Making up for lost time

The first few weeks of spring all happened in four days, four gloriously warm and sunny days!  I prefer a drawn out cool season with no big shocks but I don’t think that will be the case this year.  Last Saturday went up to just over 80F (27C) and the drab gray garden exploded into color.

narcissus tete a tete

Narcissus “Tete a Tete” one of the best small, early daffodils for the garden and also for forcing in pots.

Just a few days ago we were freezing our kazooies off looking at snowdrops, now I’m rushing to admire the last spring snowflake (leucojum vernum) before the warm weather fries its delicate bloom.  It’s hanging on in a cold spot which only just thawed out last week.

leucojum vernum

Leucojum vernum the spring snowflake, that’s a flake, not a drop, even though snowdrops are a close relative.

Around front, the shelter of the house has things popping up even faster.  Corydalis “George Baker?” and the hellebores opened in two days, the hyacinth was a fat bud Sunday and then full bloom on Monday when I took this picture.

hellebores and corydalis

I have good luck with hyacinths.  In fact the blooms get so big and heavy they end up flopping when fully open.  This little piglet has been in the same spot for five years and has a bloom bigger than ever, plus two secondary stalks.  If only the yucca “colorguard” behind wasn’t so beat up by the winter….

how I like all my hyacinths to grow

The hard winter may have been good for something though.  This is the first spring I’ve ever seen corydalis seedlings, and Carolyn over at Carolyn’s Shade Garden said she notices an abundance of seedlings around her plants after a snowier winter.  Maybe the snow cover helps moderate the soil moisture or temperature and aids in germination or maybe after all the snow we’re just looking more desperately and notice every single green sprout!

corydalis solida seedlings

Corydalis seedlings, I first thought they were some odd one-leafed clover that needed weeding out!

Corydalis are one of my new favorites, and the most confusing thing about the seedlings is I never even noticed the seed pods forming… and trust me I was looking!  I have it in my head to nurture nice swaths of corydalis color similar to the showcase found in Carolyn’s garden.  The ones I have here (“George Baker and “Beth Evans”) were originally ordered from Brent and Becky’s and are exactly the bold colors I’m looking for.  I also added some straight species corydalis solida from Van Engelen’s,  but they’re just a little too pale and small and actually seem to be dying out.

corydalis and scilla "spring beauty"

Corydalis solida with blue scilla siberica “Spring Beauty” and Chiondoxas…. and finally some greening grass.

Corydalis really appreciate division and replanting, and this single bulb moved the year before last is already a nice little clump.  You just have to get to them quick though, they die down fast after blooming and it’s hard to remember where they were.

corydalis george baker

Corydalis “George Baker” with some hyacinths in need of division and replanting.

My focus for the last few days has been getting the cleanup done so everything can sprout up all nice and fresh.  Some people are concerned that early cleanups leave the little sprouts exposed to late frosts, but I never have a problem.  Actually I feel that mulched areas warm up in the sun more quickly than damp exposed earth, but overall it’s the mid May freezes that kill my plants, not the cold blasts in March and April, so I clean up as soon as I can get out there.  It lets me see all the weeds such as this campanula that has taken over most of what was supposed to be an iris bed.

kids in the garden

Cleanup includes taking the seeds out from under the deck.  What was I thinking when I started all these!?  Even if I get rid of all the campanula plus some more lawn, there still might not be enough room for planting out all these seedlings.  A few pots already show sprouts btw.

seeds sown in winter

Seed pots sown throughout fall and winter and left to stratify (exposed to the elements) under the deck.

Daffodils will also need some attention this summer.  The first are opening and I’d like to divide several of these clumps after they die back.  Here’s the early yellow “Peeping Tom” and some unknown bicolor that I’d love to put a name to.

daffodil peeping tom

Some of the daffodil beds got a nice mulch of mowed up maple leaves last fall, but they only go so far.  As I clean out the flower beds everything from leaves to perennial stalks to shrub trimmings to ornamental grass tops, all gets run over by the mower and bagged up to either mulch beds or feed the compost.  The warm weather brought up this clump of narcissus “Rapture” so fast, I barely had time to get the mulch around it before the blooms opened.

narcissus rapture

Narcissus “Rapture” opening so fast in the warm weather the blooms barely had time to make it up out of the ground.

I really should use some of these early daffodils out in the front beds along with a few of these blue chiondoxas.  This clump was actually just a weed which hitchhiked in on some scilla mischtschenkoana bulbs which share this same spot.  Six days prior the scilla was in full bloom and there wasn’t a sign of the chiondoxa.  Now look at it!

chiondoxa forbesii

A clump of what might be chiondoxa forbesii… don’t know for sure since I never really planted it 🙂

There’s nothing subtle about spring in my garden.  Besides yard cleanup I planted these pansies out in pots by the front door, and although these are in a more subtle grayish pot, the rest were planted in a bright cobalt pot!  Planter choices aside,  I may be on to something with the pansy mix.  Christina over at Creating my own garden of the Hesperides used a similar color mix for an arrangement of Gerber daisies, and I’m going to be on the lookout for my own daisies in these colors too.

matrix daffodil mix pansies

‘daffodil mix’ Matrix pansies

So that brings us to the next flush of color.  The hellebores are also starting to open up in the exposed parts of the garden.  Here’s “HGC Silvermoon” still looking kind of greenish.  The foliage on this one is great and I’m jealous of gardeners who are able to get it through the winter with leaves worth looking at.

hgc silvermoon

Hellebore “HGC Silvermoon” just starting to open up. Too bad the nice foliage on this one was burnt up by the cold.

And one of the first Elizabethtown seedlings just starting to come up.

pink hellebore

A nice freckled hellebore from Elizabethtown seed.

So spring is finally here in full force, just in time for Easter.  There are still a few bumps in the road …..such as last night’s snowfall and low of 21F (-6C) but I think we’ll make it.  I just have to find the time to catch up on all the things that were on hold because of the weather.  It’s way too early to fall behind!

Thinking of next year yet?

I’m still in denial that summer is winding down.  Every sunny day and higher temperature reading gives me hope the warmth is still holding on, but eventually I’ll need to come to terms with winter’s approach.  My least favorite season is just about here and it’s time to shake off that summertime laziness and start making plans.

By least favorite season I mean fall.  I dread the fall shutdown that plants go through and the first frost.  Even  the fall foliage looks to me like death warmed over.  The best thing about fall is all the planting, and for hardy bulbs fall is the number one planting season.  Although I was lost in tulips this spring, it’s daffodils that I really like, and in order to convince you to get more too I dredged up a couple pictures from the good old days of spring.daffodil accent

‘Accent “(1960- the year this daff was registered) is a great daffodil, it has a medium pink cup (corona) surrounded by pure white petals (perianth).  The color is reliable, the plant is reliable, and it’s not too hard to find.  I like fancy things too, but reliable fills a garden every spring with beautiful blooms, and in this next (over exposed) picture “accent” is paired with another great, reliable one (and one of my real favorites) “Tahiti”(1956).

daffodil tahiti and accent

daffodil pink charmThere are thousands of named daffodils out there and thousands of ways to pick the best ones for your garden.  Picking up a bag at the box store is fine and inexpensive and a good starting point but if you begin to get serious take a look at the Wister Award winners.  It’s an American Daffodil Society award for outstanding garden daffodils and will give you a shopping list of the best daffodils for your garden.

Another good pink is “Pink Charm” (1977), it’s a little newer than “accent” and only just a bit different with more white in the cup, but for two years I’ve been impressed with the opening color and then the later blend of pink fading to white in the center.daffodil pink charm

“Passionale”(1956) is a strong growing older pink.  The flowers open with a yellowish tint to the cup which is common for these older varieties.  In daffodils, pink is a relatively new color for breeders, and it’s been a long journey to separate the color and strengthen it to a ‘real’ pink color.daffodil passionale

Daffodil breeders are always tinkering with their favorites but they generally fall into 13 divisions.  To take a look at some of the fanciest and newest examples of each division click here“Palmaries”(1973) falls into the split cup category.  It’s frillier and flouncier than what I usually like, but it has been doing well in my garden.daffodil palmaries

“Newcomer”(1992) has the saturated darker pink of a newer introduction.  It won’t be an easy daff to find but does show the long lasting pure colors of a modern daffodil.daffodil newcomer

“Sagitta”(2007) shows one of the newest combinations, yellow-pink.  This one will likely be a very popular daffodil, so far it’s been a great grower, multiplier, and bloomer for me and I love it.daffodil sagitta

But there’s nothing wrong with a yellow trumpet daffodil.  Since “King Alfred” was registered in 1899 new yellow daffodils continue to come out with stronger blooms, colors, and growth habits.  The true King Alfred is tough to find today since years of slapping the name onto any yellow daffodil has muddied the water, but with so many solid yellows such as “Primeur”(1978), how can you go wrong?daffodil primeur

daffodil peeping tomMy favorite group of daffodils are the cyclamineus types.  Daffodils in this group all share the reflexed petals and long trumpets of the original narcissus cyclamineus species.  “Peeping Tom” (1948) is on the top of my list, it’s an oldie but I love the long trumpet, wide flare and early bloom season.

