Bulbs in Pots-Portable Containers for Spring

 

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If you don’t have a yard or outdoor space to plant outdoor bulbs like Tulips, Daffs, Iris, or Hyacinths, don’t despair….Plant them in pots. Easy peasey. So much better to plop your bulbs in nice loose potting medium rather than slaving with a heavy shovel to get your bulbs down to the proper depth in a heavy clay soil.  Frustrating? You bet! But in containers, think of the advantages:

  • You can enjoy your bulbs up close and personal
  • Change the look and appearance of your garden instantly
  • Grow bulbs that require specialized TLC
  • Pop them into containers with other spring flowers
  • Experiment with new varieties. Plus, you can have beautiful pots of spring flowers welcoming friends to your front door or brightening your patio for weeks in the spring when you become starved for color and fragrance
  • You can have tulips without the deer eating them! Place your pots close to the house, like on your porch where the deer won’t venture
Amaryllis are one of the easiest of indoor bulbs to bloom; here they are blooming in the nursery display boxes

Outdoors For Spring Bloom Vs Forcing
Fall-planted bulbs in containers have different needs than bulbs planted directly in the ground. I am not talking about “forcing” bulbs which means to accelerate your bloom period. In that scenario, your bulbs bloom in late winter, earlier than scheduled for their normal bloom period. That method requires pre-chilling to get the required days of cold that each bulb needs. I didn’t want to fool with forcing this year. So, I decided to enjoy my bulbs in containers by my back door without fiddling with burying the pots and/or chilling bulbs that forcing requires. Go to Bringing Spring In-Forcing Bulbs for more information on pre-chilling and forcing if you want winter color indoors.

For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to
For how-to on forcing Hyacinths for indoor bloom, go to Longfield Gardens blog 

 

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Grape Hyacinth ‘Valerie Finnis’ is one of the prettiest minor bulbs
Miniature Iris in a pot
Miniature Iris in a pot is also a favorite; this blue variety is a stunner-‘Katharine Hodgkin’

Another use for your bulbs in containers is to use them in mixed spring containers for an instant pop of color.

Blooming Tulips, Daffs, and Grape Hyacinths add great color to a spring container
Blooming Tulips, Daffs, and Grape Hyacinths add great color to a spring container-by Leigh Barnes

Creating an enclosed environment for your tiny packages of blooms is easy if you remember a few cardinal rules.

  • Potting Medium-Use a high quality potting medium with lots of perlite or vermiculite for porous well draining soil (not garden soil)
  • Pots-Use flexible plastic pots that give with the changes of temperature (terra-cotta can break); You can slip these into decorative pots when they bloom
  • Spacing-Plant bulbs so they’re close but not touching, with their tips just below the soil surface. Here is your chance to stuff them in for a huge color show
  • Depth-Pot bulbs are typically planted a little less shallowly than ground bulbs. But try to stick closely to recommended planting depths for best results. The goal is to leave as much room as possible under them for root growth
  • Layers-For a more abundant lavish look, you can layer your bulbs or stack them on top of each other but it is simpler to stick with one variety per pot for beginners
  • Temperature-In winter, bulbs in above-ground containers will get MUCH colder than those planted in the ground where the surrounding soil insulates. This means you’ll need to store your potted bulbs through the winter in a place that stays colder than 48° F most of the time but that doesn’t get as severely cold as the outside
  • Water-Check your soil all winter to make sure soil is moist but not soggy. Water infrequently when just started, but later when roots have filled in and top growth has started, ramp it up
  • Presentation-Place grit, gravel, or Spanish moss on top to finish it off or plant something shallow rooted on top, like moss
Miniature Iris are my favorite for pots
Miniature Iris are my favorite for pots
There is nothing more fragrant than a pot of Hyacinths by the back door, from Longfield Gardens
There is nothing more fragrant than a pot of Hyacinths by the back door, from Longfield Gardens
Tulips are also easy in pots
Tulips are also easy in pots

Storing
I keep my planted pots outside until the weather consistently gets below freezing. For me in the mid-Atlantic region, that could be as late as mid December, depending on the weather. Keeping my pots on my patio where I can easily throw some water on them, is the simplest way to monitor them. Once freezing temps are here to stay, I start bringing the pots in to a more sheltered position.

Since temperature is critical for success, it is important to choose an area that  is buffered from the killing freeze/thaw cycle, but still able to get the needed chilling for successful flowering. Keeping the pots in a cool shaded spot, like an unheated garage, until early spring growth appears is essential. For me it is an unheated mud room attached to my house once winter weather arrives.

I wrap my containers in bubble wrap and place them in an unheated mud room next to my house
I wrap my containers in bubble wrap and place them in an unheated mud room next to my house

Wrapping my pots in insulating bubble wrap and placing them next to the wall of the house in the mud room for any ambient warmth is my solution for minimal protection. A cold frame would work also. I have heard of gardeners even storing the pots in old-fashioned galvanized trash cans with some burlap or other filler stuffed around them. Storing them in cans will avoid the great destructor of bulbs-squirrels, mice, voles and other assorted varmints.

Use masking tape to hold the layers of bubble wrap around the pot

Check on your pot while it is being stored. Water when the soil feels dry to the touch. This will only happen every couple of weeks. Towards February, the tips of the bulbs will be pushing through the plants that you have planted on top.

