March 30, 2013

Plant of the month: trumpeting miniature Narcissus


Nothing says springtime and new life like tiny trumpeting Daffodils. You can often find these little gems at your neighborhood grocery or general store. In fact, one miniature cultivar is actually called ‘Little Gem.’ Another is ‘Tete-a-Tete.’


I believe the ones I planted in my garden many years ago fall into one of those cultivars. I was surprised to find that the date on one of these photos was from 2003. While that’s certainly possible, the date function on my various cameras has been known to be incorrect...


In any case, my miniature Daffodils were a gift all those many years ago, and I planted them in the garden immediately after the flowers faded. They’ve made an appearance in the early spring every year since then. I expect to see them poking through the soil and dried leaves after the snow melts during the next few days.

Daffodil is a nickname for members of the genus Narcissus. Narcissus asturiensis, or Pygmy Daffodil, is a species miniature Narcissus native to Portugal and Spain according to the USDA. It resembles the hybrids we commonly can purchase in the U.S., but the latter have been bred to expand their range and growing conditions.


Both ‘Tete-a-Tete’ and ‘Little Gem’ are hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9, according to Brent and Becky’s Bulbs. They’re bright yellow, prefer full sun or part shade, and perform well in average soil. Both grow to a maximum height of 12 inches.

One of the nicest things about Daffodils of all types, in my book, is that rabbits won’t eat them. And the miniature ones are great companions to other low-growing early bloomers, such as Crocuses and Hyacinths.


Fortunately, I was able to find some the other day in small pots to present as Easter gifts. They’re great for holiday decorating, and afterward the recipients can plant them in their gardens.

I wish I could send them to all my gardening friends, but since I can't, here is my virtual gift to you.

Happy Easter!


March 27, 2013

Wordless monarch greetings from Sarasota, Fla.

Captured at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens

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(Click here if the video doesn't open on your screen.)

March 19, 2013

Gardeners are naturally inquisitive creatures

A heartfelt personal thanks goes out to all the garden bloggers who participated in this season's "Lessons Learned" meme. Not only for your participation, but also for sharing with the rest of us your beautiful gardens and key things you've learned during the past three months.


Sharing each season's lessons gives us all a more global view of what's happening--in gardens like our own, and in gardens that are distinctly different. For me, personally, both types of learning are incredibly exciting and fulfilling.

My perception is that gardeners are naturally inquisitive creatures, and when we stop learning, we lose a little of that excitement of discovery. So, once again, kudos to those who are still learning!


Here are a few highlights:

1. Diana at Elephant's Eye, in Western Cape province, South Africa, takes her lessons from the signs of nature. When she sees the first March Lily bud "nosing through," she knows it's time to prune. In Diana's words: "I nibble away carefully, somewhere between topiary and green sculpture, lost in thought. I chop the pieces and return them as mulch for the plant they came from." She offers tips for proper pruning, mulch preparation, and motivating oneself for garden chores.

2. Linnae at Linnae's Garden, in Washington state, U.S., offers sage advice that should work for any garden: "In gardening, you figure out what works. Then you repeat that. Success. Repeat. Success. Repeat." Observe what is working and what is not, she explains. On her back slope, some plants died, others struggled, and still others thrived. Her game plan this season: Plant more of what already works, including Lupines, Daisies, and Blackberry vines, among others.

3. Catmint at Diary of a Suburban Gardener, in Victoria province, Australia, shares highlights of a trip to Israel, including incredible photos of a forest floor filled with wild Cyclamens, Anemones, Erodiums, and many other wildflowers. She notes that three Olive trees in the Garden of Gesthemene are scientifically dated as more than 2,000 years old. Catmint's photos and description also take the reader to the Carmel mountain range, Mount Bental, and Netanya.

4. Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys, in Texas, U.S., offers a tender lesson: Plants have personal meanings and memories attached to them. We should figure out what those meanings and memories are, and how and where to grow particular plants to preserve the memories. Holley couldn't figure out why she didn't want yellow Daffodils in her garden. A particular memory from her great-grandmother's garden suddenly revealed the reason why.

5. Donna at Gardens Eye View, in New York state, U.S., reveals that she prefers a normal winter for her locale, unlike last year's reduced snowfall and very early spring. Donna's garden gets a lot of snow--in a normal winter, at least 10 feet. This year, she had 15 feet. So, she's extolling the benefits of snow: insulation for soil and plants to prevent soil heaving and premature growth, and as a source of nitrogen. Donna also says snow is often called a "poor man's fertilizer."

