The Primrose Path

Friday, March 10th, 2017 by Jenny Watts
    • Cabbage, broccoli, lettuce and other cool season vegetables can be started now from seed. There are many wonderful varieties available on seed racks.
    • Clematis that bloomed last summer can be pruned now. Wait on spring-blooming varieties until after they bloom.
    • Bare root fruit trees, grape and berry vines, and ornamental trees and shrubs are still available.
    • Last chance to spray peach and nectarine trees for peach leaf curl before the buds break open. Use copper spray for the best results.
    • Onion plants can be set out now for early summer harvest.

The Primrose Path

What happier choice of blossoms to start a spring garden than primroses? Even the Latin name comes from primus, meaning the first. This is a large family of plants having 400 to 500 species, mostly occurring in the Northern Hemisphere. Some are hardy garden species and others are only for heated greenhouses. Only a few are well adapted to the long, hot, dry summers of most parts of California.

The most popular are the polyantha hybrids, often called “English primroses”, which do very well in this area. Planted in a good location, they will come back year after year, larger and more floriferous each time! Flowers have just about the widest range of colors possible: white, yellow, gold, orange, pink, red, maroon, blue or purple, and often have yellow centers, called eyes. Planted as a mixture they are a dazzling display for three or four months of the year: January through April.

All primroses have leaves that stay close to the ground and are arranged in a circle and in the center is a flower stems that rise up above the leaves. The new ‘SuperNova’ primroses flower atop 6-8-inch-tall stems with a cluster of bright-colored flowers. Individual flowers are an inch across and clusters contain a dozen or more. A colorful new line of primroses are called ‘Primlet’. They features clusters of smaller double flowers that are tightly held like rosebuds, leading to the common name rosebud primrose. They are a fine choice for a small container.

Primroses are best appreciated right at your feet, where you can enjoy their perfection at close range. Plant them along a path for a colorful walkway. Suitable primrose companions for a moist, partly shaded spot include astilbes, ferns, hostas, forget-me-nots, and Bethlehem sage.

Provide primroses with rich, woodsy soil enriched with compost, humus, peat moss and well-rotted manure. Choose a place in the shade, in a woodland garden, or in a spot that gets sun in the winter and shade from trees in the summer. Make sure you can water them throughout the summer. A little mulch will help keep the soil moist beneath them. Under native oaks, it is better to plant them in flower boxes or barrels so that you don’t overwater the oak trees in the summer.

Cut off old flower stems as flowers fade and trim off tattered leaves to keep your primroses looking their best. Plants will continue to produce new flowers through April. Give them a light feeding after bloom to strengthen the plants, and mulch them through the summer. When the clumps become thick and overgrown, divide them in May, every 3 or 4 years.

If you don’t want to use primroses as perennials, they also make lovely annual bedding plants. They are available during the winter and spring months and make a colorful display.

Color for Cooler Days

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 by Jenny Watts
    • Compost your leaves as they fall, don’t burn them! Leaves make wonderful compost that breaks down into rich humus by next summer.
    • Clean up dead foliage on perennials like peonies, daylilies and balloon flower and cut back dead flower stems on Echinacea, blanket flower and penstemon.
    • Seed slopes with annual ryegrass to prevent erosion and improve the soil for later plantings.
    • Clean up water lilies by cutting off dead leaves. Leave hardy lilies in the pond and sink them down to the bottom of the pond for the winter.
    • Daffodils announce the arrival of spring if you plant them now. Choose from a variety of colors and bi-colors.

Color for Cooler Days

As the petunias and marigolds wind down, and chilly nights come on, it’s time to clean up the flower beds and plant some new flowers for the cooler months. Snapdragons, pansies, violas, calendulas, stock and primroses are the best choices to keep your garden and containers colorful.

Snapdragons come in a variety of sizes and colors. They range from 8-inch tall ‘Floral Carpets’ to 36-inch tall ‘Rockets.’ The color range spans all the pinks, reds and lavenders as well as yellow and white. Although they are sold as annuals, in our climate they will winter over and rebloom profusely in early spring. They make wonderful cut flowers. When squeezed side to side, the snapdragon flower opens wide, delighting children of all ages.

For mass plantings, plant medium and dwarf varieties 6 to 8 inches apart and tall types a foot apart. Give them a sunny location with good garden soil that is well-drained. Snaps look very nice when interplanted with delphiniums, irises and daylilies.

Pansy flowers can be up to three inches across and come in a wide variety of colors: violet, purple, blue, pink, red, orange, yellow, white and many new bicolors. Pansies have become more popular as gardeners have seen how well they preform through wet, wintery weather. Pansies are unaffected by a covering of snow, and pop right back when the snow melts.

