What about those winter sown seeds?

It was an interesting experiment that I’ll repeat next year, with some different varieties. Some things did really well, some weren’t worth it, but you can’t beat the “set it and forget it” aspect of this type of germination system.

This was the fancy set up for the project: these jugs sat out all winter, and some are STILL sitting there, waiting patiently for me to get to them.


One of the success stories was the sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus ‘Grandiflora Mixture’. I planted them out this week and they are taking off, not a moment too soon. (Note for those not living in the midwest: winter drags on and on and on and there’s few days where you wonder, “is this spring?” and then it’s summer.) Winter sown seedlings are automatically hardened off, so they go right from their cute little jugs to their final planting spot. Nice!


Probably the best result came from Lupinus polyphyllus ‘Tall Russell”. They germinated very early and I have planted them out as full sized seedlings. This picture (below) was taken April 16 and they were very hearty already. I have dreams of vast sweeps of this colorful lupine mixture populating the patio garden.


Bachelor Buttons, (Centaurea cyanus), a cool weather annual, was also a good candidate for winter sowing.


Viola ‘Bowles’ Black’ was one that I won’t repeat in this fashion, because they are still tiny and I really need them to be blooming size right about now! I planted them out into some containers by the front door and they’ll make a show a bit later, but it would have been better to start them indoors in January.

Snapdragons, Aster ‘Tiger Paw’ and Dianthus ‘Fringed Loveliness’ are still in the jugs and I am waiting for them to get a little bigger before they go to their final home. I was worried that they’d get too hot or dry out in the containers, but they are still doing fine, although I check them every day.

Next year I’ll try some more perennials, since it’s such an easy method unless you need big seedlings early.



Hope Springs Eternal: I hope my peas do too

Last year was such a disaster in many ways, not the least of which was the garden. However, even though 1-2″ of snow is forecast, I went out and planted the PEAS, (Green Arrow and Dwarf Gray Sugar) as well as some other cold tolerant things like Pak Choi ‘Green Fortune’, Cherry Belle radish, and 3 kinds of carrots: Nantes, Tonda di Parigi, (little round ones), and a new variety for me, St. Valery from Seed Savers.

For me, planting is an expression of faith and hope that this year there won’t be any family medical emergencies or weeks away like last year. Faith and hope that plants will be able to come up despite the million new weed seeds that were deposited thanks to my neglect. But really, every year is sort of like that (minus the weeds gone to seed). There’s not many things finer or more lush than the garden I picture in April. I have a feeling my garden will be more of a sanctuary than ever before. I’ve scaled it back considerably in an effort to reduce future stress. This creates a shopportunity for more perennials!! All good.

Back again!

That’s a looong time between posts. We had a family medical emergency which consumed most of the summer. But now all is well on the medical front. The garden.. well, that is another story.

Fortunately, I have friends and family near by who came over and weeded and tended while I was gone. Otherwise, it would have been a much sorrier situation all around. It’s interesting to see which vegetables toughed it out: Kale (NO surprise there), peppers, some tiny sprouts of echinacea I’d hurriedly stuck in the ground before I left, pawpaw seedlings and other natives. Those things are survivors and producing well. My tomatoes are putting on a brave, if spindly, show. Especially since I wanted to prune them to a single stem this year. I will try that again next year under better conditions! I am still getting tomatoes but as you can imagine, it’s not ideal.

Of course some weeds flourished and I am going to be paying for that for years to come. But events this summer have given me a philosophical attitude and perspective. I love my garden and I love to be out there digging around, weeding, and primping. There’ll be no shortage of that love for the rest of the summer! Most of all, I am grateful that we survived the emergency – a little battered but not bitter (like the kale – still good). Truly that’s all that matters.

Yeah, about that spring..

Wberefore art thou, O Spring? Come BACK we miss you!

Yes, we were spoiled by the warm weather and now reality sets in – this is Chicagoland, and we hardy souls don’t put our tomato plants out until at least Mother’s Day no matter what. Mine are still under the lights in the basement, repotted and waiting it out until they can be buried in blissfully warm soil up to their necks. Not now.

Not to say nothing is happening in my garden. The peas, spinach, arugula, mache, radishes, and bunching onions are up, as well as a few potatoes – mainly the ones in a container. I hope the others haven’t rotted in the cold and damp. I’ve set out broccoli, kale, onion and shallot sets and all are doing fine.

The biggest excitement for me is mini-clover. I had a lot of bare spots this year and since I am not a fan of grass, I decided to plant mini-clover and let it spread. I have large patches of regular lawn clover and it looks so lovely! Mini-clover is.. small.. and only gets about 3-4″ tall. Combining small delicate stature with deep green color, self-fertilizing super powers, drought tolerance and durability, this could be a real winner. I ordered one pound from outsidepride.com and sowed it on my front lawn and parkway.

