Garden Log 5/11/21

Sometimes the garden evolves, and what seemed like a perfectly good idea just doesn’t work anymore. In this case, I planted this “Quickfire” lacecap hydrangea about a decade ago, and for many years, it was one of my favorite shrubs in the garden, with early white blooms that went a gorgeous pinky-red as summer turned to autumn.

But the crabapple that was here when we bought the place died not too long after, and so we put a redbud in, and that died almost immediately (bad winter, lots of people lost young trees), and so we put in ANOTHER redbud, “Ace of Hearts,” (spending a little more money to get and plant a bigger tree, hoping that would help it survive), and this one took nicely.

So nicely, in fact, that after about five years, it had grown enough to completely shade out the Quickfire. Now, hydrangeas are shade-tolerant, yes, but this one, at least, clearly blooms much less in shade. I noticed last year that it hardly bloomed, and the branches themselves were reaching towards the sun, so that it was getting a very lopsided shape. I could’ve just pruned for shape, but that wouldn’t fix the blooming problem.

So this spring, I had someone come and move it for me. (Everol, aka “Rasta with a Rake,” did a great job.) I do most of my own gardening, but moving a big shrub is a little beyond my current strength, alas.

Moving mature shrubs is always risky — even if you take a lot of care to get as much of the root ball as you can, they might not survive the transplant. But it’s been a week, and so far, it looks okay. Fingers crossed it makes it through. I’m making sure it doesn’t dry out, so the roots can get well established.

If you’re going to be moving shrubs in the Midwest, now is a good time, when the ground has just warmed up, or in mid-fall, so they can go dormant and rest over the winter. The second photo shows its new location — up against the fence, with lots more sun, and turned around so that it will hopefully grow a little more evenly. Fingers crossed!

Garden Log 5/8/21

So, after yesterday’s exuberant shopping binge at Sunrise Greenhouse, I have a lot of plants to plant! The temptation is to just start bunging them all in, but there are a few good steps to take first:

a) check the weather and see if it’s going to be a good day for planting. Today, it’s a little chilly, but sunny, so that should be pleasant for exertion. More importantly, it’s supposed to rain overnight, so that’s going to save me a lot of time that I’d otherwise have to spend with the hose, watering them in well. Woot! So it’s a great day to plant, and I’m going to clear some time in my schedule for that. Tomorrow I can do the computer work, while gazing out the window at the fruits of my labors. (If it somehow doesn’t rain, I might be out at 11 p.m. with my headlamp and hose, but it says 100% chance of rain, so I think I should be okay.)

b) move them around to where they go, trying to keep in mind sun/shade requirements, because if I don’t, they’ll never thrive there. I’ve a shady little area where I’m hoping to put a pond in a pot — I’ve got some heucheras and tropicals for there. I’ve got a shady hosta stretch where I’m trying to get the effect of mixed hostas overlapping, so three more added to that — and yes, I mostly picked “Vulcan” because of its name, sneaky plant namers know me too well. Rose impatiens for a full shade planter, begonias for a full shade planter in an area I water less often (begonias can take that, whereas the impatiens need more regular water). Etc. and so on.

c) As I’m placing them, look at what’s there already, see if there are any changes I want to make. If I’m digging already, it’s a good time to shift things. I already pulled out one dead plant that didn’t make it over the winter, alas. Right next to it is a rose that’s struggling — I was pushing it with the placement, and it’s just a little too shady for happiness. I’ll pull it forward in to the sun, and if I lose a little more grass, oh well. Now that they’re older, the kids can always go to the park to play soccer. 🙂

Sometimes I leave things in their pots for a few days, giving myself lots of time to consider, move things around, etc. But given the incoming rain, plus a fairly cool night where the plants will be happier in the ground than in pots, it’s probably better if I get these planted today.

I’d already thought through what I wanted before going to the garden store this time, so there are very few surprise plants in the mix. Two daylilies leapt into my cart unexpectedly, and I’m going to waffle about where they go for a while, but the rest are pretty set. I’m just going to let the day warm up a little bit more, do a little computer work, and then this afternoon, ALL the planting.

