May 30, 2014

Garden Lessons Learned:
Spring 2014

My mind is swimming with new ideas and information as I write this first "Lessons Learned" post of 2014, and I hope you'll share your lessons, too.

Most of the things I learned during the past three months are practical, but fun, things I want to remember for future years. Here are a few personal lessons, in no particular order:

  • When the yellow-bellied sapsuckers appear in the neighborhood, ruby-throated hummingbirds soon will be on their way. I can't remember where I first read this, but according to BirdNote, the first hummingbirds traveling north each spring follow the sapsuckers. The hummingbirds take advantage of the woodpeckers' sapwells when the supply of flowering plants is still light in the north. After reading this, I put my feeders out a little earlier this year, although the hummingbirds didn't show up until a few weeks after the sapsuckers.


  • On the other hand, be ready for the hummingbirds immediately after the first orioles visit. This year, we sighted our first hummingbird visitor on the very next day after the orioles appeared. Which leads to another lesson...


  • When you hear that orioles are in the area, put oranges on the feeder. This is the first year I've successfully attracted orioles to the feeder, and it seemed to be because of the timing with migration. For several days, they made repeat appearances--entertaining us outside our dining room window. During the past few weeks I haven't seen any, so I stopped putting out the oranges.

  • Try a different technique for overwintering potted plants. (This is kind of a winter/spring lesson.) Very few of the potted perennials that I left outside during the winter survived. Next year, maybe I'll cover them with burlap or bubble wrap and put them in the garage until the real warm weather hits. (Of course, our past winter was particularly brutal, so it's amazing anything survived!)


  • Don't be surprised if the Lemon tree loses most of its blooms/fruits before (and when) you move it outside. Apparently, my pollination attempts were inadequate because only a few tiny Lemons remain on the tree. And the move to the outdoor patio didn't help matters, either. I think the poor tree is a little shocked, although it seems to be adjusting now.


  • Don't worry about the native spring ephemerals. The coldest, most brutal winter in this geographical area probably won't kill them off. I didn't really doubt their survival, but it sure was nice to see them when they appeared again.

butterfly weed

  • Never give up on a perennial. (Well, I guess eventually one must give up, when a plant doesn't reappear after a few years, but if it's slow to show up in a particular season, give it time.) Last year, I planted Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and it didn't seem to thrive. It flowered and then died back before it had a chance to form seed pods. But I noticed a new shoot today!

  • Use your tried-and-true "lasagna method" on the kitchen garden every year. When the vegetables freeze and the perennials go dormant, spread a layer of Marsh Hay and compost, then a layer of newspaper, and then a thick layer of Marsh Hay on top of the garden (with openings for the perennials). In spring, you'll be rewarded with rich, healthy soil ready for new plants and new growth. (More on this later.)


  • Don't worry if the rabbits prune the Dwarf Korean Lilacs (Syringa meyeri) for you. The shrubs will bounce back. But maybe it's a good idea to wrap them in burlap next winter.


  • Hunt for morel mushrooms in the same place (not here in my garden, by the way) next year. Enough said. ;-)

Of course there's more, and I could go on. But now it's your turn. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, what did you learn about your fall garden? If you're in the Northern Hemisphere, how did your spring garden surprise you and teach you new lessons?

Please join in the Lessons Learned meme by sharing a new or a previous post you've written about what you've learned this past season. Feel free to add your link to your comment on this post.

Please also join Donna at Gardens Eye View for the Seasonal Celebrations meme. Posts that cover both memes offer a chance to reflect on the past season and look ahead to the next at the same time. Both memes will be active until the solstice, when we'll post the wrap-ups. Happy summer (or winter to those in the Southern Hemisphere)!

May 26, 2014

You can't take it with you

Lately, we're discussing moving. Empty-nesters don't need a house this large.

It has me thinking ...


What will the next homeowner/gardener do with the garden? Remove all the native plants? Remove the non-native plants?


Will they cultivate the "wild" woodland garden?


Will I take some plants with me?


If so, which ones?


What plants will I miss the most?


Which sections of the garden will I miss?


Obviously, I can't take everything with me. But the container plants will travel well.


The woodland garden will be at the mercy of the next owner.


I'll ask to take cuttings of my great-grandfather's Roses.


Probably some Hellebores. And a few other favorite perennials.


I know many of you have had similar experiences--some of you very recently. Some of you will move very soon.

It's a delicate situation, isn't it? Any advice for those of us just beginning to think about moving?


Right now, my heart is hurting a little thinking about it.

The good thing is, we won't be moving soon. We have too much work to do to get the house ready for sale. So I'll have a little time to think about this difficult transition ...

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On another note, I'm very tardy with thank-yous to two of my favorite garden bloggers.

Last fall, Donna at Garden Walk, Garden Talk randomly picked my name to win this nifty foldable, rollable, traveling bag. It came in very handy during my trip to London.

