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?