Top Ten Performers: #9 Daffodils

The first bouquet of 2022 would have been much, much later without daffodils!

In evaluating the Top Ten Performers of the 2022’s bouquet project, we’ve focused on those flowers that have a very long bloom period, provide a lot of bulk & visual interest in bouquets, play well with others, and are versatile. But today’s flower wins for other reasons!

  1. Daffodils allow us to deliver bouquets an entire month earlier than otherwise possible with locally grown flowers! That’s super important, especially after a long hard winter here in north central Indiana. The first bouquet for 2022 shown above was delivered on April 4th.
  2. Daffodils are one of the very easiest flowers to grow. Once they are planted, they will provide flowers for decades.
  3. They are not bothered by critters, including deer, rabbits, voles, moles, ground hogs, etc. Occasionally a squirrel might dig out a newly planted bulb, but since they won’t eat it, it can be easily replanted.
  4. Daffodil multiply, so the 1,000 I planted in the fall of 2021 produced flowers for 2022, but will likely produce two to three times the blooms in 2023! Now add the 1,000 planted in fall 2022, and we should be able to make hundreds of shut-ins smile next April.
  5. Daffodils can be harvested and held. For longest vase life, daffodils should be picked at the “goose neck” stage. Pull at the base, don’t cut. Place immediately in water with a few drops of bleach and move to a cool, dark location for at least 3 hours. Replace with fresh water. For longest storage, refrigerate at 42 degrees.
  6. Daffodils can survive outdoor temperature drops, which is a good thing since our weather fluctuates so much in early spring. Fully open flowers will be damaged by a freeze or hail, so I just watch the forecast. If there’s bad weather ahead, anything from “goose neck” to more open is harvested. Buds “goose neck” stage or less mature will seldom be harmed unless stems are bent over by strong winds or ice. The heavy-headed doubles like “Bridal Crown” and “Heamoor” are especially prone to folding over in wind, although breeders are working for stronger stems.
The singles are early to mid-season bloomers

6. Daffodils are available in early, mid-season and late bloom. By planting a variety of types, I can get at least 7, sometimes 8 weeks of flowers for bouquets depending upon our erratic weather. Some of my earliest bloomers are the new split-cups, such as “Cassata” or “Mary Gay Lirette.”

Split cup “Cassata” is one of the earliest bloomers, out in the open in an unprotected spot! See how the trumpet is split into sections that lay back against the outer petals?

The majority of daffodils are early to mid-season bloomers, the list seems practically endless! These are the ones most commonly found in the big box stores. You may have to search for special growers like Brent & Becky’s Bulbs for those season-stretchers at the early and late ends.

Some mid-season large trumpet singles, now joined by the first of the “late” blooming multi-bloom stems (Golden Delicious) and the earliest tulips!

And as the season for daffodils comes to a close, there are only the late-flowering blooms left. Some of the late bloomers are “Sweet Ocean,” “Stef,” and “Geranium.” The varieties I selected for 2022 fall planting were a few more of the earliest but especially heavy on the latest types, especially those with multiple flowers per stem. I found these extremely useful in bouquets, adding a lot of color and bulk to a bouquet of tulips or mixed flowers like those below. My favorites were “Cosmopolitan,” “Golden Delicious,” and I’ve added “Starlight Sensation,” “Sunlight Sensation,” “Falconet,” “Hillstar,” and “Garden Opera.” I’m interested to see how they fit into the bloom schedule.

The last of the daffodils are the multi-flower per stem in pale yellow or cream to combine with lilacs, late tulips, purple hellebores and Solomon’s Seal. The dramatic lily-flowered tulip is “Sonnet.”

7. Daffodils come in more colors than bright yellow, although those “King Alfred” and “Dutch Masters” are still some of my favorites for their sturdiness, large size and brilliant golden color. They can really brighten a hospital room decor! Yellows can range from bold to very soft tones. Some daffodils have bright orange cups or soft apricot trumpets that pair well with tulips of similar shades. Oranges can range from nearly red to very soft peachy colors. Some, like “Pheasant’s Eye” can have red, green and yellow cups! “Alexis Beauty” is a soft yellow daffodil with a peach trumpet that has a ruffled darker peach edge. “Night Cap” is pure white but its large cup is soft yellow with a wide bright coral rim! The combinations seem limitless as breeders play around.

Another great performer, the very large-flowered “British Gamble” has a lovely, ruffled salmon trumpet edge, soft yellow trumpet and pure white outer petals. Strong stems as well.

8. Daffodils are available in pure white, which goes with everything, making bouquet combinations easy. “Mount Hood,” “Thalia,”and “Starlight Sensation” are some examples. I’ve added more whites just for that reason.

Daffodil “Rip Van Winkle” looks more like a dandelion than a traditional daffodil!

9. Daffodils come in many forms (in addition to single flowers and clusters, etc.) besides the traditional trumpets, split cups and double forms already mentioned, there are the the hoop or petticoat forms, cyclamen, large cup, small cup, bowl and the shaggy “dandelion” form as well!

“Barret Browning”

10. In addition to a range of colors and forms, daffodils come in a range of sizes from very petite for fairy gardens and tea cup arrangements, to the tall stems that are good for market bouquets and larger arrangements. Be sure to check height before ordering to fit your needs.

If the weather warms a bit, there may be daffodils blooming in my gardens yet this week, although the forecast isn’t promising with lows coming in the mid-teens. The water and soda bottles are all cut, de-labeled and ready to serve as vases. The Growing Kindness Project tags are already printed, cut and punched. The ribbon supply has been replenished, so we’re just waiting on the flowers.


