Search May Dreams Gardens

Friday, November 30, 2007

GBBC Virtual Meeting for November

Welcome to the November meeting of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club. Once again we virtually meet to share our thoughts on a book, this time, it's Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perènyi.

Thank you to everyone who posted for the book club!

How best to start our virtual discussion? I recommend if you haven’t read any of the reviews that you start with Annie in Austin’s review, the first one listed, as she provided some excellent background information on who Eleanor is.

Annie at The Transplantable Rose

Then you can dive into the rest of the reviews and thoughts on the book in the order received or found.

Nan from Letters a Hill Farm

Jodi at Bloomingwriter

Carol at May Dreams Gardens

Mr. McGregor’s Daughter

Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening

Kris at Blithewold

Colleen at In the Garden Online

Entangled at Tangled Branches: Cultivated

Don (IBoy) at An Iowa Garden (Not sure he was officially posting for the book club, but he wrote some thoughts based on what Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening wrote, so I included a link).

Old Roses at A Gardening Year

Now, before you head off and say “that was nice, let’s move on to the next selection of the book club”, how about some virtual discussion? I’ll start us off with some questions to think about…

Over the last year, for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, several of us have now read books by Henry Mitchell, Charles Dudley Warner and Karel Capek, along with Eleanor Perenyi and some correspondence by Elizabeth Lawrence and Katharine S. White. As a gardener, who did you feel most in sync with and why?

If you could invite only one of these writers to dinner for a nice long discussion on gardening, who would you invite? What would you ask them?

Or is there some better garden essayist that we’ve missed out on? Who would that be?

Is there one particular thought or quote from this book or any one of the books we've read in the past that is your favorite that you think of at odd times out in the garden? What is it?

What did you like best about Perenyi's book? If you could talk to her today (and she is still alive, so it is quite possible) what would you say to her? Is there anything in her book that you would like her to clarify or expand upon?

Any other ideas to invoke discussion?

Answer as many or as few questions as you'd like. Maybe even throw out a controversial answer that will get us all stirred up! Wouldn't that be fun?!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Where Do You Get Inspiration for Garden Design?

(Frost on Autumn Joy sedum... late fall is definitely feeling a lot like winter.)

When you are summoned to jury duty, take a book with you. In fact, take a good gardening book with you.

Guess who had to report for jury duty today?

Jury duty, as it turned out, was a mighty good opportunity to start reading the next selection of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, Dear Friend and Gardener by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.

I’m a good citizen and potential juror, so of course I stopped reading when the nice lady gave us instructions on filling out forms and taking breaks and showed us a video about what to expect if we actually served on a jury. I also looked up from my book whenever she called out the names of those who needed to go off to a courtroom. Yes, I was on time, cooperative, and attentive when I needed to be.

But the rest of the time, I was transported to England becoming acquainted with “Beth and Christo” through their correspondence back and forth. I felt as though I was eavesdropping on their conversations or had snuck in to one of their homes and was reading letters left out on their writing desks.

As I started reading this book, I got the sense that this winter might turn out like last winter, when I read Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence – A Friendship in Letters. After reading that book of letters between those two gardeners, I read a biography of Elizabeth Lawrence and one of her books and I have in my library a biography of White, still to be read, and her book, Onward and Upward in the Garden, half read.

After I read Dear Friend and Gardener, I suspect I’ll want to read a book or two by Christopher Lloyd and a book by Beth Chatto. I already have several books by Lloyd in my library, but not by Chatto. Does anyone have any recommendations?

For those still considering if they want to join several of us in reading Dear Friend and Gardener for the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club, here’s a little snippet written by Beth in a letter to Christopher Lloyd.

“Personally, I think we may have a wider approach to garden design if we have been helped to appreciate other forms of art; to be aware of basic principles – balance, repetition, harmony, and simplicity – which apply to all forms of creativity. To look for these ideas in painting and architecture, or hear them in music, has certainly influenced me as much as knowing whether to put a plant in the shade, or in full sun.”

Just think about that for awhile. Think about your own garden design. Is it enhanced through exposure to other arts? Do you see a great painting or hear some music that gives you a great idea for your garden? Where do you get your inspiration for garden design?

(Jury duty? As it turned out, my name was never called to go to a courtroom, so I was done by 11:30, thanked for coming, and released to return to work.)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Top Ten From May Dreams Gardens

What brings the world to this little blog of mine? I’ve posted before about curious search terms that have lead people to a page or two on my blog.

Now once again, prompted by Robin (Bumblebee), I’ve looked through some stats and data to see not necessarily what search terms people are using to find my blog but which posts are viewed most often. Sometimes people find these posts via a search and sometimes they find them via a link from someplace else.

Regardless of how they got to them, here are what appear to be the current Top Ten Posts of May Dreams Gardens viewed in the last six months.

10. Magical Night Update: A Special Bloom Event which is all about my night-blooming cereus blooming this past summer. I took pictures throughout the evening to show how “relatively quickly” the flower opens in the evening.

9. Bulbs and bulb vases is about forcing both hyacinths and amaryllis bulbs on bulb vases. I have one piece of advice on using a bulb vase for an amaryllis. Don’t do it! I actually bought an amaryllis vase, and it failed miserably. There is just no way to support the amaryllis flower stalk and flower when the bulb is sitting on a vase.

8. Lilies That Surprise Me is all about candy lilies and surprise lilies (Lycoris squamigera). You don’t suppose that mentioning that surprise lilies are sometimes called “Naked Ladies” had anything to do with this being a Top Ten post, do you? I also admit in this post how I stupidly planted a particular variegated leaved plant that I knew I shouldn’t have planted!

7. Queen of the Night was my first post about the night blooming cereus blooming. I suppose if I am fortunate enough to have this plant (kept indoors year around) bloom each summer, I’ll post about its blooms each time. I used to think how sad it would be for this plant to bloom when no one was around to enjoy it, now I think it would be sad if it bloomed and I didn’t write a new blog post about it!

6. Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day – July 2007. Need I say more about this? This was probably the height of bloom for everyone, thus many people linked to this post or viewed it to get to all the other posts about blooms on July 15th.