Squirrels are very destructive with bulbs
Squirrels are very destructive with bulbs

If storing in a garage, be careful of ethylene gas emitted from exhaust fumes from warming-up cars. Ethylene gas can cause flower buds to abort and you end up with wonderful pots of foliage only. If you store in an old refrigerator, be aware of ripening nearby fruit for this reason as the ethylene gas of fruit can cause the same problem. Store the pots in impermeable plastic bags to avoid contamination.

This pot was planted in the fall and stored all winter.  I brought it out on the patio when the weather started to warm up; you can see the bulb foliage peeking through

Once top growth starts in the spring – pointy tips pushing through the soil-  gradually move the pots out into the partial sun acclimating them to brighter sunlight necessary for good flower development. Enjoy! I include a step by step guide on how to plant bulbs in containers at the end of this post.

Muscari or Grape Hyacinths are easy in containers
Muscari or Grape Hyacinths are easy in containers, from Longfield Gardens
My bulb delivery in the fall from Colorblends

After Care-3 Ways

Compost the bulbs, leave in the pot/plant in the ground in the fall, or replant in the garden right after flowering and still green are the three ways to handle the spent bulbs. If you replant, be sure to fertilize them with a bulb fertilizer as the bulbs have used all those nutrients up at their first burst of flowering. Most times, the flowers aren’t as spectacular as the first bloom using up all their energy, so I tend to compost them.

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Don’t hesitate to compost your used bulbs-There is no shame in that!

Step By Step for ‘Lasagna’ Pots

All of these bulbs fit into one layered pot

‘Lasagna’ pots just means layering your bulbs so that you have a 6-7 week display from one pot of different types of bulbs.

My Garden Club had a workshop making ‘lasagna’ plantings of bulbs
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First layer covered with potting medium
  • Fill your deep container  (16″ deep)with a high-quality potting mix about 3-4 inches deep
  • Plant your bulbs almost as deeply as you would in the ground; for instance, 6 or 7 inches deep for tulips and daffodils, and 3 or 4 inches deep for little bulbs such as Crocus and Miniature Iris
  • Press the bulbs firmly into the soil, growing tips up. If layering, make sure that you cover one layer completely before placing more bulbs
  • For my layers, I planted the following from deepest to the most shallowly planted;  1st layer- 10 Daffodils, 2nd layer- 10 Hyacinths, 3rd layer-16 Tulips, 4th and last layer- 50 assorted small bulbs (I used 20 Grape Hyacinth, 20 Crocus, and 10 Mini Iris)

 

The first layer of Daffodil bulbs is planted the deepest
  •  Water your bulbs well after planting
  • Plant either pansies, moss,  or fall cabbages to the top for more insulating helpLayer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth
  • Layer your bulbs according to the suggested planting depth; Here I used a container 18″ in diameter and 16″ deep for a good root run
Place all your bulbs closed together
Place all your bulbs close together; This is the top layer using minor bulbs like Crocus, Mini Iris, and Grape Hyacinth
Plant pansies or fall cabbages on top for extra insulation
Plant pansies or fall cabbages on top for extra insulation
This pot I finished off with Irish Moss, and creeping Sedum
The ‘lasagna’ pot in bloom
Tulip bulbs planted very close together
Tulip bulbs planted very close together
Tulips popping up in the spring

The sources of bulbs for this post were ColorBlends, Longfield Gardens, Brent and Becky’s, and Old House Gardens. 

 

 

Tussie Mussie : The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself

Gourd tussie mussies

 

First of all – the name! I love to say Tussie Mussie and it sounds like something Beatrix Potter would have come up with.

But Wikipedia explains it best:

“Tussie Mussie, a nosegay or posie are small flower bouquets that were popularized in Victorian times. The term tussie-mussie comes from the reign of Queen Victoria (1837–1901), when the small bouquets became a popular fashion accessory. Typically, tussie-mussies include floral symbolism from the language of flowers, and therefore may be used to send a message to the recipient”. 

Summertime tussie mussie in a silver holder; use what you have from the garden or houseplants

Herbal Sentiments

Or in my words; Tussie-Mussie is an archaic and quaint term for small, round bouquets of herbs and flowers with ­symbolic meanings. Most people have heard of the language of flowers, Floriography, but are unsure of what exactly it means. It simply means that you can convey feelings and communicate using particular types of plants. Victorians popularized this concept and created “talking bouquets” that could be worn as fashion accessories. Gifts of blooms, plants, and specific floral arrangements were used to send a coded message to the recipient, allowing the sender to express feelings which could not be spoken aloud in strict Victorian society.

An antiquated custom, I like to revive this tradition once in a while and make small arrangements with what is on hand in the garden. And since it is fall, my bouquet holder is a readily available gourd.

Gourds come in all sizes; this is a bird house gourd
Cleaned and painted gourds ready for a bird visit

I first encountered Tussie Mussies at a Renaissance Faire many years ago and have created my own for years for gifts, and to decorate the house.  Useful as a small arrangement for the bathroom or to welcome a guest, they are small and portable and are usually gathered into a posie holder which can be as ornate as silver or simple as a doily. But for the fall season, I decided to make them in small gourds in keeping with Halloween. Fragrance was the key here; I wanted to really smell the scent of the herb and flowers so chose a lot of very fragrant pieces like lavender, thyme, rosemary, bay, and scented geranium.