Another one in this group that’s doing well for me is “Jetfire” (1966).  It’s a good grower with a little orange in the trumpet (more so in cooler springs) but it’s a little stubbier and shorter than “Peeping Tom”.daffodil jetfire

daffodil wisleyIf you can’t find “Peeping Tom” (I don’t see it in many catalogs any more) you could try out one of it’s children.  “Wisley”(2004) comes from the seeds of a Peeping Tom cross.  It’s new for me, but the flowers have a love-it or hate-it look that I’m still trying to figure out.

If you’re ever looking for daffodil info, Daff Seek pretty much has it all.  It’s the searchable database of the American Daffodil Society and has photos and information on most registered daffodils…. plus interesting tidbits such as daffodil lineage and breeding info.

My latest color craze has been the yellow red combo.  “Serola”(1986) is a great one that multiplies well, doesn’t fade in the sun, and is bright!daffodil serola

daffodil montego“Montego” (1968) has the same colors in a smaller rim of red.  I might have gone overboard with this color range in the last few years but I really do like them.  If you’re unsure where to start with your own daffodil quest, but ready to move past the generic offerings, start with  Brent and Becky’s.  Even if you end up ordering elsewhere, they probably offer the best selection of good varieties and don’t carry the duds.  Some of the best sources for bulk daffodils are Van Engelen and Colorblends.  Just be careful, before you know it you’ll be looking up the specialists such as Mitsch’s and Cherry Creek and really killing your gardening budget.

Ok one more yellow-red.  “Molten Lava” (1987) has slightly more subtle coloring, but still rich tones. daffodil molten lava

White never goes out of style and “Misty Glen” (1976) is a great daffodil in white.  Over 40 other registered daffodils trace their roots to this variety and it’s won many awards.  It’s one of the best daffodils.daffodil misty glen

daffodil excitementIf you still don’t feel the need to add more daffodils, here’s another try.  The small cupped daffodils such as “excitement” (2001) also come in all kinds of color combos just like the big guys.

Beyond the big and little cups and the trumpets there are still thousands of “other” daffodils out there.  They’re all just different expressions of the genus Narcissus.  The name daffodil is just a common name most people apply to the bigger trumpet sorts but it works for all of them.

Some of the other types have unique traits that can be traced back to one of the original narcissus species. “Geranium” (pre 1930) is a reliable, hardy tazetta type which shows the clustered blooms and fragrance of this of this group.  I might put this one on my top 10 best daffodil list, but with so many new types to distract me, I sometimes forget about the multiple award winners like Geranium. daffodil geranium

Paperwhites are a well known member of the tazetta group, they’re just not hardy enough to grow up in this part of Pennsylvania.  One that does suffer through is “Erlicheer” (pre 1951), it’s listed as a double but tazetta blood runs through it’s veins.  The problem for me with Erlicheer is its early sprouting habit anytime there’s a break in winter temperatures.  You can see how all the leaf tips have been burnt by cold snaps that came along after growth started.  Too much cold combined with too active growth will eventually kill these.  Sometimes erlicheer is sold as a “summer daffodil” because they don’t need the deep freeze of winter in order to bloom.  You can plant them in the spring, have summer flowers, but they’ll be back to normal spring flowering the following year.  daffodil erlicheer

I never meant for this to be such a long post, but daffodils are so easy to grow…… and I admit I’m slightly addicted.

Here’s an example of one of the poeticus types.  “Pentucket” (pre 1946) might be hard to find, but there are several look alikes out there.  Poeticus daffodils (the Poet narcissus) have been grown since ancient times and are most likely the daffodil referenced in Greek poetry and myth.  Today they are grown by the perfume industry for the narcissus oil they produce and apparently it’s one of the most popular fragrances…. oddly enough I don’t pick up much scent in these.

daffodil pentucket

daffodil baby boomer

So plan ahead for spring and get some more daffodils in the ground!  Even if it’s a dainty non-daff like “Baby Boomer” (pre 2008) they’re all equally easy to plant.  I find the easiest method to plant daffodils is to take out the big shovel, scoop out one or two shovel-fulls of dirt, dump the bulbs in, and cover.  You don’t need to set the bulbs correctly (although I usually do put them pointy side up) and your regular soil should be fine without improvements, just get them in the ground!

Good luck, and I’d love to hear how your bulb ordering and planting is going:)