Gourds Out/Seeds In!

Most of the snow is melted now – except, of course, the mountains that local towns dumped in parks around the area. I suspect some of them will not melt away completely until late May!

IMG_2037I spent an afternoon out in the greenhouse trying to make space for starting seeds. The first thing I did was to collect and remove all of the gourds that were spread out on the benches to dry. They are 99% dried and have been relegated to the side porch to deal with later.

IMG_2039Once the gourds were out of the way, I pulled out the bags of seed starter mix and some clean plastic trays. All of the tomatoes (6 kinds) have been planted as well as some white foxglove, leeks and lavender. Over the next couple of weeks, I will plant the rest of the early starts. Needless to say, I have a little heater out there to maintain warmish temperatures. I’ve put it on a timer so that it cycles off and on to conserve energy.

I was tempted to put the Rosemary outside, but having kept two of them alive and very healthy through the winter, I decided to give them a week more shelter. It is a bother tripping over them to water the flats, but over the weekend I will probably just move them to the side porch and keep them there until I know the weather will remain warm.

I’ve started the pumpkin peppers in the house on a heating mat and once they germinate and get some true leaves I will move them to the greenhouse or to a hoop house outside.

I’ve also started deciding where to plant what this year – which usually means being very creative about fitting in more than I thought I could. Couldn’t pass up the seeds for some bushel gourds. Although they are never quite bushel basket size, I keep hoping – and promising extra fertilizer and care to get them as big as I can. I also ordered some new (to me) gourds called “Lunch Lady”. Who could resist with a name like that and a warty surface!?

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Empty beds are so full of promise! The fenced bed in the middle is an asparagus bed and the round rings in the front and furthest beds in this photo are for tomatoes. I use a fabulous “shrubbler” system from Lee Valley Tools and will post photos of it later in the season when I install it.

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Philadelphia Horticultural Society Flower Show

6" of new snow made it more challenging to get to the train on time, but not impossible!

6″ of new snow made it more challenging to get to the train on time, but not impossible!

This past Friday I braved the weather and headed for Philadelphia via Amtrak. With free wi-fi throughout and an outlet to charge one’s gear, they make it quite comfortable to take the train! This was the third time I have attended the annual show and, although this wasn’t my favorite of the three shows, it was still more than an eye full.

Big Ben

Big Ben

 

 

This year’s theme was the gardens of Great Britain, which explains the gigantic replica of Big Ben at the center of the show. Every so often, the clock face disappeared and was replaced with videos. At the base of Big Ben there was a water garden with enormous lily pads -almost enticing enough to tempt me with adding a water feature.

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Some of these lily pads must have been 2′ across!

I can only imagine the logistics of putting together such a huge show and can’t even begin to wrap my mind around what it takes to make sure everything is in bloom and ready to display!

The show fills the Philadelphia Convention Center and is divided between special, themed exhibits, competitions in specific categories and the vendors. It would be impossible to see the show and take enough pictures, but these are some of the things I saw that made an impression:

A collection of painted sticks with ceramic leaves that served as the backdrop for one display/

A collection of painted sticks with ceramic leaves that served as the backdrop for one display.

This screen looked like the branches were pleached (grown together). Wish it were better lighting.

This screen looked like the branches were pleached (grown together). Wish it were better lighting.

Floral hats fit for queens and princesses
Floral hats fit for queens and princesses

Hat for the Mad Hatter's Tea Party
Hat for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All  of the major exhibits had some sort of British theme. There was a booth where people could make their own “fascinators”, which are very British hair ornaments/hats and lots of women wearing them.

Attendee sporting a lovely fascinator

Attendee sporting a lovely fascinator

A tower of wheel barrows at the center of one display

A tower of wheel barrows at the center of one display

A dog house with a green roof

A dog house with a green roof

The caterpillar at one corner of the Mad Hatter's Tea Partty

The caterpillar at one corner of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

The Tea Party itself

The Tea Party itself

Fabulous things to buy!

Fabulous things to buy!

Some things just too big to take on the train!

Some things just too big to take on the train!

One big surprise: With all those flowers, I really expected much more perfume in the air, but there was very little! So much for the new hybrids!

