Posts Tagged ‘flowers’

Gardening is Powerful

Gardening is an important part of me. A few days ago in anticipation of the first big snow of the season, I finished cleaning up many of my garden beds, harvested a few of my root crops, and prepared some of my plants for the impending cold weather. As I worked in the bare vegetable garden, with the dry, towering, sunflower stalks watching, I was happy. It wasn’t a giddy, snickering kind of joy, but rather a peaceful calm that made time stand still.

I realized, as I stood on the straw mulch and hairy vetch that was blanketed by expansive butternut squash vines just a few weeks before, that enjoying the crisp air on a sunny autumn day was nirvana. The tomato plants are gone, the strawberries and raspberries won’t offer any more fruit, and the few remaining green beans are wrinkled, dried pods, but the garden is still full with life and, blissfully, so am I.

The chores of maintaining an active, growing garden have morphed into a more somber undertaking. I experienced and enjoyed the new birth of colors, smells, and sounds as the gardens awoke in spring. The adolescence of the vines and stalks climbing to meet the warming sun heartened me with satisfaction and pride. All components of my gardens became dedicated and productive members in our botanical community, displaying their successes to the local insects and birds and animals and me. And now that retirement and cessation slow and halt the observable signs of their verdant existence, my role is to help lay beds to rest for the long, cold slumber ahead. Nature is entering the twilight of the year.

Many aspects of the garden slow in fall. The planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting have passed. The tools that were kept ready at arm’s length are stored away. It may seem to be a place easily abandoned, ignored, and forgotten, but I find comfort in the garden at all times and all seasons.

While the landscape can appear brown and still, I see color and activity. Slender green garlic shoots peek through the straw. White strawberry blossoms shout against dark green leaves refusing to surrender to the changing weather. Miniature violet-blue flowers peer from the protective shoulders of the Veronica growth. Juvenile crookneck squash lie solitary and abandoned amid gleaned garden rows, slowly decaying, but shining in golden splendor through the ordeal. Errant bees and flies continue their explorations and epic flights. Magpies, woodpeckers, jays, and sparrows jump on the beds plucking seeds and unlucky bugs from the cooling soil.

I stand in the garden and feel surrounded by life. Some actual and some invented. I study a corner and don’t see bare soil and dead peppers but rather a vision of the garden in full bloom. My imagination envisions the lush plants of next year and each year beyond that. I reshape the furrows and soil mounds in my mind. I sow adventurous seeds and transplant innovative seedlings. The vibrant hues, avian melodies, and complex fragrances of the garden are as real to me today as they were last month or will be next summer.

Gardening is a state of mind. In every task in every season, gardening connects nature and the world with an individual and his psyche. Breathing air shared by plants, touching soil teeming with life, listening to the languages of insects and birds, gazing at minuscule communities through the eye of a deity. Gardeners are able to experience all of creation at a different pace, in a different manner, than the unlucky majority focused on their daily existence.

Gardening is an important part of me. It soothes and invigorates my soul. It calms and enlivens my being. In absence I see abundance. In abundance I find joy.

How, where, and why I garden is a personal experience; no one else gardens as I do. Yet every gardener is connected by similar emotions, desires, and visions. Some have more passion, some have less, but we all expose ourselves to nature, ready to absorb its bountiful forces.

If you’re a gardener, revel in your gardening. If you’re not a gardener, become one. Enjoy the opportunity it offers, to stand still in emptiness while surrounded by action and abundance. See more of nature, gaze upon what it can be. Be happy.


How to Plant Fall Bulbs

Many of the most popular and most beautiful garden flowers grow from bulbs. Bulbs are grouped in two basic categories, fall bulbs and spring bulbs. The flowers they produce are generally spring flowers and fall flowers, respectively. Deciding when to plant is relatively easy: if it flowers in the spring, plant in fall; if it flowers in fall, plant in spring.

Daffodil and tulips

Crocus and tulips, the first colors of spring, come from fall-planted bulbs. These bulbs need to be exposed to long periods of cold temperatures to grow and flower properly. Planted in fall, they enjoy the winter cold in the frozen ground and burst to life when the warmth of spring raises the soil temperature. While not every spring flower from a bulb needs cold to bloom, it’s still a nice rule of thumb to follow. Plant spring flowers in the fall.

To support the flowers, the bulbs need to establish a root system. Planting in the fall allows the bulbs to develop the strong roots needed for quick spring growth. Plant bulbs when the soil begins to cool after the heat of summer. Roots will grow until the ground freezes so the earlier they’re planted, the more time they have to develop that system. Generally, this means at least six weeks before the first hard freeze. You want the soil to be warm enough to sustain root growth, but the conditions shouldn’t be so warm that foliage growth happens; that’s why we don’t call them “summer bulbs”.

If you delay and have bulbs in storage, having missed the perfect time to plant, it’s best to get them in the ground even late in fall or into winter. With time bulbs will dry out and when they do they lose the energy needed for plant growth. This year’s bulbs need to be planted this year. They may not develop a healthy root system before spring but at least they have a chance for survival.

Very warm regions, like Zones 8 and 9, can grow spring flowers from bulbs, but some of this timing needs to be modified. Most of the spring flowering bulbs, particularly hyacinth, crocus, and tulips, need cold saturation so the bulbs should be stored in the refrigerator for six to eight weeks before planting. The bulbs should be planted in early winter and treated as annuals; bulbs need to be re-planted each year. Either purchase new bulbs or dig up old bulbs and put in cold storage, but they need the cold temperatures to bloom again. Amaryllis, lilies, and daffodils don’t need the cold treatment.

The bulbs you choose should be large, firm, and show no signs of mold, fungus, or decay. Buying from reputable online sources or a local nursery or garden center where you can actually examine the bulb ahead of time is the best idea. Typically you get what you pay for. If you buy bargain bulbs from a discount online or mail nursery, you may get scrawny, dried out, damaged inventory; I know because it’s happened to me. Inexpensive bulbs in garden center bins can be fine, but examine them before you buy.

Tulip bulbs

While buying bulbs from the bulb capital of the world, Holland, seems appealing, be careful. Bulbs in the Netherlands are grown by the millions for export. The hybrids they’ve developed over the centuries are beautiful, but many have been selected for the big bulbs they produce to make importing them more appealing. Often the plants that result may not be best suited to your garden; they may not be able to sustain the energy needed to keep producing the beautiful flowers. It’s not unusual for foreign bulbs to produce plants that only survive one or two years.

Look to bulb producers that develop bulbs in a region similar to the one for your garden. Do a little research and select bulbs that are appropriate for your climate and plant growing zone. Don’t just focus on how pretty the flowers will be. The plant must survive your winter to bloom in spring.

When choosing a location for planting fall bulbs look for a sunny, well-drained area; bulbs don’t like wet feet. Be sure to look into the future. The sun needs to shine on the plants in the spring. Deciduous trees won’t have leaves in the spring and the sun’s position in the sky is different than fall, so areas that might be shaded in fall may be in full sun in spring, and vice versa.

Consider how you want to establish your bulb bed. Remember that fall bulbs bloom in spring and most of the flowers don’t last longer than a few weeks. For the entire summer and into the next fall, the area will be devoid of color as the foliage gradually begins to brown. Many gardeners prefer to intersperse other flowers in the same beds during that time. Whether annuals or perennials, having other plants in a bulb bed helps sustain continued color throughout the growing season.

If you’re developing a new bed it’s best to prepare the entire plot by amending the soil and adding a slow-release fertilizer to a large area all at once. The bulbs can be planted in the fall, grow and bloom in spring, and lay the framework for additional plants. At the appropriate time, other flowering plants can be placed among the bulbs.

If you’re adding bulbs to an established bed with other perennial plants already in place, you’ll need to plant one hole at a time. This is more time consuming, but follows the same basic idea of interspersing plants that flower at different times of the year.

With bulbs in hand, and the weather cooling, begin fall bulb planting. Generally speaking, use a “rule of three”. Plant bulbs about three times as deep as the height of the bulb and space them apart at least three times the width of the bulb. Some large daffodil bulbs may be almost three inches tall and thick (8 centimeters). Yes, they should be planted about eight inches deep (20 centimeters) with eight to nine-inch spacing. Keep this in mind when you buy mass-produced, bargain bulbs. The directions for planting tulips and daffodils were exactly the same for bulbs I bought at a garden center though the bulbs were markedly different in size.

You can use special bulb tools or the ones you have already. I have a bulb planter, a special cylindrical tool than is designed to twist in the soil and pull out a plug, producing a perfectly-shaped hole. If you want to buy one of these, look for one that has inch or centimeter markings so you know how deep you’re digging. I also have a trowel with depth markings. They both were a little more expensive than generic tools, but they come in very useful when I want to measure the hole depth for different bulbs.

My bulb planting tools

In a bed with other plants already in place, I lay out my bulbs ahead of time in the desired pattern on the surface. In a brand new bed you can dig a trench or large hole of the appropriate depth to place the bulbs in. Some gardeners like long, orderly rows of flowers. Others like clumps of flowers. Others like a totally random arrangement where the bulbs are tossed on the ground and planted where they land. I use all three methods and vary them depending on which bed I’m planting. Clumping or planting a lot of bulbs in one area is better than a few, single ones because the concentration of color can provide quite a visual impact.

Bulbs laid out for planting

Using the bulb tool or  a trowel, dig the hole, or prepare a trench. Place the bulb with the pointed end up. The flat end is wider and fatter and should be at the bottom of the hole.  With smaller bulbs it may be difficult to discern which is the base and which is the top; just put it in the hole and the plant will adjust when it grows.

Tulip bulb in the hole

If you weren’t able to amend the soil in the entire planting area, do it one hole at a time. Mix some compost and fertilizer with the soil at the base of the hole. While the bulb has all of the energy needed to produce a plant and flowers in the first year, slow-release fertilizer high in phosphorus (the second number on the box) helps with plant development in poor soil like mine. I use a triple phosphate fertilizer. If the soil has been amended and is rich with organic matter, fertilizer isn’t necessary. Avoid just adding the fertilizer directly to the hole because it can burn the developing roots.

After placing the bulb, cover it with amended soil and tamp down gently. You don’t want to compact the soil, just ensure it is completely covering the bulb. Especially after amending it you’ll have more soil than will fit in the hole with the bulb in it. That’s okay. You can mound it slightly because it will settle in time.

Covering the bulb with soil

That’s all there is to it. Dig a hole, place the bulb, cover with soil. As with most plants, adding mulch to the bed will help moderate soil temperature and avoid frost heave in the winter. Once in the ground, most fall bulbs have a long life ahead of them and you’ll have flowers every spring.

Be as creative as you want when it comes to planting fall bulbs. Generally, low plants are planted in front of high ones, but consider blending and mixing different bulbs in the same bed. When flowers bloom at different times they’ll provide an ever-changing spring portrait. Consider planting different bulbs in the same hole with smaller ones on top of large ones. When they grow and bloom the flowers will be mingled with each other for a distinctive look. Bulbs do well in pots too.

As easy as they are to plant and as beautiful as the flowers are, it’s hard to come up with an excuse for not planting fall bulbs.

Color in the Landscape

I love vegetable gardening and eating the varied delicious results. Harvesting potatoes, tomatoes, beans, spinach, carrots, and the many other crops offers a literal “fruits of my labor” success. My raspberry plants and fruit trees thrill me each time I swallow a warm, ripe berry or savor a juicy plum. Consequently, many of my articles focus on that type of gardening, the growing of edibles. An arena that seems to receive much less literary attention is flower gardening, but it’s no less rewarding to me.

Much of my gardening enjoyment comes from the endeavor. I like getting my hands dirty, caring for plants, and struggling to encourage growth in a challenging gardening environment. Vegetable gardening is a series of daily events with planting, weeding, fertilizing, thinning, pruning, and harvesting on the list of chores. For me, my flower beds require much less residual work. I focus on perennials and once the initial planting and mulching is complete, they pretty much take care of themselves and fade on my activity roster. But when they burst into bloom it fosters the same sentiment as my veggies and fruits.

Many of my summer flowers are finally blooming. My season is much later than most due to the high elevation and I seem to enjoy new flowers as other gardeners are watching their gardens wane. The flower beds were put in and planted last year so this is the first season when they’ve been able to assert their own authority. I’m pleased with the results.

My wife is enchanted by the Kniphofia, the Red Hot Pokers. One long bed is filled with xeric plants and the Kniphofia steal the show. Among the flashy Gaillardia, the stately presence of the rainbow stalks draw immediate attention to their display.

Kniphofia showing some color

I devoted an entire bed to lilies of different varieties. Not all of the bulbs produced plants, a deficiency at the nursery I think, but the ones that survived the winter are setting the stage for a regal production. I’ll add to the bed in the years ahead to create a mass of plants. Based on this year’s display, it will be worth the effort.

Lovely lilies

A small corner of the yard by my stone patio plays host to a desert rock garden. That’s a new type of gardening for me and one I’m expanding slowly. The star of that production is the mass of purple ice plants. They require little care once established and are in continual bloom for a lengthy run. The group creeps ever larger and will engulf the small hill next year, just the way I want it.

Ice plants are among my favorites

Daisies are a perennial favorite and I always have them in my garden. The gorgeous mounds of white star flowers create a grand visual attraction. The plants have grown to a great size that will enable me to divide them to enjoy even more flowers next year.

Almost every garden should have daisies

Even the thyme and sedum I have as groundcover around stepping stones are getting into the act. Their small flowers blast color at foot level. Like walking on a woven carpet, they add a vibrant element to the landscape.

Butterflies enjoy the groundcover

The penstemon flowers are just beginning to peek into view, but the hummingbirds have already discovered the early arrivals. Yesterday I watched a petite hummingbird sitting on the fence line just above the plants, patiently looking down as if to encourage them to come onto the stage.

It took a lot of work by me and many friends to break the sod, amend the soil, and plant the plants. Besides the ones I’ve mentioned, many other beautiful flowers have roles in the landscape. This season I’m able to sit back and enjoy the vivid visual fruits of last year’s labor. It’s a success story that once again proves how beneficial gardening can be.

I still have many gardening tasks before me in the weeks ahead and almost all of them center around the vegetable garden. It makes those tasks less of a chore when I can take a break and lean from the deck railing or sit on the patio and be surrounded by the colors of nature, colors that I had a hand in creating. The butterflies and birds enjoy the same theater. It makes me glad that I’m not a one-act gardener.