Green Thumb Tip #15: Conquer the Weeds

Asclepias, milkweed,  July 2017

~

What is a weed, anyway?

The gardener’s answer observes that any plant growing where you don’t want it to grow, is a weed.

~

Dandelion, Taraxacum

~

Some ‘weeds’ came to North America as invited guests, because they were beloved and useful to earlier immigrants.  Although many of us cringe at dandelions cropping up in our lawn or veggie plot; dandelions, Taraxacum species,  were originally planted in the veggie plot for their nutritious leaves, and have been used through much of human history as a medicinal herb.

Since most of us don’t use dandelions anymore, and they crop up where we least want to see them; we consider them a weed.

~

Vinca minor, periwinkle, was brought to North America with European settlers.  It is now considered invasive, though many gardeners still buy and plant it.

~

Other ‘weeds’ are actually native plants.  If you notice purple violets in your lawn, will you admire them or destroy them?  You can buy pricey violets, Viola odorata, from many native plant nurseries, if you aren’t fortunate enough to have them already popping up here and there on their own.  Other common native ‘weeds’ in our garden include pokeberry, Phytolacca americana; ground ivy, Glechoma hederacea; and wild strawberry, Fragaria virginiana.

Plants may be ‘wildflowers’ to some, ‘weeds’ to others.  Maybe it depends on whether they grow on a roadside, or in your own garden.  Native plant enthusiasts are sometimes accused of planting ‘weeds’ in their yard when they cultivate Asclepias or wild Ageratum.

~

Aralia spinosa is a native tree with thorns on its trunk and branches. Because it spreads its seeds and sends up shoots from its roots, many consider it a weed to be eradicated from the garden.  Here it grows with native pokeweed.

~

The same tufts of grass I’m digging out of my garden paths may be planted and coddled in my neighbor’s yard.  The seedling Rose of Sharon shrubs I’m digging out of my flowerbeds, may be valuable when transplanted into another spot in the garden.

Some ‘weeds’ now considered ‘invasive’ started out as desirable imported plants.  But, without the competition or predators that keep them in check in their native lands, they run amok here.  When birds carry their seeds around, or they propagate clonally; these once desirable plants colonize real estate and out-compete the natives.  This has happened with autumn olive shrubs, Elaeaganus umbellata; perennial Lantana, and  even the beautiful Bradford pear.

~

Perennial Ageratum, Conoclinium coelestinum

~

Periwinkle, or Vinca minor, came to the United States with European colonists in the Eighteenth Century.  An effective evergreen groundcover, it blooms in spring with beautiful lavender or white flowers.  But it spreads aggressively!  I often find myself yanking it out by the handful when it creeps into my borders.  Its roots form thick mats, and can choke out other perennials.

So what to do about weeds?

~

Three natives growing together in our front garden: Rudbeckia hirta; mistflower, Conoclinium coelestinum, and Obedient plant, Physostegia virginiana.  Each of these can spread itself to become invasive, and may need to be ‘weeded’ out in early summer.

~

‘Weeds gone wild’ can disrupt our garden plans.  They may shade out or choke out more desirable plants that we bought and planted.  They may compete for water and nutrients against our edible crops.  They might spread aggressively, colonizing large area with thick mats of roots and vegetation.

Well, before reaching for a handy toxic herbicide, take a moment to consider your adversary.  It helps to understand the plant you hope to annihilate!

~

Morning Glory, or ‘bindweed’ sprouts each summer from seed, and grows through our bed of Lantana and roses.

~

Is it a perennial?  Does it prefer sun or shade?  Does it root easily when chopped into pieces?  Does it have rhizomes or stolons?

Understanding its needs, and how it reproduces, helps you plan an attack.  Knowing how long it may live, and whether it will easily re-seed, tells you the scope of your problem.

~

Self-seeding beauty berry crops up in our shrub borders, and out competes many other plants. It will grow several feet in a single season.

~

Seeds may lie dormant for a long time before conditions are right for them to sprout.  Whenever you disturb the soil, you may be bringing long dormant seeds to the surface, giving them the conditions they need to grow.  That is why breaking ground to till or otherwise dig up new garden areas may bring ‘weed’ seeds to the surface.

Many weeds can be smothered, or prevented from germinating, or growing further, with mulch.

~

While shredded bark mulch will suppress weeds, it may allow others to germinate as it decomposes.  The rogue Magnolia tree behind this bed is a volunteer, growing from the mulch.  Is there room for it to mature here, or must it be cut out?

~

A relatively easy way to kill grass and weeds, without chemicals, when you want to start a new garden bed, is to simply cover them.   Use your choice of cardboard sheets, layers of newspaper (black and white only if you plan to grow food crops), paper grocery bags, burlap or landscape fabric.  Completely cover the area you plan to cultivate, and then layer compost, garden soil, shredded leaves, seaweed and even shredded bark mulch on top.  If you won’t be planting for several months,  add  ‘compostable’ materials like rinsed egg shells, fruit and vegetable peels, teabags and coffee grounds in your layers.  Some gardeners use straw as mulch, adding layers every year.  In my experience, there are always seeds which sprout, creating more weeds.

