April Leaves Bring May Flowers

Of course you also need rain, but it’s the fresh green leaves of April that herald the flowers of May.

Virginia Bluebells - the little flower buds are visible already.

Virginia Bluebells – the little flower buds are visible already.

For some this tender new foliage is barely noticeable, certainly unremarkable. However, to me their appearance is a moment of cheerful drama. For example, the blue-green leaves of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) which are among the earliest to emerge.

Red Trillium

Red Trillium

Then there are the spotted leaves of Red Trillium (Trillium recurvatum).

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The bright green of White Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis var. alba).

Red Elderberry

Red Elderberry

Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa L.) buds hint at the color of the fruit that will come in mid-Summer. Unlike Black Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), this fruit is poisonous to people.

Peony

Peony

Peony foliage is much looked forward to but also rather strange. This Peony reminds me of the Dr. Seuss characters Thing One and Thing Two, but with green hair instead of blue.

thing

See what I mean?

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And I cannot resist the grassy leaves of Narcissi that are about to bloom.

For more April foliage, follow the link to Foliage Follow-Up, hosted by Pam at Digging. Do you have a favorite when it comes to the leaves of April?

Tulip Season Begins

Today I am a happy man, for the tulip season has begun in earnest in our garden. What, you say, tulip season in the middle of April?

Tulip 'Early Harvest' in the Left Bank Border.

Tulip ‘Early Harvest’ in the Left Bank Border.

Yes, indeed. First, Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Early Harvest’ has come into its own, blooming in both beds and containers. The no neck phase was just a period of awkward adolescence. The stems are short, but they definitely exist.

Tulip 'Early Harvest' in container.

Tulip ‘Early Harvest’ in container.

Forget about necks, though – ‘Early Harvest’ has the most glorious color: a glowing orange mixed with red that warms up the chilliest April day.

Tulip 'Early Harvest' close up.

Tulip ‘Early Harvest’ close up.

I could stare at this tulip all day long.

Tulipa turkestanica in the upper left with 'Early Harvest'.

Tulipa turkestanica in the upper left with ‘Early Harvest’.

Keeping ‘Early Harvest’ company is the relatively demure but still beautiful species tulip Tulipa turkestanica.

Tulipa turkestanica

Tulipa turkestanica

Here’s a closeup of T. turkestanica, which is slowly naturalizing in the Left Bank Border.

First of the

These are the first of the Narcissi to start blooming after ‘Tete a Tete’ – I believe they are ‘Ice Follies’.

Compared to the two early rising tulips, the Narcissi are practically luggards. Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’ has a few blooms, and the very first of the ‘Ice Follies’ (I think) are showing their flowers of white petals with a yellow crown.

Tommy Crocuses.

Tommy Crocuses.

Quite a few Crocuses are still blooming – and by the way, it is correct to say either crocuses or croci, I looked it up. Croci sounds like you could be talking about crocodiles, so I’m sticking with Crocuses. These here are Tommies, C. tommasinianus.

Siberian Squill

Siberian Squill

The Siberian Squill are creating patches of clear blue in several spots around the garden. This is such an easy bulb, more people should plant it. It will spread like mad, but who cares? By the end of June it disappears without a trace.

Siberian Squill flowers, baby squill, and Wild Columbine.

Siberian Squill flowers, baby squill, and Wild Columbine.

To give you an idea of how fast they spread when they’re happy, see all those grassy leaves surrounding the Squill flowers above? Those are all baby Squill, the product of one year’s reproduction. (The other plants with the blue-green leaves are Wild Columbine – Aquilegia canadensis).

Forsythia in the back garden by the arbor.

Forsythia in the back garden by the arbor.

I almost forgot to mention the Forsythia, which began to flower a few days ago, though kind of sparsely, it seems to me.

Patio in the back garden with flowering containers.

Patio in the back garden with flowering containers.

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Also in the back garden, the containers are planted with Violas (V. wittrockiana and V. tricolor), Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima). and Stock (Matthiola incana).

Serviceberry flower buds.

Serviceberry flower buds.

Lilac buds opening.

Lilac buds opening.

All over the garden, there are swelling buds promising even more flowers in the weeks to come.

I’m linking this post up with Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens on the 15th of every month. Follow the link to see more wonderful April blooms.

How are the April flowers in your garden?

Be Happy – Plant Sweet Alyssum

One of the things I did this weekend was underplant my container Tulips with Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima). Sweet Alyssum is a fairly common annual – but it should be even more common, because it is a plant with an amazing capacity to make people happy.

Sweet Alyssum newly planted in the Tulip and Hyacinth pots.

Sweet Alyssum newly planted in the Tulip and Hyacinth pots.

It is easy to grow and just a few inches tall. It can spill charmingly over the sides of containers and the edges of beds and borders. Most of all, though, it has a deliciously sweet fragrance. Now that all the tulip pots are planted with Sweet Alyssum, Judy and I have to sit on the front steps for a few minutes every time we try to leave or enter the house, just to take in that marvelous scent.

This year the dominant Sweet Alyssum cultivar is called ‘Snow Crystal’. I can attest to the fact that ‘Snow Crystal’ has larger flowers and a stronger fragrance. It’s also supposed to have better heat tolerance. As to that, we will see. Generally, Sweet Alyssum can be planted early in Spring but sulks unhappily when the days get really hot and humid. In the past I have just assumed that it will be played out at some point in July.

The Sweet Alyssum I bought was white, but I was tempted by purple and lavender. However, it seemed to me that the white ones were by far the most fragrant, and fragrance won the day.

2015-04-11 15.22.02 sweet alyssum in  tulip pots

A hardy annual here in USDA Zone 5, Sweet Alyssum will self-sow if you don’t interfere, and why should you?

This is an excellent plant for ensuring that your containers don’t show bare earth, so if nothing else I recommend you fill in any empty spots with Sweet Alyssum, or maybe just fill a pot or two with fragrant mounds of this plant.

Do you grow Sweet Alyssum in your garden?

Artisinal Turf Removal

Digging up lawn is one of my favorite gardening chores. Just now I’ve been engaging in this chore because the city removed a dying parkway maple on what I refer to as our garden’s Left Bank, thus creating a new sunny area. (The Left Bank is the other side of the driveway.)

Several books contain advice on how to remove lawn, and I’ve tried a number of the recommended approaches.

I’ve done the smothering with newspaper thing. This works OK, except that you get bits of newspaper blowing around or sticking up through the mulch, unexpectedly reminding you of some headline you would have preferred to forget about. I also once hired someone (at another home) to use a sod cutting machine.

Artisinal turf removal: the work begins.

Artisinal turf removal: the work begins.

What I really like, though, is what I call Artisinal Turf Removal. This involves taking a long handled edging tool, outlining your new bed and border, and then cutting out the turf bit by bit.

Sure, Artisinal Turf Removal is labor-intensive and time consuming. However, it has several advantages. You don’t have to wait a year for the grass to be smothered, or pay someone to use a loud, scary machine.

When I practice Artisinal Turf Removal, I cut the turf into long strips about 10″ wide, then cut those strips into squares that I think of as soil brownies. I pick up each square and shake the soil lose, then throw the turf into my wheelbarrow.

This enables me attain a very intimate familiarity with the soil of my new bed, in this case a black loam with lots of worms and few grubs. This is a little surprising given that it has grown nothing but lawn for lo these many years, and has been fed nothing but grass clippings for all that time.

There are a few tricks to Artisinal Turf Removal. For example, this is not an activity where you would want to wear anything that shouldn’t get absolutely caked with soil.

Turf removal complete. Those pavers are for making an edge along the  sidewalk.

Turf removal complete. Those pavers are for making an edge along the sidewalk. Sorry this is a little blurry but it was getting dark and I used my phone.

Today I finished digging up the turf for this new bed, which was very satisfying indeed. I left some grass along the curb so that people can get out of their cars, something I neglected to do on my other parkway bed. I also left a strip of turf as a pathway through.

Now I can’t wait for my new plants to arrive in the mail.

Do you have a preferred method for removing lawn?

Question of the Day: What Vine Should I Grow on this Tuteur?

When I installed the new tuteur in the Driveway Border I was very excited. However, it turned out to be a disappointment. Instead of standing out as a flowery vertical element, the tuteur was obscured  by all the giant plants surrounding it – Tithonia, Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), etc.

The tuteur in its new home, and needing to be straightened a bit I see.

The tuteur in its new home, and needing to be straightened a bit I see.

What’s more, I had envisioned the tuteur covered with big blue Morning Glory (Ipomoea tricolor) blooms. This never happened. I got the Morning Glories to grow, but they bloomed sparsely, if at all. One problem was the shade from all those tall plants, but I also suspect that the soil is just too fertile to motivate the Morning Glories to flower abundantly.

So I moved the tuteur as part of this year’s spring clean-up. Its new home is a nice, sunny spot in the herb/cutting/vegetable bed.

What’s keeping me up at night now is: what do I plant on the newly relocated tuteur? I need something of modest size (the tuteur is about 7′ tall) with large flowers that can be appreciated from a distance. Blue or bluish flowers are a plus.

Morning Glory, not sure what variety.

Morning Glory, not sure what variety.

I could try Morning Glories again, which Judy would prefer. However, the soil may still be too fertile for good results with this plant.

The Clematis jackmanii against the house could use a friend on the tuteur.

The Clematis jackmanii against the house could use a friend on the tuteur.

Or perhaps some variety of Clematis. I have a very happy Clematis jackmanii against a nearby wall. Something that would complement the jackanii‘s big purple flowers would be awfully nice. A variety called ‘Ice Blue’ made itself at home in the back garden last year, but it’s too early to tell if it will be a success.

Another option would be training a rose up the tuteur, again not anything too rampant.

Any suggestions?

Leave No Pot Unplanted

Late last week I made my first visit of the year to Anton’s, one of my favorite local nurseries. To say that they know me there is an understatement. In fact, in spring and summer I make so many appearances that the staff often remind me to punch in my time card.

Violas on display at Anton's.

Violas on display at Anton’s.

 

What Anton’s has right at the moment is mostly Violas, both hybrid pansies (Viola x wattrockiana) and the smaller Johnny-Jump-Ups (Viola tricolor). But that’s enough for now, as I like to fill my pots with spring annuals as early as possible.

More Violas in cold frames.

More Violas in cold frames.

Actually, I also bought a few ‘Snow Crystal’ Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima), because I wanted something fragrant. For fragrance I also would have purchased some Stock (Matthiola incana) and Wallflowers (Erisymum), but in fact the ones available had no scent. In the next week or two there will be more varieties and I’ll wait until then.

Filling used shrub containers (5 gallon, I think) with pansies.

Filling used shrub containers (5 gallon, I think) with pansies.

Anyway, I needed a lot of spring annuals, because I have a lot of containers. One reason I have a lot of containers is that I hate throwing away the pots that come with the shrubs I’ve purchased over the years. They are often so substantial and solid, it seems wrong to throw them out or even put them in the recycling.

My containers include this ancient wheelbarrow, which is going to rust through at some point.

My containers include this ancient wheelbarrow, which is going to rust through at some point.

Lots of containers means I need lots of annuals, especially because I like to cram many plants into each container. If the tag says space every 6″, I space every 3-4″. I find this is the best way to get a container that is overflowing with blooms.

Containers on our new patio. The grass and perennials around the patio have not grown in yet, obviously.

Containers on our new patio. The grass and perennials around the patio have not grown in yet, obviously. Some containers we put in other containers, like the old coal scuttle to the left. I planted the Sweet Alyssum here so we could sit outside and enjoy the scent.

As a result, by the end of the weekend I had planted 4 flats of Violas, or 192 plants. No, I don’t grow them from seed because my schedule won’t allow it. Yes, buying that many annuals is expensive. However, I like to think that buying spring annuals prevents me from spending an even larger sum on lottery tickets, or on an expensive hobby such as sailboat racing or climbing Mt. Everest.

After filling up all the pots, I looked in the garage and discovered a bunch of containers our former neighbors very kindly left me when they moved last fall. So I still need just a few more plants.

Have you filled pots with spring annuals in your garden?

The No-Neck Tulip and Other Spring Bulb News

The spring bulbs in our garden are starting to transition from the first to the second act of their annual performance. In my garden, the first act is about just the Snowdrops and Crocuses.

Snowdrops just past their peak.

Snowdrops just past their peak.

You can see some of the flowers here have faded.

You can see some of the flowers here have faded. Notice the foliage of Virginia Bluebells nearby.

The Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis and G. elwesii) are just past their peak.

Crocuses in the sidewalk border.

Crocuses in the sidewalk border.

More Crocus in the sidewalk border.

More Crocus in the sidewalk border.

Some early Crocus (various species) are fading, but are replaced by others: purple, violet, yellow, white. The blooms are remarkably cheerful, but they do not last very long. I never did write down the names of the varieties I planted, darn it.

Narcissus 'Tete a Tete'

Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’

Narcissi in bud.

Narcissi in bud.

Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’ is the first to bloom, but other varieties are just in bud and will need another week or two.

'Early Harvest', or as I like to call it, 'No-Neck Tulip'.

‘Early Harvest’, or as I like to call it, ‘No-Neck Tulip’.

Tulipa kaufmanniana ‘Early Harvest’ is also showing just a few of its very first flowers. This is a new variety for me, and first time I have seen a tulip’s tepals fully colored while still cradled in the foliage. Pictures I have seen of ‘Early Harvest’ show short but visible stems. I hope the stems eventually grow on mine, otherwise I will have to call them the No-Neck Tulip. I also have a bunch growing in pots, but they are not yet showing any blooms.

'Early Harvest': can't wait to see them all in bloom.

‘Early Harvest': can’t wait to see them all in bloom.

Anyhow, I really do like the color of this tulip and it I am eager to see the effect when all are blooming together (I planted 50). ‘Early Harvest’ is a remarkably early tulip and like other varieties of this species has nice mottled foliage.

My container tulips. So exciting! I just wish I had remembered to write down which varieties were planted together in which pots.

My container tulips. So exciting! I just wish I had remembered to write down which varieties were planted together in which pots.

Foliage has emerged and is growing rapidly in all eleven of the tulip pots. A few are still sleeping, but my most recent count showed 86 bulbs up and accounted for. Also, all five of the bulbs in my one Hyacinth (Hyacinthus orientalis) pot have shown themselves.

Squill on the verge of blooming.

Squill on the verge of blooming.

2015-04-03 10.50.46 squill

Squill (Scilla sibirica) is a supporting player in the second act. It is almost ready to declare its presence on stage with dark blue flowers.

How are your spring bulbs performing this year?