Archive for April, 2011

The trout lily are back! April 26th, 2011

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011


I’ve been diligent the last few years in pulling invasive, allelopathic garlic mustard from the woods surrounding my yard and garden. Since it erupts early and the roots yank out easily, this hasn’t been too much trouble, though it does demand persistence.  With those efforts, there’s less and less of this nasty weed each year, and this month, Voila! The trout lily are back.


When I moved to this garden almost two decades ago my suburban forest was carpeted with trout lily, trillium, and other woodland delights. Thanks to deer depredation and invasives such as garlic mustard, biodiversity has decreased dramatically. But the reappearance of carpets of Erythronium americanum this April in several areas is heartening, and encourages me to not only keep up my garlic mustard  eradication work but to move on to the neighbors!   




My Weekly Column

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Iris reticulata rocks!                                                                                                                          

When I first encountered iris reticulata I was amazed that any type of iris bloomed so early in the spring. But year after year they appear right outside my front door in early April, where I must have placed them decades ago in an overzealous autumn rush of bulb-planting. The itty-bitty tubers go in when daffodils and tulips are planted, and pop up in the first decent days of spring, just after the snowdrops, and alongside crocus and hellebore.

Though I’ve lost the label, (alas… an all-too-frequent occurrence), I believe mine are ‘Purple Gem’. Other cultivars come in shades of flax blue (‘Cantab’), lavender (‘Clairette’) and white (‘Natashca’) A close member of the family, iris danfordiae, shines in buttercup yellow. All are said to issue a sweet fragrance similar to that of violets. (though mine lack any such attribute; or maybe it’s my unsophisticated nose)

With interesting, pointy leaves aiming heavenward, these diminutive, deer-resistant guys with their relatively large flowers only grow to about 4 inches tall, and are attractive in the rock garden, clustering in the semi-shady border, or as edging. Their natural habitat, similar to many hardy bulbs, is in dry-summered Turkey and the Mediterranean.  So here in Connecticut, give them well drained soil where their little feet won’t sit in water.  About the only thing that bothers them is early heat, at which they’ll swoon until next year.

Mine live in a patch with spirea, coral bells & weigela, adjacent to the fieldstone path leading to the lawn. Once upon a time I also had some planted in the back 40, but since they’re small and the back yard garden is large I never saw them. I subsequently swooped the bunch up to the front yard.

Iris reticulata are said to self-sow just as do winter aconite and scilla, but I’ve never been that fortunate. In fact, as much as I enjoy their presence each year, I must admit that they sometimes peter out for no good reason. Therefore, every few years I stick in another handful, to assure that I’ll have a good stand the following spring. Hardy in zones 5 through 9; plant them at a depth of twice their size.

Low maintenance and easy to grow, these iris want fertilizer at planting and again in the spring with the other hardy bulbs. Simply scatter some Bulb-tone around the base. It’s good practice to also fertilize when they’re finished blooming, and note that the iris grass continues to grow post-flowering.

If you love iris, there’s no reason to restrict yourself to the later-blooming international array. Tall bearded German, Siberian, Japanese and Dutch are all gorgeous, but there’s nothing like the sprightly petite iris reticulata in very early spring.

Most likely you’re inundated with bulb catalogues right about now. (This is so you’ll be tempted by the display in your neighbor’s yard and desire some for yourself). Unearth the catalogues belonging to Litchfield’s John Scheepers , (  or Wisconsin’s McClure & Zimmerman ( ) and next year, start enjoying iris in April.



This week’s column

Friday, April 15th, 2011

Seed starting made simple

I must confess that in my years as a gardener, I’ve had some spectacular seed-starting failures. Like the time I didn’t read the packet carefully and dutifully buried the impatiens seeds. Since they need light to germinate, nothing ever erupted from that dark grave except a wet crop of bright green algae. Or the time I attempted to start cosmos on a windowsill in the weak winter sunshine of December. The poor things stretched out for the scant light and soon flopped over from sheer exhaustion. I eventually had to put them out of their misery.

But I’m making this seed-starting thing out to be much more difficult than it is. Nature, after all, wants to grow, and seeds are often how it’s done.  Home seed-sowing is lately enjoying an enormous renaissance, due several factors. People want to know where their food is coming from, and want assurance their produce and flowers are pesticide-free. Gardeners also realize that they can grow food and flowers at a fraction of the supermarket cost; that it’s possible to raise many unusual plants from seed, and that it’s easy and fun to grow your own plants.

If you want to be a part of things, here’s how to get sowing;

Purchase the seed. Not too much, however. Remember you’ll have to tend all the little plantlets you create, or discard the extras.  Gather materials such as trays, mix and labels.

If working indoors, use soilless mix and make sure you have a good light source. Place trays someplace the kids or the cat won’t knock them over. And, as Ralph Snodsmith used to say, Read and Follow the Label Directions. Pay attention to what’s written on the seed packet and plant accordingly. Provide a greenhouse cover, water gently from above or below, and watch for germination. (at which point remove the greenhouse cover)  Harden your heart, and thin seedlings so only the sturdiest remain.

If planting outside, have your soil tested prior to planting so you know what nutrients are needed. Whether you’re growing beets, broccoli or begonias, prepare the seed bed well.  Spade or cultivate the area, making sure to incorporate lots of compost. Toss on the appropriate fertilizer, sow, label and water.  Easy, fast maturing cool-weather crops such as lettuce or radish get the gardener off to a successful start; you can segue onto warm-weather adventures such as tomatoes or eggplants come late May. As autumn approaches, sow cool weather crops once again, getting the most out of your patch of soil.

For cool weather flowers to direct-sow now, consider cleome, alyssum, cosmos, and larkspur. Wait on the zinnia, nasturtium & sunflowers until mid-May.

The Home Garden Seed Association (HGSA, ) has a wealth of information on their website, including the ten easiest plants to grow.

When we sow a seed, we are extending a handshake to Mother Nature. So don’t be bashful; step up and look Mother right in the eye. After all, we’re all partners in the great sport of gardening. 



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