6. Loredana at Blogging Away, also of New York state, takes us on a walk near her home. She explains the delight of discovering Snapdragons in winter, the whimsy of following weather vanes, and the many surprises around every corner. A nearby farm has greenhouses that stay open all winter--growing an impressive array of vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Loredana says she has rediscovered the pure joy of a nature walk, which is relaxing, invigorating, and great exercise.

7. Michelle at The Sage Butterfly, near Washington, D.C., shares her recent realization that winter offers beauty not found in any other season. "I am now able to accept the season of winter with all its subtle interest and soft whispers," she says. "I have learned to be grateful for the slowing of pace and for having the opportunity to see what I cannot see in other seasons. Mostly, I think I am grateful to live in an area where I can experience the depth of the four seasons so perfectly."

8. Karin at Southern Meadows, in Georgia, U.S., discusses the benefits of native plant alternatives to invasive species. She shares incredible photos from her participation in the Great Backyard Bird Count: yellow-bellied sapsucker, downy woodpecker, tufted titmouse, cardinal, and goldfinch. Karin says she has learned the value of platform feeders for ground-feeding birds. Also, she continues her observations of a pair of overwintering rufus hummingbirds.


Other comments about lessons learned include Lynne at Irish Garden House, who learned that a snowy winter can be cheerful, and that love and caring pop up in unusual ways if we're ready to receive; Christy at Christy's Cottage Wildlife Garden, who discovered that ice, although dangerous, can transform ordinary things into works of beauty; Helene at Graphicality-UK, who rediscovered the benefits of moving from Norway to London; Jen at Muddy Boot Dreams, who learned that winter isn't as bad as she thought it would be; and Burleson Babe, who re-remembered that patience is the gardener's supreme virtue and getting outside in winter is worth it.

Tammy at Casa Mariposa learned how to get a jump on spring by winter sowing seeds; Lula at On Botanical Photography rediscovered the beauty of snow in pictures from the north; Donna at Garden Walk, Garden Talk remembered that there's always something to see in winter--we just have to get out in the snow to find it; Heather at Life Is Like a Garden and These Are My Colours has learned to love and appreciated the beauty and wonders winter has to offer; and Marcia at A 3 Acre Farm learned to bring along her camera, which paid off when she captured a photo of a white rabbit in the snow.

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I feel like I've just taken a trip around the world! If I missed any lessons, please add them in the comments. And now we move on to the next season. What will we learn during the next three months...?


March 15, 2013

No springtime for you

spring collage

These flowers were blooming in my garden at this same time last year. To see what my garden looks like this year, see my Feb. 28 post, and add a couple more inches of snow and a layer of ice.

(Don't worry, this is a silly'll see.)

No springtime for you: That's what we're feeling like in this little corner of the world. Even our neighbors just slightly to the south and west are getting a taste of spring.

But if there's one thing I've learned after living here for a few decades, it's that you never know what kind of March weather you'll get in Wisconsin. Last year, the first Crocus bloomed in my garden on March 14; in 2011, it happened on April 9. Considering my Crocuses are still covered with a few inches of snow, this year they might not bloom until mid-April.

You're probably thinking, "Why do people live there?" And I don't blame you. Sometimes I wonder why I live here. But believe it or not, in addition to the fact that most of my family members live near here, there are other benefits, as well. As Donna at Gardens Eye View and Jen at Muddy Boot Dreams keep reminding us (thanks, ladies), snowy winters can be good for the garden.

So I thought I'd do a little tongue-in-cheek reflection on the benefits and drawbacks of living in Wisconsin (most of these also apply to Minnesota and Michigan...and other northern U.S. states and Canada and probably northern Europe and Asia, and with a little adjustment...mountainous regions in the southern hemisphere...did I forget anyone?):

The Pros and Cons of Wisconsin Winters

It’s cold.
The back porch serves as a large walk-in refrigerator/freezer from November through March.
It’s snowy for three months, at least.
It’s not brown and mucky for three months.
Lots of time indoors.
Lots of time to read books.
When you have a January thaw, the rain freezes and creates a skating rink on your driveway.
You can go skating on your own driveway.
Springtime is the shortest season.
When spring happens, it’s like watching a freakish, fast-forward, science-fiction film, where plants grow inches every day.
Occasionally, it snows in April and May.
You can make homemade snow ice cream to eat the next day when it will be 85 F.
Sometimes it’s subzero (< 0 F or < -18 C) for days on end.
You can comment to your friends about how at least it’s not 100 F and humid like it will be in the summertime.
The ground is frozen from November through March.
You get to have manicured fingernails for half of the year.
You have to wear a heavy coat when you go outside.
The coat doubles as a lap blanket and a bed for your pets.

You get the idea. Honestly, if I had a choice, I'd probably live here from April through January, because I enjoy a taste of winter. Plus, our summers are usually incredible, autumn is pretty, and springtime...well, when it finally happens, words can't begin to describe its glory.


Next: the Garden Lessons Learned wrap-up!

March 11, 2013

March book review: a great trail companion

"Only by going in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter."

~John Muir

If you enjoy maps, travel, nature, and tracing the paths of historical figures, you'll probably appreciate this light paperback. "On the Trail of John Muir," by Cherry Good, is easy to pick up and put down as your schedule allows. I'll be linking this post later this month to Holley's book review meme over at Roses and Other Gardening Joys.

Since I'm on a bit of a John Muir kick, I was looking for a book that would give me facts about exactly where he traveled and lived. I wanted a book to provide a sense of the geography of Muir's life, and the scope of his journeys. This book is a good start.

In seven chapters, it takes the reader from Dunbar, Scotland; to Wisconsin; Ontario, Canada; Florida; California; Alaska; Arizona; and many destinations along the way.

What I like about the book:

  • The maps help to illustrate significant places along Muir's travels and life journey;
  • An excellent chronology at the end of the book lists highlights of his life, from 1838-1914;
  • Each chapter offers anecdotes and descriptions of people, places, and events significant to Muir;
  • A few photos and illustrations show his modest dwelling places and many of the beautiful scenes he admired; and
  • The author's experiences of those places are woven effectively with Muir's writings and reactions.

It's a light book, at 131 pages, including the index. This isn't really a critique, because the book fits neatly in a backpack or a bag for easy travel. But it's sparse in scale, and leaves you wanting more. That's not surprising either, since there's so much to learn about this fascinating man.

Even Muir, himself, wrote: "It seems strange that a paper that reads smoothly and may be finished in 10 minutes should require months to write." While it would be difficult to read and retain the spirit of this book in 10 minutes, you should be able to read most individual chapters in that amount of time.

I'd recommend the book to anyone interested in John Muir's travels, explorations, and settlements.

For more excellent book suggestions, check out Holley's book review meme, hosted on the 20th of each month.

And just a quick reminder that the "Lessons Learned" and "Seasonal Celebrations" memes are live until March 20, when we'll wrap up for the season! Thanks for joining in!

March 06, 2013

A time to every purpose

Do you ever wonder why you do something until you realize why you did something?

Let me try to explain...

Last spring or summer (I don't know because I don't have a date) on a near-perfect day, I decided to do a little experiment. I thought it might be fodder for a blog post. But nothing came of it...until now.

The experiment: I sat on the back screen porch and dedicated 30 minutes to recording all the sights, sounds, scents, and sensations I observed.

It seemed a little silly when I completed the list. And for the past many months, when I'd come across those notes I'd think, "Why did I do that?" Interestingly, I didn't discard the notes.

The other day when I, once again, noticed the list, its purpose was crystal clear: It helped me escape (at least in my imagination) from one of the most distasteful weather days of late winter. (Apologies to those who enjoy snow in March. I try not to whine about winter until after February.)

The notes transported me back to one of the most glorious days of 2012.

There it was on lined notebook paper: that silly list of my observations.

Sights: hummingbirds, acorns, chipmunks, bumblebees, squirrels, mosquitoes, flies, ants, fish, squirrel nests, chickadees.

Sounds: blue jays, hummingbirds, a circular saw, chipmunks, bumblebees, squirrels, crickets, German songs, whistling, cicadas, a train, chickadees.

Scents: fresh air, a hint of lake.

Sensations: light breeze, warm air.

Reading the list also reminded me that all those wonderful sensory experiences will return again very soon.

One item on the list--the sights and sounds of hummingbirds--gave me pause. When exactly do they migrate back? I found out with the help of an interactive map of ruby-throated hummingbird migration patterns from Annenberg Learner's Journey North. Shown here is the map from 2011, because 2012 was an unusually early spring. You can click on the map to see when hummingbirds are likely to make an appearance in your garden. The site also includes interactive maps for other hummingbird species and other migrating animals.

Source: Annenberg Learner's Journey North

Now that's something to celebrate!

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I'm linking in with Donna's Seasonal Celebrations at Gardens Eye View. Both Donna's meme and the Lessons Learned meme (click here or on the tab at the top of this blog) will be active until the equinox, when we'll post the wrap-ups. Please join us!