Purple Finch & Springtime Blossoms: Rejoicing as Sleeping Beauty Awakes . . .

April 24th, 2013 Comments Off

Purple_Finch_Copyright_2013_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com_no_use_without_permission Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus) in Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius)

It’s been a raw and chilly April in Vermont, and yet springtime songbirds, undaunted by the lingering chill, have flocked to my garden in search of sustenance. Some species are merely passing through, but others will settle and set up summer residence. This month’s standout is the Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus, pictured above), with plum-stained plumage and a sweet, rich, warbling song. An occasional winter-guest at my bird feeders, the Purple Finch may be scouting for nesting territory (learn more about this beautiful native species at Cornell Lab of Ornithology, here). I am grateful for the brilliant-colored beauty and musical backdrop provided by my winged, garden guests and the delicate buds and blossoms, decorating my hilltop.

pussywillow_michaela_medina_harlow Harbinger of Springtime: Native Pussy Willows (Salix discolor), Shimmer Like Grey Pearls on a Misty Morning

 With cold, grey days and bare branches on trees, I find my eyes drawn to even the slightest hint of color. Blossoming maple —ruddy tipped twigs glowing against low clouds— stain the hilltops a subtle shade of raspberry. With cooler-than-usual temperatures, native Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) and shrubs like Vernal Witch-Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis), have extended their early-spring show. I love how the early-season buds and blooms catch light; like drops of berry-colored jam and sweet, golden honey in the sun . . .

crocus_tommasinianus_Copyright_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com_no_use_without_permission Crocus tommasinianus in Morning Light

Hamamelis_vernalis_April_sunset_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com A Flower I Normally Associate with March, Vernal Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) Continues to Seduce with Luminous, Golden Beauty and Honey-Sweet Fragrance

Crocus_michaela_medina_harlow_thegardenerseden.com Sunlit Crocus: Beautiful, Brilliant Colored Reward for Garden Clean-Up

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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First Hints of a Changing Season . . .

March 30th, 2013 § 3

Viburnum bodnantense 'Dawn' ⓒ 2013 michaela medina harlow - thegardenersedenApril’s Promise: Beloved Blossoms on My Bodnant Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’). Read More About this Beauty in My Previous Post Here

The first hints of a changing season: warm breezes from the south and silvery pussy willow catkins, soft against the skin, flirty pink buds on my favorite viburnum and the taste of sweet new maple syrup in a springtime cocktail.

Finally, as the snowbanks reluctantly recede, Spring has decided to make her fashionably late arrival. Of course we all smile in eager anticipation —watching her seductively saunter up the garden path— even if she always makes us a bit impatient in our wait. Hello gorgeous, we sure have missed you . . .

Hamamelis x intermedia 'Arnold's Promise' Blossoms in Snow ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden Sweetness to Melt the Snow: The Golden Blossoms of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’ Sparkle Like Drops of Honey, Begin to Open in the Late Afternoon Sunlight (Read More About this Lovely Witch Hazel Here)

Pussy Willow Bundles ⓒ 2013 Michaela Medina Harlow - thegardenerseden.comjpg Harvesting Pussy Willow (Salix discolor), Branches by the Armful. (Read More About this Delightful Native Here)

Shall we make a toast to Spring and all of her irresistible charms. Here’s looking at you, kid . . .

Sugar-Moon-ⓒ-michaela-thegardenerseden  My Annual, Frost-Melting Treat: Sugar Moon Cocktail (Click Here for Recipe)

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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The Seasons are Changing & It’s Time to Begin Burying Our Bulb Treasures …

September 16th, 2012 § 5

A Tisket, A Tasket, A Basket Full of Narcissus . . .

Anticipation. True gardeners really know how to revel in the wait. We are, essentially, pleasure-delayers. Gardening differs from many modern-day activities in one significant way: it is not an instant gratification activity. Not at all. Gardeners do a lot of waiting, watching and wondering. And really, this waiting becomes a way of extending our pleasure; a key part of the fun. What will the new Narcissus smell like? Will the white Erythronium blossom at the same time as the rose-tinted Hellebore? How long will it take for the Muscari to form a blue pool of blossoms at the base of the stone wall? Will the voles eat all of the crocus this year? I like wondering about things. I love forgetting about a buried treasure and then, in spring, thrilling upon the re-discovery.

Patience. Gardening has taught me many things, and I would say that whatever patience I possess —and heaven knows I am not known for it— I developed through the practice of gardening. Working with nature helps me to balance my impulsive nature, and has —quite literally— made me a more grounded person. I have a fiery personality. The act of gardening calms me down and soothes my moods. I learned this in childhood, and perhaps that is why I feel so strongly about connecting children to the non-instant-gratification pleasure of gardening. Waiting six months for a tulip to bloom is the exact opposite of waiting a nano-second for a text message. And I think that is a good thing…

Crocus Petals Unfurling

The ritual of planting bulbs is, to me, a most delicious process. First, there is the hunting and then there is the choosing. Of course, the catalogues from fine companies, like Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, arrive in early summer, and I fill them with sticky notes and scribbles. Then —usually by mid-July— I begin filling my virtual carts online (the earlier you order, the better the deals). And oh, the wonderful, wonderful pleasure of selecting from amongst all of the beautiful, jewel-like treasures. With a garden as large as mine, I order most common bulbs in great quantity. But there are many opportunities for small-scale vignettes, showcasing those rare little surprises here as well; particularly in the Secret Garden.

Most spring-blooming bulbs perform best when planted after the soil has cooled to 50 degrees or lower (usually in mid-autumn here in VT) but before it has begun to freeze. (If your bulbs arrive earlier, store them in a cool, dry place until it’s time to plant). Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Winter aconites (Eranthus), trout lilies (Erythroniums), iris, and certain other corms, rhizomes, tubers and bulbs, (Galanthus for example) should be planted in late summer or very early autumn. Take care to give these species more time to establish. In fact some bulbs and corms, such as snowdrops (Galanthus), are best transplanted ‘in the green’ (meaning, they do very well when divided and transplanted in spring, after blooming). If you are new to the world of bulbs, pay close attention to the fine-print when selecting and ordering; taking care to research the cultural requirements of each species, to avoid disappointment…

Leucojum aestivum (Summer Snowflake) in the Secret Garden – This Gorgeous Flower Takes My Breath Away…

Scillia hispanica  (Spanish Bluebells) are Beautiful Both in a Vase and in the Garden, Planted Here with Companion Hosta, Emerging in May

Narcissus ‘Fragrant Rose’ in the Northwestern Garden, Beneath the Syringa ‘Mme. Lemoine’

When designing with bulbs —for myself of for my clients— I rely heavily upon my garden notes and photos, carefully taken the previous spring. I try to provide all plants, including bulbs, with their preferred, natural growing conditions. Most bulbs, particularly the Tulips and Daffodils, need good drainage. This is especially important in winter and again in the summer. So, I try to avoid low-spots in the garden, where water will settle. Other ephemerals, such as the woodsy Erythroniums, prefer a cool and shady spot in the garden. Snowdrops, Winter Aconites and Erythroniums do very well beneath the shadowy canopy of shrubs and trees. When planning a springtime bulb-show, it’s very important to remember that most bulbs will eventually go into summer dormancy. Companion planting is the most effective way to conceal withering bulb foliage (never cut foliage back until the bulb has completed it’s yearly cycle, your daffodils and other bulbs need to photosynthesize).  Some easy combinations to begin with: daffodils planted between day lilies on a slope, trout lilies (Erythronium) planted amongst coral bells (Heuchera), and bluebells planted between ferns or late-emerging hosta. There are many, many great combinations (see some pictured below). Some companies, including Brecks, Spring Hill, Dutch Gardens, Old House Gardens and Brent & Becky’s Bulbs, offer great companion suggestions. I encourage you to look back at your garden photos and notes, and experiment with perennial combinations all your own. Remember, the experimentation and surprise is part of the pleasure! Plant bulbs that prefer full-sun and good drainage with similar perennials, such as ornamental grass and day lilies. Find shady spots between broad-leafed perennial plants, shrubs and trees for woodland bulbs. You will be delighted with the results all season-long…

A Pool of Blue Muscari has Formed Around the Base of Dan Snow’s Retaining Wall. In summer, Sedum ‘Vera Jameson’ will Take Over the Show, Concealing the Yellowing Muscari Foliage, Until it Withers Away.

