Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stargazing and Crocus Carpets

I always have mixed feelings when my Stargazer lilies bloom. On one hand, they're Stargazers:

Enough said, right? And they smell as good as they look. And I have a whole posse of them:

My neighbors can smell them over the fence, which should give you some idea of how potent these suckers are. Some people find the smell unpleasantly overpowering. I am not one of those people.

So anyhoo, I'm always happy to see the Stargazers exploding onto the scene in my garden, but I'm always a little sad too, because they are one of the very last things to bloom and they double as harbingers of autumn. I love autumn, but it has this nasty habit of leaving the door open for winter, and I'm just not ready for that this year. Sigh.

But with fall comes new exciting garden projects, including one of my favorites, which is shopping for and planting bulbs. This year I came home from Costco with Narcissus 'Ice Follies,' Tulipa 'Oxford' and 'Oxford Elite,' and Crocus 'Remembrance' and 'Pickwick.' I'm particularly excited for the crocus, because I have decided that my sorry excuse for a lawn needs to look like this:

Photo courtesy of the US Botanical Garden in Washington, DC
Just what every Alaskan gardener needs and deserves to see in spring!! I've heard of two methods for planting crocus in turf:

1. Cut a patch of turf, peel it back, and scatter the bulbs (corms, really, since we're talking crocus.) Fit the patch of turf back into the hole, covering the bulbs.

2. Use a drill and a spade bit to drill individual holes into the lawn. Drop a corm in each hole and back fill with good soil or compost. (I heard this one from the head gardener over at the Alyeska Prince Hotel.)

You can see which method I've chosen. My lawn is really compacted, so I thought maybe this way I'd be aerating the soil too. We'll see what happens.

Supposedly you can mow your lawn as usual, and the crocus leaves blend right in after the flowers are done. I'll be posting flower carpet pictures next spring if everything goes according to plan!

Something to keep in mind when planting flowers in your lawn: you can't use chemical herbicides or heavily concentrated fertilizers if you want the bulbs to live. So organic fertilizers are the way to go, and you may have to get creative with weed control.

Have any of you ever done the flower carpet thing? What were your results? Any handy tips you want to share?

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Garden Highlights 2011

To my few loyal readers out there I apologize for the long hiatus! My only excuse is that I've been doing lots of hiking, and of course, lots of gardening. Fortunately, I've taken lots of pictures to make up for it. Here's a sample of what's been going on in Gretchen's Garden this summer:

That's compost, baby. I did a whole lot of screening and spreading of compost this spring. I have poor soil in several locations in my garden, so my plants appreciate a yearly addition of good compost.

I also spent quite a bit of time installing drip irrigation in my raised veggie boxes and annual beds. So far it's working wonderfully and saving me a lot of time, although I did make a few mistakes here and there. Any of you enlightened readers who have installed drip irrigation will notice that in the picture above I have the drip emitter on backwards. Fortunately, it didn't take me long to figure out why they kept popping off!

I spent time pruning several of my shrubs, although I need to do more....

I pulled up lots and lots and lots of these! My yard was completely weed free for about a week. It was a great week. Now I need to do it all again....sigh.

And now for the garden highlights. I know you all really just want to see pictures of pretty flowers, so here they are: 

Thalictrum aquilegifolium
Snapdragon 'Chantilly Deep Orange', quite possibly one of my favorite snaps.

A new lily variety in my garden - only 12" tall. Always start your lilies from bulb - it's easy, and so much less expensive than buying lilies in pots.
The tulips put on quite a show this year. They look great against my lime-leafed mock orange, which is also a new addition to the garden.
I tried Carex 'Red Rooster' in my annual bed this year and love it!
Dianthus deltoides
A wide variety of kales and lettuces this year. My soups and salads have been fabulous!
Strawberry bed, year 2. Filling out nicely, although I added way too much nitrogen last year in the form of corn gluten. As a result, the berries this summer have been few and small. (My lawn needs mowing, as usual.)
My dahlias are finally starting to bloom, a month later than usual. I've been hearing from people all over town that they are having slow dahlias this year too.
Lupine 'Morello Cherry.' Totally worth growing from seed - it blooms the first year.

