Six on Saturday: April 23

Chionodoxa

After a roller coaster week of weird weather that included a blanket of snow, thankfully currently the only (1) “Glory in the Snow” is the lovely little blue flower of that name. They also come in pink (yuk!) and white (which doesn’t show up very well in snow!) but the blue is that perfect sky blue color that goes so well with the yellow daffodils and darker blue muscari of the spring season at this time.

Bright blue muscari and friends

Here’s some of that (2) bright blue muscari, also know as Grape Hyacinth growing in front of a patch of (3) “Rip Van Winkle” daffodils. I’m not convinced “Rip Van Winkle” is a good name for this shaggy headed, starburst type of daffodil because isn’t RVW known for being a long sleeping, slow to wake up fellow? Well, Rip is one of the earliest daffodils to appear in my gardens and stays awake for a very long time! Just right of the muscari is the baby (4) “Clove Currant” that I planted late last summer. Its yellow tubular blooms are appearing, and I can’t wait for them to open and fill the air with the luscious clove scent that I remember from childhood wafting from the bush that grew in our back yard. And behind is a clump of split-cup (5) “Mary Gay Lirette,” which doesn’t look its best in this photo but is one of my very favorite daffodils because it lasts and lasts and lasts, doesn’t bend its stems in strong winds or even with the weight of snow. And it’s a good multiplier and drop-dead gorgeous! Both of these daffys came from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, a lovely family-owned business.

And my new favorite tulip!

Speaking of favorites, here’s (6) “Purshiana Blonde,” my new favorite tulip for it’s gorgeous green and gold foliage that brightens the Front Island, trying to impersonate an early-emerging hosta, even before it’s luscious creamy white flowers open. I may have a new favorite next week, but right now I’m love, love, loving this tulip!

Stock bloom

The center two rows of this bed in the “flower farm” half of the potager was supposed to be tall “Anytime” stock for bouquets. Obviously, most of the plants are actually (7) “Vintage” stock, a much shorter variety that blooms earlier and was intended to be planted in containers for the deck. That’s what happens when a flat loses its label! Oh well, I’ll enjoy the flowers and their lovely scent anyway, although it’s unlikely that they will grow tall enough to be added to a “Growing Kindness” bouquet. Maybe I’ll pick some anyway and put them in a small jar on my desk just to experience the sweet aroma as I work.

Yes, that’s 7, so you get a bonus plant in this “Six on Saturday” edition. This time of year, it’s nearly impossible to limit to six because everything is bursting into bloom at once! There are over 30 of the 60 varieties of daffodils in the gardens blooming right now, lots of tulips and swathes of scilla. So hard to choose just 6! But if you’d like to see how other gardeners manage to do it, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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“Growing Kindness” is underway!

Growing Kindness bouquet # 5

The first five bouquets have been delivered this week for the “Growing Kindness Project.” Two went to ladies at nursing homes, one went to a couple in assisted living who just lost their beloved dog, one went to a shut-in who can no longer visit the daffodils she loved in her woods, and one went to stressed workers who are inundated with tax deadlines.

I’ve already learned a lot about this project. First of all, growing flowers is the easy part! Arranging the beautiful blooms is the fun part. Delivery is the time-consuming part, for many reasons but mostly because the recipients are lonely and want to talk so it’s hard to make it a quick stop. I can see this being a real problem as the number of bouquets increases to 20 or 30 a week, so that’s something I will have to seek help with. This batch were delivered on a dreary, cold, rainy day that wouldn’t have been good for gardening anyway, but I recognize that I will be extremely tempted to postpone having to get cleaned up and deliver on a beautiful sunny day! Delivery is also forcing me to be more “social” than is my nature, and while that’s probably a good thing, I’d really, really rather be in my gardens growing more flowers. But, seeing their smiles is the rewarding part. I’m sure they like the flowers, but realizing that someone cares is what really makes the difference.

The bouquets are mainly daffodils at this point, 20 stems of mixed colors and shapes. Several of the daffodils grown have had their stems folded by the unusually strong winds we’ve had lately. I assume this is going to be a continuing problem in the future, so I won’t be planting any more of the fancy very, very double forms that are more likely to flop and be ruined. The singles and split cup ones are standing up the best. The daffodils are picked at goose-neck stage for the single forms, and slightly more open for the split-cup ones and put immediately into cool water with a couple of drops of bleach added. They sit in the cool garage overnight to condition and seal the ends so they won’t “poison” the tulips. Later on it will have to be the basement as the garage temperature rises.

Some of the bouquets had the very first of the tulips, which are the “Exotic Emperor” variety you can see in the photo above. They are creamy white with some green streaking and a soft yellow center, with very strong, long stems. I’ll be growing LOTS more of them next year because they are performing wonderfully in the Front Garden and Front Island (where I am NOT cutting them!) and were the first to bloom in the Cutting Garden. I put 5 in with the 20 daffys and that seemed just right. The tulips are picked just after they have cracked open and are showing some color. They go into cool water with a bit of flower food added and are conditioned overnight in a cool, dark place as well. Treated this way, both the daffodils and tulips should last 6-9 days, although the warmer temperatures in the nursing homes may cause them to fade faster.

Friends have been generous with providing recycled jars (taller jelly, pickle and olive jars, pint canning jars) and plastic water or soda bottles which I cut the top 2-3″ off. I have dozens and dozens of rolls of ribbon left from having the shop, so adding a bow is no problem.

“Growing Kindness” project.org provides sample tags on their website that one can copy and use, but I’ve already forgotten my password, so I handwrote some tags that read “grown with love in Blackford County for the ‘Growing Kindness Project.’ Hope these brighten your day.”

It’s definitely already been a learning experience. I’m learning more about my community, more about flowers, meeting some wonderful people, and even learning more about myself! We’ll see how I feel about it all after bouquet # 500 has been delivered!!!

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No words required…

Yesterday…
Today…
Yesterday
Today…
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“Cool Flowers,” Cold temps & “Hardening Off” !

If you are interested in growing cut flowers or having a flower farm, you’ve probably heard about Lisa Mason Ziegler’s book “Cool Flowers” in which she discuses those hardy, cold tolerant annual flowers that can sometimes (in some zones) be planted in fall, overwintered, and provide early spring blooms that can often be harvested before we can normally even plant!

Since I’m growing cut flowers for the “Growing Kindness” project, I want earlier blooms for earlier bouquets. And since my space is small, if I can get an early crop to grow, flower and harvest it, an extra succession crop can be squeezed in. For a business, that would mean an extra round of bouquets and income! So, I studied Ziegler’s guide, but determined that in my area (Zone 5b, north central Indiana, last frost date around May 5-10) many of the flowers she suggests (that do well in her more southern area) would not survive our harsher winters and colder temperatures. But, I was interested in finding out what works early here, so I’m growing lots of small batches of different things with the intention of pushing my “normal” envelope. Some things may work, some things may not but the only way to find out is to try!

On March 1st, two varieties of dianthus (“Bodestoltz” and “Summer Mix”) I’d grown from seed in plug flats were planted out in a raised bed. I also direct seeded some bachelor buttons, bupleurum, dara, bells of Ireland, and nigella “Midnight” into another bed with some snapdragon plugs. Wire hoops and a layer of floating row cover were installed over them. This was not only for cold protection, but Ziegler also uses the hoops & row cover to eliminate the hardening off process. The cover protects them from too much wind and too much sun, but allows air movement and rain to penetrate. I’ve always used the standard hardening off process of moving plants outdoors for an hour, then two, then three, etc. but that’s a lot of work moving plants in and out, in and out! So, I was interested in giving row cover a try. After two weeks the plants looked fine, even though the night-time temps were usually in the mid-to upper 20’s. An additional layer of heavier frost cover was added for the night when it dropped to 12 degrees, and that worked. The plants still look happy.

Ranunculus newly planted

Feeling more confident, on March 14th more plugs were planted out. This time it was “Cantaloupe” calendula, “Anytime” stock, ranunculus, “Benary Princess” asters, “Madame Butterfly” and “Liberty” snapdragons. They also got the hoops and row cover instead of a hardening off process. Since then, the winds have howled repeatedly, the temperatures have fluctuated from 73 one day to 14 degrees one night, with 17 and 20 degrees included in that cold spell. I do open the tunnel ends when the temps are mid-fifties or higher, and add additional layers of frost cloth to the tunnels if the temps are going below 25 degrees. This bit of frost cloth not only adds night time protection from cold, but increased the daytime temps and retains warmer soil temps so plants are able to grow a bit faster. Most of the plants doubled in size before the end of the month.

Same ranunculus with two weeks growth during very cold weather, under floating row cover and hoops,

This is much easier than carrying flats in and out of the basement to harden off, so I will be using hoops and row cover from now on on all my crops in the potager and Cutting Garden. Plus it is definitely allowing plants to grow faster in adverse weather.

Two varieties of sweet peas (“Mammoth Choice” and “Old Spice”grown in 2” pots in my basement) were planted under four of the metal trellises. The only protection they were given was a plastic web flat to provide a bit of shade protection…no hoops, no row cover. They are not only happy, but showing new shoots at the base.

On March 30th, a row of “Wedding Bells” penstemon and a row of “Lace Perfume” dianthus plugs were planted in another raised bed. I was out of floating row cover, so I used a layer of shade cloth to help protect them from a day of sun and wind. That night, the forecast was for 24 degrees, so an old blanket was added on top. They seemed not to mind the cold at all, even though it went to 20 degrees.

And, I’m happy to report that all the direct seeded crops have germinated and are growing nicely, which encourages me to do lots more planting.

I hope this information from Zone 5b, north central Indiana may help other flower growers. These plants are a lot tougher than I thought as babies! And, I think that the row cover method should work on plants coming from a big box greenhouse, to provide that much-needed transition from magical greenhouse environment to reality. Plants can be placed in their pots or flats on the lawn, hoops and row cover added and after a week or two, they are hardened off sufficiently to be planted. No more carrying in and out! I just need more hoops!!!

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Replanted…whew!

Well, it’s not happy, but it’s planted!

Interesting how the dozens and dozens of clumps of plants dug in only 30 minutes (see this post if you missed it!) took over 8 hours to replant! Also interesting if you know me well, that I didn’t take time to actually count the plants dug, or do any labeling when digging, or make a plan/map before replanting! There were several reasons for rushing, most of them weather related. The forecast was for plummeting temperatures, strong winds, rain storms followed by snow. Ugh! These plants were already unhappy enough without being out of the ground.

So, why did it take so long? Well, all the beautiful soil that’s taken 30 years to develop through constant mulching and amendments ended up in the bottom of the hole. All the horrible, dense, sticky clay ended up on top, and was SO compacted by the machine and tromping that it often took my jumping six or eight times on the shovel just to dig a 4-6″ deep hole. Obviously that wasn’t deep enough for most clumps, so this jumping had to be repeated multiple times per hole. And, it was clumps, big baseball sized clumps that had to be broken up in order to put it around plant roots. I should have taken time to use potting soil, but I didn’t and I’m sure I’ll pay for that in years to come and in plant losses.

Sometimes I’d start to dig in what appeared to be an empty spot, only to find a patch of irises or other perennial under 6″ of clay, so I’d stop and take time to rescue them by removing as much of the clay covering them as I could.

And, since some of the clumps dug out were quite large and needed to be divided anyway, I used this opportunity while they were out of the ground to do so. There are lots and lots of perennials to be potted for the garden club plant sale, when there’s time!

Here’s what is leftover…

The photo above shows most of what didn’t get replanted. Not pictured are the clumps to be potted for the plant sale. The rain was beginning, and frankly, I was just tuckered out. There are a few clumps of tulips, and I may just put them in some pots as well to use as “decor” around the front door if they actually recover and bloom. You can also see from the pile bottom left, what a lousy job I did digging up those large clumps of daffodils, slicing off lots of stalks from the bulbs.

Another pile of severed daffodils…sigh!

So it will be interesting to see what survives and how it all actually looks in the future. I attempted to make some groupings, but not knowing what colors were included in the “group” it may not be very effective. There were also just single daffodils that fell off clumps in the process that were just planted two or three per hole…it was just too much work to dig single holes…so they will be a “mixed” bouquet in the ground!

I’m most worried about the roses. Although I tried to take extra care digging and replanting them, two had already begun to leaf out. One had been in the path of the leak, and may have already drowned. I gave them compost in their holes and mounded up some mulch around them, so we’ll see… Also totally missing is the lovely patch of “Gold Moss” feverfew, which I adore. I have no clue where they went, probably in the bottom of the hole. I do have a few plants started in the basement that were for the plant sale, but which I will now keep.

The night after the replant, it dropped to 20 degrees F. There was just barely any rain, which I’d hoped would water the plants in around the roots better, and also barely any snow (not enough to provide any insulation) so the poor babies had a rough night. Then the winds howled and howled. We certainly seem to have more and stronger wind events than I recall in prior decades, and that’s really hard on plants. But, at least they are back in the ground and hopefully on the road to recovery! And hopefully, that job will never have to be done again!!!

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30 minutes warning & The Big Dig

So, here’s the problem…

Several weeks ago, after the snow had melted I noticed a water leak at the well head. See the rust coated soil? There was a steady, but thankfully very light constant trickle but obviously it must be repaired. The company that works on wells sent out a nice man who shook his head and said “This is going to be expensive!” My first question was “How much of the garden am I going to lose?” His response was another shake of the head, “Well, we’ll bring out our mini, but it will go from here to here,” he said as he paced off an area that was approximately one-third of the Deck Garden, “and then we’ll need space to pile the dirt. The fittings are going to be pricey because you have inch and a quarter copper. No one uses inch and a quarter copper anymore. And the price of fittings has tripled since last fall, if I can even find the ones we need. It may take a while. I’ll get back to you.”

I fussed and stewed and tried to face the inevitable. I probably should have started digging and potting then, but the weather was lousy and there were other higher priority tasks. Who knew when he would locate the needed fittings? And the crocuses were so beautiful; the daffodils were budding, but many of the other plants had not pushed through the soil to enable me to locate them. So, I procrastinated.

This morning I was enjoying my second cup of tea and making out the job list for the day. Other than being very windy, it was finally going to be warm and the soil had thawed, the forecast was decent (above freezing!) There were three days of tasks on the list that I hoped to accomplish in one day. And then David meandered in and said, “Oh, the well guys will be here in 30 minutes to start digging.” “What!?!” I screeched, spilling my tea across the clipboard. “I thought he said he’d give me a couple of days warning!” I cried, pulling on my boots and grabbing a hat as I ran out the door. I grabbed a couple of plastic tablecloths and a shovel and began to dig. And dig.

Just digging as fast as I can!!!”
More, more and more! Gotta save as much as possible!

The truck and trailer with what definitely to me did not look like a “mini” machine pulled into the driveway. I didn’t have time to get another tablecloth, so I frantically just dug and piled plants to the side.

Just piling them aside ahead of the machine…

Finally, as the machine came rumbling across the lawn, I had to stop. I was out of breath, my back and knees were beginning to plead for mercy. I stood at the sidewalk and snapped this photo, hoping I’d judged the area correctly, and asking the plants that still remained for forgiveness. Daylilies, phlox, irises, shasta daisies, and lots of plants that had not yet emerged went under the tracks but I just couldn’t save them all.

Out of time…but the most treasured things are moved.

Ready or not, here he comes!

I couldn’t watch. Escaping to the potager, I planted peas and shallots, asters and lisianthus and tried to ignore the sounds of destruction. A bit later, the men called me to come back up to turn off the power to the pump so I snapped this photo, which shows the beginning of the real digging after they’d located the wiring. When the hole was big enough, I swore they were burying an elephant.

The initial beginnings…

I retreated to the potager for the duration. Only when they had reloaded the “mini” and vacated entirely did I venture up to survey the scene.

Actually not as bad as I expected…

Here’s the results. The leak is repaired. The soil has been returned to “level” sort of, but I know it is highly compacted now. I think some of the squished plants will recover, but I doubt that some that are now buried will return. However, I can now begin replanting. It will be interesting to see what colors come up where, because I did not have time to label anything I dug and it’s high unlikely they will end up in their original location, except for the rose bushes and hyacinths, and the eremurus. I wonder if the tritoma will be tough enough to return, and if all those bulbs will resent being dug. Time will tell!

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I’m a bad plant mom!

“Vintage” stock plants grown from seed.

These “Vintage” stock plants were seeded December 31st. They’ve required care and loving attention, space and lights since then. When they came into bloom February 22, some were planted in a decorative pot and allowed to settle in for a few days.

When an evening arrived with dinner guests coming, I moved the pot to the front door to greet our guests with a bit of early spring color. It was a lovely, clear evening and we had a wonderful time with good food and conversation, something we’ve had little of these past two Covid years! Cleared the table after the guests left, put the food away, and headed to bed. Sadly, it wasn’t until the next morning I remembered I should have brought the pot back indoors.

Poor babies didn’t have a chance at 24 degrees F. They are goners and will not recover.

And remember those lovely baby yarrow plants set out a couple of weeks ago?

“Summer Berries” yarrow planted, surrounded by newspaper and mulch.

After they were so carefully planted, some crates that were stacked nearby were overturned to protect them.

Oops! One crate short….I’ll get it later….(famous last words!)

When I added the crates, I was thinking more in terms of providing shade and some protection from the wind. The next morning, when I went to check on things, I realized I’d make yet another mistake. They didn’t mind the 24 degrees F at all, but they DID mind the rabbits!

Three are GONE, one on far right has a bit of growth still intact, so it may recover!

Obviously, I need to be more consistent with my clipboard job list, so things like this don’t fall through the cracks. I can blame it on aging, being too busy, getting interrupted mid-job (because in fact all those things are true) but the fact is mistakes happen, despite our experience, our good intentions, or even being highly organized. I could beat myself up, and I do feel upset…for the plant, for the lost opportunity, for the lost flowers that could have been, for the time and energy wasted, but I’m not going to dwell on it. It’s GARDENING, and things just happen. Much of it is beyond our control, and sometimes especially in the rush of spring, we just try to juggle too much. I don’t have any more yarrow seedlings to replace them, but now there’s space for something else, and certainly more than enough plants that will be happy to have that space.

The message, especially to new gardeners is that even experienced, very experienced gardeners have failures once in a while. It’s not the end of the world, especially if one learns something in the process. So, carry on, replant, rejoice that you can be in the garden with singing birds, blooming bulbs, sprouting seeds, greening grass! S##t happens; think of it as compost!

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Spring has arrived!

First blooms in the “Blue Garden”

I posted this photo on Fb earlier this week, and many responses from “locals” was “It’s too early!” After all, it is just mid-March, but checking my bloom journal for the prior three years the spring blooms are actually right on schedule. And, it’s NEVER too early for me to see those first early blooms of the year!

And, these weren’t the first blooms because the snowdrops, tiny as they were started off the season on February 23. As eager as we are, Hoosiers in north central Indiana recognize that even though snowdrops are in bloom, Spring has not yet arrived.

The first blooms were just harbingers of Spring!

But the crocuses weren’t far behind, opening their first blooms on March 2 and weren’t the bees thrilled to find them!

“Cream Beauty” is always my first crocuses to bloom.

I’ve planted a variety of crocuses in the gardens to extend their bloom period. The species crocus C. chrysanthus “Cream Beauty” are always the first to bloom. The chrysanthus come in a variety of colors, and I’m thinking of adding some lobelia blue ones called “Blue Pearl” this fall. A mixture from ColorBlends called “Vernal Jewels” blooms next (3/6) They don’t list the species name, but the white ones bloom first, followed by creamy yellow and pale lavender. C. sieberi “Tricolor” comes next, opening on March 16 this year.

C. sieberi “Tricolor”

The “Tommies” or C. tommasinianus are next. The one I grow is “Lilac Beauty.” Some people claim the “Tommies” are not dug up and moved by squirrels as readily as the other crocus, but I haven’t kept close enough records to be able to verify that. The winter aconites are next to bloom in my gardens, although I know in some areas they bloom earlier.

The earliest winter aconites!

Isn’t it interesting that so many of the early spring bloomers are bright yellow? Maybe so the bees can find them easily? Crocus, winter aconites, daffodils, dandelions!

The top photo of this post shows the first hellebore (a single pink that was supposed to be peachy salmon) some iris reticulata in a luscious blue, and far right, more Tricolor crocuses. For some reason, the iris reticulata there blooms in dense shade well before the ones shown below which are in full sun!

Love these little irises.

As a side note, the potager’s interior border lost lots of perennials this winter. See how bare it looks? All of the hollyhocks rotted, hardly any snapdragons overwintered. Most of the feverfew has disappeared, along with a lot of the tall blue salvia and anise hyssop. It was just too wet for too long, and there was no insulating snow cover during the coldest periods.

The dark purple are large-flowered crocus; the blue are iris reticulata

About the same time the iris reticulata are at full bloom, the large-flowered crocus begin to open (3/20). Most of mine are the very deep purple, which are grand multipliers, but I rarely see them listed in catalogs except occasionally as part of a mixture. I hurried out to take this photo last evening, before big storms and four days of rain arrive to beat the petals. I fear their show may be brief this year.

And yesterday, the first daffodils opened, the dainty Tete e Tete! There are lots of daffodil buds forming on other varieties so it won’t be long before the picking begins.

Small, but mighty!

The daffodil bloom signals the start of major vegetable planting: peas, shallots, onion sets, and seeding a wide range of greens. I can’t wait to get started, but apparently I’ll need to wait for this major storm period to pass and a couple of nights in the upper 20’s are coming up so there’s no need to rush. I certainly don’t want my precious shallot bulbs to rot, and the peas will just lay there complaining until it warms a bit. So, it’s back to transplanting in the basement and working on the post project for most of this week. What do you have planned?

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Six on Saturday: The planting has begun!

The greenhouse is packed, and messy!!!

There really wasn’t a choice. The basement space is packed; the greenhouse is packed and yet there are hundreds of seedlings down there still needing their own personal pot! So, as soon as the weather cooperated in the least bit (that is, temperatures that rose above the single digits, teens, and low twenties) the planting began. Plus, I’m experimenting to see how early I can get flowers for the “Growing Kindness Project” bouquets. First were the ranunculus, who love colder temperatures.

Happy ranunculus!

The ranunculus were pre-soaked and pre-sprouted in the basement. The root systems were bigger than my hand on several corms when they went into the ground so I was pleased. Hopefully that will mean lots of big, beautiful flowers in a few weeks. They went into a raised bed with hoops and light row cover and seem to be very happy after a few days in the ground.

Then came the snapdragons, stock, and sweet peas which can also tolerate colder weather. This was my first experience with doing snapdragons in those little 3/4″ soil blocks, and I was totally surprised at how well they did. Definitely a game changer for me. An old gal CAN learn new tricks! I wasn’t as happy with the stock in soil blocks, but they did well in the row trays initially and then were transplanted into a plug tray. Extra work, but when space is the biggest issue and time is not, it was the best method for my situation. The sweet peas were seeded 2 seeds to a 2″ pot, pinched at 6″ and planted cheek to jowl.

Sweet peas “Mammoth Choice” will climb the trellis. “Madame Butterfly” Snapdragons top two rows, stock “Anytime” center row and more snapdragons bottom three rows fill 5d.

These plants were only minimally hardened off, spending a couple of hours in partial shade with just a bit of breeze for a couple hours two mornings, then moving to the greenhouse with a fan and open door, and now in the ground. But, notice the hoops and floating row cover which went on as soon as the planting was completed in bed 5d. It will allow the plants protection from full sunlight and wind until they get established and the temperatures settle more. This actually acts as a hardening off period.