If you don’t have daffodils in your garden, try putting some in pots or containers. They are much more forgiving than tulips and other bulbs, but they do need a cold period over winter so if it stays warm in your area, put the pots in a freezer for a few weeks! Those cheery flowers are worth the extra effort. Set them outside over the summer and fall, and repeat the freezing process year after year.

Note: Purists may be dismayed that I have used “daffodil” for all the jonquil and narcissus types, and lumped them all together. Sorry! (but only slightly…..)

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 16 Comments

And February just flew by!

Lemon Frost amaryllis…she’s got 3 bloom stalks!

I intended to do a February monthly review in a timely fashion, but here it is March 9th already! It’s always perplexed me how a month that’s only two days shorter than most of the others SEEMS so very much shorter! Maybe it’s because there are swings in the weather with some very sunny, almost warm days that get the blood stirring. February definitely marks the beginning of more sunshine in our area, which was so welcome after a dreary, wet January with hardly a ray of sunlight.

Maybe it’s because there is more to see: snowdrops and crocuses popping open, lots of other plants pushing green shoots upward, the hellebores budding in the gardens, geese flying overhead.

Finally enough sunshine that the plug trays of “Abrialli” lavandins are beginning to grow!

Maybe it’s because the seed starting ramps up, transplanting from seed trays to little pots is underway, and watching for magical new sprouts can absorb one for hours at a time. The birds begin singing and the squirrels race around the lawns and up and down the trees. And there’s Valentine’s, Mardi Gras (we had a great party but I failed to take any photos!), President’s Day and the beginning of Lent to celebrate.

In December 23 varieties were seeded. In January it increased by another 50 varieties. In February, 47 were added bringing the total to 123. (By comparison, 125 in 2022 because I decided not to grow Dara or mixed scabiosa and some things I trialed last year seemed to be happier with a later start, but there are also some new things so the overall number is very similar!) As for transplanting, there was none done in December because I was feeling lazy, 1304 in January, and 1342 in February. Flats were moved to the greenhouse earlier this year (Feb. 20 rather than March 1) and the first planting into the garden (2 beds of ranunculus under low tunnels) was done on February 28 rather than last year’s March 13! The spring flowers are about two weeks ahead of some years and I go by what Mother Nature is doing in her gardens rather than by a date.

Things are progressing well, and pretty much according to the revised schedule for 2023. Now if the weather cooperates, all should be well. As of today, there are lots of daffodils budding so bouquet deliveries should be starting soon, although the forecast is for colder temps in the coming week. And the first daffodil means that it’s time to plant the peas and set out the sweet peas. Meanwhile, there’s lots to see outdoors, more bottles to cut while watching all the basketball tourneys, more seeding to be done, and thousands of babies nearly ready for their own pots splenty of work in the basement ahead. I’d better get LOTS done in March, because April is crazy-busy with shows, speeches, and appointments!

Hope your February was enjoyable, and that spring is on its way wherever you are!

Posted in monthly review, Spring | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Top Ten Performers: #8 Sweet Peas

Sweet peas come in a wide range of colors

I wish I could grow luscious sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) with 10″ or more stems and huge flowers like they do in the Pacific Northwest or in high tunnels in cooler climates. I can’t (or at least I haven’t yet!) but they are still more than worth growing here in north central Indiana. They love a long, cool growing season and hate heat, so Indiana is not their favorite place to grow but with an early start and choosing the right varieties I’ve found some success.

Sweet peas still looking fairly good at the end of July

Sweet peas grow in in a wide range of colors and often bi-colors. From pure white, through many shades of pink and rose, almost orange, to bright red and deep burgundy, and shades of blue to purple there is a broad spectrum from which to choose. Some have contrasting edges, or a combination of two different colors (white & bright red, blue and purple are two examples) of petals in a single flower. Some are ruffled, some have streaks of other colors in the petals. Most of the heirloom varieties have a wondrous sweet scent that gave them their name, but some of the newer introductions that boast larger flowers have often lost their aroma. I prefer the ones with the heavenly scent!

A bouquet with dahlia, larkspur, snaps, feverfew, parsley blooms, talinum and graceful sweet peas.

There are SO many choices, but some strains tolerate heat better than others, some have more scent, some have longer stems, etc. Geo lists 16 climbing varieties. The names often indicate heavy scent: “Incense Mix,” “High Scent,” or “Old Spice Series.” I grew “Mammoth Choice Series” because it was reputed to do well in heat and had long stems…very pretty but little fragrance. “Melody Mix” has large bi-color flowers and long stems and is very sweet scented. “Queen of the Night” has lots of navy blue, dark burgundy and bi-colors. The Spencer Series is highly touted but they are too late-flowering for my area because just as they are ready to open our “spring” suddenly becomes summer and they just can’t take our heat. There are also another 6 varieties that are short (8-30″) for containers or hanging baskets (Cupid, SuperSnoop, Bijou, Little Sweetheart, Knee-Hi, Villa Roma)

Sweet peas climbing a trellis in the potager add a lovely fragrance to the garden as well as to bouquets.

Be aware that there is an old heirloom perennial variety (Lathyrus latifolius) that my mother grows in partial shade with rosy-pink flowers (no scent) that is a rampant self-seeder. I had it once at the herb farm and it was a pain to keep out of the paths and from taking over the entire garden!

Perennial Sweet Pea…Pretty, but no scent and a prolific self-seeder

In prior years, I was fairly lazy when it came to sweet peas, trying several different varieties in various locations but not giving them much thought. In 2022, I planted “Mammoth Choice” sweet peas on February 5th and they germinated in only 5 days. They were planted outdoors under a row tunnel on March 14, and the first flowers were picked May 24. Obviously they did well, or they wouldn’t have made it into the Top Performers roster at all! But, I know I can do better.

