My mother is a vigorous lifelong gardener with varied and naturalistic gardens on her property in northwestern CT, and a small pond which provides a focal point behind the house. She also has a raised bed vegetable patch which produces broccoli, brussel sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes and beans. She finds that the rule in her garden is ‘one for me and one for the rabbits.’ Sometimes it’s two for the rabbits to her one.
Recently I spent an afternoon gardening with my mother. When I got there she had her shovel deep in her compost bin. Then she dropped the compost on a screen positioned over her wheelbarrow and began rubbing it through the screen. The result was the most perfect soil I have ever seen.
When ambling through her gardens she points out the lavender that came from a friend, or the iris she transplanted from their former home in Weston, CT. There’s one small plant I divided last season and gave to her, a chocolate-y heuchera caramel. In my garden half of the plants are from my mother’s garden, divided over the years and dropped in a pot or wrapped in wet newspaper for transporting to my garden.
It’s part of the fun and the ritual of gardening, sharing and recalling where our plants came from. My mother’s sister in Minnesota has poppies that came from my great uncle’s garden in Emmetsburg, Iowa. He died at the age of 97, over 30 years ago, but his poppies still live. When we look at the poppies we think of Uncle Harold. I have asked her to collect seeds for me so I can try propagating them in my greenhouse next Spring.
I remember many years ago my grandmother showed me a somewhat tattered photo she had of her perennial garden, established along a high riverbank back in Iowa where my mother and her sister and brother grew up. Although the picture was in black and white I could tell my grandmother saw all the colors in her garden when she looked at it. She loved looking at that picture.
Gardening is about the past, the present and the future—and the connections we make between them. A love of gardening is a wonderful gift to pass on to others. Thank you Mom, and Happy Mother’s Day!
[This story was first published for Horticulture in May 2012. My mother continues to love her gardens in Sharon, CT.]
Daffodils from my garden, with little white Snowflakes (Leucojum)
Where I live in Dutchess County NY, daffodils are one of the few bulbs deer do not graze so gardeners are planting more varieties of daffodils to get variation in their early spring gardens.
After your bulbs are finished blooming, remove flowers so they won’t put energy into producing seeds. For naturalizing, however, leave flowers and allow reseeding. At the NY Botanical Garden, daffodils are allowed to naturalize into large drifts on a hillside.
Daffodil drifts at the New York Botanical Garden in Bronx, NY. Daffodil leaves are left to fade until mid-June before the grass is mown.
Don’t braid or fold and band the leaves as they are dying, as is sometimes recommended. It’s best for the leaves to be fully exposed to the sun. The foliage provides essential nutrients that will help the bulb recharge for next season, so don’t cut leaves back until they yellow and eventually turn brown.
Plant your bulbs in a location where the yellowing and fading leaves won’t be a distraction. I try to plant them in a garden bed where other plants will grow in and hide the fading leaves of the bulbs.
To learn more about caring for your bulbs after they bloom, click here.
Sometimes in early Spring after bulbs have emerged from the ground and are beginning to flower, a sudden cold snap will bring temperatures down below freezing for a few days. More often than not, I’m amazed at the resiliency of these hardy plants. We are experiencing a cold scap in the northeast and we had snowfall on two consecutive nights earlier in the week in our Zone 6 region.
The exact effect caused by a sudden cold snap depends on a number of different factors, including the type of plant, regional location, temperature and length of snap. Remember, cold snaps are defined as a short and sudden spell of cold weather; therefore, the temperatures should rise back to their normal levels within a couple of days.
Daffodils– There are many varieties of daffodils, all of which blossom in spring. When a cold snap approaches, gardeners are oftentimes fearful of the effects it will have. Like tulips, however, daffodils are naturally protected against mild-to-moderate cold snaps. If you believe the freezing temperatures are going to last longer than expected, you can place some extra mulch around the base of your daffodils for an added layer of thermal protection. Once the temperatures begin to rise again, though, you’ll need to remove the mulch so the daffodils can easily breathe again.
Tulips– Because they bloom early in the spring, tulips can handle short cold snaps with ease. As long as the temperatures go back within 48 hours, they won’t suffer any serious damage. A tulip’s shoots and buds are usually the most protected from the cold, as they have a natural barrier against the cold weather. On the other hand, tulips with open blossoms may experience a slight burn from the freezing temperatures, especially if it lasts for longer than 48 hours.
Hyacinth– Hyacinth is a plant that’s native to the eastern Mediterranean, Iran and Turkmenistan, but it’s since been successfully introduced into several other regions. This bulbous flowering plant blooms with bright purplish blue coloring that’s a welcomed addition to any garden. So, how well does hyacinth handle short spells of cold weather? Some gardeners will find they do quite well, while others may experience their plants going into shock. Hyacinth is considered a spring-blooming flower, but this doesn’t necessary mean they will withstand freezing temperatures. The best thing you can do in the event of sudden cold snaps is to protect hyacinth with extra mulch for additional warmth.
The Early Spring issue of Country Gardens with a feature story on our greenhouse also has an interesting story about growing microgreens. Here’s a link to the Country Gardens website with How To information on growing microgreens.
I started 3 crops myself, using 3 handmade plates by the talented Vermont potter Amanda Ann Palmer. Because microgreens are harvested a couple of weeks after the seeds are sown, a shallow dish with no holes for drainage is perfectly acceptable.
Dorian’s bok choy microgreens growing in a handmade ceramic plate by Amanda Ann Palmer
Within 5 days of sprinkling seeds on a bed of soiless potting mix, our bok choy and arugula seeds sprouted. Basil will take a little longer. We did put them on a heating mat designed for seed germination. Some plants germinate and grow faster than others. Check with your seed provider.
My crop is in the bright sun on our kitchen windowsill and I expect we will be able to ‘harvest’ them by snipping off the plant just above the soil, stem and all, in about 5 days from now. Use your Womanswork Incomparable scissors for this task!
I grew fond of microgreens over the past couple of summers at our Pawling Farmers Market. One of the vendors had trays of arugula, watercress and other tiny microgreens that she would snip off for an eager clientele each Saturday. At home I would sprinkle them on salads or put inside sandwiches. There are lots of ways to use microgreens, and they add taste as well as texture to a dish.
Forcing bulbs to bloom indoors in late Winter is a way to enjoy the magic of Spring flowers a little early.
If you received a free package of our pink Foxtrot tulip bulbs, they are ready to be potted up indoors as soon as you get them. This is because they have spent the winter in a cool warehouse in Pennsylvania. (For other Spring blooming bulbs, you need to put them in a cool, refrigerated location for 6-8 weeks before potting them up indoors.)
Follow these instructions for forcing your bulbs to bloom this spring indoors:
- Fill a pot with potting soil or a soilless mix purchased at a garden center or home center. Make sure your pot has good drainage to prevent bulbs from rotting.
- Plant the bulbs, pointy end up, so that the top of the bulb is just above the soil line.
- Water well and leave in a sunny windowsill.
Green growth will emerge within 10-15 days. Wait approximately 4-5 weeks for blooms. When your bulbs have finished blooming put them in a dark, cool place. You can plant them outdoors in the Fall and watch them emerge the following Spring, or keep them indoors for forcing again next Spring.
Your Foxtrot tulip bulbs will grow about 10-12″ high, so they are not prone to flop over in their pot.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
We are thrilled to be featured in the Early Spring 2016 issue of Country Gardens, a high circulation magazine published by Meredith. Last Spring we were visited by Matthew Benson, award-winning garden photographer, who took the lovely photos of our greenhouse. Then over the summer Irene Virag and her husband spent the afternoon with us for the story. She is a lovely person who won a Pulitzer prize for her journalism.
Click here to be taken to a flipbook version of the entire article.
Which Plants Want A Winter Rest?
Many plants native to warm climates can be grown in colder zones as perennials, but require a rest period during cooler months, which encourages them to bloom or fruit again. Dormancy in plants occurs when the environmental conditions are not suitable for the plant to grow; this is most often during a cold or dry season.
Here are a few popular plants I have in my garden, and the techniques Northern gardeners can use to overwinter them:
Clivias- Clivia miniata
Clivias are native to shady, subtropical woodland areas of Eastern South Africa. In the wild, they go dormant during the dry part of the year. This rest time promotes the development of new buds.
In temperate regions, you can promote flowering of clivias by creating a dormant period: put the Clivia in an environment with a temperature of 50 degrees for 6 to 8 weeks, with very little light (a basement or garage), and just enough water to keep the soil slightly moist.
After the end of the dormant period, the stem will lengthen and a bud will develop. When new growth begins, move to a place with 65-75 degree temperatures and bright, indirect light.
Click here to visit The North American Clivia Society’s website, which has a wealth of information and links about clivias.