Mint, lavender, salvia, firebush, lemon verbena, amaranth

Each one is personal and unique; every sprig and blossom in each little nosegay conveys a “meaning” in the old-time language of flowers. The silent language of flowers allows you to express poignant and touching sentiments without having to come right out and say them in words. The flowers say them for us.

I love making them since you don’t need many flowers and each flower is a star of the arrangement as it is so compact. After cutting a piece of oasis to fit into the gourd and making sure that my cuts were well hydrated, I started to create my gourd tussie mussies.

Cut the top off of a gourd that sits level on a table and dig out the innards
Stuff a piece of hydrated oasis into the cavity
Lavender, fire bush, rose, amaranth, and aster

These would make great hostess gifts instead of the obligatory wine bottle.  Popular at weddings also, they can be given as bridesmaid gifts, or the bride could carry one for a simple elegant touch. Anyone can create one with a little practice. Follow the tutorial to make your own in a small vase.

Choose your materials carefully, contrasting the colors and textures to create a beautiful combination. For larger flowers, such as hydrangeas, you can pare the flower down to a smaller more usable size. The hydrangea flower represents devotion which makes it a very appropriate flower for weddings.

Deconstruct larger flowers like this 'Centennial Spirit' Hydrangea
Deconstruct larger flowers like this ‘Centennial Spirit’ Hydrangea

For lots of picture of tussie mussies, and more information I have used these books:

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Tussie-Mussies: The Victorian Art of Expressing Yourself in the Language of Flowers

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Tussie-Mussies: The Language of Flowers

Garden Trip-Chelsea, Wales, and Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

If you have never been to the Chelsea Flower Show or the Cotswolds & Wales, read on if you want to check this off on your bucket list. For a full rundown on the recent Chelsea Flower Show, you need to check out my post.

Yes, these are potatoes! A display of hundreds of varieties of potatoes at Chelsea, picture by Darlene Wells
Sarah Raven’s display garden
Photo opportunity at the Flower Show; I am on the right, my sister is on the left
Fake grass is very lifelike looking at Chelsea

I will be leading a tour of public and private gardens that are rarely seen, in May of 2018. Last year, I had a group of 29 like-minded garden fanatics with me in the UK and we had a fabulous trip touring many of the large established public gardens and some private ones. In 2018, I wanted to mix it up and include some smaller private gardens that aren’t on the usual garden tour schedule. I relied on my friend Victoria Summerley, author of Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds, to give me tips on where to go to for under-the-radar gardens as well as her own wonderful garden near Bibury. For a full itinerary of my tour, go to my ‘Trips‘ tab.

Victoria Summerley’s garden, Awkward Hill, photo courtesy of Victoria Summerley
Awkward Hill, photo courtesy of Victoria Summerley

Organizing a garden tour is like an air traffic controller; There are a lot of moving parts. So many gardens are open different times of the days or week, finding a convenient hotel for a good price, and discovering different activities to liven up the garden tour regimen is all part of the planning process. For example, planning to visit Highgrove, which is  the private gardens of Their Royal Highnesses,The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, is always problematic as they publish their open days in January, months after my schedule is finalized. So, I set it up and try to hit one of their open days. But plenty of alternatives are available everywhere if I am not lucky. It always works out in the end.

London Sights

The newly remodeled Garden Museum in London is on my itinerary
Gift Shop – Chelsea Physic Garden, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

London gardens and garden center visits are included with The Chelsea Flower Show for garden-obsessed people. The Garden Museum, The London Eye , Petersham’s Nursery in Covent Garden, The Chelsea Physic Garden, and of course the nearby Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Hampton Court Palace- are all on the schedule.

Chelsea Physic Garden, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

The Chelsea Physic Garden was established as the Apothecaries’ Garden in London, in 1673. Referring to the science of healing, it is among the oldest botanical gardens in the UK, after the University of Oxford Botanic Garden, which was founded in 1621 (which is on our itinerary) and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh founded in 1670.  As stated on their website, the Chelsea Physic Garden is, “Tucked away beside the Thames, and is a celebration of the beauty and importance of plants. A unique living collection of around 5,000 different edible, useful, medicinal and historical plants is contained within its sheltering walls. This hidden gem is also a peaceful green oasis – come and enjoy a relaxing stroll and lunch or afternoon tea at the Tangerine Dream Café”. A sheltered microclimate in the UK, it even has an outdoor grapefruit tree!

The London Eye
We have reserved a ‘pod’ for a maximum of 25 people on the London Eye;There may be champagne involved
Seen outside a floral shop in London

 

Unique garden statue at Abbey House Gardens; They have a clothing optional day once per month! photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

Abbey House Gardens

This description of Abbey House Gardens piqued my interest: “With 1300 years of history, the first King of England buried somewhere in the garden, two saints thrown down the well, and now one of the great gardens of the world. The spirit of the place shines through and could be the best garden visit you ever make.” Built next to a twelfth century abbey church, this five acre garden appears embraced by the surrounding gardens which includes tapestries of colorful hedging.

Wisteria at Abbey House Gardens, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser
Abbey House Gardens, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

Oxford-A University City

Oxford is full of hidden narrow lanes with lots of ornate architecture, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

The Oxford Botanical Gardens is included with free time to explore the interesting streets of  Oxford that has inspired many literary and cinematic works. Places steeped in history abound in this interesting medieval town. The Botanical Gardens, located down the appropriately named Rose Lane is an oasis of stone-walled peace in the heart of the city. Emphasis here is on traditional herbal remedies and their use in modern medicine.