Sweet pea tubes ready to be planted out!

Starting them earlier this year may produce earlier flowers, at least I’m giving it a try. Sweet peas can tolerate temperatures down to 23 degrees F. I soak the seeds overnight and plant them in toilet paper tubes (2 seeds per tube) with a potting soil that contains perlite for drainage. Cover with 1/2″ soil and grow at 55-65 degrees. When they get two sets of true leaves, snip or pinch them back to the first set of true leaves. This will encourage basal branching. Keep an eye on their roots and pot them up a size if they appear to be getting root bound. They do not like root disturbance, which is why I grow them in tubes. Grow them on for about 6 weeks, then plant them out 8″ apart into good soil. Last year I just planted them out into my raised bed soil. This year I’m adding compost, bone meal, and a sprinkle of lime in each planting hole because I’ve learned that they are heavy feeders. You’ll need to provide a sturdy trellis or grow them along a fence. I’ve also learned that mulching well to keep the roots cool will lengthen the flowering period, so I’m doing that as well. Keep them watered consistently, using a liquid fertilizer in the water at least weekly because they are really heavy feeders.

A bucket of sweet peas ready to arrange

When harvesting sweet peas, early morning is best. Harvest when 1/4 to 1/2 the flowers on a stem are fully open and place stem ends in several inches of COOL water with flower food dissolved in it immediately. If the flower stems are long enough, just cut those. However, mine rarely are, so I pick “branches” the length that I need. Sweet Pea foliage is very attractive, adding a touch of elegance an whimsy with their pretty leaves and dainty curled tendrils. Sweet peas are another plant that the more they are picked, the more they produce.

Sweet pea seed pods drying. It is easy to save seed from various varieties.

If there are flowers left unpicked, the bees will quickly pollinate them and the plant will form seeds. Once that starts to happen, the plants quit flowering because they have fulfilled the need to propagate, so as I harvest I also snip off any faded blooms. Last year I had flowers from May 24 to July 21. I’m hoping to increase that time this year on both ends!

Bouquet featuring sweet peas, bells of Ireland, annual phlox, feverfew, larkspur, snapdragons, asters, dianthus, parsley blooms

This year I’ve already seeded some “Mammoth Choice” because they performed pretty well despite our heat. However, in an attempt to get more scent, I’m also planting “Old Spice” which has 25 highly scented strains and “exceptional heat tolerance” and “Heirloom Mix” which has lavender and salmon shades in addition to the “usual” colors. Because I need lots more blue I’ve also added “Royal Family Mid-Blue” with reputedly large flowers and long stems, but apparently little scent. The plan is to use some of the best fragrant ones along with some of the larger-flowered but less-scented blooms in each bouquet.

That’s the report on the #8 Top Performer. If all goes to plan and the improvements are made to their care, maybe next year they will be much higher on the list! Tension and anticipation are mounting…did your favorite contender make the cut? Only two more places to go….what, oh what will they be?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Six on Saturday: Feb 25

Crocuses, an early sign of spring!

Today I am counting my blessings. Many others in Zone 5 are under a heavy blanket of snow, dealing with ice and power outages, and other weather-related problems. We have a lovely, although chilly but sunny day. With tea and camera in hand I did a walkabout, searching for signs of spring. The crocuses in the Front Garden have been blooming since Feb. 12 but there were many more opening today.

Newly emerging lunaria seedlings.

I think the thing that surprised me most was to find a large patch of White Money Plant babies emerging. I didn’t think the ground was warm enough for any seeds to sprout, but obviously it is. I just hope nothing eats them.

winter aconite

Passing the Deck Garden, I notice the brilliant flower buds of winter aconite under the elder tree. Today is the first day they’ve shown color so that’s another step toward spring!

Iris reticulata, one of my favorite spring blooms

Entering the potager, the lovely blue shades of Iris reticulata “Gordon” makes my heart sing. These have been open for a few days but with the cool weather they are lasting nicely.

The garlic rows are filling in

The fall planted garlic barely emerged last fall, so I was happy to see the rows filling in and new growth on most of the plants. And lastly……

Nearly 1500 plants moved into the greenhouse!

The flats of plants moved into the greenhouse yesterday are looking happy to be out of the basement. Artificial lighting is a blessing, but natural light makes a huge difference. Most of the plants are perennials (yarrow, penstemon, monarda, etc.) but there are also early snapdragons and feverfews. The ranunculus and anemones are in there as well temporarily. If all goes well, the ranunculus will go into raised beds tomorrow under a low tunnel. I’ve been working all week repairing bed corners that sprung apart over the freezing-thawing of winter, so they are finally ready for plants and I know the ranunculus will be thrilled to be in the ground.

So, six things that made me very happy. Even though I know Winter has only strayed north a bit and will probably wander back our way (it is still February after all!) these six signs assure me that Spring is creeping forward, and I can’t wait for her to arrive.

Posted in Spring | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Top Ten Performer #7: Annual Phlox

A cartload of buckets…which one is the annual phlox?

I might not have chosen Annual Phlox as #7 even though I love its wide range of color and romantic clusters of small flowers, but numbers don’t lie. When I checked the records and found that the bouquets delivered for the Growing Kindness Project in 2022 had annual phlox in them from June 20 all the way through the final bouquet in early November, well after hard frost, is was obvious they deserved recognition!

