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Friday, February 26, 2016

Ideas grow in the winter garden

An idea growing in my garden
Every winter, I plant seeds for ideas to harvest and use in the garden.

Ideas are pretty easy to grow.

They don't seem to mind the cold temperatures. In fact, sometimes they grow best on the coldest days while I'm inside reading a good gardening book or two or three.

And if it snows and I can't go anywhere? That's when I usually see a lot of growth on the ideas planted in the garden.

I fertilize my ideas with liberal doses of seed catalogs.  Some seed catalogs are better fertilizer than others, but all provide some value.

For a big boost, I'll super charge the ideas growing in my garden by going to a gardening program and listening to others talk about gardening and plants.

It never fails. I've come home from some of those programs to find gigantic ideas growing in the garden.

When the ideas in my garden start to reach full size, I encourage them to multiply and sow themselves about.  After all, can you have too many good ideas in the garden?

I don't think you can.

This is the time of year, as winter winds down and spring shows signs of arriving, when many of the ideas are almost ready to pick. Picking ideas from the garden sometimes involves making a few phones calls to line up help for the big harvest or convincing your significant other to help.

Or you can pick the ideas yourself if you have the time and energy.

Some gardeners prune their ideas back. I'm not sure why they do that. I understand it is sometimes necessary, but I think ideas grow best without pruning them or constraining them. Let them grow as they will, I say. After all, ideas are free and don't really cost anything until you actually harvest them.

When you do harvest your ideas, some may be bigger than anyone can manage, even with help. You can trim those ideas back a little and still have a good idea to plant in the garden later in the spring.  Or if you have too many ideas, share them with other gardeners. They'll appreciate them and may return the favor by sharing good ideas from their gardens with you.

There really is an unlimited supply of ideas for the garden.  In fact the unlimited supply can be overwhelming and confusing to many gardeners. If you feel overwhelmed or confused by the number of  ideas in your garden, consider just setting some of your ideas aside for another time.

But be aware that when and if you do set aside ideas from the garden, they can disappear on you. If that happens, you probably didn't need that idea anyway.

If you don't like some of the ideas you picked from your garden or don't feel like they are a good fit for your garden, consider an idea swap.  The ideas you don't think are right for your garden might be perfect for another gardener's garden. And their ideas might be just what you were seeking for your own garden.

Recently I checked on some of the ideas growing in my garden. They've been growing steadily this winter and I'm pretty pleased with most of them. In fact, I think there are some ideas that are almost overripe and need to be picked this year. I'll work on doing that as soon as it warms up a bit.

And I promise to share the harvest of ideas from my garden in the days and weeks ahead and hope others will share theirs as well.

After all, ideas are one of my favorite winter crops.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

In the old seed box I found...

On the top of a bookshelf in my den, I keep an old cardboard shipping box with the seeds my Dad ordered back in 1987 for a garden he wouldn't end up planting in its entirety.

The seed packets, some still unopened, make a soft rattling sound as I look them over to remind myself of what he liked to grow.

Some of the packets are still unopened. Others he opened and planted early that spring.

On the packets of tomatoes and eggplant, Dad wrote "sown Feb. 22nd". He did like to start his tomatoes inside much earlier than I generally start mine.

On a packet of peas, variety 'Green Arrow', he wrote "sown on Mar. 6 with onions".

That's the packet of seeds I used several years ago to figure out why my peas never seemed to be as good as the peas he grew. When I saw that packet, I realized I was sowing my peas too late and I just hadn't picked a good variety.

Now, of course, I always plant 'Green Arrow' peas around St. Patrick's Day, March 17th, and have great success with peas.  Thanks, Dad.

I looked over those seed packets again this evening, on the eve of what would have been Dad's 88th birthday, and  discovered a packet of Amaranth seeds, unopened.  I don't remember him growing Amaranth before so it must have been a plant he wanted to try. Or maybe, while looking through the seed catalog, I pointed it out and suggested he grow it.

Either way, now that I know he was going to grow some Amaranth that year, how can I not grow some in my garden this year?  Never mind it never occurred to me before. Never mind I've already ordered seeds galore, enough for two gardens.  Never mind all that.  I'll find a spot now for Amaranth, too.

Dad was going to grow an Amaranth variety called 'Illumination'.  I've decided to try an Amaranth variety called 'Cinco de Mayo' from Renee's Garden.  It will add some nice color along the back row of the garden, where I grow zinnias, marigolds, sunflowers, hollyhocks and now amaranth.  And while I'm sowing the seeds for 'Cinco de Mayo', I may open this 29 year old seed packet of 'Illumination' and see if any of those seeds will germinate. Why not? I have nothing to lose in doing so except a little time.