One big surprise: With all those flowers, I really expected much more perfume in the air, but there was very little! So much for the new hybrids!

Nice little wattle fence surrounding this garden

Nice little wattle fence surrounding this garden

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Fleecing The Birds

DSCN5958When I cleaned out the bird houses last weekend, several of them contained some of the nesting materials that I provided for my feathered tennants last year. Today I filled one of my extra suet holders with soft wool fleece and hung it out for the taking. I’m curious if, given the choice of colors, they stick to white or go for the magenta. The directions for these suet holders were in my blog on 1/10/13.

Some of the first REAL signs of spring!!

Some of the first REAL signs of spring!!

Walking back into the house – through another 6+ inches of snow – I spied some daffodils coming up in a sunny (melted) spot close to the house. Little harbingers of spring!

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We have YELLOW!!!

DSCN5953There may be snow flurries flying about on the hill today, but the forsythia are blooming inside and I know spring is near!!

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Kangaroo Paw!!

Finally! A seedling emerges!

Finally! A seedling emerges!

Finally! One of the Kangaroo Paw seedlings has emerged and I am entertaining visions of the fabulous house plant to come. My own little Australian garden here in New England.

Hopefully, some of the others will emerge as well, but I have my doubts. The packet directions said to put the trays in a couple of inches of water and keep them covered with plastic wrap. That is how I started, but within days I saw mold forming on top of the soil so I uncovered the trays and have been misting the soil  regularly. I rather suspect that this one seedling might just be of the heartiest strain to have survived thus far. A heating pad might have been a good idea back at the start, but I doubt it will do much good now. Then again – maybe worth a try!

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House Cleaning Day

DSCN5927Today was mild enough to get outside to clean out all of the birdhouses so they are ready for this year’s occupants. The three bluebird houses along the driveway had old nests in them, including one that had the skeletal remains of a baby bird that didn’t make it.

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The bluebird houses all have hinged fronts that make them easy to clean. For the other houses, I just rely on some long tweezers I bought at the flea market  to pull out the nests in pieces.

The nests that we removed today contained a lot of the yarn and wool roving that I put out for the birds last spring so I guess I will do the same again this year. Have to wonder how they would feel about dryer lint!

DSC_0459I’ve included a photo of a round birdhouse that I attached (and photographed last year, hence the green) with a piece of plumbing hardware that is used to hang pipes from ceilings or attach them to walls. Very handy for hanging inexpensive craft-store birdhouses that have no other means of attaching to a tree or post. The hanger strap is attached to two small wooden blocks which , in turn, are nailed to the tree. This particular house is clothed in birch bark and has a pine cone roof. Most of the craft store bird houses require some ingenuity to mount them.

7 toes!

7 toes!

Buster was on hand to supervise the birdhouse cleaning and dutifully raised one of his 7-toed paws for the camera. He doesn’t hang around the bird feeders at all, but I’m not so sure about the houses and I always feel a little guilty about his presence in the garden.

Spent some time picking up sticks and just generally checking out the condition of the gardens. One side of the yard has practically no snow left, while the other side still has a foot of snow and looks like the height of winter.

Still about a foot of snow on this side of the yard.

Still about a foot of snow on this side of the yard.

Most of the snow on the other side of the yard has melted.

Most of the snow on the other side of the yard has melted.

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Searching for Signs of Spring

DSCN5914Finally starting to see a little green and lots of brown as the snow shrinks and evaporates and melts. It always gives me so much hope – and then another storm usually comes along and dashes my hopes to bits!

The snow was finally manageable enough for me to make my way over to the forsythia bushes to cut some for forcing. I had to free a lot of evergreen and forsythia branches from the snow to do it, but I think it will be worth it when those buds pop and I have a bucket full of yellow to brighten the kitchen! I enjoy the forsythia once they bloom in the spring, but I planted them mostly for forcing.

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Just a bunch of sticks for now, in a week or so I should have lots of yellow flowers.

I also tried to release some of the holly branches from the snow – not sure what kind of shape my big bush will be in when this all melts. I was delighted to find an intact Praying Mantis egg case attached to one of the branches.

Signs of life to come!

Signs of life to come!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A week ago, I couldn’t even get near the greenhouse, much less open the door so I was happy to get in there today and find the Rosemary and some potted plants I stored doing just fine. The gourds are nearly dried and I only lost a few that rotted instead of drying. Will have to give the greenhouse a good airing out before I try planting anything just to release any mold spores. Didn’t have a problem last year so am hoping the same holds true this year.

The gourds are almost completely dried, which is a good thing because I'll need the space soon for starting seeds.

The gourds are almost completely dried, which is a good thing because I’ll need the space soon for starting seeds.

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Catkins!

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WOW! Just three days later and the catkins have popped open on the Fantail Pussy Willows! Talk about a spring rush!! Forsythia cannot be far behind!

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Fantailed Pussy Willows

Fantailed Pussy Willows starting to bud in 3' of snow.

Fantailed Pussy Willows starting to bud in 3′ of snow.

I decided today was the day to trudge through the snow and cut some pussy willows to force indoors. I have two Fantail Pussy Willow bushes (Salix udensis ‘Sekka’ – Japanese Fantail or Dragon Willow) that I started from cuttings off a neighbor’s bush. They are about 5 years old and perfectly happy in a rather boggy bed next to the patio.

The branches flatten and curl in the most unexpected ways!

The branches flatten and curl in the most unexpected ways!

Every spring I cut the plants back severely (maybe 10″ from the ground), harvesting the wonderfully contorted and curled branches to force indoors. Once the catkins have popped open, I remove the water from the vase and just let them dry. When it is time to start forcing quince or forsythia, I retire the dried willow to a big bucket I have in the cellar. One of these days, I intend to use them as the spokes for a fabulous basket.

Set in a bucket of water, this year's cuttings will probably set the catkins within a week or so.

Set in a bucket of water, this year’s cuttings will probably set the catkins within a week or so.

 

When I looked on the internet for the Latin name of this plant, I came across a web site that bears further investigation: http://www.bluestem.ca. They list a US address as well as Canadian so this might just be a great source for a huge variety of willow!

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Ordering Seeds – and showing some restraint!

The seed catalogs get more beautiful and more tempting every year, but I have slowly developed a little more restraint than I used to have. A few years back I spent hours comparing and cross checking all the catalogs and ended up ordering seeds from about 8 of them. I found everything I was looking for – and spent a lot more on shipping than I needed to by the time I absorbed all the minimum shipping charges. Not a good idea spreading the orders around unless you really have to.

Truth is, there are several places locally where I can find most of the seeds I want to plant. The following are sources I like for the seeds I cannot find nearby :

jungJung Seeds and Plants (www.jungseed.com) has a huge selection of gourd seeds, including Bushel Gourds and some wonderful, warty ones called Lunch Lady. They also have a reasonably priced assortment of native/shade garden plants including things like Solomon Seal, Creeping Wintergreen, trilliums, Jack-in-the-pulpit and lots of varieties of tomatoes and cucumbers and other veggies. My order is in the mail!

tomatoTotally Tomatoes (www.totallytomato.com) offer seeds for the widest variety of tomatoes you will find anywhere – along with pages of cucumbers and other veggies. Hard to choose which ones, but I found some favorites and a couple of new ones. I’ll be handing out seedlings to friends and neighbors again!

selectseedSelect Seeds (www.selectseeds.com) has a wonderful assortment of heirloom, rare and choice flower seeds. I’m ordering Tassel Flower seeds, Verbena Bonariensis and some wonderful Cherry Glow Poppies from them.

millerI bought most of my blueberry bushes from Miller Nurseries (www.millernurseries.com) a few years ago and this year I have decided to buy a pair of Beach Plum shrubs. It sounds like they will grow anywhere – even in poor soil – and I have just the hillside for them! They have a great assortment of fruit and nut trees and bushes.

rhshumI buy seeds for broom corn (which is fun and easy to grow) from Jung and also from R.H. Shumway (www.rhshumway.com). Broom corn is great for fall decorations, but I use the tassel tops to make beautiful, functional brooms and I use the stalks to thatch the birdhouse roofs. I’ll post the directions for the brooms towards the end of the summer so, if it interests you, order some seeds and plan on planting a crop!

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