May 30, 2012

Garden lessons learned: spring 2012


As we launch into summer here, there’s only one plant I can think of so far this year that reached its peak on schedule: the Peonies. There are probably others, but the vast majority of plants in my garden have emerged, matured, bloomed, and faded weeks ahead of their normal schedules.


To celebrate the reliable end-of-May blooms of my Peonies, I’m featuring them in this “Lessons Learned” post. I have three hybrid Peony bushes in my garden: ‘Edulis Superba,’ ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ and ‘Kelway’s Gorgeous.’ Even they were abnormal in one way—fewer blooms, because the Oak trees leafed out several weeks early, cutting off the supply of sunshine.


The biggest lesson I learned this season was a fascination with abnormality. We had a solid two weeks or more of summer-like temperatures in March, which set springtime in motion with a vengeance. Now I know what it’s like to experience a three-month-long spring season. Usually, March is quite wintry here, April is variable, and May is almost always mild and spectacular.


So, on with other lessons learned this season:

1. Do your homework before you select a new plant. In my last post, I shared how I learned late that rabbits really like the taste of Hyacinth Bean plants. I don’t know what I was thinking! Of course legumes must be protected from the jaws of the evil big-eared creatures (I say this in jest—I never kill rabbits, I just get mad at them and try to repel them with appropriate plant selections as much as possible.)

2. Plant more Daffodils, and no more Tulips. Rabbits eat Tulips down to the base, but they don’t touch Daffodils. All the Daffodils I planted in the fall emerged and bloomed in March—and their bright yellow faces lasted into April! On the other hand, I gave up on Tulips several years ago. Maybe I’ll try again if I ever get a dog to chase away the rabbits.


3. When plants are beautiful, appreciate them in their full glory. It’s appropriate to shake your head and say, “That’s not normal,” when Magnolias and Dicentras bloom in March. But then pause to appreciate their splendor. Even when a plant is off its “normal” schedule, take time to enjoy it. Spring ephemerals, especially, fade fast on warm days.

4. Determined chipmunks are almost as pesky as hungry rabbits. I tried every trick under the sun to keep chipmunks out of my potted annuals on the front porch this spring. Cayenne Pepper, cat litter, baby powder, chili powder, spiky evergreen clippings, lava rocks, and onion sets—none of them, alone, did the trick. In the end, a combination of these methods has finally started to keep the chipmunks at bay.


5. Honey Locust leaves might be good mulch for a kitchen garden. The jury’s still out on this one. I raked up the Honey Locust leaves last fall, and top-dressed my veggie/cut flower garden for the winter. One benefit was a sure thing: There were fewer weeds. But the Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Zinnias, Cosmos, and Snapdragons I planted two weeks ago aren’t growing very fast. I’ve been watering them thoroughly, and they’ve had plenty of warmth and sun. I think I’ll supplement with some of my customary mulch—Marsh Hay.

6. Photograph more foliage. I’ve always appreciated unique and varied foliage in the garden, but I don’t spend enough time capturing it. My lens tends to gravitate toward showy blooms. One goal for the summer is to dedicate more time and memory card space to foliage.


Those are the biggest lessons I learned during this unusually early and warm spring. Part of me hopes for a more normal spring next year, and part of me secretly wishes every spring would be this glorious.


Now it’s almost “summer” here—time to enjoy long days, lemonade, water sports, and fireworks. What lessons did you learn this spring (or fall for friends in the Southern Hemisphere)? And what seasonal celebrations are you looking forward to in the weeks ahead?


Please join in the “Lessons Learned” meme by including a link to your post in the comments. Or, you can click on the “Lessons Learned” tab at the top of this page. The Mr. Linky widget will be live until the solstice—when I’ll do a wrap-up post about all our lessons. And join Donna at Garden's Eye View for “Seasonal Celebrations.” You can combine the two in one post, or link to them separately.


Thanks, in advance, for sharing in these memes! The wrap-ups at the end provide a fascinating glimpse into garden lessons and celebrations around the globe.


Note: Here's the code to add the Lessons Learned widget to your blog:

<a href="http://plantpostings.blogspot.com/p/lessons-learned.html"><img src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-wRzI5-i0_L8/Ttv6mtKe36I/AAAAAAAABZw/tt5zy0_ZS-0/s600/gardenlessons.jpg" height="183" width="250"/></a>

44 comments:

  1. I'd love to know what your porch smells like - chili powder, baby powder and onions................! Do you get many human visitors?

    Reminds me of he time I read that garlic would keep mosquitoes away so I sprayed everything and everywhere. The mosquitoes laughed - my family did not.

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    1. LOL! That explains it. ;-) We're probably attracting more flies and repelling people than we are repelling chipmunks. The scallions and evergreen clippings always worked for me in the past, so I must have a determined critter on my hands. Next year, I'll throw everything in at the same time--maybe before I even put any plants in! :)

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  2. I've been taking photos of luscious peonies, too. Sorry to hear about all the critters using your garden for lunch.

