Thursday, March 29, 2012

Spring Bulbs for Summer Blooms

The spring issue of ReModel Spokane is available in your favorite doctor's office waiting room, on free publication stands and, I even spotted it at STCU in their reading rack.  My article starts on page 23 - and the stunning photography they added to it made me smile out loud.
Unfortunately, my submission is not on their website, but if you think you will stumble across an issue somewhere (I had to give my copy to my Mom), look for this cover photo:

Or, I have copied the text here, below, and you can just imagine the lovely photos of gladiolus, dahlias and canna.  Enjoy it...then head out to find your spring bulbs.  It's about time to plant!

Spring Forward: Plant Now for Summer Blooms
Here in the Inland Northwest, we enjoy four distinct seasons, but only one real gardening season – which will be upon us in no time.  Right now we’re on the cusp of the joyful renewal of the earth – and soon enough, the arrival of color by way of flowers from the bulbs that were planted in the fall.  They’ve enjoyed the insulation of the snow cover and slept as the rest of the winter garden slept and now they are ready to keep their promise to bloom.  

All bulbs add color, form, texture and size to the garden.  The bulbs whose vibrant flowers we are enjoying now will spend their post-bloom time storing food and energy for next year.  Another type of bulb – more tender - prefers to spend the winter slightly more pampered, and only agree to bloom if planted at specific times in the spring for the summer flowers.  

When speaking of bulbs, the term also encompasses corms, tubers and rhizomes – all plants that have an enlarged food storage system, unlike herbaceous ornamentals that do not store food in order to bloom.  

Flowers that grow from bulbs include tulips, lilies and daffodils – and are generally planted in fall for spring bloom.  Corms include crocus, also planted in fall, and gladiolus – which must be planted in the spring for success here in the Inland Northwest.

Dahlias and begonias grow from tubers, which are swollen, fleshy underground stems covered with buds or “eyes”.  And rhizomes include iris and calla lilies, which grow from horizontal stems covered with nodes.

Spring planted bulbs can be the crowing glory of a summer’s garden – coming into full bloom when the rest of the garden may be winding down for the year.  Start with clean, spot free and firm bulbs and get busy as soon as the threat of frost has passed and the ground has warmed.

You’ll be Glad You Grew Glads
Gladiolus is among the easiest of flowers to grow - soaring from 1 to 5 feet tall in a showy rainbow of colors.  They’ll do well in almost any soil, provided the drainage is good, but do best in a soil that has been amended well with organic material such as compost.
A flower this bright and tall prefers full sun, but would tolerate afternoon shade – make certain they are planted in an area that provides good circulation, away from buildings.  When the soil has warmed sufficiently, plant them 4-6” deep and about the same distance apart from one another and water them well to help them establish.  Plant sets of gladioli every two weeks and you’ll have blooms over a longer period of time.  

Dahlias are no question the queen of the late summer garden – arriving in breathtaking shapes and colors.  Some of the different classifications of dahlias include pompom, formal decorative and cactus – from there on even further classified as giant, large, medium –various classes important to the serious dahlia growers.

Don’t  Dally Putting in Dahlias
Dahlias grow best when receiving at least 6 hours of sun per day – and prefer a sandy loam soil, but will grow successfully in almost any type of garden soil with good drainage.
Here in the Inland Northwest, most dahlia growers put their tubers out the third weekend in May – which generally, although not guaranteed, is past the final frost date for our area.

It is important to stake the dahlia at the time of planting, before the tuber is put in the ground.  The large flowering dahlias would do well with plant stakes reaching 5-6’ for best support of their voluminous flowers to come.  Make sure the tuber is placed 4-6” deep, with the eye on the tuber at least 4” from the stake.  The tuber should be set at a slight angle, with the growth buds at the top.

As the dahlia grows, tie the plant loosely to the stake, and disbud the flowers by removing the 2 side buds, leaving the one in the middle to grow stronger and larger.  Keep them evenly watered, deeply, and don’t allow the soil to dry out between waterings.  Fertilize lightly, but stop once the flowers have begun to form, as it may cause more green growth instead of strong flower and root production.