5. A Tale of Two Forsythia Shrubs is a post where I compare two different Forsythia in my garden and the difference in bloom. Plus I showed my sister’s Forsythia in bloom, which some thought was better then either of mine!

4. Hand Digging Hoe – Found it! proves that I’m not the only one who was searching high and low for this wonderful hand digging hoe. I don’t have enough stats on my other blog to know how many people have found my hoe collection, but I’m at least happy to know that one post about hoes was in the Top 10 on this blog. I have a reputation to preserve as the one with the Hoe Collection, after all.

3. Itsy-Bitsy Big Ugly Spiders is about some big ugly spiders in my sister’s backyard. Lots of people are apparently searching for information on “big spiders”. I will tell you if you go visit this post that I was kind enough to put the spider picture at the bottom of the post so you can read about it, but then skip the picture if, like me, you don’t particularly enjoy looking at pictures of spiders. I think that’s just good blog etiquette! Gross spider pictures should be at the bottom of the post and adequate warning given that it is there.

2. New Flower Bed simply shows how I dug a new flower bed around a lamp post by my front sidewalk. I guess a lot of people just want to know about putting in new flower beds.

And the number one viewed post on my blog…

1. The Truth About Burning Bush. Apparently, people want to know the truth about things, like the burning bush, Euonymus alatus. The funny thing is that I don’t even have a burning bush in my garden. The picture of the burning bush above is in my neighbor’s yard.

So what are the top posts on your blog?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop - Paths and Walkways


From the space station, or the moon or somewhere up there, you can see my raised bed vegetable garden with its paths (compliments of Google Earth).

When I take pictures of the garden from ground level, it doesn’t really show how the beds are laid out and you can’t see all the paths.

Good paths are key to a raised bed garden like this.

The paths should be wide enough to accommodate a wheelbarrow and allow you to walk all the way around each raised bed. And they should be covered with mulch or stone or some material that is easy to walk on and keeps the path from getting muddy after it rains. These are clearly utilitarian paths designed to fill the space between the raised beds.

The second kind of path in my garden are shortcuts.
I just added some of these last summer in a few places where I was regularly cutting across a flower bed, rather than walking all the way around it. I want these paths to blend in a bit and not be obvious to others. I think once the plants grow up around them, they will be more hidden. These are my secret shortcuts.

The third kind of path in my garden is the kind of path that should gently guide the visitor to one section or another of the garden. I really only one have of these. As you enter from one side gate, it is pretty clear that you should follow the path and turn to the right, which should take you to the patio area.

But once you get to the patio, my entire yard is exposed in one view. There isn’t much to invite you to go in one direction or another to see what else is there. It’s all there, right before your very eyes.

I think this “all the garden in one big view” is a problem prevalent in a lot of suburban lots which start out as flat expanses of lawn. It might seem like a dream to have such a blank canvas, but it takes a good design, and a pile of money, to turn such a lot into a garden, the kind of garden with paths and views and surprises around the corner. There are no corners! There are no paths! There are no surprises! It is truly a blank slate.

So how would you approach this blank canvas? Would you start with the paths first and then build the beds around those, or would you add various garden beds and let the paths form between them?

Perhaps others who’ve been thinking about paths and walkways as part of the November Garden Bloggers’ Design Workshop hosted by Gardening Gone Wild have some advice to offer?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Underachieving Perennials at May Dreams Gardens

Here at May Dreams Gardens, I’d like to give everyone the impression that all plants grow to their fullest potential. There are no under-achieving plants in my garden!

But since keeping up appearances is so much harder than just telling the truth, I’m following the lead of Jodi at Bloomingwriter and posting about my lack of success with some perennials. Or at least my lack of success with one particular perennial.

This will be therapeutic for me, plus perhaps someone might read this and have some good advice for me to follow to turn my failure into success.


I would love to grow a decent Delphinium, but have failed to do so.

At my previous garden, years ago, I did manage to buy a Delphinium, plant it in the garden and have it bloom. But then it died and didn’t come back. After that experience, and after reading that Delphiniums just don’t do well around here, I gave up. Perennials that behave as annuals and disappear after one year can get quite expensive.

Then last December, Kathy at Cold Climate Gardening wrote a post that mentioned the Foerster hybrid Delphiniums and I decided I should try to grow Delphiniums again.

I found a seed source online and ordered up two packets of seed. I sowed one packet of seed in the spring and got a very high percentage that germinated. My excitement grew, and I started to plan where I would put all these Delphiniums and how I would stake those tall spires of blue flowers in my garden.

Carefully, gently, as the seedlings grew I planted each in its own container. They survived, they continued to grow, but they were still inside.

Once it was reliably warm outside, I decided that my little Delphinium seedlings should go outside to begin to harden off and face the real world. One, two weeks went by. All looked good.

Then one day, I looked closer at my little seedlings and found that something was eating their leaves. Could it be chipmunks? Rabbits? Slugs? I looked and could find nothing obvious eating them. So I set them up on a bench, thinking that if it was chipmunks or rabbits they’d be safe up higher.

The next day, there were hardly any leaves remaining and I found a tiny green worm on what was left of one stem.

But even though my little seedlings no longer had leaves, like any gardener, I continued to water them, hoping that there was just enough of something left, a few plant cells perhaps, to grow another leaf or two, and one or two seedlings would make it.

Soon, I was just watering pots of dirt with no sign of the Delphinums. Finally, in late October I dumped the dirt out of the pots and thought about what might have been.

I had underachieved, failed, again in my quest to grow Delphiniums.

But I’m not giving up! I’ve come too far, invested too much, dreamed too long. I still have the second packet of seeds, which I’ve kept in the refrigerator. I’m going to attempt to winter sow them, and hopefully get a few seedlings with that method. Plus, I’m going to order more seeds to sow again this spring.

I want to be successful at growing Delphiniums. Does anyone have any advice for me?

(By the way, the picture above is obviously not a Delphinium. It is Phlox ‘Crème de Menthe’, a favorite perennial in my garden. Wouldn’t it look good with some tall Delphiniums growing behind it?)

