May 31, 2015

Garden Lessons Learned: Wait for It, Wait for It!

Prunus virginiana

Something about this spring has had me on edge.

I'm not sure why--could be family events, personal thoughts, or other factors completely unrelated to gardening. Nothing major, just a strange sense of joyful anticipation mixed with minor anxiety.

But some of my thoughts, as always, have centered on the garden and the weather. Making peace with this edgy moodiness is the biggest lesson I've learned this spring.

As I reflect on "Garden Lessons Learned" during the past three months, the biggest one is to simply take it all in and accept that Mother Nature's miracles will happen on their own time.

Trillium grandiflorum

Like the appearance of the Trilliums: If they don't pop up after the first few warm spells, don't worry. They might know something you don't--like, perhaps there will be a few more frosty nights before the warmth settles in for the season.

Asclepias tuberosa

Same for the Milkweeds. Once they emerge, the Monarchs can't be far behind. And we don't want Monarchs freezing because they made the trip too early.


Hummingbirds will find their way back to your garden. Give them the blooming plants and the nectar they need, and they'll find their way back to you.

dames rocket
Hesperis matronalis

You know you're going to have to pull invasive plants like Garlic Mustard and Dame's Rocket. Wait until the plants are a little larger and after a good rain (but before they go to seed). They'll be easier to pull. Plus, the Garlic Mustard tastes great in salad, and the Dame's Rocket is lovely in a vase.

hyacinth bean
Lablab purpureus

Grow Hyacinth Bean vines from seed. But don't put them directly in the cold, wet ground. Grow them in pots under a coldframe, instead. They'll warm up and grow into healthy, solid plants ready for planting in the warm, late May soil.

Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'

When Magnolias, Crabapples, and Lilacs are all blooming at the same time, don't be sad that springtime is passing. Instead enjoy the magic of the moment.

These are not so much lessons in patience, which is a given, but lessons in watchfulness and mindfulness ... enjoying and observing what's happening now, instead of anticipating what you think should be or will be happening very soon.


What did you learn this season? To join in the "Garden Lessons Learned" meme, simply write a post or share one you've already written about lessons you've learned during the past season. Then share your links or simple observations in the comments. I'll keep this post up for a few days, and it will be available always under the "Lessons Learned" tab at the top of this blog.

Please also join in Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View! Feel free to join in with a post that fits both memes, or separate posts for one or both of them.

May 26, 2015

Plant of the Month: Blue-Eyed Grass

blue-eyed 1

Imagine stepping out of your car in a large parking lot and seeing delicate, periwinkle blue, tiny blooms in all directions.

blue-eyed 3

That's what happened to us during a visit to a Florida state park in early March.

blue-eyed 2

The blooms we saw were those of Blue-Eyed Grass and, although I don't know for sure, I'm assuming they were the more common North American species (Sisyrinchium angustifolium).

Besides the fact that they were incredibly lovely and plentiful in this naturalized setting in Florida, I knew they also bloom in my northern state, albeit much later in the season ... like now, in May and June.

In fact, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, this species is native to most of Eastern North America--from Newfoundland, west to Ontario, in the north; through Florida and Texas, in the south. In other words, it thrives in USDA zones 3 to 10.

I also found a patch within my parents' Florida retirement community. The landscaping folks mow it once a week, and it pops right back up to bloom again! Floridata, the Floridata Plant Encyclopedia mentions that, "Blue-Eyed Grass is a great little plant for almost anywhere in the garden. It needs almost no attention, thriving with neglect."

blue-eyed 4

Although its nickname includes the word "grass," this plant is a member of the same family and subfamily (Iridoideae) as Irises. It only grows to 1.5 feet, and forms tufted clumps. It can be propagated by seed or division. And it prefers moist conditions, although it can tolerate poor to average soils.

