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Conception. Birth. Youth. Adulthood. Senescence. Death & Afterlife.
These stages of life that we experience are used in Margaret Roach's book to describe a plant's life cycle through the year. That in itself tells the reader this is a very special book. First published in 1998, this updated edition contains new information. Following are examples of her breadth of garden wisdom.
CONCEPTION: In this first chapter of A Way to Garden, Margaret tackles two topics that can be intimidating to the gardener: scientific names and pruning. Her tips on keeping deer away will empower you to finally take the necessary action to keep deer out of your yard. One of my favorite design tips she shares is to think early, middle, late when placing online orders. For example, if you are buying a lilac, do your homework and order three varieties with overlapping bloom times to extend that captivating season of fragrance.
BIRTH: The earth begins to awaken in March and April, and it starts indoors with seeds. An extensive seed-starting schedule and tips will answer questions that you may have. And it is here that we learn of Margaret's obsession with gold foliage and the red spring-flowering Pulmonaria rubra. She takes the mystery out of pruning Hydrangea and Clematis, and suggests alternatives to Forsythia. I whole-heartedly agree with her encouragement to learn to ID weeds. 'I do not think we have a prayer of subduing or at least outsmarting an opponent we are barely acquainted with.' One of her go-to websites is the University of California weed ID. You can find it here.
YOUTH: The world is in it's youthful stage in May and June when all is fresh, new, and in bloom. Margaret writes of transplanting, self-sowers, and growing tomatoes and potatoes. These are the salad days where there just isn't enough space or time to grow all the wonderful varieties available. Her suggestion is to choose a few and set up a seed trial. Grown side by side, you can observe which ones do best in the conditions in your garden and which appeal most to your taste buds. One to look for: 'Merlot' leaf lettuce. Margaret reminds us that we aren't the only ones interested in what's growing in our gardens - rabbits, deer, and woodchucks often get their fill at our expense. How to tell what's been munching? Look for these clues: deer leave jagged edges, rabbits cut at a clean 45 degree angle.
In this chapter, Margaret encourages us to underplant trees with living groundcovers designed in what she calls 'garden mosaics'. Watch the video below to hear her describe this refreshing concept.
The year continues through 'A Way to Garden' book in adult, senescence, death and afterlife stages. Each page offers observations, tips, and techniques gathered from years of experience bound together in this garden treasury.
'I garden because I cannot help myself'.
- Margaret Roach
If you can relate to that, this book is for you.
- Tracy Hankwitz is a horticulturist, and General Manager of Burlington Garden Center
Seed Starting Do's and Don'ts
As Walt would say, 'Gardeners, start your engines'! It's time to begin gathering seeds and supplies for starting them indoors. It's a little early to begin sowing, but February is a good month for preparation.
There is a wealth of information available on seed-starting techniques, but here are some basic do's and dont's:
DO use a heat mat.
It adds at least an extra 10 degrees of warmth right where you need it -
the bottom of your seed tray which speeds germination.
DO invest in good lighting.
DON'T keep the germination dome on too long. As soon as you see them sprouting, remove the dome.
DO read the seed packet. There's a wealth of helpful information there. Botanical Interests seed packets even have info on the inside of the packet.
DON'T start your seeds too early. If you seedlings became too leggy in the past, it could be a lighting issue, but it could also be that you started them too early. Read the recommended start date on the packet. Many refer to the average last frost day as a benchmark which in our area is May 20.
DO water from the bottom if possible.
DO provide some air movement. Even a small fan near the seed trays will keep air moving and help prevent damping off.
DO use a sterile seed starting mix. It's been formulated and screened to give seeds a good start.
DON'T be afraid to try something new. If you tried starting seeds in the past without much success, give it another try. Analyze your conditions and determine what needs to be improved.
If you are serious about starting vegetables, flowers, and herbs from seed this spring, you may be interested in taking Jo Gardener's online Master Seed Starting course. You can learn more about it at this link.
Nasturtiums have a lot of good things going for them: easy to grow, undemanding, rabbit and deer tolerant, attract hummingbirds, come in a rainbow of colors, and they are edible. They can be categorized as either mounding Nasturtiums or climbing Nasturtiums.