They are good companions for spring-flowering bulbs. By choosing colors that compliment the bulbs you can create some very pretty living bouquets. Blooming over a longer season than the bulbs, they will fill in and provide color as the bulbs are finishing their cycle.

Violas, which are the smaller cousins of pansies, also have some interesting new hybrids. The Sorbet series includes ‘Peach Melba’, with peach and yellow petals tipped with red, ‘Antique Shades’ come in red-purple shades each with pale edges. The old-fashioned ‘Johnny-Jump-Ups’ and purple ‘King Henry’ violas are cheerful all winter. Violas are dense and neat, spreading to 12 inches across.

Calendulas are very easy to grow. They are sometimes called winter marigold, though they are not marigolds at all. They grow in the sun and have large, fluffy daisy flowers. ‘Pacific Beauty’ mix has 2-3″ blooms, in shades of orange, cream and yellow on 1-2 feet tall plants. ‘Touch of Red’ are a blend of red, yellow and orange, each petal with a red tip growing to 14 inches tall. Calendulas like cool weather and will provide lots of color between now and next summer.

Stock is well-known for its wonderful fragrance. Flowers come in lovely rich colors of pink, purple, rose and white. Most flowers are double and, set against their gray-green foliage, they are beautiful. They make wonderful cut flowers, mixing nicely with snaps to have a riot of color as well as fragrance.

English primroses are the best bedding plants for shady areas in the winter. Their flowers sit in a cluster directly in the center of the plant, some on central flower stalks and some with lower flowers on individual stems. The color range is incredible, covering red, blue, yellow and all shades in between. The new ‘Primlet’ mix has clusters of double flowers that look like rosebuds.

If primroses are started early enough they will bloom in the fall. All plants will bloom from February through April, putting on a terrific show of color. If planted in a spot that receives shade in the summer, they will become well-established and be bigger and more beautiful next winter.

Perk up your garden with cheerful fall bloomers.

Cheery Winter Containers

Thursday, November 1st, 2012 by Jenny Watts
    • Holland flower bulbs are now available for fall planting. These lovely gems will bloom for you next spring.
    • Plant cover crops in the garden where summer plants have finished. Fava beans and crimson clover will grow through the winter and improve your soil for spring planting.
    • Wildflower seed broadcasted with the first rains will take root over the winter and burst into flower next spring.
    • Divide artichoke plants which have been in the ground for three or four years. Mulch established plants with steer manure.
    • Choose shade trees for fall color now and plant them while the soil is still warm.

Cheery Winter Containers

When the days of autumn turn cool and crisp and the leaves begin to show their colors, it is time to replant your containers and flower beds for color and interest in the months ahead.

Planting winter containers garden is possible by using plants that are cold hardy and tolerant of temperatures that can get below freezing.

Pansies and violas love the cold. They bloom continuously through the winter months and even have been seen blooming underneath the snow.

Ornamental kale and cabbage have beautiful purple leaves which intensify with the frost. They make colorful arrangements with their bold, round heads.

Primroses have bright-colored flowers that just keep on coming. In bright red, blue, yellow and pink they are very showy in containers.

Ranunculus and anemone bulbs can be tucked into containers for spring bloom. They come in a wide variety of colors.

Speaking of bulbs, combining bulbs with winter annuals is a great way to get two seasons of bloom out of one planting. Since bulbs are buried deep, plant them first, then plant flowers between the bulbs so they aren’t right on top of them.

The flowers will start growing and fill in by the time the green sprouts of the bulbs begin to show. Then in March, April or May, when the bulbs come into bloom, you will enjoy the beautiful combinations that you have created. After the bulbs have finished blooming, the flowers will hide the foliage of the maturing bulbs.

For pinks and purples, combine lavender pansies with pink and white tulips. Or plant purple and pink tulips in a bed of fragrant, flowering stock, which bloom in pink, white and lavender.

Blue and yellow are always a nice combination. Plant yellow daffodils with dark blue pansies or the lovely ‘Morpho Blue’ pansies, which are pastel blue with yellow markings.

Crocuses bloom early and will look cute coming up through a bed of Johnny-jump-ups. Use your imagination to make other attractive combinations.

It is best to plant your containers in the early fall when the sun will still warm the pots in the daytime. You should place containers in as much sun as possible for the most flowers.

If we have a dry spell, be sure to water the containers, especially if very cold weather is expected. Make sure your containers have drain holes in them and use fresh potting soil for best results.

Let the happy faces of cool-season flowers and bulbs brighten your containers through the winter months.