Garden Benefits from Refrigeration

Bouquet with Tulip 'Exotic Emperor', narcissus and one
tulip 'Miami Sunset'.
Depending on which way the wind puffs, I'm either donning or doffing my sweatshirt. And I'm sitting inside. I swear I'm hearing a fog horn but we're at least three miles from the lake. It's one of those days when Lake Michigan acts as a giant refrigerator--the old-fashioned kind that comes with plenty of frost. Even three miles away, our spring weather is governed by this huge body of water, the second largest Great Lake at approximately 118 miles wide and 303 miles long.

But you won't find me complaining while the lake temperature hovers at around 41 degrees F--a good temperature for keeping things mild yet still springlike. It's been a great year for spring bulbs, and Lake Michigan can take much of the credit. The first tulips to open, 'Exotic Emperor', are still looking good, while 'Miami Sunset' is as fresh as when it began to open a week ago. I'm glad I planted tulips last fall, even if the deer decimated a good number of them before they'd even formed flower buds.
Tulip 'Miami Sunset'
Maurice the Hammy Cat sneaks
up on the camera.

The bulbs aren't the only plants benefiting from our natural fridge. The Hellebores are as perky as ever, and Pulmonaria blossoms are providing a great blue counterpoint to the warm shades of yellow, peach and orange.

Tulip 'Analita'
And I've promised myself I'd actually weed the whole garden before the peonies start to bloom. It just might happen this year, as I'm governed in summer by mosquito season, which officially begins after just one day of 80 degree temps.

Tulip 'Exotic Emperor' is dramatic inside and out.
Temperatures of late are perfect for my new gardening ensemble - Garden Girl gardening pants and Muck Boots gardening shoes. I'm liking the Muck Boots for their semi-tight fit around the instep for keeping dirt out of my shoes. And no matter the temperature, I haven't felt them to be either too hot or too cold. I had a size conundrum at first, as they don't come in half sizes and I happen to wear an 8 and a half usually. I ordered a size 9 so I could wear wool socks with them in the cold weather. When they came in there was too much slippage at the heel even with heavy socks. I exchanged them for an 8, and while I can't wear heavy socks, I can easily wear thinner ones and still have a great fit.
Muck Boot shoes even look good while relaxing.

As for the Garden Girl pants, they were sent by the company for me to try, which is a good thing, because I honestly would have a hard time paying over $90 for a pair of pants to wear while crawling ab out in the mud. I'm not really sure what size I have, as it says they are roomy. I can say that, if you get the right size, they fit great, especially with the stretchy elastic panels on each side that extends from waist to upper hip. I like that the ankle cinches closed with Velcro so the legs don't get caught on things or admit the occasional creepie crawlie. There is plenty of knee room for kneeling, and they even offer removable knee pads, which are to be inserted from inside the pants. This just seems incredibly awkward, so I don't use them.

Deer Deterrant / Raccoon Restriction

It might look like bare dirt in the VegTrug, but I'm expecting to be eating lettuce and beets some time in the future. I planted Big Boston lettuce and two types of beets (Golden and Flat of Egypt) from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and European Red and Green lettuce mix from Renee's Gardens.That's all. Last year, my first with the VegTrug, I tried to plant too much and nothing ended up doing that well.
When the plants start developing enough size to become tempting for the deer, I'll put a cover on it. I have a choice between the greenhouse plastic or a screen.
Raised veggie beds by Leslie and Jeremy

Our neighbors fell in love with our VegTrug last year, and decided to create their own version as part of their deck. When I heard the rhythmic sound of wood staples, I had to go and see what they were up to. This marvel of design using inexpensive materials like chicken wire, is accessible from both sides and features latches on each hinged door to keep out everything from raccoons and deer to the neighborhood cat. Leslie plans to grow tomatoes and zucchini in this, one of the few sunny spots in her garden.

Daffodil Season at Brincka-Cross Gardens

We found some wonderful surprises at Brincka-Cross Gardens in Furnessville. It was cold and wet, but color could be found both up high and much closer to the wet ground. It was well worth it.

White-flowered Pieris blooms on 8'+ shrub
There is no longer a breathtaking swathe of Narcissus once called "Daffodil Hill," but there are still plenty of varieties to enjoy as individuals. The list found in records kept by Bill Brincka included around 300 different varieties of Narcissus--more than enough to enchant both casual observer and passionate collector.
I have no way of knowing which is which, but I am guessing those blooming right now are of the mid-season types. According to Brincka's list, most of the daffodils are mid- and late-season varieties, so there should be at least another week to 10 days of blooms, depending on the weather.

No Comparison - But let's do it anyway...

Narcissus 'Passionale'
My husband is always accusing me of being cavalier with my plants. Ok, so maybe I'm not a sentimentalist when it comes to saving something just because it grows. The anniversary daffodils are another matter, however. The Narcissus variety called 'Passionale' bloomed in our garden on our wedding day - April 25, 1987. They happened to again be in bloom on that day the following year, which sealed the deal on our name for them. When we moved to a temporary location in August, 1999, I dug them up and planted them in my parents' garden, where they bloomed the following spring. I marked them and moved them to our new home garden in the fall of 2000.

Last year, however, they were in full bloom on March 31. Today, five days before our 26th anniversary, they're in tight bud. But they'll at least be blooming closer to our anniversary than they were last year, which happened to be our 25th.

I couldn't resist picking one of my favorite tulips, 'Montreux' from the raised bed on the south side of the house.

Tulip 'Montreux' in early April, 2012
The one I picked hasn't even begun to show the coloration it's capable of. This is a flower that gets better as it opens up, providing us with several days anticipation. I have to plant tulips close to the house, as they're just too tempting to the herd of marauding deer that have been coming by twice a day.
If this were a painting, I'd call it "Insult and Injury."

Tulip 'Montreux' today

My pronouncement about snow last month has come back to haunt me. It snowed last night, and was still lingering on little shady patches and plants. I was happy to see the lettuce seed I'd planted in the VegTrug had sprouted, and even happier to see it wasn't slowed down by the snow. The catmint has grown quite lush on the east side of the house and took the little snow dusting in stride.


Spring Brings Promise of Blooms

It's not the latest I've had Crocus in bloom. But comparing anything with 2012 makes everything seem late. This huge crocus stood out, surrounded as it was with brown, crisp winter leaves. It was all alone, having arrived most likely in the company of a relocated shrub or perennial. If it had been planted in a group I probably wouldn't have paid much attention. And I wouldn't have learned that the stigma of the flower is such a vivid orange it's hard to photograph.
Cornus mas lures me into the woods to get a closer look. Even the tiniest flowers stand out on bare stems. As the flowers of the dogwood open, clumps of daffodils will provide a perfect counterpart.
At least the Hellebores are finally opened up and visible throughout the garden. Most are a version of deep pink, but one lonely white-flowered plant provides the most bang for the buck in the midst of a brown landscape.
Promises for future flowers pop up almost daily, with bulbs running the gamut from Eremurus (foxtail lilies) to Hyacinth. Eremurus is the tallest plant going and, for me, blooms along with the latest flowering peonies. 
Eremurus, or foxtail lily emerges amidst the mums.
 Whether or not you recall my pronouncement about the last snowfall, I'm admitting here that I was wrong. It snowed yesterday, and I photographed the icy pellets as they landed on Peony 'Rose Gnome'. Luckily it didn't last and it didn't provide even a hint of cover, so I'll revise my March 15 premonition to state that "it won't snow measurably."
Peony 'Rose Gnome'
A pair of black-capped chickadees seem to be preparing a nest in a decorative birdhouse in my garden. It's looking a bit rundown and I'd planned to replace it, but they apparently don't mind.

Olly olly oxen free!

The only difference in the use of this hide and seek catchphrase is that I am both the hider and the seeker. I planted 336 bulbs last fall. Where the heck are they? This is what I asked myself in a semi-audible way as I scratched the surface of dried leaves from the partially-frozen ground. “We had six inches of snow just a few weeks ago,” my husband reminded me.(I accused him of blatant hyperbolic behavior and then apologized when I remembered he was right.)

Muscari 'Superstar'
Oh sure, I can see signs of some of the 115 tulip bulbs here and there, but I’ll have to wait until they bloom to know which is where. If they bloom. The extravagant nature of the purchase was driven home when I noticed deer footprints in the midst of one clump.

The trouble with planting spring bulbs is that, in order for them to look their best, some thought should be given to their surroundings.

I'm beginning to think perhaps I should make an attempt of cleaning up the garden in the fall. If I'd at least cut back the skeletal remains of the Japanese anemone and the now soggy strands of Siberian iris leaves, it would at least be easier to rake. My excuse has always been that I have more motivation in spring. As I age, I'm finding it doesn't matter how much motivation I have if there is a lack of momentum. So in order to negate the brown on brown surroundings, I'm left no choice but to plant more bulbs.
Scilla mischtschenkoana

Compared with my existing Muscari, the hybrid 'Superstar' is blooming very early. Of course, I planted it in the raised bed on the south side of my house, which is always a week or so advanced.
The 50 Scilla mischtschenkoana make attractive clumps that accompany fat little Hyacinths planted over the years. A clump of deep blue Hyacinths have apparently reverted back to a simpler structure. They're not the chubby little floret-packed stems, but they're still pretty and fragrant.
Simple hyacinth patch
A new bulb for me this year is Bulbocodium vernum, a Colchicum relative that's also referred to as spring saffron. If ever a bulb cried out for a tidy environment it's this one. It has no stem, and simply pops up out of any old scrubby pile of leaves and other leftover winter detritus without any warning.

Bulbocodium vernum

Impatiens Imperiled

It's kind of scary when a bullet-proof plant starts acting up. Impatiens have been the top-selling bedding plant for at least a decade, starting its rise in the mid 1980s and skyrocketing to fame for its many colors, range of heights and ability to turn a dark and shady spot into a kaliedescope of color.

As ubiquitous as Impatiens walleriana has been, it's hard to imagine a world without them, but it's really not looking good for this colorful standard. The villian in this tragedy is downy mildew of Impatiens, or Plasmopara obducens. It affects standard Impatiens including hybrids of I. walleriana, I. balsamina, I. pallida and the native jewelweed, I. capensis. New Guinea impatiens are resistant to the disease.

Experts in the horticulture world have provided growers with recommendations that include the use of a fungicide to prevent the disease's spread. However, even if a batch of disease-free Impatiens arrives at a retail location, there could still be contamination via windborne spores traveling more than a mile. There are also concerns about spores that overwinter in the soil.

The father of the impatiens was Claude Hope, who hybridized it in Costa Rica after WWII. His first impatiens breakthrough was the Elfin series. It was in 1966 that Hope was satisfied with the pink F1 hybrid he devised. His breeding stock consisted of hybrids and hybrid varieties from seed. The first samples of Hope's impatiens were sent as trials to Michigan State University and Purdue University. By 1969, his Elfin impatiens were introduced to rave reviews in the U.S.

The State of New Jersey Department of Agriculture has a fact sheet that explains the issue. Michigan State University Extension offers details about managing impatiens that are suspected to have the fungal disease.

Colorful alternatives to Impatiens include Begonia, Coleus, and Torenia, to name a few.
I saw a post recommending Vinca (Catharanthus roseus) as a good Impatiens substitute, but that's not the case, as the Vinca needs full sun to bloom well.
 Ball Seed offers a list of alternatives for use in shaded garden beds. Michigan State University also recommends several plants to use as Impatiens Alternatives in this standard and mobile list.

Amaryllis 'Pavlova': You Can Grow That!

After last year's success with three varieties of Hippeastrum (Amaryllis) from Eden Blooms, I had hoped perhaps I could repeat or even improve upon their performance. The results were somewhat unexpected.

Hippeastrum 'Pavlova'
Out of the three, the one with the most impressive number of blossoms was ‘Pavlova’, a white double I had ordered as an afterthought, as I’m not big on some of the doubled blooms of many types of flowers. I can now recommend 'Pavlova' as a great Amaryllis to try for beginners. Not only did Pavlova bloom after just seven weeks fromplanting, she bloomed from a bulb of a size from which I didn’t expect much.
While 'Razzle Dazzle' taunts me with one fat bud, and 'Sweet Lillian' has yet to send up a blooming stem, 'Pavlova' is in danger of being passed along to anyone with an interest in successful Amaryllis culture. Perhaps I'll give her the opportunity to perform for the Christmas holiday by planting her on Halloween.

Hippeastrum 'Pavlova' - two stems.
Depending on how well the bulbs increase and grow in summer, I might just have one or two to share here with my readers. Stand by and check back in September. I'll mark it on my calendar. Meanwhile, check out all the other "You Can Grow That" blogs here: