Pausing as I walked to take a photo at Mills Park — light on dried flower heads, a frosting of snow. This is always a great activity for gardeners — walking around, looking to see what catches your eye, taking photos to help remember it later…
Gardeners tend to refer to this sort of thing as winter interest, but I’d go so far as to call it winter beauty myself. I’m slowly working towards developing more of a winter garden at my house — I admit, spring was my first priority, then summer, then autumn. I have only a few little things for winter right now, some red twig dogwood and the like. But more coming.
I’m afraid the plants in my little home office tend to get neglected — I work all over the house and in the shed, so I may only be in there once a week (it’s where I record the podcast, so it’s primarily set up for that and file storage right now). I’m slowly transitioning towards low-water plants in that room, because anything else, I tend to forget to water enough, and thereby kill.
So Friday, when I was feeling immensely stir-crazy after a month of not leaving the house, I put on my mask and ducked over to Good Earth Greenhouse, in nearby Forest Park, to pick up a succulent for that room. Just breathing the plant-laden air made me feel better. Of course, it’s almost impossible to just buy one little succulent — I considered all kinds of other plants, but in the end, I succumbed to just one more plant, a lovely hellebore perennial.
It’s very early for garden stores to have hellebores, but Good Earth is ahead of the game. Later in the season, by mid-March or so, there’ll be lots of varieties in many garden stores, and of course, you can order them online as well. But it was a treat seeing these there!
I didn’t actually repot the hellebore — I just dropped the plastic pot into a cachepot (a pretty pot with no hole for drainage). Cachepots are perfect for this kind of thing, because my plan is to just enjoy the hellebore in my office for a month or two, and then, as soon as the soil has warmed up enough to work outside, I’ll be digging a hole and transplanting it into the garden. With a little luck and care (and watering religiously the first season), there’s a good chance it’ll perennialize and come back year after year.
I also took the dead plants out of my office. Looking better!
(The little ferny thing under glass is faux, from Target. Nice to mix a few of those in if you’re struggling to keep green things alive!)
Thanks to Maria Teresa McKee posting, I realized I didn’t have to wait another month to start seeds; I had some micro greens and micro tom tomatoes that I could start now. Exciting. I think I started these 4 days ago, and when I went down yesterday, I was delighted to see so much fresh new green.
– buy replacement Jiffy packs to go in these little plastic Jiffy self-watering greenhouses from last year (a good investment for forgetful & scattered me, as I’d definitely have trouble watering daily — they have a reservoir at the bottom, and a piece of felt that wicks water up to the roots of the plants)
– put one soil/coir pack in each slot and add hot water to hydrate them
– realize at 50mm, they’re twice as big as needed for micro greens, so cut them in half to stretch further
– put a layer of seeds in each one, and cover with a bit of soil
– cover greenhouse and put on heating mat, under grow lights (with the lights lowered to be as close to the seeds as possible)
The heating mat isn’t strictly necessary, but it helps with germination. As you can see, the micro greens (Jazzy mix) responded enthusiastically. The mini beet greens are going a little slower, but I’m assuming they’ll keep growing, and aren’t they a lovely shade of red? I’m going to do something very pretty with them — I’m thinking maybe a composed salad with grilled shrimp and a little pile of pretty beet greens on top?
Now I just have to figure out how I’m supposed to harvest these. Is it time now, for the micro greens? Do I just snip some off and add them to a sandwich? I feel like they’d disappear in a salad… How would you use them?
I still have some little baggies of Jazzy mix and beet green seeds to give away, if anyone local wants to try them! Porch pick-up!
I spent a while on White Flower Farm’s hellebore page, deciding which hellebore I wanted to add to my collection (photo at left from last spring). Hellebores are expensive — generally about $25-$30 each, which is pretty high, even for a perennial. I’m assuming that’s mostly because it takes some time before they’re large enough to start dividing.
I bought a hellebore when we bought this house — I couldn’t do much gardening that first year, because we bought the house as a foreclosure and did a gut renovation on it, so the yard was entirely churned up by machinery. But I tucked one hellebore against the front steps, and hoped it was sufficiently out of the way to survive.
It not only survived, but thrived, and about five years on, had gotten big enough that I could start dividing it. I’ve generally added one more hellebore each spring, so I have a nice assortment now, and as a bonus, have started divided the older ones to trade with other hellebore fanciers in the neighborhood.
If I were going to recommend a gift to someone who has just bought a new house, it would be a hellebore. Subtle beauty (most have flowers that tip down, so you only see the full glory if you cut them and float them in a bowl of water), long season of bloom, leaves that are pleasantly green through the rest of the year, except perhaps the very dead of winter.
They tolerate almost full sun to almost full shade, but prefer partial shade — you can plant them near trees, because they bloom early, before the trees leaf out.
Easy care — water them in well the first season as they’re getting established, and then you can mostly forget about them going forward, though I’d give them a little water if it gets really hot and dry in high summer. You don’t have to divide them, either — only if you want to start trading, or spreading them into other spots in your garden. Their leaves do get a little raggedy by the end of winter; I usually go around and trim those off, as the new growth is emerging. It’s very satisfying and easy work, since you get to be excited about the buds you find.
Just all around, a terrific long-term investment, a perfect pairing for a house. They’re the first perennial to bloom, so along with the snowdrops, a wonderful sign of winter ending.
The only difficulty is picking which one you’re going to add… (I went for the second from the left in the bottom row this year, part of the Winter Jewels line, name “Jade Tiger”.)
NOTE: Trader Joe’s often has simple white hellebores in winter for notably cheaper — they’re lovely indoors in winter, and you can try planting them out in the spring, but there’s a good chance they won’t survive, since they were forced for winter blooming.
Garden log 1/9/20. I may have realized that if I bought Jiffy 50 mm seed pellets in bulk, that I could get them for half-price. So I now have a LOT of Jiffy pellets; more than I can use this season, I’m pretty sure. So I thought I’d put together some giveaways for the garden club group this spring, to encourage novice gardeners.
First up, some tomatoes (flowers and other veggies coming soon):
These are little packets of about 10 tomato seeds each, and I’m happy to include 3 pellets with each packet. You’ll want to sow about 2-3 seeds / pellet, somewhere around mid-March. You need bright grow lights to start seeds, and you may want a heat mat to help with germination. Covering the seeds with plastic (milk jug, etc.) will help retain moisture, so you don’t have to water quite as often.
– Sun Sugar Tomato
– Micro Tom Tomato
– Juliet Tomato
– Chocolate Cherry Tomato
– Yellow Tumbling Tom Tomato
I’ll be doing the giveaway in the Oak Park Area Garden Club group, for porch pick-up, so mosey over there if you’d like to snag some.
Garden Log 1/9/20. I *MAY* have signed a contract for a story and then turned right around and spent the projected funds on seeds and dahlias. No regrets.
This year I’m trying out Swan Island Dahlias, on a local gardener’s recommendation (their ‘gardener’s choice collection, pictured below, $48.95, plus $9.95 shipping), in addition to my traditional indulgences at White Flower Farm. (Cafe au Lait dahlia I would not be without!)
Serendib House: Turning Words into Flowers, a Specialty
Garden log 1/8/20. I may have gone a little overboard on the tomato seed ordering from Etsy. Etsy is full of intriguing seeds! Danger, danger. These are from NurserySeeds (https://www.etsy.com/shop/nurseryseeds).
It’s okay. I’m going to share some with a friend, and even if all the seeds don’t germinate, this *should* also result in more seedlings to give away in the garden club group in May. I basically want one tomato plant of each variety for myself. Seeds make it super-easy to be generous.
The next question is when to start them, which is mostly a matter of a little math. Okay, so the internet tells me that “generally, the time to start your tomato seeds is about 6- 8 weeks before the last expected spring frost date in your area, planting the seedlings outdoors about 2 weeks after that date.”
So that’s April 18 this year, according to the farmer’s almanac. If I start 8 weeks in advance, that’s Sunday February 21. Did I do my math right? If so, I’ll put a rubber band around these seeds, stick a post-it on them that says Feb 21, and put a calendar reminder into GCal, because otherwise, I will likely forget.
Next, I’m going to dive into the Baker Creek catalog for veggie seed ordering….
When I hit a point of being unable to concentrate on anything other than doomscrolling yesterday, I took myself away for a bit to sew, which was a good choice. I finished the last mask orders from 2020.
Cute writerly mask, beautiful stars and moon mask — I was thinking of it as a solstice mask, but it would also be lovely for someone with pagan beliefs, I think, or just anyone, because it is so pretty, and finished off with some space masks, which felt oddly satisfying, since those were the first masks I made when the pandemic descended.
I also cleaned up various amaryllis / orchids / paperwhites, and cleaned and set up the grow light set-up. Soon I’ll be using the grow lights for seed starting, but for right now, they can give these a little injection of extra light, esp. since most of them were pretty sadly neglected for a few months.
I was so slow planting the amaryllises that they’d grown and curved in on themselves in their paper bags, which I was a little dismayed to see, but a day and a night under the grow lights, and they straightened up beautifully. Made me wish I’d thought to take hourly photos, so I could do a little stop-motion film.
At some point, I think I’m supposed to move these into a dark, cool place so they can go dormant, and then hopefully re-bloom next year, but I admit, I’m not quite sure when that is. When the leaves shrivel off entirely, I think? Maybe?
Oh, I have so much to learn about gardening, but it feels good to do a little bit regardless, especially when there are big terrible things happening that I have no control over.
Hope all of you had a quiet night, and woke refreshed, ready to set your home in order (and also fight for democracy).