Admittedly, I didn’t have a lot of experience with annual phlox. I grew the variety “Phlox of Sheep” for a few years as a bedding plant in the “Sunrise Garden” at the herb farm and loved it for its soft pastel colors. It was definitely too short for a cutting flower and didn’t bloom the entire growing season, so I’d dismissed the entire group. But, in researching cutting flowers a few growers mentioned it, so I thought I’d give it a try and I’m certainly glad I did! Geo lists 9 varieties of annual phlox but a few of them are just too short (8-10″.) For cutting we want the 15-18″ which are: “Blushing Bride, Grandiflora, Starry Eyes, and Sugar Stars, Cherry Caramel and Creme Brulee.”

A purple-hued bouquet: dara, zinnias, “Midnight” nigella and pods, lemon monarda, bells of Ireland, parsley bloom heads, and on the lower right, a cluster of annual phlox.

Annual phlox is definitely not a focal flower, but it is an excellent supporting cast member. I found it extremely useful to “marry” the vase with the bouquet here and there around the bottom edge. Because it comes in so many, many colors from pure white, white with contrasting pink, violet, rose or red centers; soft pink through bright red and on into magenta; cream, cream with violet tinged centers, cream with deep red centers, blues, deep purple; deep purple with white star centers, and many more there is a phlox for any bouquet. There are blooms with streaks and speckles and contrasting stars to add zip to more mundane flowers. As the season progressed, I felt no bouquet seemed quite finished without a sprig or three of annual phlox around the base, and some taller ones intermingled into the bouquet. Plus it supplies a light, sweet fragrance.

Sunflower, marigold, asters, rudbeckia, Hot Biscuits amaranth, lemon basil, feverfew, and that sweet little annual phlox!

Granted annual phlox is not the tallest flower in the bouquet usually, although they can reach 18-20″ with proper care, which means shearing off the first round of buds and the second round of buds just as they are forming to encourage plants to branch and produce longer stems. It seems cruel, but you will be rewarded with beautiful flowers until hard freeze. If I had sheared, or at least harvested the “Phlox of Sheep” in those past years, they too would have bloomed until freeze. Lesson learned.

A row of “Creme Brulee” phlox along the climbing peas. The blooms were still being harvested in early November!

Last year the annual phlox was seeded February 22. Phlox seed needs darkness and cool temps to germinate. I did them in soil blocks, put them on my basement floor with a black plastic cover over them. Germination was March 3. They are fast growing and dislike root disturbance. I planted them out after danger of frost (May 15 here) 4″ apart to encourage longer stems, pinched off the first buds May 18 and began harvesting June 20.

Annual phlox “Grandiflora” in front of Bells of Ireland.

Now that I know they can take cold temperatures, I plan to seed them at least two weeks earlier and plant them out under a row tunnel in late April. When they will bloom (some plants need a certain day length rather than number of days to bloom) may not change much, but planting them out earlier will allow more seeds to be started and transplanted earlier in the basement! Also, old annual phlox seed often has terrible germination rates, so since some of my seed is leftover from last year an early start will allow me to replant if necessary. There wasn’t a lot of seed left because I used up most of the 2022 seed by direct seeding rows as other crops came out. Since phlox blooms in 50-60 days there is plenty of time to grow it without the hassle of starting it indoors if you prefer. Interestingly, the early phlox was still blooming nearly as well as the later planted rows when frost came and seemed to tolerate it a bit better, maybe due to more extensive root systems.

This year, I’ve already seeded “Starry Eyes” which had terrible germination last year and isn’t popping up yet again this year; while “Sugar Stars, Grandiflora, “Cherry Carnival, “Blushing Bride, and “Creme Brulee” are well underway in growth. I’ve added the beloved “Phlox of Sheep” of days gone by and a new one also from Select Seeds, “Isabellini” which wasn’t in their catalog but was on their website!

Phox didn’t seem to need any special conditioning after harvest. It was just cut and put into water immediately, allowed to rest in the cool, dark basement with all the other flowers and that was it. No bugs or diseases seemed to bother it and as long as it received water, even the heat didn’t really slow it down. I left a few plants to see if it would reseed, just for fun, and also collected a bit of seed to test because I’ve noticed that some varieties seem to disappear from the catalogs now and then over the years…like the “Phlox of Sheep.” And yes, I’m going to try to research that name to see why it’s called Phlox of Sheep, which seems a bit odd for a plant name. Do sheep like to eat it? Anyone out there know?

So, that’s Lucky Top Performer # 7. Are you ready for #8?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Belated Valentine’s Greetings!

Amaryllis “Nanjara”

Hope that on Valentine’s Day you had some sweetness of one kind or another, or of many kinds! I have enjoyed my many amaryllis bulbs coming into flower over the past weeks, but these bright orange “Nanjara” really outdid themselves by coming into bloom for Valentine’s. The ones in front were so large and heavy that they toppled the pot over and bent the stalks, so I had to cut them and put them into a tall vase. I had no idea cut amaryllis would last so long, but these were blooming a week before the other two pots opened.

My excuse for being late with your Valentine greeting is that I’ve been busy preparing for family from Germany to visit this week, and trying to keep caught up with the seeding and transplanting. As you can see below, the main plant bench which is 4′ x 8′ is crammed full of penstemons, lemon catnip, lavenders, monarda, rudbeckias, delphiniums, feverfews, etc.

I wish I’d kept another bench like this to double the space in the basement!

And the light stand is filled with flats of seedlings, a few of which(mainly lisianthus and asters) have been transplanted into plug flats, but most are in soil blocks or seedling flats. Loyal readers will recognize (and probably shake their heads) the sagging shelf that I promised to replace a couple of years ago, but now I’m not going to fix it because that low shelf allows for some taller plants to fit in the stand and I find it very useful!

The stand holds 24 1020 flats plus ten styrofoam containers of soil blocks (60 per container)

I built this old light stand over 40 years ago, and am only now having to replace a bulb now and then. As rickety as it is, it serves its purpose and right now is holding a whopping 2,328 seedlings! It could hold lots more if I were more enamored of soil blocks, but I’m finding not everything does well in them, at least in my basement conditions so I still use a lot of open seeding flats, row trays, and plug flats.

Some make-do shelving in Room 2!

But, the main room (the warmer room) is full so some flats have been moved to Room 2 which tends to be a bit cooler. There’s only two shelves plus the floor and it’s an odd size so the 4′ light doesn’t quite extend far enough to serve the entire shelf. But some seeds (like annual phlox in the white styrofoam container on the right) need darkness to germinate, so all the space is utilized in one way or another. Since the floor is cool, it is home to the first round of ranunculus and anemones, temporarily until they move into the greenhouse hopefully next week, because the second round will soon need those lights!

These snapdragons (and a few anchusa to finish filling the flat) grew too tall for even the sagging shelf!

These “Early Potomac” snapdragons will also be going out soon as well as some yarrows and other perennials that can take the cold with some protection. Last year, I planted out lots of things into the potager’s beds on March 13 and it worked out well, so this year I am pushing it a bit earlier. Everything will go under low tunnels because winter is not over yet here in central Indiana…far from it, since our typical last frost date is May 15.

Sweet peas will be some of the first plants to go out into the beds

These three jugs of sweet peas hold 11 or 12 toilet paper tubes of soil each, depending upon the design of the jug. This is the first round of sweet pea seedlings “Mammoth Choice” and they’ve already been pinched. The second round is all “Mid-Blue” seedlings and they are only about half the height. I found I needed a lot more blue in the early arrangements than the mixes provided so this should do the trick. The third round “Heirloom Mix” was just seeded yesterday and I may do one more round of “Mammoth Choice” just in case the first round succumbs to too much winter. And, I may do a round for the garden club plant sale because they can soon be outdoors and not take up precious space in the basement.

The first bloom of the 2023 season!

And just as the winter doldrums are taking hold, what should appear on February 12 but the first snowdrops of the season! As soon as I saw them I had to run back inside for the camera. This is eleven days earlier than last year. And then when I was passing the end of the Deck Garden, I saw this!

The first crocus hiding among an “Angelina” sedum.

Generally, the first crocuses don’t appear until March 3 or 4th so this is quite a bit earlier. These early risers have spurred me into action because it’s proof that spring is not that far away and there is SO MUCH to do! So, I put the camera away and hurried to seed two rows of spinach, thinned and transplanted some larkspur in bed 3b, and seeded some “Delft Blue” nigella in 5e. Then I began repairing raised beds that have pulled apart at the corners due to all the freezing and thawing we’ve had this winter. I fixed 12, but there are 16 more to go. My hammering arm got tired, my screwdriver hand got tired, and I ran out of metal corner brackets, so I’ll have to wait for the shipment to arrive and the next nice day. I’ve also decided to replace two beds entirely so that will take a trip to the lumber yard for boards and stain. The job list continues to grow….

My community is being very supportive of the “Growing Kindness Project” by supplying me with bags and bags of water and soda bottles, so I spend tv time removing labels and cutting the bottles off to become vases. There’s about 800 already done and ready to use neatly stacked on shelves in another basement room that also houses the crates of stored dahlia tubers. They, will have to be divided and potted soon but that will require a buying trip for bales of potting soil. I’ve also made all the plant sales signs for the plants I’m growing for the garden club sale because I know that once the weather settles I just won’t have any time indoors. And February is already over half over!!!

So, now you are caught up again. I’ve also been working on the next “Ten Top Performers” post, so expect it once my family has departed. Can you guess what it will be?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Top Ten Performers: #6 China Asters

“Bonita Shell Pink” aster

Admittedly, I knew very little about asters when I began researching flowers for cutting. I was very familiar with perennial asters, those often bushy plants with tiny 1″ or less flowers with narrow ray-like petals often sold in pots in late summer/early autumn at the same time as mums, but I was not impressed. I also was familiar with the wild dark purple or white asters often reaching over 3′ in height and width that grow commonly along the edge of my woods and roadsides. Pollinators love them, but not I. So it was with some skepticism after seeing asters on a couple of “Plants for Cutting” lists that I looked them up in my Ball RedBook (the Bible for professional growers) and found that way back in the 1920’s George J. Ball developed the “forebear of today’s finest aster varieties” and they were a highly profitable florist’s crop. So, next I checked my favorite seed catalog (Geo) and found 25 listings! These are “China” asters which are annuals rather than perennials, with much larger, showier flowers. Japanese breeders have created some beauties with longer stems and a wide range of colors. At least I should give them a try. So in 2021, I grew just a few plants each of two colors of the “Bonita” series, the “Shell Pink” (top photo) shown above and “Light Blue.” (below) I liked them very much, but they were of the “one cut and done” type so in 2022 I chose three different varieties.

One of the last bouquets with asters (the “blue” with white center) dahlias, strawflowers, sunflowers, Blue Bedder salvia and Mandarin Orange balm.

The first was “Benary Princess Mix” reportedly “densely petaled flowers often with a paler center creating a striking contrast.” The colors available are Blue and Salmon Rose separately but I chose the mix, which also contained some creams, nearly reds and pinks that apparently aren’t available separately. I found these to have nice long, usable side branches after the center flower was cut and the plants definitely tolerated the change to hot weather best of the three varieties I planted. Right off the bat, I wished I’d planted lots more, especially the blue which combined so well with sweet peas. And then I discovered that the blue dries to a deep navy blue that is gorgeous in dried arrangements!

The Benary Princess Blue aster dried to almost a navy blue!

It is holding its color very well, so this year, any blooms that are too short will be clipped, hung and dried for autumn and winter use, and I’ll be trying some of the other colors as well.

The large white flower just above the bow is a “Duchesse” aster in a May 29th bouquet.

The second variety planted was “Duchesse Formula Mix” with a single line description “28”, upright, large incurved peony type flowers.” Despite the limited praise, I chose it and I’m glad I did. There were some lovely bi-colors, white, cream, lavender, rose and pink blooms. They were the first to form buds and bloom (May 15), so they were available with the early stock, ranunculus, and calendulas. This one also produced usable side branches after the center stem was harvested.

The third was “Valkyrie Mix” which was not listed in Geo’s catalog so I ordered it from Pinetree (another of my favorite seed suppliers) because it had a spiky shape of 3-5″ needle petals, 24″ tall in yellow, white, pink, rose and red blossoms. I like this one as well because it is definitely showy, but it was the last to bloom and the first to quit blooming once the heat came. Still, I’m growing it again because it was really pretty and bouquet recipients often asked what they were.

“Valkyrie” asters in white and pink. Asters are valuable as focal flowers early in the season, with stock, May Queen shastas, penstemon, pac choy blooms, pea foliage and dianthus. These bouquets were ready for delivery on May 24.

Asters are not for the impatient grower. Seeds should be started indoors, sown 1/8″ deep and kept evenly moist throughout the growing period. They may take 14 days to germinate according to some sources, but mine germinated (on a heat mat) in 3 days! I seeded mine January 28 in rows in an open flat and plan to repeat that this month. Most asters take 110-120 days after germination to flower. I found that they have large root systems quickly, so don’t wait to transplant into a larger plug flat or pot. And DO keep them evenly moist but not in standing water.

Sometimes the very first aster stems are short, like those in the front bucket but I can use them in the arrangements made in water bottle “vases” or hang them to dry. The later stems are longer. A cart of just-picked flowers ready to go into the basement for conditioning. (Left to right, top to bottom: feverfew, May Queen shastas, pac choy blooms, a few calendula; stock, dianthus, and asters in front.

Asters are pretty tough once they get going. They can take cold temperatures. I know because a flat of plugs I mistakenly left outdoors survived 24 degrees and the soil being frozen solid! (Yes, I screw up occasionally!) The plugs were planted out March 14 in a low tunnel over raised beds, each with a handful of compost in the hole. Harvest began in earnest May 24 and continued until really hot weather hit the end of June. They do need consistent water to keep blooming.

For longest vase life, harvest when the outer rays begin to open, put immediately into tepid water with a bit of food dissolved. They have a very nice vase life even if picked a bit more open, and as mentioned earlier some of the darker colors dry very nicely as well.

As a test, I did a late sowing in early July and grew them in flats in the shade on the basement patio, planted out the end of August and had flowers to go with dahlias through October. Not sure I’ll do it again, because there were plenty of other flowers to choose from at that point and it was extra effort to keep them watered and relatively happy until the weather cooled a bit, even with shade cloth. But you may live where the autumn season lasts longer and summers aren’t so hot, so it may be less work.

According to many, asters are subject to a disease called “aster yellows” so they should be planted in a different location each year as an aid to prevention. I haven’t had any problems (knock wood) but I will rotate them throughout the beds over the years just in case. As with most “daisy” form flowers, asters are excellent for pollinators so give them a try.

Posted in cutting garden, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Minding the Gap

Some of the last bouquets before the “gap” period…Sonnet Tulips, hellebores, lilac, Solomon’s Seal, Yellow Cheerfulness daffodil

In many growing areas, including my Zone 5 gardens, there is a “gap” in cut flower production in May. Depending upon the area, the weather, and when seeds were sown that gap can be one to three weeks. That’s not saying there are no flowers, for there are many blooms in the gardens but few of them are good for cutting (irises come to mind.)

Last year, my gap was from May 5 when the last of the tulips were picked to May 18 when there was finally enough stock, asters and shastas to make a few bouquets again. Things improved greatly by May 24 when there was much more of the above flowers plus the ranunculus, anemones and calendulas began to bloom as well. So, what am I doing to attempt to fill the gap so those who need a bouquet to lift their spirits don’t have to wait so long?

First of all, I’ve added more late flowering daffodils I don’t know if any will extend further into May, but there are hundreds more reputed to be late-flowering in the newly planted rows. The latest last year was “Stef” with “Sweet Ocean just a bit before.” Who knows with our crazy weather anymore when things may or may not bloom?

The last daffodil to bloom “Stef” I love it with my orange tulips in the Deck Garden and couldn’t make myself pick the very last one!

Last year I planted short rows of test tulips to see which flowered earliest and latest. One of the winners for “late” was “Sonnet,” the wine lily-flowered tulip with the gold edge in the front row which paired so well with my dark burgundy hellebores. When I was making May bouquets, I wished I had a hundred “Sonnets,” so this year if all goes according to plan, I will! Plus a few hundred other lily and peony-flowered tulips that are supposed to be late bloomers.