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A Way To Determine Your Level of Gardening Expertise

Over the long weekend, I put up my outdoor Christmas lights. I want it to be festive and bright for the holidays here at May Dreams Gardens, even though we don’t get a lot of traffic on my street.

Without going in to all the gory details, I’ll tell you it took me no less than three, maybe four trips back to various stores to pick up extra light bulbs, another extension cord, and more strings of lights. Putting up Christmas lights outdoors is something I do once a year, so I’m just now getting to the “intermediate” stage of expertise in doing it, as measured by the number of repeat visits to the store to get everything I need.

For any kind of project of this sort, can you determine someone’s skill level, from novice to expert and beyond, based on the number of trips they take to the store to get all the supplies?

I think you can!

So how do you measure up as a gardener when it comes to repeat trips to the garden center every time you do a little gardening?

Novice – You are a novice gardener if you get the urge to pot up a nice container of plants and realize you have neither a container nor potting soil on hand and no plants. After a trip to the garden center, you get home and realize you have no trowels and not enough plants, so you go back to the garden center for these items. You return home, start to plant up the container, and realize you didn’t get enough potting soil. You go back to the garden center again, and in addition to the potting soil, realize you also need a garden hose or watering can, so you buy these, too. At this point, you are seeking out sales help to find out if there is anything else you’ll need to plant up the container.

Intermediate – You’ve reached the intermediate level of gardening expertise when you have the basic tools (trowel, hoe, watering cans, etc.) for gardening and some containers used in previous years. When you decide to plant up a new container of plants, you still have to get some potting soil at the garden center and the plants, and may need an extra trip back because you underestimated how much potting soil you needed or how many plants it would take to fill the container. You seek out a sales person to help you figure out how much potting soil you really need.

Expert – You are an expert gardener when you have all the tools and containers to plant something up, plus you keep a supply of potting soil on hand for whenever you get the urge to pot up a new plant or two. Your trips to the garden center are to get the plants and to stock up on supplies in anticipation of future planting projects. You rarely need a trip back for anything you forgot but on occasion you might invent a reason to go back, just to have an excuse to buy more plants. You primarily need sales help to load those big bags onto our truck.

Obsessed – You’ve reached the obsessed level of gardening when you not only have all the tools and containers, but also all the amendments necessary to mix up your potting soil using your own potting soil recipe. You may not even need any plants from the garden center because you’ve been starting plants from seeds and dividing up plants you have on hand. In addition, you probably also bought a bunch of plants via mail order to get special new varieties not yet in the garden centers. When you do go to the garden center, the sales help greets you like a good friend and directs you toward the newest or unusual plants that they think you might like.

Based on your shopping habits, what level of gardener are you?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

December-January Book Club Selection Announcement

Dear friends and fellow garden bloggers... the survey results are in and the December-January book selection for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club is...

Dear Friend and Gardener by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd.

I'm excited about this selection because I loved Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence--A Friendship in Letters that many of us read last February. That book was also a compilation of letters between two gardeners and introduced me to two wonderful authors. As a result, I read two more books by Elizabeth Lawrence.

It's always a bit of a risk to choose a book I haven't read, but that is also the idea of the book club, to read books we haven't read and then share our thoughts and reviews of the book through a blog post or two.

My copy of Dear Friend and Gardener should arrive on my doorstep early next week. I hope you'll join me in reading this book over the next few months and post a review or your thoughts on the book in time for a January 31st virtual club post.

Through the survey, eight people who've never participated before indicated they plan to read this next book and join in the book club. That's wonderful! The more the merrier, and since this is a virtual book club there is room for everyone.

And speaking of room for everyone, there is still some time for readers who are going to post a review or thoughts on Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi, the October-November selection, to do so. I'll post the "virtual club meeting post" on November 30th. Just let me know when you've posted, and you'll be included!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Is Gardening a Seasonal Hobby??

A friend of mine recently referred to gardening as a "seasonal hobby".

I'll pause so that those two word phrase can sink in.

"Seasonal hobby".

How could gardening be so mis-understood? How could I be so misunderstood?

I took umbrage at that flippant comment.

Then I felt sorry for people who think that way.

Even though I live where the snow flies and outdoor activities in the garden are limited for a few months of the year, there's still a lot of gardening that I can do in the winter.

So, to convince those who think gardening is a seasonal hobby that it is really a year round, lifetime way of living, and perhaps to help the new gardener who has been smitten with gardening and doesn't know how to get a "gardening" fix in the wintertime, here are some gardening activities for "when the snow flies"

1. Tend your houseplants. Now is a good time to turn your attention to houseplants. I've been cleaning mine up this week, wiping the summer dust off the leaves, cleaning off their containers, refreshing that top layer of soil that gets a little stale sometimes. I neglect them a bit in the summertime, so even if they don't like this extra attention, I like giving it to them.

2. Force some bulbs. Tulips, hyacinths, crocuses and many other spring flowering bulbs can be forced to bloom indoors. You'll be glad you did it when it is February and you have spring flowers blooming indoors.

3. Read about gardening. There are so many books on gardening, gardens, gardeners, and every kind of plant, written for all levels of gardeners, that surely anyone could find a good gardening-related book or two to read in the winter time.

4. Shop for seeds. We have more seeds available to us online and via catalogs than any other generation of gardeners. You could easily spend hours looking at all the different seed catalogs, deciding what to buy. And then later, when you are nearly at the end of your rope because you'd like to do more gardening than winter allows, you can start the seeds indoors and tend the seedlings!

5. Update your garden journal. Winter is a good time to gather up all those plant labels and pictures and make notes about what you planted, what did well, what died, what changes you should make next spring in the garden, etc.

6. Stroll through the winter garden. It might be too cold to do much (never prune frozen trees and shrubs) but bundle up and walk around the garden in the winter to see it in a different perspective. Make note of changes to make in the spring, look for signs of trouble like rabbits eating small shrubs, and protect those plants before too much damage is done. I speak from experience! Rabbits STILL eat in the winter time!

Is that enough? Is everyone convinced that gardening isn't a seasonal hobby?

(The tree pictured above is in my mom's neighborhood. I believe it is a red maple (no kidding!), Acer rubrum. I wish I knew the variety because that fall color is something else, isn't it?)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ready for Winter and Ready to Shop

The 'Miss Kim' lilac has shed its leaves, revealing the long ago abandoned nest of a house wren.

Can another season of the garden really be over?

Yes, it can be, and here in my Zone 5b garden, it clearly is.

All that is left to do outside is the occasional cutting back of old perennials, but only if the mood strikes me to do that, and maybe raking up some small piles of leaves, if we get a bit of sunshine which makes me want to go out and do something outside.

And I hope there is at least one more nice day so I can mow the grass one final time before we get any significant snow, but even that isn't something that I have to do.

The garden really is ready for winter. I've completed the list of "must do before the snow flies" chores, including purchasing a new snowblower, one with an electric starter.

I sold my old snowblower at a summer garage sale because it failed too often to start. And it would choose not to start at the most inconvenient of times like when there was snow that had to be cleared off the driveway. It was like it was afraid of snow, if a gasoline engine can be 'afraid'. I hope my new snowblower is more reliable and braver around snow, and there is no reason it shouldn't be.

So bring on the snow, I'm ready.

I'm also ready to shop. I want to buy some more house plants because I still need to plant something in my terrarium. I just moved it again, empty, out of the great room and into the sunroom to make room for the Christmas tree. It would be nice to have some plants in it when I move it back in January. Plus, I'm just in the mood to buy some plants, and since it isn't the season to buy plants for the outside gardens, I'll get them for inside.

Other items on my list for black Friday shopping, if I decide to venture out...
- amaryllis bulbs,
- paperwhite bulbs,
- maybe a rosemary tree,
- a new container for some recently rooted Christmas cactus cuttings,
- some potting soil.

What's on your shopping list for tomorrow?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Thanksgiving Edition

You might be a gardening geek on Thanksgiving if…

You spent at least half a day moving all the plants out of your dining room so you could actually use it for Thanksgiving dinner. When you were bringing plants indoors before the first frost, you thought the dining room was the perfect place for the plants because it was seldom actually used for dining. Subtract points if you decided to leave the plants in the dining room and set up card tables in another room for people to sit at. Really! You can move those plants for one day.

Your Thanksgiving dinner includes at least one side dish of a vegetable from your own garden. Bonus points if it was a fresh vegetable, not canned, and you’ve already had a frost where you live. More bonus points if the sage in your sage stuffing came from your garden. Even more bonus points if you made a pecan pie with pecans from your own pecan tree!

Your idea of the best way to work off the big Thanksgiving dinner is for everyone to go outside for some vigorous leaf raking. Bonus points if you actually did go out and rake leaves after you ate.

You are thankful that you got all your bulbs planted before Thanksgiving. Give yourself a bonus point for every 100 bulbs you planted. Cha-ching! Too bad the points aren’t redeemable for prizes or redeemable for anything at all.

Your cornucopia is packed with gourds from your own garden. Bonus points if you even have a cornucopia on your table for decoration.

You are disappointed when you look through all the black Friday ads because no one has a big ‘door buster’ sale on gardening tools. Bonus points if you’ve ever bought a new gardening tool the day after Thanksgiving.

You are thankful for your garden and all your garden blogging friends and your real friends and family, too. Bonus points if you came here today to see if you were a gardening geek for Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving from May Dreams Gardens.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Thoughts on Green Thoughts

It was on my bookshelf. It had been there for years, unread, purchased sometime before 1990. It was Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perènyi, the current selection of the Garden Bloggers’ Book Club.

Something about it must have interested me when I looked through it in the bookstore. Who knows what?

More recently I noticed that a few garden bloggers liked it enough to put it on their sidebar, to let us know it was a source of inspiration for them. That intrigued me and so I chose it as the current selection for the book club.

Once the book was chosen and I had a reason to read it, I finally opened the book and began to read. The topics seemed tame enough… “annuals, artichokes, ashes… Perènyi readily shares useful information on each, obviously from her own experience as a gardener. The book is meant to inform and teach; after all there is an index!

But these writings aren’t the bland, sanitized, sterile bits of gardening information we’ve grown too accustomed to from many books and web sites. It takes only a page or two to realize that Perènyi is a real and passionate gardener, who didn’t hold back her pen when it came to stating her opinions about many gardening related topics and sharing her feelings about gardening.

She writes on failures in the garden…

“People who blame their failures on ‘not having a green thumb’ (and they are legion) usually haven’t done their homework. There is of course no such thing as a green thumb. Gardening is a vocation like any other- a calling, if you like, but not a gift from heaven. One acquires the necessary skills and knowledge to do it successfully, or one doesn’t. The ancients gardened without guidance from books, by eye and by hand, and while I am a devotee of gardening books and love to study and quarrel with them, I don’t think they are a substitute for practical experience, any more than cookbooks are.”

I’d like to quarrel with Perènyi on just one point… that gardening is not a gift from heaven. If I thank God every day that I enjoy gardening and it brings joy to my life, then I call that a gift from heaven!

I won’t quarrel that learning about gardening from books is not the same as going out into the garden and actually gardening. I think you have to have some failures to become a better gardener. And I’ve had my share of failures in the garden and believe I am better for it, for at least having tried. Out of failures come green thumbs!

I am also a “devotee of gardening books”. I laugh sometimes at all the gardening books I have and wonder what the “ancients” in my family tree, who gardened “by eye and by hand”, would think of my garden and what I sometimes do because I read it in a book. I’m sure at times they’d think me a fool. I try to remember that and just garden in a way that feels right and ignore the “book learning”.

Now that I’ve read Green Thoughts, after all these years of having it, I won’t be putting it back on the bookshelf. Instead I’ll add it to that stack of good gardening essay books we all have (or should have) nearby so I can pick it up and read parts of it anytime I want to connect with a real gardener again.

Perènyi, by the way, from what several of us can determine, is still living, and we hope gardening. I think she’d like to know that many of us are still discovering and enjoying her book 25 plus years after it was originally published and now consider it a classic. And she would love that we aren’t afraid to quarrel with her, too, if we don’t agree!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Drilling Bulbs

The best tool for planting the smaller minor bulbs is your electric drill and a spade bit.