Garden Log 5/7/21

Road trip! Well, tiny road trip. Road excursion? I convinced Roshani to come with me to finally check out Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, which is a 1.5 hr drive away, because various people in the local garden club said it was a) huge and b) cheap. So off we went in her minivan, and reader, I am here to testify that in fact Sunrise was both a) huge, and b) cheap. 🙂

It’s definitely a haul from Oak Park, and I don’t think I’d do it more than once a year, but I think I’ll probably go back next year. (Probably a bit earlier in the year, as they obviously had had some areas pretty well cleared out by Mother’s Day weekend.)

They seem to be particularly strong on bedding plants, and the kinds of things that landscapers are likely to put into larger gardens, which is not surprising considering people probably on average have more land attached to their houses in more rural areas than we do in Oak Park.

I was impressed with their selections of coleus, hostas, and heucheras (shade gardeners, go wild!) and their hanging baskets were large, well-filled, and pretty affordable. I also got a few flats of groundcovers; my garden is still somewhat short of ground cover, and I end up putting in a lot of mulch as a result, and really, I’d rather have plants / flowers.

As you can see, between us, Roshani and I jammed the car pretty well full, even though we mostly refrained from buying larger shrubs and trees. (Okay, we each got two shrubs. But they weren’t huge. Little shrubs. You’ll barely notice them.)

And as a bonus, there’s a cafe there with various food options. You can get actual food — hot dogs, tacos, etc. But I may have subsisted on popcorn, lemonade, and funnel cake. The last time I had funnel cake was at the Minnesota State Fair. I am happy to report that it continues to be delicious.

We are both very tired now, but happy.

Tomorrow, we plant.

NOTE: Saturdays are apparently a zoo, and Sundays they’re closed. I would avoid garden stores in general on Mother’s Day weekend, as they’re likely to be very crowded.

Garden Log 5/6/21

I’ve been a little under the weather, and it’s been grey and rainy, which I usually love, but the combination has made it a little tough to do much gardening. I do try to get out and do something every day, though — it’s good for my sanity. So I trimmed the remaining dried flowerheads off the hydrangeas, and even deadheaded some of the Thalia daffodils.

I have enough tulips and daffodils that I usually don’t bother deadheading them, esp. since deadheading those doesn’t lead to repeat flowering, but if I’m just puttering in the front garden anyway, sometimes I tidy things up a bit. Overall, my garden is definitely more on the wild than the neat side, but a little trimming here and there can be pleasant. 🙂

I also ended up moving some wood hyacinths — I don’t know why I planted them in a row along the front, because I almost never do rows of everything.

The problem with rows, I’ve found, is that if something goes wrong (say, your row of boxwood has a dog pee on it, and two of them go half-dead), it’s super-evident. Whereas if you have a more complex and wandering structure to your garden, then if something is struggling, it’s not nearly as visible — the eye is mostly going to be drawn to the pretty flowers that are doing well. That’s also useful for disguising withering daffodil / tulip foliage, bleeding heart foliage, etc.

So anyway, I dug up a few clumps of the wood hyacinths (plant as bulbs, and over a few years, they’ll multiply into thicker clumps of tiny bulbs), and then I divided those clumps and planted them in several other spots on the yard. No more row in front (which wasn’t that neat a row anyway), and more flowers filling up bare spots, which should lead to less need for weeding / mulching. Wins all around.

Garden Log 4/27/21

First, a reminder to local gardeners — it was unseasonably warm yesterday, and even more so today — check any plants you’ve bought and haven’t planted yet, and also any new plantings and give them a good drink of water. They’re going to suffer and possibly die otherwise.

This is also a great day to just generally check on your watering set-up, since if you’re going to be connecting and unconnecting hoses, checking for tightness, spraying yourself periodically in the process, you won’t freeze. 🙂 Investing a little time in this now will save you a lot of grief this summer.