I'm loving the addition of a few marigolds to my herb garden this's never looked better.
So there's my garden so far in a nutshell. It's a little messier than usual this year, but it always surprises me how vibrant it can look even when not manicured as it should be.

How are your gardens doing this summer? Any new varieties worth sharing?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ultra-early Spring Bloomers

Anyone in a far northern area of the world can tell you that when spring comes, most gardeners want flowers and they want them now. I am no exception, and have planted numerous spring bloomers to make myself happy after a long long long winter. For those out there like me who have no patience and want some flowers right away, I've listed some of the plants that bloom earliest in my Anchorage area garden.

Iris reticulata 'Harmony'
Dwarf iris, or Iris reticulata, is usually the first thing to bloom in my garden, although this year the crocus beat them to it. I have them in my rock garden, and in perennial beds planted underneath hostas. The blooms only last a couple of weeks, but they are so cute I don't much mind.

Arabis caucasica
Who wants to see more white after a long dark winter when the only color you see is, well...white?? I avoided planting white flowers for that reason for a while, but then started to realize that I really liked them. They don't remind me of winter after all, and they can really make shady areas of the garden look brighter.

This little guy above often has buds on it even before the snow has completely melted off. I have the white variety, but it also comes in pink and purplish, and there's another white variety with variegated foliage. I grew mine from seed and they bloomed their first spring.

Primula denticulata
I'm quickly becoming a primula addict, and this is one of my favorites. As more buds open up, a ball of flowers forms and pushes up 6-8" above the leaves, which looks very whimsical and Dr. Suess-y to me:

Primula denticulata, late May 2010
And as you can see, they come in a variety of colors.

Primula elatior
Another primrose, Primula elatior, which generally has buds on it before I can get the leaves cleared off in the spring. This is another super easy one to start from seed, and it blooms for a solid month or more. The one pictured above is just starting to bloom. In a couple of weeks there will be ten times as many flowers on this one plant. They're prolific little suckers!

Chionodoxa forbesii 
I'm not sure how to pronounce the Latin name of the cute little flower pictured above, so I usually refer to it by the common name Glory-of-the-snow. It's another bulb, and it's so small I use it to under plant other perennials a lot, especially hostas. It also comes in pink and white, but I think the blue are the most vigorous.

Viola spp.
I know a lot of people don't think much of pansies and violas, being as common as they are, but really...look at that face! It's darling! And they spread so merrily about the garden of their own accord I can't help but let them do their own thing. (A lot of gardeners consider violas to be weedy.) They may tend to grow wherever they please, but they also bloom early, so they're fine by me.

So there's the list of what's blooming in my garden in ultra-early spring. What are you guys growing? What's blooming in your gardens right now?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Top 5 Reasons to Keep a Garden Log

Or journal, or diary, or whatever you want to call it.

1. So you know what you have.

In spring, when you are cleaning debris from your flower beds and you come across a bizarre and unidentifiable bunch of twigs that you have no recollection of planting, you can look back in your log and figure out what it is.

This happened to me today. I found a really thick, meaty crown of some mystery plant, 12" across, where I can't remember having put anything last summer. I was really sure it wasn't a weed; I admit I can be a lazy weeder, but this was a big freakin' mass of plant, so I'm sure I would have already pulled it if it were something undesirable.

And as I am pretty sure no one else is planting things in my garden while I'm asleep or at work, I checked my 2010 log, and found it is Heuchera 'Brownies.'

2. So you remember the names of what you have.

Because someone is going to ask you what it is, and you will want to be able to tell them. Or you may want to get more of that plant, which is hard to do if you don't happen to remember that it's called Primula denticulata, for example.