I was familiar with Blue-Eyed Grass, having seen it growing wild in Wisconsin in prairie settings. But I had never seen it naturalize in such a wide expanse before. In addition, I hadn't planted it in my own garden, because I figured it needed more sun. Recently, I was delighted to find out that not only can Blue-Eyed grass tolerate some shade, "especially high shade, as under tall trees," notes Floridata, it also takes well to potting. So, Blue-Eyed Grass will soon make an appearance in my "high shade" garden.

blue-eyed 5

I'm linking this post to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday meme, over at Clay and Limestone. Head on over to learn about fascinating wildflowers from around the world.

Update for Wisconsin readers: Sisyrinchium angustifolium is a State Special Concern Plant in Wisconsin. Click the link to learn more about what that means. Propagate by purchasing plants or seeds from a reliable native plant garden center.

May 15, 2015

Everything Happens in May Here


Yes, it's a crazy busy time of year. In addition to weddings, graduations, proms, picnics, and gardening, all the plants in this part of the world seem to bloom and grow with ferocity in May.

There was a time, about a week ago, when some species of Magnolias, Crabapples, Redbuds, and Lilacs, and many spring ephemerals and perennials were all blooming at the same time. The temperatures had warmed, then cooled, and everything was in a holding pattern. Quite the stunning show in the community.

We've had just enough precipitation and sunshine and clouds to make the plants very happy. For this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up, here are a few highlights of what's currently blooming and thriving in my Southern Wisconsin garden:

Trillium erectum
Trillium erectum

The Red Trilliums are stunning, backlit by the dappled sunshine.

Trillium grandiflorum
Trillium grandiflorum

The Great White Trilliums seem to have multiplied this year--in many spots where there was a single last year, there are now multiples. Seems they're just now recovering from the 2012 drought.

Arisaema triphyllum
Arisaema tryphyllum

Same with the Jacks-in-the-Pulpit. I lost count of how many are in the woodland garden this year.

Aquilegia canadensis
Aquilegia canadensis

The Columbines I added to the garden last summer have returned and are just about to bloom.

Cercis canadensis
Cercis canadensis

Redbuds are blooming and starting to add their heart-shaped foliage.

Convallaria majalis
Convallaria majalis

Lilies-of-the-Valley are at peak, and the scent is magnificent.

Dicentra formosa
Dicentra formosa

Our native Bleeding Hearts seem healthier than last year.

Easter Bonnet
Alyssum 'Easter Bonnet Violet'

I added a new cultivar of Alyssum to some of my pots. Love the color and the scent!

Enemion biternatum
Enemion biternatum

False Rue Anemone is still blooming away, and the foliage is as pretty as the flowers.

Gleditsia triacanthos
Gleditsia Triacanthos

The Honey Locusts are opening their unique fans of foliage.

Lamprocapnos spectabilis
Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Tendrils of Bleeding Hearts are glistening everywhere.

Malus spp.

Most of the Crabapples have finished blooming, while a few old fruits remain and new fruits form.

Matteuccia struthiopteris
Matteuccia struthiopteris

Ostrich Ferns are nearly completely unfurled.

Vinca minor
Vinca minor

Vincas have added their periwinkle blue to the landscape.

Paeniaceae 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Ants on the Peonies are preparing them to open.

Podophyllum peltatum
Podophyllum peltatum

Mayapples are in full bloom under their shady foliage.

Syringa vulgaris
Syringa vulgaris

Many Lilacs are in full glory (ah, the scent!).

Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'
Syringa meyeri 'Palibin'

While my favorites, Dwarf Korean Lilacs, are just about to burst.

Nelly Moser
Clematis 'Nelly Moser'

Same with the Clematis flowers.

Viola sororia
Viola sororia

And, finally, the state flower, Wood Violet, is popping up everywhere. The pollinators are loving it!

Happy GBBD. Happy Foliage Follow-Up. Happy May!

May 12, 2015

Coldframes and Windowboxes: Part I of III

survivor lettuce

Have you ever tried overwintering Lettuces and Scallions in a coldframe over a heated pond?

How about growing salad greens in windowbox liners?

These experiments are new to me as of last spring, and they've been pleasantly successful, thus far. I'm breaking this series into three parts:

  • Part I: Growing salad greens in windowbox liners;
  • Part II: Construction of the coldframe; and
  • Part III: Successes, failures, and miscellaneous observations.


