Bloom Another Day

We put up the 4th week of our spring Exhibit at the Gardens.  My volunteers look forward to doing it even though it is chaotic.  We have to take out the past weeks old faded bulb flowers and put in new fresh ones.  Seeing  the cheery  daffodils, beautiful tulips, elegant bleeding hearts and vibrant  hyacinths that one of the other horticulturists grows for the exhibit, is so refreshing at this time of year.  Especially on a gray darkish day like we sometimes have in March.  It really gets our hopes up for spring!

If you receive or buy a potted tulip or hyacinth or daffodil for Easter, you can save it and plant it outside to bloom another year.  The simplest way is to plant the whole pot in the ground after danger of frost is passed.  Another way is to care for the bulb foliage in the pot, giving it light fertilizer and partial sun.  Once the foliage has turned yellow , cut the leaves off and take the bulbs out of the soil and store in a mesh bag, hanging it in a dry place like the garage.  Tulip bulbs are especially prone to rooting  if they stay too moist all summer.

Then replant the bulbs in the fall. Bulbs that have been forced used up a lot of energy so they will not flower again the next year.  It may take 2 or 3 years of growing and storing energy from the sunshine before they have enough energy to bloom again.

A lot of tulips actually don’t come back well.  Species tulips and old varieties are more likely to come back again.  Hyacinths usually come back and bloom again and daffodils come back very well.  You can even get daffodils to naturalize very well.

Enjoy your beautiful flowers this Easter and then enjoy them for years to come!

Happy spring,



Eleven weeks to go til Memorial Day.

The race is on for me at work. I received most of my seeds during the past few days. That’s always exciting… better than a birthday present even!

All my seeds are annual flowers and vegetables.  I ordered 99 different varieties of seeds!   I went through all of the seed packets that I received and highlighted information such as when to start the seeds and at what temperature. Many of the seeds can be started at around 6 weeks before the last frost. I use Memorial Day as my “Blast Off” date and count down my calendar marking each week.  So, this  week is 11 weeks before Memorial Day.  April 5th Sunday would be 7 weeks before and so on.

A few seeds like petunias, impatiens, and alpine strawberries are planted at 10-12 weeks before the planting out date  so I’ve done most of those already.

The  first 2 full weeks in April will be when the most seeds are started including marigold, phlox, tomatoes, verbena, ageratum and some zinnias.

Four weeks before the Holiday some zinnias and nasturtiums are planted.

Of course lots of veggies are planted outside, such as carrots, lettuce, beans, pumpkins, and squash. Some plants just don’t do well when started inside.

The cool weather seeds such as peas, beets, carrots, radishes, and spinach can be planted outside even before all chance of frost  is finished.  They can  tolerate some frost. And in fact, they like cooler temperatures to germinate and grow in.

Other seeds such as squash, pumpkin, corn, and cucumber like to have warm temperatures to germinate and grow in.  Those seeds we will plant  after Memorial day.

By the way, the Red Wing Blackbirds are back, the Turkey Vultures have returned and the Spring Peepers are peeping in my back yard!  Those are true signs  that spring is coming soon!

Bye for now,


You can have your landscape and eat it too!

Anyone can grow fruits or vegetables in their own backyard.  No special garden plot needed!

Edible plants  can be tucked in a number of spots in an existing landscape.  The only requirement is enough sun which in most cases is 6-8 hours of direct sun.

Any vegetable can be grown but some look better than others, so they can be put in more noticeable spots.  Some plants that are being used for landscaping are swiss chard, parsley, everbearing strawberries, lettuce, kale, cabbages, peppers and many kinds of herbs.

Best results can be obtained if the soil is improved directly around the edible plant. Also, during dry spells, they will probably need supplemental water.

Blueberries and dwarf fruit trees such as apples, pears, peaches and plums are a good choice even though they need a few early season sprays.

Grapes on a fence or arbor can add quick privacy.  There is even a hardy Kiwi vine for our hardiness zone.

Just think of walking out into your own yard in the summer and picking peaches off your own tree.  Nothing tastes better!

bye for now,


Thoughts About Spring

Some seed catalogs have arrived already.

Enjoy the pictures of flowers and vegetables for now, but, when you start to order seeds and plants, read the descriptions thoroughly. Look for plants that like your climate conditions,  paying close attention to the hardiness zone for each plant. Also note requirements for light, size and spacing.

