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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Do you have a theme for your garden this year?

Requisite photo of a garden-y thing
Do you have a theme for your garden this year?

I've been reading Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden by Vita Sackville-West and Sarah Raven and have gotten all fired up about my garden, again.

I'll admit, I usually have a big fire of passion about my garden going most of the time.   Sure, in the winter time I usually just keep the embers of my gardening passion hot, mostly due to the weather, but by spring, I'm ready for a big bonfire, metaphorically speaking, of course.

I received this book, Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden, sometime last fall.  I am pretty sure it is a review copy, but because here at the Home for Old Gardening Books, Well, Any Gardening Books, there seems to be a fairly constant flow of purchased and sent-for-review books coming in, I sometimes forget whether I bought the book or a publisher graciously sent it to me.

Sometimes, I end up with two copies of a book, like Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds: A Personal Tour of 20 Gardens by Victoria Summerley and Hugo Rittson Thomas, because I bought a copy and later I got an offer for a review copy, which I found hard to refuse.  See above about Home for Old Gardening Books, Well, Any Gardening Books.

Some old women take solace in having a house full of cats.  I'll be the old woman in the house full of old gardening books, well, any gardening books.

Back to the original question. Do you have a theme for your garden this year?   If you don't have a theme and have no idea what it might be if you had the good sense to have one, may I suggest for inspiration, you read some of the writings of Vita Sackville-West that Sarah Raven included in this new book about Sackville-West's garden, Sissinghurst?

Then, like me, you might pick a theme around experimenting.  Per Sackville-West, 'a good gardener makes experiments'.

Or maybe you are ready to go all out with reckless risks. Sackville-West also wrote, 'the fun of gardening is nothing unless you take reckless risks'.

Of course, experiments and reckless risks may at some point call for corrections or do overs.

Sackville-West has that covered, too. 'Gardening is largely a question of mixing one sort of plant with another sort of plant, and of seeing how they marry happily together; and if you see that they don't marry happily, then you must hoick one of them out and be quite ruthless about it.'

And... 'That is the only way to garden; and that is why I advise every gardener to go round his garden now - make notes of what he thinks he ought to remove and of what he wants to plant later on...  The true gardener must be brutal, and imaginative for the future.'

There you go. Make a theme out of experimentation, reckless risks, hoicking out plants that just aren't working, ruthlessness.  Throw in some imagination for the future, too.

It all brings to mind another quote, one from the beloved southern garden writer, Elizabeth Lawrence. "Are you cruel enough to be a gardener?"  Well, are you?  Sure, you are!

Let this be the season you took the Big Risk in your garden.  What's your garden experiment going to be? Where do you need to apply a little ruthlessness out there in your garden? And I'm all for hoicking, a new word for me.  It means to abruptly pull something out. And abruptly implies sudden or unexpected.

Let's all just do it together this gardening season. Make big changes where changes are called for, and stop the endless dithering, pondering and second-guessing.  Let's hoick out what clearly isn't working and plant something else in its place.  And if you weren't dithering or pondering or second-guessing, and were insulted I even suggested you were, no worries. I wrote that part for me, because I tend to dither and ponder  and second-guess too much sometimes.

I'm enjoying this book, Sissinghurst: Vita Sackville-West and the Creation of a Garden. It's arrival here at the Home for Old Gardening Books, Well, Any Gardening Books is well-timed. I'm just one-third through it, so I'm not ready to write a complete review, but what I've read so far makes me wish for a rainy day with no other obligations so I can sit by the window,  the window from where I can look out onto most of the back garden, and read it all day long.

But no time for that now, so I'll continue to read it at a leisurely pace. It's spring. Time to hoick some plants, start some big experiments and follow Sackville-West's advice to go round the garden and make some notes.

Monday, March 23, 2015

A magical place

I can think of no place more magical than a garden, where every hoe and trowel is a magic wand.

The magic is there in each petal of each flower as it opens up. It's there in the unfurling of each new leaf.

At times the magic seems to take place in slow motion. We wait and wait, and then in the blink of an eye, in just the second we turn our heads, it happens.

Flowers are blooming everywhere here at May Dreams Gardens.

In the front borders the irises, mostly Iris reticulata, are putting on a full show. It's a big production, like one of those fancy, over-done dances where everyone is on stage at the same time.

I am pleased with how it all turned out, having planted over 300 iris bulbs last fall so I would have a long chorus line of blooms.

In the back lawn, new crocuses are coming up to replace the early bloomers as they fade off. I hope, I know, that under ground, they are growing big fat corms so they can return next spring.

In a nearby flower border, larger crocuses are putting on a show.