With as many plants as I have, and as hectic a schedule as I have, and unreliable help from the family on watering — they mean well, but are forgetful — watering is generally the bane of my gardening existence. My poor plants offer suffer from my haphazard watering ways.

Case in point, this poor tropical, the tall one in the cobalt blue tall planter, which looks ready to give up the ghost. I don’t know how clear it is from the picture, but all the leaves are hanging down and sadly wilted. They’re not supposed to look like that!

It’s generally the first of my potted tropicals to start wilting from lack of water, so in that sense, it’s been a good indicator plant, a reminder to check all of them and water the ones that need it. But right now, this is just too wilted and sad; I’m on the verge of losing it.

I’m going to try to build in a little insulation for it; I’m transferring it today from its blue ceramic pot to this grey self-watering pot, which has a built in water reservoir. That will collect and hold water at the bottom, making it much less likely that the plant will wither away when I’m a little neglectful with watering. I had my blueberries in one last year, and they did really well.

You can also add self-watering elements inside ceramic or other pots; at least, so I was told when I bought some! I haven’t actually put them in any pots yet, so we’ll have to see how well it works!

The ones I bought (a two-pack for $99) don’t seem available, but if you follow this link, there are similar ones listed there: https://smile.amazon.com/…/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_search_asin…

Garden Log 4/23/21

I know you’re supposed to prune the roses when the forsythia bloom, but sometimes, life is busy, and that’s okay — even if you can’t do a garden task at the optimal time, you can usually do it a little later without too much in the way of negative consequences.

I was working on a very thorny rose at first (John Cabot, a hardy Canadian climber), so I pulled out my trusty rose gloves. These are quite a bit tougher than regular gardening gloves and go all the way up to the elbow; highly recommended that you buy or borrow a pair before working on a very thorny rose.

Most of what I was doing was cutting off dead branches, and then weaving in and tying long climbing stems to an arching trellis. There’s really nothing too complicated here — carefully weave them in a bit, gently so as not to snap them, and then tie them. Remember to tie them loosely, so they have some room to flex and grow; you don’t want to tie so tightly that a growing stem starts being cut by the tie.

I was using floral tape, a kind of stretchy green tape that sticks to itself (if you look closely, you may be able to see it in the fourth photo); I like it for roses because you can sort of wrap it on itself and not actually worry about making knots, which can be difficult to do in garden gloves. But I admit, once I get the stem into place, sometimes I just take the gloves off to do the final tying down. Floral tape is also great to have on hand if you’re going to be doing any decorative flower arranging work, making bouquets, etc.

Garden Log 4/15/19

Redbud Syrup

This recipe uses roughly a 1:1 ratio to make a simple syrup out of redbud tea and sugar. The thin syrup is suitable for creating lovely spring drinks; the thicker syrup can be drizzled over pancakes or used to soak a pound cake. Redbud has a delicate floral flavor, so be careful not to overwhelm it with other ingredients.

2 oz (roughly) redbud blossoms
4 c. water
sugar to measure

a little lemon juice

1. Rinse blossoms. (Since you’ll be draining the blossoms, no need to go to a lot of effort to pick off stems.) In a medium pot on high heat, bring blossoms and water to a boil.

2. Remove from heat, cover, steep in fridge 6-8 hours or overnight. You’ve now made redbud tea.

3. Sieve flowers out and weigh redbud-steeped tea. Combine tea with equivalent weight of sugar in a pot on the stove.

4. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer 20-30 minutes for a light pink syrup (suitable for drinks), stirring occasionally. For a thicker syrup, such as you might use to soak a cake, simmer another 15-30 minutes, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. (If you let it go too long, you’ll end up with rock candy.)

NOTE: If your liquid isn’t looking very pink, add a little lemon juice to change the PH and bring out the pinkness.

5. Let cool, and transfer to lidded jars for storage; store in the refrigerator for up to several weeks.

Garden Log 4/14/21

Time to pickle the redbuds!

Pickled Redbuds

Do you like capers? Pickled redbuds are very similar, but with a faintly floral taste (a little like a sweetpea at first, then tangy), and a lovely color.