When I plant bulbs with a drill, I use "stock" spade drill bits, not those special augers that are sold in garden centers. On the left is the drill bit I used five or six years ago to drill 800 holes in my front yard for crocuses. On the right is a fairly new spade bit. There's quite a difference in those two bits, which brings up the first lesson of using this method of planting bulbs.

Don't expect to use a drill bit for drilling into wood after you've used it for planting bulbs. When you drill into the ground, you will quickly dull the blade.

Other tools that you will need for planting bulbs besides the drill bits are an electric drill, safety glasses, your pruners, some gloves, and of course, the bulbs.
Don't try to drill without the safety glasses! Dirt still flies up as your drill, though not as much as it does if you use an auger bit.

You will also need a bucket of dirt, any old dirt, like this dirt that came out of a container planting.
I use a corded electric drill because that's what I have. Plus, I don't think a cordless drill will give you enough power to drill a good hole if you have heavy or clay soil.

Once you've assembled all the bulbs, tools, and supplies, you are ready to go.

I planted a lot of my bulbs in this area by my front porch.
I brushed the mulch aside, put my safety glasses on and commenced to drill some holes.
The second lesson is don't drill too many holes at once, or you'll lose track of them, especially if you are planting crocuses in the grass.

Once you've drilled the holes, drop a bulb in each one and then cover the hole over with some of the extra dirt your brought along.
Then move on to the next area and repeat.

That's all there is to planting bulbs with a drill and a spade bit.

It's easy and it's fast. I got all my minor bulbs planted this afternoon, on a typical cloudy November day, except it was close to 60 degrees. Perfect weather for planting bulbs like...

50 Iris danfordiea
50 Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’
50 Chionodoxa sardensis
25 Oxalis adenaphylla
10 Anemone blanda
25 Dutch Iris
120 Crocuses

The third and final lesson is to take your pruners with you any time you are in the garden. You won't need them for planting bulbs, but you might find something that needs to be cut off or cut back when you are out there, and won't it be easier if you have your pruners with you?

If you have any questions about this method for planting bulbs, leave a comment or send me an email.

And don't forget to complete the online survey to help choose the next book for the Garden Bloggers' Book Club.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Survey Time - Help Choose the Next Garden Bloggers' Book Club Selection

It’s nearly time to…

Send me a link to your post with your review or thoughts on the current Garden Bloggers’ Book Club selection, Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perènyi. I will publish the virtual meeting post on November 30th. You can send me your link anytime before then.

Help choose the next book selection for December-January. The suggestions left in comments so far include:

Dear Friend and Gardener by Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd

Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education by Michael Pollan

A Very Small Farm by William Paul Winchester

Mrs Greenthumbs: How I Turned A Boring Yard Into A Glorious Garden And How You Can, Too by Cassandra Danz

Via email and other online conversations, I also received a few other suggestions:

Flower Confidential by Amy Stewart

A Year at North Hill: Four Seasons in a Vermont Garden by Joe Eck and Wayne Winterrowd

How to choose? By survey of course! You all didn’t think I was going to make the final choice all by myself, did you? Complete the survey in the next few days, and then if there is a clear favorite, we are all set. If there isn’t a clear favorite, we’ll eliminate the bottom three and try again.

This link takes you to the survey.

Thanks for your help in choosing the December-January selection and for your support of the Garden Bloggers' Book Club.

(Update: Sunday evening, eight people voted. There is no clear front runner yet. YOUR vote counts. I'll leave the survey going until Friday evening.)

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Put Down Those Pruners, Spring Flower Buds Are Present

If you care about having any flowers on your spring blooming trees and shrubs, put down those pruners right now!

Look at the buds on this Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata.

I see these big fat flower buds every time I pull in or out of my driveway. They remind me that in not too many more months, I'll have a lot of bloom again.

And these magnolia buds aren't the only flower buds in the garden right now.

Look at this viburnum, Viburnum carlesii.

From afar, the deep red foliage reminds us that it is definitely fall. But when you get up close you see those big, beautiful flower buds that promise flowers in the spring.

The lilac is showing its flower buds, too, though without the fall color.

We've already discussed that most lilacs just don't have good fall foliage color especially when compared to viburnums. It's hard to beat some of the viburnums for fall color, but the lilacs definitely compete in the spring when it's blooming time.

Some of the trees are getting ready for next year, too, with their spring flowering buds already set.Maples, like this red maple (Acer rubrum), don't have the showiest spring blooms, but the keen observer will note that they flower quite early. When I see the maple buds swell up as early as late February, I know I've made it through yet another winter.

I also see a lot of buds on my Forsythia shrubs, which include 'Gold Tide', a dwarf forsythia, and Forsythia x intermedia 'Show Off', which I just planted this fall.
I may prune a few of these forsythia early, early in the spring to force into bloom inside, but these would be the only spring flowering shrubs I would prune before they bloom.

Remember, the buds are already formed for the spring flowers! If you get all rambunctious with your pruners now in the fall and cut back or prune these shrubs, or any other spring flowering trees or shrubs, you will be cutting off these blooms before they even have a chance to make it through the winter. You will ruin your spring show in the garden!

So leave them alone. Go cut on something else, like dead hostas or peonies, if you must prune something back yet this fall.

You'll thank me for this advice once spring arrives and your spring flowering shrubs are all in full, glorious bloom. Yes, you will.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Horticultural Anomalies and Azaleas

When? When will I remember that I should always take my camera with me wherever I go? You just never know when you'll encounter something unusual and want to take a picture of it.

Today, instead of going to work in the dark, I stayed at home a little longer and went to a conference center for a half day seminar. I was home long enough to take a picture of a very frosty lawn, framed by a Serviceberry which is just beyond its peak of fall color but still quite striking.

This Serviceberry is Amelanchier x grandiflora and might be the variety 'Autumn Brilliance'. I'll have to find the tag to be sure. I grow it as a single trunked tree, but more often I see them grown as multi-trunked tree.

