oh, good, it’s that restless, joyless, “are-we-there-yet”, must-do-all-the-things time of winter.
the days are just starting to be long enough to notice, and we haven’t had any snow, and the ground isn’t even FROZEN, only there is a blizzard forecast for tuesday, so there is that.
i’m trying to focus my energy by making a smart and short shopping list about what i am allowing myself to buy this year. i did splurge on some azalea and a new magnolia and a new crabapple for my birthday, and i stocked up on some specific ground covers from my favorite mail-order nursery sale. also, it’s time to start thinking about seed starting. i want to try again this year to start my own bedding plants (cosmos, zinnias, nasturtiums, calendula) and i will probably do a few vegetables in the hopes my (new!!) vegetable garden.
i just need to figure out a strategy for the greenhouse, which is unheated and currently unheat-able.
(assuming we are not buried under a mountain of snow for another month, which is totally looking like a possibility)
also, do i want to try more dahlia tubers this year? i think yes!
in a way it was kind of funny because she would, unequivocally, hate my garden. it is very high-maintenance and full of flowers and bees (she was allergic) and things that deer like to eat, so it is basically a 24-hour all-you-can-eat buffet that never stops needing things from me – these are all things my mom, an experienced gardener herself, hated. but i do know that she would be quite impressed at the things i have learned and the things that i have been doing (or trying to do), and we even sat a few times, back in the day, and made sketches together of things i might do. (though i never did tell her about the orchard)
anyway, the dream. it was a wake-up call, really, a siren song from the new season when all i wanted to do was STAY UNDER THE BLANKETS, PLEASE. just five more minutes, mom!
even pulling out my design notebook, buried under so much crap in a closet that it took me a week to find it, felt hard and tiring. i find myself consumed with thoughts of all the things that might have died off this winter (even though it has been, on average, 20* warmer than usual) and how stupid and wasteful it will feel when i can finally take an inventory in another 6 weeks. i look at the pots of things i tried to overwinter outside and feel like a failure.
on the other hand, i look at my winter-sown pots, all lined up and labeled and covered with reemay, and my fractional shopping list, and i feel like that is progress, that i am doing something right.
i think this year needs to be about cleanup and maintenance and structure. it is time to spend money on things that the garden needs: fences and walls and pathways. mulch, mulch, mulch. build beds and edge the ones that already exist. clean up the pond and the stream bed so they are assets and not eyesores!
over a couple of different weekends i have laid out and prepped (with black plastic for solarization) my woodland wildflower garden under a small copse of trees.
this was my first round, using the basic layout from my garden-planning book, and i added to it with some ‘dalmation creme’ foxgloves because why not? i also added, behind the trees as a sort of shrub hedge, several species peonies that are woodland suited. they have the greatest name ever: molly-the-witch. who wouldn’t want a peony named molly-the-witch? most of the time, it is a yellow flower, with occasional variations into the pink spectrum. perfect. i am going to underplant them with violets and geranium samboor.
here’s a better shot of the area, where i added several more combinations. the main one is a grouping of Trillium lutem with a border of heuchera and interplanted with lilies of the valley. i saw this combination in david culp’s the layered garden and i have been obsessed with it. i also plan to add pulmonaria, because i love those as well. they are so interesting too look at and they have awesome foliage.
finally, i bordered the whole shebang with a combination i found on pinterest:
another bit of inspiration from my go-to source, perennial combinations by c. colston burrell. i fell in love with the combination of native woodlanders and more exotic beauties, like daffodils and pulmonarias and hellebores.
i was also struck by this combination (also from the book) and it became my ‘mood board’ photo:
i love foamflowers (tiarella) and developed a weird obsession with primula kisoana after reading about it and discovering that it is hard to find, because of course i did. i did track down some seeds from Plant World Seeds in the UK, and i have winter sowed them (no sprouts yet) and i found them for sale at both my local catskill native nursery and by mail-order from edelweiss perennials.
in one of my (many) plant orders from this spring, i indulged in some special selections just for this combination, including a hybrid of heuchera and tiarella called “heucherella”. this one, ‘cracked ice’, has gorgeous purple-blue foliage that went really well with the color scheme i am going for under my birch trees: yellow, white, blue, and pale pink. to that end, i eschewed a classic bleeding heart and went with a pale white selection called ‘amore rose’. i think it will blend well into a design i am working on behind the birch trees as well.
the big score (and sigh of relief) on this design was the virginia bluebells, which i ordered bare-root earlier in march and which came, like, the one weekend all winter that it was cold. i was convinced that i had not properly potted the roots, but as i dug them out this weekend i saw them emerging just the way they are meant to. i guess mother nature really has it under control – it’s us who mucks it up!
i also filled in and added to the planned combo with some new ideas: crested iris (iris cristata), siberian iris, bloodroot. here’s a kind of weird shot of the area with the plantings laid out for digging in:
on the gray area, really close to the roots of the trees, i plan to put a mixture of ferns (probably christmas fern / Polystichum acrostichoides) and a sedge (probably pennsylvania sedge) and if i can get it, four-leaf milkweed (asclepias quadrifolia). all of these guys can take the dryness that close to the roots.
i have this very troublesome area under a weird patch of trees. it’s sort of open shade, but kind of full shade, and very occasionally gets partial sunlight. it’s moist, i guess. definitely not dry or sandy.
it really is a perfect spot for some woodland wildflowers, but i’d been struggling with the appropriate plant mix for over a year. last year, it was a repository for some cool, half-baked thoughts (purple palace heucheras, primroses, a very rare and awesome epimedium called ‘the giant’) but not a lot of follow-through or execution.
i’d developed, sort of accidentally-on-purpose, a purple and yellow color scheme, and to this i added a ‘molly the witch’ shade-tolerant peony (yellow), and a ‘kiki’s broom’ magnolia (purple). and i got some of my drive from this awesome combo of actea simplex and japanese forest grass:
okay, so here’s the moodboard:
and here’s the cut-and-paste version from my design notebook:
i’m toying with the idea of trying some terrestrial orchids, but i am not going to order any yet. i’d rather wait until my local native nursery opens, and talk to them about potential easy(ish)-to-grow varieties for an orchid novice.
and then, finally, comes the design breakthrough – and i had it all along. this past weekend i was perusing my favorite garden design book and found the inspiration sketch right there on page 353. it’s the ‘woodland wildflower garden’, which not only fits the space perfectly but complements what i have, perhaps with some slight nudging around of already-planted specimens.
1 – originally slated as a white baneberry, i found this cool terrestrial orchid (not a lady’s-slipper) from plant delights and added it to my birthday order. the color fits perfectly and it has a reputation for being easier to grow than its native american counterpart.
2 – bloodroot, as directed, but the blush form, to keep the color scheme more homogenous and pleasing. i splurged on this little guy from lazy s.
3 – subbing out the virginia bluebells – i have a better spot for them – and bringing in this super-cute variegated form of merry bells (Uvularia perfoliata ‘Jingle Bells’, also from plant delights, also part of the birthday bash)
4- celandine poppy, and i’m not going to mess with a classic. been keen to try this one out since i read margaret roach’s raves about it on the a way to garden blog.
5 – i’m going to go with a combo of ferns here, to stay true to the color scheme but also to the intent of the design. so i’m sticking with the christmas fern suggested by the author, but added some color with two painted ferns.
6 – ‘home fires’ creeping phlox (phlox stolonifera), as directed but with a color change.
7 – woodland phlox. i LOVE woodland phlox. it’s so delicate-looking, and the flowers are tiny and star-shaped. what is not to love?
8 – trilliums, definitely part of the birthday splurge. these were a hefty price, but they are seedlings, so that means that i can nudge them toward multiplying and giving me many more of my very own.
9 – hello, gorgeous! a chinese mayapple too interesting to refuse swaps out for the umbrella plant originally intended. i think it is going to be a star.
a wrinkle! prairie moon nursery just emailed to say that some of the plants i ordered (in the interest of having multiple back-ups, i ordered enough plant plugs for some of my top potential combinations in case the winter sowing does not come through) aren’t going to happen. somehow, they had an issue with their entire seed stock of prairie dock this year. how does that even happen?
thinking i’m going to go for compass plant instead. i know i wanted some prairie dock just to play with, mainly inspired by this combo from perennial combinations:
but i did WS an entire flat of that, so maybe my seed stock won’t suffer like theirs did. the actual potential combo will go something like this:
there is this huge wet…meadow, basically, on a quarter of my yard. i’ve sort of divided it into sections, in rings, really, going from the outside in. i’m working on a huge wet meadow design for the largest and most consistently wet area, and i’ve started a kind of hedge of willows that i plan to underplant with sedges (fox sedge), ascelpias incarnata, and perhaps some blazing stars and/or blue flag irises (iris versicolor. i ordered and winter-sowed an ounce of seed from prairie moon). immediately behind this border is a swale that is pretty dry, and the incline behind that is very dry and kind of sandy. i have in mind for that to stabilize the slight incline with sisyrinchium ‘quaint and queer’ which i bought from plant delights nursery in 2015 (alas, they seem to have no more inventory of that this year) as well as some ascelpias humistrata that i both winter sowed in a flat and made seed bombs out of. it’s called ‘pinelands’ milkweed and it seemed appropriate for the soil. behind that will be a large grouping of echinacea ‘pow wow white’. i seed-bombed that last fall and then winter sowed a flat (backups again). behind that, compass plant and big bluestem grass, and next to that a large grouping of ascelpias syriaca – seed bombs again, though i did find a huge stash of it growing wild on route 32 (sawkill road) in kingston, and when the seed pods opened i helped myself shamelessly to them, and winter sowed the seeds. (also growing in this wild stash was monarda didyma, and i snipped several spent stalks into paper bags for their seeds as well)
in the swale itself i am considering a combination of yellowroot and arkansas bluestar. one of the gardeners at catskill native nursery last summer was telling me about a bike trip he took through the ozarks, and how he saw those plants growing wild in shallow ditches.
i have spent much of this week contemplating roses, which is weird because i sort of hate them. maybe i’ve just read too many books that talk about how much work they are, or lost too many david austin grafts to horrendous winter kill (5 or 6 last year alone, i believe), but roses, man, i dunno.
except i keep going after them, keep planning around them, keep ordering them, keep planting them, re-designed an entire bed last year (and re-built half of it) to accommodate them. maybe i feel better equipped? my current rose bible is roses without chemicals by former NYBG rose curator Peter E. Kukielski. and last year, i skipped the tempting david austins (mostly) in favor of own-root samplings from roses unlimited in south carolina.
none of them were (or are, i presume) big enough to bloom yet, but all of them watered in well, showed little or no disease, and, i think thanks to the large pelargoniums i conspicuously planted all over the bed, seemed untempting to japanese beetles, who preferred my knock out rose standard on the other side of the yard. (we’ll see what happens if they bloom this year)
my rose bed is a looooong L-shape that runs against a small rock wall (a retaining ledge against a small slope and a natural stream), forks to the west at a 90-degree angle, and continues along the fence of my vegetable garden.
last year i added a lot of roses, and do not have a completely accurate idea of what ended up where. i was mostly just glad i got everything into the ground and watered in a timely fashion. i know for a fact that at least two roses have to move: the two climbing ‘rosanna’ roses i ordered last year have a greater destiny for themselves by adorning the living willow archway i am putting in against the orchard fence.
so this week i contemplated roses. by this i mean i printed out little flash cards of what my shopping list might be and re-arranged them until i had them paired up and in groups that were pleasing to me. this was the first grouping i decided on:
i imagine this grouping going along the vegetable garden fence, with the moonlight (which is a climber) going up the garden fence.
i was able to order all of these from either palatine roses or roses unlimited, giving me a selection of both own-root and grafted, though, i confess, i do not have the experience yet to grasp the subtleties in the OR-vs-grafted debate. i just know that, given my past rate of winter kill, in general i would prefer a plant that does not stage a coup from below the bud union every year, even if the plants themselves may need a few extra seasons to be at their full strength. that said, i want to try the palatine grafts because they are from ontario – maybe it is silly, but i feel more confident trying grafts that also come from a northern location.
i want also to consider underplanting. i have too much bare mulch in the bed and a large seed bank hiding under there. i am not sure what my ‘matrix’ plant might be yet, but my inspiration is for something wild – large, rambunctious, with plenty of grasses and perennials interspersed to keep everything from feeling too bare or too arranged. some annuals, too – a rainbow of zinnias and nicotianas, to start with.
i’ve done some winter sowing to this effect, a large mix of flowers in a 30-quart underbed box: zinnias, prairie dropseed, yarrows, ‘cherry brandy’ rudbeckias, tinker bell nicotianas and some annual milkweeds. i also planted ‘a big mix of little alliums’ from white flower farm in the fall.