FEBRUARY TIPS 2014
This winter, England, from whence I hailed eons ago, has been having terrible floods and even a hurricane, unusual at least in ferocity for that country. England has a temperate climate and they are usually a month ahead of us with winter into spring temperatures. Even though here in New England we are saying ‘enough cold temperatures and snow’ we are much luckier than the rest of the United States with what people have been experiencing for a few months now.
But soon folks – in about 40 days spring will be here and with it moderating temperatures. Lots to look forward to and in that regard I ask you to go organic for climate change – which as the weather showed is very much in evidence. As gardeners you are able to contribute to healing the planet eco-consciously with what you put into the soil for the growth of the plants that are free from herbicides and pesticides with liberal doses of my favorite stuff –manure.
I spoke with my friend Ann, this week; Ann is an avid gardener and lives in Cheshire, in England, which is next door to my home county of Shropshire. Ann told me that her daffodils are well above the soil and a week ago she started her seeds in the greenhouse. She soaked the seeds overnight in seaweed tea. My ancestors have known the root building properties of seaweed tea for centuries. Recently scientists have ‘discovered’ what farmers and gardeners have known for centuries that seaweed has a naturally occurring root growth hormone and is a bio-stimulant with more than sixty different types of nutrients. Now that the seeds are germinating she is also watering them with the seaweed tea.
February 20th to March 20th is the time to begin serious indoor seed planting here. Check here on my website for all the information on our seaweed and manure teas, which will be available for purchase later in the spring. If you intend to plant seeds in the next month or two check out which garden centers are stocking organic seeds, or go online for them – one company that I use is “Botanical Interests.” Don’t go overboard and buy too many packs of seeds; there are about 500 seeds in each packet. If you do purchase too many – have a seed sharing party with gardening friends.
Have on hand – inexpensive envelopes, soil mix, sphagnum moss and seed trays, which must be scrupulously – clean, egg cartons or cut down cardboard milk containers, both work well. Sphagnum moss works well as a planting medium and can prevent a soil born fungus that causes “damping off’ whereby seeds rot before germination. I and many friends and colleagues have used this method for years and have not lost seeds to the disease.
For tiny seeds use the moss as the planting mix and for larger seeds have a topsoil base and a layer of moss on top of the soil.
Mixing fine seeds with sand before you sow helps to loosen them up. Soak the seeds overnight before planting in our Seaweed or Manure tea if you have some from last year and just before planting spray them with warm water, never cold as cold water can delay germination. When they have germinated, water with Manure or Seaweed tea.
The best method of watering seedlings is from the bottom. But, if you feel you must top water, just mist with a fine sprayer, so you don’t drown the delicate seeds or wash them out of the planting mix. Use sterilized soil when seeding but do not save any left over soil, add it to houseplants or put it in the garden. Left over soil can develop disease and wipe out future seedling crops. If you are growing seedlings on a windowsill, place them on a south or west-facing sill, seedlings do not need heat to thrive, they need light.
Houseplants require extra care – personally my houseplants lift my spirits in winter especially the blooming variety. Keep the plants away from draughts and direct heat. If possible have humidifiers and air purifiers in the rooms, which will benefit not only the plants but also your own health. Place pebble trays under the plants and keep the pebbles moist for additional humidity.
Spray houseplants every few days with lukewarm water and once every couple of weeks, put the plants in a sink or bathtub and allow water to run freely over the plant to remove dust from the leaves and clean salt residue from the soil. The exception to the spray or soak rule is African violets, these plants do not like wet leaves.
Aphids and white fly thrive indoors in winter and an organic sulphur solution called Safer works well to clean the soil of the insect eggs and off the foliage. Perhaps you are fortunate like myself to have ladybugs in your home, let these pretty useful creatures roam freely as their menu is aphids and white flies.
The best time to repot houseplants is during the growing season from April and through June but if a plant has become root bound with no visible soil, then you may repot now. Water the plant to loosen the roots from the soil, turn it sideways on a newspaper and gently slide it from the pot. Repot in fresh potting soil in a clean pot that is only two inches larger than the original. With the plant firmly in place and the soil one inch from the rim, water it either with a dilute application of organic fertilizer or our seaweed tea, which lessens the shock of repotting.