3. So you remember to do what you didn't get to last summer.

I can't tell you how many times I've gone through my garden and thought,  "I really should move these lilies over there," or "I need to start the petunias from seed earlier next year," or something similar. Unfortunately, if I don't write it down, it doesn't happen. So I keep wish lists, garden maps, calenders, and to-do lists for the next season, and this really helps me get things ready before the season starts.

4. So significant dates don't pass you by.

Such as when to start all your seeds so they bloom at the appropriate time. Or when to put in your peas and potatoes so they'll sprout but not freeze. That sort of thing.

5. So you can dream.

What's a gardener to do during a long winter in Alaska? Plan for spring, of course! I look in my log to see what performed well, what didn't, and what I should consider trying new.

A garden log can be anything. I used to keep mine in a binder and saved plant labels, bulb packaging, and the like. I've since upgraded to keeping my log on Excel, complete with pictures and links. I still keep a binder, but reserve it for designs old and new, and current diagrams of my perennial, annual, and veggie beds.

It sounds like I'm organized, but I'm really not. I've just found that keeping a few notes really helps me garden smarter and save time every summer.

Do any of you keep a garden log? What works well for you?

Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 Feline Turf Wars: Operation Garden Freedom!

Some of you have heard my rants regarding loose neighborhood cats, of which there are not less than six in my neck of the woods. While I'm sure they are loving and gracious pets in their respective homes, when released into the suburban wilds they become fence-walking, pooping, shedding fiends.

I have raised vegetable gardens that all of the neighborhood's cats seem to think is their litter box. I eat these veggies, people! Or I would, if they weren't being defiled on a regular basis. Ewww. Anyway, in my efforts towards good health and sanitation, I have come up with a new, double-pronged and potentially lethal defense:

My first line of defense is to make use of Infrared Transparent plastic mulch, otherwise known as IRT. Not only will this physically deter cats from digging in my freshly-tilled beds, it will also help warm the soil while inhibiting weed growth. I have my doubts when it comes to slug prevention as some have claimed, but we'll see what happens.

My second line of defense was the procurement of a Ground Utility Sentinel, also known as GUS. This highly trained operative has been charged with patrolling the territory's perimeter and deterring intruders by growling, barking, and/or chasing. I wouldn't mind a mouthful of fur or two if the assailant deserves it.

Mere minutes after this picture was taken, Gus spotted a cat in the yard and promptly growled and chased the thing away. My plans are coming to fruition...

This gardener will not go quietly into the night! 2011 Feline Turf Wars: It's on!! BRING IT!

Spring, and other Awesomeness

Even though there is still a bit of snow on the ground up here, most South-Central Alaskans* agree that it is finally, irrefutably, Spring. Evidence from my garden includes:

Big Fat Fatty Buds!

Most of my trees and shrubs have buds that are beginning to swell and take on a green or reddish color. Oh joy!

You won't find these babies down south!
As the snow melts, all sorts of winter treasures are revealed, including but not limited to: moose nuggets, missing gloves, neighbor's kid's toys, and things you were too lazy to put away in the fall.

All sorts of things have started popping up around the yard. Things closest to my house tend to come up first, such as daffodils, ligularia, and crocus.

My crocus are always early to come up, but this year they win the first-to-bloom prize. Last year it was the dwarf iris in the rock garden, but this time around they're only 1/2" out of the ground.

I have planted crocus in multiple areas around the yard, but the only ones that ever bloom are those next to the house. The rest tend to come up 'blind.' I've read this is sometimes due to the corms being improperly stored by the producer, but I've planted multiple varieties from different growers, and my results are all the same. This leads me to think it's more of a temperature issue. The crocus next to my foundation, which gets some heat from the house, bloom every year. The rest farther away from the house do not. What do you guys think? Any other hypotheses?

Saxifraga arendsii
I've discovered that rock gardens are great for visual interest in early spring. So many rock garden perennials have evergreen foliage, and they are up and running as soon as the snow melts off. With all the stones surrounding the plants to catch the sun's warmth, the few plants that aren't evergreen also tend to come up very quickly in spring.

So here you have my proof that spring is actually here despite large piles of snow still loitering about. What have you guys seen to prove winter is finally gone?

*Except for the cross country skiers. Those people hold on to the last vestiges of winter with more tenacity than should be considered healthy.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Seed Starting Secrets Part II: Your Questions, Answered!

So I'm sort of cheating for this post, since I copied these questions from the comments on my last post. Being the overly verbose person that I am, I figured by the time I finished answering them it would be blog-length anyways.

I didn't ask my friend from Minnesota if I could base a post around her questions, so hopefully she doesn't mind! I thought they were good questions that other people might want to read about as well. Here's what I've found in the past that's worked for me; hopefully it will work for all of you guys too.

Q: I'm bottom watering, just putting some water on the bottom of those spinach containers for the plants to suck up. Question there: Should I just keep half an inch or so of water down there at all times, or only when needed? Is there a chance that they'll get root rot or anything? 

A: In my humble yet accurate opinion, I would only put water down there when needed. Root rot is a definite possibility, and often much harder to correct than a plant that wilted a little.

I bottom water a lot of my seedlings too, but generally not until after the seeds have germinated. I found that a lot of the seeds that were right on the soil surface weren't staying very moist when watered from the bottom. So I mist lightly every day or two, just enough to wet the seeds and the top of the soil down a little bit. Once things germinate and there are some roots present I switch to bottom watering.

Q: I planted things about 10 days ago. We have a short growing season like you do (yes, Tundra Monkey, I tell people that I live in the tundra, too!). Do I have any hope of seeing anything bloom this year? And should I be seeing anything yet? (I'm not.)

A: It depends. (This is my answer to almost every gardening question, but it's true!)

If you planted annual seeds, they'll probably bloom for you this year. If it's a species that needs a little more time to mature, you may see the blooms closer to late summer.

If you planted perennial seeds, you probably won't see blooms this year. Many perennials don't bloom the first year anyway, which is why a lot of gardeners get them from nurseries unless they are cheap like me. However, there are some perennials that bloom fairly quickly, so you never know.

And I don't think you're starting things as late as you think you are. If it were July, yeah, that's a little late. But I believe you're still sort of thawing up down there, aren't ya? What's the official frost-free planting date in your area?

As for wondering when your seeds will germinate, your best bet is to look at the seed packet. They usually list the days to germination on the back. I've had some seeds germinate after two days (lupine,) and others after two months (thalictrum.) Perennials tend to take longer, but not always. Don't give up hope yet! Have faith in those little guys! 

Q: I'm planting everything in the 4" pots. But due to space, I decided I needed to economize. I put four little divots in each 4" pot. Was that wrong of me? I just don't have enough space or containerage for all the seedlings I want to grow.

A: You'll be fine. I tend to do the same thing if I don't know how fast they're gonna grow or what my germination rate is going to be, and then I just separate them later on. A lot of people will just sprinkle seeds in a big tray of soil and then transplant everything to individual pots once the seedlings have a couple leaves. Because I am lazy I like to minimize my transplanting, so I too struggle with the space issue. Here's the summery of what works for me so far:

Start in cell packs: smaller annual flowers like pansies, marigolds, sweet alyssum, impatiens, english daisies, and lobelia, veggies like lettuces, leeks, broccoli, cabbage, and kale, and some perennials that are really slow to take off like primulas, columbine, and dianthus.

Start in 3-4" pots: tomatoes, squashes, herbs, celery, nasturtiums, wave-type petunias (those suckers get big fast,) most perennials, and things that don't like being transplanted like lupine, zucchini, and cobaea vine. Some of these things, particularly the perennials and tomatoes, I will pot up to gallon-sized pots later on if needed. 

Q: I planted sedum. And then I read on the package that they may not germinate for 1-2 years?! What the! Seriously? Should I even hope for anything there? Obviously not doing those again...

A: This question totally made me laugh out loud, because I've been there! We have a native chocolate lily up here that is the same way. I always read seed packets thoroughly nowadays before I buy them. While I like a challenge, two years is a little ridiculous to me, especially considering that sedums are insanely easy to propagate by cuttings. (Hmmm. There may be a post on this in the future...) Personally, I'd probably just plant something else in those same pots and forget about the sedum. But if you have the patience, go for it!

Q: I've also used some seeds that are a year or two old. I've stored them in a washed and dried, large yogurt container, in a cool, dry, dark place. When do seeds go "bad"? At what point should I get rid of things?

A: Sounds like you are storing them well, so they'll probably germinate for you. (I stick mine in glass jars in the fridge, in case you were wondering.) While every species is different, many seeds will last you a few years. I have lettuce seeds I bought five years ago that still sprout reliably. Peas, on the other hand, tend to germinate poorly for me after a year or two so I buy them fresh every spring.

See this other lovely blog for a great seed viability chart:

So that's the best I can do for ya. I hope it helps! Since so much of gardening is trial and error, don't get too discouraged if something doesn't work out. Soon enough you'll be answering similar questions with the little tricks you've discovered along the way.

Anyone out there have any additional words of wisdom for my friend in Minnesota? Please feel free to share!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Seed Starting Secrets and Stuff

Some people have had great success starting plants indoors from seed. Some people have failed miserably. Unfortunately I was one of the latter, but I wasn't about to give up and claim a black thumb. Since I earn my keep as a horticulturist, having strong healthy plants I've grown myself is a matter of professional pride. I started to glean information where I could - books, garden club meetings, the internet. I now have happy healthy seedlings every year (for the most part - there are always some mishaps*,) and below you'll find a lot of the tips and tricks I picked up in my quest for a greener thumb. Maybe they'll make your thumb a little greener too.

1. Select plants and varieties that do well in your area. I would love to grow Brandywine tomatoes, but there's really no hope in trying to get them to produce fruit in Alaska unless you own a greenhouse, which I don't. So I stick with 'Stupice' tomatoes, which aren't quite as heavenly but do very well in cold summer climates. If you don't know what grows well in your area, ask a knowledgeable garden center employee or a master gardener.

2. Sterilize everything! Pots and cell packs and trays and all that jazz. A 10% bleach solution works well for me. Don't reuse soil when starting seeds. Your little babies are too vulnerable to diseases such as damping off.**

Yup. My bathtub is yellow.

3. Follow package directions. Unless, of course, you know better. Alaska has a short season so I start things inside earlier than the package directs. (And still I don't get some things to bloom until September.) But in general if it says to plant a seed 1/8" deep, don't put it down an inch. Some plants need light to germinate and vice versa. 

4. Don't expect 100% germination. It's a good idea to over plant if you need a specific number of plants. I tend to over plant by 20% unless I've had good/bad luck with that particular species in the past.

5. Label everything! It's really hard to tell some seedlings apart, especially if you have multiple varieties of the same plant. (IE purple, pink, and yellow petunias.)

6. Keep the light bright and the humidity up. You can make mini greenhouses or cover with clear plastic wrap. Use fluorescent or LED lights and keep them close to the plants, unless things are getting too hot. (Although they shouldn't with those types of bulbs.) Many people like to use one cool fluorescent and one warm to get a full light spectrum, or you can use daylight spectrum bulbs.

I leave the lid on to keep the humidity up before the seeds sprout.
Then I remove the lid for air circulation once things germinate.

I keep the plants REALLY close to the lights unless they are starting to looked scorched or bleached out. Shade loving plants like begonias don't like to be too close. Everything else needs it to grow well.

7. Don't fertilize for the first couple weeks after germination. Then fertilize according to package directions or whatever suits you. (I actually try to hold back on the fertilizer so things don't get too big too fast. I only have so much room.) Watch for nutrient deficiencies.

Although this variety of snapdragon has a natural purple tinge to the leaves, purple or reddish leaves could be a sign of phosphorus deficiency. Pale green leaves tend to mean a nitrogen deficiency.