Trialing some tulips last year for the latest bloomers

Doubling the number of ranunculus and starting half of them 10 days earlier should also help fill the gap. Last year the ranunculus were ready to harvest on May 24, but I’m going to push half by a) warming up the soil by using a plastic covered berry box several weeks in advance of planting out time b) moving half the sprouted corms into individual pots so there is less root disturbance at planting time c) using a lightweight floating row cover inside the low tunnel to help reduce cooling soil at night d) actually presprouting half the corms 10 days earlier than last year. Some or all of those strategies should help fill the gap. I’m also growing more varieties of ranunculus, but whether that will make a difference or not only time will tell.

A May bouquet with ranunculus, parsley blooms, shasta, lysimachia, valerian and the first gold yarrow

Last year I did a terrible job with anemones! Only 1 out of 10 experimental corms actually produced a usable flower. I don’t think I even took a photo of it but it bloomed May 13, so they could definitely help fill the gap if I can learn to grow them properly. So with crossed fingers and a bit more knowledge I’ve already pre-sprouted 25 (so far, so good) and will be doing another 25 today.

Here’s what they will look like if I am successful!

I’ve also decided to trial a few freesias, which I’ve never grown before but always thought I would like to. Time is running out, so if I want to do it I’d better get on the stick! So, the freesias are now pre-sprouting in the basement, where they will be staying for a long, long time since (unlike ranunculus and anemones) they love heat rather than cool temperatures. Will they bloom during the gap? If my math is correct and all goes well they will, but I think I will enjoy their fragrance and colors no matter when they bloom. And, if I don’t get it right maybe I can make adjustments and do better next year. Or, I may decide they are too much trouble and drop them!

Never grown them before, but excited to try! Double flowered freesias.

I’ve also encouraged the hellebores to flower more by moving out some crowding volunteer seedlings to a nursery bed and giving the mature plants a layer of compost before winter set in. There are white, pink, and burgundy plants that have been pretty much neglected for years but they are getting more attention now for their long bloom period. This year, I’m also going to move some into less dense shade to attempt to get some earlier blooms. Mine are on the Fairy Slope, shaded by the fence and gazebo and rarely bloom before May!

White hellebores on the Fairy Slope, so valuable but so little to go with them during the gap!

Another lovely spring bulb that blooms during the gap period is Silver Bells (Ornithogalum nutans) I’ve had a clump in the Blue Garden and another clump on the north side of the potager fence for years but didn’t realize what a nice little cut flower they could be until I was desperate for some flowers for centerpieces for a May event two year ago. So that fall, I planted 100 more in the North Slope. Since I’d never had any trouble before, I didn’t bother to check on them as they emerged, but the rabbits certainly did and ate every one down to the ground! I put wire cages over them but little growth appeared after that. Whether they will return this year is yet to be seen, but I’m crossing my fingers and installing the wire cage over them early just in case they have enough strength to emerge.

If the rabbits didn’t destroy them, silver bells can certainly help fill the gap!

I’m excited to see if all my plotting and planning yields good results. Some people may spend their winter days doing jigsaw puzzles; I enjoy trying to solve horticultural puzzles. The satisfaction of completion is much delayed, but entirely worth the effort!

Posted in flower farm, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Top 10 Performer #5: Rudbeckia

A variety of self-seeded rudbeckias as the end of a border.

It was a close call between #5 and #6 because both are essential, but rudbeckia finally won the debate because it is SO much easier to grow. Here in my Zone 5 gardens, rudbeckia is usually a perennial, sometimes a short-lived one lasting only three to five years, depending upon how soggy our seasons are, sometimes longer. Rudbeckias don’t like a lot of wet roots, and definitely not a wet crown, especially in winter. Another winning factor is that they are excellent self-seeders, which means I can usually count on a number of interesting “new” colors and forms each year without having to purchase any seed at all! All of the plants shown in the photo above evolved from a couple of plants of “Chim Chimnee” planted 7 years ago in the South Island. “Chim” is known for its interesting colors ranging from yellow to orange to rust tones and its quilled, pointy petals. As you can see, some of them have retained those quilled petals and some of the “children and grandchildren” have not. Some have retained the single row of petals and some have actually become doubles. I love them and find the slightly smaller flowers like those in the foreground are longer lasting in bouquets than the sometimes slightly floppy larger-petaled ones in the back.

The Cutting Garden in 2021…the gold yarrow is blooming and LOTS of self-seeded rudbeckias will provide blooms for many bouquets.
The rudbeckia seedlings are on the left…

If however, one doesn’t have rudbeckias already established, they are certainly easy to grow from seed as well. One can direct seed them outdoors in late summer to bloom the following summer, or start them indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost to get blooms yet the same year, or direct seed them in early spring and hope for a late first frost. I usually chill the seeds for a couple days in the freezer, then a few days in the refrigerator before very lightly covering them with vermiculite in the seeding flat. They need light to germinate. After only 5 days on the heating mat, they are usually sprouted. These new babies are very tiny to start but grow very quickly. In a matter of days their fuzzy leaves are the size of a dime and are ready to transplant to 4-packs or pots in about two weeks. Water the roots but keep the crown dry.

More unusual self-seeded rudbeckias….what fun to see what Mother Nature has up her sleeve!

Once growing in the gardens, rudbeckias will produce several bloom stalks per plant. There is some variation in height from different varieties. I find “Cherry Brandy” and “Sahara” to generally be too petite for bouquets unless I’m doing a shorter arrangement, but these can be lovely toward the front of the border or in containers. They are happiest in full sun with good drainage.

Rudbeckia, zinnias, scabiosa, feverfew, verbena

Like most flowers with hairy stems, rudbeckias are classed as a “dirty” flower, which means it quickly aids bacteria to grow in water, so put a few drops of bleach in the bucket at harvest time and when you change the water in the vase.

I love all the rudbeckias that thrive under the Lady Cottage’s windowbox. So cheery!

Last summer there were a variety of rudbeckia blooms from June 11 through July 18. I had planted new babies (the plants in the second photo above) but the rabbits made a hole in the row cover and merrily devoured them all. They were supposed to be my succession crop to bloom after the “old, established” plants in the garden were finished. So, this year I’m trying again with more protection. Once they are established, rudbeckias are rarely bothered by rabbits or deer. It is only in the very early part of the growing season, when the young and tender leaves of newly planted babies are introduced and there isn’t a lot of other food available that rabbits and other critters are tempted. The varieties I’m seeding this year are “Irish Eyes” which are wide yellow petals around a green center rather than a brown one, and more “Chim Chimnee” mainly for the plant sale because I don’t want to dig any of those plants out of my gardens this year. (and I can always use more!!)

A group of mid-June bouquets, some on the left with the first rudbeckia blooms ready for delivery to shut-ins, the grieving, the newly unemployed, the newly diagnosed…anyone who needs their days brightened.

There are many, many rudbeckias from which to choose. Geo lists 4 varieties of Rudbeckia fulgida; one “R. grandiflora Sundance” which is a whopping 5′ tall; and 21 “R. hirta” choices with names like “Cappuccino,” “Cherokee Sunset,” “Goldilocks,” and “Chim Chimnee.” They range in size from very short “Toto” (8-10″) to 3′ tall “Irish Spring.” The old-fashioned Black-eyed Susans are also included in R. hirta class and they are useful as supporting cast flowers later in the summer to early autumn. For something very unusual, grow Rudbeckia occidentalis “Green Wizard” 3′ tall with a large dark center cone with stiff green sepals. All rudbeckias are good for pollinators.

So if you need a really cheery, easy to grow, usually perennial in your gardens, give rudbeckias a try. The pollinators will thank you and you’ll have lots of flowers for cutting or just to enjoy!

Posted in cutting garden, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fighting the Winter Blues

Meet “Splash”!

It’s late January and we’ve had over a week without sunshine. The past two days we’ve had snow. Yesterday everything was shut down for a “Big Winter Storm” with 6-10″ predicted. Schools, businesses and roads were closed….. We got 1 1/2″ (not complaining about that!) The downward spiral had been creeping in; I could feel it. It always happens this time of year, when there are so few hours of sunshine. Last year I tried one of those “happy lamps” which is supposed to counteract SDD, but I ended up with red spots on my face so I haven’t even plugged it in yet this year. Instead, I grow amaryllis. Usually I start a succession of bulbs to begin when the holiday decorations come down. This year I was a bit tardy, and the first flower just opened two days ago. The one above is “Splash” which quickly became one of my favorites (even though it is red!) when it came mislabeled with two compatriots that were orange. Just looking at its magic helps lift my spirits.

This one is “Voodoo”

Yesterday “Voodoo” began to open and was a cheering sight with the background of falling snow. The flowers are much smaller than “Splash” but it’s also a double petaled bloom that is a bit more in the orange spectrum. This is my first year growing it, but I think I like it. It’s always interesting to see the succession of blooms. I start a new bulb every week or so until they are all planted so theoretically there should be one flowering all the time January through mid-May. Years ago I started with one after-Christmas discount bulb for 50 cents. Over the years, I’ve used birthday checks to purchase more, been given some as gifts, and my earliest bulbs have multiplied until now I have 28! However, I never have that many weeks of bloom because some bulbs are slow growers, and some are very quick to bloom! I suppose it depends upon their size, but also if they are native to the southern hemisphere or the northern. For example right now there are three in bloom, the two above and this one that opened this morning.

“Appleblossom” was a prize!

“Appleblossom” is definitely more pink. In fact it looks darker in the photo against the snowy background than it actually is. It’s a soft, soft pink with slightly pinker tips on the single row of petals. I won it at a Christmas party last month, so it’s a first-timer also. So the amaryllis are my first line of defense against the winter blues.

The seedling light stand is already filled!

The second thing that keeps me going in winter are my plant babies. Already in the basement are over 1,000 potted seedlings plus many, many more sprouting and growing that will be transplanted over the weeks to come. There are lisianthus, dianthus, snapdragons, yarrow, delphiniums, rudbeckias, sweet peas, mountain mint, monardas, penstemons, foxgloves, lemon catnip, agastache, feverfews, centurea, anchusa, coleus, and salpiglossis. In flats in the other room ranunculus and anemone corms are sprouting, and pots of lavandin “Abrialli” that I took as cuttings in late August are growing on. Some mornings I rush down to see if any new seeds have sprouted, still in my pajamas while the tea brews! These little green babies are so full of life and potential. They obviously believe that Spring will come! How can I doubt it?

Doesn’t look like a birthday cake, but it is!

Yes, today is my birthday…number 76 I think, although who really cares about numbers other than the license bureau. I did check mine, and it doesn’t require renewal until next year. Whew! So, I baked my self a cake, and Yes… I can have cake for breakfast if I want to, a sliver mid-morning and again for lunch! No bother with frosting or candles, but there were strawberries from the freezer that tasted almost fresh from potager to top it. There are some benefits to growing old! Few around to criticize for one, and not having to share the cake!

And how am I going to spend the rest of my day, you may ask? Well, sadly I’m traveling to a funeral, which seems to be happening a lot as I age. That also contributes to the downward spiral, but we battle on, counting our blessings, cherishing our memories of good times and good people, tending our baby plants, watching the magic as petals unfurl, and dreaming of Spring!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments