Fragrance in the Garden

April 22nd, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Plant strawberry plants now for delicious strawberry shortcake this summer.
    • Dahlias come in a wide variety of colors and shapes. Plant the roots now for flowers this summer.
    • Put up hummingbird feeders this month and enjoy these colorful and entertaining birds.
    • Begin spraying roses now for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a good product for a less toxic solution.
    • Prepare for planting season! Turn in cover crops and do a soil test if your garden had trouble last year.

Fragrance in the Garden

Nothing conjures up memories of the past the way a familiar scent can. Orange blossoms, jasmine, lavender, fragrant stock, gardenia – even the words seem to perfume the air. To bring back pleasant memories and create some new ones, choose a few plants to place near the door or by the walkway, or fill your garden with wonderful fragrances all season long.

The first plants that wake up our noses in the spring are narcissus, hyacinth and lily-of-the-valley. Not far behind is the sweet-scented daphne, followed by the intensely fragrant flowers of the lilacs.

Chinese wisteria is blooming now with a profusion of fragrant lavender flowers in long clusters. The evergreen clematis vine, with its powerfully fragrant white flowers, adds its sweet scent to the springtime air.

The white snowball bush is another sweet scent in the spring garden and so are the tiny flowers of Sarcococca. Mock orange (Philadelphus) is an old-fashioned favorite with its strongly scented showy white flowers in early summer. The large pompom flowers of peonies bloom in late spring. Place one in a vase in a room, and it will fill the room with its delicate fragrance.

The spring flower bed can be filled with the lovely scents of stock and sweet peas. A carpet of sweet alyssum in purple, rose and white will perfume the air from spring to fall.

Summer brings us lovely lavenders, butterfly bush, star jasmine, lilies, honeysuckle and, of course, roses. Varieties like ‘Rock & Roll’, ‘Fragrant Plum’, and ‘Julia Child’ have all been developed for their strong fragrances. Gardenias bloom in early summer with their legendary sweet fragrance so loved for corsages.

Heliotrope has large violet flower heads with a strong vanilla fragrance in warm weather. It’s hard to find a more sugary fragrance than purple petunias, especially the variety ‘Sugar Daddy’. And ‘Prism Sunshine’ petunia is deliciously scented at night.

The large, beautiful, white flowers of the Southern Magnolia tree bloom in the summer and their heavy fragrance and welcome shade create the perfect place to relax on a hot summer’s day.

Late summer bloomers with strong fragrance include the exotic and heady fragrance of tuberoses. Sweet Autumn Clematis blooms profusely with wonderfully scented tiny white flowers. The pink flowers of Naked Lady Amaryllis have a strong fragrance that wafts on the air.

Don’t overlook the herbs for their fragrant foliage. Rosemary can be grown as a shrub or a ground cover. Thyme has many varieties with scents ranging from lemon and lime to caraway. The mint family has a long list of fragrant varieties as do the basils: lemon, cinnamon, spicy globe and Thai basil. Many Salvias, or sages, have beautiful flowers and fragrant foliage. And it’s hard to walk by a lavender plant without stroking the leaves to release its sweet fragrance. There are lots of other herbs that can help create an edible, fragrant garden.

Fragrance plays an important role in our enjoyment of the garden. Plant some memories in your garden with fragrant plants you’ll enjoy all season.

Crazy Ways with Potatoes

April 14th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Last chance to plant asparagus roots this year. This delicious vegetable will keep producing for up to 20 years.
    • Plant summer-flowering bulbs now. Glads, dahlias, callas, cannas and lilies will bloom this summer if planted soon.
    • Fertilize established roses now and begin spraying them for insect and disease problems. Neem oil is a very effective, less toxic spray that works against both insects and diseases.
    • Plant artichokes now. Fill a hole with one part humus and two parts soil and set out plants in full or part sun.
    • Petunias can be planted now. Their bright flowers will bloom all summer in hot, sunny locations and they will take a light frost.

Crazy Ways with Potatoes

Potatoes are a staple both in the kitchen and in the garden. And winter without home-grown potatoes is just not the same. Spring is potato-planting time and gardeners are anxious to get their spuds in the ground, but with the continuing rains, that has become a difficult job.

Fortunately, potatoes can be grown in a number of different ways that don’t involve digging in the wet soil. They can be grown in cages, in bags, old tires or even in a bag of potting soil.

Potatoes grow differently from most “root” vegetables. They grow from the stems of the plant rather than from the roots. This means that they will develop above the seed potato that you plant. So if you keep adding soil around the stems of the plants as they push upward, more and more potatoes will grow.

This makes potatoes uniquely adapted to growing in cages. And by growing them vertically, you get a nice crop in less space, and they are easy to harvest.