8. Transplant when needed. Most plants grow out of those little Jiffy peat plugs in the time it takes to bake a batch of brownies. Unless you want pathetic stunted little Quasimodo plants, give them a home with more root space after some true leaves develop. Some plants can stay in little cell packs for a while (annuals like pansies, lettuces, forget-me-nots, etc.) Others need to be potted to 4", 6" or even larger sized pots (tomatoes, many perennials, supertunias, etc.)

9. Watch the watering.
Seedlings in little cell packs dry out fast! I check mine once a day. For unsprouted or newly sprouted seeds I gently mist water with a spray bottle. Older seedlings can handle being watered with a pitcher. Don't keep things too soggy or you'll get diseases and gnats and all sorts of unpleasantness.

10. A little adversity makes for sturdy plants. I have an oscillating fan that I turn on for an hour or so every day. It increases air circulation, which is always a good thing, and it encourages all the little suckers to put on some muscle and thicken up their stems.

11. Watch for pests, especially things like aphids, whitefly, and spider mites. And it my case, parrots.

The beak-shaped damage leaves no doubt as to the culprit!

11. Harden off your plants before planting them outside. If you've never done this or don't know what I'm talking about, I'll probably cover it in a later post. But the general idea is to gradually get a plant used to its new environment before permanently moving it there. This is especially important for plants grown under artificial light, since they'll burn if you put them straight into bright sunlight for too long at first.

So that's it. Do you guys have any hints to share? Any great successes for failures? Good luck with your seeds, and have a happy spring!***

*like when my parrot lands on the edge of a flat of newly planted seeds and sends it all cascading onto the carpet. So no variegated Korean Violets this year.

**I was lazy and didn't sterilize anything last year and lost over half my seedlings. That, and I had algae growing everywhere. It was nasty.

***Well, not yet. But soon. Oh, so soon!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Orchid That Lives In My Bathroom

Some of you may have heard about The Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom. Here he is:

He is not much to look at. His two leaves are a breathe away from a dead wilt. Most of his roots are so crisp and dessicated they collapse with the slightest touch. He definitely isn't going to bloom any time soon.

Now you may think that none of the above is very surprising, since Phalaenopsis (aka Moth) orchids are so difficult to care for, right? Wrong! Orchids are easy to care for! They have this mystique about them because they are expensive and beautiful, but they aren't nearly as hard to care for as most people think. The Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom is concrete evidence of this. You see, I haven't watered him for over 14 months.

In addition to no water for over a year, The Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom has had barely any light. My bathroom has no windows. And since I tore out the shower several months ago, I barely go in there any more and turn on the lights.

Yup. He lived right up there on that cabinet for 14 months. I put him up there one day and then forgot about him.
So the Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom has lived for over a year with next to no light, no water, and Alaska-in-the-winter humidity, which, judging by the rate I go through lotion and chapstick, is pretty stinkin' dry. And the thing is still alive.

I've almost watered and/or moved him several times, since the poor guy was living in an orchid's version of Hell. And yet I had this perverse need to see how far he could go. He'd already made it three months, how about six? Nine? A year?

Well, after a year and two months I'm getting ready to paint the bathroom, and so need to take down the medicine cabinet. I brought the Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom into a room with better light so I could assess the damage. I didn't have much hope for the thing, even if it had somehow clung to life far longer than it should have.

You see that there, amongst the cobwebs? It's a new leaf!!

And those are new air roots!! So not only is the Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom still alive, it is actively growing!!

I sort of wanted the pot for another plant, but I just couldn't send this plucky guy to the Compost Heap in the Sky like I planned. Anything that endures those conditions for that long deserves to live!! The Orchid that Lives in My Bathroom is now The Orchid that Lives by the Best Window in the House (after a decent acclimation period, that is. You don't give a starving man a cheeseburger.) Since he is now surrounded by other plants he will have a decent level of humidity, and I will probably water him at least once a month out of horticultural guilt.

