fast Forward’ a try next year.  It’s supposed to be a good month or so earlier than the straight species and also shorter and more compact… although for me the larger size would have been preferable.  I’ve actually already got my hands on one but since it was a small plant and just planted last week I’m not too confident it will make it through the winter.  Fall is not the time to plant anything borderline hardy or more of a warm season grower…. speaking of probably not making it through the winter, my cardoon seedling is really starting to put out some nice leaves.  The freeze didn’t bother it, but as a zone 7 plant I’m really hoping for some serious El Nino luck in getting this thing through the winter.  Any protection suggestions are more than welcome!

young cardoon plant

If this cardoon plant makes it until next year I’ll be thrilled.  Bigger leaves with artichoke-like fluorescent purple flowers would be the highlight of 2016 I’m sure 🙂

Something which will have no problems this winter is the Virginia creeper.  This year brought on a good crop of the grape-like fruits, and I’m sure they’ll be sprouting up all over as a gift from the birds…. just like this plant was.

Parthenocissus quinquefolia berries Virginia creeper

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) minus it’s bright red fall color, but still interesting with its raisin like fruit.

The rest of the garden is clearing out.  Leaves are mulched, the vegetable garden is tucked in, and there’s already interest in spring flowers.  I love how good hellebores look at this time of year, they love the cool temperatures and extra moisture and if all goes well this spring I may have my best hellebore show yet.

hellebores ready for winter

Hellebore seedlings showing promise for next year.  Hopefully we’ll see a few blooms next year since these are supposedly yellow seedlings and haven’t yet shown their true colors.

Back towards the meadow garden things are just waiting for snow.  I’m glad I left a bunch of the little bluestem since it’s gone through such a nice color change from green to yellows to reds to tans now.  With the rest of the yard mowed, it keeps things somewhat interesting back there.  Something I’m not too glad I left is the littleleaf linden (Tilia cordata) seedling which showed up among the phlox.  I’ve been ignoring it for years, but at six feet I think it’s time to make a decision.  The mother plant is so popular with the bees and so fragrant I just hate to weed it out…. but a second linden is one more than this yard needs.

autumn cleanup in the vegetable garden

Mid November in the vegetable garden.  Yet again the phlox have not been divided, and there’s a huge linden tree weed, but at least I’m getting some mulched leaves down to save on next year’s bed prep.

There’s little chance of dealing with the linden this fall.  It would do fine with a transplant at this time of year, but with 14 pounds of crocus and daffodils sitting in the living room I have other things calling for my attention.  I should have no problem getting a few in tomorrow… unless I first deal with the dozens of daffodils and tulips which I already had from this summer’s bed renovation.

Whoever said November was a time for gardeners to kick back and relax obviously didn’t procrastinate planting spring bulbs nor succumb to early clearance sales.  Hopefully your autumn is much more relaxing 🙂