You Can Grow Canna
And if the dahlia is the queen of the late summer garden, it is joined there by the king – that being the canna plant.  To the uninitiated, it is nearly impossible to believe that something so exotic yet so dependable, can grow in our short Inland Northwest summer.

Also a tuber, the canna wants the same conditions as the others – rich soil, good drainage and plenty of sun.  For the canna, the more heat the better.

Grown strictly as an annual in our area, the large banana-like leaves are reason enough to grow canna.  Growing to the size of boat paddles, the waxy leaves come in various shades of greens, blues and even variegated – off setting the bright yellows, oranges, reds and pinks of the tropical flowers that burst from them.

In the fall, it will be like digging for treasure because the tubers will have doubled and tripled in size below the surface.

That is the downside of spring planted, summer blooming bulbs, corms and tubers – they simply cannot survive our Northwest winters and must be dug from the ground in the fall and stored over if you want to use them the following year.

But if you are a gardener that takes what they can get from these easy to grow flowers, grow them for whatever pleasure you receive.  For however much work you decide to put into any type of gardening, the rewards are plentiful.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Barn Marche

How can you not love this:  Yesterday, I was poking around
My Favorite Find - which is a new enterprise by
Farm Chicks originator Serena Thompson.
And I see a little shoppe listed, named Sweet Kaity.

It turns out, it is a little Etsy shoppe.  When I follow the link, 
I spot these rockin' new old stock ice cream cups:

And I think, yowsa yowsa, those would look so swell
in my red barn kitchen.

And by red barn kitchen, I mean my fun kitchen in the barn, where we entertain and watch Gonzaga Basketball (Go Zags).  The kitchen I am (shamelessly) showing off, right now.

Anyway, these little red ice cream cups are old, but new, and she has them listed for a really reasonable price.  So I wander in, pay with PayPal and it is an easy squeezy transaction.  By day's end, I'd received shipping notification that my new little "find" was on its way.

Turns out that little Etsy gal is in my own hometown (as is Farm Chicks) (I know, I'm a lucky lucky girl).  And this morning, the package was delivered to my back porch.
Where I tore it open (really nice mailing presentation, Sweet Kaity) and
couldn't wait to get them out to the barn.

Aren't they grand!

So, this is what I have to say today:
1.  If I had a small Etsy shoppe, or an antique store or antique funky chicky event happening (anywhere in the country) - I'd sure as heck list with My Favorite Find.  

'Cause I know I'm going to be spending time there, likely shopping,
and, if my pocketbook allows, planning travel to some of those other
rockin' events listed.


2.  You should see my barn sometime.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My New Title: Flower Farmer

Not that I'm counting, but about 94 days ago (give or take), I lost my job. Yes, I heard that collective gasp. I've heard it from my former co-workers, I've heard it from my neighbors, I've heard it from my mother. The thrill has worn off, hearing that gasp of surprise. Although, I admit, I still use it a little when I'm out looking for some sympathy on a bad day. Shameful, I know, to bait an innocent store clerk like that. 

Also collectively, I've received a ton of support. By the likes of things, I've learned that God spends a lot of His time opening windows and slamming doors - evidently just to keep us on our toes.

Thing is, everyone seems to be poised to hear which door I will choose, or is it which window will I crawl through, or jump out of, maybe. But I'm not ready yet - I'm not ready to jump yet - nor do I know where I want to land. 