The atmospheric, golden-stone colleges, are clustered around medieval streets and you can peek into many of them on foot.

Bodleian Library, Oxford, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser

Stratford

A trip to visit English gardens isn’t complete without visiting Stratford-upon- Avon, the birthplace of the Bard. Shakespeare’s Birthplace allows you to visit the house where the world’s most famous playwright was born and grew up and you can discover more about his early years. For garden watching, there is a formal Tudor Knot Garden, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage, contemporary landscaping with sculptures at Shakespeare’s New Place, and ancient Mulberry Trees (rumored to be of the same lineage as the original that stood during Shakespeare’s time). The mulberry fruit is used to create Mulberry Gin, available in Shakespeare’s Birthplace gift shop.

The Shakespeare Centre
Anne Hathaways Cottage in Stratford
The cottage garden at Anne Hathaway’s home is charming
Around every corner in the Cotswolds, there are picturesque scenes, photo courtesy of Amy Sparwasser
Peeking in the back garden gate at a Cotswold estate
I love this quirky sign, seen in the village of Blockley

Wales

Wales has some beautiful gardens and the people there are just as garden-mad as the English. A world-famous garden home to National Collections and Champion Trees, Bodnant Gardens has always been on my list to see. Featured as one of the most beautiful gardens in the UK, I am finally going to make it. Powis Castle is on our list which has stunning vistas and terraces. Described on the National Trust website: “The world-famous garden, overhung with clipped yews, shelters rare and tender plants. Laid out under the influence of Italian and French styles, it retains its original lead statues and an orangery on the terraces. High on a rock above the terraces, the castle, originally built circa 1200, began life as a medieval fortress”.

At Bodnant, the Laburnum arch will be in full bloom in May

 

Rhododendrons will also be blooming at Bodnant
Powis Castle
Llandudno; We will stay two nights here

David Austin Roses

On our way to Wales in the UK, we will stop at David Austin Roses plant center. According to their website: “In the early 1950s David Austin set out to create a more beautiful rose. Sixty years on, this simple objective remains”. The winner of 23 Gold Medal Chelsea Flower Show awards, I am very excited to visit their rose gardens, plant center, and tea room.

David Austin Tea Room, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
Renaissance Garden, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
Garden view of David Austin Roses, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
Lion Garden View with ‘Graham Thomas’, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses

Considered to be one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, over 700 varieties of roses are planted here in just two acres. Free ranging informal roses are enclosed within neatly clipped evergreen hedges. The Renaissance Garden is composed of all English roses and the Long Garden which contains old roses is the central focus with all the other gardens leading from it.

The Long Garden, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
English Roses, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses
Garden View, photo courtesy of David Austin Roses

After our visit to Wales, we will continue to the Peak district of England to visit the newly remodeled Chatsworth House, and back to the London area to see Hatfield House and gardens, built on the site of Elizabeth I’s home and home of the famous Rainbow Portrait.  St Tiggywinkles, an animal rescue organization, is also on our list to see with a tour of the animals, like hedgehogs and badgers being rehabilitated. This is just a small sampling of all the sites that we will be visiting. For more information about prices, etc., go to Trips.

Delaware Botanic Gardens- From the Ground Up

Traveling the quiet back roads of Sussex County in southern Delaware, through residential developments, I didn’t expect to see a world-class botanic garden taking shape. At the end of Piney Neck Rd, there it was for all the world to see, ‘The future home of Delaware Botanic Gardens at Pepper Creek’. My motive for searching down the steamy country roads was the opportunity of enjoying an alternative beach activity. Staying at Rehoboth Beach each summer for a week, I tire of the outlets and surf and look for other entertainment. And if there is a garden involved, all the better!

An aerial view,  photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Garden

Within the gardening world, rumors were flying of the establishment of a new Botanic Garden in Delaware. In the works for years starting as a grass-roots movement, it is remarkable to note that the project began just four years ago, and has since grown into a tax-exempt nonprofit organization. Funding has start to flow with grant monies, most notably from Longwood Gardens, but like any public garden, they always need more. The ground breaking  was launched in December 2016 and the hard work of creating an ambitious 37 acre botanic garden featuring natural woodlands, vernal ponds, meadow gardens and 1000 feet of waterfront has begun.

Looking out into Pepper Creek

Situated along Pepper Creek, which flows into Indian River Bay, the parcel of land leased from the Sussex County Land Trust for $1 a year, has an unusual feature: a hill.  As anyone knows, driving through this part of Delaware, any elevation of the land is a rare event. This valuable feature slopes down through a twelve acre hardwood forest to the water’s edge to a wetland marsh and a tidal creek-great territory for a garden. In the hardwood forest, a winding walkway beneath pine groves and alongside century-old southern red oak and sassafras trees provides a welcome respite from the hot sun of summer.

Pathways through the woodland area; native wildflowers are being planted here, photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Gardens

Building the new Botanic Garden in stages over a 10 year period, any experienced gardener knows this time line makes sense. Establishing a garden takes time and more importantly for a garden this size…..tons of money.  With a goal of being self-supporting with donor help: membership dues, admission fees, gift shop and online sales, and event rentals, there is still a huge need for the initial costs of building, installing, and planting, as well as volunteer hours.  If interested in donating, go to Make a donation.  This is an exciting opportunity to get in the ground floor of supporting the incredible new Delaware Botanic Gardens.

Proposed visitor’s center surrounded by expanses of meadow,  photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Garden
From left to right- Janet Meenehan Point, Gregg Tepper, and Ruth Rogers Clausen
Blue crabs live in the nearby water, photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Gardens

When I visited this past August, I could see many enthusiastic volunteers in action in hot, humid, and unbearable weather, and yet so excited about working there. From laying stone for beautiful dry laid walls, to planting and watering new transplants, everyone is welcomed and appreciated.

Ruth Rogers Clausen enthusiastically shows off the woodland area, one of the first areas to open to the public in 2019

Gregg Tepper, the DBG horticulturist,  comes to DBG from Mt Cuba Center in Hockessin, Delaware, where he served as horticulturist, and director of horticulture. An articulate promoter of native plants, he is the driving force for using everything on site in a sustainable way. Brush, log chunks, and tree trunks are not discarded but used in very innovative ways. The hedgehog was my favorite. A large downed tree with multiple protruding branches is a canvas for a future hedge hog sculpture. Brush branches, instead of being discarded, were deposited in open areas of the woodlands to create giant birds nests. A great way to entice kids to enjoy the woodlands! The log chunks, Gregg said, could be used as edgers for the woodland pathways.

Nests of brush are being constructed in the woodland area using cleared brush, photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Gardens

Can you see it? The start of a hedgehog sculpture!

 

Beautiful dry laid walls are lining the woodland walkway, all done by volunteer Don Klima
Holding area for new plants

The Master Plan includes nationally and internationally recognized leaders in the field of garden design, architecture and landscape architecture, notably Piet Oudolf, an influential Dutch garden designer, nurseryman, and author. When I heard that Piet Oudolf was involved in the planning, I was impressed that DBG had snagged such a high-profile plantsman. Volunteer Barbara Katz was the impetus behind getting Oudolf involved. Known best in the U.S. for his design of the High Line and a leading figure of the “New Perennial” movement, Oudolf is renowned for using broad painterly drifts of hard-working perennials and grasses. Oudolf designed the centerpiece Meadow Garden at DBG.

The Meadow Garden

The centerpiece Meadow Garden is described on the Delaware Botanic Gardens’ website; “Taking advantage of the upland plateau’s openness, a spectacular meadow filled with broad bands of native grasses and seasonal flowering blooms will form the sweeping center of the site and the gateway to the Woodland Gardens. Herbaceous plant species native to Delmarva and surrounding areas will be featured in a breathtaking design. This open garden, designed by the internationally acclaimed Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf, will support thousands of pollinators, butterflies, and birds. One of the primary objectives of this space, located in the Atlantic Flyway, is to encourage the bird population and the insects they need to survive”.

For a great day by day on-line progress of the planting of The Meadow, go to YouTube.

An army of volunteers planted 17,000 plants in the initial phase of the Meadow Garden, photo by Ray Bojarski

According to Raymond Sander, President of Delaware Botanic Gardens, when Oudolf first saw the proposed meadow site, he exclaimed, “It is beautiful, but we can make it more beautiful!! This is infinity!” And the meadow is indeed in the shape of an infinity sign, bisected by pathways.

Hand drawn meadow design by Piet Oudolf
Left to right: Raymond J. Sandler, President of DBG, Piet Oudolf, and Sheryl Swed, Executive Director of DBG, photo by Ray Bojarski

Located in a sunny two acre site in the center of the Gardens, the Meadow Garden will be planted with 65,000 herbaceous flowering plants and ornamental grasses that will provide a tapestry of color throughout the year.

Perusing the Master Plan, by Bill Jones & Ruth Clausen, a board member and volunteer

Hand drawn artistic plans of the meadow by Piet Oudolf were available when I visited and as a landscape designer myself, I was delighted that they were hand drawn and not computer generated. They were works of art.  Print these plans on silk scarves and sell them in the planned gift shop!

A closeup of the hand drawn plan of the meadow by Piet Oudolf

When I was there is August, volunteers were preparing the ground, leveling and spreading pine fines which is partially composted pine bark. Its fine texture allows water to pass easily through while providing a protective covering for the soil. Providing nutrients, decomposing easily, the fineness of particles doesn’t compact like other pine bark mulches.

The dark color is pine fines
Planting the meadow takes lots of wheelbarrows, Photo courtesy Janet Draper

Volunteers, led by DBG Horticulturist Gregg Tepper, came out to prepare and plant the meadow the week of September 5. When Piet Oudolf arrived to inspect the site, Piet decided to first have the volunteers build and smooth out the elevated hill in the middle.

The much anticipated first phase planting of the Piet Oudolf meadow, staffed by an army of volunteers, began.  Referring to the comprehensive plan, orange marks were painted on the ground detailing the proper placement of plants and orange flags were placed if the plants were currently on hand. White flags were placed  designating quantity and identity of plants still to come. The second phase of planting will occur in June 2018.

Photo courtesy Janet Draper
Melanie Ruckle and Patrick Gravel planting the meadow with grasses, photo courtesy Janet Draper

As any gardener knows, the work of digging thousands of holes is time-consuming and hard on your wrists. With the help of a power auger, the holes were dug much more efficiently.

