Spring Bulbs: Part 2 Daffodils

Looking and thinking back to last spring!

Daffodil season has to be one of my very favorite times of the year. Anticipating the first crocus is exciting, but they are a bit short for a bouquet. However, when the daffodils begin bursting into flower it’s time to rejoice! There are a lot of daffodils/narcissi in my gardens but I doubt there can ever be too many. And, with my mission to spread joy through gift bouquets the excuse to plant more was easily justified! The problem was, where to put them. The gardens really do have all they need but recently while picking blackberries, I revised the plan to eliminate the second berry row. Originally (7 years ago?) red raspberries were planted there, but they just never took off and over the years have disappeared. I’ve considered replacing them, but I suspect virus from the nearby wild black raspberries was part of the problem. The posts and crosswire supports are still there and the soil has been amended, so the new plan is to plant daffodils down the entire row, and to add sunflowers and zinnias later on to supplement the Cutting Garden. That should work, don’t you think? Well, it’s worth a try and daffodils are so easy! This is an area that gets lots of wind, so there are no heavy-headed varieties that would just get bent-over stems. Here’s what’s coming:

“Fragrant Breeze”

This charmer is noted for its flattened, very wide cup fronting 4″ white petals. The cup opens orange but matures to a buff-peach, and as the name reflects, this large-cupped narcissi is very fragrant. 18-20″ April? There’s 50 of these! From Van Engelen.

“Alexis Beauty”

ColorBlends offered this irresistible stunner with large blooms. Bright yellow petals surround a ruffled trumpet that opens apricot but takes on cream and orange highlights as it matures. An early bloomer.

“Pride of Lions”

Also from ColorBlends, “Pride of Lions” is a mid-season variety with an extremely broad but shallow, deep orange cup surrounded by lemon yellow petals. 25 of these are on the way!

“Yellow Cheerfulness”

An old, old variety from 1937 that is still just as desirable today because it blooms very late, has strong stems and is richly perfumed. I’ve had the white variety for decades, and if the yellow is half as good it is a prize! 25 of these as well.

“Night Cap”

I couldn’t resist this narcissi, with its dramatic deep coral-edged trumpet and pristine white petals. From John Scheepers, this 16″ April bloomer promises a lot of contrast! Pricey, so only 10…sigh!


Scheepers describes this beauty as greenish-yellow, so I’m interested to see how much it differs from the “normal” yellow daffodil. The long funnel trumpet matures to bright white! Should be interesting to watch. Only 10 of these.

This will bring my total daffodil/narcissis collection to 46 varieties and I adore each one. I’m still searching for later blooming varieties to extend the season.

There’s 60′ of row, so if I need more I’ll just pick up some solid gold “King Alfred” and pure white “Mount Hood” from a local store. Both of these are tried and true, reliable performers. And, I could be tempted to round that 46 to an even 50, if I see something outstanding that I don’t already have! No need to worry about the deer and rabbits even these will be close to the woods, because no one eats daffodils! I’m getting excited just thinking about them!

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Bulb orders for 2022 Spring! Part 1 Tulips & Alliums

Yes, it’s that time already to order bulbs for fall planting, which means thinking about the plans for SPRING! The first order was placed in late June and was mainly tulips…lots of tulips. Last spring, so many of the tulips bloomed at the same time, rather than early, mid and late and I’ve decided there was an overabundance of orange. I bet you never thought you’d hear that coming from me, but that was the case. There’s still shades of orange coming, but it’s being tempered with a bit of white. So, once again there will be early, mid and late tulips and we’ll hope they bloom at their proper time. And thought is given to short, medium and tall, plus variations of flower shape and texture. On the first order (Van Englelen) were:

Tulip “Sensual Touch”

“Sensual Touch” was on my “maybe” list last year, but lost out to “Prince Armin,” who proved to be not very long-lasting. You may recall that we had an unusual late snowfall last spring which was detrimental to the tulips, so maybe I’m being harsh. The single petal tulips all suffered losses, and looked like a sad smile with gaps where some teeth should be. The double-flowering tulips held up much better, and even if they lost a petal or two still looked attractive, so you’ll see more doubles on the list than before. “Sensual Touch” is fairly early (late April?) double, 16-18″ with luscious shades of orange blending to bright yellow fringed edges. There’s 50 of these coming and they’ll be planted in groups of 5 mostly in the Front Garden.

Tulip “Exotic Emperor”

“Exotic Emperor” is also a double, fairly early (mid-April?) creamy white with green streaks, 20″. I haven’t grown these before either, but the 100 bulbs will be split between the Front Garden and the potager’s exterior border. I like the colors and some plants in these two gardens to be similar because visitors or passersby can see both of these at once. And some will go in the Front Island, which has never intentionally had tulips in the past due to the squirrel traffic in the two walnut trees that anchor it. However, last year some tulips showed up there and did well, so I’m willing to risk a few tulip bulbs to carry on the mostly white theme that the Front Island seems to need to echo the white flowering viburnums and the big alliums.

Tulip “Stunning Apricot”

“Stunning Apricot” is a single late tulip that I’ve grown before (2017), and my notes indicate it was a little too pink, but I’m giving it another try because it was long-lasting, at least that year! Since it’s a bit later (late April into May that year) hopefully snow won’t be a problem. Apricot to coral, 28″ slightly taller, so they’ll be planted in the middle areas. 100 split between Front Garden and PEB.

Tulip “El Nino”

“El Nino” was part of a “late blooming” package special grown in 2019, and rated a star beside its entry in my bloom journal, so it’s getting another go. Apricot/amber streaked with reds and orange, listed as 28″ but my journal says 30″ so they will be in the back. It’s also in the single late category, and the 100 bulbs will be divided between FG and PEB as well.

I waited a bit on the 2nd order (ColorBlends) until some revisions were done on the Front Garden last month, some additional perennials and shrubs were added: 3 boxwoods, 3 butterfly bushes, 3 “Cheyenne Spirit” coneflowers, 2 pale yellow yarrows, and 2 pale yellow shasta daisies. Several less than attractive very old daylilies and a bunch of overgrown irises were dug out to make room. The end result should be a steadier supply of blooms, or at least better foliage, and the need for 100 fewer tulips. I was pleasantly surprised at how many healthy, nice tulip bulbs I found when digging holes for the new plants so hopefully some of last years selections will also appear! Unfortunately for me, I waited a bit too long, because half of what I wanted was already sold out! Here’s what’s on the ColorBlends order:
Tulip “Cretaceous”

“Cretaceous” makes my list every year, and thankfully they were still available. Some flowers are a bit more yellow, and some a bit softer orange, but all of them are gorgeous and long-lasting. In 2019, their first appearance here, they began blooming on April 19. In 2020 we had a very cold, late spring and they didn’t open until May 10. In 2021, it was April 13. At 18-20″ and very double, from the “peony-flowered” category of tulips. 100 will be divided between Front Garden, the PEB, and some in the potager’s interior border. “Cretaceous” and “Sensusal Touch” may bloom at the same time and be somewhat similar, so there will be fewer “Cretaceous” needed in the Front Garden, allowing some for the PIB.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tang-dynasty.jpg
Tulip mix “Tang Dynasty”

One hundred Tulip “Tang Dynasty” blend went into the Deck Garden the fall of 2019, and they bloomed so beautifully in spring 2020, that another 100 were planted that fall. This spring there were 178 lovely tulips, which means that 78% returned for a second performance! Another 100 will go into the Deck Garden this fall. Other than some early species tulips, these are the first tulips to bloom (April 5th last year) and are SUCH a welcome sight!

Tulip Bulbs | Item # 1712 Clearwater | For Sale
Tulip “Clearwater”

This single late tulip is destined for the Deck Garden. The one slight fault in “Tang Dynasty” is that the white tulips bloom first and are gone first, so I’m hoping by adding a few later white tulips the three color view will be extended…just 25.

To compensate for the varieties that were no longer available, a second order for 4 “new” tulips was submitted to Van Engelen’s recently, but only 2 were still available. The vision for the Front Island will be enhanced by these two white tulips:

Tulip Mondial | Buy Peony Double Tulip Bulbs | DutchGrown™
Double white tulip “Mondial”

The first is “Mondial,” a mid-April double white, the 100 bulbs divided between the Front Island, The Addition Garden, and the PIB.

Tulip Mount Tacoma
The peony-flowered “Mount Tacoma”

Very similar to “Mondial,” the lovely “Mount Tacoma” will extend the white blooms into late April and early May (hopefully!) I had hoped for a taller, lily-flowered white or a fringed white, but they were both sold out. All these white tulips will indeed call for returning the shutters behind the Front Garden to a pristine white before spring! And then, there was an impulse purchase! A fourth order was placed with John Scheepers that included the following tulips:

Green Star | Green star, Tulips, Green
Lily-flowered “Green Star”

Just 10 of these as a trial, but the tall, lily-flowered white with green streaks should help extend the season in the Front Island, along with a similar late-bloomer, “Spring Green.”

Buy viridiflora tulip bulbs Tulipa Spring Green: £4.99 ...
Tulip “Spring Green.”

Only 10 of these as well, but if either or both do exceptionally well, there will be more on order EARLY next year.

And the big impulse purchase? One bed in the potager is being converted to tulips next spring, just for cutting.

Mixed Peony Flowering tulips!

Fifty of these luscious tulips will be grown in a potager bed, safe from the deer, just for cutting next spring. I just find it impossible to cut tulips from the gardens near the house, even when there are many, and I doubt the flimsy bunny fence around the Cutting Garden would deter the deer from nibbling off the buds, so change is in the air!

The alliums were such a blessing, blooming when there was little else so I need more. Remember in the Front Island, the steel blue-gray alliums (A. caesium) that bloomed the same time as the tall Scilla “Blue Arrow?” Fortunately, I remembered that I wanted more of those to balance out the bed. 10-16″ They began blooming May 27.

Allium “White Giant”

Allium “White Giant” was such a success in extending the season of bulbs in the Front Island, that 5 more are being added, just in case some of last season’s don’t return.

Allium “Ostara” is only 16″ tall but with a 4-6″ dark purple globe, destined for the front areas of the Front Garden, to balance their taller cousins.
Allium “Pinball Wizard”

Last year, Allium “Purple Sensation” were planted in the middle area of the Front Garden in three groups. At 28-30″ tall, they looked quite grand, and I’m hoping they return for a repeat performance next spring but since I haven’t grown them before, I’m not sure. So, I’m hedging my bets with “Pinball Wizard” which is 24″ with a 6-8″ globe. Do your big alliums come back, or do you plant new ones each autumn?

