Plant More Pulmonaria

Right at the time we are obsessed with world-wide respiratory distress, pulmonaria pops out of the earth and blooms in delicate pastels. Last spring I bought two “twinkle toes” because the flowers looked so sweet. In the fall I cut each into three with my trusty bread knife and moved them to the front of a wet shady patch. Now look at them, all surviving and all in bloom.

These cute little guys were named by Leonart Fuchs, a German physician in the 1500s. He is considered one of the fathers of botany. At the time, Christian doctors believed in the “doctrine of signatures.” That is that God put plants on earth to help humans. (Aren’t we amazing in considering ourselves to be the center of the universe.)  So he shaped them to look like the parts of the body they could heal.

When Fuchs saw this plant he must have said, “My lord, all the spots on these leaves look like a diseased lung. I will call it pulmonaria.” So he did and we still call it by the Latin word for lung and in English, lungwort. Whether it helps coughs, I don’t know. I do know it gives pleasure to the eyes to see these perky fellows and know their leaves will be around into winter.

The light green or silver spots on the leaves are actually air pockets that cool the leaves. I must say ingenious; a word I often find myself uttering when plant facts come my way. Mixed with hellebores and ferns, they brighten the wet shady garden in spring.

Pandemic Blues

All socializing is off the table. What to do. I can go outside by myself and kneel in the springtime sun. It’s the perfect time for weeding. The winter weeds are small, the soil is moist; the roots yield easily to my tugs.

Time to get personal with mouse-ear chickweed (Cerastium fontanum). What an adorable name for this garden scourge. It’s trying mightily with its hairy, green mouse ears to strangle the emerging lilies and iris and allium. Given my forced isolation from garden center shopping, I’m on it. Bags of mouse-ears are ready for pick up by the yard waste collectors.

Cool weather and a shovel. It’s time to dig out the compost and spread it around. Exhaustion.

Sit on the garden bench and admire what’s blooming. Chinese Fringe Flower (Loropetalum chinense) is  flouncing graceful sprays of brilliant scarlet  fringe. When I first saw the rather drab burgundy branches I thought I’m gonna cut that bush down. Thankfully I never found the time. The delicate fringe brightens up the early spring garden before other shrubs have even popped out their green.

Down on ground level the crocus have come and gone and the tete a tete mini daffodils are having a private conversation with the grape hyacinths.

I’m listening.

Tweezers, Toothpicks and Tiny Flowers

I had not heard of “petite flower design” until I attended a garden club talk on miniature flower arrangements. It’s an official category at Federated Garden Club competitions. Although I never plan to compete at flower arranging, I do enjoy learning to make better bouquets for myself and for friends.

We were told bring tweezers and toothpicks, little containers and flowers. Flowers in January? I brought nothing. But others did. I had decided to just watch and was amazed at the imagination in the room. The tweezers deftly held the little flowers and toothpicks inserted first made a ready hole for the slender breakable stems. As far as keeping the plants in place, floral oasis worked well in wide containers as did floral frogs or wire. Containers with narrow necks needed nothing but water. Turns out I wish I had put more thought into the day; wish I had taken pictures of the garden ladies tiny arrangements.

But better late than never! When I got home I started looking around the garden and found more than I expected. Periwinkle was blooming its namesake blue, the mosses were brilliant green, rosemary had miniature white flowers and delicate gray-green branches. Chartreuse sedum was thriving in the cold as was variegated boxwood and deep green juniper tips. Why did I think there was nothing of value in a January garden? I forgot to look.

 

Just a Little Something! Petite Flower Design is a good place to look for guidelines on this smallest of flower design.

When the weather warms the choices will quadruple. The little rosy blooms of Chinese fringe flower shrub and yellow spring barberry bush flowers are just two examples of what will pop out if you’re on the lookout. Harry Lauder’s walking stick will provide small twisted limbs. Minor bulbs like grape hyacinth, tete a tete daffodils, snowdrops and crocus are a good fit. Their tininess made me not think of cutting them before. But what a delightful greeting they would make on a bedside table, a powder room vanity or as dining table favors.

Containers? I was surprised at what was sitting around the house. Even more possibilities are sitting in thrift shops for the price of a dollar or fifty cents. Consider mini liquor bottles, perfume bottles, toothpick holders, small ashtrays and baskets. Whatever looks good, looks better with flowers.

A Grayish Green Thought

winter

I’m holding on to my front door holiday décor even though Christmas is long gone. The dark still creeps over the land in late afternoon and fog blankets us many mornings. This makes me feel the need for a welcome that only light can give. When someone comes to my door or when I come home I want the welcome of light.

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How lucky we now have lights that don’t put out heat, don’t need to be plugged in and best of all have memories to turn themselves on and off. So I’ve kept the dwarf Alberta spruce in its red pot and little lights at the side of the front door. I’ve also kept the red basket filled with pine cones, greens and one of those candles with a brain. The wreaths can stay too until warm weather calls for springtime décor. A great discovery is that in cold and humidity greens last much longer than inside the house – Valentine’s Day at least.

The growers help perk up January with primroses at the garden centers. The homegrown hellebores are beginning to bloom and pulmonaria is putting out its spotted leaves.

Technology makes the gardener’s life exciting all year long. However, reading directions on each new product is essential, at least for the older brain. I bought an instant read meat thermometer from OXO. One problem – it kept recording 145 degrees whether I turned it on or off. I took out the battery and put it back in. I checked the packaging for a clue. I considered throwing it out. I turned to Google for one last attempt to solve the problem. At a question and answer forum someone said. “Well, you have to pull off the protective plastic film.” Oh my god, why didn’t I figure that out or why didn’t OXO print “peel me off” instead of 145.

winter9So there you have it. Technology is a help and  a headache. The instant read thermometer is great now that I’ve overcome the protective coating puzzle, but planting primroses on a balmy January day brings more joy.

Garden Resolutions 2020

front gardenTaking stock. That’s what this day is for.  In the garden that is. 2019 was a “getting to know a new garden” year. It was for removing plants hiding under other plants. Last April I found an azalea stuck behind a giant laurel and an out of control juniper. I dug it out and even reaped an extra plant from a branch that had put down roots and sent up a baby. This April we’ll see if they bloom where they can be seen under a pretty stand of pine.

daylilyLast summer Stella d’Oro daylilies popped up under the same overgrown laurel and juniper. They were moved into sunny spots along the driveway. Those daylilies I know will thrive in 2020.

This fall we dug out four knockout roses that, although they bloom lavishly, didn’t justify their place in the front garden. I admit to not loving them so much since they are everywhere in our community and as hybrids are not good pollinators. They were replaced by evergreen cherry laurel, variegated boxwood, dwarf elegans spruce and a spreading juniper in a lovely shade of blue.

Digging out the overgrown junipers, euonymus, and laurel will be one dirty job in 2020 but will make room for a new patio and deck. Researching a suitable design is the plan for the next cold months.

A pleasurable task I’m looking forward to is establishing rock gardens among the piles of rocks on each side of the driveway. The spot gets relentless summer sun so it seems perfect for stonecrop, sedum and Mediterranean herbs. Last summer I tucked lavender, sage, thyme, lemon coral sedum mexicanum, hens and chickens and Irish moss in spaces between the rocks. Hopefully some will gain a foothold and overtake the weeds that are so comfortable among stones.  I remember the perky portulaca in my grandmother’s rock garden and will sprinkle some seeds among the rocks in her memory. That’s the thing about gardens. Life in the Garden bookPenelope Lively in her book, Life in the Garden, says:

“To garden is to elide past, present, and future; it is a defiance of time.”

I confess I had to look up ‘elide’. It means to merge. What a nice idea for the first day of 2020. I was taken back to my grandmother’s 1950’s kitchen where something tantalizing was always on the stove and the screen door leading to the rock garden was close by. And the path through it led to the grape arbor and the chicken house beyond.

First, Get Chicken Wire

Kitty's Flower Shop

Ocean Pines Shop

Robin Gravenor, owner of Kitty’s Flowers,  spoke to our garden club this month. The talk was billed as flower arranging for the holidays. I considered not going. Well, thank God that thought was banished. Because Robin taught us the practical nuts and bolts of the task at hand: putting together a winter arrangement. Those same nuts and bolts apply to arranging all through the year.

First, get chicken wire. Robin came prepared. She had chicken wire by the foot. Who wants to buy a bale of chicken wire that would forever gather dust in the garage.  Not me. In fact I wish I had bought more pieces from her.

A little background on Kitty’s Flowers. This is a family business of three generations. They’ve been providing flowers to the Delaware/Maryland Eastern Shore for seventy years.  With a main shop in Salisbury, Maryland they have three satellite shops in Laurel, Delaware; Millsboro, Delaware and Ocean Pines, Maryland. From Robin on down they are friendly, gracious and ready to help with whatever you need.  Of course they make arrangements for every flower-necessary occasion, but they also sell flowers, berries and branches by the stem. They are generous. When I order three of an item I often get more.

I bought these stems for my Thanksgiving arrangement:

Arrangement 2

Winterberry

Winterberry: This is a deciduous holly native to North America. It’s considered a bog plant (perfect for my poor drainage) and is berry-heavy in winter.  I’ll look for a male and female plant next spring.

 

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Bittersweet

 Bittersweet: This is a fall beauty with yellow skins that pop open to reveal brilliant orange seeds. Beware. It’s an invasive Asian plant that can actually strangle large trees if given a chance. Use in arrangements but do not plant. There’s a native American called false bittersweet that’s not invasive with berries only on stem tips.

Arrangement 6a

Hypericum

 

 

 

 

 

Hypericum : This beautiful berry is commonly known as St. John Wart. It’s native to the Mediterranean and produces berries in pinks and reds and burgundies. So romantic, it’s popular for winter wedding bouquets.

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Sorghum

Sorghum: This is a cereal grain (also called broomcorn) related to corn that has many uses: livestock food, ethanol, sweetener. I like the natural color but floral designers often spray it to compliment arrangements.  It’s perfect for fall as is shown in a blog entry in Dirt Simple: observations of a landscape designer.

Beautyberry: This grows in my garden and I’m thrilled to be able to make use of the deep amethyst gems native to the Eastern U.S. Last January I received ten plants that looked like nothing more than skinny whips. But they thrived and grew into pretty shrubs laden with purple berries.

Back to chicken wire. Robin believes it’s better than Florist Oasis at holding woody stems in place. Just form a piece of wire into a sphere large enough to fit in the opening of your container. The bonus is that, unlike Oasis, it stays clean and fresh for use over and over.

 

Arrangement 6

Finished Thanksgiving Arrangement

I can’t claim to knock it out of the park in flower arranging, but what a pleasure to hear from a pro and to benefit from the years of experience of a dedicated local businesswoman. Robin gave us many tips on flower arranging. Ever heard of “negative space?” That’s important in the final product.

The Grateful Garden

 

Thanksgiving carvingsThe growing season is slowing down, although not coming to an end. There is always something going on in the garden; for the earth is always busy. This is the invisible season when the grateful garden gives forth a bounty of orange and green and other deep, lusty colors.

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Garden Mums and Sage

It’s when pilgrim stories are told in varying renditions. We now know that Thanksgiving Day was much more than a happy celebration. It was the beginning of great upheaval of 10,000 years of Native American life and the beginning of massive European migration, an unstoppable clash of cultures that altered the world. That’s our heritage.

I bring out my brother’s Thanksgiving carvings, a noble Indian brave and a man and woman pilgrim. I put the woman in the center because she holds a platter of corn, the garden harvest so essential to European survival.  They were literal babes in the woods.  Everything had to be grown and harvested or captured in the wild. The faces of all three are traced with apprehension and guarded speculation. No smiling selfies here. Too much was unknown.

What we know now is each culture brought ideas and each learned from the other, particularly things of the natural world. Corn was the grain that carried them through the early winters. This was way before our Fourth of July tender sweet corn. It was multicolored kernels that were pounded into meal meant to last through the long cold months.

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Native Beautyberry

Corn was part of the “three sisters” vegetables; corn, beans and squash. The Old Farmer’s Almanac includes an article on How to Plant a Three Sister’s Garden.

Indian legend casts corn as the older sister, its tall stalk there to support the other two. The bean plant is the giving sister, pulling nitrogen from the air into the soil for all plants to share and crawling up the corn to hold all together. The third sister, squash, shades and protects the plants with large leaves against weeds and pesky intruders. We carry on the “three sisters” tradition: we make cornbread and bean casseroles and pumpkin pie. We decorate with the ever increasing varieties of pumpkins and squashes the growers produce.

 

Thanksgiving gives us pause to enjoy the sanctuary and solitude of the quiet garden at the end of the growing season and think of what we appreciate: the work of Master Gardeners, the sharing of our gardener colleagues, the mistakes we have hopefully learned from and, most of all, the bounty of the earth.