This crocus is the kind of purple my mom would have liked, I think. This is their second year. Crocuses generally return for many years unless some squirrel or chipmunk gets a notion to dig the corm up and eat it.  I hope these particular crocuses come back and use their magic on me again, that magic that conjures up my memories year after year.

Out in front the first daffodils have made their appearance.

They are only six inches tall but are definitely part of the show here in my garden, and have been for many years.

Bloom by bloom, the magic of spring continues as flowers pop up everywhere. I consider the flowers as announced if I remember I planted them and look forward to seeing them.  They are unannounced if they pop up seemingly out of nowhere and I exclaim, "I had forgotten I planted you!"

And even though we are several days into official Spring, Winter is making a brief return.  Winter is like someone in the audience of the garden's spring show who is doing his or her best to ruin it all.  But, she, or he,  won't ruin it. The show will go on.  The magic in my garden will continue for many more weeks and months. There will always be something new in coming into bloom, just as I had planned.

Yes, indeed. I know of no place more magical than a garden,  especially a garden in Spring, and there is no other place I'd rather be.

Abracadabra! Spring!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Welcome, Spring

Iris reticulata anxiously await Spring's arrival in the garden
Spring arrives today at 6:45 pm EDT.

If you want to be sure Spring comes to your garden, you absolutely must run out right now and open up your garden gate.

If Spring arrives and your garden gate is closed, she may pass you by and you'll face weeks of who knows what kind of weather.  I wouldn't risk it.

If Spring arrives and your garden gate is open, she will enter and take up residence and you will have weeks of wonderful weather, beautiful flowers, and the trees will leaf out in the most wonderful shades of green.

Why risk it, when it is so simple to open up your garden gate, even if just for a few minutes at 6:45 pm EDT?

Of course, as you might have guessed, the same holds true for your house.  You simply must open up a window or door so Spring feels welcome when she arrives.  Then, with Spring in your house, you will feel as though the weight of the world has been lifted from your shoulders.  You'll have that wonderful feeling you get when you take off your heavy winter coat, for the last time until Winter arrives again.

But we need no longer think of Winter. Winter is far, far away in the future now, and Spring is here.  Open the garden gates, open the doors, open the windows...

Welcome, Spring!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Forgiving Garden

Lean in, new gardeners, I'm going to tell you a secret about gardens.

Gardens, in general, are very forgiving of mistakes. And they don't demand precision in timing or perfection in plant choices, either.

So if you are all uptight about possibly making a mistake in your garden, please relax. You are taking all of the fun out of gardening.

I promise you your garden will forgive you for mistakes. It doesn't demand the precision you may be trying to impose on it.

For example, I planted my peas on St. Patrick's Day. I make a big deal, perhaps too big a deal, about planting them on March 17th, no matter what.  But really, most planting doesn't have to be done on a specific day.  Usually there is a window of time, perhaps several weeks or longer, during which you can complete most gardening activity.

Plants?  You don't need the latest and greatest plant being promoted this season.  In fact, sometimes you are better off choosing an older variety that is tried and true and time tested.  Let others try those new plants and see if they measure up.

And plants don't care if you remember their names. They don't. So don't worry if you can't rattle off the name of every plant in your garden.

Plant placement?  Well, of course, when it comes to trees and big shrubs, placing them in a good spot in the garden is important, as once they've been in that spot for a few years, they sure don't like to be moved.  But you can move them, or if necessary remove them, if they just aren't working out where you planted them.

In my own garden, I planted a forsythia next to the house, then decided a year later to move it out to another planting border.  It almost died in its new spot, not because it was a bad spot but because it seemed to have some kind of disease killing it off branch by branch. So I cut off the diseased parts and moved it again to yet another location, where it has been happily growing for the last two years.

Yesterday I looked at where it was and said to myself, "Duh, what was I thinking planting that forsythia there?"

Yep, I'll be moving it in a few weeks. It is completely in the wrong spot and if you saw where it was you would shake your head and wonder, too, why I planted it there.

Perennials? If you miss the mark, you can dig them up like you are going to divide them and then just march them off to a better location.  They'll be fine and you'll likely get more plants in the process.

I could list other mistakes I've made in my garden.  There have been a lot of them. I've laughed about some of them. Shook my head in disbelief at others. But for the most part, my garden has forgiven me and together we've happily moved on season after season.

Remember this secret, the secret of the forgiving garden, and go out and have some fun in your garden.  If you mess something up, I promise you, your garden will forgive you.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - March 2015

Iris reticulata 'Katharine Hodgkin' 
Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for March 2015.

Wow.  Here in my USDA Hardiness Zone 6a garden in Central Indiana, the last few days have  left me nearly breathless as I run around the garden taking pictures of blooms in the front and in the back.

In the front, a few solitary blooms of Iris reticulata 'Katharine Hodgkin' showed up yesterday.  I planted these several years ago and they seem to be thinning out a bit.  I hope a few more show up.