~

Paper grocery bags covered with several inches of compost killed the grass and weeds under this new bed.  Pea gravel holds down the paper edges and serves as an initial border to the bed.  A loose layer of gravel on top serves as a light mulch to hold the compost in place as the plants take hold.

~

If you are starting a new shrub border, you might add black plastic around the new shrubs, and cover this with mulch.  Black plastic may also be laid out over an area of grass and weeds you wish to kill, pegged down and left for several weeks.   The plants under the plastic are both smothered and cooked, leaving an area ready to cultivate when the plastic is removed.

~

Colocasia ‘Pink China’ spread aggressively.  Now that they are established, I dig up plants each spring to share with friends to try to control how far they spread in the garden.

~

Some weeds may be simply dug up.  If the weed is a desirable plant sprouted in the wrong place, you may dig it up and either transplant it or give it away.

Other weeds easily re-grow from any bit left behind.  Digging the plant today won’t destroy it; it will appear again in a few weeks.  In that case, cut the plant off at ground level and remove all of the stems.  This starves the plant.  You may need to cut it back several times before it gives up; but eventually, you will win.

Cutting weeds instead of pulling them up by their roots takes less of a gardener’s energy.  It also keeps the soil intact, giving no opportunity for new weed seeds to sprout.  You may cut weeds with a hoe at ground level, with a pair of scissors, or with secateurs.  It depends on the thickness of the stem you need to cut what tool you will choose.

~

Plant densely, with many layers of plants, to suppress weeds.

~

I like a Japanese Hori Hori digging tool for cutting weeds off at ground level, or for digging up plants to move.  It is a long, pointed blade with a serrated edge, which serves as both knife and narrow shovel.

Another approach is to simply mow an area several times during the summer to discourage perennial or woody weeds.  I often use a string trimmer a few times a year in our upper wooded garden, to cut back seedling trees and shrubs sprouting in an area where they can not grow.

~

~

Plants just want to live and grow, like every other living thing.  And just because you begin a bed weed free doesn’t mean it will remain that way for long.  Seeds blow in on the wind and get deposited by birds.  Seed capsules explode and rhizomes creep.

As your organic mulch breaks down over time, it serves as a great medium for new seeds to germinate.  Any bare ground screams an invitation to colonize it with new plants.

~

Evergreen ground cover, like perennial Hellebores, will shade out weeds so they can’t begin to grow.  However, Hellebores self-seed freely.  Large stands of Hellebores soon surround the original plants.

~

Prevent new weeds by densely covering any planting area with desirable plants.  Cultivate the garden in layers, with plants of different heights, to make it nearly impossible for new weedy plants to get a start.  This would include some sort of perennial, maybe evergreen ground cover to protect your soil through winter.

~

Rose of Sharon

~

You might also consider using a gravel mulch.  Once a new bed is planted up, pile several inches of pea gravel over a layer of biodegradable material like paper or burlap, placed around the new plants.  The layer of paper or fabric stops perennial weeds from re-sprouting.  The gravel mulch doesn’t facilitate germination of seeds blown in to the bed.  You may need to employ some sort of border around the bed to hold the gravel in place, but this is a neat looking and effective approach.

Experiments with gravel mulch have demonstrated that shrubs and many perennials grow well through the gravel.  The soil remains cool and moist, and the pea gravel reflects sunshine back up onto the plant to reduce disease and increase photosynthesis.  This is an especially good way to conserve moisture in dry climates.

~

Wild wood violets open in spring, carpeting parts of the garden in vivid color.  These perennial wildflowers may be considered weeds when they show up in a lawn.

~

Some gardeners may still reach for an herbicide to zap the stray dandelion or wild onions in their lawn.  Few stop to realize the long term effects on their own health and well being, or on the ecosystem, from these toxic chemicals.  They penetrate into the ground and run off into creeks, ponds and rivers.   Many herbicides have proven links to debilitating and fatal diseases for anyone exposed to them.  Even if you wear gloves, you and those around you may still breathe in the fumes.  Is it worth the risk to your health, simply to kill a few weeds?

~

~

With a bit of thought and a effort, weeds can be eliminated, and new ones prevented from growing, without doing any harm to yourself or to the environment.

After all, we are the gardeners.  Our goal remains to make the world a more beautiful and productive place.  We are happiest and most successful when we work with nature, and when we respect both ourselves, and the many life forms drawn to our gardens.

~

~

Woodland Gnome 2018
~
~

More information about health dangers of herbicides:

Weed Whacking Herbicide Proves Deadly to Human Cells- Scientific American
The Dangers of Glysophate Herbicide- Mother Earth News
New Studies Reveal the Effects of Glysophate – Mercola.com
~

Ground ivy Glechoma hederacea

~
“Green Thumb” Tips: 
Many visitors to Forest Garden are amazing gardeners with years of experience to share.  Others are just getting started, and are looking for a few ‘tips and tricks’ to help grow the garden of their dreams.

I believe the only difference between a “Green Thumb” and a “Brown Thumb” is a little bit of know-how and a lot of passion for our plants.

If you feel inclined to share a little bit of what YOU KNOW from your years of gardening experience, please create a new post titled: “Green Thumb” Tip: (topic) and include a link back to this page.  I will update this page with a clear link back to your post in a listing by topic, so others can find your post, and will include the link in all future “Green Thumb” Tip posts.