Potted Fig Trees- Ficus carica
The fig is believed to be indigenous to western Asia. It is in the mulberry family. In Mediterranean and Middle Eastern climates, figs may have two or even three fruiting seasons, but have rest periods in between.
Figs are sometimes wrapped to withstand cold winters outdoors, but potted figs can be overwintered in a garage or cool basement. Allow the fig to go dormant by reducing water. The plant should stay outdoors through a light frost, to encourage the sap to move down toward the roots. Move it to a dark location that stays just above freezing. If your location is light, wrap the plant in dark fabric to keep it dormant. About two weeks before the last frost, the plant can be moved back outside. Choose a protected area, such as near a wall, until temperatures warm up.
Lee Reich is a fruit growing expert with lots of practical information about growing figs in colder climates: http://www.leereich.com/2014/11/figs-up-north.html
Lily of the Nile -Agapanthus africanus
Agapanthus, also known as Lily-of-the-Nile, or African Blue Lily, is a showy blue or white flowering perennial, native to South Africa, where it grows in the shade, under trees. They have a dormant period during the winter months.
To overwinter agapanthus indoors, move pots indoors after a light frost. Cut back the foliage. Keep them in a cool, dark location, with temperatures between 35 and 45 degrees Farenheit. In late winter or very early spring, bring the dormant corms into a warm area and water thoroughly. In a few weeks, new growth will emerge. They can be placed back outdoors after danger of frost is over.
For more information about overwintering Agapanthus, visit the Missouri Botanical Garden website by clicking here.
Amaryllis, a relative of agapanthus, can be treated in a similar fashion, though it doesn’t require very cold temperatures for the dormancy period. Bring amaryllis inside before the first heavy frost, cut back foliage to the top of the bulb, and keep in a dark, cool location (50-55 degrees Farenheit) for 8-10 weeks. When new growth emerges, water and move to a bright location, with temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees.
Other Plants That Like a Dormant or Rest Period:
Do your skin care products have shea butter in them? It is one of the most nourishing things a woman can put on her skin. Cleopatra was supposed to have used and loved shea butter! It has been called ‘Women’s Gold’ because in West Africa, where the raw ingredient is harvested, shea butter is a women’s industry. Over the years it has enabled women to improve the quality of life for their families and community.
Womanswork After Gardening Skin Care products, including Elderflower facial cream, Vanilla Bean, Lavender Mint and Pink Grapefruit moisturizers, and Arnica Muscle Rub, feature organic, unrefined shea butter, formulated with pure botanicals and other plant based ingredients. Our products are made exclusively for Womanswork by a Master Herbalist.
Here are five reasons why shea butter is the perfect skin ‘food’:
- Shea Butter is rich in nutrients including vitamins A and E, essential for healthy skin
- Shea butter rebuilds and rejuvenates collagen and has been shown to have anti-aging properties
- Shea Butter is anti-inflammatory, and is recommended for a number of skin conditions, including eczema and dermatitis
- Shea butter protects skin against damage from sun exposure, wind, cold and dry winter air
- Raw, unrefined shea butter is produced from the nuts of the Shea Tree, native to West Africa, without the use of chemicals or preservatives. For more information about shea butter, visit the website of the American Shea Butter Institute.
West African Women and Shea Butter – The demand for shea butter has increased significantly in the past 10 years. In West Africa women’s cooperatives have been established to produce and sell shea butter, producing enough income to build schools and health care clinics in rural villages. Click here to find out more about cooperatives for women shea producers.
Elizabeth Buchtman works at Womanswork, and on weekends she’s been making and decorating holiday wreaths with Stephen Chamberlain of Dutchess Farm in Castleton, VT. She agreed to share her secret with us for producing festive bows for her holiday wreaths.
Step One: Get your supplies lined up. This includes ribbon (3 in. wide with wire edges), a spool of wire, sharp scissors, and her Womanswork pocket stone to keep her scissors at peak performance for cutting the ends of the bow.
Step Two: Pleat the ribbon in six even pleats. Hold them together at the base.
Step Three: Tie a piece of wire tightly around the base of the pleats. Do not cut the wire.
Step Four: Pull each pleat or section away from the other sections before wrapping wire in between each one and around the bottom.
Step Five: Keep wrapping wire in between each section and around the back side and up again through the next one. (5 times for 6 sections)
Step Six: Twist the wire on the back side and keep a 12″ length for tying your bow onto the wreath. Cut wire. Pull each section of the bow away from the center and plump it up to give it body and to cover the wire in the center. Cut the ends of the bow on a sharp diagonal. VOILA!