Of course, I'll keep the seed packet, regardless of whether or not the seeds inside germinate.

It will remind me again how blessed I am to have a Dad who gardened, and let me garden with him.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

If plants had boots instead of roots

If plants had boots instead of roots, would they stay in your garden or put their boots to work and move on?

Why would they move on?

For starters, there is the weather forecast. After a weekend of record warm weather, when everyone wanted to believe that winter was over early, the weather forecast now contains words like snow, sleet, wind, ice and rain.

All those plants that popped up and bloomed, if they had boots instead of roots, might be checking the schedule for a southbound bus about now.

And then there are the weeds. Who wants to live in a neighborhood where thistles flex their thorns at every leaf that grows within an inch of them? Where, if you aren't a careful plant, a dandelion seed can germinate practically on top of you and then entwine its roots with your roots?  I'm sure even the hardiest, toughest plant in the garden shudders at the very thought.

Or how about location?  Just like in real estate, location, location, location is important to many plants. If they had boots instead of roots, would plants run out of that low spot that seems to hold water for days on end after a rain? Or move away from that tree that hogs all the moisture, sunlight and nutrients and leaves them with nothing to grow on?

If plants had boots instead of roots, and any sense of style, would they run away from that coral colored flower that nothing else matches? Would they try to organize themselves a bit, like birds of a feather, in way that makes them happy?

In some ways, plants do have boots, in addition to roots.  They can creep along, seed along, root along and somehow move themselves around the garden, coming up in the oddest places.  They can also just disappear, leaving the gardener to wonder was it the weeds, the location, the other plants around them, the weather? What caused them to exit the garden?

We'll never know, but we ought to treat plants like they have boots instead of roots.  Give them the best soil, the best location, and the best neighbors and maybe they'll take off their boots, set down some roots and stay awhile.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Enjoy the flowers

As soon as the weather warmed again, the crocuses returned.

And not just the crocuses.

The bees showed up, too.

They seemed almost frantic as the went from one flower to another, grabbing all the pollen they could.

And I'm sure I looked a bit frantic, too, as I went from flower to flower trying to take pictures of all of them.

Honestly, I looked like I had never seen a flower before.

But there were so many flowers, I soon gave up the notion of taking pictures of each of them, or even counting them. Instead, I just watched the bees and admired the blooms.

The bees knew exactly what to do.

I like to think in the spring, I, too, know exactly what to do in the garden.

I think I have a pretty good idea.

I need to weed out winter annuals.

And make sure I've ordered all the seeds for the garden.

I need to finish clearing off flower borders.

And I need to set up the patio furniture and uncover the big containers on the patio.

I need to make sure all is ready for the first sowing of peas and complete winter pruning.

But then I pause and remember that I don't need to do any of that, at least not on the first warm day of late winter when the crocuses are blooming.

On such a day, I really only need to do one thing.

Enjoy the flowers.

And that is what I did.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Plants: Time to Value and Length of Value

A tree's LoV is a long, long time, hopefully
I've been thinking about plants.

In particular I've been thinking about how long it takes a plant to "deliver its value" once you bring it home and plant it.  By deliver its value, I mean the time it takes for a flower to bloom, for a tree to offer its shade, for a shrub to reach its potential or for a vegetable to be ready to eat.

I'm stealing a marketing term, "time to value", often abbreviated as TtV, to describe the time it takes a plant to do its thing.

An annual flower is usually doing its thing right after you plant it, even if you buy it as a small plant. It's TtV is almost measured in hours. But a tree might have a TtV measured in years if not a decade, from when you planted it until it is finally providing the dappled shade you hoped it would provide on a warm summer's day.

Some perennials have a fairly short TtV, if one season is short, but generally, don't we all give perennials about three seasons to deliver whatever their value is?

Then once we get through the TtV waiting period, how long does the value last?  I am calling the period of time that the plant is at its peak, the Length of Value or LoV. That's the amount of time we are loving that plant because it is blooming for us, or shading us, or feeding us.

When we get to the end of the LoV, its time for that plant to go. Of course, it's easy to let go of annuals and vegetable plants at the end of a growing season. We knew their LoV would be short.

It's not so easy to admit that a perennial has reached its maximum LoV and needs to be dug out. Sometimes, they make the decision for us and one year they just don't return.  But often they reach a max LoV and start to decline.  When that happens, we can give them a boost by digging them up, dividing them, and replanting them, giving them a fresh start, a new clock to measure their LoV

It's sometimes harder to recognize that a shrub or a tree has reached its maximum LoV and should be removed and replaced.  We may have enjoyed that tree or shrub for years, after all, and life in the garden without it would be hard to imagine.

While shrubs reaching the end of their LoV can often get a fresh start with a severe cutting back, trees usually can't. Our hope for trees, of course, is their LoV is longer than our own time in the garden.

Think about this, the next time you are impatiently waiting for a flower to bloom, for a tree to offer its shade, for a shrub to reach its potential or for a vegetable to be ready to eat. Every plant has it's own TtV and it's own LoV.

When we accept this, it makes it all the sweeter when we get value earlier or value longer than we ever expected it.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Garden Fairies Report: Flower under pillow, flowers in your dreams

Garden fairies here.

We are garden fairies and we have decided to post on this blog on a Tuesday, which is quite unusual for us. Usually we post on Sundays because that's when Carol is most likely to "yield the keyboard" to us, so to speak.

Why on Tuesday?

Because we have decided to reveal yet another garden fairy truth and we didn't want to wait until next Sunday.

We are garden fairies. We decide. We do. We are creatures of action. Unless someone tells us we have to do something, then we are creatures of inaction.

Anyway, before we forget, we have decided to reveal...

How to Have Garden-Filled Dreams.

Only here will you find such information.

Here is what you do to have dreams filled with flowers and lovely gardens.  Find a pretty flower, one just opened is best, and place it under your pillow.  Then go to sleep with your head on that pillow.

Just as you start to dream, a garden fairy will visit you, check under your pillow to see what kind of flower you chose, and then fill your dreams with flowers and lovely gardens.

We are garden fairies. It is that simple.

Flower under pillow, flowers in your dreams.

You can repeat that.

Flower under pillow, flowers in your dreams.

And it just takes one little flower, not a whole bouquet.  In fact, don't try it with a full bouquet of flowers. You won't be able to handle such dreams.  Sweetpea MorningGlory heard of someone who did that.  She said she had never seen such garden dreams.

We are garden fairies. Trust us. Trust Sweetpea.

Flower under pillow, flowers in your dreams.

You're welcome.

Submitted by:

Viola Greenpea Maydreams, who is on Flower Dreams duty tonight.  (That's what we call it when it is your turn, as a garden fairy, to visit sleeping gardeners to check for flowers under their pillows.)

P.S.  We would like to thank Carol for allowing us to post this here. She is quite brave to yield the keyboard to us, as she does. Or she's just lazy and wants us to do her writing for her. Either way, we are nothing if not grateful.  Wonder what kind of flower she will put under her pillow tonight? Did we tell you about the time she put a... never mind. We promised not to tell that story.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - February 2016

Snowdrop in the snow on Saturday
Welcome to Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day for February 2016.

Here in my USDA Hardiness Zone 6a garden in central Indiana, I had high hopes a week ago for a magnificent bloom day showing.

Why such high hopes?

A week ago, it was warmer and lovelier than should be allowed in February, at least around here.

The grass was greener, the sky was bluer and I actually had thoughts that I might do a little experimenting with sowing peas in the veg garden much earlier than I had ever sown them before.

Just look at these crocuses from a week ago.

Crocuses from a week ago

And look at them on Saturday.

Crocuses after a cold week
And here they are on Sunday.

Trust me, they are under that snow and they are not happy about the downward turn of temps and the return of snow. I wouldn't be either except...

I have blooms indoors!

The hyacinths in the sunroom are just beginning to open. You can smell them before you see them.
There is nothing fancy about these hyacinths. I bought bulbs at the big box store, on clearance as I recall, and threw them in the back of the refrigerator to cool until January.  Then after I put away all the Christmas decor,  I retrieved the bulbs from the refrigerator, set them on forcing vases and just like that...blooms.

I did have one left over hyacinth bulb that I potted up.
It's doing well, too.

As I looked about the sunroom, I noticed the Amaryllis bulbs from Christmas time that I thought were done blooming are still sending up new bloom stalks.
These are a lovely dark red, perfect for Valentine's Day.   The bulbs, from Longfield Gardens, were the biggest Amaryllis bulbs I had ever seen so I guess I should not be surprised at the number of blooms they are providing me.  Note to self to get some more next fall.

Elsewhere, I noticed one of the begonias grown this summer primarily for foliage has a few pretty blooms on it, too.
They are a nice bonus to go with the lovely foliage, so I'm glad I brought this particular plant inside rather than leave it to die in the cold.  By the way, if you are in love with foliage, don't forget to post tomorrow for Foliage Follow up hosted on Digging.

So as you can see, all is well here at May Dreams Gardens, in spite of a see-sawing winter, because we do have some blooms, even in February.

What's blooming in your garden in February? Are all your blooms indoors? Or do you have blooms outdoors to show us? Indoors or outdoors, we'd love to see them.

It's easy to join in for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Just post on your blog about what's blooming in your garden and then come here and leave a comment to tell us what you have, and put a link to your post on the Mr. Linky widget so we know where to find you.

