Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Tuesday This and That*

This has been an unusual spring.  Very warm temperatures and frequent sunny days have made for beautiful gardening weather, but it has also meant that one had to be quick with the camera because many spring blooms didn't last long in the heat.  April showers have finally arrived, and a few heavy downpours this weekend plus some high winds at times stripped the flowering crabapples of their last blooms.  Thank goodness I took photos of them while still blooming, but I wasn't so lucky with the old apple trees or the flowering quince.  Their blooms were gone before I thought to get out the camera. 

No such problem, though, in getting some photos of the old-fashioned lilac, which has been blooming nonstop for the past two weeks.  I think this is the most beautiful I've ever seen this lilac.  It's in need of a good pruning this summer, but I don't know if I have the heart to cut any of it out.

There's nothing that smells quite as wonderful as this heavenly scent.

But there is more to come.  The little 'Bloomerang' I planted last fall is putting out its own scent.  Not quite as fragrant as the old lilac, but if it re-blooms this year as advertised, it will do just nicely.  It is planted in the new flowerbed I dug up last fall.

I planned this new garden area as a place to primarily showcase my daylilies, and though it still needs some edging and other work, I've been busy transplanting some of the lilies already.  You may recall that this is the bed that Sophie assisted me in digging up.  I've been working on teaching her that I no longer need any help in digging here, but she has been adding some pieces of "garden art" :)

While the tulips shown on the Bloom Day post have all faded into a distant memory, a few late tulips have taken their place in borders of most of the garden beds.  I think these are 'Pink Charm,' and the ones I mistakenly named 'Pink Charm' on that Bloom Day post were actually from a bargain bag of tulips simply called 'Pink.'   I really must do a better job of record-keeping.  The gray cells that used to retain the names of all the capitals of Europe and the lyrics to every early Beatles song seem to have disappeared along with certain abdominal muscles:)

Without organized records, there are certainly a lot of mysteries in the garden this spring.  Yes, I do remember planting a few tulips at the front of the new lily garden.  But their names? I have no idea.  And that dark burgundy tulip which also appears in a few other spots?  I have absolutely no memory of even buying those.  I'm a pastel person, not a dark tulip fan.

The unnamed light pink ones, however, also appeared in the roadside bed.  What is a mystery here, though, is what happened to all the hot pink shades that I planted several years ago on the other side.  Not one of those came up--could they have been past their prime?  Or did hungry squirrels have a bulb feeding frenzy here?  Either way, this was a big disappointment, and a massive tulip planting project will be planned once again for this fall.  And do you notice the plant in the background?  Yes, my very first Baptisia, ala the Lurie Garden, looks like it will be blooming some time soon!

The roadside garden is at the end of our long lane, so all too often it gets only a passing glance as I drive in.  While looking for the missing tulips today, I checked out the progress of the rest of the garden and noticed these plants  putting out some buds.  What, I thought, are these??  Finally, some brain neurons stopped misfiring, and I remembered--I planted some large allium here last fall!  You would think I wouldn't have forgotten this:)

On the other hand, there are many mysteries in the butterfly garden, not because I don't remember planting them, but because many of last year's plants have re-seeded themselves.  I have many seedlings that I just can't recognize yet, which makes weeding this area quite a challenge.  I'm sure I'm going to baby a few plants only to discover in time that they are actually weeds.  This plant is one I'm trying to figure out--do you think this might be an Obedient Plant?  I did plant one plant in this general vicinity last year, so it's a likely suspect.

Fortunately, the shade garden doesn't hold as many mysteries.  I'm so happy with the way the Bleeding Heart has grown this year.  I didn't really plan this, but I do love the pink blooms of the Dicentra with the purple leaves of  'Plum Pudding' heuchera.