That’s the plan for tulips and alliums….only 840 tulips plus some alliums, a bit less than usual. Many of the bulbs planted in prior years have naturalized and expanded, filling the spaces so there’s less need, plus more perennials and shrubs have been added here and there. My advice? Order early to avoid disappointment and being forced to revise your plans! I definitely won’t wait as long next year, and will get my orders in early!

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August: Monthly review

August potager

Yet another month just flew by! Overall, August was hot and dry, very dry so much of the time was spent watering. As I look at this photo, I am reminded of all the days with gorgeous blue skies. I see all the dead ash trees in the woods that border the creek that runs on the north side of our property. I see that the Lady Cottage needs a fresh coat of stain or paint, still undecided which it will be. I see the berry box on the left that is a bit canted and needs straightening. I see bare soil where seeds refused to germinate despite multiple re-plantings. I see empty trellises where melons used to be. But, I also see healthy pumpkin and squash vines climbing out of their boxes and over their fences and although the tomato vines are beginning to look a bit tired, there is still pounds and pounds of good eating within the potager’s beds.

Can you spot the butterfly…or is it a moth?

What one can’t see in the photograph is that the potager is also home to lots of pollinators. The white blossoms of the garlic chives are covered with bees, butterflies and a big variety of beneficial wasps all day long. The melon, squash, cucumber and pumpkin vines have an insect of some sort in every flower. The rows of blooming beans are swarming with bees. The potager is a busy, busy place. Twenty-one varieties of vegetables were planted in August, although a high percentage of them never germinated. Not sure if I let the seeds get too hot in the Lady Cottage, the seeds cooked in the 106 degree soil temps, or the seeds were too old. I intentionally used up some old seed, but some of it was new. And it could be that some of the crops just won’t germinate when it’s this hot, but they will do fine once it’s a bit cooler (turnips, spinach, lettuce.) The most disappointing were the “Wando” peas, which are usually a great success, but won’t be this year. Ah well, the freezer is full of peas already so maybe it’s just as well…(sigh!)

Sweet pea seed pods drying in my antique wooden bowl

In addition to harvesting the vegetables and flowers, it’s that time of year when planning for next year’s bounty and beauty begins as well. Seed collecting is an important part of the gardener’s plan throughout the season, but it seems to take a higher priority as the air begins to chill and the days of growing are coming to an end. Refilling the herb jars in the pantry also is more important. The nights will soon be too cool, and the basil leaves will brown in response so they need to be cut and dried now. Speaking of cut…

The Cutting garden mid-August

The Cutting Garden has been a joy, providing at least two give-away bouquets a week, plus a bouquet for the house but I can see lots of room for improvement. Thus, this week, all the black-eyed Susan plants were pulled. They generally look good from a distance, but up-close for a bouquet there is only a very short window of usage before the center flower withers. If I really want some, I can cut from the edge of the woods. So next year, that space will go to other more useful plants (zinnias, celosia, asters.) I’m already working on seed orders and lists, not only for the Cutting Garden, but for the potager as well. More about that in future posts.

August was a bountiful month production-wise, despite the lack of rain. Total pounds of food produced for the month was 574.75!!!! In 2019 it was a mere 187.5, in 2020 it was 396. The biggest factor was melons…lots of lots of luscious melons (5 varieties) and tomatoes. The summer squash also kept going throughout August, which was a rare occurrence. They usually succumb to borers, and some did, but some are still producing pounds of beautiful squashes (I’m looking fondly at you, Bossa Nova and Sunburst!) The beets have also done well; the beans, not so much due to an invasion of beetles.

Preserving wise, 122 cans or packages were canned or frozen this month: 3 batches of pickled beets, several canners of tomato juice or diced tomatoes, elder and blackberry jellies, ketchup, pepper strips, sweet and Bread & Butter pickles. However, the bulk of the produce was actually given away!

The Front Garden got a re-do in August.

Giving the Front Garden a bit of a make-over was a major coup for the month. A new layer of mulch after a good watering really helped the plants through the dry days, although the new shrubs have required some additional watering. I’m eager to see what makes it through the winter and reappears next spring.

The Deck Garden didn’t seem to mind the heat!

I’ve been really happy with parts of the Deck Garden all summer. The “Blue Bedder” salvia in the foreground has rivaled the feeder for attention from the hummers (who have a nest in the nearby elder.) As long as the marigolds were deadheaded, they’ve been happy to keep going. A couple spots will need some work this fall, probably as I plant bulbs. There are some very old daylilies that haven’t been divided in 15 years and really need it, and a couple of volunteer (bird-planted) mulberry trees that are trying to becoming permanent, plus a couple of squirrel-planted walnuts that must be dug out (when the ground isn’t so hard!) It also needs a layer of mulch, since it hasn’t received any this year!

So, August is passed and it was a good month despite the heat and lack of rain, until the weekend, when we finally got 2 1/4″. How I celebrated!!! Now it’s September, and my mind is turning more to plans for next year. What will be grown again? What will be dropped? What changes will be wrought? What new crops will be added? What sounds fun to try? Lots to think about as I pull the weeds the rain brought up and plot where bulbs will go! I hope your August was filled with blessings and all good things!