And then more recently, Donna at Garden's Eye View picked me randomly to win the book "Pollinators of Native Plants," by Heather Holm. Great book, and perfect timing as I'm researching native plants and the pollinators that visit them.

I rarely win things, so these events were very exciting. And I apologize to the two Donnas for my late public acknowledgment of their generous gifts.

Thank you, dear friends!

May 15, 2014

Hold those blooms! Watch that growth!


Is it tougher to write a Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up post when you don't have much happening in your garden or when there's way too much to cover in one post?

I'm not quite sure how to answer that question, but I do know there's lots of blooming and growing going on in my USDA zone 5 Southern Wisconsin garden lately. Temporarily cooler weather is "holding" some the blooms--a little consolation of still needing a jacket into mid-May.

Here are a few of the highlights:



Both the common pink and the 'Alba' Bleeding Hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) seem more plentiful and lush than ever. It's amazing that this fragile-looking plant (among others) can survive and even thrive after the bitter cold winter we had this year. But it is hardy to zone 3.


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) has finished blooming and the seed pods have formed. I'm watching them closely because I'd like to scatter a few seeds in other parts of the garden.


Likewise, the Hellebores (Helleborus orientalis) are forming seed pods. I've never collected the seeds or tried to cross-breed them, but maybe I will someday.


I'm pretty sure this is a Virginia Bluebell (Mertensia virginica), growing where I planted seeds last fall. I've heard it might take a couple of years for them to bloom.


The two Clematis 'Nelly Moser' plants are back again, after I re-established them last spring. The bases are double protected against rabbits.


The Barrenworts (Epimedium spp.) that I planted last spring survived, too.
E. x warleyense stayed evergreen all winter--or at least the lower foliage was still green when the snow receded. I was thrilled to see the first blooms and new growth.


I thought E. 'Creeping Yellow' had died because there was a bare spot in its place ... until new growth emerged. And now it's blooming, too.


The semi-succulent foliage and bracts of Cushion Spurge (Euphorbia polychroma) are filling up their bright, little spot in the garden.



It appears to be a good year for Great White Trilliums (T. grandiflorum) and Red Trilliums (T. erectum), as their numbers have increased this year. We don't have great swaths of them in the garden--they simply dot the landscape amongst the other spring ephemerals, ferns, and ground covers.


It's also a banner year for Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum). I don't recall seeing this many on the property before. They, too, seem incredibly healthy this year.


Unfortunately, a banner year for Trilliums and Jacks also seems to be a banner year for Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), which is extremely invasive in much of North America. We barely had any last year, but we're pulling it like crazy this spring--before it flowers and goes to seed.


The Chokecherry tree (Prunus virginiana), growing in the shade of our large, old Oak trees, is just about to bloom.


Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) is filling a bigger swath of the garden, and seems to be gaining ground on some non-native ground covers (yay!). I so enjoy its blooms, which nod close to the ground and hide under the foliage.


Speaking of swaths, the Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) seem happy on their northwest-facing slope of the forest.


They'll be blooming any day now.


Likewise with Lilies-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis), planted in a more cultivated section of the garden.


The Vincas (V. minor) are filling their little garden plot with my favorite periwinkle shade of blue.


Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) is a little too prolific for my taste. It's native here, but it's taking over a few spots where I'd prefer to see Bluebells and Trilliums. I think I'll transplant some of these.


Wild Violets (Viola spp.) are popping up everywhere. I know I'm not supposed to like them in my lawn and garden, but they're mainly concentrated in the "wild" sections. Plus, they're so pretty.


Finally, the Crabapples (Malus spp.) are holding their blooms for record time because of the cool weather. Don't laugh, but I didn't even realize they were blooming the other day until I walked around the corner and caught the scent ... and looked up!

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Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, and Pam at Digging for hosting Foliage Follow-Up. Head on over to their blogs to see what's blooming and growing around the world this May.

May 11, 2014

Tree Following: Shagbark Buds in May


Many garden and nature bloggers are following trees this year, and I've picked the Shagbark Hickory. Lucy at Loose and Leafy is hosting this tree-following meme, and each month bloggers around the world post something about our chosen trees.

buds collage

In my garden, May is a dramatic month in the life of the Shagbarks. Their buds transform--from tightly closed to fully unfurled leaves and catkins--in the span of a couple of weeks.

I wish I could put a time-lapse camera on one bud and follow it through the entire progression--to share the magic of it opening. On some warm days, like today, the buds seem different every time I look out the window.

hicory buds

So far, most buds are at the stage of preparing to unfold. Actually the "pregnant bud" stage is a lovely point, when the branches look like they have candles on them.

More dramatic transformations will follow in the days ahead, which I'll share soon. Thanks to Lucy at Loose and Leafy for hosting this fascinating meme.

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Added 5.13.14: