Brian Minter: Fall bulbs will put a spring in your garden’s step

Hyacinths provide a real colour punch to early spring gardens. Photo: Florissa/Van Noort Bulb Co.

Carl Van Noort of the Van Noort Bulb Company, one of Canada’s largest bulb suppliers, confirmed what I already suspected.

“Fall bulb sales are truly phenomenal,” he said. This year, folks are spending a greater amount of time at home, and the trend of making their gardens both more edible and beautiful is continuing into the fall season.

The unique feature of fall bulbs is their long-range promise of beauty to come. By planting a selection of bulbs now that will bloom sequentially, you will be able to enjoy up to six months of colour from January through July.

As with most things in the gardening world, a transition is taking place as the Millennial generation becomes more engaged with plants. Although bulbs are relatively easy care, a little wisdom, strategy and creativity can make all the difference.

It seems that the most appreciated bulbs are the ones earliest to bloom. A spot of colour in the midst of winter is a much-appreciated treat. From bright yellow, buttercup-like winter aconites to numerous varieties of snowdrops, these very early January and February bloomers naturalize in the ground and create an ever-increasing display each year. Planted with ground covers, like deep purple ajugas, silver thyme or creeping phlox, their performance is much enhanced.

Crocuses are vibrant early performers, and they too are more richly exhibited when planted among ground covers. I have used a bed of sedum ‘Angelina’ as a complement for their February and March bloom times. More folks are planting crocuses in lawn areas for a charming effect. By the time the lawns need mowing, their flowers and foliage have disappeared until next year.

 Tulips are much loved for the beauty they bring to both gardens and cut floral bouquets. Photo: Florissa/Van Noort Bulb Co.

Daffodils (or narcissus) are the most recognized spring flowers, and some very early varieties really kickstart spring. Narcissus ‘February Gold’, as its name implies, is a great early bloomer. Narcissus ‘Rijnveld’s Early Sensation’ blooms in late February or earlier.  Once planted for at least a year and depending on the mildness of the winter, I’ve seen them bloom in January. Even when cold winds and snow batter them, they bounce back and continue blooming.

There’s a little trick to keeping daffodils as a presence in your garden for a much longer period. By mixing early yellow trumpet types with midseason and late varieties and by planting them together in one clump, you will seemingly extend their bloom time. A combination package, called ‘Yellow Brick Road’, is a blend of various yellow trumpet daffodils specifically selected to provide a long bloom period. To heighten their effect and conceal withering foliage, plant them among perennials, like evergreen euphorbias and grasses, and with compact shrubs, like dwarf spireas, physocarpus and dark leafed weigelas.

Many later blooming narcissus offer a wide colour selection, and many are highly perfumed, making them excellent choices for indoor cut bouquets. Older fragrant favourites include N. ‘Cheerfulness’, ‘Yellow Cheerfulness’ and ‘Geranium.’ The most perfumed of all is ‘Bridal Crown,’ a delightful double white.

There’s been a love affair with tulips for as long as I can remember. They are highly valued as cut flowers. By strategically choosing certain varieties, you can stretch their blooming time over three months. The earlier tulips bloom, the shorter they tend to be, while later blooming varieties can reach up to three feet in height.  I’m very fond of early botanical tulips because of their tiny, spectacular, multicoloured blooms and their naturalizing habit.

 The interplay of tulips and myosotis (Forget-me-nots) makes a charming combination. Photo: Florissa/Van Noort Bulb Co. 

The first tulips to bloom are the single early types, followed soon by the Triumphs. Compact and strong, both stand up well in blustery spring weather. Main season Darwin hybrids, the varieties we are most familiar with, grow about two feet tall. Frilly, fringed, green-touched viridifloras stretch the season into May, and unique peony tulips close the spring bulb show with a bang.

In June, when you thought bulbs were done, wonderful alliums stage the grand finale. From tiny blooming Allium moly luteum to the mid-sized ‘Drumsticks’ (A. sphaerocephalon’) and the giants Allium giganteum and A. ‘Globemaster,’ they create impact when other garden colour is just beginning, and they all attract pollinators.