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Six on Saturday: Sept 4

The harvest continues…

It’s the first Saturday in September, and it’s definitely beginning to feel as if autumn is just over the horizon. Local tv stations reported that the Farmers’ Almanac predicts we will have a longer, harsher winter so that may mean an earlier frost than usual. So, I’m trying to squeeze every bit of harvest out of the potager until it arrives. The larger tomatoes are becoming fewer. The “Parisian” cuke vines have been pulled, and there are fewer summer squash now as well. However, the melons are still coming on strong, as are the cherry tomatoes. Photo 1 is today’s harvest.

Hope this pumpkin has time to mature.

2) Despite the fact that summer has drawn to an end, there are still lots of things to look forward to, including this gorgeous pumpkin. I’ve pinched off all the growing ends of each vine to encourage it to ripen the pumpkins already there, rather than trying to set more fruit. I’ve done the same on the tomato plants.

A different variety of pumpkin….

3) I’m not sure which pumpkins these are, because they are plants that were leftover from the garden club plant sale, and someone pulled out the tags. I’m just happy that they are growing so well! Ends have been nipped on these as well.

Not a pumpkin…..

4) These look more like pumpkins, but they are actually winter squash “Orange Magic,” which was the winner of our winter squash taste test a couple of years ago. They are really abundant this year.


5) This is the best crop of salsify, or vegetable oyster that I’ve grown in the potager. I’m hoping the white carrot-like roots are developing below the soil line. They will be harvested after a couple of frosts, but before the ground freezes, peeled, diced into pennies and turned into either “oyster stew” or slightly mashed and made into “crabcakes” and fried in butter. Both meals are a winter treat, and any excess cooked pennies can be frozen for later use.

Enjoy the flowers before frost arrives!

6) Today’s bucket of flowers contains the last lisianthus, two types of celosia, gomphrena, the reblooming feverfew, zinnias, dahlias, sunflowers, rudbeckia, and Blue Bedder salvia. The number of flowers is dwindling since the sunflowers are nearly finished and the zinnias are getting smaller.

That’s my Six on Saturday for early September. If you’d like to see what other gardeners have going visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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Singing in the Rain!

Only a 5 minute rain, but we’re thankful for every drop!

We had a brief morning shower on Thursday, less than 1/4″ but the plants were grateful and so was I! Hoping for more, I stayed indoors and canned tomato juice, and made a big batch of my friend Ruth’s “Country Garden Pasta Sauce.” That helped clear some space on my counter again and emptied some buckets.

When the rain stopped, I hurried out to harvest. The melons are ripening SO FAST in this heat. I picked 5 more, plus some cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. Did a little weeding, hoping that the rain had softened the soil a bit, but the moisture was only paper thin, so there was more deadheading until the heat and humidity drove me back indoors. Thus you get a post two days in a row!

One of last week’s give-away bouquets.

As promised, I wanted to report on the durability of “Mandarin Orange” balm as a filler in bouquets. It’s working great, holding up well, retaining color and form much, much better than lemon balm. This bouquet has “Earthwalker” sunflowers, rudbeckia, tansy, feverfew, “Fresh Look Orange” celosia, “Cresto” zinnias, Queen Anne’s lace, the balm, “Blue Bedder” salvia and strawflowers. I’ve been making lots of notes for next year’s Cutting Garden. This year I grew strawflowers for the first time in years, and now I remember why I quit growing them. They close up when put in water, and only look great dried if they are picked off their stem and wired, which is way too much work for me at this stage. We did thousands that way when we made wreaths and dried arrangements for sale, but I’m not interested in doing that, so no strawflowers next year. Their space will go to more lisianthus!

Another give-away bouquet

I left this photo large on purpose so you can really see the talinum, those tiny balls on airy stems. Normally I condense photos so they download quickly. If you live in the country with iffy download speeds like we do, one can go have tea while waiting for it to appear. I love the talinum (“Kingwood Gold”) because those little balls can appear pink, orange, or red depending upon what they are combined with. This bouquet contains the “apricot” lisianthus, which is definitely pink. Next year I’m growing a white variety, a green variety, and maybe a purple one. The lisianthus can last up to three weeks in a vase and I think it’s gorgeous. I’ll definitely add more of the “Bonita” asters, since the “blue” (which appears purple) ones have done so very well. It’s a crop that will need to be succession planted, as they are all ready at once, and are a single stem/one cut plant. I’m testing some as a dried flower, but I’ve already decided to add some white and “light blue” as well. A little boneset as filler, hydrangea, Queen Anne’s lace, “Blue Bedder” salvia, a “volunteer” celosia that for some odd reason was actually a deep, deep rose, and a bit of feverfew finished this one. The “Blue Bedder” salvia looks a little droopy, but I assure you it straitens up after it’s been in the water a bit longer. I hadn’t conditioned these flowers before I made the arrangements, so I gave them a day in a cool location before delivering them and they looked fine.

I’ve really enjoyed creating bouqets, using a variety of flowers from the Cutting Garden, some odd bits from along the woods, and some of my beloved herbs. Learning a lot as I go, and looking forward to adding more variety for next year! Blessing to all, dear readers!

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Ticked off

Early Wednesdaymorning, I looked out the window in hope, but all was dry as an ancient bone. Once again the rain had bypassed our area. I was a bit ticked off. Areas that have been blessed with rains are getting more. Those of us who haven’t, still aren’t. But, at least we don’t have wildfires…yet! Sauntering into the kitchen to make the morning tea, I surveyed the kitchen island, where the produce picked Tuesday sat, along with two bouquets I’d made last evening.

One day’s harvest…too much for us to eat!

And the harvest from the day before sat on the side counter. The last of the “Dragon Tongue” beans had been picked into a plastic bag because I was out of empty buckets. It was time to make up more giveaway boxes.

Box 1

Since I’ve begun to know the recipients fairly well, Box 1 was a quick fix. An elderly couple that can no longer garden, who love melons and tomatoes, will fix cucumbers with onions and vinegar, and enjoy fresh beans got the final picking of purple beans, two kinds of melon, 2 burpless cukes and an assortment of tomatoes. They don’t eat a lot, so their box is small. Sadly, they don’t like summer squash or peppers…

Box 2

Two bachelor farmers also love melons, but they have their own tomatoes, don’t like cucumbers, peppers, or summer squash. I usually tuck in a couple of servings of something baked because they don’t bake (this time it was black raspberry & blueberry crisp), but they know how to cook beans. Last time I took purple beans, which they’d never seen but were willing to try. It also gives them something new to tell their other retired farming friends when they meet for coffee. So, they got the last of the “Dragon Tongue” beans, which will give them a new story to tell.

Ran out of boxes….

“Box” 3 goes to a retired couple who once had a large garden and miss it. She loves to cook and they often have grandchildren stopping in to eat with them, so she can use larger quantities. And, since they are “old time” gardeners, a bug bite or two doesn’t bother them at all, so they got the entire bucket of French Garden beans, which apparently both the striped and spotted cucumber beetles prefer. Who knew? Fortunately, they love cucumbers and summer squash, peppers and tomatoes, and they got 3 1/2 melons plus a head of cabbage. That ticked one job off my list.

While D delivered the boxes, I hurried to the Lavender Slope before it got any warmer and before the sky cleared to avoid the searing sun. The stone-covered slope really reflects the heat, which can make shearing the lavandins more uncomfortable. The top row of lavenders had been sheared right after they bloomed, and the “Imperial Gems” are already beginning to rebloom, but I’d been tardy getting the lavandins done.

A plug flat of “Abrialli” lavandin

While I was shearing, I noticed there were lots of new growth stems that were perfect for cuttings. I haven’t done lavender cuttings since I sold the herb farm six years ago, but it was always one of my favorite tasks. I have no desire to do the 3-4,000 I used to do each August, but I’m thinking lavender plants would be good sellers at our garden club plant sale next spring, so I prepped a plug flat and enjoyed a good hour taking cuttings, inhaling the fabulous, relaxing fragrance and doing a bit of weeding as I moved along the rows. After taking lavandin cuttings, I decided to do a flat of lavenders.

3 varieties of lavenders: “Imperial Gem,” “Royal Velvet,” and a row that’s a mystery plant.

If I’m going to go to the trouble of babying two flats of lavender cuttings, I might as well make it three, so a plug flat of rosemary and lemon verbena cuttings were next. Lemon Verbena ice cream has been on the job/wish list, so I’d planned to harvest some leaves today anyway so this actually “killed two birds with one stone” so to speak.

Prostrate rosemary and Lemon Verbena cuttings

The bulk of the afternoon was spent watering…and harvesting so once again the counters are full. A kettle of tomatoes went on the stove next, destined to be marinara sauce. It can slowly simmer while I run into town for our monthly book club meeting. While I’m in town, I’ll pick up cream and a bag of ice for the ice cream, and some bacon for quick, easy BLT’s for supper.

Then, I’m going to sit down with my job list, and TICK OFF all the things on the list that were finished today! Slight chance of rain tomorrow, so there’s still hope!

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Playing Catch-up…or is that ketchup?

Here’s our front lawn! A bit on the beige side!

As the heat wave and lack of rain continue, much of my time is spent dragging hoses and watering, watering, watering. I’m just trying to keep the potager and the 3 main flower gardens as healthy as I can, but the lawn and the rest of the gardens are on their own! This week the forecast is for record-breaking heat and rain is doubtful, so no relief in sight. Today our entire area is under an extreme heat advisory. It already feels like a sauna and it’s only 9 a.m.

Homemade ketchup is the best!

Garden work is done in the mornings as much as possible, and during the heat of the afternoon it’s time to work in the kitchen preserving the harvest. One of my favorite preserving is making ketchup. It takes most of a day to cook down the tomatoes, peppers and onions; run them through a food mill and then cook them again with a cheesecloth bag of spices until the mixture is reduced by half. The entire house smells SO GOOD! Staying nearby for frequent stirring is a must, so I snap beans, arrange bouquets, or whatever else I can do in the kitchen. Once it’s cooked down, the sugar and vinegar is added, which necessitates another cooking session to get it nice and thick again. Then it’s time to bottle, using many of the same old bottles that my grandmother and mother used, and that I’ve used for nearly 50 years. When was the last time you had “Hillbilly Cola” or “Palm Hill Cola?” The Pepsi bottles were added in much later years, found when we moved in but they come in handy.

The tomatoes are coming on at a furious pace, and even though I’m giving lots away there’s still plenty to can. This time it was tomato juice and diced tomatoes. Next up is marinara sauce, and maybe I’ll oven roast/dry a batch or two of cherry tomatoes even though we still have some left from last year’s preserving.

I spent one day at my mother’s freezing sweet corn for her freezer. That brought back lots of memories when the two of us and my paternal grandmother used to do corn together. No one could cut corn off a cob faster than Grandma Miller. She was a whiz with a knife! And no, I don’t bother to grow sweet corn. Our area is famous for growing fantastic corn…field corn, popcorn, and the sweetest, best sweet corn ever! So, I let the experts grow it and save my space for crops that don’t attract so many raccoons! Another day I canned sweet pickles and pickled beets. Yet another day, elderberry jelly was made and pepper strips were frozen.

A typical day’s harvest…

Still, the produce comes in faster than we can eat it, or than I can process it. It’s amazing how much my little potager can bring forth. D keeps telling me I should grow less, and for the first time I am actually considering turning a couple of beds over to flowers next year. We just don’t need so many tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and summer squash so I’ll cut back on those.

Meanwhile, I’m falling way behind on deadheading which means there will be lots of thinning out of volunteer seedlings at some point, although maybe the birds will eat the majority of the seeds and it won’t be a problem. A gardener can hope! And one of the great mysteries of life is how weeds can grow and thrive without rain. I see lots of weeds, but they are SO hard to pull in the dry, hard soil. Definitely should have put on more mulch last spring. The lavandins need shearing, and it’s past time to do a search and destroy mission on the squash and pumpkin leaves. Lots of catching up to do, but I’m trying to be prudent and not overdo in the heat. Wherever you are, be safe, be healthy, and most of all be happy! Enjoy those flowers and the summer bounty. Despite the current heat, frost will soon be on the way!

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Six on Saturday: Aug 14

The goldfinches are getting an early start!

It’s yet another Saturday, hazy from the western wildfires all the way here to Indiana! It’s been hot and humid, with hardly any rain still but somehow with the heavy morning dew the crops are managing. August is always an odd month, with parents and children adjusting to “back to school,” the weeks seeming to be pushing toward autumn but yet hanging onto summer, days certainly long enough to accomplish a lot but little energy to do it! The bounty of summer is flowing in from the potager, yet the gardener must be thinking about and planting not only fall crops, but the plan for next year. Amid all this, it’s important to take a few moments to enjoy the beauty around us, beginning with 1) the brilliant yellow goldfinches that are devouring the sunflower seeds long before they are close to ripe. As much as I hate to see the sunflowers in tatters, I’m happy to see a healthy goldfinch enjoying it as much as I do. You may not be aware, but here in Indiana the Department of Natural Resources has issued a plea for residents NOT to put food in bird feeders. This is to avoid birds congregating together, to try to stop a highly contagious disease that is killing hundreds of our songbirds. It’s a sad, sad situation. Since many birds are accustomed to simply gorging themselves at a well-stocked feeder, which no longer has food they are having to forage…some for the first time in their lives. Could you manage? So, I’m happy to donate my sunflowers to the cause!

Only the sixth swallowtail spotted this season!

2) Normally, the dill and parsley are covered in swallowtail caterpillars throughout the summer. This year, I’ve seen nary a one! No sprays or pesticides are used on our property, no herbicides and I’m exceedingly careful with even Bt and soap spray. However, there seems to be an increased use in spraying by airplanes in the surrounding fields, which has even led me to stop eating the wonderful “Sun Sugar” tomatoes straight from the bush as I garden. Now EVERYTHING must come into the kitchen and be washed first. I wish I could wash all the flowers before the bees, birds, and butterflies ate them, too…

Can you guess what this is?

3) I’m willing to share most of the seeds that develop in my gardens with the birds, but some are harvested for our use as well. Last year’s crop of cutting celery returned this spring (as usual for a biennial) and we enjoyed the first, early leaves in soups and salads. As soon as the bloom stalks formed (like parsley) the leaves get tough and bitter so we no longer harvest them. I DO use many of the stalks as filler in bouquets all through May to mid-July. Once the seeds begin to form the plants are left alone until the seeds turn brown, and I observe the birds helping themselves. Then it’s time to harvest the tiny seeds to refill the jar marked “Celery seed” in the pantry. Yes, most “celery seed” sold in stores is actually either cutting celery or smallage!


4) Didn’t even notice until I uploaded this photo that I goofed again! I’ve continued to collect seeds for next year’s gardens throughout the growing season, and I can only hope I did a better job most days than I obviously did yesterday. Look closely and you’ll see that BOTH envelopes are labeled “Feverfew Gold Moss.” Well, one of them is actually “Perennial Blue Flax!” I’ll be able to tell by the feel of the seeds and correct it, because the flax is little hard balls and the feverfew is dust, but I certainly had to laugh at myself.

Way too much for an envelope!

