Plant Now For Spring Living Flower Arrangements

November 2, 2015 015

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Violas with creeping jenny and a hardy Sedum.

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

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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.

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March 20 2014 spring 006

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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.

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Creeping Jenny last March

Creeping Jenny last March

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Ornamental cabbage with Heuchera in a newly planted pot.

Ornamental cabbage with Hellebore in a newly planted pot.

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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.

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Newly planted Violas with Heuchera

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

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

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Snow and More Snow

February 25, 2015 snow melt 018

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I can remember times, when I was still teaching, when I would lie awake at night wishing for a snow day.  School kids have more in common with their teachers, sometimes, than they may realize!  Everyone needs a break from their routine from time to time.  And everyone I know is wishing now for a break from the snow.

But that break is still down the road and over the weather horizon.  Another storm moves in tonight. We have restocked on the essentials: coffee, cream, and cat litter.

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February 25, 2015 snow melt 025

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Snow remains a welcome sight in the winter garden.  Beyond it’s beauty, it also insulates, hydrates, and provides the extended period of cold so many plants in our region require for spring growth.

We may not think about it, but snow absolutely functions like a blanket on our garden beds and in our pots.  Deep snow protects roots, crowns and leaves from winter’s very dry and extremely cold winds.

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February 25, 2015 snow melt 021

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Snow insulates and protects sprouting bulbs and awakening perennials, helping them through these last weeks of winter.  Like mulch, it helps maintain a more even soil temperature so plants don’t ‘heave’ up out of the ground during the freeze/thaw cycle.

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February 25, 2015 snow melt 001

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Our ground water is replenished from melting snow.  But so are our potted plants.  Plants can’t absorb water very well from frozen soil.  But melting snow waters plants and helps thaw out the soil when it melts in the mid-day sun.  Without snow, hardy annuals and perennials living in pots through the winter may dehydrate on sunny days, especially when it is windy.

I often water our pots with warm tap water on wintery days when there is no snow cover, just to give the plants a chance to re-hydrate.  I’ve also applied a dilute solution of Neptune’s Harvest, in warm water, to offer a little boost of minerals to help our pots make it through winter’s last ‘Hurrah.’

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February 25, 2015 snow melt 028

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Snow cover helps certain fruit bearing trees, bulbs, and perennials maintain the periods of extended cold they need in order to grow.   Gardeners in regions with gradually warming climates find that some plants no longer get their required ‘chilling hours.”  This means replacing old reliable plants with different cultivars adapted to the warmer climate and fewer hours of freezing temperatures.  Our extended periods of snow this winter help those plants which need the cold as part of their annual pattern of growth.

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February 25, 2015 snow melt 023

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We humans are extremely adaptable, and stubbornly tough.  We find work-arounds for all sorts of frustrating circumstances.  We will deal with this coming winter storm, and the next, and will learn some useful life lessons in the process.

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February 25, 2015 snow melt 011

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May spring find you sane, healthy and soon.

But until this winter passes, please remember to stop to appreciate the beauty of it all.

And keep in mind that snow brings its blessings along with its frustrations.

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February 25, 2015 snow melt 016

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“The world as we have created it

is a process of our thinking.

It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

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Albert Einstein

 

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Silent Sunday

February 8, 2015 Amaryllis 004

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February 8, 2015 Amaryllis 002

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“We do not enjoy a story fully at first reading.

Not till curiosity, the sheer narrative lust,

has been given its sop and laid asleep,

are we at leisure to savor the real beauties.”

 

C.S. Lewis

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February 6, 2015 Amaryllis 002

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

 

February 1, 2015 moss garden 007

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“A garden to walk in and immensity to dream in-

-what more could he ask?

A few flowers at his feet and above him the stars.”

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Victor Hugo

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February 1, 2015 moss garden 003

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“Our duty is wakefulness,

the fundamental condition of life itself.

The unseen, the unheard, the untouchable

is what weaves the fabric of our see-able universe together.”

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Robin Craig Clark

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“It is good to love many things,

for therein lies the true strength,

and whosoever loves much performs much,

and can accomplish much,

and what is done in love is well done.”

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Vincent van Gogh

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February 1, 2015 moss garden 009

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“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret:

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;

what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

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Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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photos by Woodland Gnome 2015

A Four Season Pot In the Springtime

April 16, 2014 dogwood 001

A Four Season Pot changes seasonally, remaining attractive throughout all four seasons of the year.

It requires a little thinking ahead to pull this together, but is well worth it.  I prefer to begin a Four Season Pot in the autumn, when spring bulbs come on the market.

Bulbs are an important part of this ever changing display.  Ephemeral spring bulbs keep the arrangement fresh and interesting from late winter through early summer as the bulbs develop, bloom, and then begin to fade.  when the foliage is finished and begins to brown, it can finally be removed as the pot settles into summer.

A Four Season Pot can be designed to last for several years with only minor changes.  Begin with a large pot, of at least 18 inches, in a material which may stay outside year round in all sorts of weather.

The primary element of the planting is a shrub or small tree.  This is where the design gets interesting. 

You may choose an evergreen or a deciduous shrub.  You may select for interesting foliage, flowers, or both.  This primary plant stays in the pot as annuals come and go throughout the next several seasons.

Oct. 6 pots 020

The Four Season pot in autumn, very soon after it was planted. Notice the Heuchera leaves are a different color here than in the spring photos.

When the shrub outgrows the pot you may choose to prune it, pot up to a larger container, or plant the shrub out into the garden and begin again with a new shrub.

Within the potting philosophy of , “thriller, filler, spiller;”  your shrub will usually be the  “thriller” or largest and tallest element.

Although I’ve done this scheme with evergreen shrubs, I prefer to create a Four Season planting design using a deciduous, spring blooming shrub or small tree.

Bringing attention to a lovely shrub, up close to daily traffic, so it can be observed as it transforms itself season to season is far more interesting to me than watching geraniums bloom.

April 16, 2014 flowers 005

New spring Heuchera leaves are touched with copper, as will be the new fronds of the Autumn Brilliance fern when new growth begins.

This little design, constructed last autumn, is built around a tiny hybrid Redbud tree , Cercis canadensis, which Jonathan Patton and Dustin  gave me at the end of the season last year.  Homestead  Garden Center was closing out its deciduous stock and they didn’t want to store this little shrub over the winter.  A tiny little shrub in a small pot,  with its golden fall leaves still clinging to its branches, it was perfect for my needs.

Underplanted with a combination of daffodil and grape hyacinth bulbs,  I filled the pot with a perennial Heuchera and annual Violas.  The Violas have bloomed all winter long, bringing color to the pot long after the Redbud’s leaves blew away.  The Heuchera also kept its color all winter, escaping the deer who found other Heuchera  plants around the winter garden.

April 16, 2014 flowers 003

The only plant in the pot which has not yet filled in is the Autumn Brilliance fern planted from a tiny 2.5″ pot.  It didn’t get established before cold set in, and its few leaves are rather bedraggled from winter yet.   New fronds will unfurl any day now, and will grow perhaps as tall as 18″.

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So the total expenditure on plants for this pot was a little under $15.00. Constructed in late autumn, the pot has been  attractive for a little more than six months already.

The only plant I’ll remove and switch out will be the Viola, when the heat gets too much for it.

April 16, 2014 flowers 002

I could replace it with an Ajuga division from the garden; a small annual like Ageratumn from a six-pack, or even a Caladium tuber or rooted cutting.  For a little or no additional investment, this pot will keep growing and changing throughout the remainder of the season.

My hope was to see the Redbud bloom this year before its leaves emerged.  It seems it is too young to bloom.  Even without blooms, its tiny chartruese heart shaped leaves are still a lovely addition to the pot.  This arrangement can survive at least one more winter in place.  The annual will get switched out for a fresh Viola next November, and this pot will continue growing in partial sun, with only regular watering and light feeding, into 2015 and beyond.

April 16, 2014 dogwood 002

Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

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