I broadcast the coated seeds in roughed up but bare areas on April 24 and it started coming up a few days later. With all the rain we’ve gotten, it’s off to a great start. Hoping it can outcompete undesirables. I can’t let dandelions get a foothold because I wouldn’t do that to my neighbors (whose lawns are seas of perfect emerald green) but I hope they don’t mind clover.

Ahh, Spring

Not bored any longer! Since my last post I’ve been busy starting seeds, transplanting seedlings, hardening off seedlings, planting out cold weather things and complaining about all the rain. I managed to get my spring cleaning done inside (since it WAS rainy) but not outside. I made sure to concentrate on the front yard at least. So many fun tasks await. At least I got all the cold weather seeds planted and some are coming up: radishes, spinach, peas at least. I got the potatoes in (La Ratte, a french fingerling heirloom from Seed Savers) but haven’t seen them up yet. The garlic is looking cheerful and sturdy. Behind that I’ve planted a row of carrots (3 kinds) overseeded with radishes. Usually I plant according to the square foot method, but I just wanted fewer veggies this year. Weird, huh! So I am going for a linear look instead in some parts of the garden. I also planted out my little seedlings of Zebrune shallots and Newburg onions (also from Seed Savers). All surviving well because of the rain here and there. It was gloriously warm for a few days but this week looks to be back to actual spring weather. The daffodils have been spectacular and this year my Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) is blooming like mad. I planted little divisions from a friend a couple of years ago. Blue + yellow! Genius, if inadvertent. In my garden, I just fill holes with plants and hope for the best. Combo I like best today: Golden Shadows Pagoda Dogwood with daffodils bringing out the yellow. Ooh.

Last year I decided to put in some chartreuse and it really livens things up. Sorry about the weeds – looks like chickweed is going to have another banner year. You can also see the remnants here of last year’s experiment with a fall planted cover crop – in this case oats – that I will leave as is and plant through. This used to be the “nursery” area but all those plants went over to my daughter’s garden and now, hallelujah, I have space to fill!

Hellebore update:

H. Royal Heritage mix
H. Winter Sunshine
H. Peppermint Ice so nice!
H. Royal Heritage mix

I love the way hellebores look when they first come out, but then, as you can see, if you don’t have a light colored flower, they tend to look like indistinct clumps, not too exciting. I am going to move the seedlings (many now) to an area by my walkway so I can enjoy them close up.

Veg Garden update:

Trying a new trellis system this year. The stakes are cut from my Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria), which I coppice every year for nice long stems. I’ll tie string between them as the peas and cucumbers grow up past the fencing.


See you next time!


Midwinter Cleanup

Temperatures in the high 60s! The gardening bug strikes. What to do?

There are some seeds to be started indoors: onions, parsley and basil for indoor use, violas, sweet peas, and any chile that needs a loooong season to produce, like Chiltepin. This Sonoran desert native, also known as bird pepper, forms an airy 2′ tall profile with little round fruits that are hot, hot, hot. But addictive. One little chile in your salsa and boom! Or crush and sprinkle over vanilla ice cream, which tames the heat a little bit. I have to start these very early, plant them in a spot that gets a lot of reflected heat, and hope that it’s not too rainy. I usually get a handful of chiles from a plant, but every year I hope to do better.


Outside, the hellebores need trimming. Last year’s leaves have served as an insulating blanket, but they do nothing for this year’s looks. Cutting close to the emerging buds will let the flowers show in all their glory. Wish this warm weather, they should be opening soon.


You’re Getting Warmer..

Really, what is it with the weather this year? Someone wrote in to the weather man wondering if they should put away their snow blower for the year! Nope. We historically get some big snowstorms in March, but with all this pleasant springy weather, it is difficult to believe that could happen! But the plants know. I have a patch of snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) that serve as my climate markers so I know when winter is ending. They are more reliable than Punxatawny Phil, and they are nowhere to be found yet. The earliest they have popped up was last year on February 29th. Usually they arrive in March.


Bloom times of my snowdrop since I’ve kept records at this house:

2006: March 13

2007: no record of bloom

2008: March 22

2009: March 7

2010: March 8

2011: no record, didn’t write in journal until November 1st!

2012: March 6

2013: March 29

2014: April 6!! No kidding, long and brutal winter.

2015: March 28

2016: February 29 (the earliest since I’ve been keeping record!)

2017: ??

I checked the Hellebores out back – those have buds appearing, so there’s something I can do in the garden: trim off the old ratty leaves from last year. There are some Hellebore seedlings popping up around. Later in the season I’ll transplant them nearby and see what sort of blooms they end up creating. I’ve planted H.  ‘Winter Sunshine,’ ‘Peppermint Ice,’and ‘Royal Heritage.’ So it’s anyone’s guess as to the bloom type of resulting crosses, but that’s one fun part of gardening.