Most fall into the mounding category, growing 10-12" tall and similar spread, although some varieties can spread 2-3 feet. Ranging from the creamy flowers of 'Vanilla Berry' to the rich ruby of 'Black Velvet', how can you only choose one to grow? We certainly couldn't. That's why we have over a dozen varieties on our seed rack this spring. Here are a few of them:
Two heirloom Nasturtiums of note that are on our seed racks this year: 'Scarlet Gleam' has a semi-trailing habit making its brilliant red flowers perfect for hanging baskets and containers. 'Empress of India' is one of the oldest Nasturtiums known to exist. This prolific heirloom produces deep crimson flowers and has blue-green foliage.
Finally, the climbers. Imagine these lovely, edible flowers clamoring up a trellis or spilling over a wall. 'Moonlight' bears soft yellow blossoms on twining vines and lily pad-shaped leaves. Another climber is 'Spitfire' with scarlet-red flowers that are a beacon for hungry hummingbirds. Both varieties grow 4-6 feet tall and can be trained to climb up short trellises. Use loose ties to get them started.
Nasturtium are easy to grow from seed which are odd-looking large seeds with a hard seed coat. They can take 7-14 days to germinate, so nicking them and soaking them in luke-warm water overnight will speed things up. It's best to sow the seed directly in the ground 1-2 weeks after the last average frost. Although not recommended, seeds can be started indoors 2-4 weeks before the last frost. Sow in biodegradable pots that can be directly planted in the ground. Plant in full sun or part shade and give them minimal care. They thrive on neglect!
They also have beneficial properties in the garden making them good companions for zucchini and other squashes.
One of the best features of Nasturtiums is that they are edible. The flowers' peppery flavor and the spicy, watercress-taste of the leaves are a welcome addition to fresh salads and sandwiches. Or use them in this pesto recipe from one of our favorite seed growers Botanical Interests.
1 cup packed nasturtium leaves and stems, washed and dried
15–20 basil leaves
4 garlic cloves
½ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
½ cup or more of extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
½ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon lemon juice
Directions: Add all ingredients to a food processor or blender and blend until smooth,
scraping the sides periodically to fully incorporate ingredients. Add more olive oil for desired consistency.
Mid-March signals the beginning of the seed sowing season. Our seed racks are full of varieties ready to grow in your garden and produce a bounty of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Following are a few of our favorite flower varieties new to BGC this year:
One that has caught our eye is Pampas Plume Celosia (shown above). Masses of soft, feathery, 2-6" long plumes in scarlet, orange, bright yellow, pink, cream. Multi-branching plants produce 10-14 stems each. Vigorous and free flowering. They thrive in hot and dry conditions. Start seeds 4-6 weeks before the average last frost (May 20), then plant in full sun. They are a long-lasting cut flower growing 36-48" tall and can be dried for later use.
Sun Ball Craspedia is another flower that thrives in hot, dry situations. This florist favorite adds whimsy to the garden with clusters of mustard-yellow orbs. Use in cut and dried arrangements. Also known as drumstick flower and Billy buttons. Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the average last frost. Sun Ball will grow 24-30" tall.
Once popular in the 16th century England, Purple Tear Honeywort is making a comeback. It's violet and blue flower bracts are gorgeous in cut flower arrangements and last a long time. In the garden, it is tough and handles hot, dry conditions with ease. The bees and hummingbirds will flock to it. Start indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost. Grows 16-32 inches tall in full sun.
Lavender Hyssop, also known as anise hyssop, is an heirloom and native to the midwest. It is the 2019 Herb of the Year because of its usefulness in the kitchen and in the garden. Loved by hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies, it will grow up to 48" tall. Use it in floral arrangements, as a tea, or add the flowers to salads. Why not grow this one from seed and have a garden full ? Start them indoors 4-6 weeks before the last frost.
Zinnias come in almost every color imaginable, but 'Summer Pinwheels' stands out with it's bi-colored petals.
This showy zinnia has double blossoms and flowers heavily to dance nonstop all season long. Grows 3–3 1/2 feet tall. Butterflies of all kinds and many other pollinators flock to them for their plentiful nectar and pollen. Best to start this one directly in the ground after the last frost. Enjoy them even longer as a cut flower.
'Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed . . .'
-Henry David Thoreau
Mid-March signals the beginning of the seed sowing season. Our seed racks are full of varieties ready to grow in your garden and produce a bounty of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Following are a few of our favorite vegetable varieties new to BGC this year:
Though yellow beets are nothing new in the vegetable garden, 'Golden Boy' Beets are worthy of a mention. 'Golden Boy's yellow-orange flesh is packed with vitamin A, vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, and iron to name a few. It has a mild flavor and won't stain like the red beets. The dark green leaves can be eaten when young and tender, and up to one-third of the outer leaves can be harvested without damaging the growth of the beet. Start in ground 2-4 weeks before the average last frost date. Sow again in late summer for a better harvest in the fall.
Two sweet corn varieties have caught our attention: 'Painted Hill' and 'Martian Jewels'. 'Painted Hill' is a cross between Indian corn and sweet corn ('Painted Mountain' x 'Luther Hill'). The color is pale when eaten fresh and has an old-time sweet corn flavor. The coloration intensifies if left to dry. With it's roots in the Rocky Mountains, 'Painted Hill' is adapted to our short growing season and will germinate in cool, wet soils which is an added bonus.
What makes 'Martian Jewels' sweet corn so special? This open-pollinated variety has Native American Hopi blue corn as a parent and is loaded with antioxidants. The violet-colored husks envelope creamy white kernels that have a sweet flavor. If ears are left longer on the plant before harvesting, the sugar subsides and the corn is perfect for bread and chowder. Dried kernels can be used for flour. Read here for more tips on growing corn.
'Festival' acorn squash is as pretty as it is tasty. The 1-2 lb size is perfect for an individual serving. Plants are more compact than other acorn squash varieties and are heavy producers. 'Festival' will keep its flavor up to three months after harvesting. Learn more about growing squash here.
Caution: The description on the seed packet of 'Honeynut' winter squash may leave you drooling. This miniature butternut squash is a recent introduction from Cornell University. Bred specifically for the farm-to-table movement, the challenge was to create a personal-size butternut squash that had amazingly sweet flavor. After 6 years of trialing, a cross between butternut and buttercup successfully produced 'Honeynut'. The plump 4-5" fruits will signal when ready to harvest by changing from green to terra cotta. The plants also boast resistance to powdery mildew and squash-vine borer.
'Inca Jewels' roma tomato is a Renee's Garden Seed exclusive. It was bred to be highly productive and suitable to grow in containers (tops out at about 3 feet). The juicy, delicious fruits are great for sauce or on the grill. Learn more about growing tomatoes in containers here.
What a February it has been! We've experienced just about everything that Winter can throw at us - frigid cold, snowy days, 80 degree temperature swings, and ice storms. Spring can come anytime now!
Starting plants from seed is a great way to shake off those winter blues and get a jump on the season. Not only do seedlings get a head start, but you have access to growing thousands of varieties of vegetables and flowers that you can't buy as plants. It's also the most affordable way to fill a garden.
Before you get crazy with sowing seeds, it's important to know when to start each variety. Knowing the average last frost date is key when planning. In our area, that date is May 20. Use the information on the back of the seed packet to count back the number of weeks from May 20 to determine when to sow.
Seeds can be started in any type of container that has drainage, but we recommend setting yourself up right for the best success. Cell trays, seed flats, and dome covers work well and can be used from year to year.
Having a written record of your seed sowing adventures can be helpful. A notebook works well, or click on the link below to download a free garden journal.
Free Garden Journal to Download
You'll need a few other things to get started off right: grow lights, a heat mat, and a plant mister. But most important is the medium in which to grow the seeds. Use a seed starting soil-less mix for the best results. We recommend HSU germination mix - it's organic and comes from the HSU Ginseng Farm here in Wisconsin.
Two final tips: pre-moisten the soil before sowing the seed, and use vermiculite to cover the seedlings. Vermiculite is light weight yet helps keep the soil and seeds damp.
If you have questions related to starting plants from seed, just ask us! We're here to help.