Anyway, getting to the conference center was a bit of a pain with traffic and then the primary parking garage was full when I got there, which all contributed to me running late. I don't like to be late. As I entered the building, I took in the big picture view of the landscaping at the entrance and noted that it was nice and obviously professionally designed and maintained.

When I left at lunch time, I had a bit more time and took a closer look at the landscape. I don't know if I saw the stunning fall foliage first or the pale purple flowers but I took a double-take when I saw some azaleas blooming. They were blooming enough that from a distance I could see the flowers.

Now, I know that spring flowering shrubs and trees form their flower buds in the summer/fall and that on occasion, a few of these flower buds can get confused and bloom in the fall instead. But usually, that's just a few scattered, hard to find, blooms. This was a lot of bloom. A lot of bloom.

I wondered if this azalea bloom that I saw was a horticultural anomaly or a characteristic of this particular variety of azalea.

I did a quick online search this evening and found the Encore Azaleas which bloom in the spring and then again in mid-summer into fall. Could those that I saw earlier today be Encore Azaleas? It isn't real obvious how hardy they are from what I could find online initially, but I did finally find some info that some varieties are at least hardy to zone 6a. Maybe with some special care, they would overwinter in my zone 5b garden? It is certainly encouraging to have seen them blooming in my city, if indeed they were Encore Azaleas.

These azaleas could be an answer to having some blooms in my garden in November! See how frosty it was in the picture above? It had to have been just as frosty where I saw those azaleas still blooming.

I've never even considered planting azaleas in my garden because of their desire to grow in acidic soil. But now that I have to acidify the soil for my new Carolina Silverbell, maybe I'll just acidify a little bit larger area and try some of these azaleas.

Does anyone have an Encore Azalea? Does anyone have one who is gardening north of zone 6a, like me? Do they really rebloom reliably? I'm going to keep investigating these through the winter. Who knows, this spring I might be planting azaleas in my garden!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2007

Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for November! Continuing with the tradition started in February, I'm posting my blooms for the fifteenth of the month and invite others, both gardeners and non-gardeners to do the same.

It's fun to compare who has what blooming and the differences in gardens across the United States and around the world. Yet at the same time, we can see how much alike our gardens really are.

My first bloom is this little orchid inside that just opened up in the last 24 hours. How's that for good training? Or just good luck.

Outside, even in November, I found a few flowers still hanging on, not wanting the season to be over, I guess, in spite of several killing frosts.

But before I show you the flowers, it is important to remember that I am gardening in USDA Hardiness Zone 5. Here is my front porch in late October.

Then we had a killing frost.

So here's the porch after I cleaned it all up.

I don't like to leave the containers out with a bunch of dead plants in them, so every fall, I empty them out and put them away until spring. Now the porch is just begging for some Christmas decorations, don't you think?

There are still some pansies in a nearby window box, which is lined with green moss. It looks like I need to re-line this next spring.

The rose is clinging to a few blooms. I'm not sure if this is "in flower" as much as these few blooms are frozen in time.
I also have some mums that are still in flower.
And so does my next door neighbor, only hers look better than mine! (Is it fair to show your neighbor's blooms on Bloom Day? Sure it is!)
I think next spring I'm going over there to get some divisions of this mum.

What's blooming in your garden this fine November day? Post about your blooms on your own blog and then leave a comment here so we can all find you. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun.

“We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” – Elizabeth Lawrence

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Highly Recommended Viburnum

Some gardeners might think that all viburnums are great big shrubs and they are intimidated by their size.

Size, and thinking that most viburnums are great big shrubs, is not be a good reason to not have at least one good viburnum in any garden.

Here's a viburnum that stays smaller, maybe four feet tall and four feet wide. It's the Korean Spice Viburnum, Viburnum carlesii.

It has...

Pink buds that bloom white in the spring, with fragrance!

Good summer foliage.

Great fall foliage color.

On some years, a few berries to feed the birds

And it is hardy in zones 5 - 8, and maybe would work in zone 4b.

I recommend everyone make room for one of these shrubs somewhere in their garden. I have two, this one in front, and one in the back by my vegetable garden. I'm especially happy with how this one in particular came back so spectacularly after some late spring cold weather nipped most of its flower buds.

And just around the corner to the left, see all that orange/yellow/red foliage? That's Dwarf Fothergilla, Fothergilla gardenii.

Most of the year, even when in flower, these two shrubs don't clash quite like they are clashing right now. But it's late fall, and I'll take whatever color I can get.

I know some gardeners try to plan their flower beds so that the flowers aren't all clashing with each other, but does anyone plan their plantings so that the fall foliage doesn't clash?

I obviously don't.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Viburnum vs. Lilac - Take a Stand!

The smaller the garden, the more we look for plants that provide more than one season of interest. As one of my college professors used to say, two weeks of glory may not be enough to justify planting a particular tree or shrub in your garden.

This afternoon, when I got home I was struck by the dark burgundy fall foliage on my Snowball Bush Viburnum, Viburnum opulus 'Sterile'.
Prior to noticing this, I might have said that this shrub really only had a few interesting weeks in the spring, when it is fully in bloom.

Compare this Viburnum's fall foliage with the fall foliage of a Common Lilac, Syringa vulgaris 'White Angel', on the other side of the back yard.Yawn. Nice green, huh? This lilac blooms in the spring, too. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of this exact lilac in bloom but here's a picture of a popular lilac, Syringa patula 'Miss Kim', blooming in another part of the yard earlier this spring. Imagine that same bloom only in white, which is what color this particular common lilac's blooms are, and a few less blooms on the plant.

So which shrub is the better one to plant?

Before you decide, consider also that I see many more birds nesting and roosting in the Viburnum than the Lilac, though neither provides any berries for the birds to eat. And between these two large shrubs, at least in my garden, the Viburnum has a much better shape.

Wait, don't decide yet! You should also consider the nostalgia factor. They say that we are more likely to remember scents, and the lilac bloom has a wonderful scent. This particular Viburnum has no scent at all. But growing up, I remember my grandmothers had the big Viburnums with the snowball sized blooms. I don't remember them having lilacs. But you may have stronger memories of lilacs in bloom.

Still thinking about which one to choose?