5) You may recognize these dry stalks with numerous little brown balls. Yes, it’s coriander seed. Plenty were left in the potager’s interior border to reseed a crop of cilantro for this fall, and very likely another in spring as some will germinate quickly, and some will dawdle. However, there was just TOO much seed to allow them all to remain, and too many for envelopes so I pushed them into a paper bag to finish drying. Some will be ground for a pantry jar, some will be packaged and sold at the garden club plant sale next spring, and some will be seeded in pots for that same sale. The rest will become bird feed, hung out a sprig here and there, to prevent congregating by the birds.

Today’s bucket of flowers.

6) and finally, the bucket of flowers picked yesterday and conditioned in the cool basement, ready to become two bouquets to go along with give-away produce this afternoon. Notice the “blue” asters, which actually look pretty blue in the photo but in reality are more purple. It’s a variety called “Bonita Blue” which grow as a cluster of 2″ flowers on a single stalk. Looks like it will be a one-cut, but that’s okay, and it’s an annual growing to 3′ tall. I’ll keep one stem to see how long its vase life is. The other experiment for this week is using fragrant “Mandarin Orange” balm as a filler. It’s a more rampant grower than I expected, but if it holds up well in a vase I won’t mind as much and will harvest it more heavily.

That’s the six things for this Saturday. If you’d like to see what’s on other gardeners’ minds and in their gardens, visit The Propagator, who hosts this meme.

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From the Cutting Garden: Aug 5

First version…

Last week we invited guests for dinner, which called for a low floral arrangement that’s easy to talk across. I’d been thinking of experimenting with a couple of new “ingredients” so this was a great opportunity for some testing. None of my roses are long-stemmed enough for tall bouquets but for an arrangement in a bowl they are always my first choice, so that was the starting point. I also wanted to use some of my lisianthus, which although they are called “Apricot” are still very pink to my eyes. Many of my roses open with very orange tones, but often fade to more pink shades as they age, so I found two clusters of roses that were as “pink” as possible and put them with two stems of lisianthus.

Every arrangement needs a “base” to build on, and for this one “Tiger Eye” sumac leaves were the starter. I’d never used them before, but the brilliant gold leaves and pink stems seemed a perfect choice. As I was picking those leaves, the blooming stems of talinum “Kingwood Gold” whispered that they wanted to be included. Those tiny pink/orange/red balls on airy stems are perfect in many uses. They are definitely a favorite of the fairies, and mine, too.

The last of the feverfew (for now, those that were cut back earlier will soon bloom again) and a few short stems of white larkspur (that’s just finishing up as well) were added, along with a small bloom stalk of “David” phlox to balance out the whites since there was not enough feverfew. At that point, I thought I was finished but as I set the table I decided it needed something.

“Black Knight” scabiosa was added…notice anything missing?

Thinking that it needed more contrast, I added the scabiosa with its dark, dark petals. It seemed to bring out the talinum a bit, but I thought maybe the sumac was distracting rather than enhancing, so out it came. After looking at it again and again as I began putting the meal together, it underwent a third revision.

The final version.

In the end, both the scabiosa and the sumac were included. I’d be interested in knowing which of the three versions you like best! It was fun to have guests again, as always and after they left, the bouquet was still there to enjoy. A week later, here’s what it looks like today.

An interesting experiment…

As expected since they were already fading when they were picked, the roses were the first to go. The scabiosa was next, although had it been picked a day earlier and “conditioned” overnight in the cool basement they probably would still look good today. The talinum is still holding on well. A few stems that were tangled with the roses came out when the roses were removed and not replaced, but there are enough stems of talinum remaining to fulfill the experiment. The larkspur and phlox would have benefited from conditioning as well, but they are still acceptable. The feverfew will hold up as long as it has water, and then can actually be dried. Lisianthus is well-known as a long-lasting cut flower, but having never grown it before I was not sure if the buds would open after being cut. The happy news is that one of the larger buds has opened and a fifth one is just beginning to unfurl. I doubt that any of the others will open, but I’ll give them the opportunity.

Exciting to me is the sumac, which looks just as fresh today as it did when picked, even without any conditioning. If I were a true flower farmer, I’d be planting some of those in my field today because with that bright color, interesting form, and durability they could be invaluable as filler.

It’s these fun experiments that keep me so interested in gardening and growing. Just as it is fun to try a new recipe with a new variety of vegetable that I’ve grown, it’s fascinating to “use” the flowers in bouquets and arrangements and learn which play well with others, which follow the rules, which hold up under pressure, and which are long-lasting. And aren’t we lucky to be able to photograph the results as a remembrance rather than having to keep a written log or card file?

Now, I’m off to the Cutting Garden to see what’s growing and begging to be used this week!

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July: Monthly review

If it looks a little dry, that’s because it IS!

Another month came to a close recently, but it seems barely noticed. That ritual of tearing off, or turning the calendar page to a new picture has been replaced by just a glance at the date on my phone that doesn’t seem to really register a change in months. Regardless, July has ended so it is time to look back on those 31 days in terms of the gardens. As you can see, the potager looks a bit dry despite my constant watering. We had no measurable rain except for 1/2″ on July 8. Drying winds and hot temperatures made it seem as though it never happened. We’ve had some impressive thunder, and black clouds that brought rain to neighboring areas, not here. Mother’s gardens, a bit over an hour away, have had plenty of rain!

A closer look at the photo shows what looks like lots of bare ground, but I assure the potager is fully planted. As soon as one crop comes out, another goes in. However, germination has been very slow and poor in some cases. It could be the heat, or cold well water but I assume fault, as some old seeds were intentionally planted just to use them up and also, a seed box was left in the Lady Cottage where temperatures rose much higher than is good for their health. Replanting has taken place and there are tiny, tiny babies too small to see in the photo in many beds. In all, twenty varieties were planted in July (lettuces, pumpkin, various beans, brussel sprouts, Wando peas, spinach and carrots.)

“Parisian” cukes have climbed over the top of the trellis! That’s never happened before.

Some of the heat-loving crops are thriving in this weather, as long as I provide enough water. These “Parisian” cucumbers have been thrilled with all this warmth, and have not only reached the top of the trellis as they usually do, but have grown an additional 4 feet and are now going across the top of trellis! They show no signs of slowing down, have not taken a break in production, and remain healthy (knock wood!)

I hate these pots!

Likewise, the “Juliet” grape tomatoes have climbed to the top of the Lady Cottage shed. This is their first year in this location. The past two years, they were in ceramic pots on either side of the potager’s front gate. This year, resin pots of a slightly larger size were used but as you can see, the tomato plants are already wilting despite a morning watering (photo taken about 11:30 a.m) and are requiring twice a day, or sometimes 3 times a day watering! And before you quick-minded gardeners ask…it’s the same brand of soil as always. Back to ceramic pots or big plastic pots next year!

Climbing to the top!

As soon as the garlic came out early in the month and an empty pea fence was available to move into that row, the French Horticultural beans went in. If you look closely, you’ll see three wooden posts added to extend the height of the pea fence. French Horticultural beans grow 5-6′ tall so they need that support. I use twine to create lines for climbing. The beans will grow until frost threatens, and then all the pods will be harvested at one picking. During shelling, they are sorted into “dried,” almost dried, or “green.” The dried ones go into jars. The others are measured into bags and frozen. They are similar to cannellini or borlotti beans and one of my most favorite, carefree crops to grow.

This is not good….

July brought a little more borer damage, but not as much as some years. This was the latest casualty, a “Sweet Reba” acorn squash. Fortunately the squashes were fully mature and ready to harvest anyway. Unfortunately, when I dissected the stems to destroy the borers, there were none! I need to research the life cycle of the squash borer, because if they have already left the plant, where are they now? Are they in the ground? Are they in a cocoon? Have they already changed and flown away? Good gardeners need to know these things. I didn’t wait on the other two plants that were already just beginning to wilt, and found 9 borers in one and 6 in the other. The squashes from those two plants will need to be used soon, because I don’t think they are mature enough to store well.

The harvest on July 31st.

Despite the lack of rain, the potager is producing record amounts. On the final day of July, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, carrots, cabbage, summer squashes, blackberries, purple beans, beets, a 5 lb. honeydew melon and two Minnesota Midget cantaloupes were harvested. The total harvest for the month was 261.5 pounds, most of which was given away, although we feasted on fresh fruits and vegetables at every meal!

Only 34 jars/packages were preserved because there is still an overflow on the shelves from last year, and the freezers are full. This month sauerkraut, peas, snow peas, pickles and beets were canned or frozen. That pretty well covers the potager, so we’ll take a quick look at some other gardens.

Not happy…..

The Front Garden is not too happy, and neither am I. We live in the country and have a well, which is a wonderful thing except when there is so little rain. The potager gets priority, and the other gardens just have to wait their turn. The Front Garden is a hot location because of all the brick and the sidewalk. Once the daylilies finished, it began to look a little bleak. Obviously, some tweaking and replacement of plants (both in position of some “old” and addition of some “new”) needs to take place soon. Definitely, many of the daylilies need to be lifted and divided as a starting point, and more perennials will be added so I don’t have to grow so many annuals as I age.

The Deck Garden needs more blue!

The Deck Garden seems to be faring a bit better than the Front Garden even though it faces south. It does get some shade from the old, old cottonwood trees part of the day. I’m really happy with the “Blue Bedder” salvia on the right, and will add a large planting to the left, in front of the gazebo for next year. The “Tiger Eye” sumac always brings a bright spot of color and makes me smile. Still too many Black-eyed Susans despite major editing, but at least they fill in the space until the roses get larger.

Potager Exterior Border, south half

The highlight of the PEB in July is always the “Blue River II” hibiscus with its dinner-plate sized flowers. Usually they are riddled with holes from the Japanese beetles, but I’ve found very few this year. After collecting buckets of them last year, that’s quite a welcome change. I like the echoing of the “Cupcake White” cosmos this year, and think that will happen again next year. Also very pleased with the “Inca” zinnias and “Durango” marigolds. And lastly for this post…

Loving the HEAT!

The Lavender Slope looks very different now at month’s end. The lavenders finished in June and the lavandins were gorgeous all of July, but are done blooming now and are ready to be sheared. Those baby lavenders planted earlier have doubled in size and have a lovely dark, dark bloom. Hopefully, they will make it through the winter! More posts are in the works that touch on the gardens not shown in this monthly review.

All in all, the numbers don’t lie….it was a good month for the potager and we’ve had some lovely evenings. The haze from western wildfires continues, and our hearts and prayers are with all those in harm’s way or are affected.

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