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    1. Peonies are photogenic, aren't they?! Yes, I do have a critter problem--rabbits that eat my plants and chipmunks that dig huge holes in my planters and garden. Oh well, they're all part of the circle of life, I guess.

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    2. Hi, I'm belatedly joining. Sometimes, it takes a while for me to get a post together. Thanks for hosting.

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  3. Great/informative post and lovely images ... so love my peonies too! And yes, those pesky chipmunks and hungry rabbits also raise havoc in my garden. Someone mentioned sprinkling pea gravel on top of containers to discourage digging ... and where did May go :(

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    1. Thanks, Joey. I know, May is history for another year. :( Pea gravel--I'll have to try that. The lava rocks seem to be helping, too. But just when you think you have it figured out, they find a way to wreak havoc again. Argh.

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  4. I almost thought you were talking about me with our first two lessons - my life exactly. Beautiful photos of your peonies. Mine are just opening now....

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    1. Thanks, Patty. Aren't the Peonies inspiring?! They're wonderful cut flowers, too. And the scent is incredible!

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  5. Your peonies are gorgeous -- but I hear you about the early leafing out of the oak - same thing happened here with the cherry trees and with the same result.

    Your lessons learned intrigued me. Like you, we are no longer planting tulips for the same reason you aren't; the rabbits and voles made quick work of literally hundreds of bulbs this winter. The daffodils, however, have fared very well, so we will definitely plant quite a few more of those. But I'm sad to hear that the capsaicin alone was not a good deterrent. We were hoping it would give us some help against the rabbits.

    Anyway, your photos of the peonies are fabulous!

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    1. Oh my--I'm sorry to hear about your loss of bulbs! To be honest, I think scallions can help repel rabbits (they don't seem to repel chipmunks, though). I usually plant them around the perimeter of my kitchen garden (which now also has a very secure fence around it, too). Cayenne Pepper has never worked for me, but others say it works for them. Maybe individual rabbits and chipmunks have unique tastes. ;-) And thank you for your very kind comments.

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  6. The rabbits have made a buffet of my coreopsis and the chipmunks have killed 4 roses and several other plants with their tunneling. I wonder how many chipmunks I have. Based on the holes in my garden I have an entire city. Your peonies are gorgeous!

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    1. Thanks, Karin. Gosh, I'm sorry about the Roses and Coreopsis. Darn critters! It's like a zoo in our backyard. In some ways I like it, if only they didn't cause so much damage. :(

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  7. Beautiful images of your peonies, we live near a peony farm so I vist there every year rather than grow them myself as their flowering period is so short and they are often spoiled by the weather. If you manage to take more images of your foliage please join my foliage meme on 22nd of each month, a way of concentrating the mind on this vitally important aspect of the garden. Christina

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    1. A Peony farm! Lucky you! We've had a little cold snap, so the Peonies are holding their blooms a little longer. :) Yes, I will join in your meme. This will be fun!

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  8. Your peonies are beautiful, both in in your garden and in your photos. Here, peonies were early, but with the heat and no rain, dropped petals really fast. I always am sad when they are not around for longer. Your photos show the reason why.

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    1. Thank you, Donna. They're lasting a bit longer for us because we're having a little cold snap with rain--perfect weather for Peonies. I will be sad when they're gone, too. Part of me wants to keep them on the bushes, and part of me wants to make a luscious bouquet! :)

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  9. I really love your photos! The colors are excellent and they show how delicate the petals are. :o)The only peony I have is Sarah Bernhardt.
    I'm so glad my post inspired you!! My rain garden will be dry more than wet but it handled the rain from Alberto so well that I wish I could always keep it a bit flooded. The hardest part was digging up the sod and hauling bags of rocks.
    I grow my tulips in pots. No one eats them, they get plenty cold, and I can pick new ones every year. I just treat them as an annual.

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    1. Thank you, TS! Yes, they're photogenic like Roses. I will consult with you before I start my project--yours is truly most impressive. Good idea to grow Tulips in pots. Do you think they would survive on a very cold screen porch? I will have to try that. Thanks!

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  10. How different our climates were this spring...peonies are blooming a bit early now and are stunning...we had a late leaf out given March warmth followed buy by a chilling Apr...but that really cold April was a killer for many plants...we still are ahead with many blooms though. I will be linking in on the 11th...can't wait. Pondering my lessons now. Oh and these peony pics are stunning.

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    1. Thanks, Donna! Yes, it has been strange. I hope we're back to relative "normal" now. I'm sorry to hear you lost some plants in April. I'm having more trouble with my annuals now--I think the temperatures have just been too extreme--from 50s to 90s to 40s, and back and forth. It's hard on people, too.

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  11. Your peonies are gorgeous, Beth! I was hoping I would finally get a few blooms on the new peony I planted last year, but so far nothing. Gardening always teaches us the lesson of patience, too.