One more time, this is the Viburnum fall foliage close up.
This is the Lilac fall foliage close up. Now choose! Common Lilac or Snowball Bush Viburnum. Take a stand!

(My apologies for the pictures taken before sunset on a very cloudy day today!)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Rainy Day Activities at May Dreams Gardens

I may have violated a basic tenet of gardening yesterday. The one about "pay attention to the weather forecast". Or maybe it was the one about "make hay while the sun shines, strike while the iron is hot, plant bulbs when there is a nice, sunny, dry day in November and it happens to fall on a Saturday".

Yes, that's the one, the tenet about getting your bulbs planted on a sunny Saturday in November.

I planted half of my bulbs yesterday, mostly the tulips, daffodils, and hyacinths that I needed to actually dig holes for.

Then I got the bright idea that I would plant the 'drillers' tomorrow, which is now a rainy today.

'Drillers' are the smaller minor bulbs that I plant with a spade bit and my electric drill. It would have been a good idea to wait until today under normal circumstances because I did get some other chores done yesterday after I stopped digging. But then I violated the tenet about paying attention to the weather forecast. I knew it was going to rain "later this weekend" but I didn't check to find out when later really was.

Later turns out to be all morning today and in to the afternoon, which in and of itself is a good thing because we need rain. And it is nice for those bulbs I did plant yesterday. But it won't help the 'drillers' still in their bags in the garage. The picture above is the very wet front garden that I see from my porch, where I will plant most of these 'drillers', the smaller minor bulbs, once it clears up and the ground dries up a bit.

In the meantime, I'm thinking of rainy day gardening activities to keep my mind off the fact that I didn't get those minor bulbs planted yesterday. Here's what I've come up with so far.

1. Go to the store and buy a new house plant. I get all nostalgic for Thanksgiving and Christmas cactus when I see them in the stores this time of year. Even though I have several of these plants already and recently got some starts for an orange flowering one from someone at work, I want more. I don't know why I want more of them, they aren't even all that attractive when they aren't in bloom. I just know I do.

2. Even though you have dozens of clay pots and planters and containers, go buy a new one for a houseplant that needs a nice new container, like the orange flowering Christmas cactus that I just rooted. Some women buy more clothes than they'll ever wear or more fabric than they will ever sew, I buy more flower pots than I'll ever put plants in, and I'm not the only gardener who does this. But knowing this doesn't stop me if I see a flower pot I really like. You just never know when you'll find the perfect plant for it.

3. Sharpen your pruners. They probably need it by now after an entire season of use. Plus any additional fall clean up that you still need to do will be that much easier to do with sharp pruners. I had a moment of panic yesterday when I couldn't find my Felco pruners. I thought maybe I had left them outside all week. But I did find them, and now I feel like I should treat them a little better than I did before, laying them down someplace like that where I couldn't readily find them.

4. Make a list of books that would be good reads for fellow gardeners who participate in the Garden Bloggers Book Club, even if you don't participate, and leave a comment or email me to let me know about your suggestions. You might even consider going offline to actually read a garden magazine or book for a nice change of pace. I still like to hold a book and turn the pages, dont' you?

5. Light candles to brighten the room you are in, sit quietly, and chant, "there is still time plant bulbs, there is still time to plant bulbs". Because there is still time to plant bulbs and the sun will shine again!

What else can a gardener do on a rainy day?

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Book Club November Newsletter

You all haven't forgotten about the Garden Bloggers' Book Club, have you? Is everyone busy reading the October-November selection... Green Thoughts: A Writer in the Garden by Eleanor Perényi?

Here are three ways to participate in this virtual book club for October-November.

1) Read the book and post something about it on your blog.

2) Post on your blog about what the following quote from the book means to you: “I can’t resist them and invariably let optimism get the better of judgment, which come to think of it may be the first principle of gardening.” Or if you don't like that quote, you might consider the quote I posted about the other day.

3) Post anything about the book club on your blog, even if you don't have time to read the whole book or chose not to read it this time. Think of it this way, if it were a real book club, would you skip the meeting and the chance to socialize and chat with other members, even if you hadn't read the book? No, you'd go anyway for the fun of it!

Once you've posted something for the book club before November 30th, let me know via a comment or email (mdg_blog AT comcast DOT net) and then I'll include you in the virtual meeting post on November 30th.

In the meantime, it is nearly time to choose a book for December-January. Leave a comment with your suggestions, or send me an email note. In a few days, I'll post a survey with the suggestions and go with the most popular choice, like I did for the current selection. If there are enough suggestions, maybe we can also choose a February-March selection, too! I love to plan ahead, don't you?

(The tree in the picture above is a Red Maple, Acer rubrum 'October Glory'. In my garden, the color doesn't reach a peak until November).

Friday, November 09, 2007

Surprise Handmade Gift For a Gardener, Idea No. 6

Looking through some pictures, I came across another handmade item which might be just what every gardener wants, especially if they have a raised bed vegetable garden.

I love raised bed vegetable gardens and recommend them for anyone who wants to grow vegetables. It is so easy once the beds are established. How easy? Very easy...

You don't have to roto-till the garden in the spring! You can just lightly rake or hoe up one of the beds and plant whenever the soil has warmed up and you are ready to plant.

You can more easily keep up with weeding, one bed a time. With traditional vegetable gardens, it seems like by mid-summer the weeds have taken over and it takes a day to hoe 'em all down or pull 'em all out. In the raised beds, it takes just a few minutes to weed up one bed.

You can more easily practice good crop rotation. One year, you can put tomatoes in a bed, the next year corn. And where you put the corn, you can switch to green beans. And where you had beans, you can plant squash.

I could go on and on about raised bed vegetable gardens, and I'm not the only one. Robin(Bumblebee) has one, Skippy has one, Marc gardens this way, and my youngest sister finally changed over to raised beds in her garden this past year. Oh, and my older sister has a raised bed vegetable garden. Who else?

But enough about the wonderful world of raised bed vegetable gardens, let's get back to the handmade gift idea...