If you are a beginning gardener, you’ll enjoy  your garden more if you don’t  try to push the limits. For example, if the plant description says it is hardy to zone 7, don’t think maybe it will grow on the south side of the house where it is “protected”.  You will be just asking for headaches and disappointments.  Get to know plants that will do well here in southeastern Michigan (zone 5/6).  If the description says it’s easy to grow, then it would be a good backbone plant for your garden.

Think about getting your garden soil tested. That way you’ll know for sure whether it is acid or alkaline. A complete test will also show what plant nutrients are lacking in your soil.  Some tests include the soil texture as well, that is, whether it is sand, clay or loam.

You also need to know if your site drains fast or slow. Some plants won’t tolerate “wet feet”.

How much sun or shade does your garden get?  Early morning sun until about noon, even though it’s for 6-8 hours, is more like “partial shade. While 6-8 hours of sun in the afternoon is more like “full sun”.

Look for plants that grow the way you want them to. Do you need a tall upright foliage plant in a certain spot? Then don’t talk yourself into ordering a medium-high, bushy round plant just because it has a flower color that you fell in love with.

As one gardening friend once told me, “now’s the fun time of gardening… no bugs, no heat, no drought, no aching back.  Just beautiful dreams of what you want your garden to look like”.

Happy dreaming.

bye now,


Fresh Memories of the Garden

Now it feels like November.  Cold, rainy and dreary.  Gone are the Indian Summer days. Summer’s garden seems long past.

But with a little bit of effort a few weeks ago, I am able to make a pot of chili today using fresh tomatoes!

The day before we had that really cold night (not just the first frost when we covered our tomatoes, but this time it was going to get below  freezing so we knew the covering up wouldn’t do much good) it went to 28 degrees where my garden was.  I had picked all the tomatoes I could.  This was just a few days after that total day long rain that made the tomatoes start cracking , they swelled up so much.  I picked the red ones with a little cracking and all the green larger ones, some with a tinge of red and some that were totally green but otherwise perfect with no blemishes.

My goal has been for many years to have fresh tomato salad for Thanksgiving dinner. Some years a few tomatoes make it, some years they don’t .  So the perfect green tomatoes are wrapped carefully in newspaper and put gently in a cardboard box, then placed in a cool dark place.   They need to be checked every week or so. Take out any that show mold or black spots.  Put them on a sunny window sill and they will redden up after a few days. Cut out the bad parts of the tomato and use the good .

So, today I sorted  the tomatoes I kept in the garage and made a pot of chili with them.  This is the second time this fall that we have sorted through them . There’s still 1/4 to1/3 of them left for Thanksgiving.

Well, the tomatoes are simmering nicely.  I’d better get back to my chili making…  it smells delicious!

bye now, Judy

Warm Weather Respite

During this week of nice weather, we will do a lot of clean up.  Odds and ends of plants sitting around that didn’t get planted for some reason or other, such as too small or ran out of room in  a certain spot., etc.

We are fortunate to have at the Gardens some very useful coldframes.  They are dug down into the ground about 4 ft, enclosed with cement block with a dirt bottom.  The cement block extends a block high above the ground on the south side, and 2 blocks high on the north side.  We used to have glass windows that fitted over them but they deteriorated.  Now  we have translucent fiberglass panels that cover them up.  As deep as it is, it stills freezes in there, but that is okay. What we want them to prevent is wind burn drying out the over wintered plants.  Also it reduces the quick freeze and thaw that can cause disastrous effects for over wintered potted plants.  So cold frames are for hardy plants that, because they are still in pots, need a little extra protection.
So into the one coldframe that I use, which is about 12 ft by 5 ft wide, we will put in some leftover heuchera’s which didn’t get planted.  Plus some very small wood anemones that I thought might get lost (read: weeded accidentally out) in the big Gateway Garden.
More leftovers are mums, rudbeckias, 2 Alberta spruce trees 3 ft high, sedums that I use in pots on the terrace in summer and odds and ends of perennials that I can use to fill in holes when plants die in the Perennial Garden.
Homeowners can construct a temporary coldframe using haybales as walls and old storms door as covers.  In spring and fall keep an eye on the coldframe so it doesn’t overheat. In fact don’t put the covers on until things freeze which is probably in December.   Translucent covers are probably the answer to that problem.  Expensive plants (like the bonsai trees that a coworker takes care of here) can be further protected by putting sand around the individual pots in the coldframe.
Winter’s coming but we have a respite this week and I am trying to take advantage of it.
Bye now, Judy