Narcissus ‘Snipe’ planted with Sedum, near the Base of the Secret Garden Steps. A nearby Daphne and emerging coral bells (Heuchera) will conceal the yellowing daffodil leaves as they die back later in dormancy.

A Common, Striped Crocus in Radiant Violet and Orange (from an unnamed bargain batch)

The Spike-Hair of Narcissus ‘Rip Van Winkle’, a Spontaneous Purchase from Brent and Becky’s Bulbs, Always Makes Me Smile.  Daffodil Foliage Goes Yellow in Dormancy so I Plant Them Where They Will Disappear Between Perennials

Camassia quamash is an Early-Summer Blooming Beauty. I Love Using It in Meadow-Combinations with Ornamental Grass and Other Native Wild Flowers. Read More About This Beauty in My Post About Camassia Here.

Fritillaria, One of My Favorite Spring Flowers, Does Very Well When Planted in Ornamental Grass Gardens and Meadows

As the Snow Recedes, Crocus tommasinianus (aka ‘tommies’) Burst Forth from the Earth in a Luminous-Lavender Hue. Here Planted with Ground- Covering Heuchera Along the Entry Walk.

Galanthus ‘S. Arnott’ – If You Aren’t Careful, Snowdrops Can Become a Special Obsession All Their Own…

Chinodoxa luciliae gigantea – Glory of the Snow will Always Have a Special Place in My Heart. The Blue Flowers Bloom Very Early, and Multiply to Form Carpets. Low-Growing Chinodoxa Do Very Well Planted in Lawns (delay first mowing for best results) or Beneath Spring Blooming Shrubs and Trees. Imagine Them Combined with a Red Flowering Witch Hazel (such as H. x intermedia ‘Diane’)

Bulbs and Companions in the Secret Garden (Here, ‘Sterling’ Narcissus is planted with Euphorbia, Heuchera and Matteuccia pensylvanica beneath Stewartia pseudocamilla)

Bulbs and Companions in the Secret Garden (From left: Erythronium, Narcissus ‘Sterling’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, with Emerging Actaea simplex and ferns)

Erythronium (the species is also known by various interesting common names, from dog-tooth violet and turk’s cap to trout lily) in the Secret Garden. Read More About Erythronium by Clicking Back to a Special Post on These Hat-Like Spring Beauties, Here.

Muscari at the Base of the Secret Garden Steps in Early Spring. Note the Emerging Perennials, Surrounding the Blooming Bulbs.

Scillia siberica  (Siberian squill) Makes an Early Appearance Beneath Shrubs in the Entry Garden 

Bulbs and Companions form a Colorful Carpet Along the Secret Garden Entry in Early Spring. (Daphne ‘Carol Mackie’ is the fragrant, mounded shrub on the left, and lavender-blue Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’ scents the air. Also here, Muscari, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’ and various Sedum)

Ground-Cover Companions for Bulbs Can Play with Foliage and Flower Contrasts. Here, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’ offers a bit of drama in this Secret Garden vignette when combined with Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) and Leucojum aestevium (Summer Snowflake)

The Secret Garden in Early Spring: ‘Sterling’ Narcissus, various Euphorbia, Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’, Matteuccia pensylvanica, Tiarella cordifolia, Hakonechloa macra ‘All Gold’, Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’, Actaea simplex ‘Hillside Black Beauty’, Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’, all beneath Stewartia pseudocamilla

Pulmonaria saccharata ‘Mrs. Moon’, here in the central garden (planted with Alchemilla mollis) is a great companion plant for early bulbs…

Crocus Emerging from Winter-Dried Grass

For Springtime Dreams & Obsessions: Bulb by Ana Pavord

Garden Design and Installation: Michaela Medina Harlow

Stonework: Dan Snow

A Version of This Post First Appeared on The Gardener’s Eden in September 2010

Photography and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All images, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you! 

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Return of the Black Dragon…

May 21st, 2012 § 2

Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Wu Long Peng Sheng’  (Tree Peony, “Black Dragon Holds a Splendid Flower”)

The Black Dragon has returned to my garden, and this year he was generous, holding many splendid flowers. I have but a few tree peonies in my garden, and I hope to continue adding to the collection. The tree peonies bloom a couple of weeks earlier than the herbaceous peonies in my garden, and the Black Dragon is always the first to arrive.

Saturated with morning dew, the heavy, delicious fragrance of this peony fills the air with a rose-like scent. Peony blossoms are one of this gardener’s greatest pleasures. But the tree peony season is short; each flower to be savored for a few precious days. And with rain in tonight’s forecast, the petals will soon scatter to the ground. I wonder… Will the Black Dragon mind if I snip just a few of his splendid flowers, to place atop my desk?

Read more about Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Wu Long Peng Sheng’ in my previous profile post, by clicking here.

This year, The Black Dragon was Generous, and Holds Many Splendid Flowers (P. suffruticosa ‘Wu Long Peng Sheng’)

Paeonia suffruticosa ‘Wu Long Peng Sheng’  (Tree Peony, “Black Dragon Holds a Splendid Flower”)

Photographs and Text ⓒ Michaela Medina/The Gardener’s Eden. All photos, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions) are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Springtime’s Shimmering Silverbells: Halesia tetraptera in Full Bloom…

May 28th, 2011 § 2

Carolina Silverbell (Halesia tetraptera)

Carolina Silverbell Blossoms Attract Bumble Bees and Hummingbirds

Looking up from the Terrace Dining Table, Into Thousands of Tiny White Bells

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Halesia tetraptera

When it comes to the springtime show in my garden, Carolina Silverbell really knows how to steal the stage. Smothered in tiny white chimes —which, although they do not ring, are filled with buzzing bumble bees and whirring, chirping hummingbirds— the two Halesia tetraptera on either side of my studio door begin to bloom in mid-May and peak around Memorial Day. As the blossoms open fully —cascading from a dream-like canopy and falling to the table and stone terrace below— stepping through the tunnel of white bells feels a bit like a dream.

North American native Carolina Silverbell is a gorgeous tree for all seasons. With it’s glorious spring flowers, handsome green foliage, colorful, patterned bark, golden autumn color and curious orange drupes; this is a great landscape sized tree. Read more about Halesia tetraptera and her cultural requirments in my previous post, by clicking here.

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Article and photographs are copyright Michaela Medina at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site (with noted exceptions) is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent.

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A Peek Inside the Misty Moss Walls: Springtime in the Secret Garden …

May 22nd, 2011 § 4

By May, a cool tapestry of springtime color carpets the Secret Garden path…

This week my design studio and office began slowly migrating back down to the Secret Garden Room, where plants and paperwork happily mingle from late spring through early November. Each day on my way to and from appointments, I pass through the walled garden and along the plant-lined, stone path leading to the drive up and down my hillside. It only takes a few minutes here —engulfed by cool air and familiar fragrance— to shake off the cares of the outside world. This Secret Garden is my sanctuary and my muse. Care to step inside for a peek? Come follow me along the path and in through the moss-covered walls…

To the Right of the Walled Garden, An Old Chair Stands Ready to Support Emerging Rudbeckia Seedlings (other plants here include Muscari, Sedum ‘Angelina’, and Juniperus horizontalis ‘Wiltonii’, and in back, Abelia mosanensis)

A Crow –from Virginia Wyoming’s Series by the same name– stands sentry, perched atop a wall along the Secret Garden path (click here to read more about the artist and her work)

A favorite old urn sits nestled at the foot of a Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’), rising Fairy Candles (Actaea racemosa ‘Hillside Black Beauty’), bright ‘Caramel’ Coral Bells (Heuchera americana ‘Caramel’) and sweet-scented Lily of the Valley (Convularia majalis), in a corner of the garden filled with with bulbs and emerging fiddleheads…

Brushing past the cranberrybush (Viburnum trilobum ‘Baily Compact’), along a path filled with woodland phlox, grape hyacinth, stonecrop, ajuga, daphne and emerging rudbeckia seedlings, the glow of new Japanese forest grass and the nodding heads of jonquil within the Secret Garden beckon…

Between Raindrops, Sunlight Illuminates New Leaves and Coral-Colored Branch Tips on the Blue Green Dragon (Acer palmatum x dissectum ‘Seiryu’), Arching Over the Secret Garden Door…

Lady Ferns (Athyrium filix x femina ‘Lady in Red’) and glossy bergenia (Bergenia ‘Bressingham Ruby’) line the damp, mossy threshold into the walled garden…

And the next step reveals the bottlebrush-blossom tips of dwarf witch alder (Fothergilla gardenii) to the right, chartreuse-colored spurge (Euphorbia, various cvs), the unfolding leaves of a yellow tree peony, (Paeonia mouton x lutea ‘High Noon’), ostrich fern (Metteuccia pensylvanica), Narcissus (N. ‘Sterling’) and Japanese forest grass’ green-gold glow…

Hard to See in the Larger Photos are Some of My Tiny Treasures, Like This Muscari ‘Valerie Finnis’ (click to image to enlarge)

Another View of the Center, Secret Garden Wall…

Stepping Inside, A Moment’s Pause to Gaze Upon the Reflecting Bowl Beside the Stone Wall

Deep Inside the Far Corners, Tender Plants Begin to Migrate, Mingling with the Secret Garden’s Full-Time, Outdoor Residents for the Summer Season. Plants from the left: Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’), Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia pensylvanica), Hosta ‘Patriot’ and on the chair, a young Streptocarpus hardens off…

Japanese Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Roseum’) Creeps Along the Moss Covered Wall, Moving Slowly but Steadily Toward the Doorway and the Reflecting Bowl; Shimmering Beside the Prized Japanese Wood Poppy (Glaucidium palmatum, featured in last Friday’s post).

Looking back from within the Secret Garden Room, where my summer-season office is already overflowing with design plans and plant lists for landscaping clients…

And tender plants like this asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’) waiting ’til all danger of frost has passed to return to the outside world…

A Special May Pleasure Along the  Secret Garden Path: One of My Favorite Fragrances of Springtime, the Woodland Phlox (Phlox divaricata ‘Clouds of Perfume’)

Inside the Secret Garden, Peering Out Beyond the Threshold of the Stone Doorway

For a  Summertime Preview of the Secret Garden Click Here to Visit a Post from last Season.

All Stonework in the Secret Garden and throughout Ferncliff is by Vermont artist Dan Snow

Secret Garden Design & Installation: Michaela Medina. For design inquiries, see my professional services page at left.

Article and All Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

The Gardener’s Eden received no compensation for the editorial mention of any products or services mentioned in this post. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here (including Amazon.com book links). A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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The Moment of Spring: A Walk Along The Secret Garden Path in Magical May

May 11th, 2011 § 3

Pretty is the Cool Morning Mist; Softening the Landscape and Intensifying the Fragrance of Springtime

So busy is the month of May… Days pass so quickly, I can barely remember to flip the pages of my desktop calendar. Things in the garden change rapidly from day to day, and I try to take a different path to the driveway each morning, so I won’t miss a single unfurling leaf or flower. But no matter how hard I try, I can’t put sweet springtime on pause to wait for me. And even if I could, would I want to restrain the exuberant sprint of nature, even for a day?

The Pink Buds of Koreanspice Viburnum (V. carlesii) Swell on Graceful Branches; Draped Upon Grey Stone

Only a Week Ago, Trees Stood Bare and A Few Blossoming Shrubs Played Solo…

Now, Everywhere I Look, New Leaves Appear

The Bold Colors of European Beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Riversii’) Sing…

In Perfect Harmony with Blushing Daphne (D. x burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’)

Her Sweet & Spicy Scent Seducing all Who Draw Near…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite Combinations Reemerge… Delicate Foam Flower & Cimicifuga… Woodland Phlox & Ferns…

It Seems Everything is Springing to Life at Once. Breathless, I Barely Keep Up…

Creating Vignettes in Summertime Spaces…

And Drinking In the Beautiful, Fleeting Moment of Springtime…

Sanguinaria canadensis – Bloodroot Blossoms

Moonlight Hydrangea Vine (Schizophragma hydrangeoides ‘Moonlight’) Leafs Out- Sprawling Over a Candle Niche in the Secret, Walled Garden at Ferncliff

Helleborus x hybridus ‘Royal Heritage Strain’

The Fading & Falling Blossoms of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’

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Secret Garden Walls and All Stonework at Ferncliff is by Vermont Artist Dan Snow

Secret Garden Design and Installation by Michaela (for details on plantings see Ferncliff and Secret Garden pages at left)

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All photographs, articles and content on this site, (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced or reposted without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Thank you!

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Ephemeral Woodland Wildflowers & Return of the Ethereal Hermit Thrush…

April 25th, 2011 § 22

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)

There’s no place quite like New England for experiencing three seasons in one day. Sunday morning I rose to find a chilly house and snow covered gardens. Soon –with the sun shining brightly outside– temperatures soared to 63°. Breakfast in the snowy garden … Well, why not? I threw open the entryway doors, soaked up the warm rays, and sipped my morning coffee.

As I sat gazing upon the blushing hillside, taking in the quiet still of morning air, I heard a sweet, long-anticipated sound in the distance. Rising and falling —a mystery in shadowy hemlock boughs— the ethereal song of the hermit thrush echoed through the trees. Flute-like and gently warbling, the sound of this bird’s melancholy voice always bring tears to my eyes. All thrushes have beautiful songs —I’m particularly fond of the twilight serenade of the veery and the haunting, melodic and supremely beautiful voice of the wood thrush— but the return of the hermit to my mountain top signals spring like nothing else. The hermit thrush is the sound of childhood memory —dusky riverbeds and humid, rainy mornings— and it will always be my favorite (click on name of bird to listen to its song at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology online).