A power auger made the plantings go quickly, photo courtesy Janet Draper

Master Plan/Field of Dreams

The Master Plan is the result of a twelve-month process led by Rodney Robinson and Allan Summers of RAS Landscape Architects. Organizing the site and guiding the process of long-term plantings, it identifies the different types of gardens and plant collections.  In a  zone 7b garden, many different types of plants can be planted as long as deer are controlled, and a deer fence is being planned, I was glad to hear. You don’t want your hard work and money to be devoured by a voracious deer population. The main focus of the Master Plan vision is as follows:

  • Always be beautiful
  • Be innovative and forward thinking
  • Provide an outdoor wetlands classroom for both passive and structured educational experiences
  • Connect children and adults to nature
  • Demonstrate the intersection between horticulture and ecology
  • Reach out to a rapidly growing year-round community
  • Attract a wide audience and encourage repeat visitation
  • Accommodate festivals and special events
Butterfly on newly planted Lobelia in Woodland Garden

The surrounding areas are being rapidly developed with residential communities and is a highly attractive area for retirees so I can see that many people will take advantage of the Botanic Gardens proximity. It is also a great resource to draw volunteers from. Buffers of plantings are planned to screen the Gardens from neighboring properties and Piney Neck Road.

Master Plan , photo courtesy of Delaware Botanic Gardens

From the entrance area, multiple pathways will wind through, connecting pedestrians to all the garden areas. Water is a recurring theme throughout the Gardens as showcased in the proposed Cascade Garden, the Bald Cypress Garden, and the unifying Freshwater Pond that will serve as a focal point. Garden components included on the Master Plan:

  • Parking and Rhyne Garden
  • Visitor and Events Center, Cafe
  • Meadow Garden
  • Edge Garden w/ Amphitheater
  • Gallery Garden
  • Demonstration and Display Garden
  • Coastal Living Garden
  • Cascade Garden
  • Freshwater Pond
  • Bald Cypress Garden
  • Discovery Garden
  • Native Plant Garden
  • Outdoor Wetlands Classroom
  • Maze
  • Woodland Gardens-Kalmia-Azalea Knoll, Pine Savannah, Grotto, Oak Glade, Magnolia Forest, Delmarva Bay Gardens, Asian-European Bank
Remains of a horseshoe crab on the shoreline

 

Quite ambitious, but with all the enthusiasm, knowledge, and verve pushing this project along, I have no doubt that it will happen.

As a landscape designer, I am always called in after the house is built and the owners are ready for the planting of the landscape. But at the DBG, their priorities are reversed – the landscape comes first and then the buildings. Buildings and structures are important but in the long-term, the landscape plantings that can take years to mature should take priority.

When it opens in 2019, the DBG will include the just planted colorful natural meadow, extensive plantings in the woodlands, and pathways in and along the edge of the existing woodlands, a living outdoor wetlands classroom, and a temporary visitors center. Additional gardens, water features, and more permanent structures will be added in the following years. Serving as a resource for local farmers, gardeners, and homeowners, I can’t wait for the opening of the Garden Gates!

Photo by Ken Arni

Many thanks to Ruth Rogers Clausen for her hospitality in opening the garden to several beach weary gardeners. Also, thanks to Janet Draper for her photos and information on the first phase of meadow plantings and Sheryl Swed for additional pictures.

 

 

Plant Geek Alert-Pink Zazzle Gomphrena

 

 

‘Pink Zazzle’ Globe Amaranth
Yellow star shaped flowers top off the flower head which is composed of petal-like bracts.

Ok, Plant Geeks of the world listen up. Have you heard of the plant genus Gomphrena, or Globe Amaranth? Yes, it is mostly a boring run of the mill plant that has the advantage of drying well. I think that is why most people like to plant it, for its quality of lasting long into the winter in dried flower arrangements – certainly not for its garden bedding characteristics. In Hawaii, they use the flowers in leis because of its lasting qualities.

The usual globe amaranth is much smaller
Pink Zazzle at the nursery
Pink Zazzle at the nursery

 

Pink Zazzle Gomphrena has burst on the scene with a blast and not only did the flowers get a makeover, the foliage is quite beautiful with a downy coating of fur on the leaves, like a soft blanket of lambs wool. Pink Zazzle, a hybrid of Globe Amaranth from Proven Winners is easy to grow, tolerates drought and has long-lasting jumbo-sized flowers held on the plant for months on end.  The flower heads take the old Gomphrena form and turn it into something new and exciting, and people love the tactile quality of the plant.

pink zazzle gomphrena

 Culture

Pink Zazzle will get about 12 inches tall on a well branched plant and bloom prolifically with “knock your socks off” hot pink blooms up to 3 inches across. It prefers hot sun and dry conditions. I noticed this when I first bought it in the early spring and kept the plant inside. I watered the plant to keep it moist, but when the plant started to droop and looked like there was rot in the stem, I stopped watering it and it perked up. Grown indoors as a pot plant or outdoors in the garden or container, I planted Zazzle outside in the hot sun and heat when it got warmer. The flowers literally last for weeks, almost drying in place on the plant. Remove them as they turn brown to encourage the formation of more blooms.

Planted in a container, Pink Zazzle is the focal point

The price point of the plant will be higher than a marigold and most likely treated in the nursery as a premium annual. I planted these out last year in containers and in the ground, and though they are slow to get going, they eventually form a nice mounding plant covered in these “strawflower” type of flowers. I found my plants at a Lowes and it looked like they had been over watered as they weren’t the best looking.

Seen at a Lowe’s, I rescued a Pink Zazzle and took it home; it had been over watered
I used dried Pink Zazzle blooms in this pod basket for the fall
I used dried Pink Zazzle blooms in this pod basket for the fall

According to Valley View Farm’s website, the flowers will attract hummingbirds and butterflies and is hardy to zone 8. Growing only a foot high and wide, Pink Zazzle is perfect placed in front of a flower border.

Great as an addition to a dried flower/herb wreath: go to Making an Herbal Wreath
Pink Zazzle Gomphrena likes hot dry situations
‘Pink Zazzle’ Gomphrena likes hot dry situations in full sun

Magical Sunflowers-Fibonacci Spiral

Full size Sunflowers with seeds in bucket
A field of sunflowers all face the same way towards the sun
A field of sunflowers all face the same way towards the sun

Magical Qualities

Sunflowers have always been one of my top favorite blooming plants. The list of their attributes is long; they are cheerful and uplifting, long blooming, easy to grow, feed birds and pollinators, good for flower arranging, etc. For my post on The Great Sunflower Project, see how sunflowers are used in citizen science on pollinator research. The color palette goes way beyond just yellow. Red, burgundy, orange, cream, and even black are all well represented in the sunflower kingdom.

Almost black sunflower
Burgundy shades are stunning
A field of sunflowers
A field of sunflowers

The most interesting and fascinating features are twofold: the blooms actually move to follow the sun from east to west across the sky, and the seeds are arranged in a Fibonacci Spiral to pack as many seeds as possible in a small space.

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sunflower

Bees flock to sunflowers

Facing the Sun-Heliotropism

The amazing sun-following trick makes these plants seem to possess some mystical powers. What’s really going on here is something called heliotropism, and lots of plants do it. But with a field of huge sunflowers in bloom, it is a sight to behold.  Heliotropism means moving toward the sun.  The puzzle with sunflowers is, why do the flowers need to face the sun?

Butterflies flock to sunflowers for pollen

The stems of all actively growing sunflower parts – flowers and leaves – grow to face the sun in order to maximize photosynthesis.  During the day, the stems elongate on the side away from the sun, tilting leaves and immature flowers toward the sun throughout the day and ending up facing west at sunset.  When there’s no light, the other side of the stem grows, pushing the leaves and flowers back to the east where they will be facing the sun at sunrise.

Hanging heavy with ripening seeds

Growing leaves and immature flowers are green and full of chlorophyll and actively photosynthesizing. Once the flower matures and is not actively photosynthesizing, then it remains stationary and will hang with the weight of the growing seeds.

A mature head of the sunflower droops down with the weight of the ripening seeds
A mature head of the sunflower droops down with the weight of the ripening seeds
Sunflower ready to open
Sunflower ready to open

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Painting a field of sunflowers

Fibonacci Spiral

English: Fibonacci Spiral generated with the f...
English: Fibonacci Spiral generated with the free software GeoGebra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A fascinating attribute of the sunflower is The Fibonacci Spiral . The concept is named after a Middle Age Italian mathematician named Fibonacci who was considered to be one of the most  brilliant mathematicians of his time. The principle underscores that mathematics is utilized in nature in every facet, especially in the design of nature.

Chambered Nautilus, Sunflower, and Agave plant all show nature's use of the Fibonacci Spiral
Chambered Nautilus, Sunflower, and Agave plant all show nature’s use of the Fibonacci Spiral

The Fibonacci Spiral or numbers are nature’s numbering system. It appears everywhere in nature, from the leaf arrangement in plants, to the pattern of the florets of a flower, the bracts of a pine cone, or the scales of a pineapple. It means that a plant or animal grows in the most efficient ways, maximizing the space for each leaf, or the average amount of light falling on each one. Even a tiny advantage would come to dominate over many generations. In the case of closely packed leaves in cabbages and succulents, the correct arrangement may be critical for availability of space.

Succulents are often arranged in a Fibonacci spiral

 

 

 

Disk florets of yellow chamomile (Anthemis tin...
Disk florets of yellow chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) with spirals indicating the arrangement drawn in. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In the  seeming randomness of the natural world, we can find many instances of  mathematical order involving the Fibonacci numbers themselves and the closely related “Golden” elements.

The famous Fibonacci sequence has captivated mathematicians, artists, designers, and scientists for centuries. Also known as the Golden Ratio, its universality and astounding functionality in nature suggests its importance as a fundamental characteristic of the Universe.

Array of sunflower seeds
Array of sunflower seeds
Hurricane Sandy Fibonacci spiral
Hurricane Sandy Fibonacci spiral
Fibonacci galaxy
Fibonacci galaxy
Even dead Sunflowers make a statement

Dahlias-Divas of the Garden

From July to a killing frost in October, dahlias dominate my garden with their many petaled lushly colored flowers. Except for a true blue, you can find just about every flower color in a dahlia. Sizes can vary from an enormous 12 inch dinner plate to small button pom poms. Bee magnet blooms cover my plants that are excellent for cutting and using in arrangements. 
Bringing armloads of blooms in the summer will decorate your living space for weeks

Originating with the Aztecs, and arriving in European gardens in 1789, by 1927 F. F. Rockwell, author and founder of Home Garden Magazine,  reported that dahlias ranked in “the leading position of all bulbs grown in America.” For fascinating details on this beloved flower, go to Dahlia Archives of Old House Gardens.   Old House Gardens carries a wealth of heirloom varieties of all kinds of bulbs that you can’t find anywhere else.

Diva dahlia
Dahlia tubers dug up in October ready to be stored over the winter
Easy to grow if given adequate sunlight and rich well-drained soil and plenty of moisture, these shrubby plants grow from tuberous roots, or tubers. Depending on how severe your winters are, they may require digging and storing indoors until planting time next spring. For this reason, many buy new ones every year. 
Getting ready to plant newly arrived tubers from Longfield Gardens
Hundreds of flower forms and colors can confuse people about what varieties to plant but I see this as a great opportunity to try new ones every year and also to go back to my favorites. But remember, the larger the flower, like the dinner plate size (7 inches +), the less flowers it will produce. Juanita, a lovely ruby-red smaller flower (4-5 inches), will produce dozens of flowers compared to a dinner plates’ couple of flowers at a time.  
Pam Howden is a beautiful peach tinged with yellow, seen at Longwood Gardens
Gallery Art Deco, Cafe Au Lait, and Diva are my favorites from Longfield Gardens. There are so many favorites and new ones to pick from! Swan Island from Oregon carries hundreds of varieties and I like how they stamp the name on the tuber so you can even see it when you dig it up for saving. You always have the name even if your tags fade in the sun. Brandon Michael and Hulin’s Carnival were outstanding selections from  Swan Island this year.
Brandon Michael from Swan Island
Sunlight
Select a spot that gets at least six hours of sunlight a day, preferably more. If you can grow a tomato in a spot, you can grow a dahlia. Tolerating partial shade, dahlias will still bloom but less blooms will be available for cutting. And to produce more blooms, dead head and bring the fresh cuts in to enjoy.
Clown-like bloom, not sure of this variety
Hulin’s Carnival
Juanita dahlia, a prize-winning ruby-red, available from Old House Gardens and Swan Island
Not sure of this one
Cafe au Lait dahlia flowers are in shades of cream, pink, and tan

Soil

Heavy feeders, dahlia tubers should be planted in loose fertile soil. Add compost to the soil before planting. Don’t plant in soggy soil; they need good drainage to be successful. Soil temperature must be over 60 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring and I check this with my instant read cooking thermometer. Tubers can rot if planted in wet cold soil in the spring.
Thermometer says the soil temperature is 61 degrees
Campos Gibby dahlia seen at Longwood Gardens

Planting

Plant tubers by digging a hole three to six inches deep and laying the tuber in it with the growing tip up. The growing tip or bud is obvious as a fresh emerging shoot coming out of the fleshy brown tuber. Cover with soil but don’t water until well after growth emerges. Plant the tubers about 18 to 24 inches apart because they produce bush-like plants.
Planting a Cafe au Lait dahlia tuber in the spring that has already sprouted
York and Lancaster, an heirloom dahlia from Old House Gardens

Care

Staking can be done with tomato cages or with stakes and twine. Most dahlias need to be staked or you will have a plant with branches that will flop on the ground and have misshapen flowers. Water if you don’t get at least an inch of rain per week and the plants benefit from feeding lightly with a granular or liquid fertilizer of a general use fertilizer, not high in nitrogen. High nitrogen will produce more foliage than flowers. Dahlias like cooler conditions so flourish especially well in the late summer when temperatures start to moderate.
Seen at Longwood Gardens, dahlias are lined out in rows and at the end of the row, stakes are hammered in and tied with twine
A newly planted dahlia tuber with a tomato cage and twisted sprouts that have already started to grow while being stored

Saving/Storing

Frost will hit your plants sometime in October or November and they will go from glorious specimen plants to blackened wilted skeletons overnight. Check your weather report and before a hard frost is forecast, cut off every flower and bring it in to enjoy for another week. Once the plants are frost killed, you can start digging around the root ball carefully to remove the shrunken star fish like tuber that is nestled a few inches under the soil. Wash off any soil with a hard stream from your hose and dry in the sun. If you leave you tubers in the ground, I have found that some even come back if the winter hasn’t been too cold. Some people don’t save them, preferring to buy new ones every year.

Wash off your tubers in a crate for easy cleanup

Cut the stems a few inches above the tubers and store them in a container full of peat moss and perlite. I only place two layers of the tubers in a container, as I find that the bottom layers tend to rot more often than the top. If the tubers are too wet, they might rot, so I check them after a couple of weeks of storage to see how they are doing. If they are moldy, I scrape off the mold and add some dry peat moss. You are going to lose some of the tubers, but I have a success rate of about 75% saved tubers.

Storing tubers in peat moss
Using a large rubbermaid container that has a layer of peat moss and perlite

Alternative Method of Planting/Saving

Another method is to plant your tubers in 1 gallon plastic pots early in the spring. When the weather warms up, plant the whole pot in the garden and cover with soil. Leave the tuber in the pot and roots will come out the bottom drainage holes. When frost hits, dig up the entire pot, cutting off roots that are outside of the pot and bring the pot inside and place in a cool dark place for the winter. When shoots come up in the spring, top dress with compost and plant outside for another season of bloom.  I read about this method on Old House Gardens and want to try it next season.

Another method which a friend swears by is to dig up the tubers and shake the loose soil off and place in a large trash bag, leaving all the clinging soil attached to the tubers.  Store the trash bag in an unheated garage that won’t go below freezing. Easy and effective!

Pom Pom Dahlia
Pom Pom form of dahlia
Bees love the single type of dahlias because they can easily get to the nectar and pollen

Arranged in a bowl