Friday, May 27, 2011

Colorful Containers

Outside a restaurant that's tucked away between shops, the outdoor seating area is surrounded by these big, gorgeous containers:

Each large, square container was filled with a fully blooming Scotch Broom (Cytisus scoparius) in the center, surrounded by Pansies (Viola), Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), Ageratum (Ageratum houstonianum) and Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia augustifolia).

Certainly once the Scotch Broom is finished blooming, it won't look quite as spectacular. Hopefully, someone will replace it with something equally as impressive!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Not all Hostas are Created Equal

For a long time, I didn't like Hostas. But then again, I was only familiar with Hosta lancifolia and it's little purple flower spikes above skinny, medium green leaves. It seemed to be in everyone's garden, along the side of buildings and even along the road as if they were a common wildflower.

But somewhere along the way, I was introduced to new varieties of Hostas and my opinion began to change. I saw plants with big leaves, small leaves, white flowers and so many different leaf colors: blue-gray, lime, green/green variegation, green/white variegation - just to name a few.

Now, I'm a converted fan. I love seeing the plant emerge from the ground in the spring. The tightly rolled leaves standing straight and tall until they finally burst open and spread their wings, I mean leaves. And then, their mound of color and texture begins to brighten even the shadiest spot.

When it rains, the water droplets hang onto the leaf a bit longer than necessary to create an even more beautiful effect.

I think they look great when different plant varieties are clustered together in a woodland area of the garden. But no matter how you have them planted or displayed, they are truly a treasure to the garden.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Weeds Are My Friends

It's been raining here all week. I can't remember the last time it has rained five consecutive days in a row. And not just a little drizzle, I'm talking about full fledged downpours!
So needless to say, by yesterday, I was feeling down in the dumps. The weather certainly has a big impact on my mood and state of mind.

In between showers, I passed these Poppy buds in a neighbor's yard. I love the fuzziness of the stem and bud, but also how their heads droop downward. Their "droopy" state was sort of symbolic to how I was feeling. I couldn't help but smile when I passed them. Hopefully, in a few days, the sun will come out, the Poppy's bright orange flower will be on display and I will be in a much better mood!

The other thing that helped me feel better yesterday was weeding. The soil was so wet, it was very easy to weed the vegetable garden. The repetitive nature of the weeding, coupled with the rich smell of the wet earth was simply meditative and healing for me. I had only 30 minutes before I needed to rush off to do something else, but those 30 minutes were pure bliss for me. So yes, weeds may not be wanted in the garden, but at the end of the day, they sometimes can be like good friends, helping me through a tough day.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Why Lilacs Don't Bloom

Courtesy of Rob's Plants
Around there, the Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) are in full bloom. Just a short walk outside and their perfumed scent hits you before your eyes can even find them. But what does it mean if the shrub doesn't bloom? I was asked this question last weekend by a friend. Last year she pruned it serverely after it flowered, with the hopes of rejuvenating it so it would be overflowing with blooms the following spring. However, this year, not one bloom appeared.

There are a few reasons I can think of as to why a Lilac shrub wouldn''t bloom:

1. Pruning
New flower buds are formed soon after the current year's blooms die back. To ensure abundant flowering the next year, spent blossoms should be cut off and the flowering stem should be pruned back to a set of leaves. Waiting too late to prune will remove the new buds that have formed for the following year.

2. Immaturity
Most varieties of Lilacs need three to four years to grow and develop before they produce their first blooms.

3. Soil pH
Lilacs prefer sweet soils (slightly acid to alkaline) with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. If the soil is too acidic (aka "sour"), it should be amended with lime to help sweeten it a bit.
Never assume your pH - have it tested by your local garden center or Cooperative Extension Service before trying to alter it.

4. Fertilizer
In general, Lilacs don't need much fertilizer, but if you feel it is needed, Cornell University recommends a 5-10-10 (5% Nitrogen, 10% Phosphorus, 10% Potassium). Using the wrong type of fertilizer can be a problem. Fertilizers with higher Phosphorus will encourage flowering on plants and vegetables. Fertilizers with higher Nitrogen will help produce green leaves, but will hinder blooming. Apply fertilizer to the planting area in the spring, as new growth is beginning.

5. Sunlight
Lilacs need full sun. If the shrub is in partial sun or shade, it will not bloom well.

6. Water
Lilacs need do not like wet feet, so be sure they are not over-watered. They do best in soil that is well drained.

7. Transplant shock
If the plant was moved since the last blooming period, it may take a year for it to recover and be happy.

Did you know?
The story of Lilac, according to Greek mythology, begins with a beautiful nymph named Syringa (Lilac's botanical name). Captivated by her beauty, Pan, the god of the forests and fields, chased Syringa through the forest. Frightened by Pan's affections, Syringa escaped him by turning herself into an aromatic bush - the flower we now refer to as lilac!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Three Sisters

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm on the Garden Committee at my son's elementary school and this week we worked with the 4th grade classes planting the "Three Sisters" - corn, beans and squash.

The Native Americans have passed down the legend of the Three Sisters, as well as the knowledge of growing, using and preserving the crops through generations.

The legend describes three maidens (corn, beans and squash) who, despite being very different, love each other and thrive when they are near each other. For this reason, the Native Americans planted these three crops together.

The corn provides a natural pole for the bean vines to climb. The beans fix nitrogen on their roots, improving the overall fertility of the soil. The squash leaves provide shade for the soil, deterring weeds and preventing loss of soil moisture.

Image from Park Seed Co
Nutritionally, this combination also complement each other. The corn provides carbohydrates, the beans provide protein, and the squash provides vitamins and healthy oils.

Before the children began the project we read the legend to them so they would understand its history as well as the idea of companion planting. For our project, we also added a fish head to the soil as fertilizer. Personally, I think the children enjoyed handling the fish head the best, but the whole project seemed to be a hit!

First they dug a deep hole, into which they placed the fish head. After covering the head with soil, they continued to build a mound of soil about 12-15 inches high. At the top of the mound, they planted a few corn seeds. Then they built a tee-pee from three stakes and placed it over the mound. This will help the beans climb to the corn. Bean seeds were planted around the middle ring of the mound. Finally, at the base of the mound, they planted various types of squash seeds.

There are four classes and each class planted two mounds of the Three Sisters. I can't wait to see how they progress over the next few weeks!

If you would like to read a version of the Three Sisters legend, head on over to the The Bird Clan of Alabama's site. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

100,000 Bulbs in Bloom!

100,000 bulbs, over 500 varieties in bloom. With beautifully landscaped grounds and so many things blooming, this garden reminded me of Keukenhof in Lisse, Holland. But it was actually the private home of my friend Deb Van Bourgondien on Long Island. Debbie is the executive vice president of Van Bourgondien and Sons, which sells bulbs via its Van Bourgondien catalog and website

Every fall she plants more and more bulbs on her property - a task I'm sure her neighbors thank her for every spring.

Pulling into the driveway I was met with a sea of yellow daffodils, beds of tulips and two enormous cedar trees.

The side bed was anchored by two gorgeous Saucer Magnolia trees (Magnolia x Soulangiana) in full bloom.

Because of all the different varieties, the bloom times were different. Each bed had some tulips or daffodils that were blooming, some that were still in bud and others that had just finished.

Everywhere I walked, something new was blooming and under the foliage of the bulbs, I could see the new stalks of late spring/early summer blooming perennials, like Hostas and Peonies, peeking through the soil.

I was so happy to have explored her garden and am in awe at the amount of work that has been put into it. I can't wait to go back again soon to see what the garden looks like in the summer!