Monday, April 20, 2020

The warmth returns

This magnolia has a wonderful scent

Hi Everyone -- I hope you have been enjoying warm days in your gardens so far this spring. It was quite nice here until this past week. We had enjoyed temperatures as warm as 80°F in previous weeks, but this past week has been terribly cold, with frost nearly every evening until now, blustery cold days of high winds, and even snow.

Easter morning was beautifully warm and sunny, and our teenage children enjoyed hunting for Easter eggs that they dyed and my husband hid in our yard -- something they have been "too old" to do for many years now, but which during our stay-at-home time seemed like a good activity, in between watching the local church service online and eating Easter dinner together. Familiar things bring comfort.

There's a hidden Easter egg peeking out behind these tulips on Easter morning.

I had been bringing plants outside to my front porch for the past several weeks to harden off and get better light during the many sunny days we had in prior weeks.

My potted exotic fruit trees (olive, pomegranate and fig) that had spent the winter
in the basement were outside acclimating themselves to the outdoors again, as were the
snapdragons, sweet peas and ranunculus plants I started inside, together with the
store-bought snapdragons and pansies at left. (I have to cover the seed flat with
chicken wire to prevent cats and dogs from regarding the tray as a soft bed and
totally smashing the seedlings, in case you were wondering...).

Needless to say, this past week my husband and I have needed to haul all these big pots and trays inside every evening before frost settles in, and I've put them all back out the following day. This has been rather a lot of work.

And then we even got 3+ inches of snow -- twice! This is pretty unusual for this late in April for us.

The white stuff, just when you're thinking it's done for the year.

But the warmth has returned again and it doesn't look like the lows should be much below 40°F during the next ten nights, with highs in the 50s and 60s.

So yesterday I worked outside for the first time in a whole week: I was able to cut back, rake out and weed the herb garden, which is shown in the snowy picture above.

The Herb Garden last month.

And yesterday after tidying it up -- it was a beautiful time to take a little break on the bench at back. It made me wonder why I don't sit there more often (a common thought among gardeners, I believe).

More bulbs are blooming:

Grape hyacinths and basket-of-gold (Aurinia saxatilis) in my front border.

The bulbs always look so beautiful in spring, although I didn't plant very many last year and I can see that I will need to add more this fall. It seems like I always make this note to myself in April, but my intentions often fade by October.

I hope you are able to enjoy sunny, warmer days as spring unfolds in your gardens this year, and that you and your families are well as we slowly return to normal over the next months.

Thanks for reading! -Beth

Sunday, April 5, 2020

April Sunshine

Look at that golden foliage gleaming in the sunshine!

Greetings! Finally... some wonderfully warm, sunny days to enjoy outside. :-) It makes everything seem happier. I've been able to do a few things outside during the past week, and some days I've just been able to sit outside in the sunshine and soak it in. In these days of stressful news and economic shutdown, this makes everything seem... much better.

I realize that while sunshine makes people feel good, it results in photographs that aren't so good -- but that's what we have, so I apologize if the pictures in this post are a bit glare-y.

First, a few things I've gotten done:

BEFORE: My Rainbow Border a month ago still needed to be cut back and raked out.

AFTER: Cut back and raked out (with the massive amount of brush hauled off by wheelbarrow by my teenage son, who's really becoming useful around here...), the border is ready to soak up the sunshine. I still need to dig out some winter weeds, but clearing out the brush will hasten the emerging perennials, now that we've had some sunny days to warm the soil.

BEFORE: My East Patio garden area a month ago

AFTER: The same area after I dug out and moved several shrubs. A mock orange, a reblooming lilac (next to the two back posts in the previous photo) and a peony were no longer blooming much because the new pergola blocks too much of the sun for them. I have plans to make a tropical garden around this area, with tropical annuals and potted houseplants that I'll put here in May, so I needed to make room for the new plants. The shrubs have been moved to sunnier areas, where they'll be happier.

Greenhouse Woes:

And I have some sadly disappointing news: I finally decided that the greenhouse I got several years ago was just too utterly useless to go on as the eyesore it was. I had such high hopes for it when I ordered it and put it together back in 2017:

Here it was in all its hope-filled glory back in summer 2017.
I was so looking forward to using it the next spring.

Here it was only two months later, after a few windy days, with nearly every polycarbon panel blown out. The whole blasted thing probably would have blown away if I hadn't gotten our handyman to make a sturdy wooden base attached to our garage. And that wasn't even an unusually windy day. This happened repeatedly. I got seriously tired of looking for panels in the fields around our house. Grrr.
In the intervening two years, I tried everything to keep the panels in: extra clips (utterly useless); running packing tape around all sides; wrapping the whole thing in clear plastic and taping it in multiple places; riveting wood strips to the metal frame supports to physically hold the panels in place (which did work to some extent). But the panels themselves turned yellow in our intense sunshine, particularly on the ceiling, the sunniest exposure, and some of them broke in pieces last year. 

My husband and son finally undertook the sad work of putting it out of our misery.



I guess I didn't actually need a greenhouse, like most American gardeners don't need them -- they're quite rare here, even among serious gardeners. I was swayed into thinking I needed one by the British gardening culture, which makes extensive use of them to start seeds and grow things like tomatoes, which which England doesn't have enough sun and heat to grow outside.

But our climate makes them both utterly impractical (way too cold to heat in winter, way too hot to use in summer), and largely unnecessary (we can grow tomatoes outside here). As far as seed starting, a light fixture inside an already-heated house is far more practical and much cheaper too.

This florescent light fixture (on a timer) and heat mat in my sunroom work so much better to start seeds!

I suppose if I had masses of obscure seeds to start every year, I would need more than this, but many of the annuals I plant each year are those I just buy as starts at local greenhouses, which do a much better job of growing them on than I'd be able to. For unusual plants, I can start those myself here.

But it's still a disappointment that my greenhouse effort was such a dismal failure. Sigh....

But on a happier note, here's a few pictures of bulbs blooming in sunshine:

It sure is good to see these little guys about this time!

These hyacinths smell so good with the sunshine warming them, perfuming the whole area.
These white hyacinths in my Paradise Garden gleamed almost intolerably brightly in the sun, and were covered by bees.
These squill are always such a welcome sight.
This pussy willow (Salix) next to our LP tank is absolutely covered with bees in the sunshine -- it sounded like the inside of a hive when I walked past it this afternoon. Busy, busy....

Anyway, I hope you have been able to enjoy some sunny days in your own gardens this spring. It's more important than ever that we're able to get outside and enjoy our gardens in these stay-at-home times. I realize that I'm very lucky to be able to live out in the country amid such beautiful scenes -- and no problem social distancing here!

Hope you and your families are well, and that everything is soon back to normal, in whatever way we each need "normal" to be. Thanks for reading! -Beth