This may look like the same bed…but it isn’t!

Across the main path, bed 5c also got sweet peas on its trellis and a row of stock in the center, but there are “Liberty Bronze” snapdragons on the left and “Benary Princess” asters on the right. You can see that the hoops and row cover extends over all three beds, 5a, 5b and 5c. I wasn’t sure about planting the asters out this early, but a flat of plugs in the greenhouse showed absolutely no effects of a 24 degree night in the greenhouse so out they went!

Another bed of stock.

There weren’t quite enough plants to finish this bed, but there is another flat or three of stock coming on that will finish that row, and on the far left will go a row of annual phlox that just need to get a bit larger before going outdoors. I switched from the potager beds to another job that really needed to get done.

A new bed dug and planted!

While the soil was perfect for digging, and before the next rain arrived, these “Summer Berries” yarrow plants needed to get in the ground. The plants were set, a few layers of newspaper fitted around them and a layer of mulch were added. These are on the end of one of the former berry rows that are currently planted in daffodils.

So that’s six crops planted in Mid-March (maybe it’s March Madness, but we’ll see!) 1) Ranunculus 2) Snapdragons 3) Sweet Peas 4) Stock 5) Asters 6) Yarrow!

If you’d like to see what other gardeners come up with for a Six on Saturday post, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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Raised beds

Last year’s mini tulips edging the center path…hoping they will return.

I love my raised beds. As soon as the idea of a potager began to emerge, there was no question that raised beds would be a major factor. There had not been many raised beds in my prior gardens, but even that very small bit of experience had already convinced me that raised beds are much easier to tend and keep tidy. In addition, they can easily be much more productive (mine produce three times the produce in less than half the space and work of traditional row gardens.)

I can harvest peas long before my neighbors with row gardens!

Raised beds allow me to work in the garden much earlier and often, because the soil thaws and dries out much quicker in spring. There’s no tilling and very little digging except to harvest root crops. And, as I’m aging it is readily apparent that the raised beds are much, much easier on backs and knees. I can work longer in my raised beds than I can in my “normal” in-ground gardens. If I were doing my garden over I’d definitely do raised beds again. I’d probably do 8′ long beds rather than 6′, because lumber comes in 8′ lengths so it would be more economical to do 8′ beds. However, there has been one problem with my wonderful raised beds…

What a bother!

Broken corners! Yes, broken corners are my biggest headache. No matter what wood glue is used, no matter how many nails or screws are used, after several seasons Old Man Winter with his freezing and thawing and heaving pulls the corners apart. And as soon as the corner slides open, the soil begins to move. Every spring there are a few corners that need to be dug out and re-screwed. It’s a real bother. The only good thing about it is that it gives me a purposeful job to do before I can really “garden.” Any nice day when the soil in the beds isn’t frozen I can be out playing carpenter. But, after seven years some of the corners are getting so rotted that re-screwing is no longer an option. They just won’t hold together. Thankfully there is a solution!

Hurrah! A remedy!

In researching possible solutions, I found these sturdy metal brackets from Plow and Hearth. (Note: I did not get any reimbursement or discount for mentioning this product!) They are exactly what I needed. They are easy to use and I think quite attractive! They not only hold the boards securely, but they have a “lip” that goes into the ground to keep the bed in place. I believe they will add several years to the life of each bed. And, when the boards do eventually need to be replaced, the screws can be taken out and the bracket can be re-used on a new bed or to repair another corner on an older bed. They aren’t cheap (about $10 per bracket) but with the price of lumber these days, and the hassle it takes to repair a corner, and the additional years of use they will provide, I think they are well worth the price.

I had calculated that I would need to replace six beds this spring. And there were several corners on others that had parted. However, with the new brackets only two beds really require replacement and all the corners on the others can be repaired with a bracket. Four brackets are much less than the cost of the lumber for a bed so I’m feeling like a winner.

I love it when a problem gets resolved, don’t you?

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