Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spring Foliage Combos at Olbrich

Mixed border at Olbrich in late April including barberries, roses, lamb's ears, daylilies, ajuga
Olbrich Botanical Gardens is a wonderful resource for gardeners. I hadn't been there for several years, and discovered on a recent trip that they've expanded and made quite a few improvements! On this trip I focused on seeking out pleasing spring foliage combinations. They definitely have a thing for colored foliage at Olbrich. Here were a few of my favorites:

Barberry 'Crimson Pygmy', Stachys byzantina (lamb's ears), Alchemilla mollis (lady's mantle)
I love the foliage, habit, and color variety of barberries. Purple-colored varieties like this 'Crimson Pygmy' look great with lamb's ears at their feet. There is contrast in color, leaf shape, and texture. I liked the addition of lady's mantle in this little scene - the mid-green helps bridge the sharp contrast between purple and silver, and adds yet another leaf shape.

Epimedium with Thuja occidentalis 'Hetz Midget'
This was one of my favorite combos of the day: the heart-shaped leaves of epimedium contrast with the filigree foliage of the Thuja. Both greens have an olive-chartreuse cast at this time of year.

Heuchera 'Brownie', Hosta 'Amber Tiara', Hakonechloa 'All Gold', Helleborus orientalis, Leucojum
There is so much that I love about this scene - the contrasting leaf shapes of heuchera and hakonechloa, the glowing gold against green, with a ribbon of reddish brown strung through the middle, how the the hellebore flowers highlight the purplish tones in the heuchera. I even like the wispy note added by leucojum here - a plant that's normally too "messy" looking for my taste.

Hosta 'Sun Power' with Boxwood
I found this combo of large lime-green hosta leaves and small darker green boxwood very pleasing. The hosta picks up on the color of the new growth on the boxwood.

Carex flacca and White Birch
These white birch trunks emerging from a sea of Carex flacca made a simple but wonderful woodland scene.

Dryopteris, Mertensia virginica, Podophyllum
Another woodland planting contained a jumble of ferns, Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica), and May-apple (Podophyllum). There is also some Canadian Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) in the foreground. I think it's the large-textured podophyllum foliage that keeps this combo from looking scruffy or busy.

Tree peony, Iris cristata, Japanese maple
The spiky, simple shape of Iris cristata looks great under the large, intricate tree peony leaves. (I love tree peony foliage - although some people apparently find it dull.) The Japanese maple overhead adds height and color contrast. I think this combo would look nice even when nothing is in flower.

Corydalis, Astilbe, Ligularia
I kept seeing this golden-leaved astilbe planted here and there about the place and doing a double-take - What IS that thing? OH right - a yellow astilbe! One can certainly go overboard with the yellow, but here it makes a not-too-nauseating spot of shininess among shades of green.

Petasites japonicus 'Giganteus' and golden Juniper
Petasites was a new plant for me, and it certainly made a good first impression with its large-textured leaves and funky-looking purplish spiky flowers! It was growing near a rocky stream, so may be a moisture lover. The golden juniper makes a fine companion.

I found lots of good ideas for foliage companions in my own garden - definitely a rewarding trip!

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lilacs at the Arboretum

It's lilac time here in Wisconsin, so of course... off to the Arboretum I go!

Lilacs blooming at the Arboretum

The UW-Madison Arboretum has an awesome collection of hundreds of lilacs in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The mid-season lilacs would normally bloom here in May, but in this odd year of 2012 are at their peak in April. Here were some of my favorites - these are all cultivars of syringa vulgaris (aka common lilac or French lilac).

Syringa vulgaris (common lilac) 'Henri Martin'
My favorite color of lilacs is... well - lilac! 'Henri Martin' has big beautiful double flowers in a rich shade of that classic lilac color. I gave each lilac a sniff as I strolled through the gardens, and I noticed that not all lilacs have the same fragrance. Some have a flat, almost unpleasant scent, and some have no detectable fragrance at all. 'Henri Martin' had the sweetest, most powerful fragrance of all I encountered - my nose wanted to live in this flower!

Syringa vulgaris (common lilac) 'Paul Deschanel'
I also really love the dark purple cultivars. I saw quite a few standouts - 'Declaration', 'Prince Wolkonsky', 'Yankee Doodle'. 'Paul Deschanel' had gorgeous mulberry colored buds and was perhaps my favorite in this color class.

Syringa vulgaris (common lilac) 'Marie Frances'
There are not many pink lilacs. Some that are called "pink" are really more of a pink-ish violet color. 'Marie Frances' had true pink flowers of an otherworldly delicate beauty.

Syringa vulgaris (common lilac) 'Mount Baker'
White lilacs can be very elegant. 'Mount Baker' and 'Edith Cavell' were my favorite whites, but 'Mount Baker' had a much more powerful fragrance. The bush was absolutely covered with exuberant blooms.

Syringa vulgaris (common lilac) 'Primrose'
There are no truly yellow lilacs, but 'Primrose' is a soft cream color with yellowish buds. It's a nice soft color for a spot where pure white might be too harsh or glaring. It sets off other more traditionally colored lilacs nicely.

Syringa vulgaris (common lilac) 'Martha Stewart'
I loved the cool gray-blue shade of this 'Martha Stewart' lilac. This is also an unusual color in lilacs.

Syringa vulgaris (common lilac) 'Emile Lemoine'
'Emile Lemoine' is a gorgeous lilac - full soft double flowers of a pearly pinkish lavender. It just looks so French, doesn't it?

There were dozens more beauties, and I probably only managed to see 1/3 of the vast collection... I returned home to my own lilac, looking so ordinary and unexotic there all by himself in the corner of my yard... But even the basic syringa vulgaris var. purpurea puts on a great show, and it actually has a more powerful scent than most cultivars!

My own lilac - basic syringa vulgaris var. purpurea

Sunday, April 15, 2012

What's Blooming Today

Here is what is blooming in my Wisconsin garden on April 15, 2012.

Mid-spring BULBS, including tulips, midseason daffodils, and hyacinths.

Tulip 'Abba'
Yellow and Red NOID tulips (possibly Darwins?)
Narcissus 'Thalia' with male fern
Hyacinth 'Blue Jacket'
Also some flowering TREES: Canadian redbud and lilac (I know this last is technically a shrub, but mine is shaped like a tree, so I'm going to call it one!)
Cercis canadensis (Candian redbud)

Syringa vulgaris (Common lilac)
Not many PERENNIALS putting on much of a show just yet. Some phlox, dianthus, nepeta, and bergenia barely starting to open. But this lamium is already blooming profusely. I love this little guy - blooms all summer, has pretty foliage, and spreads quickly but not annoyingly.
Lamium maculatum 'Orchid Frost'

Carol of May Dreams Gardens hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day the fifteenth of every month. Check it out to see what's blooming around the world today!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Spring Flowering Shrubs

As many bloggers have commented, this spring everything seems to be blooming at once. Shrubs whose bloom periods would normally extend from April through May are all in flower now. Here are some shrubs I've spotted blooming around town:

Fothergilla gardenii
Fothergilla is one of my favorite flowering shrubs. In this shot, taken a couple weeks ago, the honey-scneted flowers are just beginning to open:
Fothergilla gardenii - emerging flowers

And here it is now in full white fuzzy glory. You can see the leaves are coming on as well.
Fothergilla gardenii
 Fothergilla gardenii stays fairly small. I planted the larger type, fothergilla major, in my garden last spring. It grew well and had absolutely brilliant orange fall color, but unfortunately got eaten to the ground by rodents over the winter. The stub hasn't shown any signs of regrowth yet, so I'll have to replant. That's OK, I'll try again and protect it better this time - I must have this plant!

Rhododendron 'PJM'
Rhododendron 'PJM'
The 'PJM' series of rhododendrons were in full bloom last week, and are starting to fade already now. These are evergreen rhodos with small, narrow leaves. Personally, I find the color a bit lurid, but a plant of this in full bloom will certainly grab your attention in early spring. Not many rhodos do well in my part of the country (with heavy clay soil, alkaline ph, and very cold winters), so you've got to give this guy credit for being such a trooper. The leaves of the 'PJM' series turn an attractive burgundy color in winter as well, unlike the truly evergreen large-leaved Finnish series of rhodos - the other group that can handle our conditions. The Finns bloom quite a bit later. If I can find a 'PJM' type whose color doesn't make me cringe (perhaps 'Olga Mezzitt'?), I'd like to add one of these to my garden, perhaps under the amelanchier.

Viburnum carlesii (Koreanspice viburnum)
Viburnum carlesii
The viburnums began to display their pink buds a couple weeks ago and are in their full glory now. The streets are filled with their heavy, spicy perfume. I just love them. Ordinarily they would bloom here in early May. They have outstanding fall color as well:
Viburnum carlesii fall color
I hope to plant one of these in my yard in the future, once my daughter gets too old for the gigantic swingset which currently occupies this spot.

Tree peonies - NOT!

One interesting thing I noticed: all sorts of things that normally bloom in May are blooming 4-6 weeks early this year - Canadian redbud, crabapples, viburnum, fothergilla, lilac... Normally, these would overlap in bloom with the tree peonies. However, the tree peonies, while they have put on an appropriate amount of growth for the time of year and are covered in buds, show no signs of budging an inch in terms of bloom time.
Tree peonies to world: "We will not be rushed!"
There is a legend about a Chinese empress who ordered the royal horticulturalists to use their gardenly arts to force a variety of flowers to bloom in winter for her. All the flowers obliged the empress's order, except the tree peony. Stubborn fellows! Hopefully no horticulturalists lost their heads over this affair, because it was obviously not the humans' fault.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Seed Starting

I start many vegetable and flower plants from seed indoors. Indoor seed starting is easy to do, saves money over buying transplants, and it also allows me to start "gardening" in late winter, when I can't wait to start playing with dirt again! The picture below shows one of my flats with coleus, amaranth, cutting celery, convulvus tricolor, Thai and Genovese basil, tomatoes, and parsley from this spring.
Seedlings growing in Jiffy-7's and fiber pots

There are many different types of containers and growing media that can be used for seed starting. Debates over which method is best can get heated, but in my experience as long as you have enough light, water, and the correct temperature, plants will grow quite happily in pretty much any container and growing medium. I personally like to use Jiffy-7's to start my seeds, because I find that they save me time. Jiffy-7's are small discs of compressed peat, encased in a small mesh bag. You soak the peat discs in warm water for about 30 minutes, and they expand into small cylinders. I like these little guys because:
  1. It's difficult to mess up the watering with peat. Peat is a very absorbent material that will hold a lot of water, while also allowing plenty of oxygen between the fibers. Despite the fact that the peat cylinders are tiny, you can water only once a week or so. The containers will not dry up suddenly without warning, and there is also little chance of the roots drowning due to overwatering.
  2. The plants' roots grow right through the mesh bags. If you use a container with hard, impermeable sides (like plastic), when the roots reach the edge of the container they will begin to circle, which is not good (they will continue growing along this circular trajectory even when freed from their container). You can prevent this by being super-vigilant and transplanting to a larger container before it happens (totally unrealistic for me!), or by scoring the roots after you take them out (can get to be a lot of work). With a root-permeable container this is not an issue. The roots of the plants all grow into each other, and some roots will inevitably be torn when you remove one from the flat. This is perfectly fine - a bit of root pruning encourages new growth.
  3. No need to fill with potting soil. Just plant right into the cylinders. Eliminating the soil filling step saves an amazing amount of time when you're planting a lot of containers.
  4. Transplanting is quick and easy. Just pop the entire container right into the garden soil. Planting out a large flat goes very quickly when you don't have to remove each plant from its individual container.
Marigold seedling with roots growing through container
You can also achieve great results by planting in large open flats with no divisions, or using homemade newspaper pots or individual peat pots filled with potting soil. But these options will mean a bit more work.

Vegetable and most annual flower seedlings need at least 11 hours of bright, direct sunlight a day. It is impossible to get the necessary amount of light with even a bright south-facing window. Without supplemental lighting your seedlings will be leggy and weak. I have a simple setup with LED grow lights and metal grid shelving. Fluorescent grow lights can also be used. Fluorescents are cheaper to buy initially, but use more energy and are thus more expensive to run than LEDs. (I'm not sure which one ends up being cheaper in the long run, but both work.) Fluorescents get very hot, so must be kept further from the plants than LEDs. The LEDs emit a weird-looking purple glow (my neighbors must think I'm doing some kind of mad scientist), but the plants seem to like them. You want to position your plants so they will receive as much natural light as possible, in addition to your artificial lighting. I have mine in my sunniest window, and also keep the lights on for 11 hours per day.
Seedling flats growing under LED lights


Once the roots start growing out through the sides of the containers, it's time to either transplant out into the garden or into a larger pot. I use fiber pots which are also root permeable for this (see first picture above right), filled with any kind of potting mix amended with organic fertilizer. Before your plants go into the garden, they need to be hardened off so they get accustomed to the bright light and buffeting winds of the outside world. I harden off opportunistically - as soon as the seeds have germinated, any sunny afternoon above 50 F they spend a few hours on my deck. I always bring them in at night. Because they've spent so much time outdoors from a young age, my seedlings don't really need a strict "hardening off" schedule before going out.
Seedlings transplanted into garden - early April
I transplant tomato and pepper seedlings out early using Kozy Coats (the red thingies), but broccoli, lettuce, snapdragons, and parsley can go out unprotected rather early. For basil, marigolds, zinnias, cucumber, and squash wait until the danger of frost has passed. Peas, spinach, radish, carrots, beets, and beans are better direct seeded.

Lettuce 'Deer Tongue'
Before you know it, you'll be harvesting yummy veggies and enjoying an early flower display!

Marigold 'Favorite Red' with Basil

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Spring Flower/Foliage Combinations

Here are a few combinations of spring flowers and emerging perennial foliage that I'm enjoying in my garden on this early April day. My favorite at the moment are these yellow tulips with golden Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny), which both harmonize with the yellow-green new growth of nearby Picea abies (Dwarf Alberta Spruce). (Some yellow dandelions are joining in the fun as well - I never see weeds until I take a picture!)

Yellow tulips, lysimachia, picea
I also like the lavender flowers of this spotted lamium with the burgundy emerging foliage of astilbe:
Lamium 'Orchid Frost' with Astilbe 'Visions in Red'
The blue color of the hyacinth flowers makes a nice contrast with the creamy markings on Heuchera 'Snow Angel'. (The rabbits are eating the heuchera, unfortunately... but I still like this combo.)
Hyacinth 'Blue Jacket' with Heuchera 'Snow Angel'

Finally, I like how the bright red of these double tulips looks with the burgundy new growth on the tree peony in the background:
Tulip 'Abba' with tree peony

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