1 c. redbud blossoms
1/2 c. vinegar
1/2 c. water

1/2 t. salt (ideally kosher or other non-iodized)

1. Gather redbud blossoms (in bud will work a little better for pickling than fully bloomed) — they come easily off the tree. Rinse blossoms and pick off stems; they’re easy to remove in clusters, so this won’t take long.

2. Combine vinegar, water, and salt; stir to combine.

3. Fill a clean jar with blossoms and cover with brine; add a little water if necessary to completely fill. Screw on top; all blossoms should be submerged in liquid.

4. Leave at room temperature for three days, away from direct heat and sunlight.

5. Transfer jar to refrigerator; it will keep for a few weeks. Enjoy pickled redbud wherever you would use capers.

Garden Log 4/13/21: Extreme Gardening Edition!

I spent much of last year’s gardening season wondering if I should get a headlamp in case I wanted to garden at night, and thinking that was silly, and talking myself out of it, and somehow this year I just went ahead and got one last week, and today was a long and complicated day (in addition to all the normal stuff, I had to take my husband to the doctor, and my daughter to her first haircut in over a year), so it was dark by the time I got home and had a chance to water the seedlings in the greenhouse, but that was fine, because I had a HEADLAMP.

Garden Log 4/10/21

Here’s my main tip for buying plants in spring — it’s really easy for new gardeners to get intoxicated and buy a ridiculous number of plants. And that’s fine, but YOU MUST ASSESS YOUR WATERING CAPABILITY ACCURATELY.

When my kids were little, I optimistically bought more plants than I had time / energy to water. I was very busy nurturing demanding creatures that moved around, and it turned out that I just didn’t have the attention to spare for any creatures that stayed in one place. Result: lots of dead plants and wasted money.

MARY ANNE’S RULE OF WATERING: If you buy more plants than you have time / energy to water, then you have spent all your money on dead plants. It just takes them a little while to get to completely perished.

At this point in my life, my kids are older, I’m working from home, the pandemic means I’m not traveling as much as I usually do, so I can spend a fair bit of time watering in new plantings (they need regular water for two solid weeks, at least, if it doesn’t rain, and you should keep an eye on them for the rest of the year, esp. in summer heat stress).

Yesterday was my annual spring pilgrimage to Gethsemane Gardens. It’s one of my favorite garden stores, but a good 45 minutes away now that we don’t live in the city anymore (and longer if I hit rush hour traffic coming back).

I usually try to take a day to go out there around this time of year, because they have terrific selections of plants (a dozen different hellebore varieties, for example), lots of shrubs and trees (including things like already espaliered pears), etc. It’s definitely pricier than big box stores, but I love seeing the special plants they carry.

They have four separate areas: trees and shrubs, perennials and pots / statuary, annuals, and Wild Pansy, their indoor plants + really lovely garden-themed gift shop; if you need birthday or Mother’s Day presents for a gardener, they have you covered with many fabulous choices.

They don’t deliver all the way out to us, unfortunately, so you have to bring your own truck for any big trees. You’d be surprised how much I can cram in my little car, though, once I fold a seat down. I ended up with three flats of annuals, three boxes of perennials, and a small tree — a dogwood “Rubra,” to replace the one that I lost last year. Not sure what happened to that poor baby, but we’ll try again. My parents have a gorgeous dogwood at their house, and I’d love one here.

I always combine a trip up there with a stop at Ethiopian Diamond (6120 N. Broadway) around the corner — if you go, I recommend the shiro and the asa wat — those are my favorites. There’s also a terrific candy & ice cream store right across the corner, Lickety Split, if you’d like to peruse a selection of old-timey and fun candy to bring back home, or treat yourself to some ice cream or chocolate truffles.

If you miss rush hour traffic, you can do the whole loop from Oak Park in about 4 hours, so I recommend aiming for 10 – 2, and bringing back Ethiopian food for dinner — it reheats beautifully. (I usually sit in the car and eat some before driving back.)