So, Part I: Growing salad greens in windowbox liners: you know, those portable, lightweight troughs you can buy and place in your windowboxes for planting ornamentals ... windowboxes that make your windows look extra snazzy and give your house lovely curb appeal ...

Turns out, the liners make great planting mediums for salad greens, too. You can add rich, healthy potting soil and compost to give your seeds a boost. And you can start the seeds early in the season and move the troughs in and out, as needed, as the temperatures fluctuate. It's similar to raised-bed gardening, but with the additional benefit of being portable--an especially great option for those of us with shorter growing seasons and "surprise" spring and fall frosts and freezes.

I planted 'Mesclun Mix' Lettuce seeds last spring, with Scallions (Onion sets) planted around the perimeter to repel critters. I watched them sprout quickly, then harvested many cuttings through the summer, clipped them down to the base in the fall, and overwintered them in coldframes above our heated pond.

coldframe on pond
In Part II, I'll describe how the fishman constructed this mini-coldframe on top of our pond.

(The fishman gets the kudos for coldframe construction!)

lettuce rosettes
Lettuce rosettes, as seen through the plastic and condensation of the coldframe.

They survived! They remained in a state of perpetual rosette through the winter as the temperatures hovered around 32F to 45F.

moss and scallions
A new blog topic? "How to grow moss in a coldframe."

(Turns out, these are excellent conditions for growing moss, as well. In this case, I'm considering it a cover crop for my salad greens.) Once the temperatures warmed in April, I moved the trays into the sun, watched the plants grow, and started clipping greens for salads again.

kale and chard

A couple of weeks ago, I also planted 'Tuscan Baby Leaf' Kale and 'Peppermint' Swiss Chard seeds in additional troughs, placed directly in the garden.


We've already thinned the seedlings, and harvested some baby Kale!

Next in this series: Construction of the coldframe. But first, Garden Bloggers Bloom Day on May 15!

To see what other gardeners are growing this season, check out the Dear Friend and Gardener virtual garden club.

May 04, 2015

A New Perspective on Crabapples in Bloom


In the past, when I've tried to photograph our Crabapple trees, I've been less than thrilled with the results. Somehow shooting up into the blooms just didn't do them justice. I'm still working on capturing this subject, but recently I experimented a bit.

As I walked into one of our second-story rooms, I realized a glorious view: Crabapples blooming just outside the window. (The scent was amazing, too.)

Now, photographing them outside this window would mean focusing through glass, but I thought I'd give it a go. The results were fun. This first one is unimpressive for tons of reasons, but it shows the perspective of the Crabapple tops just outside the window:


It might appear that the blooms are touching the window, which isn't the case, but they do drape over the roof line a bit. And with an open window, one could reach out and touch them. (Did you notice the Blue Jay?)

I'm not sure of the names our cultivars. There are approximately 1,000 varieties of Crabapples (Malus spp.), with about 100 commonly planted in the U.S., according to Colorado State University. One of ours here has peachy/white buds that bloom to bright white; the other has vibrant dark pink buds and blooms, with red/gold-tinged foliage.

crab 2

crab 1

crab 4

crab 3

crab 6

crab 5

waxwing 1

As I was experimenting with the camera through the window glass, I noticed something moving in the distance among the white blooms.

waxwing 2

waxwing 3

waxwing 4

Several Cedar Waxwings, enjoying the sweet flowers.


I experimented with focusing through the screen, which yielded interesting effects.

side view

I noticed sunlight hitting the petals in lovely patterns from a side view.

bouquet flowers

I also picked a few blooms for a bouquet, and included a sprig of Bleeding Hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) and foliage from Ressurection Lilies (Lycoris squamigera). (I'm linking this post to Rambling in the Garden's "In a Vase on Monday" meme.)


In my experience, the vase life of Crabapple blooms is only a few days. Then again, their stunning show on the trees lasts only as long as the next thunderstorm, of which we have several in the forecast during the next few days. So I'll savor the blooms while they last.