To make a cage for potatoes, take a length of 3-foot wire fencing, and form it into a cylinder, 2–3 feet in diameter. Secure the cage in the soil and line it with straw, cardboard, or even newspaper.

Put 6 inches of soil in the bottom and place the sprouted potatoes on the soil, 6–8 inches apart. Cover them with 4 inches of potting soil, compost or straw. After the potato sprouts poke through the soil’s surface, allow them to grow about 6–8 inches tall and develop a few leaves, before gently filling around them with more of the potting soil, and water well. Continue layering with more potting soil for about a month as the plants get taller. Then neglect them for a while.

When you see blooms on the plants, that means new potatoes are forming. The potatoes are ready to harvest when the plants begin to yellow and die back. Remove the cage, and unearth your crop of potatoes.

Keep an eye on the moisture content of the soil throughout the season, because caged potatoes dry out more quickly than those planted in the ground.

An alternate method is to use old tires. Fill one tire with a soil mixture and poke 4 or 5 potatoes into the soil. Water them and wait for them to grow. When they reach 6 inches high, add a second tire and start adding potting soil around the sprouts. Continue mounding up the potting soil around the growing plants until your stack is 3 tires high. Young potatoes will form all the way up the stack of tires.

For an even simpler container, use a trash bag. Cut several drainage holes in the bottom of a 30-gallon black plastic trash bag. Roll down the sides of the bag and fill about one-third of the way up with potting soil. Plant the potatoes and continue mounding up the soil as the potatoes grow. To harvest, slit open the side of the bag to release the potatoes.

And here’s the lazy gardener method: take a bag of potting soil and empty 2/3 of the soil into a storage bin. Poke a few holes in the bottom of the bag, plant the potatoes into the soil in the bag, water and proceed as for the other methods.

Don’t let the weather stop you from growing your own potatoes this year.

Glorious Gladioli

April 14th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Tomatoes and peppers can be set out now, but be ready to cover them if cold weather returns.
    • Lettuce, cabbages, broccoli, onions and other cool-season vegetables can be set out with no frost protection. They will give you a delicious early harvest.
    • Azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias provide lots of beautiful flowers for the shady spring garden. Choose them now.
    • Bleeding hearts are charming perennials for the shade garden. Look for them now for a special accent.
    • Wildflower seeds can be broadcasted now on hillsides for colorful blooms and erosion control.

Glorious Gladioli

Gladiolus has long been a favorite flower in the florist trade for its stately beauty in arrangements. But it also lends an air of dramatic beauty to the garden.

These magnificent flowers originated in South Africa and are members of the iris family. They come in almost every color, except true blue, and stand tall on 3- to 6-foot-tall stems.

They grow from a corm, like a bulb, that needs to be planted in the spring for flowers this summer. The orchid-like blooms are often ruffled at the edges. They open from the bottom up, and all face in one direction. The leaves are shaped like swords and arranged in narrow, upright fans.

Glads make excellent cut flowers. Cut the stems when the bottom flower is fully opened, leaving at least four leaves on the plant to feed the corm for next year’s blooms. Most of the remaining buds will open, a few at a time, almost to the tip. Pick off the faded flowers and they will last for about 10 days in the vase.

Glads are very pleasing in the garden when planted in clumps rather than rows. This way they provide a striking vertical accent in a mixed planting of annuals and perennials.

Plant gladioli in full sun now through June. Dig in a generous amount of compost, add bulb fertilizer or bone meal in the bottom of the hole and mix it into the soil. Then plant the corms 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart. To have a succession of blooms this summer, plant some corms every 2 weeks from now through June. This will produce blooms from midsummer into early October.

Place a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch around the gladioli to keep the soil moist and help prevent weeds. Water regularly throughout the dry weather until the leaves begin to turn yellow. Then withhold water and let the foliage yellow completely. If foliage doesn’t turn yellow before frost, cut leaves and stems down in the fall after frost.

You can also grow gladioli in containers, but they will need to be fertilized regularly through the season. Fertilize when the flower spikes first appear and after the flowers are picked or done blooming.

Glads need to be staked or tied up to a fence to keep them from falling over when they bloom. Place stakes at planting time, being careful not to damage the corms with the stakes. Grow them in rows or in clumps and stake or tie them accordingly. You can also stick a few in here and there among perennial flowers where they make a fine accent.

Gladiolus flowers come in red, pink, rose, orange, yellow, white, lavender and purple as well as bi-colors. Choose corms now to match your indoor decor or coordinate with other flowers in the garden.

Glads add a wonderful vertical dimension to the flower border. You’ll be glad to have glads in your garden this summer.