I've become a big fan of Heucheras, starting with some old-fashioned coral bells purchased from a discount gardening catalog.  Now, though, all Heucheras added to the garden are the newer and prettier cultivars, most with delicious-sounding names that always entice me.  That is 'Plum Pudding' in the front with 'Dolce Creme Brulee' on the right and 'Tiramisu' on the left.  I did add a 'Key Lime Pie' last year, but I haven't seen any sign of it this spring--I hope I didn't eat it by mistake:)

I've never participated in Gardening Gone Wild's photo contest each month, but if I had been on time last week, I might have used this photo for the theme of "Green."  I took this photo of Tarzan last summer, and I found it again last week while working on the presentation I was doing as part of my Master Gardener volunteer hours.  My classmate Kathy and I went to a local adult daycare facility last Thursday to help them celebrate Earth Day.  Originally, I was told I could do a presentation on container gardening, but after I realized what type of audience I would have, I changed my approach to a much simpler slide presentation celebrating spring, with photos of trees, flowers, butterflies, and some of my garden "helpers."  Of all the slides I showed, I think this one of Tarzan peeking out from the hellebore and heuchera blooms was one that they enjoyed most. 

After my slides, Kathy showed a few slides of vegetables and talked about the health benefits of each, and then we took the group outside to plant a few flowers and vegetables in a raised bed.  Most of this audience is in some stage of dementia, so even something as simple as sticking a marigold into the dirt often required assistance from one of us or a staff member.  But, oh, did they enjoy this!  And the director asked us if we would come back again some time, so I guess they were pleased with what we did.  I do hope the clients enjoyed it, but I know that this was such an inspirational and rewarding experience for me.  Kathy and I hope to make this an ongoing project, instead of a one-time visit.

 . . . One more "that" . . . I recently changed my blog template to spruce things up a bit and get rid of all the wasted space on the sides.  In doing so, I discovered the new Blogger editor (when did that change??) and have enjoyed being able to make photos larger.  Please let me know if doing this makes this page take too long to load.

*Tuesday This and That is a variation on the Mish-Mash Monday meme created by the peripatetic Monica of Garden Faerie.  Thanks, Monica, and I'm sorry I don't remember the proper alternate name for a Tuesday:)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Graduation Day!

It's official . . . I am now a Master Gardener!  Last week we met for our last session and turned in our final exam (one of the toughest exams I've ever taken, and believe me, I've taken some hard ones).  After a potluck lunch to celebrate our hard work for the past 11 weeks, we had a mini-ceremony, complete with mortarboards . . . with insects glued on them (I chose a dragonfly).  We marched in procession into the meeting room to the tune of "Pomp and Circumstance" played by a kazoo orchestra made up of our instructors and active Master Gardeners.  A great way to top off weeks of hard work!

My head is so crammed full of gardening information that I'm not sure how much of it I could retrieve quickly. At the end of each session I felt as though I needed another memory chip in my brain. However, the excellent manual we used along with a spiral notebook full of class notes should help me find most answers I need in the future.
Here are just a few tidbits of information I learned that have stayed with me:

Bee on cosmos, August 2009

1.  "If you fill one side of a balance scale with all kinds of insect pests, and place a single bee on the other scale, the benefits of that one bee will outweigh the negative impact of all the others."  Our session on insects turned out to be one of my favorites, probably because of our enthusiastic instructor.  Although we spent almost the entire time on harmful insect, he was passionate about the benefits of pollinators.  Needless to say, the emphasis on pest control was to use natural controls.

2. Most forms of "nuisance wildlife" are protected by law in the state of Illinois (and no doubt many other states).  A permit is required to trap and remove these animals from your own property. Songbirds and migratory birds, including Canadian geese, are further protected by federal law.  So, had I tried to trap these two geese that were frequent visitors to our yard recently or found an egg and destroyed it, technically, I could have been prosecuted.  No such liability exists for pets, however, which is a good thing because I haven't seen these two since Sophie chased them across the field one day.  (No, she didn't hurt them, but I think they might have had heart palpitations after the experience.)

3. Voles, fortunately, are not protected by law, so a homeowner can take measures to eradicate them without fear of prosecution.  I will remember this because in my first stint as a volunteer answering the helpline in the Extension Office one day, the only phone call I received was about voles.  After researching the manual for an answer, my mentor gave me the best advice to share with the caller:  Set mousetraps baited with peanut butter mixed with oatmeal.  Or, place chewed up bubblegum near their holes, which will wreak havoc with their digestive systems.  Both much easier methods than the technical suggestions I found in books.

4. The class on soils was surprisingly interesting, too.  Besides learning about the geological forces that created soils and soil composition, we learned that this area has some of the richest soil in the world.  Okay, actually I already knew that part, but I just have to brag a little about Central Illinois:)

5. From our tree expert came this advice about selecting trees:  "Plant whatever your neighbors don't have!"  His point was actually about diversity--with the loss of trees caused by Dutch Elm disease in the 50's and 60's and now the Emerald Ash borer, which is coming closer and closer to our area, it's wise to plant a variety of trees so that future threats don't wipe out an entire tree population.

I doubt that any of my neighbors have a pussywillow tree like mine:)

6.  Speaking of trees, the section on plant pathology, or plant diseases, was pretty scary.  I find I can't walk past a stand of pine trees now without wondering if that dead branch means the tree has pine wilt, which will eventually cause the tree to die.   Of particular interest to me was the discussion on cedar-apple rust and apple scab, Venturia inaequalis. Last year my flowering crabs didn't bloom as fully as in the past, the leaves wilted and dropped over the summer, and a few blooms strangely appeared in August.    I talked to the instructor about the symptoms, and she said apple scab was a possibility.  Her best advice was to plant newer disease-resistant cultivars nearby so that they could eventually replace the older, diseased ones.

Crabapple blooms made a brief appearance last week before the winds blew away their delicate blossoms.

Dark pink and light pink blooms covered the trees, which looked pretty healthy this year.

All the flowering crabs were planted 20 -30 years ago, so I don't know any of the cultivars.  This white crabapple, though, has never shown any signs of disease, and its profuse blooms last longer than those of the pink varieties.

I would hate to lose any one of these trees, so I'm hoping the instructor's diagnosis is wrong.  Just the same,  I am going to be vigilant about watching these trees all summer.

The last weekend in March the local Master Gardeners chapter sponsored a two-day program on campus, "Spring into Gardening."  Although it wasn't part of our instruction and was an optional activity, I did attend and am glad I did.  The two featured speakers on Saturday were Joe Lamp'l, better known as Joe Gardener on PBS' "Garden Smart" and Rosalind Creasy, author of Edible Landscaping: Now You Can Have Your Gorgeous Garden and Eat it, Too.  Smaller breakout sessions also featured well-known speakers and gave me many ideas for choosing new shrubs and ideas for garden design and problem-solving.  Friday's session was a very entertaining presentation on landscape design by a well-known local professor.  To get us all to think about seeing our gardens in three dimensions, he had each of us design a small garden using Play-doh.

Here's my new daylily bed!  I thought it looked pretty amateurish, but this photo of my design was featured on our local MG Facebook page.

Now that the classroom part is over, there is still more work to be done. The mission of the Master Gardener program is to help others learn about gardening, and  we are required to complete 60 hours of volunteer work within our first year.  Until then, I am actually an MG intern.  Thirty hours must be spent in the Extension Office manning the help hotline, which is where I learned so much about voles.  Ten hours must be spent in Community Service, and I'll get a start on that today.  Another classmate and I are giving a presentation to an adult daycare facility to help them celebrate Earth Day. My friend is focusing on vegetables, and I'll be concentrating on flowers, with a slide show of blooms, butterflies, and bees from my garden.  Thanks to Sherry for kindly sending me some great photos of spring birds to add to the show.  Afterwards, we're going outside to do some planting.  I hope the group enjoys the presentation.

Active MG's gave us a tour of the Idea Garden one day before class.

The remaining 20 hours of volunteer time will be spent in the Idea Garden, and I'm really excited about this after admiring this garden the past few years.  The "newbies" are in charge of the annual color garden, but we are also encouraged to help in other parts of the Garden as well.  I chose the Sensory Garden, so you'll probably be hearing a lot about this section in coming months.  I've already spent a few hours helping out with clean-up there, and I've discovered another benefit to working in the Garden--leftover or divided plants at dirt cheap prices! Yesterday I came home with some lambs' ears and valerian. 

In all this, I haven't even mentioned another benefit of the program--meeting so many wonderful people who share a love of gardening.  Not only have I made lots of new friends, I'm going to be working side by side with some very experienced gardeners.  The learning is just beginning . . .

Wishing everyone a Happy Earth Day, and a special greeting to my mother who turns 80 years young today.  Happy Birthday, Mom!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

April GBBD: Tiptoe Through the Tulips....

While many people may be stressing out today trying to get those #*@! tax forms filled out before midnight, we garden bloggers know that April 15 is significant for another reason--it's Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, of course! Today I promise you, unlike the past few months, there will be no whining here nor any stretching of the term "blooms." This month has been the sunniest, warmest April I can ever remember--we even broke a record today as the thermometer hit 86 degrees. Spring bulbs are flowering earlier than usual, but also fading more quickly in the heat. So grab your sunscreen and your garden hat and take a walk with me before the flowers fade. Let's start early before the sun gets too hot and tiptoe through the tulips . . .

Shades of pink, like these "Pink Impression" tulips, are everywhere.

But we're an Equal Opportunity Tulip Employer, so every color is welcome
in the garden here from bold reds . . .

. . . to various hot oranges, all part of a "Color Magic" collection.

There are also a few bright yellows, the ruffled "Sunrise." These look almost look like small peony blooms, don't they?

But pastels are still my preference, like these delicate vanilla cream . . .

to the subtle pale yellows of a collection called "Monet," which includes several pastel shades

including this soft peach. It's hard to pick a favorite.

But my favorite time to enjoy them all is early morning or early evening. By mid-morning, the sun has warmed them so that they look a little blowsy. I forgot to show you some of the purple and deeper colors in the roadside bed, and there are some other varieties that are just beginning to open up, but we'll save those for another day.

Instead, we need to take a look at the early bloomers that are just about to fade. The hyacinths were in full bloom by Easter, but are starting to lose their luster today.

The traditional yellow daffodils have already faded away, but a few of the other varieties have taken their place, like this one whose name has been lost . . .

. . . or the ruffled "Repletes." All tulip and daffodil names are somewhat questionable, as the notes I took a year and a half ago when planting them haven't been as reliable as I'd planned.

But even without a name, these slender narcissus deserve a second look. These small beauties have turned out to be one of my favorites.

But there is more in the garden this April than just flowering bulbs. I must have the slowest hellebores in all of Blogland, but I do finally have three blooms on this one, which is either "Yellow Lady" or "Spotted Lady"--hard to tell when she is being so shy.

And if you've been wondering what the blue was in the background of a few of the photos, here it is--Brunnera 'Jack Frost.' I can't say enough good things about this plant, but the best part is that the blooms are really and truly blue!

Let's linger by the bleeding heart for a moment, shall we? You may not be too impressed by these blooms, since everyone has this old-fashioned plant, it seems. But after several unsuccessful attempts at trying to grow one, I'm just so excited to finally have a Dicentra that has survived in my shade garden.

Another flower that deserves praise this spring is the primrose. These are the first spots of colorto appear in my garden each spring, and I have them in varying hues from red to purple to yellow to this pink.

I know we've missed a few blooms, but perhaps you'll come back again next week? By that time who knows what might be blooming, and maybe by then I'll finally have all these flowerbeds cleaned up.

Despite the perfect gardening days we've had, I've only been able to accomplish a little each day, and I seem to flit about from one project to another without finishing any of them.
Tarzan kindly pointed out to me one day that the nepeta was ready to be pruned, and it has since nearly tripled in size.

I didn't have the heart, though, to do much pruning of the hydrangeas, which are already producing lots of new growth.

Hostas are emerging, too, and they, along with the hydrangeas, still have a light blanket of pine straw in case the temperatures decide to drop again.

You don't want to walk around here with your eyes cast down all the time, however. The spring show is just as lovely up above. The redbuds have been in flower for the past week or more. This one that sits just outside my office window looks like lavender cotton candy.

A close inspection of this redbud in the front yard reveals some tiny green leaves beginning to show. It won't be long before these heralds of spring turn from purple to green.

But there is more to come . . . the flowering crabapples are almost ready to burst into bloom. They are at least two weeks ahead of schedule. In fact, everything seems to moving in fast-forward this spring, so much so that if I don't check the garden every day, I might miss something before it fades away. I hope that all of you are enjoying each and every moment of this beautiful spring, and thanks for tiptoeing through the tulips with me . . .

Be sure to check out all the other spring blooms from around the world by visiting Carol of May Dreams Gardens, who has kindly taken time out of her new garden designs to once again host this month's GBBD.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Science of Seed Starting

Before I get to today's topic, I have been remiss in not mentioning who won the giveaway I sponsored on my blogaversary last month. Some of you may have thought I conveniently forgot about it, but actually I was so eager to post many of my photos from my recent trip to Arizona that it simply slipped my mind. There was a winner, I assure you--Sweet Bay! In fact she has already received her seeds and cookbooks. Thanks go to Renee's Garden, who sent not just one, but both of her cookbooks to Sweet Bay!

Thank you, too, to all of you who commented on my last post about Earth Day. Your comments made me realize there is so much more I could do, and I am especially envious of you who have access to excellent local recycling programs. Living in a rural area, the only pick-up we have is for garbage. The village does have pick-up of garden and lawn debris, but we have no problem recycling that ourselves anyway. For other recycling, though, I must make a 20-mile round trip in order to drop materials off, which certainly makes it less convenient. Our village did have a recycling drop-off area, but it had to be closed after some people used it to dump their trash. Isn't it typical how one or two lazy people can spoil a good thing for everyone else? Anyway, I am going to make a more conscious effort to do more recycling, even if it does require some extra driving.

Now for the subject of today's post. Despite abysmal results from my first attempt at starting seeds indoors two years ago and only slightly better results last year, I have nevertheless plunged into the seed starting frenzy once again this year. However, to ensure a better chance at success this year, I have decided to take a more scientific approach. I am carefully monitoring progress and recording data, and by the middle of May I hope to have a definitive answer on how to achieve success with starting indoor seedlings.

Some of you may remember that last year I proposed another scientific study of springtime blogging trends, but unfortunately no grant money was offered, and so the study was dropped. I would once again seek grant money for this seed study, but the garden budget here at the Prairie does not allow for lobbyists in Washington. And I know better than to apply for a grant from our state, which is so far in debt that red ink is now in short supply in Illinois. (Perhaps our state legislature should consider garnishing the wages of former Governor Blago, who surely must have earned a hefty sum in his brief stint on "Celebrity Apprentice" before being fired by the Donald for being inept and irresponsible.)

However, in the spirit of altruism and concern for our fellow man/gardener, we will proceed with this experiment with the quest for knowledge our only necessary recompense. The following is a brief outline of the scope of the experiment with the data collected thus far.

Limits of Study: All plants need four elements to survive: water, light, air, and nutrients (provided by soil). Because water was a constant in all control groups, albeit administered in a very unscientific, uncalibrated manner, only the other three elements, or some facet of each, are being studied here.

1. Light: Since sunlight provided through windows is not considered sufficient for seedlings to grow, additional artificial lighting was provided for all test subjects. The first seeds were planted on March 25, approximately 7 weeks before our average last frost-free date, and placed under the large shop light purchased last year.

An additional light was purchased this year and hung from a shelving unit in the basement. The 24" light is more difficult to find than the larger 48" unit shown above, but its size is perfect for standard shelving units and much more manageable to hang. Should this study prove successful--and possibly generate some income--additional lights might be purchased next year, and more shelves cleared of their wrapping paper and ribbon contents for seedling use each spring.

Note: According to very knowledgeable Master Gardener instructors, using one cool white bulb and one warm white bulb is as effective as purchasing the more expensive grow lights.

Since both of these lighting arrangements are virtually identical, we will refer to this group as Control Group A.

The head of the study insisted on planting more seeds than lab facilities available; therefore, additional lighting sources were sought. Another flat of seeds was placed under an Ott light in the office rather than the basement lab. Not the ideal arrangement, but we will label this group Control Group B and see what happens.

Another flat of seeds (not pictured) were planted (oh dear, does this researcher even know the meaning of a controlled experiment?? Somebody get those seed packets out of her hands!).

While they germinate, another light source is being sought--perhaps the Husband will give up his desk lamp for awhile or perhaps the sunny south window in the spare bedroom will suffice. For now, we will label this subject Control Group C.

2. Nutrients: Nutrients for seedlings are provided by its growing medium, and since virtually all seeds were started in the same medium--a mix of 1/2 spaghum peat moss and 1/2 perlite, a combination recommended by a local garden expert--rather than test the efficacy of the soil, we will study instead the various containers holding that soil.

The standard seed-starting kits with plastic cell packs inside a plastic tray were employed for many of the seeds. We will call this Control Group D . . . no, wait a minute, these are part of group B . . . okay, pardon that interruption; we will call these Control Group BB.

The head of the study intended to avoid using peat containers this year, as previous trial studies observed that the peat containers often did not decompose as rapidly as advertised. Nevertheless, despite warnings to the contrary, she could not resist a tray of peat cells on sale at the local big box store. This group will be labeled CA (Perhaps another study should be conducted next year on impulse buying in the garden centers . . . Nah, I don't think I want to know those results.)

Of most interest this year is a new type of container being utilized. Inspired by studies conducted at Fairegarden, a pot maker was purchased at a very reasonable price from a seed catalog.

Strips of newspaper were carefully measured and cut and then wrapped around this sturdy wooden pestle. Ends were folded in and then pressure applied to the bottom with a quick turn of the instrument, producing a handy little paper pot.

While every attempt is being made to keep this study bias-free as it should be, there is a secret hope that this group will show superior results. The newspaper pots are larger than the cell packs, meaning these seedlings may not need re-potting later, and the newspaper should decompose more quickly than the peat pots. Besides, the materials are free . . . Should these provide the desired results, they may be the primary container used in next year's planting.

This group will be labeled BA . . . um, AC . . . or AC/DC ??

Excuse me a moment while I re-examine my notes . . . Talk amongst yourselves for a few minutes or perhaps turn your attention to some of the latest outside lab results . . .

Roadside daffodils

Pink Darwin tulips emerging earlier than last year

"Color Magic"--new varieties are opening up each day

The Redbuds are beginning to bloom as well.

I do apologize for the confusion . . . the appropriate name for the newspaper pot group is Control Group DA, although there is a subgroup to be discussed later.

At this point you may be wondering what actual seeds have been planted in all of these trials. Quite a variety of seeds were planted actually, some of them purchased from different seed companies, including this special award-winning zinnia new for this year, and some from fellow gardener bloggers participating in Monica's seed swap. Although each grouping was carefully labelled, some adjustments will obviously need to be made in next year's labeling.

Note to study participants: poster board labels, though economical, are not a good idea.

3. Air: The final element studied in this project is not so much the air itself (although one group does have a fan placed near it for air circulation) as the temperature of that air. Being short of funds, the study was able to purchase only one heat mat after the initial plantings were made.

Tomato seedlings were the first to receive the benefit of the heat mat and germinated very quickly. According to several sources, the heat mat is needed for only a short amount of time, so that it can be used for several different plantings. At the moment one flat is sitting on top of the refrigerator (again, a suggested idea from a source as a warm place; unfortunately my refrigerator is an energy-efficient model and doesn't seem to be putting out any warmth) waiting for its turn on top of the heat mat.

The tomato seedlings having the benefit of the heat mat--E + utility light--A + newspaper pots--D makes this . . . Control Group EAD. The refrigerator group will be called . . . Control Group FLOP . . . no, that can't be right . . .

I am truly sorry, but apparently the study coordinator has spent too much time attending Master Gardener classes and comtemplating her Chi to properly record and assemble all pertinent data. Please disregard all data groups here; we will re-examine the study as well as the coordinator's credentials. If and when this study can be salvaged with valid data, we will provide you with the results. Again, please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused by the mismanagement of this experiment.

Need I explain why I was an English major and not a science major?:)