Ready or Not This Magnolia Will Finally Bloom!

Yes, I know everything's early. How can we help but notice. The jury's still out on how this warm weather will affect our growing season. I've got tree peonies ready to pop, herbaceous peonies within weeks of opening, and spring bulbs finishing up before they even started last year. 
Magnolia seiboldii bud
I don't know if the mild winter and spring had anything to do with it, but after at least six years in the ground, Magnolia seiboldii has more than a dozen buds on its branches! This somewhat finicky Magnolia is native to Eastern Asia and blooms in late spring. (Or at least that's what the literature says.) I call it finicky because it needs enough light to prompt blooms but not so much that the leaves become scorched. Its flowers are white with a red center and are said to be fragrant. Who knows how long it will be before it opens. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the buds don't get damaged by frost or eaten by deer.     
Mukdenia flower
Another Asian native that has been slow to become established for me is Mukdenia. It's bloomed each spring for the past several years, however, it's grown into a very modest plant since I got it nearly five years ago. (Did I mention that I usually buy just one plant at a time to make sure it does well before spending more money?) Anyway, I DID buy another one but it was crushed in the big white pine take-down. By the way, last year the Mukdenia was in bloom at this stage on April 26, nearly a month later.

Syringa 'Bloomerang' from Proven Winners
'Bloomerang' is as early as the rest of the lilacs in my garden. Smaller in leaf, stature and flower size, I like this little gem because it's not a space hog. It doesn't get a whole lot of direct sun, (probably around 3-4 hrs/day) but it's been blooming sporadically if not heavily for the past couple of years.

Great Plant Combination for Shade Container

Torenia 'Kaui Lemon Drop'
Pan American Seed
I can't wait to try the new Torenia series from Pan American Seed. A great complement or alternative to Impatiens, these shade-loving annuals are just adorable. The Kaui series includes lots of really pretty colors, and this cute little 'Lemon Drop' will make a great shade-brightener.

Five of the Kaui series colors are available as seed from Swallowtail Garden Seeds. Whether you choose the Deep Blue, Magenta, Rose, or White in seed form or wait until later in the spring and buy them as plants, you'll love their compact form and excellent branching habit.

Picture the 'Kaui Deep Blue' in a mixed planter with Coleus 'Wasabi' from Ball Floraplant for a partnership made in heaven.

Torenia 'Kaui Deep Blue'
Coleus 'Wasabi'
Tuck in a pot or two (depending on the size of your container) of Euphorbia graminea 'Diamond Frost' from Proven Winners, and you have a full-blown color echo.

A color echo is a combination in which one plant echoes the color(s) of another in the combination. The Coleus and Euphorbia echo the yellow and white in the Torenia 'Kaui Deep Blue'.

Labor required to keep this combination in top form includes pinching the Coleus back to be sure it doesn't take over the planter.

You Can Grow That: Singin' the Blues of Springtime

Brunnera 'Hadspen Cream'
Old-fashioned Brunnera macrophylla is a beautiful groundcover that has bright blue flowers in April (or March, this year). But I like 'Hadspen Cream' for dual interest in a shady bed. This cream and green beauty grows under a foot tall, can take deep to dappled shade, and looks good all season long. Until it's established, give it supplemental water when it's dry, especially if it is in more sun than shade. Otherwise, keep an eye out for reversions and clip them out at the base.

Omphalodes 'Starry Eyes'
Omphalodes with Hellebore
Brunnera happens to bloom at the same time as Omphalodes cappadocica, a little groundcover that likes the same conditions. I have the hybrid 'Starry Eyes', which echoes the variegation in the Brunnera leaf, only in its flowers. I don't have them right up next to one another, as the Omphalodes flowers would be lost in front of the Brunnera. I prefer dark-leaved Astilbe or the substantial leaves of Hellebore for Omphalodes' backdrop, making the little flowers really pop.

Unusual Spring Bulbs Bloom Early

Muscari macrocarpum 'Golden Fragrance'
I'm not sure what happened the last time I tried Muscari macrocarpum 'Golden Fragrance', but it never came up after planting it in fall in one of the sunnier areas in my garden--a raised bed that also includes plants that require good drainage--but it surprised me this year. I'd planted it once again last fall after purchasing it from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. They're pricey, and since I wasn't sure they'd come up, I only bought a few. It's more of a novelty this year but hopefully will be happy enough to reward me with increasing numbers in future years.

Fritillaria meleagris

Why it took me so long to grow Fritillaria meleagris. This unassuming, deer-resistant bulb doesn't mind a moist spot, and will reseed when it's happy. I planted a mix of both the checkered type and a white, both of which bloomed in late April last year. They're a whole month earlier this year.

Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy'

Fritillaria raddeana
Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' seems a bit more floriferous than the species, and its flowers appear to be larger as well. It's having a good year even in its location in some serious shade. Redbud is an understory tree, but I'd been concerned it wouldn't get enough sun on the north side of the house.

I'll have to start saving my money now so I can buy at least two more bulbs of Fritillaria raddeana to keep this lonely flower company. I had hoped that it would be so happy it would reseed with abandon. It's been two seasons already... Anyway, I certainly like its unusual and delicate look and color that goes with everything.

Hyacinth 'Odysseus' flopped after a heavy rain.
It doesn't go with everything like the Fritillaria, but Hyacinth 'Odysseus' is a great springtime color, and unusual in the Hyacinth world. In its second year since planting this orangey-peachy blend is packed with so many florets it almost seems as if they were double. I recommend planting it in the sunniest spot you can find so it doesn't flop like mine have. It gave me an excuse to pick one for a vase, though.

Most of us are scratching our heads about this weird weather and waiting for the other shoe to drop. Will the proverbial shoe arrive in the form of an ice storm? A short-lived blizzard? We're back closer to normal today with temps in the high 50s and incredibly foggy. But with all of the plants that are supposed to bloom in April opening in March, I'm not sure what next month will look like. But I guess that's one of the best things about gardening--the surprises.

Rare Sighting of VegTrug Mammoth

We were surprised this afternoon by the appearance of the elusive wooly mammoth (Cairnus puppifii) who has taken up residence under the newly-constructed VegTrug. Although carnivores by nature, Cairnus puppifii could be tempted, under the right set of circumstances, to eat vegetables. Often referred to as "stomachs with legs," the wooly mammoth encounters these circumstances when the opportunity arises. This omnivorous little beast harvests its own green beans, and has been known to dig up newly-planted turnips. If you have a Cairnus puppifii living in or around your home or garden, it's imperative that you keep them out of the cabbage. One of their defense mechanisms is the ability to emit a gas so toxic it will make your eyes water...

Prepare for the future but don't overlook the present

Gardeners really need to know how to multi-task. We have to prepare for the future by starting seeds for plants that thrive in the heat of mid-July while trying not to miss out on what's going on right now.  In the realm of preparing for the future, the VegTrug is filled with eight 50-lb bags of  Baccto Premium Potting Soil
Temperatures haven't warranted it, but I have the greenhouse cover and frame ready to go. I've started Mignonette, beets, lettuce and alyssum. I'll be growing veggies in this container, but can't see letting it sit vacant so I'm using it as a seed-starting greenhouse for plants that germinate in cooler temperatures.

With temperatures in the 70s, I'm thinking about becoming concerned that the lettuce and beets will balk at germinating because it's too hot.

My spring flowers are going through a whirlwind bloom season, with all of my Hellebores open along with my early daffodils, crocus, and a few miscellaneous bulbs.
Crocus chrysanthus 'Cream Beauty'

Crocus chrysanthus 'Blue Bird'

These bulbs light up the garden!

For the second day in a row, temperatures are supposed to reach near 80 degrees. And it's mid-March, for pity's sake!

So as far as I know these giant crocus have finished blooming, having succumbed to the ravishes of unseasonable heat and humidity.
The crocus are the giant types, which typical bloom a bit later than the tommies and other species. But all bets are pretty much off because of the time-lapse weather sequence that went from 40s to near 80s in a matter of days. But that's the great thing about gardening - no matter how long you've been doing it, no two years are alike. 

Puschkinia, or striped squill, is a tiny plant that takes a big group to make an impact. I think I planted a dozen a couple of years ago and am thinking they'd look great with aforementioned giant crocus.  

These early daffs are only around 10" tall.

It's hard to get a good shot of Puschkinia because they're so tiny. But they add a nice cool hint of color to balance the bright yellows of the early daffodils.

Fritillaria raddeana
In the "almost missed it" category, Fritillaria raddeana seems to be growing taller before my eyes. I'll keep you updated on the progress of this unusual frittilaria.
If there is one thing I've learned at this time of year it's that I have to place an order for spring blooming bulbs now before I forget. Otherwise, I'll spend next spring as I'm spending this spring--wishing I'd planted more bulbs... Enjoy!

The VegTrug is Here!

The VegTrug is perfect for anyone interested in growing veggies without going to the trouble of creating a complete garden bed. My husband put this baby together in less than an hour.
“I don’t know why, but the song ‘Away in a Manger’ kept playing in my head,” he told me after he’d finished.
Well, it DOES kind of look like a manger (although Poppy didn’t find it that comfortable).

But it’s because the VegTrug is designed to offer ample root space for things like potatoes, carrots and beets. It comes with a liner especially fitted to assure the soil stays put, and at the same time allowing for excellent drainage.
This size of VegTrug measures 71 inches long by 31 inches high and 30 inches deep. It holds 380 quarts of soil. While the nearly $300 price tag puts this item into the “investment” category, it pays for itself in the amount of vegetables it grows in just one season. I’ll be growing lettuce, beets and Roma bush beans along with basil and nasturtium.
I haven't worked out exactly where I'll put it, but I'll have to decide before it's filled with all of that soil.

I’ve also ordered the greenhouse and insect covers so I can get started as soon as they arrive.

More New Garden Stuff!!

Somehow I knew "New" would get you. That's why advertisers use it so much. When you think about it, it's probably one of the few three-letter words that hasn't lost its cachet. In the advertising world, anyway. But I think "New" is probably the best word advertisers have ever coined in any promotion. It's more versatile than "Thicker," "Organic," "Fresher," and the ever popular "No Trans-fats." The term, if it can be trusted, means it's something you've never seen, tasted or experienced before. The only time "New" isn't a good fit for a product is when it isn't (the product, I mean.) And in most products, if it includes the term "New," it darned well better be.

I'm willing to admit that "New" is a relative term, and I'm hoping you'll grant me some leeway in this presentation of plants and garden products. After all, I'm not really trying to sell you anything (directly, anyway). Mixed among the cool new stuff, I'll be including the "Not Born Yesterday" contingent--things you might have already seen but didn't buy for some reason or another that I've tried and really liked.  

While I'm not a plant breeder or marketer or even a professional plant grower, I'll give you a fair overview of new stuff out there -- plants and pots and more -- because I'm a garden geek. I suppose you could say it's my gardening style that makes me the ideal presenter of this information. I took the Monrovia Gardening Style Quiz, but it doesn't list my style.

The Birds and Bees are Back!

Italian Honey Bees
You might want to hunker down and inspect your garden at close range, even if it seems to be asleep. I'm not sure where they went when it started to snow, but last week I found these very happy bees plying a small patch of Crocus for nectar. The day was sunny, breezy and warm - somewhere in the 50 degree range. Take a look at their pollen sacs as they danced around the flowers!

And it didn't require close inspection the other day when this huge and beautiful hawk took a breather on a fence post in my garden. According to Facebook fans, it's a broad-winged hawk.

This hawk obviously doesn't have a calendar on his Iphone. According to the Animal Diversity Web information, they're migratory and don't usually arrive at their nesting sites until April.

But of course, they know best. There is plenty of food in the garden for these carnivorous raptors. We've seen robins for at least a month now, in addition to the Cardinals, chicadees and nuthatches that hang around during the winter. I probably say this every year, but this winter has had some wildly fluctuating weather. There's snow on the ground and it's supposed to get up into the 60 degree range today.  

Where are You Going to Put All Those New Plants?

Seeking out new plants allows us to be scientists, discoverers in our own environment. Perhaps it’s human nature to want the newest thing. The proof is all around us—wireless phones, better-insulated windows, paints without lead, cars with air conditioning. All have made our lives more convenient and comfortable. Some advances have even saved us money.

Improvements on life’s little (or big) comforts quickly become the norm—things we don’t even bother to think about anymore. As for the money-saving advances, they’re certainly welcome but rare, really, and partially illusion perpetrated by manufacturers of new products. Most of the money-saving “advances” come in doing things the old-fashioned way.
Mom of Baby Boomer
(don't know the guy in the background.)
Convenience is a biggie—something for which we as a nation are willing to shell out serious funds—especially for the largest demographic in the country. Baby Boomers (those born 1946-1964) are the biggest buyers of convenience. But those handy life helpers have to be sexy. Which is where the planting accouterments come in.

In addition to the wonderful new plants that are rolled out each year, have you noticed the planters? How can you help but notice; they’re everywhere. While a roomy, long-lasting planter is a great investment, it’s not enough anymore. They should be lightweight, attractive, self-watering, and unusual. And having wheels is certainly a big plus.
I’ll be reviewing several of these new planters, including the original Earth Box, Hanging Art Baskets, the Pamela Crawford Side Planting Baskets, Grow Bags, and Lechuza pots.

Representatives of these planters are standing by. As soon as the weather warms up, I’ll be using them for the new and not-so-new plants I’ll be buying or starting from seed.