garden, gardening

Move over Winter

It’s here!  The first day of Spring!  I’ve been waiting all winter for her!  (Spring IS a female, right?)


Of course, I woke up this morning to a light covering of snow out on the deck, but it didn’t “stick to the grass”.  Ha – the ground is too warm!  My crocuses heralded Spring a little too early this year, thanks to the extremely warm temperatures we had in February.  I’m not complaining!  This photo was taken back on February 20.

And the Snowdrops bloomed for the first time this year, I was so excited!  While I was out filling the bird feeder, this little guy shyly said “Hello!”.


I planted these bulbs 2 years ago, and have been waiting patiently for their arrival.  These guys showed up on March 8.  It’s so wonderful to have some color poking through.  This winter was one of the warmest on record here in the Pittsburgh suburbs, so it will be interesting to note the arrival of these early bloomers in the years to come.

So, this weekend is my annual seed starting weekend.  Along with the marigolds, I’m planning to start my Salsa Garden – Roma tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, garlic, and cilantro.



garden, gardening

Time to Plant the Garlic!

I have this habit of thinking of a great idea, planning to make the idea reality, then tucking the plan away in the depths of my brain for safe keeping.  And forgetting about it.

I do not know what made me think of my garlic plan this morning, but when the thought crossed my mind, I was disappointed that I had surely missed the opportunity to plant the garlic.  But a quick search on “growing garlic in pa” yielded a very informative and comforting article from the Penn State Extension.  I haven’t missed the planting boat – mid October is the perfect time to plant!

Garlic is one of those vegetable plants that is planted in the fall, and being a bulb, that does make sense to a flower gardener.  It goes against the grain for a vegetable gardener.  But garlic must have a chance to start developing, then must sit and think about itself under cover of a blanket of snow, only to emerge in the spring with the other lovely flowering bulbs.

My western PA locale is absolutely perfect for growing garlic.

The Penn State Extension cautions against using garlic bulbs found in the supermarket, as these varieties are usually grown in California and don’t do well here in PA.  This summer, I visited a number of local vegetable stands and purchased a few heads of garlic.  I plan to use one of these heads in the new border garden I dug this summer.

In order to let the bulbs develop, the flowers must be cut back so that all the energy of the plant goes to the bulb rather than the flower.  If I let every second plant bloom, and cut back the others, I’m hoping I can enjoy some tall flowers amongst the garlic that will be eaten!

allium among the ferns
allium among the ferns – at Longwood Gardens

Garlic can bloom in white, purple, pink.  I wonder what color MY garlic blooms will be?

Reality Post Script

I mentioned my garlic plan to my hairdresser / fellow gardener / killjoy last week, and she informs me that garlic is not all that when it blooms.  Perhaps my dreams of beautiful purple flowers won’t become reality, but I’m still determined to try.  I’m thinking of growing some alliums close to the garlic, just so I’m not completely disappointed.  

But hey, one gardener’s garlic bloom may be another’s rose.  Who knows!


Extending the growing season

I’ve been toying with the idea of building a cold frame.  There are lots of articles out there that speak of using a cold frame to extend the growing season, but most are used in vegetable gardens.  I tried a vegetable garden once . . . the local rabbits thoroughly enjoyed it!

I want to use a cold frame for my flowers, to help seedlings acclimate in the early spring, and to protect corms and bulbs, as well as my crocks, in the winter.  I also have some daylily plants that I’d like to separate and start in the frame for next year.

I don’t recall ever seeing my dad using a cold frame, so I’m a little concerned that perhaps our winters in Pittsburgh aren’t the right climate for their use.  But I’ll give it a try. (I just called my  mom to find out if Dad had ever used a cold frame.  Of course he did!  I don’t remember because I was very young when he had one.  He tried EVERYTHING!  He grew vegetables, and had lots of success extending the growing season here in the Burgh!)

Size does seem to matter, from what I’m reading.  I’ll need to be able to lift the lid, prop the lid, and be able to reach inside from outside the frame.

Location is another consideration.  I need to figure out what part of the yard receives a substantial amount of sun in the winter.  Not many places to choose from!  I’m considering the small plot between the composter and the shed.  This plot faces west, but my cold frame should optimally face south.  So I may need to move the composter because I think it currently lives in the very best location for the cold frame, facing southwest.

We have an old toss off storm door that has been residing in the shed for a few years.  I’m terrible about tossing things, and always knew there would be a use for this door.  It’s kind of heavy, but the full-length window from the door should be just the right size.  Ha!


My mom’s neighbor has some pavers that she’s trying to get rid of.  I’ll take a ride over there this weekend and see about taking a few off of her hands.  These pavers will be used to create the base for my cold frame.

photo credit:

The wooden frame can be constructed out of some lumber I can get at Home Depot.  (Do I hear another reason why I should purchase a table saw?)  The frame itself should be taller in the back than in the front, to allow the rain to drain off and so the snow does not accumulate on it.

Snow – ugh – I really hope there’s not much of it this year.

flowers, garden, gardening

A Slow Start – But It’s a Start!

The Helleborus have arrived!

Peppermint Ruffles

And they are much smaller than I anticipated, but they do look like healthy plants.

The Peppermint Ruffles actually arrived in bloom – so exciting!  It’s so hard to judge the size of a plant by the pictures they show in the catalog.  I’m thinking that once they start establishing, I’ll be dividing and transplanting in a year or two.


I was hoping to plant by week’s end, and I was able to get them in the ground just yesterday.  I’d been scouting the yard trying to determine the best location, and determined Elaine’s View the best spot – it’s shady most of the day and gets minimal evening sun.  The digging was easier than I anticipated – the ground is still very wet from all the snow melt.  And I was thrilled to open the composter to discover some great compost to help strengthen the soil.  I worked some into the ground as I turned the small plot.

Digging like this before other perennials have started is a dangerous practice for me.  As much as I think I remember the gardens from year to year, I’m always nervous that I’ll disturb a plant that I’ve forgotten about.  I really must update the garden plans so I have a good map to follow!

I’m hoping that the snowdrops arrive soon so they can join the Lenten Rose in this shade garden.  I’ll try them there, and can always move them if it turns out bad.

On my tour of the yard, I realized that something has been snacking on my Japanese Maple.

I’m so disappointed – I never even got a real good picture of it.  I’m terrible at capturing those before shots!  I’m not sure it will recover but I’m hoping.  Elaine tells me that deer frequent the yard.  I’ve never seen them, but she’s home more than I am so I will have to take her word for it.  I’m hoping deer do not like hellebore – I must read up on that.

Just a couple of crocus are up and the daffodils are poking their heads out of the ground.

My mom tells me that April is predicted to be cooler than normal.  I certainly hope this isn’t our climate changing – I can’t take much more of this cold.  I need warmth, and not just a sneak peek!  I’m seeing mid 30s in the 5 day forecast, and mid 50s the week after next.  By then it will be April, and I really don’t want to see showers of the snow variety!

gardening, seeds

Let the seed games begin!

At the risk of speaking the obvious or even preaching to the choir, this post should be considered a beginner’s guide to starting seeds.  Many, no actually ALL, of the things I’m doing for the garden right now aren’t actually happening in the garden.  Things get started way before the planting, and they start in my mixing bowl.

Is it too soon to start?  According to my seed starting calculations, I’m way ahead of schedule.  I typically start my seeds around St. Patrick’s Day (mid March), but this winter has been particularly brutal and I just want to do something besides look at the 12+ inches of snow and ice that cover the lovely gardens.

I decided to start with pansies this year.  They can be started well before your typical start date, usually 8-12 weeks before last frost.  They can actually be set out before last frost.

I purchased peat pots this year and some Miracle Gro seed starting mix.  The package does include instructions, but if you follow these completely, you will most likely be disappointed with the results.

starting mix

Soaking is the key.  One key element in using peat pots and dry mix that comes in a bag is water!  My dad always started out by soaking the plant mix with plenty of water before using it. I grabbed my handy dandy mixing bowl, dumped some of the starting mix in, and stirred in a cup of water.  Once the mix absorbs the cup of water, you may need to adjust the “ingredients”.  You don’t want mud, and you don’t want dust!  You want the mix to be crumbly and moist – just right!

Soak those peat pots thoroughly before filling them with mix.  Otherwise, they will steal all the water that you mixed into the mix, and that was intended for the seedlings.  Once you fill the peat pots with your prepared mix, don’t smash it down.  You want those seeds and seedlings to be able to breath.  Just tamp it lightly.  I take a pencil and poke slight holes (the package says 1/8 inch, so these holes are VERY slight) in the mix.  This year, I decided to place 3 holes in each pot, dropping one seed in each hole.  The thinning will be easier if the seeds aren’t planted directly together.

Oh how I hate thinning as it always feels counter productive.  Those seeds actually had the ability to sprout, how dare I decide which ones survive!

Once those seeds are in the holes, cover gently with more of the mix, and tamp lightly.

spray mister

Now water gently – I use a spray bottle at this point as the watering can is a bit too much and will disturb the location of those seeds.  Cover the peat pots with plastic, then I place them on top of the fridge.  It’s nice and warm up there, and I’m not tempted to keep opening the plastic to peak in on the progress!  I will check on them in a week.

Working in the soil, even if it is only seed starting mix, feels so good!

flowers, gardening

A beautiful surprise

I walked outside to get the paper yesterday, and on my way back to the house, I glanced over at my newest garden.  I planted it last summer, moving a few of the plants from other locations in the yard where they really weren’t happy, and making a new playground for them.  Making these moves in the late summer can be a tricky thing.

There was something white waving to me as I approached the house.  Was it a tossed paper that made its way to my yard?  Closer inspection revealed a new flower!  Three tiny irises were out and showing off!  I swear I was expecting yellow irises.  I thought I remembered transplanting some yellow ones that didn’t care for the shady location I had them in.  But these were beautiful white with a bit of yellow inside.  I have no idea where they came from, but I know I transplanted them last fall.  Apparently, they were so unhappy wherever they were that I don’t think they ever bloomed.

Then again, they may have been in a location of the yard that I don’t see that often, and if they did bloom, I missed them.  But I didn’t miss them this year.

When I create a new garden, I do try to keep a garden log of what I’ve done.  And I know I made a map of what I planted – just where did I put it?  The element of surprise is one of my favorite parts of spring!

Surprises to you!


The garden carpet . . .

I was watching a replay of ‘Dancing with the Stars’ with my daughter last night.  I’m not really sure why I like that show, but I really enjoy watching it with B.  She’s a dancer, so there’s a good reason for her to like it.  She recognizes the different steps that go into each dance, she can identify what is really hard, what just looks hard, and when they make a mistake.  I just see some very attractive people wearing very colorful and shiny costumes.  I find myself focusing on their feet, for to me, if you can move your feet that fast and not step on your partner’s, you are a great dancer!  And there lies the reason I quit taking ballroom dance lessons – it really hurts to have your foot stepped on!

So in the middle of the recording, we sometimes forget to FF through the commercials.  That’s why we DVR everything we watch.  Well, that and the fact that our house of 5 rarely agrees on what is considered a ‘good show’.  How did my dad ever tolerate my Friday night obsession with “The Brady Bunch” and “The Partridge Family”, the ‘good shows’ of my early youth?  So the commercials were playing when one started and I must have started smiling, because my daughter observed, “You really like this commercial, don’t you?” and the truth is, I love that commercial.  It’s a Home Depot commercial where a lady steps into her basement and pulls out a carpet, proceeds to her backyard, and shakes the carpet over the bare yard.  The carpet is full of flowers, shrubs, pavers for walkways, a full blown garden carpet!  And I’m LOVING this commercial!

I want a garden carpet!