Moral of the story: if you are ever locked in a bathroom without food, water, or sunlight for a long period of time, hang in there! Be like the little orchid that could! You'll be rewarded in the end. Another moral is that phalaenopsis orchids are absurdly easy to take care of (although getting them to rebloom can be another story.) And finally, don't take a long time to remodel your bathroom. Lives could be at stake.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Rex Begonias from leaf cuttings

Isn't leaf propagation exciting?!?! No? Well, keep reading...

So you have a plant that looks like this:

Begonia rex 'Stained Glass,' I think. If anyone knows the variety of this guy, let me know!

And it's awesome so you want more of them. While rex begonias (aka Begonia rex) make great houseplants, with leaves like these you will obviously want more of them to throw in your annual flower pots this summer. You can buy more, or you can grow your own by asking for (or snitching) a leaf from a friend's plant or municipal flower bed.

Step 1 - Select a healthy leaf or two.

Step 2 - Trim the leaf so that the veins are exposed. You can use one leaf to get multiple pieces, just as long as there are some veins in each piece.

Step 3 - Stick your little leaf piece in some soil. It doesn't really matter which end is up, as long as some of the veins are in the dirt.

If you look close, you'll see little baby leaves at the top. So cute!

Step 4 - Keep the soil moderately moist for a few weeks. You don't have to have perfect light; I put my begonia babies on an east-facing windowsill and they did fine. Just don't keep them too moist, or they may rot. It may also help to cover the pot with a clear plastic baggie or something to keep the humidity up.

I've read in several places that rex begonias can take up to 90 days to root and sprout, but mine took after about 3 weeks. I'm not sure if this is because I used a variety that roots more easily than others or if I just got lucky, but either way it's a good idea to start now if you want plants for this summer.

My baby rex after about a month and a half. I'm so proud!

There are gazillions of rex varieties out there, so you can swap leaves with your friends like baseball cards. Speaking of which, if anyone out there has a fine specimen of Begonia rex 'Escargot,' will you share a leaf with me?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Recent Acquisitions

Spring is still a good two months away here in Anchorage, and the "safe" planting date is another couple of weeks beyond that. Does this fact stop retailers from putting out all sorts of seeds and corms and tubers with seductive packaging? Nope. Does this fact stop me from buying them even though I know better? Nope.

Granted, I can and do start spring early with fluorescent lights. But every year I start things too early, and I plant too many, and I have a lot of fun trying to fit everything on a limited number of shelves. I usually make shopping lists to help limit the number of plants I bring home, but being a dedicated optimist I usually tell myself I can fit in a couple more flats of seedlings somewhere. Then into the cart go those kale seeds (even though I have six other varieties of kale at home.) Into the cart go twice the number of begonias I have on my garden plan. (The colors are all mouthwatering!) Into the cart go those cherry red lupine seeds. (I have no place for red lupine in in my yard. But it's red lupine! It belongs in my garden!)

Anyhoo, for any who are interested, here is my list of recently acquired plant goodies:

1. Tuberous begonias for hanging baskets, in hot pink, apricot, and red

2. Dinner plate dahlias 'Kalinka' and 'Aloha'

3. Shallots (I had shallots for the first time last year because of a friend's recommendations. At first I was inclined to believe they were just glorified onions until I sauteed them in butter and then broiled them on some halibut with parmesan. Holy freakin' yummy cow!!)

4. Onions (Which come in a bag of two billion bulbs. Who in the world needs that many onions? Sadly, shallots come in a bag of five.)

5. Mizuna seeds (What? You've never heard of Mizuna? Unbelievable.)

6. Impatiens 'Rose Bling' seeds (Anyone up here ever grow impatiens? How do they do for ya? Any secrets you want to share?)

7. Kale 'Lacinato,' aka dinosaur kale

8. Pea 'Progress no. 9,' which is a shelling variety. (It's a new one for me. Anyone ever try it? Is it any good?)

So there you have it. Has anyone else been lured into buying green things too early? If so, then what?

Monday, March 7, 2011

My first official post, and it's a doozy!

Coworker had a great idea! Begonias and lamium in pots together for shady areas! Brilliant! Love it! Gonna try it!