The handmade gift is a tool rest!
I used 1 x 6 cedar boards left over from making my raised beds to make these tool rests. So that the tools won't slide off the cross bar, I used a jig saw to make the top wavy like that. Then I screwed the two pieces together and painted it with some flowers. The paint is starting to fade on my tool rest, but at one time the cross piece said "Welcome to My Garden". I have another one that says "May Dreams Gardens".

I use long wood screws to attach these to the raised beds each spring, using about six screws to make them nice and secure. Then I remove them in the fall in an attempt to keep the ice and snow off of them, to keep the paint from fading, but I don't think that is really necessary. They would, and do, weather quite well.

When I made these, I was going through a "bead craft" phase, so I also decorated them with some... what would you call those... bead decorations... made by stringing some decorative beads onto copper wires and attaching them to the post with eye hooks.

I wonder what I was thinking when I added those beads? Maybe I thought those beads would scare off the rabbits? Or maybe I thought the tool rests were too plain without them? I don't know, I just know that these tool rests, with or without the beads decorations, are nice to have in the garden to lean all my hoes on.

So there you have it, now I've provided SIX suggestions for handmade gifts for gardeners. A garden journal, seed packets, a compost sieve, fairy doors, a garden tool caddy, and these tool rests.

What ideas do you have for handmade gifts for a gardener?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

What Happens to the Bulbs That No One Buys?

Saturday morning, the bulb planting begins in earnest here at May Dreams Gardens!

I bought a few bulbs to plant this fall.

First I ordered up some minor bulbs after attending an AHS webinar on Bulbs That Work earlier in September. My order included:

50 Iris danfordiea
50 Iris reticulata ‘Clairette’
50 Chionodoxa sardensis
25 Oxalis adenaphylla

Then as I was out shopping this fall, not necessarily intending to buy bulbs, I rescued/bought bulbs at several different stores and ended up with:

10 Anemone blanda
25 Hyacinths (I’ll save back a dozen of these to force inside this winter).
25 Dutch Iris
120 Crocuses
160 Tulips (I think I’ll also pot some of these up to force into bloom this winter)

Plus, I have a bag full of daffodil bulbs that I dug up when I renovated some foundation plantings earlier this fall. There might be a hundred or so of those bulbs. Oh, and I took Elizabeth of Garden Rant up on her offer for some free tulips, so that’s another 25 bulbs on their way to my mailbox.

When you add that all up it comes to… wait, I need to take off my shoes… 540 bulbs, plus how ever many are in that bag of rescued daffodils.

That may seem like a lot, but I’m not one to dig one hole per bulb. I am a self-proclaimed efficiency expert when it comes to planting bulbs.

If possible, I prefer to dig up an entire area, and then plant a bunch of bulbs in that area all at once.

And for the smaller bulbs, of which I seem to have a couple of hundred to plant, I use my drill as the planting tool of choice. Drill and plant, drill and plant. I can get into a pretty good rhythm of drilling and planting when I set my mind to it.

I think it will just take me a few hours Saturday morning to plant all these bulbs. Really!

Then I’ll need to be careful when I go to the store because if I see bulbs on clearance, I’ll be tempted to rescue them and bring them home to plant, regardless of if I have room for any more bulbs.

Does anyone else feel an obligation to buy those homeless, gardenless, bulbs marked down for final clearance at the big box stores? Do you feel like if you don’t buy them, they will have been dug up in vain?

What do the stores do with the bulbs they don’t sell? Return them to the wholesaler or throw them out? If they throw them out, don’t tell me! I won’t have room to rescue all those bulbs and I’ll feel bad leaving them in the store, doomed to be dumped in a dumpster somewhere. Don’t tell me!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

True Confessions - Some of My Photos...

I read recently on the Gardening Gone Wild blog that some of the pictures in garden magazines are ‘staged’ or stuffed with blooms to make the gardens appear fuller, bigger, better than they are in real life.

We all knew that was the case, so don’t be all shocked.

I’ll confess that I've staged something in my garden before, just once, to get a picture for my blog. I staged some pictures of some butterflies to make it appear that my garden was an absolute butterfly haven.

Perhaps you missed those pictures from June 2006? If so, here’s one of them.

And then I went a little overboard and made it look like there were all kinds of butterflies on my peonies.
But this close up shows that I still need to work on my technique.

What do you think? Did I fool anyone?

Have you ever staged a picture in your garden for your blog? Added more flowers to make the garden look fuller? Staged fake butterflies on flowers? Borrowed all your neighbor's flowers to put in your garden to make it appear more colorful?

If so, it’s time to confess!

But don't get any ideas about staging your garden for the next Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day coming up next week already.

The idea of bloom day is not to try to be better than then next garden blogger. It is to showcase and highlight differences in gardens around the world, all photographed on about the same day. And even if you have no blooms in your garden because it is now cold and cloudy where you are, I'm sure there is something of interest in your November gardens that you can post as "bloom".

No excuses, everyone should post for bloom day next week with as much or as little as is really blooming in our real gardens!

Note: No actual butterflies were harmed, injured, or actually involved in the pictures I took.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Forgotten Fothergilla

How's come more gardeners don't plant Fothergilla?

And speaking of "how's come", is that a Hoosierism, a particular figure of speech common among people who are from Indiana? Or do others phrase questions that way, too?

Anyway, why don't more gardeners plant Fothergilla?

When I was at a garden center a few weeks ago, the helpful sales person suggested that I get some Fothergilla shrubs, but I passed, explaining that I already had some. "Good choice", he said and we agreed that more people should plant Dwarf Fothergill, Fothergilla gardenii, especially.

What's not to like?

- white, bottle-brush flowers in the spring
- clear, green foliage all summer long
- no pruning required as it doesn't seem to get more than three or four feet tall
- no known pests or diseases, at least in my garden
- does well in a moderate drought without additional watering, at least it did in my garden

And if that isn't enough to make everyone run out and buy some of these shrubs, wait a minute, because I haven't told you about its best feature.

It's best feature is great fall leaf color.

The close up picture of the foliage above was taken in bright sunlight a week or so ago, just as the leaves were starting to turn.

The picture below was taken a few hours ago, right before sunset on this cold, cloudy day, so it's not the best picture, but you get the idea.
Why don't people plant more Fothergilla? What am I missing? What are they missing?