Sanguinaria canadensis (Bloodroot) takes its name from the bright red sap of its roots

This morning, seduced by woodland’s springtime song, I pulled on my raincoat and ventured into the damp darkness —filled with the musky scent of leaf mold and dewy moss— to find an explosion of life emerging on the forest floor. Busy bees hummed about in the mist and silver-tipped fiddleheads shimmered in the dim light. The first two flowers I spotted were Red Trillium (Trillium erectum, pictured at top of article) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, above). Sometimes called ‘Stinking Benjamin’ due to its odor (personally, I don’t find it all that offensive, even close-up), Trillium erectum blooms a beautiful, maroon-red color. Hardy in USDA zones 3-9, the trilliums —members of the lily family— prefer moist woodland soil and make lovely shade garden plants (be sure to purchase trillium from a reputable grower – never dig plants from the wild). Due to its summer-time dormancy, this perennial is best combined with other shade plants. Red and White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) are particularly lovely companions to lady fern (Athyrium filix feminina) and cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea).

The beautiful, starry flowers of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, pictured above) are among the earliest blossoms both in my garden and surrounding forest (USDA zone 3-9). Rich in pollen, early-flowering Bloodroot flowers are an important source of food for bees and pollinating flies. Although its white flowers are lovely in combination with many early-blooming bulbs and perennials, this is one springtime ephemeral that needs no leafly companion for summer-time camouflage. Bloodroot’s intricately-edged, long-lasting leaves make an excellent ground-cover in shady situations (particularly beneath shrubs and trees, in well-drained soil).

Dutchman’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) – one of the earliest blooming North American wildflowers in my forest

The last flower I spotted this morning was the charming Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria, pictured above). Dutchman’s Breeches —as well as fragrant Squirrel Corn (D. canadensis), Wild Bleeding Heart (D. eximia) and other members of this lovely group of wildflowers— are an important source of springtime nectar for pollinators like bumble bees, honeybees and other long tongued bees. Various dicentra species are native to moist woodlands throughout North America (most are hardy in zones 3-8), and these delicately textured native plants make fine additions to the shade garden. Like most springtime ephemerals, the foliage yellows and withers in dormancy, so it’s best to combine these perennials with large-leafed companions (ferns, astilbe, coral bells, etc).

Trillium erectum: So what if it doesn’t smell nice! I still think it’s one of the prettiest springtime flowers

Native forest flora and fauna have always fascinated me –a childhood interest nurtured by my knowledgable woodsman father– and while growing up here in New England, I learned to identify most native plant and animal species from my dad. My love of woodland wildflowers and native plants only grows deeper with each passing year, and I enjoy sharing my passion with others. The Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center and The New England Wildflower Society are two great, non-profit, online resources for native plant enthusiasts. Learning to identify, protect and grow native plants helps support wildlife; including bee, butterfly and bird populations.

William Cullina’s Wildflowers

I’ve mentioned favorite horticultural author, William Cullina’s books here many times, and his book, Wildflowers, with The New England Wildflower Society, is never far from reach during the growing season. An excellent native plant resource for North American gardeners —including those in the west— this book serves as both an encyclopedia of plants and growers guide-book to perennial wildflowers. In honor of The Gardener’s Eden’s anniversary this month, I will be giving away a copy of this beautiful book.*

To enter, simply leave a comment on today’s post, and in your comment, name your favorite wildflower and why you love it. Be sure to correctly enter your email address so that I can contact you if you win the giveaway (your email won’t be visible to others, nor will it be shared or sold). Your entry must be received by 11:59 pm Eastern Time, Friday, April 29th. A winner will be randomly chosen from all entries received in comments, and announced 4/30 here on this post, on The Gardener’s Eden Facebook page, and also on Twitter. Due to shipping constraints, this giveaway is open to readers in the United States and Canada only.

Good Luck! xo Michaela

*This is an unsponsored giveaway- book purchased by Michaela. All reviews are purely editorial, and are based on the personal experience and opinions of this author.

congratulations to wendy, winner of william cullina’s wildflowers!

Article and Photographs ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Narcissus & Nostalgia…

April 24th, 2011 Comments Off

Narcissus in April Snow at Ferncliff

Late April snows always bring me back to my mother’s rocky, alpine garden in early spring; colorful bulbs poking up through chilly, crystalline white glazes. Here in New England, spring often arrives in fits and starts, and this year is classic. Winter-weary though we may be, there’s still something undeniably beautiful and poetic about blossoms dusted in snow.

With yesterday’s unexpected, icy precipitation, many children in the northeast are searching for the Easter Bunny’s treasures in snow-covered gardens this year. Nostalgic, my mind drifts back to chilly-fingered egg hunts on the old town commons and frozen, chocolate bunnies in tulip-covered baskets. I can still recall the gleam of patent-leather mary janes; slipping and sliding across slick green and white lawns. This morning, as I bent down to breathe in the fresh scent of narcissus in my frosty garden, I was instantly transported to another time; golden daffodils parting as I reached beneath the green foliage, to claim my colorful, dip-dyed prize.

Happy Easter, Happy Passover & Happy Springtime Hunting, My Friends. Have a Beautiful Weekend!

Snow Melting Beneath Viburnum Reveals Narcisuss ‘Lemon Silk’

Article and other photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Hazy Color Drifts Carpet the Garden: Tiny Gifts of Early Spring…

April 16th, 2011 § 4

Spring Heath (Erica carnea) Begins Blooming in Early April (click here to revisit my Erica carnea plant-profile post from last year). Here, Sprawling Across the Ledge  in the Entry Garden…

The Pink, Hazy Blur of Spring Heath is Particularly Lovely Against Grey Sky and Cool Stone. On a Blustery Day, I Can’t Help but Think of Katherine and Heathcliff, Wandering the Bluffs of Wuthering Heights.

In New England, sparkling blue skies and warm, sunny days are few and far between during the month of April. More often than not, the heavens are filled with dusty grey clouds, and the tawny, bare land lies chill and dormant, waiting for milder days. Such is the scene this weekend, with cold, raw air nudging me indoors every half hour or so, to huddle beside the warmth of a blazing fire.

Yet despite the blustery wind and cool temperatures, there are signs of spring here, and color has begun to return to my cold-climate garden. Tiny, early-flowering bulbs and ground-covering blossoms —mass planted in drifts for effect— carpet the walkways and ledgy outcrops. Spring heath (Erica carnea) is the earliest of the low-growing woody plants to blossom here. You may recall my post about spring heath, “Love on the Rocks”, from last April. Bold sweeps of spring heath and various heather ( including Calluna vulgaris ‘Multicolor’ & ‘Silver Knight’) were planted in the shallow pockets of soil between the stone; combined with ‘Sea Green’ juniper (Juniperus x pfitzeriana ‘Sea Green’), and creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Rug) along the entry walk. These tough, resilient shrubs and ground-covering woody plants wake up from winter slumber looking every bit as beautiful as they did when they retired for their nap. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all roll out of bed looking so lovely?

Opening at About the Same Time as Snowdrops (Galanthus) and Crocus, Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa) Carpet the Shrub and Perennial Borders Along the Walkway in my Garden…

On the other side of the entry garden, where the soil is deep, moist and rich, a mixed border of shrubs and perennials springs to life from the ground up. Eager to greet the new season, the tiny blue blossoms of Chionodoxa —commonly known as ‘Glory of the Snow’— begin forcing their way through the frozen earth before it has had time to thaw. A welcome sight to these weary eyes after such a long winter, I note that honeybees and other pollinating insects happily greet my emerging drifts of early-blooming bulbs and ground covers as well.

Native to the alpine regions of Tukey, Cyprus and Crete, Chionodoxa (a member of the hyacinth family) is extremely cold tolerant, and tough (USDA zone 4a-9b). When mass planted in moist, well-drained soil in autumn, the blue, pink or white bulbs will slowly multiply, naturalizing beautifully beneath trees and shrubs (this bulb prefers neutral soil, but will tolerate slightly acidic to slightly alkaline conditions). In cool seasons, blossoms will last approximately 4 weeks, and when planted between later-emerging perennials, glory-of-the-snow’s foliage will fade and wither without drawing attention, as it slips into summertime dormancy. This low, ground-covering bulb (2-6 inches high, depending on species and cultivar) is one of my springtime favorites. For such a tiny flower, it sure makes a big impact. In particular, I find  blue Chionodoxa especially lovely when planted in great sweeps across lawns. Viewed from a distance, masses of these blue, starry flowers form a moody haze; ethereal, wistful and undeniably romantic in a rainy landscape…

They Remind Me of Fallen Stars, Scattered on the Garden Floor.

***

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Getting Down to Earth in the Garden…

April 3rd, 2011 § 1

First Flowers: Glory-of-the-Snow (Chionodoxa luciliae ‘Gigantea’)

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday, my hilltop was nearly invisible; blurred grey and white by snow squalls, sleet and driving rain. But today, all of the new snow has melted, the sun is shining and the sky is clear blue. Ah, New England. As they say: if you don’t like the weather here, wait a minute. Things change quickly at this time of year, and it looks like I may be getting down to earth about gardening soon…

Buds of Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’. Read more about this beautifully fragrant shrub by clicking here.

Meltwater in a Steel Bowl on My Terrace

Crocus tommasinianus against the warm stone wall

I decided to take advantage of the warm temperatures today, and headed out to the potager to sow some more early season crops beneath the protection of the hoop house cold frames. After wading through the melting snow-drifts (still more than two feet high in places), I checked on soil temperatures in the vegetable garden. The IRT plastic-covered earth (infrared transmitting plastic was placed last fall to warm the soil) along my kitchen garden fence is nearly ready to work, so I’ll be sowing snow and snap peas in a few days. Many gardeners rush to plant peas as early-as-possible, but I find that crops planted a bit later catch up and produce just as quickly as those hastened into the earth. The optimal soil temperature for sowing peas is around 50 – 70° F (a soil thermometer is a handy and inexpensive device to keep in your tool bag or tote at the beginning and end of the gardening season).

I keep my early crops organized by planting date and plan –ready to go & close at hand— in wire baskets. Here peas, beets, radishes, carrots and greens are ready to go when the opportunity arises.

Succession Planting Continues in the Hoop Houses (Repeat Sowing of Seed to Continue Harvest of Quick-to-Mature Crops, like arugula, spinach, beets, radishes, lettuce & other roots ‘n greens)

And I’ve pulled out my favorite clean-up tool, an inexpensive and endlessly useful Adjustable Steel Rake, in hopes of beginning a bit of garden clean-up later on this week!

It’s hard to believe how much things can change in only one day. Sure, snow may fly again tomorrow, but it certainly feels like spring is making progress. Today the sun is shining brightly on the first, pastel-colored bulbs and yesterday’s silly snow-woman has completely melted away…

It’s hard to believe that a gardening snow-woman stood here just a day ago!

***

Article and photographs are copyright Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden, all rights reserved. All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used, reproduced or reposted elsewhere without written consent. Do you enjoy The Gardener’s Eden? You can help support this site by shopping through affiliate links here. A small percentage of each sale will be paid to this site, helping to cover web hosting and maintenance costs. Thank you so much for your support!

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Getting Rooted: Pretty Potatoes, Colorful Carrots, Radiant Radishes & Beautiful Beets…

February 23rd, 2011 § 6

Now that I have enlarged the potager, I’m planning a bumper crop of colorful potatoes!

Radishes and carrots make great companions, not only in salads, but in the potager as well (see pelletized carrot seed planting tip/velvet carrot recipe here, and read a carrot/radish companion planting article here)

Colorful Salad of Red and Gold Beets Arugula and Feta (Click here for recipe)

I’m getting back to my roots this week… My root vegetable roots, that is. The first carrots of the season were sown in the hoophouses last week, and I’ve just finished ordering a half dozen colorful varieties of seed potatoes from Ronnigers/Potato Garden and the Maine Potato Lady (potatoes are planted when the soil temp. reaches about 50° F, approximately 2 weeks before the last frost date. Usually that is early May here in southern VT).  I’ve been enjoying summertime produce all winter —potatoes, carrots and leeks in particular— pulled up from my cool root cellar. This year I plan on planting even more earthy jewels —in every color of the rainbow— to enjoy throughout the summer and harvest in fall for winter storage. Most root crops are planted early in the season, and some can be repeat-sown for a second, autumn harvest. So, I like to plan out this part of my garden very carefully.

Potato Hills in My Spring/Summer Potager: Here Planted with Early Crops & Flowers (incluing chard, nasturtium, peas)

Root vegetables grow best in deep, loose, sandy loam. I plant my potatoes in trenches and then hill them with soil as they grow. Potatoes may also be planted shallowly and mulched up as they grow with clean straw or other materials, or they can be grown in containers; including barrels, wire cages and bags. Other root vegetables —such as carrots and beets— are best grown directly in deep, loose soil or in raised beds. I like to grow my vegetables in wide, earthen mounds (similar to constructed beds, but with sloped sides, exposed for extra planting space) which give my crops an extra 8-12″ of depth at the root zone. There are many ways to grow vegetable crops, and how you choose to plant your garden depends largely upon your site. Raised beds offer many advantages for gardeners struggling with limited space and/or poor soil. Some vegetable growers choose to adhere to a strict ‘Square Foot Gardening‘ planting plan —popularized by Mel Bartholomew in his book by the same name— while others continue to grow crops in straight, narrowly hoed rows. My approach to potager design is a somewhat looser; closely resembling French vegetable gardening in style, with cultural methods similar to those of garden author Ed Smith (I am a fan of his classic, The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, and always recommend it to my garden clients). I like to encourage gardeners to experiment with their space and adopt methods of cultivation that work best for them. Necessity is the mother of invention, and some of the most interesting horticultural innovations have come from creative, experimental growers.

Colorful vegetable crops delight the eye and jazz up the dinner plate

Last Year’s Delightful Potato Crop

I have two, somewhat overlapping careers. In addition to designing gardens and gardening professionally, I am also an exhibiting artist. And as a painter, my eye is naturally drawn to the full spectrum of color, form and textural possibilities in vegetable gardening. Sure, I grow orange carrots, red radishes and brown potatoes. But I also love electric yellow and rose-colored carrots, pink and white striped radishes, gold and ruby-hued beets, and potatoes in every color from yellow and pink to red, purple and blue. And why not? If I’m growing my own food, I might as well have fun with it. And with many colorful cultivars, the tastes are as deliciously varied as the hues.

This year I am planting Adirondack Blue and Red standard potatoes, and Peruvian Purple, Red Thumb and French fingerlings; among other varieties chosen for color, flavor and texture. As for other roots, I’ll be growing Atomic Red, Purple Haze, Deep Purple and Yellow carrots, in addition to the usual orange. And planned radish crops include French D’avignon, Watermelon, Purple Plum and Cherry Belle. As for beets? I am growing Golden, Chioggia and Merlin this spring, but if you know of something beautiful and tasty, let me know and I’ll put it in as a fall crop! I buy the bulk of my vegetable seed from several east coast companies; including High Mowing and Johnny’s and  I also order herbs, greens, flowers and gourds from Renee’s GardenBurpee, and Botanical Interests.

Pasta with Potatoes, Rocket and Rosemary (click here for recipe)

Getting the maximum productivity out of a vegetable garden’s usually-limited space is a goal most gardeners can relate to, and with a bit of creative planning, it is possible for a well designed vegetable garden to be both efficient and beautiful. If you haven’t visited this site’s “Potager” page in awhile (over to the left), you may want to click on over for a visit. I have been updating the page —and will continue to do so throughout the season— with links back to vegetable gardening articles and recipes for all of your beautiful garden produce. If you are looking for more potager ideas, I highly recommend the two excellent vegetable garden design books linked below, which I personally own and absolutely love…

Jennifer Bartley’s Designing the New Kitchen Garden is one of my favorite vegetable gardening resources. I highly recommend it. Bartley has a new book out, The Kitchen Gardener’s Handbook from Timber Press. I have not seen it yet.

Rosalind Creasy’s Edible Landscaping is a title I chose to review for Barnes & Noble. This is a wonderful new book, filled with fantastic ideas for building a pretty potager all your own.

***

Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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First Hints of Spring…

February 21st, 2011 § 4

Last Year’s Nest Remains Intact, Decorated with the Pink-Tinted Buds of Viburnum Bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Spring is exactly one month away, and eagerly, the garden awaits her arrival. Already, swollen buds, glowing bark and the sing-song voices of chickadees calling “spring’s here”, fill trees and shrubs with new life…

On Warmer Days, Blushing Viburnum Buds Near the Stone Wall, Hint at Coming Spring

Click here to here listen to the ‘typical’ sweet, spring song of the Black-capped Chickadee {via Cornell Lab of Ornithology}.

{Forced branches give the house a prelude-to-spring. Click here for more information on forcing branches, and here for details about this lovely shrub: V. bodnantense ‘Dawn’}

***

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The Early Bird Catches the Arugula… And the Chard, Spinach & Lettuce too!

February 19th, 2011 § 10

Arugula in the Hoophouse, January

Let’s start out with a bit of honesty, shall we? The four season harvest isn’t for wimps. Winter gardening  —growing plants in temperatures below freezing to sub-zero, beneath plastic sheeting— isn’t a natural act. And although I enjoy a good game of woman vs. wild, sometimes winter gets to be a bit much around here. Shoveling decks, terraces, walkways and woodpiles is a lot of work. And now that I’ve added potager path-clearing and hoophouse roof-raking to the list, I’ve created quite a snow-removal burden. So why do it? Because the taste of fresh arugula and the smell of damp earth on a cold February day is —as the people at Mastercard say— priceless. And I think a jump-start to the short, northern growing season is worth a little extra work (OK, so it’s a lot of extra work).

Look at that delicious earth! Would you believe this photo was taken just yesterday…

Inside this unheated hoophouse the smell of sweet, springtime soil fills the moist air!

Raking out hoophouse soil to prepare for late winter crop sowing

Over the past three years —cooking more at home and experimenting in my kitchen— I’ve become more and more interested in four-season vegetable gardening. And although I haven’t made the leap to a heated greenhouse yet, I’ve found that with proper timing, I can keep some crops going in my hoophouses year round. Greens sown in late fall will germinate and then continue to grow (albeit much more slowly) throughout the short, cold days of winter. Tender crops are out of the question of course, but tasty root vegetables sown in early autumn can be harvested from cold houses straight into the new year. Seedlings require light to grow —10-12 hours of daylight is a good rule of thumb— so the sowing of seed is suspended during the weeks leading up to —and about a month and a half after– the winter solstice. But come late January, February and March —when the days are getting longer, and sunlight is getting stronger — I can begin sowing cold-hardy, late winter crops in my unheated hoophouses, for early spring harvest. Yesterday I planted a variety of greens in house #3 (arugula, chard, spinach, lettuce and mesclun mix), and I pulled spent crops and turned soil in house #1 to prepare for more planting (carrots, radishes and other crops) on my next free afternoon. If you are interested in learning more about the four-season harvest and winter vegetable gardening, I highly recommend Eliot Coleman’s books. And if you’d like to build a hoophouse of your own this spring (I now have four, with three currently in use) click here for basic plans. I’m hoping to upgrade to a larger, walk-in cold house this year.

Hoophouses protecting early fall-sown crops in late December, just before the snow (automatic back vents help moderate temperatures)

Sowing crops in hoophouse #3: Mid-February

Gardening in winter is all about science, but it sure feels like magic when you can reach your hand into sweet, sun-warmed earth on a cold and windy day. And it’s even more spectacular when you’re enjoying your own salad greens and root vegetables —harvested from an icy, snow-covered garden— at dinner in January and February. Winter pasta with fresh arugula, root-cellared onions and olive-oil preserved, sun-dried tomatoes —all from the garden— now that is priceless…

Arugula harvested from the hoophouse

Pasta with freshly harvested arugula — plus caramelized onions, braided & stored in the root cellar and sun-dried tomatoes, preserved in olive oil— all from the garden…

Here’s the potager, with house #1 and #2 buried by nearly 3′ of snow and ice. I still can’t believe they didn’t collapse. And yes, I shoveled them out all by myself. Sadly, Alfred hasn’t left Batman for me yet. I can’t figure out why…

Mountains of shoveling…

Followed by more shoveling…

And bringing in wood…

But who wouldn’t appreciate the beauty that makes it all worthwhile…

***

Article and photos ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Seasonal Prelude: The Scent of Spring…

February 17th, 2011 § 2

Forced Blossoms: The Intoxicating Scent of Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’

Remember the fragrance of spring; warm air carrying the sweet perfume of new blossoms on the breeze? Distracted by day dreams of earth-scented pathways; chilly melt-water gurgling up from stone?  Finding yourself stalking the swollen buds of witch hazel, viburnum, azalea and other fragrant, flowering shrubs? Take heart, friends… She’s coming. The garden’s tender love letters are waiting for her; ready to burst open and unfold their sweet adoration… All for Spring.

Narcissus ‘Grand Soleil d’Or’ is one of the most exquisite scents of springtime. The sweet perfume of the blossoms fills my studio entryway with fresh fragrance…

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For a tutorial on how to force Narcissus (as shown in photos above), click here.

For a tutorial on how to force spring-blooming tree and shrub branches, click here.

***

Article and photos are ⓒ Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

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Here Comes the Sun, Doo’n Doo Doo: Gettin’ Started with Seed Starting…

February 10th, 2011 § 3

On your mark, get set…

Twenty degrees fahrenheit. Ow… That’s nippy! Yes, the outside temperature still says ‘winter’ loud-and-clear, but the good new is that the days are getting longer, and the sunlight is getting stronger. That means it’s just about time to get a jump on the growing season by starting seed indoors. At this time of year in Vermont, I’m already sowing chives, onions and hardy herbs indoors. Cold crops like lettuce, spinach and arugula are now growing within the spring-like climate created by the hoop houses in my vegetable garden (click here for more information on how to build your own). I’m looking forward to an even more productive potager this year, with more home-grown gourmet vegetables started from seed.

Why start seed indoors when you can just pick up vegetable six-packs in early spring at the garden center? Well, first of all, it needn’t be either/or. Even though I still buy organically-grown vegetable starts from Walker Farm (by the dozen), I have plenty of reasons to start some seed here at home. Starting seed indoors gives me a jump on the growing season; allowing me to plant certain crops outdoors, and harvest before the local garden centers even open. When I start my own seed, I also have the option of experimenting with unusual, gourmet vegetable crops. Seed catalogs (and Seed Saving exchanges) offer far more variety than any local greenhouse can possibly supply (see sidebar and links below for some sources). And if you don’t have an organic grower nearby, starting your own plants from seed insures that your produce will be raised to your own high standards: you control the quality right from the start. Although there is an initial investment in grow lights and other gardening supplies, starting your own seed indoors can save quite a bit of money over the long haul. But the best part? I get to see the entire, magnificent process of life right from the beginning. If you have children, this is a great opportunity for teaching, and a wonderful experience to share.

A fine-textured medium (growing mix) is essential for seed starting. Regular potting soil is too heavy, and won’t drain efficiently. Buy or make your own seed starting mix for best results.

Seed Starting Basics

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Start your new plants the right way: Purchase fresh seed from a reliable, organic source, near your region. Seed collected close to your own geographic area tends to perform best. Farmers in my area (New England), almost always buy their seed from New England sources. And although I do buy seed from elsewhere (some from as far away as California) I purchase the bulk of my vegetable seed packets from suppliers in nearby Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont. And when choosing germinating mix, remember to always use an organic seed-starter with very fine, loose particles. Never use regular potting soil to germinate seeds. Why? It’s much heavier and it won’t drain well. Seedlings need moist, but not water-logged soil.

Select your containers and trays: Many garden centers and online suppliers have plastic or peat cell-packs available for purchase. These packs are handy, because they usually come with plastic tops to keep the starter mix moist while seeds germinate. But, you can always use plastic wrap for ths purpose if you make/recycle containers. Some of my gardening friends like to make their own biodegradable starter pots from newspaper. You can also recycle old plastic six-packs or other containers, but you must sterilize those reused pots properly with warm, soapy water and a bit of disinfectant (bleach) to prevent the spread of disease. You will also need leak-proof trays to place beneath the seeds, in order to water them from the bottom (prevents washing the tiny seeds to the side of the pots and/or disturbing delicate roots). Whatever you choose to use, get everything ready —in one place— before you start.

Set up grow lights: While it’s true that you can start seed in a brightly lit window (I do this with some windowsill herbs) you will get much better results (stronger root systems, stems and overall growth) if you use grow-lights positioned close to the seed trays. You can use regular florescent shop-lights, or you can purchase grow-lights (available at many garden centers and online suppliers). If you are serious about starting seed indoors (or growing tropical houseplants) grow lights are a great investment. If you already own grow-lights, clean them and check bulbs and timers before you start your seed. Most vegetable seeds do not require heat-pads for germination. But it’s always a good idea to check the back of seed packets before you start, to be clear on requirements. Grow lights work best when they are raised up as the seedlings develop, keeping them close to (but not touching) the leaves. Crafty gardeners can try to construct their own systems, but grow-light systems —either floor or table mounted— can be purchased at all price points. Aim for durable, quality construction – with stands built to last.

Quality grow lights (like the one above, from Gardener’s Supply Company) are a great investment if you are serious about getting a jump-start on the growing season.

Time your starts: Check the back of your seed packets for the number of days to germination, and the start date. Usually the packet will list the start date by referencing the number of weeks prior to the last frost date. Do you know your last frost date? Check with your local USDA cooperative extension service (click here for interactive map) or, the awesome, easy-to-use table for common vegetable start dates on The Farmer’s Almanac website (Just enter your city and state in the pace provided – love the Farmer’s Almanac)! If you live in zone 4 or 5, February is a good time to start onions, leeks, chives, celery and hardy herbs. Later this month (or early March) you can begin cool-season crops like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages and brussels sprouts. Unless you are located in zone 7 or warmer, wait to start warm-season crops (like tomatoes, peppers and eggplant) until mid to late March, or even early April.

Moisten the starter mix and fill containers: One the best ways to insure that your seedlings have plenty of moisture is to soak your germinating mix overnight prior to planting. I like to wet the mix in a big tub the night before planting; adding enough warm water to make it damp, but not soupy. I know the starter medium is ready to use when all of the water is absorbed and the mixture is moist like a fresh cupcake, but not wet and gloppy like mashed potatoes. If you try to form a ball it should crumble apart, but still feel moist to the touch (just like natural garden soil at planting time, remember how great that smells?)

Hello baby!

Plant your seeds in the containers: Plant two to three seeds per cell (you will thin the plants later) Not sure of how deep to plant? The back of the seed packet should list planting depth. But if it doesn’t, aim to plant the seed three times as deep as it is large (measuring by diameter).

Cover the seeds and wait for germination: Once all the seeds are planted and set in their trays, cover them with the plastic tops, or loosely with plastic wrap (to contain moisture and raise humidity) and place them in a 60-75 degree (fahrenheit) room. Be sure that the catch trays are filled with water, and check the seed starts daily to insure that the soil remains moist. A plastic spray-misting bottle can be useful in the early stages of seed starting to insure that the surface of soil remains moist. Seed trays can be placed beneath grow lights, but you won’t need to turn them on until the seeds pop out of the soil. Again, unless the seed requires warmer germination temperatures (or if you are starting plants in a cool/dark spot like a cellar) you won’t need heating pads for the trays.

Sunflowers are an exciting and easy crop for youngsters to grow in recycled milk cartons. But wait a bit longer on this crop. February is too soon to start sunflowers in New England…

Light up their life: As soon as the seeds germinate, they’ll need at least 12 hours of light per day (and for many vegetables 14-18 hours is even better) In these northern parts, this is where grow-lights come in. Remembering to turn lights on-and-off can be tricky at first, and an inexpensive timer can really be your best work-buddy!

Feed me Seymour!: Once the seedlings have a set of “true” leaves (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves, which emerge first), give them their first meal: a bit of dilute, organic fertilizer (I use a very weak fish emulsion solution, diluted in water).

Biodegradable pots allow room for root development, and can be popped right into the soil (no struggling to remove tiny plants without damage!)

Transition time: Once spring closes in, seedlings will begin to really take off. As certain young plants grow, they will need thinning and perhaps later, transplanting to larger pots before being “hardened off” (process of bringing seed outdoors for short periods of time to adjust to outside temperatures and light). We’ll talk more about this process later. In meantime, If you are starting many seeds, it’s also wise to invest in a fan for air circulation. Check with some of the seed supply sources linked here for more information, or visit your local garden center. It’s also helpful to have some larger sized pots and regular potting soil on hand for later. Peat pots (or other biodegradable containers) are particularly good for the purpose of transplanting, because they can be placed directly into the soil. This reduces root-disturbance and makes for a swifter, stress-free transition into garden soil.

And although we are all anxious to get back out in the sweet earth, resist the urge to rush tender plants into a cold garden. Unless you have hoop houses, row covers, cloches or other protection for your crops, it’s too risky to push them out before the recommended date (again refer to the links at the top of this post). I’ll be writing more about the process of seed starting over the coming weeks and months.

For more information and seed sources, please visit previous posts, linked here!

Here comes the sun! It may still be a little early for most vegetable starts, but growing windowsill herbs (like chives and cilantro) is fun and easy anytime…

Special thanks to Tim Geiss for his fantastic seed starting photos. Visit Tim’s site here.

Product images are the property of linked online retailers.

Article and noted photo ⓒ Michaela at TGE

All content on this site, (with noted exceptions), is the property of The Gardener’s Eden and may not be used or reproduced without prior written consent.