Blue and Gold Season


One of the annual flower color combinations that did well together this season is a blue and gold patch in a skinny bed two feet deep and ten feet long.  It has a medium dark blue Salvia with the varieity name of ‘Gruppenblau’  (which is German and must mean some kind of blue) in the back of the bed.  With a medium green coarse leaf and tall  (24 -36 inch) wand like spikes covered with small two lipped petaled flowers, this blue salvia is at the top of my list of favorite flowers.  Last year we saved seeds from it from plants that were taller than the rest and had slightly bigger flowers.  That’s what I planted in this spot and was rewarded with all of these plants being about 36 inch tall.  Even the stems of the flower are tinged with blue.  It is very striking.


In front of the salvia is another favorite flower called Melampodium ‘Showstar’.  this is the combo to plant if you want no maintenance!  Healthy, full, rounded, 20 inch tall, lots of yellow gold 1 inch daisy blossoms.  It has no disease and a great shape.  The salvia’s tall and spikey shape complements the round full and shorter Melampodium.    Both of them are still at peak bloom , have never needed deadheading and the leaves of both are still looking fresh and bright green.  These colors look great with the goldenrods and the purple asters of the fall season.


Behind me as I sit on the bench is a Monarch nectaring on a white phlox called ‘David’.  This is one of the best phlox – it’s resistant to mildew and is always upright with a clean green look.  Behind the phlox is a patch of Joe Pye Weed 6 feet tall.  Bees and butterflies love Joe Pye, too.


White Phlox David is at the top of the photo.
White Phlox 'David' is at the top of the photo.

Today since it is almost October would be a good day to go out and pull any poor looking plants and compost them.  we have been cleaning up around our beds and cultivating the bare patches when we pull anything out.  It makes this rest of the bed look even better.

That’s it for today.  I am going to go out and enjoy this beautiful weather while it lasts!

bye for now, Judy

Late Summer’s Tall Flowering Annuals

Annuals in GardenIn In the centers of the beds, in the annual garden that I take care of, are the taller flowers.  Cleome ‘Violet Queen’ is 4 feet tall, with a cluster of pure, purple, funnel shaped flowers.  It starts blooming early and continues to bloom as it gets taller.  It has little thorns on it so I like to keep it away from the outer edges of beds so people don’t accidentally get scratched. 


Cleome with other flowers

One of our favorite flowers is Verbena bonareinsis.  It doesn’t usually have a common name listed, but I think Purple Haze would fit very well.  It’s three feet tall with only a few leaves near the base of the plant, and stiff, wiry stems with a cluster of smaller purple flowers on top.  Butterflies love it, since it’s not very full looking or thick with leaves , we let it grow where ever it seeds itself.  The flowers behind it can still be seen very well.  It adds a dusting of purple to the garden.


Verbena bonariensis behind Zinnias


Each bed has a stand of sunflowers in it this year.  The one that looks the best in the beds is ‘sonja’.  Only 3 to 3 and a half feet tall, it blends in with the other flowers quite well.  Another bed has a sunflower in it that turned out to be 6 ft,  that one looks out of place with the other flowers.  ‘Sonja’ has a small flower head, 3-4 inches wide and dark yellow petals with a dark brown center.  Bloomed for quite a while, still is. Plus it attracts, like all other sunflowers, the goldfinches at this time of year.  They add alot of excitement to the garden, while they cling to the hanging sunflower heads and jab away at the newly formed seeds.


Sonja Sunflower

The bumble bees are buzzing around the cleome now. They push their way into the funnel shaped flowers to get to the nectar.

On the other side of one of the beds I can see the pale greenish tubuar blossoms of the Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, a 18″ -24″ tall flowering tobacco.  I think I will under plant the cleome with this nicotiana next year.  The cleome gets bare at the bottom of the plant and the green and purple will look good together.


'Lime Green' Nicotiana

Butterflies and bees are all over this garden now that the morning has warmed up.  It makes it so alive in here.  So much to see. It really is a satisfying garden.  Sight, sound, smell and the warmth surrounding me totally make the work that goes into this garden worthwhile.


Annual Beds of Color

Happy Gardening, Judy

Colors of Summer

The garden of annuals that I take care of at work is looking very good right now.  Its peak blooming season is July and August.  It will have color in it even as late as early October if we don’t get an early frost. 

