30 April 2012

poet's narcissus for betty

Narcissus poeticus is a very old daffodil associated with the Greek legend of Narcissus. I think it's one of the prettiest: clean, white petals and small yellow corona ringed with intense red. We have some variants that have the same white petals and corona, but are ringed with orange or salmon.

Normally, they're among the last daffodils to bloom, usually late in May, but all bets are off this year, because they're blooming now. They're also very fragrant, and Wikipedia says that the essential oil derived from it is one of the most popular fragrances used in perfume. I did not know that!

Have you ever noticed that the later daffodils are the ones that smell the best? I wonder if that's because when they bloom they have to compete with a lot of other flowers, whereas the earlier ones more or less have the place to themselves.

Narcissus poeticus, though the red ring on the corona is not as intense as some I've seen.
(Photo by Jean-Jacques Milan, via Wikimedia Commons.)

29 April 2012

it had to happen: second and third plant orders

After a glorious day of digging and raking and dragging and thinking, I went online last night and spent the rest of my birthday money on a few more little items for the garden:


Much as I love Old House Gardens, I took the advice of Kris from Blithewold in Rhode Island and checked out Swan Island Dahlias in Canby, Oregon. Amazing number of dahlia tubers available, but I was most interested in finding one that B noticed at Blithewold last summer: 'Willie Willie.' I know, I know.

But anyway.

I got my hands on that one (oh, stop), and then found a few others that looked equally as lovely: 'Crazy Legs' and 'Star Child.' Then, because we must never forget our origins, I ordered Dahlia sorensenii, one of the very first dahlias taken from Mexico to England to hybridize, according to the Swan Island Dahlias website. It's a very clear, light purple.

And who wants more hostas? I do! I do!

So then I trundled over to the New Hampshire Hostas website where I dropped a few selections into my shopping cart, including 'Empress Wu,' because I am not feeling very hopeful about the two plants Pam scored for me last fall (a possible casualty of the snowless winter?), and another 'June' and 'Spilt Milk,' and then, despite the really horrible name, what is supposed to be a very fragrant variety, 'Fried Green Tomatoes.'

I am lousy with dahlias and hostas. And that's an enviable position to be in.

soil temperature

Even with the all-over-the-map temperatures we've had this spring, and the early appearance of the daffodils, and the possibility that the ground didn't freeze as deeply as it normally does (I planted daffodils the second day of January, for crying out loud!), it is still early spring here on the hill. As I weeded yesterday, I realized how cold the ground is (conversely, the ground stayed warm pretty late into the fall last year).

Other than the daffodils and the ramps in the woods and the grass (Scott mowed for the first time of the season on Thursday) and, of course, the Euphorbia polychroma in the header above, the garden is taking its time waking up. Good thing, too, because we've had frost the past two nights (27.7 degrees on Friday night, 29.8 degrees last night). The baptisia is about six inches tall, the noses of the hostas are three inches out of the ground, and there are some other early risers (helianthus, nepeta, geranium), but most seem to be holding back. They know when the time is right.

28 April 2012

actually accomplished on saturday

As of 10:15 am
  • Weeded dahlia bed
  • Weeded new bed by barn
  • Dug and replanted some autumn crocus (more to replant this afternoon)
10:20 am: Off to town to pick up mail and visit hardware store to buy digging fork, replacement blade for cutters, oil for lawnmower

By 7:00 pm
  • Dug, divided and moved one clump of daffodils that were too close to an aruncus (it's a start, after all!)
  • Dug, divided, and replanted  'Blue Angel' hosta, numerous astilbes, and ostrich ferns; raked out and weeded astilbe bed
  • Cut down old grass in perennial bed; used new digging fork to dig up dandelions, too
  • Cut back Rosa rugosa on slope and piled branches as neatly as I could for Ted to take away
  • Replanted rest of autumn crocus
  • Began weeding between boxes in vegetable garden
What a glorious day and what a nice sleep I'll have tonight!

27 April 2012

on the docket for saturday

  • Dig, divide, and move five clumps of daffodils (it's a start!)
  • Wager with Betty: 10 of my poeticus for 10 of her 'Van Sion'
  • Dig and divide hostas and astilbes (and move to where pachysandra will be removed?)
  • Cut down old grass in perennial bed; top off mulch
  • Drag brush for Ted to cart away

back into the 20s?

Craziest spring, but I believe I say that every year.

Smelled wood smoke in the air this evening, and that reminded me of a friend who greeted me with a question last week: "So, have the leaves at your place changed yet?" which made both of us chuckle.

Our daffodils have looked tired from the moment they emerged—early—this year. I wonder whether all the up-and-down temperatures contributed to their lassitude. The past couple weeks have been much cooler, though, and we had some rain last weekend, so the later poeticus look lovely. B took a bunch into the office.

All we can do is hang on. No doubt that by June, as Hal Borland says, things will pretty well even out. From the perspective of the summer of 1967 he wrote (after a late, cold, wet spring), "The earth kept spinning, the seasons did follow their eternal sequence, and the urge to sprout and grow didn't even falter."

Still, I worry about the lilacs, which are close to blooming and have a very good chance of being clobbered by temperatures in the 20s tonight. Oh, well.

07 April 2012

garlic up and growing

You can see that in the header image. Didn't get around to ordering garlic from a garlic grower last fall, so I decided to get my garlic from the grocery store. It's not organic, it's nothing special, but it's up!

Seriously, I don't know much about growing garlic, but I do know that any head I buy at the store begins greening up and sprouting before I've used it all up, so I figured I'd give garlic with a Price Chopper provenance a shot in the garden. The worst that can happen? We don't get any garlic. Shoot, we can handle that.

Look how pretty, all snug in its box.

great day in the garden . . .

. . . or shall I say in the margins of the garden, because that's where I spent my time, dragging fallen branches into a pile that Ted, our resident brush hauler, takes away whenever I call him. That's luxury: I gather the debris, and he makes it disappear.

He also dispatched a pesky pile of compost that someone (not us!) dumped next to the cow barn way before our time, right at the foot of an old broken-down fence. Ted took the fence down (I saved the posts, which must be over a hundred years old and are made of white oak, we think), used a pickaxe to clear the weeds from the heap , and then spread the pile around and leveled it. Beautiful. A backbreaking chore, and one he accomplished in about two hours. My hero, because I've been meaning to get to this for the past few years, but always never quite do.

B and I are now considering what to do with this sweet new garden. Do we want Ted to erect a new fence that we could plant golden raspberries on? Do we want another dahlia bed? Hmmmm . . .

After Ted left, with a promise to come back soon and cart away another few piles of brush, B and I mowed around the young spruce trees on the hill behind the garage, dug out some Rosa multiflora and wild raspberries, did a little raking and a little more dragging, and then pretty much crawled back inside. We will hurt tomorrow.

Still lots to be done, but looking better.


I love them, and every time I say the genus name out loud I feel like Katharine Hepburn: "The hellebores are in bloom again . . ."

But, gosh, what a pretty flower. And all the more so because I have to crawl around on my hands and knees and search them out. They nod and hide among the leaves. And because I planted mine among some pachysandra, which has somewhat similar-looking leaves, I really have to crawl around to locate the plants as well as the flowers. 

A few weeks ago on "Gardeners' Question Time," one of the panelists visited Ashwood Nurseries in Staffordshire and talked with Phillip Baulk, who breeds hellebores. He was awfully proud of some new varieties that have upward-facing blossoms, and he asked Pippa Greenwood what she thought of them. She giggled, hesitated, and then told him that she thought they were horrible. She likes her hellebore blossoms facing downward, because she likes to have to look for them, same as me. Even though the upward-facing variety in question shown on the Gardeners' Question Time website is nice looking, the blossoms have a sort of a brazenness to their gaze. They're a little too direct. 


If you feel the need to contemplate a bloom from a sitting or standing position (rather than lying on your back among the pachysandra), you can do what I do: pinch one off and float it in an eggcup. 

new box for vegetable garden

The 4'x4' boxes we knocked together for the vegetable garden seven years ago (SEVEN YEARS!) are on their last legs, sad to say. We probably should have replaced them last year, but, eh, you know, time passes so quickly and where did the spring go and where did the summer go and all that. Now they are in rough shape.

When we made the first boxes in 2005, we used 2x6 boards cut into 4-foot lengths, as per Mel Bartholemew's Square Foot Gardening instructions. But when Betty put her garden together a few years ago, she used 2x10s, and they look wonderful. So now we are using 2x10s, too. Lovely lovely lovely.

Top row, left to right: Thank you for seven years of service, old box! New box assembled and ready to go (please note artfully arranged watering can and late-afternoon shadows on new box's pristine sides). B making way for the new box.  Bottom row, left to right: B placing the new box. B posing with the newly placed new box. Old box remnants on their way to the compost heap.

Because B wanted to get the potatoes planted on Good Friday (that's when his grandmother planted hers in Kentucky) AND under a full moon (a full moon, right? the best time to plant, right?), we stopped at the Agway yesterday afternoon and had the boards for the potato box cut for us.
Full moon shining over Pleasant Hill, Good Friday 2012.

I screwed the box together on the patio, B and I trundled the new box over to the garden in our cart, and B set it in place. And then last night we planted our potatoes (half a box of 'Katahdin' and half 'Red Norland') in the light of the full (and silvery) moon.

Only five more boxes to go!

04 April 2012

more plants, please!

An order with Select Seeds. I've been looking for 'Will's Wonderful' for a few years at least, and 'Hillside Sheffield Pink' looks as if it will be happy near 'Mary Stoker,' if, indeed, 'Mary' made it through the winter.

Seeds, seeds. Nothing too difficult here, but all old varieties (or old-looking), which is satisfying for an old guy in an old house.

  • Amaranth caudatus 'Coral Fountain'
  • Scabiosa atropurpurea 'Black Knight' (ca. 1760)
  • Mirabilis longiflora 'Fairy Trumpets' (ca. 1806)
  • Cosmos sulphureus 'Cosmic Red'
  • Tagetes tenuifolia 'Signet Lemon Gem' (1798)
  • Zinnia tenuiflora 'Red Spider' (ca. 1801)
  • Rhodochiton atrosanguineum (purple bell vine) (1833)
  • Chrysanthemum rubellum 'Will's Wonderful'
  • Chrysanthemum rubellum 'Hillside Sheffield Pink'
  • Geranium 'Fair Ellen'
Click on the photo to see a larger version. All photos snipped from Select Seeds website. Top row, left to right: Amaranth  'Coral Fountain'' Geranium 'Fair Ellen'; Mirabilis 'Fairy Trumpets';  Cosmos 'Cosmic Red'; Scabiosa 'Black Knight' Bottom row, left to right: Zinnia 'Red Spider'; Tagetes 'Signet Lemon Gem'; Rhodochiton (purple bell vine); Chrysanthemum 'Will's Wonderful'; Chrysanthemum 'Hillside Sheffield Pink'