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Joyful New Beginnings: Bright-Green Herb Seedlings Emerging from the Soil…

February 3rd, 2011 § 1

Seedlings in the Morning Sun:  Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

Lately, the weather in here in Vermont has been a bit challenging (to say the least). Even we native New Englanders start to groan when back-to-back blizzards deliver multiple feet of snow and there’s nowhere left to pile it! Three feet, four feet? With all of the blowing and drifting and snowbanks everywhere, I’ve lost track of the total accumulation here on my hilltop. Let’s just say that you now enter the house through white tunnels. Enough said…

Coriander (Cilantro) Seedlings Emerge from Johnny’s Herb Disks in the Windowsill Garden (Coriandrum sativum)

If you live in a northern climate like I do, then you are probably beginning to tire of the big storms and the endless shoveling, and you may be wondering if spring will ever come again. Yes, yes she will. I promise. And while we gardeners are waiting, there are a few things we can start to do. If you live in zone 4 or 5, you will want to start gathering your seeds and checking on start dates. Over the next couple of weeks, you can begin setting up grow lights (full spectrum), and sow onions, leeks, celery and hardy herbs indoors (for tips on starting onions & leeks visit this post here)…

Pots brushed with Primary Colors Add Life to the Kitchen Countertop

Of course, round ’bout February, most kids will be starting to get stir crazy indoors. Plus, those mid-winter vacations are coming up soon… Aren’t they? This simple project is the perfect way to introduce seed-starting to little gardeners and to help keep those tiny hands occupied. Even if you don’t have children, these seed disks make starting herbs indoors simple and quick. I love fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves in my guacamole and I use lots of fresh basil, and other herbs in my kitchen. So last year, I decided to give Johnny’s Seeds pre-prepared herb disks a try, to see how they would work in clay pots. And the results: totally fun and easy project!

Seed starting disks from Johnny’s Seeds fit perfectly inside these brightly painted, 6″ tall clay pots

All you need to do is purchase seed-starting soil (a well-drained medium with super-fine soil particles) and fill appropriately sized pots near-full with the mix. Moisten the soil thoroughly and lay a seed disk atop the soil (pots with a 4.5″ diameter at the top work perfectly for Johnny’s Seed disks). Cover the disk with soil to the recommended depth (varies depending upon the plant – check instructions of the back of each packet) and moisten again. Line your herbs up in a brightly lit window, water regularly with a fine mister and wait.

Depending upon the kind of herbs you grow, within a few day to a couple of weeks, you should begin to see bright green seedlings emerge. Be patient, though! Some herbs take quite a bit of time to germinate. Parsley seedlings, for example, can take a month to emerge. Once the seedlings have popped through the soil, keep the herbs moist, but not soggy. Be sure the pots are located in a warm spot with good light and air circulation. One the first set of true leaves appear (as opposed to the tiny seed leaves) you will want to mix up a weak solution of organic fertilizer (I use fish emulsion), and feed your herbs every-other-week. Rotate the pots once a week to keep seedlings growing straight, as opposed to leaning toward the light. For best results, you want to start your seeds beneath full-spectrum grow lights (keep the light source very close to the plants and raise it as the seedlings grow). The nice part of using prepared disks is that the seeds come pre-spaced. Of course you can always start seed without disks; planting them in trays filled with starter soil mixture. If you do this, you can thin the seedlings of herbs and vegetables later on (see photo below).

I will be writing much more about starting seeds indoors and out over the coming months, so stay tuned and think spring!

Is there anything more hopeful or uplifting than fresh green seedlings emerging from damp soil?

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Article and Photographs are copyright 2010, Michaela at The Gardener’s Eden

All content on this site, with noted exceptions, is the property of The Gardener’s Eden Online Journal, and my not be used or reproduced without express written permission.

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Must Be The Season Of The Witch…

October 30th, 2010 § 2

“When I look out my Window, Many sights to see. And when I look out my window, So many different people to be …That it’s strange, so strange.”

“You’ve got to pick up every stitch, You’ve got to pick up every stitch, You’ve got to pick up every stitch …Mm, must be the Season of the Witch, Must be the Season of the Witch, yea…”

“Must be the Season of the Witch…”

Witch Hazel (Hamamelis vernalis) – Turns Brilliant Gold in Late Autumn

Dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) – Radiates an Eerie Orange Glow in the Secret Garden

I caught her last night in the garden; blowing around in the wind and casting her spells in the drizzly shadows. She’s a changeling and she’s a wild thing. You never know how she will appear from one minute to the next. Red? Orange? Yellow? Perhaps all three hues will turn up in her autumn brew. Yes, she’s the garden witch, and this is indeed her season…

Witch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’) is My Answer to Burning Bush in the Garden

Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Fothergilla (witch alder) are two of the most spellbinding woody plants in my garden. The magical blossoms of Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ light up the gloomy days of March with color and scent, and later her cousins, the Fothergilla, take over with bewitching blossoms in April and May (read more about Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’ by clicking here, and Fothergilla by clicking here). But it’s the witching hour — late October and November in my garden— when these sorceresses truly light up the gathering gloom…

The Wild, Red Witch (Fothergilla ‘Mt Airy’) raging along the walkway in late October

The family of Hamamelidaceae is a large group that includes both spring and autumn blooming Witch Hazels (native Hamamelis vernalis and Hamamelis mollis) and their cousins, the Witch Alders (among other woody plants). Although the spring-blooming Witch Hazels tend to me more dramatic in the early part of the year, the autumn blooming species provides both stunning foliage and fragrant flowers in fall (it is definitely harder to spot the sweetly-scented yellow blossoms on my autumn blooming Hamamelis mollis behind the golden foliage). Some of the most gorgeous autumn color in the garden belongs to the Witch Hazel hybrids; particularly H x intermedia ‘Diane’, ‘Jelena’ and ‘Arnold’s Promise’. Although a separate species, Fothergilla is equally magical, and often more flamboyant in her end-of-season color display. A dwarf Witch Alder (Fothergilla gardenii) is planted in the corner of my Secret Garden, where she is just now turning brilliant orangey-yellow. Elsewhere in the garden, Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’ glow red, orange, yellow and every imaginable shade in between…

Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) – Autumn Color Variation

Witch Hazel ‘Diane’ (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Diane’) – Autumn Color Variation

Witch Alder (Fothergilla major ‘Mt Airy’) Leaf Color Variation

Most members of the Hamamelidaceae family prefer moist, semi-acidic soil and mostly sunny to partially shady conditions (in nature, they are forest edge and understory trees and shrubs). Some Witch Hazels and Witch Alders are quite hardy in northern climates; all of those mentioned here are reliable in USDA zones 4-9. In the garden, they are enchanting in autumn when paired with late-season flowers (including anemone and aster) fall-blooming crocus, ornamental grasses, and conifers (including shade-tolerant Microbiota). Catching a rooted witch is far easier than snagging the airborne variety: no net is necessary, simply stop in your local garden center and poke around the sales aisles…

Can You Catch the Witch?

This Story’s Inspiration Comes from ‘Season of the Witch’ by Donovan

Donovan – Season of the Witch

“Season of the Witch” Lyrics are ⓒ Donovan 1967

Photography & Text ⓒ Michaela Medina Harlow/The Gardener’s Eden. All photographs, artwork, articles and content on this site (with noted exceptions), are the original, copyrighted property of Michaela Medina Harlow and/or The Gardener’s Eden and may not be reposted, reproduced or used in any way without prior written consent. Contact information is in the left side bar. Please do not take my photographs without asking first. Thank you!

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