Some trouble free foliage plants to enjoy in the house are: Rubber plants, Spider plants, Ivy, Philodendron, Monstera and Spaphyllum. If you have a sunny window Aloes, Succulents and Cacti.
Blooming plants sitting side by side with foliage plants give one a miniature garden and they enjoy one another’s company. Some of the bloomers are Cyclamen, African Violets, Kalanchoe, Primulas and Paper white narcissus. To prevent pets from chewing on the plants, add some cayenne pepper to the water when watering.
Check any power tools that require maintenance or repair. Now is the time to get them into the shop, because as soon as the weather breaks the shop gets busy and you may not get your lawn mower back until August.
When you can climb over the snowdrifts check other tools in the garage or shed. If you did not clean them off at the end of last season, plunge the shovels and spades into a bucket of sand, sand is an abrasive and will clean off any left over soil and manure residue. Oil the wooden handles of tools with Linseed oil or some inexpensive vegetable oil, the oil feeds the wood and keeps the handles splinter free. At the same time, check your hoses and fittings, which may have sprung leaks since last year.
Make a shopping list of new tools that are needed. There are lots of sales at this time of year, for you to pick up bargains. However, I caution that you buy only quality tools and hoses; the old adage always applies “you get what you pay for”. Also check that you have enough twine, bamboo rods, wire ties or nails, organic fertilizers like our Manure tea on this website.
In March purchase bags of composted manure; or if you have a farm close by that will sell you aged manure, take a pick up truck and get a load. If you are going that route ask the farmer for manure from the bottom of the pile – aged stuff. Manure needs to be at least six months old, as fresh manure will burn your plants.
Check the paintwork on your wooden fences, arbors, decks and any other outdoor wooden structures. Then purchase, paint supplies so that on a dry day in a few weeks when you are able to paint, everything will be on hand. Don’t forget to put paintbrushes on your list – I have a feeling you forgot to clean your old ones last year, which means they are now ‘stiff as a poker, that being said, remember sand paper and brush cleaner. If you are painting benches and garden seats on a dry day, put them under cover before sundown.
White walls in the greenhouse reflect light so any areas that need retouching, paint with white paint. It gives me pleasure to see
How much lighter the greenhouse is after a touch of paint and cleaning the glass. However meticulously clean and tidy your greenhouse, white fly, greenfly and scale insects seem to find their way in so spray with an organic spray.
Walking around a garden, which not only looks good but also feels good in mid-winter is a real pick me up. Patterns emerge created by paths, walls and hedges. Enjoy the shapes of shrubs, the shadows of evergreens and the strong silhouettes of tree trunks, their shape and bark without foliage stands out at this time of year.
Keep the bird feeders full, nothing is as enjoyable as watching the birds in their quick flights across the garden to alight on the feeders, and sudden bursts of song when the sun shines. I love to watch the “pecking” order the blue jays, the bullies I call them, then finches, house sparrows and among the brown, the brilliant red of the cardinal. Sometimes a bird appears that I do not recognize and out comes my Peterson bird book and binoculars. If you find squirrels swarming the bird feeders, some cayenne pepper to the birdseed – the birds are not affected by the heat. Then a distance away sprinkle birdseed without the pepper so the squirrels can also have a meal.
Winter has its own distinctive fragrance. Fog for example, on a morning when the air is very heavy, thick and damp – a damp even more bone chilling than rain. But what I love best is the smell of the soil, rich and brown, well manured or covered with wood mulch, leaf mold or salt hay. Winter’s smells are a potpourri, one moment fresh like the east wind, next dense and sweet.
If you have spent year after year throwing good money after bad it may be time to get a professional design, but do not hesitate as a design takes time and you want it ready for the growing season.
If you are thinking of attending the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show at the Convention center on Saturday February 22, I hope you will come to my lecture at 12:30 PM, I would love to meet you and I know you would enjoy my ‘Garden Earth’ talk.
JANUARY 2014 TIPS
Happy New Year everyone and I hope everyone has a good 2014.
December 21st the winter solstice we turned the corner and each day there will be longer daylight minutes. Today I moved some vases that I have planted with paper white narcissus from a cool, dark room on the north side of the farmhouse into a cool room on the south side.
This morning I moved one of the large glass vases planted with narcissus into my lounge, the buds are almost ready to open and bloom. I can’t wait for the fragrance to permeate the farmhouse.
Just the thought of new bloom gets me out of the winter doldrums. But with the yoyo weather we are experiencing with the Polar Vortex misbehaving itself definitely confirms global warming and the subsequent climate change. Those changes, combined with pollution in the air, water and the earth is damaging our planet.
That being said, your contribution to saving this wonderful planet
is to organically tend the soil with compost and manure. Your plants and vegetables will thrive, as will you. Allow your garden to anchor you by connecting your heart, body, mind and spirit to Mother Nature’s life giving bountiful gifts and her energy.
Here in January with snow and frigid temperatures then reasonably mild for a day or two I find it a bit hard for the body to adjust as well as one’s mood – yet again its New England.
Snow cover by the way, is beneficial for the garden, it blankets the soil to keep it warm and moist. A more benefit however, is snow protects the earth from winter winds, which is more harmful to plants than cold temperatures. The bitter drying winds draw much needed moisture from the plants can cause the demise of some plants as well as plant breakage and soil erosion.
It’s useful to have a few bags of topsoil and mulch in the garage. With these items on hand, any roots can be covered when they become exposed by wind or frost heave. Roots exposed to the elements for any length of time can cause their demise of the plants; therefore quickly covering them with the soil and mulch prevents this from occurring. When spring arrives, the plant can be resettled in place together with composted manure building an excellent growing environment.
On a sunny day in January, take a walk round the garden, get some fresh air and work off a few of the holiday pounds, make some notes and decide what worked for you last year and what you will never try again.
I’m sure as you sit in your armchair you have already begun lists of plants that you are thinking of buying, from the catalogues that began arriving months ago. They are meant to tempt you with their lovely but unrealistic “doctored up” pictures of plants that you feel certain will make your garden sensational this year.
Make 2014 a year for realistic and organized change. Don’t get caught up in the fantasy of those brightly colored, high maintenance garden pictures shown in the catalogues. Suit your garden to your lifestyle that will work within your time frame and physical abilities. If you follow that construct, at the end of the day you will have the time to sit, relax and smell the roses, without being overwhelmed.
It’s also important to keep your budget in mind, as you sit and plan for next season. Before you know it the weather will warm up and when the soil has dried out, winter debris can be cleared away. With a clear palette the soil waits for that lovely layer of manure and compost (the ratio being three parts manure to one part compost). Then if the weather tells you it is still not time plant, merely putting a clean edge on the borders makes such a difference to the look of any garden. April showers arrive and the sun is shining and you are ready for the fun stuff, the placing and planting!
For those of you who are vegetable gardeners, last year was not the best weather for fruits and vegetables, too much rain, not enough sunshine and how can we forget the invasion of the insects. Of course how can I forget the invasion of moles, voles and other critters? Let’s keep our fingers that this season there will be the right balance of rain and sun – from our mouths to God’s ears!
If last season you became overwhelmed with too much gardening, here
are some suggestions you might follow:
Send some of your borders back to grass.
Make some of the high maintenance perennial borders, into mixed shrub borders. To accomplish this, take out some of the high maintenance perennials and donate them to a worthy cause.
Plant evergreen shrubs, some green, some blue and some of the lovely evergreen gold variety, amongst the remaining perennials. To these, add small flowering deciduous trees and shrubs that will begin flowering in April and successively through June.
Add a Ben Franklin tree with its white cup like blooms and gold center that flowers in August through September.
Nestle one to three Blue Mist shrubs in the mixed border; this plant will delight with purple blooms and fragrant leaves into September.
Plant against fence or trellis fragrant white autumn clematis.
Add a groundcover as an evergreen framework – my favorite is Myrtle with its glossy leaves and miniature blue flowers that emerge in April.
Introduce your children and grandchildren to the wonders of the garden and introduce them to the garden fairies. Through the years I asked children to draw a picture of the garden fairy and make a list of questions to ask the fairies that live in the wild patch. We all have a wild patch in the garden; in fact you are probably saying, “Maureen, my garden is one large ‘wild patch’. The children became so excited and enthused about their lists and pictures of the fairies. What you have done is transformed science into magic. It seems that these days we have forgotten about fairy tales, dreams and magic; it’s time to bring those wonderful energies back into our lives and into the lives of our children.
In spring and summer I would find my children or their friends checking the garden impatiently wanting to see their planting efforts come into bloom. In the vegetable garden they waited to see what was ready to eat from the produce they had planted. This introduction to the garden often inspires children to make gardens of their own as adults. My son Ian is a great example of this as he has partnered with me through the years in the garden – and the old adage that ‘the student is better than the teacher’ has certainly proved to be correct. Ian is a designer ‘par excellence’. If you have the chance take a ride to the shore and visit the Old Saybrook Inn and Spa to admire the beautiful gardens Ian has designed and the crew installed.
In the March tips when you have your design or redesign layout done, I’ll give you some suggestions of ornamental trees, shrubs and long blooming perennials. I suggest that you obtain these from local garden centers who carry tried and true plants that will flourish in your area.
When you are planning your garden for this coming season there are facts to keep in mind:
What are the plants requirements for sun, shade, soil, and water?
Will they survive in this zone, Zone 6?
What are the growth patterns of the plants? Do they grow fast or slow? You do not want a fifty-foot tree up against the house with those tremendous roots that will play havoc with your house foundation. Or do you want that lovely but very large, Catawbiense Rhododendron, all ten feet of it, climbing through your dining room window in five years?
Check every aspect of the plant before you buy. That Lace leaf Japanese maple looks lovely in the photograph, but is it something you can enjoy, without its leaves in the winter? Personally I enjoy the shape and the bark of trees without foliage in winter.
For those of you just beginning a garden, let’s first dispense with the myth that gardening is a relaxing hobby. At the end of that first day of digging, lugging soil, manure and fertilizer, and planting everything at the proper depth; you will feel that you are going to keel over.
Then you remember that you still need to water the newly installed plants as you drag your tired body to switch on the hose. Thank goodness, the mulching can wait until tomorrow or next weekend, right? Right!
Watering by the way can be meditative. Imagine that the hose is your umbilical cord so that as you nourish the earth and the plants, the earth can nourish you.
By now the sun has gone down, and you trudge indoors muttering to yourself “what the heck did I get myself into”? To this comment I say, “You did not have to do the whole garden in one day”.
In gardening, there is always tomorrow, or next week, and even though the label says to plant it by the end of May or June, believe me folks, a few weeks later does not matter, the garden will wait for you.
You may be saying to yourself at this point “Maureen are you trying to put us off gardening”? No folks, but I feel I would remiss, as a person who has had gardening in my blood (as well as manure) for over four hundred years to describe however, reluctantly not only the pleasures, but some of the aches and pains.
The idea is not to bite off more than you can chew. For first time gardeners don’t scatter your energies all over the garden, tackle and complete one area at a time and that area should be priority until it is complete. If you have a new home with no landscaping, some hardscape may be required. Hardscape is walls, walkways, patios, ponds, decks and so on. The sound and look of a water feature in the garden is delightful, it need not be elaborate, a fountain is fine – a reflection that is Mother Nature’s mirror. If you are not able to do this construction yourself, get in touch with a contractor you trust, so that a plan can be done now, installed and ready by spring.
All of these endeavors means getting yourself in shape physically, so get off that couch, put away the catalogues and your plant lists, stretch, then wrap yourself up warm and take that walk.
As you walk, look at the trees in winter, the elegant shape of them, the lichen on the stonewalls, the moss tucked in cracks and crevices. Clear your mind and allow nature’s spirit to surround you. Take a look at a garden or two in your neighborhood which you have admired when they were in bloom, and see what they look like in winter.
I remember one of my professors when I studied at the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew saying, “in winter you can tell a really good landscape by its bones, without the flesh of the flora”. In spring, get in touch with those neighbors whose gardens you admired and ask them some of the secrets of their garden; they will be happy to talk with you – gardeners love to talk about their gardens.
Also before I forget, try to get to the Providence, Connecticut or Philadelphia flower shows, they are on in February and March. Always a good cure for the winter blues! By the way I am giving my Garden Earth lecture at the Connecticut Flower and Garden show on Saturday February 22nd at 12.30. Would love to see you there.