I'll try to make this short, even though it represents a lifetime of work: Starting as an A&W carhop oh- so-many years ago, I did plenty of time at a fry vat before I moved on to my first office job as a skip tracer for a collection agency in the Paulsen Building. For one holiday season, I sorted mail at the main post office facility on Trent, tossing envelopes bearing the wrong Zip Code into the correct zip slot.  I was a clerk in the men's department at Lamonts on 29th; held an administrative position with the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development on Guam, where we spent some government money cleaning up after Typhoon Pamela.  I was a waitress at a Denny's Restaurant, among others and I held several more admin positions in various insurance and real estate offices, as well as doing the books and helping keep my brother's gas station going. I actually drove cab for awhile; worked at KSKN Television when it was a small UHF station and I helped a local manufacturing company introduce the cleverest and still the most sought after garden cart to the industry. I helped put on trade shows for two local high tech firms that introduced the latest in wireless communication to the world (in 1989). I've help support us by building a desktop publishing business, fundraising professionally for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and I enjoyed 10+ years of retail self employment - with an underlying stretch all along as a free-lance writer, selling my little stories and articles when and where I could.

I've been across the street and around the block, working pretty much full time since I was 15 years old. From each position, I learned something and in many of the positions, I learned that there would likely be little opportunity for me to advance further, without the formal education I denied myself way earlier in my life. Since making that ill-fated, yet completely-on-track decision for a young girl of my generation (who was encouraged to find a good man to marry me) (but I digress), I often watched as that lack of a piece of paper, signed by someone who would attest that I knew something, would prevent me from being successful any further somewhere where I had signed on. 

Which is not to say that I didn't attack each job and give it my absolute best. On that, I'd be willing to take an oath. Because I inherited a strong work ethic, each employer got their best from me...whether they had plans to allow me to be better, or not. And everything I learned at every job I had, I took with me and learned more at the next. 

And you know what, I've had a great time doing all these interesting things. Never career-track, usually only to stay afloat at the time; but even late into my working life - well into my 50s and having given self-employment a great run, after all that, I landed a job that I loved.  

For the past 7 years, I was employed with Washington State University Extension - where, ultimately, I had the good fortune to coordinate a volunteer community outreach program called the Master Gardeners. It was a gift of a job to stumble across at the time and I embraced it with everything I had. With it came a strong group of knowledgeable gardeners, a funky government building to work out of and a small but easily attained budget to finance the programs and classes. I taught as well as learned, and the concept of making a difference in our community with the efforts of those volunteers was something I saw firsthand.

Here's the rub: it was that tiny budget and, because of a construed set of circumstances, my lack of the appropriate science degree that unfortunately came down to my no longer having that job when the University, faced with severe financial cuts, needed to make faculty and staff changes. The program would be able to continue, but I wasn't going to be able to be the one who kept it going any longer.  

What makes me chuckle, albeit miserably, is that I knew I'd never advance anywhere - working in academia without a formal education - but I didn't want to, you see. I wrapped my whole life around that job - and the precious population of volunteers that came with it; I gave it everything I had, bundled it with joy, and worked for a somewhat embarrassing amount of money to do so. And I did it with every intention of it being my last job - something to hold onto until I felt like retiring. Which, it turns out, was just a tad sooner that I'd planned.  

But with all I've shared above, there is still this: each time I was faced with a change in employment - I would ask myself, what is it I know how to do, what do I like to do and how can I put those two together and make it work. And here are my most recent answers: I know how to grow great flowers and I know how to write.

Suddenly I'm going to have a lot of time for both.   The pay isn't much, but that's not anything new.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Cheering Yourself Up

The view out my window hasn't changed much in many days. Looking at it with an artist's eye, I could say that I see a stark, but textured landscape with rich colors playing off one another when the cloud covering moves for a short moment, revealing the lazy, late winter sun.

But really, all I see is brown, grey and more brown. Maybe some tan.

February and March are tough months to get through here - no matter how busy I am, the sameness of the daily landscapes this time of year works against my mental healthiness. Staying connected electronically is cozy and fun, but I wouldn't mind posting a little garden news instead of recycled NPR stories. Seriously.

Luckily, a fellow gardener friend shared this link the other day and it was a bright spot in the blight of my morning...when I felt as though I was pushing myself through another day. Read the whole story here, but let me share a rundown of some wonderful tips my friend Maralee Karwoski stumbled across to help us keep the faith that Spring will indeed come. My comments are in green (of course).