If you have a garden with a sloping bank that really needs a pick-me-up, plant a drift of a few hundred grape hyacinths or Spanish bluebells. Both are available in blues, pinks and whites. They will make quite a showing next spring and for years to come.

While enjoying bulbs in containers is trendy, a warmer winter climate is a must. Larger sized containers and well-draining soils are also important for success.  For the most beautiful effect, layer your bulbs. Place early single tulips on the bottom (8 to 10 inches deep). Add smaller daffodils, like ‘Tete-a-Tete’ above them, then hyacinths, muscari and lastly, crocuses. Top dress your pots with violas, pansies or colourful grasses and perennials so your planters look nice through fall and winter. Keep the pots moist and protected from severe cold. In colder climates, bury your pots in the ground during the coldest months; then lift them out when night temperatures are just above freezing.

For folks living with deer in their yard, be selective with bulb choices. These wonderful creatures are changing the varieties of plants we use in our gardens. The best deer resistant bulbs are narcissus, hyacinths, muscari, Dutch iris, scillas, anemones, Fritillaria imperialis (Crown Imperial lily) and late blooming alliums. If squirrels are an issue, cover your bulbs with close-knit poultry wire or plant them in special containers designed to protect bulbs.

While the selection in garden stores is still good, pick up some bulbs. They all prefer well-draining soils. Fall bulbs will give you something special to anticipate during the dark days of winter. Plant spring now!

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Gardening at Badger Rock lets students earn money, socialize during COVID-19 pandemic

ANDY MANIS, FOR THE STATE JOURNAL

Madison.com – Gardens are a source of income and a social oasis for high school students this fall.

“I was looking for a job that would be part-time and would be safe during the pandemic, so I wanted to work somewhere outside and I’ve always loved gardens,” said Evfrosiniia “Frosya” Mozhaeva, a sophomore at West High School.

She said she enjoys working with others in the gardens at Badger Rock Neighborhood Center, and it feels safe partly because the number of people working at one time is limited.

Sophomore Malik McDonald said he was drawn to a jo at the garden because a friend is also working there, it is something to do during the pandemic and he lives nearby.

READ THE FULL STORY: https://madison.com/wsj/news/local/education/local_schools/gardening-at-badger-rock-lets-students-earn-money-socialize-during-covid-19-pandemic/article_417fa38a-5139-577e-a8bc-86261ab2c941.html

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Brian Minter: Refreshing our plant containers for the fall

Mixed fall containers including leucothoe, nandina, heuchera and pyracantha.

During these unprecedented times, when our homes have become the one ‘safe’ place where we can relax and spend time, many of us have discovered the power of surrounding ourselves with plants, both indoors and out. Even the tiniest balcony or patio can be transformed into an autumn oasis with the addition of compact, colourful containers or even small, narrow trees.

In a few days, a new season begins, and what better way to celebrate one of the most colourful times of the year than by replacing tired summer annuals with beautiful, autumn-toned plants.

Recently, I wrote about the relatively new concept of fall hanging baskets being created by an innovative grower, but you can easily design your own by using evergreen perennials and trailing plants. Summer containers can also be refreshed as fall colour spots that will last well into winter and beyond.

There are no rules, but I can share a few tips. Clear existing plants and roots out of your pots. Top up any leftover soil by mixing in a well-draining professional blend so excessive rainfall will be quickly shed. Use your largest pots to accommodate more mature plants.

Keep in mind that, because the growing season is coming to an end, the plants you choose will, most likely, stay that size. Snuggle your plants close together to achieve a fuller, more impactful display. I often place my plants while still in their pots and then change them around to find the look I’m trying to achieve. There are two essentials: one is finding that all-important plant to use as a focal point and then accessorizing with others that play nicely together. When you’re happy with your overall composition, remove the pots and transplant directly into your container.

Some of my favourite ‘keystone’ plants for fall containers are berried pyracanthas, narrow form Japanese maples that have colourful stems, contorted willows with yellow or red branches, funky, tall, thin conifers, like Hinoki cypress, and some of the slender, brightly coloured autumn grasses. Be choosy! Take your time wandering through your favourite garden store. Search for that one special plant that will ground your container and that you will enjoy for months.

Once you’ve chosen the focal point, it’s time to decide on your accessorizing plants. Select plants that will accentuate the focal point and last all fall and winter. Evergreen perennials work best for me. I love the many varieties of euphorbias for their cool foliage and late winter flowers. They will give a container both height and width. Euphorbia ‘Ascot Rainbow’, with its variegated gold-and-green foliage, blue-leafed E. ‘Shorty’ and variegated blue and white E. ‘Glacier Blue’ are some of my favourites.

The gazillion varieties of heucheras and heucherellas will add a pop of vibrant colour. From the darkest purples of heucheras ‘Dolce Wildberry’ and ‘Primo Wild Rose’, the hot lime of ‘Lime Ruffles’ and the tawny copper of ‘Dolce Crème Brûlée’ to the burnt bronze of heucherella ‘Burnished Bronze’, they will all create drama in your containers.

Evergreen grasses contribute an element of softness and elegance to any plant combination, and even a slight breeze will set them in motion. The carex ‘EverColor’ series is a real game-changer. Carex ‘Evergold’, with its green-and-gold striped leaves, is an excellent spillover plant, but the hot lime C. ‘Everillo’ is my personal favourite. Carex ‘Everest’ sports vibrant white-and-green foliage, and C. ‘Eversheen’ is a very striking variegation of lime and green.

If you’re into the ‘blues’, then the blue festuca ‘Beyond Blue’ will provide a punch of colour. Black grasses make a powerful statement, and black mondo grass (Ophiopogon ‘Nigrescens) is a ‘must-have’.

Broadleaf plants can incorporate some richness into any container. The many varieties of Pieris japonica (lily of the valley shrub) provide both foliage colour and winter flowers. ‘Mountain Fire’, one of the hardiest, and the variegated foliage of P.j. ‘Flaming Silver’ and P.j. ‘Little Heath’ will provide interest and diversity to your plantings.

Nandinas, often known as heavenly bamboo, although they’re not true bamboos, are excellent broadleaf plants for containers. Their finely textured foliage turns a deep red in late fall and holds that colour all winter. Compact ‘Gulf Stream’ and ‘Bonfire’ are two of the best container varieties.

The variegated cream, pink-and-bronze foliage of leucothoe ’Rainbow’ adds a nice touch, as does the new white-and-green foliage of variegated Japanese azaleas.

For a little winter perfume, the very compact Himalayan sweet box (Sarcococca humilis) sends out a wonderful fragrance in late January.

I’m also a huge berry fan, and along with the yellow, red and orange berries of pyracantha, the low-spreading habit of wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) provides a nice spillover of big, plump, edible red berries all winter.

You can also work in some winter violas and vibrant ornamental kale, unique driftwood and colourful twigs. A few white pumpkins placed around your container is certainly today’s autumn look. As daylight gives way to more darkness, illuminate your containers with strings of LED lights. I always joke that, with containers, you’re never done. Containers should be living pieces of art that transition beautifully from season-to-season. So, let those creative juices flow.

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Thousands chasing London allotments as supply dwindles

Hayley Dunning – The mental, physical and community benefits of allotment gardening are invaluable to city dwellers, but allotments are in short supply in London.

This is one of the conclusions of a new paper by Imperial College London researchers in the Centre for Environmental Policy, published in Urban Forestry & Urban Greening. MSc student Ellen Fletcher and Dr Tilly Collins assessed allotment supply and demand in London, finding plots are shrinking while tens of thousands of people remain on waiting lists.

Forty-one London sites have closed completely in the past seven years and with over 30,000 people now estimated to be on waiting lists, there is on average a delay of four to five years before receiving a plot. To try and meet this demand the number of individual plots has been increased as surrendered plots are often now split into ever-smaller units.

READ THE FULL STORY: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/news/204133/thousands-chasing-london-allotments-supply-dwindles/

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Urban gardening just got a whole lot easier and more sustainable

Vogue.com.au – How many dead plants are you responsible for? How many green-tinged dreams of becoming an amalgamation of Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow have ended in sad, withered herbs on your windowsill?

If you see yourself here and have minor amounts of regret or PTSD from killing plant after plant but still want to grow and garden, we may have just stumbled on the solution for you. Urban gardening is on the rise, as our homes are getting smaller and cities fuller, there’s still the urge to surround ourselves with greenery, especially if that greenery is ripe for eating. And Queensland-based Airgarden wants to help you do just that, by growing and gardening with their vertical, aeroponic garden.

READ THE FULL STORY: https://www.vogue.com.au/vogue-living/design/calling-all-green-thumbs-urban-gardening-just-got-a-whole-lot-easier-and-more-sustainable/image-gallery/202bc517e73c8cf6a5de1a8880a81d5c

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Living Sustainably: Put nature to work for more effective gardening

HollandSentinel.com – The urban environment is dominated by buildings, pavement, lawns, and other non-natural elements. We constantly struggle against nature to maintain our built environment, especially our lawns and gardens.

This can include the use of fertilizers and pesticides that, if used improperly, can cause environmental harm. Our built landscapes can also be very water intensive, which can lead to high demand on our public water utilities.

However, there are ways to work with nature to create an attractive, low maintenance landscape that will help protect the environment, conserve water and provide places for urban wildlife.

Gardening with nature starts with careful planning. Take an inventory of what you already have.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE: https://www.hollandsentinel.com/news/20200914/living-sustainably-put-nature-to-work-for-more-effective-gardening

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Purdue Extension: Growing communities one garden at a time

AGPURDUE.EDU – Located within an Indianapolis food desert, 25 volunteers gathered on a hot July day to build six raised garden beds and plant cool-season vegetable crops in a community garden on the campus of HealthNet Martindale-Brightwood Health Center. The volunteers made a vision for quality food access a reality sought by determined HealthNet employees, Martindale-Brightwood residents and the help of Purdue Extension.

HealthNet is one of Indiana’s largest Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) with a network of nine community-based primary care health centers in Indianapolis and Bloomington, Ind. HealthNet provides health care services to the medically underserved, reaching more than 61,000 residents each year. The health center in the Martindale-Brightwood area serves residents with the highest poverty rate in Marion County who also happen to live in a food desert, meaning access to affordable or good-quality fresh food is severely limited.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE: https://ag.purdue.edu/stories/purdue-extension-growing-communities-one-garden-at-a-time/

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Santa Rosa is a top spot for gardening in the US

PressDemocrat.com – If you like gardening, Santa Rosa is one of the best places in the country to be.

That’s the conclusion of a new nationwide survey that ranked Santa Rosa fourth in the nation for urban gardening. LawnStarter, an Austin, Texas-based lawn care company, compared 150 of the most populated cities in the U.S. for a variety of factors, including the number of garden clubs, community gardens and nurseries and the number of days of sunshine and length of the growing season.

Santa Rosa’s good scores placed it in the top tier, outranked only by three cities in The Sunshine State — Miami, Orlando and Tampa, Florida.

When it comes to the number of nurseries and garden centers per 100,000 residents, only Miami and Salem, Oregon, have better shopping opportunities for the green thumb crowd.

READ THE FULL STORY: https://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/lifestyle/santa-rosa-is-a-top-spot-for-gardening-in-the-us/

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An urban homestead that nurtures, nourishes educates

Julie Pritchard Wright’s San Rafael urban homestead is home to vegetables, fruits, flowers and chickens. (Photo by Julie P. Wright)

Julie Pritchard Wright grew up on her family’s two-acre property in the hills of Cupertino, where her father grew grapes and fruit trees, and kept bees and sometimes chickens, while her mother tended a large vegetable garden.

“Whenever I smell the scent of tomato leaves, I think of her,” Wright says. “She also grew many kinds of flowers, and I grow many of the same varieties.”

Wright considers her own 5,000-square-foot San Rafael garden as an “urban homestead” where she can cultivate a sustainable, organic and “locavore” lifestyle, and nurture plants that, in return, nurture her and teach her patience, observation and mindfulness.

In keeping with her lifestyle, Wright likes to line-dry her laundry, can and ferment her own foods, host sausage- or salami-making gatherings, practice no-till gardening and some permaculture principles, and plans to eventually replace her lawn with edibles and exchanges her homegrown produce with Marin neighbors at the San Anselmo Garden Exchange.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE: https://www.marinij.com/2020/09/11/an-urban-homestead-that-nurtures-nourishes-educates/

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Brian Minter: Add drama to your fall garden with this fashionable ornamental foliage

Hakonechloa ‘Aureola’ (Japanese Forest Grass) loves shady spots

As summer begins to wind down, we all appreciate the cooler, crisp evenings when sitting on our decks and patios. Much of our summer colour, however, looks a little tired and frankly, it’s time for a refresh. But this year, let’s be a little more creative.

For several years now, there has been an ongoing love affair with ornamental grasses, and autumn is their time to shine.  Few other plants can match the many ways they beautify our patios and gardens.  They sway and come alive in every little breeze. Their flowerheads, like those of the “bunny tail” pennisetums and the tall miscanthus, simply dance in more vigorous winds. If you have ever seen the autumn sun beaming through the many differing flowerheads, especially in early morning or late afternoon, you know they simply glow.

 Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch’ is an outstanding red switchgrass.

In recent years, grass breeding programs have focused on colourful foliage, and as a result, many grasses take on brilliant hues of multiple colours as they mature, such as Miscanthus sinensis ‘Ghana’ and M.s. ‘Fire Dragon.’ There has been a resurgence in less well-known grasses, like andropogon (the so-called “big blue stem grasses”). Varieties, like ‘Blackhawks’ with its rich burgundy leaves, ‘Red October’ with its brilliant red stems and foliage, and ‘Rain Dance’ with its rich red-burgundy foliage, are a few popular examples.

Panicums or switchgrass—which got its name from the swishing sound it makes in the breeze—turns into a riot of late summer colour. Varieties like Panicum ‘Rotstrahlbusch,’ an outstanding red, ‘Ruby Ribbons,’ a soft blue-green that develops into burgundy-red foliage, and ‘Shenandoah,’ whose green leaves turn a striking burgundy in fall, add real drama to an autumn garden.

Grasses that have an architectural form have also really caught on. Calamagrostis ‘Karl Foerster,’ which features a stiff, upright, narrow habit, makes quite a statement. Two cream-and-white variegated calamagrostis, ‘Avalanche’ and ‘Overdam,’ complement ‘Karl Foerster’ nicely.

 Andropogon ‘Rain Dance’ is a lesser known grass that is enjoying a resurgence in popularity.

The wide range of size variations makes grasses very versatile, especially in patio containers. From the tiny pennisetum ‘Piglet’ (16 inches / 40 centimetres) and Pennisetum ‘Little Bunny’ (20 inches / 50 centimetres) to the tall Miscanthus ‘Huron Star,’ which reaches up to eight feet (2.5 metres), there is so much opportunity to be creative.  Taller grasses also provide wonderful screening for a little privacy.

Most grasses prefer a hot, sunny location, but some grasses can bring new life to heavily shaded areas. Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’, H. ‘All Gold’ and the beautiful red and lime H. ‘SunFlare’) loves the shade, as do most of the evergreen carex grasses, such as ‘Ice Dance,’ ‘Evergold’ and my favourite, the hot lime ‘Everillo.’

All these grasses are well suited to container growing. For the greatest impact, vary the size and shape of the containers, from tall and narrow ones to low bowls, and plant different sized grasses in groupings of threes and fives. Combining grasses with fall-blooming perennials, like rudbeckias, heleniums and Japanese anemones, is another way to create pure magic.

Remember, when potting grasses, to use a blended soil that drains very well and mix in lots of coarse material, like bark mulch and perlite, to ensure good drainage through the wet seasons of fall and winter.  Top dressing your grasses with slow-release 14-14-14 fertilizer will keep them looking fresh and vibrant well into late autumn.

Grasses are today’s “in look,” and if you give them a try, you’ll discover why. And don’t forget to light them at night.

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