Gardens can make liars of us all…


A red charm peony

Happy 2023. I don’t know about you,  but I’m getting 2 to 3 gardening catalogs every single week with beautiful covers, enchanting flowers,  and words like ‘specials,’ ‘sales,’ ‘buy one get one free,’ ‘plants ship free’ and  ‘supplies are limited’ splashed all over the front and back covers. I’m hooked. Aren’t you?  Sign me up: when and where do I start? 

Where we started last year, of course.  Do you know your budget? Have you amended your soils? Do you know how much sunlight your garden gets in the growing season/ what about the plants watering needs?  Do you have an area that’s ready to plant? If you have an area that’s ready to plant,  do you have in your mind what you’d  would like to see in that area? If you answer ‘oh yes, I did everything I was supposed to’, then GOLD STAR.  I’m completely  impressed. If, however, the answer is ‘hell no, who has time for all that?’ then you’re in good company, with me.  Luckily for us plants are pretty forgiving, even if our pocketbooks aren’t. I’m not going to tell anyone that you’re buying plants AGAIN. That is, as long as you don’t tell on me. 

I found my gardens were too big this past year. I could not get all the plants weeded thoroughly. Therefore I spent time organizing my garden into borders, using walkways, cardboard, and mulch. I asked for, and received, scores of cardboard boxes. I removed all tape from them and any other non cardboard materials. I flattened them and stacked them 6 inches high. Then I spread mulch over that. I will still get weeds. Creeping Charlie will grow happily right on top of the mulch. But I know Creeping Charlie. I fight him every year. He’ll end up on the compost heap. 

I noticed that my gardens were becoming too dominated by yellow. I decided that I need more red in my garden May through September. So here’s what I am planning on adding to my gardens.

A corn poppy

Early season flowering reds :  Columbine (aquilegia canadensis) and Harlem oriental poppies

Mid-season flowering reds:  Red charm peonies and corn poppies

Late season flowering reds:  Scarlet lobelia and midnight marvel hibiscus. 

I will buy the poppies, peonies and hibiscus as plants. They come bare root and I will plant them in repeating patterns. Since they will need a few years to mature and get established I’ll add annual geraniums in and around them. A friend has given me some red Calla Lilies. I’m going to pot them up next to the geraniums for height. They should be sensational. Papaver orientale Harlem  is a deep red poppy with a black center The peonies I have my eye on are Red Charm. They are a true red with a exploding center of ruffled booms. I love peonies and poppies despite their short flowering season. The geraniums and lilies will cover for them and bloom all summer long.The midnight marvel hibiscus has large blooms with a darker red purple ring and yellow pistil at its throat. It will bloom in late summer. Again I’ll have to be as patient as I can. Ll of these will take years to mature and bloom.

The other three I will start from seed outside after June first. Annual red corn poppies, columbine (red and yellow) and scarlet lobelia. The columbine and scarlet lobelia are perennials. Double white columbine and red and yellow columbine are sensational at the edges of the woods. Let them go wild. They do need some sun. The lobelia like moist soils and sun. They may take a year or three, so be patient. Judy Bunde taught me this mantra about perennials: in year one they sleep, in year two they creep, and in year three they leap. Poppies I use as fillers everywhere, I throw the seed amongst perennials and hope for the best. I always get good results. I do also reserve a few small beds for annual flowers from seed.

Scarlet lobelias

Judith Irvin taught me how to keep a garden bed ready for spring sowing. She covers her beds with tarps in the autumn, and removes the tarps in the spring- ready to plant! I don’t even need a rototiller; all I do is lightly rake the ground and scatter the seeds, water and I’m done!  

For me, and most of my gardening friends,  we are trying to limit and get rid of flowers. That is until we get together. It starts so innocently. Wwe sit, discuss the weather, then perhaps the past growing season, then we begin to say the same things: too much weeding, not enough time to sit and enjoy. We’re definitely  cutting back this year. We aren’t planning to buy a thing. and then it happens.  One of us says ‘hey what kind of lilies were those I saw at your place?’ ‘Which ones?’ Those pink ones with the dark stripe.’ ‘Oh weren’t they marvelous? I just love them. They are Lady Pettigrew’s Peppermint Patty.’  ‘They’re amazing where can I get them.’ And we’re off acquiring the catalog and more plants. A dear friend likes to remind me that I said I’d never buy another plant. I broke my pledge hours later. Gardens can make liars of us all. 

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