Saturday, March 31, 2018

Planning the 2018 Kitchen Garden

We begin each new gardening year with hope: not looking back to last year's failures, but forward to the coming successes. They say the definition of insanity is to keep doing the same thing and expecting different results. While some may think gardeners are insane, 'Ha ha', they do what worked last year but do not expect a similar outcome. Success in the garden depends upon too many variables: what sort of winter we had, the upcoming weather, which bad bugs overwintered in your soil, the viability of saved seeds, and much more. As I sort new seed packets, however, I forget the capriciousness of gardening and remember only the joys. I feel a new, breathless awe every time I see that my first tray of seeds have germinated. This year is going to be a GREAT year in the garden!

Packeted seeds and saved seeds, for the new gardening year

I don't always get my new seeds from the same place. I decided to try Ferry Morse's organic selection for 2018. Ferry Morse was the largest seed suppliers in the world at one time. They are located in Massachusetts, therefore I feel their seeds should thrive in my northeast garden. I don't purchase plants or seeds from suppliers south of the Mason Dixon Line, or from other more exotic climes.  Recently, I acquired some seeds from the American Horticultural Society's (AHS) seed exchange. While it's great to receive free seeds, I was disappointed they were mainly last year's seed packets rather than seeds collected by gardeners from their gardens. Also, a 2017 packet of parsnip seeds from the AHS probably will not be viable as parsnip seeds need to be fresh each year. (I don't know what I was thinking when I added parsnips to my request list.) Previously, I have participated in Nancy Ondra's seed exchange and have been the recipient of her wonderful bounty.  Next year ...

I have developed a routine that I write about here every March. For newer followers of my blog: I begin by sorting the seed packets by the date they will be sown, then placing them in order in my trusty wooden seed box. I add each seed's sowing date to a calendar.

Next, I make a plan (a rough one but more-or-less to scale) of my kitchen garden's raised beds.  I write the name of the plant in the current year's location. The plan is important, so that I don't place the same vegetable or flower in the same spot as last year. This isn't foolproof for preventing disease, but it helps. I am not growing sunflowers at all this year, because the stem borer attacked two years running, even though I grew them in different locations.

This year's plan
As you probably know, I use raised beds and the square-foot gardening method.

When my planning is done, it's time to sow seeds -- according to their appropriate starting date. This week I began with tomatoes and snapdragons. I set up a seed-starting station on a card table in the dining room. I use table-top grow lights. I will direct-sow other seeds outside at the proper times.

My next step will be to prepare the garden beds by adding compost and putting suitable plant supports in place. I think most of the snow has gone, but it's still too cold for me to work outside. Maybe next week.

I love my cucumber frame. I bought this support from Gardeners' Supply

I have not forgotten my beautiful, new cold frame. I purchased seeds for lettuce, spinach, Kale, and other cool weather crops. I will direct-sow them in the cold frame as soon as the soil is workable.

Swiss chard grew successfully in the cold frame after the first frost

Another gardening spot is the herb garden, a waist-high trug on the patio near the back door. I will start some herbs from seed indoors, and will purchase some plant-starts from my local farm store. I will plant the herb garden after the date of the average last frost.

Herb Garden

Finally, my cutting garden is located in the kitchen garden. It is a long, raised bed down the length of one side. I will start zinnias, marigolds, and cosmos for cutting. Oh yes, and I started the snapdragons already.

Cutting garden on left hand side plus a few zinnias among the vegetables

Yes, it's going to be a GREAT gardening year. Can't wait to get out there!

What are your plans this year?

Pamela x

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Flower Show Season

March is the month for flower shows. I enjoyed two, starting with the acclaimed 'biggest and best' in Philadelphia. As usual, winter didn't pause its brutal attack, and this year there were two nor'easters, Winter Storm Riley barrelled in as the show was about to start; Quinn arrived on the days for which I'd made hotel reservations and booked an early morning tour. Fortunately, I was able to reschedule both; I'm so happy it worked out. My only disappointment was that some of the plants were beginning to fade. I prefer to go earlier in the week when the flowers are very fresh, but the snowstorms caused my change of plans. The theme was 'Wonders of Water' celebrating the interplay between life-sustaining water and horticulture. Entering the show, instead of the usual entrance way or archway, we walked through a tropical rainforest, with its canopy of lush plants, following a winding path toward a 25-foot waterfall. All around were the sounds of the rainforest, plus the sights and scents of nearly 4,000 tropical plants, including orchids, heliconias, and anthuriums. It was impossible for me, with my insufficient photography skills, to capture the effect of the ever-shifting rain curtain and the misting pool. The beauty and wonder of the rainforest entrance garden highlighted the significance of the rainforest's vital role in purifying water and sustaining our environment.

Lucite tubes depicting rain submerge visitors in a watery world

The education aspect of the event focused upon the importance of clean water in out lives and innovative ways to protect and conserve our finite water sources. One exhibit showed how plant systems cleanse and sustain the Delaware River Watershed through mountains, fields, marshes and streams. Plants are the heroes, providing riparian buffers on the edges of rivers and waterways.

Horsetail, or scouring, rushes cleanse the water at the edges of the river.

In contrast, Waldor Orchids took you under the sea with their clever display of orchids depicting a coral reef.

A coral reef of orchids
 Laelia Santa Barbara Sunset 'Showtime'

I am always amazed at the quality and quantity of plants submitted for display and for competition. A few of my favorites this year:

Top: Dendrobium speciosum. Right: new rock garden iris. Left: Fothergilla
10,000 tulip bulbs made up this colorful display

I adored the interiorscape called 'A Botanist's Fantastical Library' submitted by the Wissahicken Garden Club. This competition entry brought together a love of plants and of books. A wall of falling water to the left of the bookcase, large staghorn ferns on the adjacent wall, orchids and other beautiful plants in the room, and each book with dried flowers on its spine, made this my favorite display of the show. Maybe, being a librarian (in another life) caused my prejudice, but books and plants in elegant surroundings, what more could a gardener want?

A Botanist's Fantastical Library

On an early morning tour, I was privileged to listen to several designers explaining their gardens. I was struck by 'Verdant Delight' by Irwin Landscaping. Water fell from one pool to the next (over straight edges to create sound) in this unusual garden space. The plant material defined the seasonal use of the garden.

After two days at the Philadelphia Flower Show, we returned home, took one day's rest, then visited the  Lehigh Valley Flower and Garden Show. There we found a more traditional garden pond and waterfall.

Waterfall in a koi fishpond

At both shows we observed vertical gardens and living walls -- definitely a trend now. The living wall at the Lehigh Valley Show was especially stunning. Beautiful plants grew on the outside wall of a potting shed which was heated by a solar panel.

Left: Vertical garden at the Phili show. Right: Living wall at the Allentown Show.

The Lehigh Valley show is very small, but worth a visit. The many early blooming flowers for sale gave me a welcome taste of spring. I bought a miniature daffodil and two primroses and took spring home.

I purchased the primrose on the left

More favorites of mine:

Cyclamen (in great container), pitcher plant, and staghorn fern in moss on a rustic board. 

The theme this year was 'Fields, Farms, and Backyards' which explained the presence of some cute animals.

The flower and garden shows that proliferate this time of year herald spring and the beginning of the garden season. Unfortunately, the weather does not agree with more snow on the way...

Have you been to, or are you planning to attend, a good flower show this year? I hope so.

Pamela x

Begonia with cockleshell-shaped leaves

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