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.)


Garden Log 4/8/21

Overcast and drizzly today, which is just perfect weather for transplanting, esp. since we’re going to have a few days of this coming. That’ll do a lot to ease transplant shock for these perennials. Great time to transplant, especially since it doesn’t look like we’re going to get any overnight frosts in the next ten days.

I took the opportunity to dig up and move around several perennials — mostly pulmonary, but also some Virginia bluebells. I also moved some hyacinths. A lot of gardeners are hesitant to move their plants, but I move mine all the time for better compositions (or because rascally varmints have moved bulbs, etc.) — just try to get enough dirt so you’re not disturbing the roots too much. Once they’re replanted, water them in well, and be sure they stay watered for the next few weeks, just as with any new planting.

Of course, sometimes you *want* to disturb the roots — one of my pulmonaria was getting quite large, so I took my trusty spearhead spade (I love it, it’s my go-to for almost everything digging-related) and just sliced it roughly in half with a few mighty whacks.

Replanted in two spots, and in a few weeks, you won’t be able to tell they hadn’t just grown there. They’ll be smaller than the original mama plant, of course, but still happy. Free plants, whee! I just saved $15 or so on what it’d cost to buy another one of these. πŸ™‚ You can also give divisions away to neighbors and friends.

I’ll be working on my brunnera and Virginia bluebells next.

Garden Log 4/6/21

Looks like some seedlings are ready to move out to the greenhouse. πŸ™‚ (Photo 1 — peppers and tomatoes.)

Oops — too many seedlings germinated in these containers (photo 2). I’m going to try to divide them, gently pulling them apart at the roots, into 2-4 separate containers. Most seedlings can take a little bit of that, if you’re gentle, although the seed packet should note if they don’t like their roots disturbed. Some seedlings are prima donnas: “Leave me alone!”

Now isn’t that a nice tray of peppers and tomatoes? (photo 3) The cardboard box is helpful for carrying them out, but I’m planning to put them on a self-watering tray in the greenhouse, which should help keep them alive if I forget to water for a day or two (which happens often around here).

Now we’re going to be a little bit brutal. These over-planted seedlings (photo 4) have already been divided once, so I don’t want to risk disturbing the roots again. Instead, I’m going to go in and snip away most of the seedlings, leaving just one in each pot. This process feels a little brutal, but if I don’t do it, they’ll all end up struggling.

Oh, it looks so sad after the snipping. (photo 5) I’m pretty hopefully that they’ll come back strong in a few days, though.

Finish off with a nice long drink!

(I meant water for the plants, but if the stress of snipping leads you to a morning mimosa, that’s okay with me too.)

Garden Log 3/28/21

Pruned the forsythia a few days ago. When I first put it in, the landscaper commented that it was a ‘weedy’ shrub. I’m not sure what he meant by that — maybe that it had a somewhat messy habit, maybe that it might sprout additional forsythia babies? But my garden isn’t very neat — I like a wild, witchy garden look. So forsythia fits in perfectly, and though I do a little pruning, it’s mostly to keep it healthy and to have branches for the house. I wouldn’t mind if it got a little more weedy, actually — some forsythia babies would be nice.

The top photo is after pruning (with flowers in bud, but not yet in bloom). Basically all I did was go in and remove any dead branches (not many), and look for places where branches were crossing against each other (it’s good to remove those, because they can rub against each other and then open up a wound that leaves the plant vulnerable to infection).

Just doing that took about 10 minutes, and gave me a big messy bundle of branches. Next step, bringing them into the kitchen, where I trimmed them down to size of my vase, removed the lower flowers (because if they sit in water in the vase, they’ll rot), and plopped them in. The leftover little branching stems I trimmed off made a second arrangement in smaller vases for the powder room.

You can bang woody stems with a hammer if you like, to open them up more so they can take in more water, and/or soak them for a few hours or overnight in a bathtub of warm water, but generally, I don’t find forsythia needs either of those. Plop them in warm water, and a few days later, boom! Bright gold spring sunshine in your home.

(And if you don’t have a forsythia bush yourself, you might ask in a local garden group — some people have lots, and if you’re willing to prune for them, they might be willing to have you take away some branches. They also often sell branches at Trader Joe’s, etc.)

Garden Log 3/27/21

β€’ I’m not sure what that first little purple bulb is, but it’s cute

β€’ I tried hiring some local teens to plant bulbs for me last fall, and they didn’t know anything about gardening, so when they dug a trench for bulbs, they dug it really narrow, and I should’ve made them widen it, but they were getting tired by that point and I didn’t have the heart, so now I have a very narrow ribbon of daffodils which is going to look a little silly. It’s okay. πŸ™‚ Will likely dig up and move over some more daffodils as my other patches spread, so it’ll look a little more natural next year

β€’ forsythia getting ready to bloom, yay — when it does, time to prune the roses! (folk wisdom, good reminder)

β€’ Kavi helped me assemble the new temporary greenhouse, woohoo! Very excited to be able to move some of the seedlings from the basement grow lights out and make room for starting new seeds. πŸ™‚ I’m also planning to try growing some peppers and eggplant in there in the summer, see if they do better with the extra heat. I always feel like it’s a bit of a race with our climate, getting those two to happy full growth

β€’ Arya says, “Why are you working so hard? It’s warm and occasionally sunny at times; it’s a good day for basking.”

Garden Log 3/16/21

I was a little worried that I’d killed my seedlings by forgetting to water for a few days — having them down in the basement means that when I get busy with work, it’s easy for me to forget.

But I went down Sunday, found them sad and withering, hurriedly gave them lots of water (and yes, I use self-watering trays for the seedlings, but that only works as long as there’s still water in the tray…), and they mostly seem to have revived, whew. Not as good as they could be, but hopefully they’ll continue to recover (and hopefully I won’t forget to water again).

I transferred some of the seedlings into slightly larger pots, and moved them to the top shelf, where I have a layer of clay pebbles as a humidity tray — if I miss a day of watering, the water I’ve poured over those should help tide the seedlings over. The two lower shelves have heat mats, for seedlings that are starting germination.

And oh, I had a new success — the sea holly seedlings required a period of chilling before germination. So I tried just potting them up in the seedling tray, added a bit of water, put the lid on, and stuck them in the basement fridge for a few weeks. Brought them out a few days ago, put them on the heat mat — and look! Germination! Very exciting.

Most native seeds seem to require chilling, and I was a little intimidated by that, but I’m feeling better about my chances with those now. πŸ™‚

I’m almost certainly going to have more of everything than I have room to plant, so expect more seedling giveaways to come. I’m figuring that I’ll wait ’til I have a bunch ready (and reasonably healthy) and will then give them away. So maybe another week or so for the next batch.

Garden Log 3/11/21

In general, I’m trying to resist the urge to do a ton of garden work right now, because as we know, it’s best to leave the leaf litter and mulch undisturbed until nighttime temps are consistently above 50F, since there are a lot of pollinators overwintering in there. Polinators surviving now = more flowers later.

But I admit, it’s a little bit of a struggle for me, because I get so stir-crazy over the winter, and getting out into the garden and doing a little work is incredibly therapeutic for me. This year in particular, I feel like I have to balance my mental health with the health of the little bugs and butterflies. If I can’t get on a plane and fly off to Hawaii, I can at least go putter in my garden.

And actually, there’s a fair bit you can do reasonably safely — I have lots of perennials that can be cut down, for example. (Okay, I suppose there might be some pollinators hiding in the Russian sage stalks, but I don’t actually think so?)

I decided to work on my parkway strip too, which I can’t call the hellstrip anymore, now that it’s getting so pretty. I have to think that flowers in the parkway are good for everyone’s mental health, after this long winter.

There were reticulated irises blooming (“Eye Catcher”) that were being smothered by leaf mulch, so I pulled out my gardening gloves and used my fingers to clear the mulch away, so passers-by would have a better chance of noticing and appreciating them.

This is also the right time to move snowdrops, which means you have to be able to see the snowdrops, so I’ve been clearing away leaf mulch around those too. It’s easiest to transplant them “in the green,” as they say, so where I have crowded clumps of snowdrops that have multiple in the last year, I dig them up, replant some there, and move the others to new spots. In ten years, there will be SO MANY snowdrops in my garden. I hope the next owners of this house are gardeners. (They’d better be. Maybe I’ll have to put that in the contract.)

I set up a little fairy montage yesterday too — a house (that has sat out there all winter), but with snowdrops newly planted around. I’m going to move some species crocuses over there later today, I think — I have a big clump further back in the garden, but none in the parkway. This is a lack that must be amended.

If I can entice a passing child to stop and ooh and ah at the fairy house and flowers, my work here will be done. πŸ™‚

(And maybe I’ll plant some more swamp milkweed in atonement. See, I can do nice things for the pollinators too….)

Garden Log 3/1/21

So, I may have impulsively bought a pop-up greenhouse when they were on sale last year, and it’s sitting in my basement waiting to be assembled, and I’m realizing I have no idea when one is supposed to start using such a thing.

Locals, do y’all have yours in use already? Are you moving seedlings out there already?

I don’t want to move things in and out of the house daily, so if that’s what it’s being used for, that is probably not for me…

(There is also the question of where the heck I’m going to PUT it, but I think I can squeeze it in somewhere. Maybe.)