    One lesson I've learned this year, besides the fact that no two years in the garden are the same, is that a mild winter can mean some annuals will re-seed themselves. I've been digging out nicotania and salvia volunteers all over the garden:)

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    1. Thank you, Rose! One of my Peonies, the 'Edulis Superba,' has barely bloomed. I planted it four years ago. But it's in deeper shade than the other two. I'm thinking I should probably move it. How fun that you have annuals that self-seeded! Several of my perennials and biennials barely went dormant under the snow.

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  12. I plant lots of daffodils as well because the voles eat my tulips. I can only plant them in a bed that I have protected against them. The rabbits and bunnies have been eating my echinacea in the perennial bed, but I am trying to find ways to protect them. I will be back to share some of my lessons.

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    1. We have some voles here, too. Sometimes I can't tell if holes and burrows are caused by the rabbits, chipmunks, or voles. That surprises me about your Echinacea--I didn't realize rabbits like to eat them!

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  13. Your flowers and photos are all beautiful, but we don't have them in the hot tropics. It looks like the changes in normal schedules of our plants are common place now in the world with these "climate change". Even if we normally have our plants throughout the year, we also see changes in their normal schedules. A lot in fact changed. Those which are dormant during our dry season got confused when it rained once in March which is supposed to be in June. Some broke dormancy without completing the cycle so less flowers emerged. Citrus fruits also got shoots with still very short dry-days, so flowers didn't emerge with the shoots, so we cannot expect fruits in Dec-Jan. That will be a drastic shortfall in production for citrus farmers. A lot of observations i noticed more than these.

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    1. Thank you, Andrea. That is very sad about the citrus crop. I didn't realize the climate change would affect the tropics so much, too. That could have global implications. I'd be fascinated to hear more about your observations from this season--please link in with a new or an existing post that describes some of these changes. Thanks.

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  14. The beautiful Peonies ... how I wish I could grow them here! Your's are magnifincent. I'm told our winters are not cold enough for Peonies.

    I'll be joining in with my "Lessons Learned" post in the next few days.

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    1. Thanks, Christine. You can grow Camellias and I can grow Peonies--it's a trade-off, I guess. Your winters must be quite pleasant. I hope you and Barb are feeling better!

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  15. Your peonies are beautiful. Glad something was on schedule! Your garden must not be fenced? I plant most of my tulips in the backyard where the bunnies can't get to them (it's fenced.) Lots of good lessons learned. I think we all just have to roll with whatever Mother Nature dishes out. We don't really have much of a choice anyway, do we? I keep hoping fall is not early considering the year so far....

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    1. Thanks! No, the garden isn't fenced, overall. I do have tight chicken wire and fencing around the veggie/cut flower garden and around a select few plants, but otherwise it's all open to the natural setting. I'm with you on hoping fall doesn't come extra early--or worse: winter. :(

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  16. Oh Beth, your peonies are really impressive!
    And thanks for all your precious suggestions...

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    1. Thank you, Dona! I hope you'll link in with one of your posts. You always have great lessons for all of us. I'm hoping to get back to Italy one of these days. Which month would you say is best for viewing gardens near Venice?

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  17. I love peonies, and you have gorgeous ones in your garden! I had to laugh when I read about the rabbits and chipmunks in your garden. Whenever I see these little creatures in my neighborhood, there's always a split second when I think, "Aw, so cute" and then I remember how destructive they can be! The biggest lesson I've learned is how resilient plants can be, despite our benign neglect or strange weather conditions.

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    1. Good point--plants are very resilient for the most part. And the ones that aren't probably aren't the best ones for our gardens. But the rabbits and chipmunks ... well, I probably shouldn't say here what I think about them. ;-)

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  18. It has been a crazy spring with every month excahnged for another. Now it's June and it feels like April here with cool weather and rain every day. WE just have to go with the flow.

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    1. Yeah, not sure what to expect this growing season. So many plants are acting weird. We had the cool days at the end of May and now we're having perfect weather. I hope it's headed your way--an absolutely amazing stretch of perfect days. Wish I didn't have to work this week.

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  19. This weather has made me reflect on some of the lessons I have learned.

    http://www.thesagebutterfly.blogspot.com/2012/06/breathing-lessons.html

    Thanks for hosting.

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    1. It's a beautiful post, Michelle, and some excellent advice for all of us. I have to keep reminding myself to breathe and slow down, because time goes way too fast. Thanks again for joining in!

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  20. Loved #3 and #6. #1 I know I should do, but don't always. It makes life more exciting! haha
    Thanks for hosting - I'm joining in with my post here:

    http://dreamingofroses.blogspot.com/2012/06/time-in-bottle.html

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    1. Very impressive! It's great that you have such a plentiful harvest for canning. Chuckle--I had to look back to see what #s 1, 3, and 6 were. Yeah, I guess you're right about the surprises. ;-)

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  21. Finally I am linking in Beth


    http://gardenseyeview.com/2012/06/14/spring-lessons-learned-for-bloom-day/

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    1. Thanks, Donna! I can't believe we're almost at the solstice!

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  22. Finally have my post done! It should be up tomorrow morning--just in time for the solstice:

    http://www.prairierosesgarden.blogspot.com

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