Let’s work together to build an online resource of helpful tips for all of those who are passionate about plants, and who would like to learn more about how to grow them well.
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #1:  Pinch!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #2:  Feed!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #3 Deadhead!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #4 Get the Light Right!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #5: Keep Planting!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #6: Size Matters!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip # 7:  Experiment!
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #8  Observe
‘Green Thumb’ Tip #9 Plan Ahead
Green Thumb Tip # 10 Understand the Rhythm
Green Thumb Tip # 11:  The Perennial Philosophy
Green Thumb Tip #12: Grow More of That! 
Green Thumb Tip # 13: Breaching Your Zone
Green Thumb Tip # 14: Right Place Right Plant
‘Green Thumb’ Tip:  Release Those Pot-Bound Roots! from Peggy, of Oak Trees Studios

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Signs Of Spring

Iris histrioides

Iris histrioides

~

Signs of spring draw us outside, and lead us step by step, path by path, through the garden today.

~

Daffodils

Daffodils

~

There is a newness to the greens emerging now from the warming, moist soil.  Can you smell the smell of green on the breeze? 

~

Vinca minor

Vinca minor

~

We won’t bother with labels like leaf or weed, grass, shoot, stem or bud.  It is all welcome on a day such as this.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-024

~

Another warm day, that is; with bright sunshine and blue sky and soft breezes setting the Daffodils dancing to some unheard ( by us) spring jig.  But the birds flitting from shrub to shrub surely hear it.  Their chirps and bits of tune harmonize with the wind song in the still bare branches high above the garden.

~

february-20-2017-miniature-daffies-002

~

We went out to admire the bits of clearing and pruning we’ve completed already, and take stock of what is still needed to welcome spring.

The Vinca has already given soft lavender flowers; new leaves emerge still tightly wound in their buds.  This is the one time of year when I actually like the Vinca vines which threaten to take over every bed we start.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-006~

The one Iris we discovered Saturday afternoon has multiplied, and now stands in company with its sisters.  Their petals almost startling blue, gauche perhaps against winter’s neutrals, but so welcome.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-001

~

Blue Iris and soft purple Crocus stand low against the soil, timid almost, to have shown their faces so early in the season.

~

Crocus

Crocus

~

But cheeky Daffodils open bravely, budding and unfolding  with such speed that we delight in finding new ones each day.  The first of the miniatures appeared yesterday.

~

february-20-2017-miniature-daffies-026

~

And today I noticed a divided Daffodil bulb exposed to the afternoon sun.  It lay on a steep bank below a shrub, a few of its roots determinedly reaching down into the soil even as leaves and a flower bud emerged from each bulb’s tip.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-021

~

How did it get here?  Did it wash out of its bed in heavy rain, or can we thank some curious squirrel for its plight?

~

Rep-planted, and ready to grow!

Re-planted, and ready to grow!

~

I was simply glad to notice it, and moved it to a more accommodating spot where it can ‘live long and prosper…”… I hope.

We can never have too many Daffodils brightening a February day!

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-017

~

The seedling  Hellebores I transplanted last spring are blooming now, too.  They hybridize themselves promiscuously, and I’m endlessly fascinated to see the first of their flowers open.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-019

~

No named beauty in a catalog is quite as lovely as these debutantes, bred in our own garden.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-038

~

I find it deeply satisfying to see their  leaves and buds stretching for the sun, appearing in places I had forgotten I’d planted them.   And today I made mental notes of where to plant a few more seedlings later this week.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-015

~

Forsythia flowers are opening, and even the Hydrangea buds have begun to burst and show a hint of green.  Tender new leaves have emerged now on the roses and from woody vines on the trellis.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-013

~

What do you think?  Do we trust this early spring?

We moved our Olive and Pomegranate trees back outside this weekend to let them enjoy a bit of fresh air and real sunshine.  I hope, for my back’s sake, that they can stay!

All of the hanging baskets had a holiday on Sunday, out of the garage, and a good deep drink with a bit of  Neptune’s Harvest mixed in.  We opened the garage door to let air and light in to the pot-bound Begonias and Bougainvillea sheltering there.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-035

~

A Virginia spring is never a settled thing.  It teases and promises, but never can be trusted until early May, at least.  I’ve spent too many Easter Sunday mornings huddled in a winter coat and shivered through too many April snows, to fully trust an 80 degree February day.

~

Creeping Jenny

Creeping Jenny

~

We happily use these sweet warm days, opening windows and doors and starting new projects.  But the furnace kicks in again by dusk.  There is no long-term contract signed, yet. 

Still, we will marvel at each emerging bud and fiddlehead, and keep our fingers crossed that March will be gentle with our garden.

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-002

~

Woodland Gnome 2017

.

“It’s spring fever. That is what the name of it is.

And when you’ve got it, you want—

oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want,

but it just fairly makes your heart ache,

you want it so!”

.

Mark Twain

~

february-21-2017-bulbs-005

 

Sunday Dinner

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 013

~

“Today expect something good to happen to you

no matter what occurred yesterday.

Realize the past no longer holds you captive.

It can only continue to hurt you

if you hold on to it.

Let the past go.

A simply abundant world awaits.”


.

Sarah Ban Breathnach

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 017

~

“A wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect.”


.

Jonathan Lockwood Huie

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 005

~

“Excellence is the Result of Caring

more than others think is Wise,

Risking more than others think is Safe,

Dreaming more than others think

is Practical, and Expecting more

than others think is Possible.”


.

Ronnie Oldham

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 020

~

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 031

~

“Our brightest blazes of gladness

are commonly kindled by unexpected sparks.”

.

Samuel Johnson

~

March 20, 2016 spring flowers 004

 

On A Tray: Beautiful Bouquets

December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 001

~

Inspiration waits everywhere; especially in a good gardening magazine.

Particularly inspiring is the article ‘Beautiful Bouquets’ in the current special edition Plant Issue of Gardens Illustrated magazine.  Plantswoman Anne Townley suggests delicious combinations of plants one might grow together, expecting to later cut them for beautiful and unusual bouquets.

~

Clockwise from top left: Violas, Edgeworthia, Artemesia

Clockwise from top left: Ivy, Violas, Edgeworthia, Lavender, Artemesia, Iris, Mahonia, Fennel, Black Eyed Susan.

~

Her plant choices are quite idiosyncratic, at least to this Virginian gardener.

The photography for this article was my inspiration, however.  Photographer Andrew Montgomery created a stunning tableau with each combination of plants Ms. Townley selected.  Please follow the link to see these artful vignettes of petal and leaf composed to illustrate this lively article about cutting gardens.

~

Clockwise from top left: Viola, Camellia, Cyclamen

Clockwise from top left: Camellia, Viola, Pineapple Sage, Camellia, Cyclamen, Viola, Edgeworthia, Ivy, Rose, Salvia, Hellebore,  Pineapple Mint, scented Pelargonium.

~

Emulation remains the highest form of flattery, and so I couldn’t resist assembling a little tableau of my own this morning from what looks fresh in our garden today.

~

December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 013~

Part scavenger hunt, part journey of discovery; what a surprisingly diverse collection of leaf and flower waited for me in the garden!

Wandering, cutting and arranging, I quickly realized that most of these bits of horticultural beauty would have grown unnoticed save for this challenge.

~

Clockwise from top left: Rosa, 'The Generous Gardener,' Ivy, Viola, Black Eyed Susuans,

Clockwise from top left: Rosa, ‘The Generous Gardener,’ Ivy, Viola, Black Eyed Susan, Rose hips, Mahonia, Fennel, Iris.

~

Each newly snipped blossom and leaf delighted me.  Though cut from many different areas of the garden, from pots, beds and shrubs; they harmonize.  What a helpful way to get a ‘read’ on how well the plants in one’s garden go together.

~

Clockwise from top left:

Clockwise from top left: Purple Sage, Viola, Rosemary, Pineapple Sage, Lavendar, Dianthus, Vinca minor,  Cyclamen, Viola, Ivy, Salvia, Hellebores, Pineapple Mint, Pelargonium, Camellia

~

I could have just sat and admired this tray full of cuttings over a steamy cup of coffee.

But, other projects called, like the bin filled with Brent and Becky’s bulbs, gleaned from their end of season clearance sale, just before the holiday.   We had been granted another good day for planting, and so I didn’t tarry over the tray too long.

~

December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 019

~

Rather, I recut the stems and tucked them into a vase, floated the blossoms in a bowl, slipped the ivy into a jar of rooting cuttings, and headed back out to the garden.

~

December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 025

~

Because there were  just one or two stems of each plant on the tray, this is a somewhat unusual vase.  It needed photographing from all sides as each of its ‘faces’ is different.

~

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

~

I am happy to join Cathy at Rambling In the Garden for her “In A Vase On Monday’ meme this week.  She has created a ‘Moondance’ by the sea; more inspiration, as always!

~

December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 021~

Although we are enjoying our little vase this afternoon, my partner and I remain intrigued by the possibilities of simply arranging stems  on a tray.  I plan to tour the garden, tray in hand, at some regular interval from here on just to see what there is to see.

~

December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 005

~

And, inspired by several excellent articles on garden color  in Gardens Illustrated, I also took my bin of bulbs back out to the garden for a few happy hours of planting today.  Bulbs planted a few weeks ago have already broken ground with their first, tentative leaves.

~

Winter blooming Iris have started into growth in this pot with Violas and Moss.

Winter blooming Iris have started into growth in this pot with Violas and Moss.

~

I dug new areas and planted Daffodils, Muscari, Leucojum, Cyclamen and more, before covering everything with a fresh coat of compost.

Although imagination is a wonderful thing,  I can’t wait to actually see these new additions grow into the tapestry of our garden in the months ahead.

~

December 28, 2015 Garden Tray 008

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

 

 

Outrageous Color

Beautyberry

Beautyberry

~

Fall never fails to fascinate with its outrageous color.

~

 Camellia

Camellia

~

Suddenly, the tired, dry world of late summer in reinvigorated by cooler nights, shorter days, and a bit of rain.  And the world transforms itself yet again.