Though with nighttime temperatures in August in the low 50’s , I wouldn’t be surprised if we had temperatures in the low 40’s in September and frost before October this year.  Be ready to cover your tomatoes!

The flowering annuals are all in good shape.  I haven’t noticed much downy mildew this season, which is usually a big problem for this garden.  And the Zinnias are only now starting to get a little browning of the bottom leaves.  That’s a disease called  Alternaria Leaf Spot.                 .

I am vey pleasantly surprised that the 12 ” tall reddish orange Cosmos called ‘Cosmic Red’ are blooming very heavily.  We’ve deadheaded them three times this summer.  So, they take a lot of work but each plant has 30 blossoms on it and looks quite stunning. 

Cosmos "Cosmic Red"


Next to it is the tall blue Ageratum ‘Blue Bouquet”.  The colors do well together, plus I like to use some blue in all  my gardens.


Next to it is a short 10-12″ bushy Zinnia called Zinnia ‘Profusion Apricot”.  It’s full of 1 1/2 – 2 inch single daisy-like blooms of various shades of apricot.  Just a little deadheading keeps the zinnia profusion series blooming well into the fall.  The description in the catalogs says it doesn’t need deadheading at all but I do a little just to freshen it up.

Zinnia "Profusion"

A King Fisher just “chuttered” overhead.  He flew so close and turned his head to look at me so that you would think that he was trying to figure out what a human was doing in that garden so early!


On the other side of this bed in front of  me is a new marigold( to me anyway).  It’s called ‘Fireball’.  It is 18″ tall, orangey yellow with a little bicolor shading it it.  It’s done very well and is full of blooms.  Marigolds are another flower that don’t need deadheading but we do  a little.  I probably planted it 12″ apart so it’s nice and thick. 

Marigold "Fireball"

That’s all for now.  I’ll tell you about some more annuals  in my next blog. 

Bye now, Judy






Head start with potted plants

Finally it feels like spring! I don’t mind this slightly cool weather. I seem to be able to work longer. Heat in the early spring is too much for me. So this is ideal for me to get my big pots planted that I put out on the extensive terrace that we have at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens.

The pots range in size from 2-3 gallons up to big square pots that are 2 ft sqaure by 2 1/2 ft. tall. I use more than 30 pots all together.

I’m using different soilless mixes this year. I can’t stress how important that is for growing plants in pots. Soilless mixes work so much better because real soil tends to compact too much in pots. Soilless mixes stay looser so roots have an easier time growing, get more air plus the peat moss and shredded bark in the mix holds moisture very well.

We are opting to use mixes with less peat moss and more shredded bark. The bark is a renewable crop while peat moss is being mined faster than it is be produced. Because it takes even longer than growing trees!

So I am using Metro Mix 380 and also Farard 52 mix. I’ll let you know the results at the end of the summer. I have the pots marked, as to which pot has which soil and I will compare how well they grow. I think I will have to fertilize differently but don’t know for sure yet. I will investigate the fertilizer requirements for the soilless mixes, and I’ll let you know

I usually fertilize every two to three weeks with a soluble fertilizer like Peterson’s or Miracle Grow. Don’t use fertilizer made for lawns. It has too much nitrogen and your plants will get to tall and floppy and more inviting to insect attack. I also use time released fertilizer pellets when I first plant. But don’t expect the timed released fertilizer to last all summer. It breaks down very rapidly when temperature are above 70 degrees.

Fertilizing that often , gives me great results. My coleus and cannas cause a lot of “oohs and ahs” when people see them. The coleus gets two and a half feet tall and nice and bushy and the cannas get 6 -7 ft tall in pots!

We could still get another frost so I won’t put anything out yet. I keep mine in the greenhouse but you could keep yours in a garage by a window or in the house by a window. If they are small enough and you have the energy put them out in partial sunlight on nice days but don’t forget to bring them in at night. You could start a number of plants in smaller pots to give them a head start and then transfer them to your biggest pots when you are ready to put them out. This year it doesn’t even look like I will put them out for Memorial day! It is still too cool at night.

So we may have to wait to enjoy our summer flowers but have you noticed that the spring flowers like daffodils and wild geranium and tulips are lasting longer this spring. One flower’s loss is another flower’s gain!

Bye for now, Judy