They can join this dark purple Iris reticulata, which I planted last fall.

Iris reticulata 
Unfortunately, I don't know what variety this is because it came in a bag of "assorted irises".

Out in the back garden, I have nice stand of Iris reticulata 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'.
Iris reticulata 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'
But the irises aren't the star of the garden right.

That honor goes to the crocuses blooming in the back lawn and the front flower beds.

There are thousands of them.
And they are attracting bees.

I know for a fact and from personal experience if you sit for a minute or two in the lawn surrounded by all the crocuses you will not only hear the buzz of bees, you will also feel them buzzing around you.

I am amazed at how quickly both the crocuses and the bees showed up in my garden.

But they are not alone.

I'm also enjoying all the snowdrops.
Galanthus sp.
I am happy to see I have clumps of snowdrops, and not just the one or two that showed up in February.

And I'm happy to be smelling the sweet scent of witch hazel, Hamamelis vernalis, wafting across the garden.
Hamamelis vernalis
And that's March here at May Dreams Gardens. We are off and running with blooms all over the place.

What's blooming in your garden on this mid-March day? We'd love to have you join in for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and show us.  It's easy to participate. Just post on your blog about what's blooming in your garden and then come back here and leave a comment telling us about your blooms, then add the url to your bloom day post to the Mr. Linky widget below so we can easily find you.

Remember... as Elizabeth Lawrence once wrote, "We can have flowers nearly every month of the year".

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

And the lawn began to bloom

For the joy of that first moment when I stepped out the back door and saw all the crocuses blooming in the lawn, it was worth it.

It was worth spending hours planting all those crocus bulbs last fall, and the two falls before that.

It was worth enduring the cold, wind, ice, and snow of winter, including the last snow just ten days ago that covered the back lawn with six inches of snow.

It was worth it.

I thought at first only a few crocus blooms were open, but as I looked across the lawn, I could see hundreds of crocuses blooming.

Spring has arrived.  The crocuses know it, now I know it, too.

It's hard to capture with a mere camera what the lawn looks and feels like with all the crocuses in bloom.   The blooms are scattered about the lawn, some in groups, some individually.  They practically beam against the greens and browns of the lawn.

I took lots of pictures, trying my best to capture the moment.

But moments in the garden aren't just what we capture with a camera.  Moments in the gardens include memories and feelings, too, which aren't always conveyed to others through a picture.

For this one moment, when the sun was shining, and hundreds of crocuses were blooming throughout the back lawn, it was worth it.

If you decide to plant crocuses in your lawn remember...

Buy corms for Crocus tommasinianus, sometimes called tommies, or other crocuses that are noted for naturalizing, not those big crocuses most often sold in the big box stores.

Plant them in the lawn in the fall.  I use a rockery trowel to plant bulbs in my lawn.  Stab it into the ground, pull it back, drop the corm in the hole, pull out the trowel, then pat pat pat, and move on to the next one.

Don't try to plant an entire lawn of crocuses in one fall. Plant a few hundred each year and before you know it, you'll have thousands of crocuses in bloom in your lawn.

Wait as long as you can to mow the lawn for the first time after the crocus blooms have faded to give the crocuses a chance to grow a bit and form new corms for next year.

Don't use herbicides on the lawn once you plant crocuses or other bulbs in it.

Learn to live with a few dandelions as part of the price to pay for that one magical moment when you step outside on the first warm day of spring and see hundreds of crocuses blooming in the lawn, greeting the spring.

It's worth it.

Monday, March 09, 2015



Step right this way, ladies and gentleman, to admire the first crocus blooms of the season.  Be careful of the piles of snow still lining the driveway.  Don't all crowd around at once.  They'll be here for a few days to admire.

And, yes, once we get some sun, maybe at the end of the week, they might actually open, too.

These particular crocuses are in a flower bed and were planted oh, say six or seven, maybe eight years ago?

I've observed that established bulbs tend to bloom earlier than those of the same type planted the previous fall.  Isn't it the same in your garden?

Pretty soon, we'll start to see a few crocuses pop up in the back lawn, too.  And then a few more and then hopefully a lot more.

I've lost count of how many crocuses I've planted back there over the last three years.  I think it is 2,500. Or maybe 3,000.  I'd have to go back through my garden journal and do some ciphering to figure it out.

Or I could count them? Or make the garden fairies count them?

Whenever I see the first crocus blooms, I feel a sense of relief, or is it triumph, that I've made it through yet another winter.

Good bye ice, and snow, and threats of treacherous roads.  Hello flowers, and tiny green leaves, and days of  delightful gardening.

Time to put away the snow shovels and get out the garden shovels.

Time to take off our mittens and put on our gardening gloves.

Time to cut back those perennials and grasses we left standing last fall because we were lazy because we wanted some winter interest.

Time to return to the garden, once again.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Searching for spring blooms does not help your posture

The snowdrop bloomed when I wasn't looking.
If one could bring forth blooms in the garden by simply staring at the poor little plants until the flowers burst forth, I would be living in a floral paradise right now.

I spent many hours today (it was probably just a few minutes) hunched over looking through the leaf litter and mulch at the tiny leaves of crocuses and irises coming up, hoping to see a bloom or two.  Or hoping to see at least a hint of a purple bud.

I didn't seen any blooms today, but I suspect I might see some blooms tomorrow.  I just have a feeling that's how spring will go this year -- quick.

At least that's what I sense is happening. Last Sunday I was clearing off the driveway, vowing to trade in my single stage snow blower for a two stage snow thrower, because the snow was just too deep and too heavy for my poor little struggling machine to blow or throw anywhere.

Now this weekend, the snow is melting, and though it isn't all gone, there is plenty of bare ground and lots of little green sprouts coming up. Plus, the weatherman has promised "seasonal temperatures" this week, which means day time highs in the upper 50s.  Good-bye Frosty the Snowman. Hello, Spring.

You'll get no complaints from me about a quick spring. You may however, hear a few moans and groans about a little back soreness caused no doubt from being hunched over for hours (probably a few minutes) looking for spring blooms.

And I might go on a bit about how this quick spring, if indeed we have a quick spring, has put me quite behind in the garden.  Quite behind. Though truthfully, I set myself behind a bit last fall when I decided to do most of the garden clean up in the spring.

What was I thinking? Oh, I remember now what I was thinking, or rather doing.  I spent most of my gardening time last fall crawling around the back lawn planting crocus corms and glory-of-the-snow bulbs.  Thousands of them, literally.

We have the added bonus of daylight savings time starting this weekend, so now I'll have more light later in the day to see my garden.  I think I'll spend some of that extra evening light time staring down at some plants, seeing if I can make them bloom, even if it isn't good for my posture to be all hunched over like that.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

It's the soil temperature that matters

I stood in the doorway and zoomed in to take this picture
It's the soil temperature that matters when one is deciding if it is time to sow seeds in the garden for cool season crops including peas, radishes, lettuce, spinach, etc.

For peas especially, the soil temperature should be 40F or higher, preferably just a tiny bit higher, for them to germinate.

So how does one determine if the soil temperature is 40F or higher?

One uses a soil thermometer.

I was going to use my soil thermometer today to see if the soil in my garden is even close to 40F.

However, I only got as far as opening the backdoor and looking across the snow-covered lawn toward the vegetable garden.  All that snow. Though some of it melted today, I decided I still didn't have on tall enough boots to get from the back patio across the lawn to the vegetable garden without getting snow in my shoes.

Perhaps I'll check again tomorrow?

Or next week?

Or on March 17th, the traditional day for planting peas around here?

Yes, I'll wait until March 17th, and if the snow has melted, I'll head out with my trusty soil thermometer and check the soil temperature.  My guess is it will be warm enough.

But I am an optimist by nature.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

March 1st - Spring Flowers and Dr. Hortfreud

Ah yes, the blooms of early spring. It's time for them to appear, now that it's March 1st.

In this first picture, the snowdrops are making their appearance, but it is under the cover of snow.

They are like little nodding bells, ringing in the spring, though currently, with the March 1st snowfall, their nodding bells have been nearly silenced, perhaps even crushed.

Only the most well-trained gardener's ear can hear them now.  I can hear them, can you?

In this next picture, we see where the first crocuses of the early spring bloom season generally appear.
I suspect it will be a few weeks before that mound of snow is completely gone. But if you squint, you might be able to see their first leaves poking through.

Squint.  Do you see them?

Perhaps the reticulated irises will show up soon?
There are three hundred of them planted along this border, under that snow.  Do you see them?

Meanwhile in the back garden, the stage is set for the crocuses and glory-of-the-snow planted in the lawn to bloom for Easter, in just five weeks.
Of course, you can't see them now.  I don't want them to bloom now. I want them to bloom in five weeks.

Ah yes, the blooms of early spring...


Yes, Dr. Hortfreud.

"Your post seems just a wee bit snarky. I think you are suffering from "snow vision hallucinations".

Snow vision hallucinations? What?

"That's when you look at the white snow and see flowers that aren't there yet. It's a coping mechanism, no doubt."

Is there a cure?

"Sure, Carol. The cure is for the snow to melt, for spring to arrive, and for the flowers to actually bloom. Then you'll forget all about winter, again."

Great, Dr. Hortfreud. That's the cure I want!

"It's the cure we all want."