As always... We can have blooms nearly every month of the year. ~ Elizabeth Lawrence

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Great Tomato Question: Seeds or Plants?

A 'German Johnson' tomato almost ready to pick
Now is the time to answer The Great Tomato Question.

Should I start my tomato plants from seeds or buy tomato plants at the garden center?

I've done both.

If I start my tomato plants from seeds, the world is my oyster, or rather my tomato. With just a few clicks on the Internet I can order seeds for the exact varieties of tomatoes I want to grow.

I can grow old favorites, like 'German Johnson'.  I can grow heirloom tomatoes. I can grow the newest hybrid tomatoes. I can grow cherry tomatoes and orange tomatoes and pink tomatoes and even green tomatoes.  There is no limit, other than the size of my garden, on the variety of tomatoes I can grow if I start my tomato plants from seeds.

And as far as seed starting goes, tomato seeds are pretty darn easy to sow, germinate readily, and generally grow well indoors as long as you provide them with a lot of light.

Of course, the tomato seedlings do need a bit of care through the process.  You have to water them, and make sure to give them a little bit of fertilizer, and maybe even pot them up to bigger pots before it's time to plant them out in the garden.

But did I mention you can find all kinds of amazing tomato varieties to purchase seeds for online?

On the other hand, if I don't start my tomato plants from seeds, I have to buy tomato plants at the local greenhouse or garden centers.  And I have to settle for whatever varieties they have available.  Most years, that's okay, as long as I can find a source for my beloved 'German Johnson' tomato.

Last year, I sort of had the best of both worlds.  The owners of the local greenhouse grew a few 'German Johnson' tomato plants just for me.  Wasn't that nice of them?  I'm sure if I asked nicely, they'd do it again.

But I do like to start my tomatoes from seeds.  And there are so many varieties I want to try. And I have the shelves and the lights and the flats and the soil.  I just need the seeds.

I guess I have my answer to The Great Tomato Question.

What's your answer?

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Crocuses Bless the Garden in Late Winter

When Carol returned home on Friday and looked out the back door at the garden, she gasped audibly.  Were those crocuses blooming already on February 5th?

She flung open the door and rushed across the patio to the lawn.  Yes, those were crocuses blooming.

In the fading light of the day, she took pictures of the buds and marveled at how early the blooms were.

The next day, Carol's first thoughts upon waking were of the crocuses in the lawn. She hoped for a sunny day and within hours, her hopes were realized. The sun was shining.

Soon enough, the crocuses began to open.

In Carol's mind, they were opened one by one by tiny garden fairies running from one bloom to the next.  They tickled each bloom open and then stood back to admire their work.

The first show of spring was well underway.

Carol waiting patiently before going out to see the blooms. She didn't want to interrupt the garden fairies in their work of opening each flower.

By mid-afternoon, Carol could wait no more.  She opened the back door, making a bit of extra noise  to alert the garden fairies of her presence, and made her way to the lawn.

So many crocus blooms.

She walked along and began to count the blooms.  1, 2, 3.... 76, 77, 78... 210, 211, 212... all the way to 382.

382 open crocus blooms on February 6th.

Carol was delighted, but in her delight she began to sense how quickly spring can arrive. Was she ready? She hadn't ordered her seeds yet. She should do that now. Was this the entire crocus show? Carol knew there were thousands of other crocuses in the lawn, and reminded herself this was not the end of the show, it was the beginning.

She wondered, "If there are 382 crocus blooms now, how many blooms will pass through this garden before the end of the season?"

The answer, she decided, was more than she'd ever be able to count. And she knew then how blessed she was to be a gardener, how blessed she was to still feel the excitement each spring when the first of the crocuses bloom.

Then she went back inside and began to dream of May.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

February, the longest month of winter for gardeners

Snowdrop blooms in the sun
I think gardeners might have a bit of a warped sense of time.

We think that February is the longest month of the year.  It is four weeks, plus an extra day this year, of nearly interminable waiting for March.

Now, I do know that for some gardeners, the beginning of March is really their beginning of spring.  For me, though, it is really March 17th.

March 17th is when, with great ceremony, I march (pun alert!) out to the vegetable garden and sow a row of peas.

The ceremony part involves me sticking a soil thermometer in the ground to verify that the soil temperature is over 40F and then standing there with my hands on my hips, surveying the blank canvas of the vegetable garden.

I look from one raised bed to the next and remember how the garden was laid out last season, then figure out where the tomatoes are going to go. After I've done that, I pick another bed, and sow seeds for peas.

But that's still many weeks from now. Winter weeks. Long weeks. Waiting weeks. February weeks. The longest month of winter.

But once we are through February... hang on. Spring goes quick!