1. Sow seeds. Choose something easy that will germinate in a sunny window. It doesn't even matter if whatever you start never even makes it to the garden later. I've got 5 little spider plant spider-ettes in 3-inch pots on my kitchen window sill. Watering them and tracking their progress is at least something - and if I end up with something I can put out later, all the better.

2. Buy some annual/semi-hardy plants. This is the time of year when we see poor little primroses giving their lives in the name of Spring - showing up in the supermarkets, usually displayed outside. Buy some and enjoy them however, or however long, you can. Even our grocer wants us to be happy.

3. Treat yourself to some fresh flowers. Amen on this one. And as this blogger said: Slow down, turn on some good music, get a cup of tea. Take pleasure in arranging them. And if you think, as pointed out, that buying flowers is a splurge - think how much cheaper it is than therapy.

4. Read inspirational gardening magazines. Well, ho hum and pass the yawn on this one - like we haven't had our noses pressed into those type of pages every day. (Okay, I do try to alternate with seed catalogs). I'm also reading "Flower Confidential" by Amy Stewart, which explores the ways that flowers make their way into vases as I mentioned above - often traveling thousands of miles, from places your wouldn't even imagine. Scent removed; fungicide dipped for longevity. (That sure makes a case for growing your own).

Amy Stewart is a great garden writer and gave a talk on this book at a Master Gardener state conference last year, where she was our keynote speaker. That was all well and good until I saw how dang funny and engaging she was on stage; I was on the program to give a presentation that night at the banquet - "Gardening with a Sense of Humus" - and, quite frankly, I'd counted on being the funniest person at the conference. So, before I went on, I changed up my opening to comment on that - saying that when I saw I couldn't compete with Amy for laughs, I'd decided to give a talk on the reproductive cycle of the Spotted Wing Drysophilia instead (and suggested they refill their drinks). Whew. Good opening laugh.

5. Watch movies you love that are garden themed or have gardens or landscapes in them. This blogger suggested Jean de Florette, Howard's End, and A Room With A View. All good, and I would add Bread and Tulips to those, as well. My Netflix is definitely getting a workout the longer this winter drags on.

6. Check out gardens and nurseries. Oh. So sorry. But that won't fly in our area. I scarcely have time, what with movies and blogging, to walk around and look at a garden center's stack of last year's pots - because beyond the long suffering Primroses, nothing much is out yet.

However, this past week - here in our own homeland, we put the covering on the little hoop house out by the raised beds - and I moved about 100 pots of perennials in there to wake up and start growing. So, naturally, I have to visit there several times per day: It smells like garden in there; yes it does.

7. Visualize your garden as you dream it to be. I surely didn't need to be reminded of this one. My thoughts rarely stray far from gardening. And when I do that, I often lapse into Tip #8: Nap.

Maybe when we wake up, spring will be here.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Wake Up, Spring Forward

This is my little hoop house. It's a simple structure made out of PVC pipe, cattle panels and 1"x1" pieces of wood. It was a gifting from my 2008 class of
Master Gardeners after their training.

It doesn't look like much here, but in the summer I like to grow
Black Eyed Susan Vine and Sweet Potato Vine
and let the plants intertwine themselves up the frame.

Other years, it's just a nice little garden structure to enjoy.

This time of year, we cover it with plastic so it can be put to use as a hot house for early plant propagation and perennial revival.

Which was a muddy proposition yesterday.

It's not perfect and yes, I use clothespins to hold some of the ends of the plastic on the inside.

But you know what, it gets the job done. By the time I'd cut the opening for the door yesterday, the temperature had risen to 80 degrees in there.

I've been hosting some overwintering perennials,
heeled down into my raised beds and covered with mulch.
They are for the Master Gardener Plant Sale on April 28th. Last fall, volunteers dug in various gardens and potted up plant material.

And now it's time to wake them from their long winter's nap and move them in from the cold.

So my little hoop house may not win any design awards,
and it's no Fort Knox when it comes to leaks...

But I know some happy plants that are out there right now.

And aren't those little Peony noses I see?
Stay tuned...