~

November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 009

~

Each day just grows better as the colors concentrate into the brightest possible hues.  A cerulean sky floats above gold and bronze, scarlet and orange leaves of all shapes and descriptions.

~

November 3, 2015 autumn 001

~

When the wind whispers even slightly, a shower of falling leaves gently let loose and dance their way to the ground.  And there they lay in moist and colorful splendor, against an emerald green mix of grass and herbs, until they fade.

~

November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 006

~

We, too, float in that magical space of Indian Summer, here in Williamsburg this year.

~

November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 018

~

After morning rain, we enjoyed warm sunshine this afternoon.  The golden late afternoon sun animated every petal and leaf in the garden.

~

November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 026

~

We had the slider to the deck open to enjoy the balmy, rain rinsed air.   The cat and I enjoyed this chance to hear the birds just outside in the trees and smell the sweetness of autumn.

~

November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 003

~

New flowers are opening daily on the Camellias.  Even our perennials still bravely pump out buds, hoping this warmth will last.

~

November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 016

Echinacea

~

The hungry bees lap of each day’s nectar like the precious gift that it is.  And we feast on the colors of autumn, changing daily, packing in every bit of beauty to our minds’ eyes, while they last.

~

November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 023

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

NaBloPoMo_1115_298x255_badges

~

November 5, 2015 autumn flowers 011

~

“Do not indulge in dreams of having what you have not,

but reckon up the chief of the blessings you do possess,

and then thankfully remember

how you would crave for them if they were not yours.”

.

Marcus Aurelius

~

Winter's buds have appeared on our Edgeworthia.

Winter’s buds have appeared on our Edgeworthia.

Plant Now For Spring Living Flower Arrangements

November 2, 2015 015

~

Who wants to look at empty pots for the next four months?  I am as interested in planting attractive pots for the winter season as I am interested in replanting those pots for summer.  And each fall, I keep an eye and and ear open for new ideas.

Brent Heath offered a workshop last month at his Bulb Shop in Gloucester that I sorely wanted to attend.  He even offered to bring his workshop across the river if I could pull a group together in our community.  And how I wish my time and energy had stretched far enough to invite him!

~

Miniature daffodils grow to only 6"-8" tall and work well in spring pots. Plant the entire bulb and foliage out into a permanent spot in the garden when switching out plantings for summer.

~

Brent, a master horticulturalist, teaches the finer points of loading containers with bulbs.  Now even though he and his wife Becky are known internationally for their prodigious offering of Daffodils; they sell hundreds of different bulbs and perennials.  Brent’s workshop teaches how to layer several different species of bulbs into a single pot to create a “Living Flower Arrangement” which changes over time as different bulbs appear, bloom, and fade.

I wanted to attend Brent’s workshop to learn a new trick or two.  I’ve used various bulbs in containers for many years now, but there is always a better way, when one is open to learn from someone more experienced.  But the stars haven’t aligned this season, and so I’ve been experimenting on my own with the bulbs we’ve been collecting.

~

Violas with white Dianthus, and Muscari. Miniature Daffodils bloomed later in the season.

~

The idea is elegantly simple:  since one plants bulbs at different depths depending on the size of the bulb, and since new growth from most bulbs is very narrow before it reaches the light,  one can plant one ‘layer’ of bulbs on top of another, allowing the emerging stems to sort out the spacing as they grow upwards towards the light.  In fact, three or four ‘layers’ of different types of bulbs may be planted into a single large pot.   This very crowded planting works for a single season, but must be unpacked by early summer.  The bulbs may be transplanted ‘in the green’ into garden beds, to allow the leaves to fully recharge the bulb for the next season of flowers.

~

 Containers for sale at the Heath's Bulb Shop last April

Containers on display at the Heath’s Bulb Shop last April

~

I modify this idea to include annuals, perennials, woodies and moss so the planting has immediate interest while we wait for the bulbs to emerge in the spring.

Begin with a clean pot.  I use coffee filters or a paper towel over the drainage holes to hold the soil while the roots are growing.  The filters will soon decompose.  Choose a good quality, light, commercial potting soil with nutrition already mixed in.  The annuals and perennials are heavy feeders, and the bulbs will perform better in rich soil.  Many of the ‘organic’ potting soils now come pre-loaded with worm castings!

Now one must  ‘do the math.’  Having chosen 2-5 species of bulbs, depending on the size and depth of the pot, first study the proper planting depth of each.  If you are using Daffodils, for instance, which are planted at a depth of 6″, then fill the pot with soil to within about 7″ of the rim.    Set the first ‘layer’ of Daffodil bulbs on the soil by pushing the root end slightly into the soil so that the tip points upwards.  Space these Daffodils 3″-4″ apart from one another and at least an inch or two inwards from the sides of the pot.  Carefully fill in around these bulbs with more potting soil so they are barely covered, and firm the soil with your palm.

~

Violas jnder a potted redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and daffodils.

Violas under a potted Redbud tree grow here with Heuchera and Daffodils early last spring.

~

Choose your next bulb, adding just enough soil so it is planted at its correct depth, and arrange these bulbs by lightly pushing them into the soil.  Try to avoid setting a new bulb directly over top of a deeper one.  Lightly top with soil to hold this layer in place, and add an additional layer or two of bulbs.  I like to select a few bulbs, like Crocus, Muscari, or Galanthus nivalis, which will emerge in late winter.  These will often be the ones planted most shallow.

~

Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I've tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

Miniature Iris and Muscari are planted in a grid beneath the moss. Violas fit between the bulbs. I’ve tucked in rooted cutting of Creeping Jenny for color. These turn bright red in a harsh winter.

~

If your living flower arrangement will contain only bulbs, then simply top off the soil with a layer of living moss, water in, place the pot, and wait.  You can certainly add a few branches, pods, stones or cones to the pot to catch the eye while you wait for spring.

~

Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.

Violas with Creeping Jenny and a hardy Sedum ‘Angelina’ last April.

~

But I want a living flower arrangement which goes to work right away.  I always add some annuals or perennials to the mix, which complicates the bulb planting a bit, as you don’t want bulbs directly under the huge root ball of a perennial or shrub.   I tend to place  a shrub or perennial in the pot first, then plant the bulbs around it.  This is a good use for those clearance shrubs with tiny root balls so easy to find in late October or November.  Or, for the many evergreen shrubs showing up now in tiny quart or 1 gallon pots.

~

March 20 2014 spring 006

~

Many vines and some perennials root easily from cuttings.  Simply tuck bits of Creeping Jenny, hardy Sedum, or divisions of Ivy or Ajuga into the soil of your finished pot.  These will grow in place.  Consider sprinkling seeds for perennials like Columbine, which like to overwinter out of doors.  They will begin to sprout next spring as the bulbs emerge.

~

Creeping Jenny last March

Creeping Jenny last March

~

You might complete your design with some winter annuals.  You can pot up the deeper layers of bulbs, and then plant a few Violas, Pansies or snaps in the top three inches of the pot.  Layer in your Crocus and Muscari bulbs around them.

~ April 7,2014 spring flowers 002

~

I still finish the pot with moss or pebbles.   This topdressing not only looks more attractive than plain dirt; it helps hold moisture, insulates the roots as temperatures dive, and it offers some protection from digging squirrels.  If I were using Tulips in the pot, I would be tempted to lay some chicken wire, with large openings, over that layer of bulbs for further protection from marauding rodents.  Tuck in a few cloves of garlic or onion sets to protect your Violas from grazing deer and rabbits.

~

March 20 2015 fresh 027~

Now, the ultimate ‘multi-tasking’ for this sort of planting:  hardwood cuttings.  Many of our woodies will root over winter if stuck into moist soil and left alone for several months.  If you have some shrubs you would like to propagate, take your cuttings and push them artistically into the finished pot.  If they root, fine.  If they don’t, you have still enjoyed the extra sculptural elements they lend over winter while the bulbs are sleeping.

~

I've added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

I’ve added a hardwood cutting of fig to this new mixed planting with bulb and other flowering plants.

~

This sort of winter ‘living flower arrangement’ takes a bit of planning.  There are lots of choices to make about timing and color schemes, size and scale, costs and placement.  You have to imagine how the bulbs will look when they emerge, so the tall ones are more to the center and the shorter ones nearer the edges; unless the shorter ones will finish before the tall ones emerge.  And the container must be large enough to contain all of those robust roots without cracking; and of material which will hold up to your winter weather.

~March 6, 2015 garden 002

~

This is an excellent way to showcase miniature Daffodils and other delicate, small flowering bulbs.  You might combine several types of daffies to include those which flower early, mid- and late season.  Daffodils with blue Muscari always look great together.

~

Ornamental cabbage with Heuchera in a newly planted pot.

Ornamental cabbage with Hellebore in a newly planted pot.

~

You might also compose an arrangement of various Iris.  Include some combination of Iris unguicularis, Iris bucharica, Iris histrioides, Iris reticulata, Dutch Iris, and perhaps even a root of German Bearded Iris for a long season of beautiful Iris blooms.

If your winter is especially harsh, plant your container now, water it in, but leave it in an unheated garage or shed until February.  Bring it out into the spring sunshine and enjoy the bulbs when the worst of winter has passed.

~

Newly planted Violas with Heuchera

Newly planted Violas with Hellebores.  Bulbs are tucked into the soil, waiting for spring.

~

We enjoy the luxury of  Zone 7b, which allows us to grow winter annuals which would die a few states to the north, and also bulbs which wouldn’t survive in the warmer winters to our south.  We also have many winter or early spring  flowering shrubs to plant in our container gardens.

~

Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.

Arum italicum unfurls its first leaf today. The tuber has been growing for about a month now.  Foliage will fill this pot all winter, with flowers appearing in the spring.

~

Here are some of the plants I choose most often for these dynamic pots:

Perennials:  Hellebores, Heucheras, Cyclamen hederifolium, Arum, Iris unguicularis, evergreen ferns, culinary Sage, Rosemary, Ivy, Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny), Sedum rupestre, ‘Angelina’ and other hardy Sedums, Ajuga, Vinca Minor (Periwinkle), hardy Oxalis, Columbine, Dianthus

~

Pansies will soon respond to wramer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

Pansies will soon respond to warmer days and nights with renewed growth. Here with miniature daffodils.

~

Annuals:  Violas, Panolas, Pansies, Snapdragons, Allysum, ornamental kale or cabbage

Whatever combination of plants you choose, think of these living flower arrangements as narratives which unfold over time.

Time truly is the magical ingredient for baking bread, raising children, and creating beautiful gardens.

~

March 25-28 013

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

Wildly Sweet

May 28, 2015 garden 034

~

The sweetest smelling part of our garden remains the wildest.  We inherited a “hedge” of Ligustrum japonicum, overgrown for decades, growing between our home and our neighbors’.   At least 30′ tall, and supporting a healthy colony of wild honeysuckle, its perfume permeates the garden.

A whiff of blooming honeysuckle, a memory from childhood summers, announces summer in my heart.

~

May 28, 2015 garden 035

~

This elusive scent remains full of comfort and promise.  The flatter, heavier scent of the Ligustrum grows stronger as the weather heats up.  It penetrates body and soul as we step out into the garden on hot afternoons.

Trillions of tiny white flowers, blooming on this living wall, generate all of this perfume.  And, as you would imagine, they are positively dancing as bees and other tiny insects fly from flower to flower.   Gorging on this feast of nectar, the bees pay us little attention.

~

May 28, 2015 garden 033

~

But they have my attention as I work around them.  Of course, this area shades my plant nursery  This is where I store plants,waiting to be potted or planted, and gardening supplies.

This is the wildest part of our garden.  We do nothing here, save to leave it alone.  It had grown into this magnificence long before we arrived, and we leave it to its own outrageous beauty.

Flowers today will slowly grow into plump purple berries by late autumn.

~

January 24 ice 008

~

This wall of Ligustrum feeds our cardinals, and multitudes of other hungry birds, all winter long.  Birds  feast on  insects in the depths of these shrubs throughout the year.  Our overgrown hedge offers shelter for wildlife and provides a windbreak for the garden.

Its deep shade creates a microclimate for ferns and remains cool and welcoming on the hottest summer days. Ivy, Vinca,  and Virginia Creeper carpet the soil beneath it.

Wildly untended, it is not the beauty spot of our garden.  But it doesn’t need to be.  Its presence frames the life within.

~

May 28, 2015 garden 031

~

Woodland Gnome  2015

In Bloom

April 3, 2015 flowers 046

~

Our garden grows golden today.

Bright yellow Forsythia flowers explode from the bare branches which frame our driveway, line our front border, and grow as an impenetrable barrier on one corner of the garden.  This is an ancient stand of Forsythia, planted decades ago by the original gardeners here.

Towering over our heads, its brilliance lights up the entire garden when it blooms.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 048

~

Waves of golden daffodils punctuate the rolling hillside.  Although many have naturalized over the decades in large clumps, we have planted new bulbs every autumn since we came here.

It is interesting to watch the clumps grow each year from a single stem to a thriving colony of bright flowers.

~

~

We are about at ‘mid-season’ now for daffodils, and we’ll enjoy them throughout April.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 006

~

We plan to drive up to Gloucester next week to visit the daffodil farm there, and perhaps select a few new varieties to plant this autumn coming.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 040

~

The daffodils bloomed even before the Muscari this spring.  We have both white and blue ones blooming now.

Our Magnolia liliflora ‘Nigra’ began to open yesterday in the afternoon’s warm sunshine.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 033~

These were also planted by earlier gardeners here, much to our delight.  Their dark purple flowers open slowly over several weeks in spring, and often return at the end of summer for a second time.

~

March 31, 2015 shamrock 019

~

We planted a Magnolia stellata this week, covered in buds.  While one might expect a white shrub to get lost in our woods, it shines like a beacon.  I can only imagine how lovely it will be in a few year’s time when it has grown up.

~

April 3, 2015 spring trees 003

~

Trees have burst into bloom in the back garden.  The peach blossoms began to open overnight, and the apple and pear showed their first color late in the afternoon yesterday.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 010

~

This is that magical time when our entire garden bursts into bloom.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 005~

All of the Vinca vines cover themselves in tiny periwinkle flowers, opening a few more each day.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 001~

These spread themselves all around the garden, wherever there is a bit of bare ground. And all of the Hellebores are blooming now in various shades of burgundy, pink, mauve, and white.  Even several planted out as tiny seedlings last spring have matured enough to flower.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 002~

The Edgeworthia continues to get better, sweetly fragrant and tipped in golden yellow.  Lilac shrubs stand full of buds.

~

March 31, 2015 shamrock 016

~

Violas in pots have taken courage from the softer weather to grow again and cover themselves in flowers.  Even the Camellia japonica buds are opening to release their thick, waxy petals into the warmth of April.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 031

~

I hope you can feel the warmth and smell the sweetness of our spring breezes this evening.

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 039

~

Each day, we become more aware of that fourth dimension in which we move:  time.

Some days time slows down and allows us to savor time spent enjoying the company of friends.  An hour stretches out into a long, languorous visit of good conversation and laughter.

Other days, hours seem to evaporate into nothingness as we clean out beds, plant, prune, and plan what will go where this spring….

~

April 3, 2015 flowers 044~

If photos allow us to capture a moment in time, they give us some measure of power over all four of the dimensions which structure our lives.  We can capture all four in only two-

The world is full of miracles and wonders.

~

March 31, 2015 shamrock 006~

 Happy Spring!

~

April 3, 2015 spring trees 008

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

In A Vase On Monday: Finally Flowers!

March 23, 2015 vase 002~

Finally, there are plenty of flowers to cut for today’s vase! 

Not only are the daffodils opening in clouds of gold, but the first tiny blue and white flowers have appeared on the Vinca Minor.

The fruit trees’ buds have begun to unfold, and the first tiny garnet colored knobs of color are exploding from the solid brown stems of our red bud.

~

March 23, 2015 vase 003

~

Once spring begins unfolding its flowers, it just grows more colorful each day!

The flowers and foliage chosen today form associations in the garden.  Vinca carpets the ground beneath the daffodils.  Autumn Brilliance ferns grow in concert with clumps of daffodils in many spots around the garden.

~

March 23, 2015 vase 011

~

Daffodils also grow in clumps near many of the roses.  A keen eye might notice the stems of rose foliage tucked into this arrangement.  Although I’m waiting until after the weekend coming to prune, a few nips here and there on a tea rose will not do any lasting harm- even if the snow forecast for next Saturday materializes.

~

March 23, 2015 vase 012

~

Daffodils also grow in the back garden, where our fruit trees stand ready to bloom.  Included today are branches from pear, apple, and a large redbud.

What pleasure to wander around making a choice among the many offerings, while breathing in the stirrings of spring.  If you have not yet cut a vase of spring flowers for yourself, I hope you will have that opportunity soon.

~

March 23, 2015 vase 014

~

The cobalt blue vase was hand blown by Williamsburg glass artist John Shelton.  We purchased this from him at a show last December.

Maybe you will even feel moved to join Cathy’s Monday Vase meme with photos of a vase filled with what may be growing in your own garden this week.  When you visit Cathy at Rambling in the Garden each Monday, you will find links to beautiful floral arrangements from all over the planet in her comments.

~

March 23, 2015 vase 004

~

My hopes for this vase are that we will be able to keep it indoors long enough for the fruit blossoms and redbud to fully open.  It is the season of pollen, and just like the beautiful hazelnut branches full of catkins, these may be banished out of doors if the sneezing begins!

Out of doors, or perhaps to a friend’s home….  But for today, we are enjoying this rare treat of the first vase of spring flowers brightening up our home.

Other Monday Vase posts you might enjoy:

Cathy at Words and Herbs

John at A Walk in the Garden

Susie at pbmGarden

Ricki at Sprig to Twig

 

~

March 23, 2015 vase 006

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

Black and White Photo Challenge # 1

March 20 2015 fresh 011

~

Eliza Waters invited me yesterday (dared me to try) to participate in the Black and White Photo Challenge.  This is a very challenging challenge (an opportunity wrapped in a challenge.)  You see, I haven’t taken any black and white photos since my little Brownie camera went along on field trips with me in the 1960s.  I was raised in the age of Kodak, and I’ve happily used color film, and then color digital photography, for most every photo I’ve ever taken.

But because Eliza and I seem to agree on so many things, and find our interests so similiar; there was no answer possible but, “Yes.”  And then I spent quite a bit of last evening trying to figure out how to either convert a photo already taken in color to a black and white image ( read: trying to figure out the multiple editing software programs I own and barely use) or to take a black and white photo in the first place with my beloved little Nikkon.

So, I stretched, and I learned something new.  Once I found the well-put away instruction booklet, it took only a bit more time to learn how to access and use the right menu to convert to black and white photography.

And then of course, it rained all day today.  No mind.  I own hats and coats.  So I was out in the rain this afternoon celebrating the Equinox by photographing everything I could find which looked “fresh” and new…. in both color and black and white.

So I offer you my first attempts here.  For a dull day, the images may not be too dull to post.

In the spirit of the challenge, and of friendship, I pass this on by inviting one of my favorite blogging photographers, Robin, of Breezes at Dawn, to join Eliza and me in this five day Black and White Challenge.

Robin lives and gardens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  She documents the changing of seasons, her beautiful coastline and gardens, and the local wildlife with exquisite photographs.  I especially love the images she captures of birds.  She must be a hummingbird whisperer, because she captures such wonderful photos of these little jewels in flight.  I hope you will watch for her photos each day of this challenge, and perhaps choose to follow her, as I do.

The guidelines are blessedly simple and clear:

  1. On 5 consecutive days, create a post using either a past or recent photo in black and white.
  2. Each day invite another blogging friend to join in the fun.

Even in this season when the world bursts into glorious color once again, I believe that there are beautiful images to capture in black and white.  This is a new adventure, and if you have not yet tried it yourself, perhaps you’ll figure your camera out in advance should you be invited to join in next!

~

The roses, which still need spring pruning.  Once this cold snap passes.....

The roses, which still need spring pruning. Once this cold snap passes…..

~

Woodland Gnome 2015

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 654 other followers

Follow Forest Garden on WordPress.com
Order Classic Caladiums

This Month’s Posts

Topics of Interest