2008 Perennial of the Year

It’s taken me this long to consistently write “2007” on my checks and now we have to be concerned about 2008 ! πŸ™‚ A person has to keep up with the latest gardening news or it will pass you by. A good place to do that, my fellow gardeners, is right here on All Things Green.

The Perennial Plant Association has announced their annual πŸ˜‰ “Perennial Plant of the Year” for 2008. It is…drum roll please…. Geranium ‘ Rozanne ‘.

This wonderful plant grows in a mound shape about 2 feet high and has lavender-blue flowers that are relatively large for a Geranium. It is hardy in our area and should make a fine addition to anyone’s landscape.

I have always loved the blue-flowered Geranium varieties but am often a little disappointed about their short blossoming period . ‘Rozanne’ , however, begins blooming in June and keeps right on blooming until September, making it one of the longer blooming Geranium out there. It prefers well drained soil and full sun but will adapt to partial shade.

Keep in mind that ‘Rozanne’ is a true Geranium ( sometimes called “Cranesbill” ) and should not be confused with Pelargonium, the annual that most folks call “geranium”.

Now, before you even ask, the 2007 ” Perennial of the Year ” is a catmint ( Nepita ) called ‘Walker’s Low’….but that’s old news ;).

Bob

Growing Easter Lilies is Cool!

In one of my first posts on this blog, I mentioned something about growing Easter Lilies. At this point in time, we have about 200 Easter Lilies in the greenhouse.

As you are aware Easter Sunday occures differently on the calender every year. Some years we have an early Easter, some years a late Easter. The challenge in growing Easter Lilies is to get them to bloom on, or a day or two before Easter Sunday.

The last three weeks in the greenhouse have been pretty uncomfortable. Because the Lilies were ahead of schedule, the heat had to be turned down to 50 degrees ( plus or minus a couple of degrees ) to slow down their development. This is our seventh year of growing Easter Lilies and it is the first time I had to take such drastic measures.

On those clear sunny days we had recently, the solar gain would start to build and the temperature inside the greenhouse would rise above the prescibed levels. That caused our automatic vents to open and a blast of cold winter air would come rushing in. Anyone working inside transplanting seedlings or working on seed orders, would have to brace themselves against the cold. This opening and closing of the vents went on all day until sundown when the solar heat was no longer a factor and the temperatures stabilized.

We wore our winter coats for 3 weeks inside the greenhouse… until today. I took some measurements, made some quick calculations and decided that it was time to resume the normal Easter Lily growing temperature of 63 degrees. We were finally able to shed our coats. There was still some opening and closing of the vents but since the growing temperature was 13 degrees higher, they didn’t have to open up nearly so often.

At this point in their development our Easter Lillies range from 12 to14 inches in height. I’ll keep you posted on their progress as we make our way through Lent and on to Easter.

In the meantime Mardi Gras is on its way…laissez les bon ton roulette!!

Bob

Prognostication

I’m going to go out on a little bit of a limb here and predict the new big hit in tomatoes for this year and next. Everyone is aware of the delicious ‘Red Grape’ tomatoes that are now available everywhere, but it wasn’t that long ago when they were a relatively rare item.

A new variety is being made available to large vegetable growers as well as home gardeners, it is called ‘Tomatoberry’. It has been a featured item in the “American Vegetable Growers News”, a trade journal for farmers, among other places.

Every year many new varieties are released but few make the grade to stay around for more than a season or two, and fewer still obtain such wide acceptance as ‘Red Grape’ tomatoes.

‘Tomatoberry’ is touted to be high yeiding and have a beautiful deep red color. Its most unique characteristic however, is its strawberry shaped fruit. The flavor is of a sweet tomato and has a firm chewy texture.

This variety sounds like a winner to me. We will have to see how they perform in the garden before we can pass final judgment. The seed is available exclusively through Johnny’s Selected Seeds. We have already ordered our ‘Tomatoberry’ seeds and will be giving them a fair trial this season.

Predicting a fine gardening season for all,

Bob

Something tasty

Today is Valentine’s Day of course, and because of that, Google had a Valentine image on its seach engine site. It was a chocolate fondue covered strawberry as the second “g” in its name…very clever. One problem, Google was spelled wrong! πŸ™‚

Before I even saw the strawberry on that page, I intended to write a little about one of my favorite plants today, the Alpine Strawberry.

What I like about this plant so much is the fact that it bears its fruit all summer long. The berries are very small, just a little bigger than our wild strawberries. However, they have an intense flavor, more tart and flavorful than a standard strawberry. You don’t get a big “crop” from these plants, only a handful to eat as you are working out in the garden.

One thing I find curious about these small tasty treats is that the birds don’t eat them. I don’t know if it is because there is so much more for them to eat during the summer, or if it is something else.

We like to plant these along pathways where people walk. The low growing plant makes a nice edge to a path and they don’t send out runners like regular strawberries, so they stay put where you plant them. They also winter very well without mulching… we have some coming up in the same spot that we planted seven years ago.

They are easy and inexpensive to obtain. You can grow them from seed, just start them like a tomato or any other plant indoors. This differs from regular strawberries which are generally started in the garden from plants that were dug up by a plant supplier.

‘Alexandria’ is the variety we grow. They are available from Johnny’s Seeds in Maine. This variety often will produce fruit by late summer of its first season, then all season long after that.

Now get on over to LunaPierCook blog and see if Dave has written anything about chocolate fondue and strawberries for Valentine’s Day ! πŸ˜‰

Bob

Sort of like Valentine’s Day all summer

Being able to share the bounty of our gardens is one of the most rewarding aspects of gardening. That’s why we have a corner of the garden devoted exclusively to cut flowers. Rather than cutting flowers from our regular gardens and risking making a hole in the landscape, we do it this way. More flowers are available for cutting too.

The bulk of our cutting garden is comprised of easy to grow snapdragons (Rocket Mixed) and zinnas ( Benary Giant ). These varieties are reliable bloomers and blossom again after cutting. We also have asters ( Matsumoto ) , dahlias ( assorted varieties ) , and gladiolus . Each year we like to try to add something to the cut flower garden. Last year was the first year for Lisianthus ( tall varieties ) , they were a big hit with their rose-like blossoms.

One thing you might want to consider if you start a cutting garden is growing “filler” and “accent” material for bouquets.

For example, we like to grow Eucalyptus for its silvery stems. That’s right, Eucalyptus trees. They can be grown as an annual in our latitude.

We also make sure there is plenty of Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth) in the garden too. The small flowers can be added to an arrangement as an accent or gathered together into a larger bunch with Baby’s Breath for a striking home grown arrangement.

Baby’s Breath is often used by florists as a filler material. You can give a professional look to your arrangements by adding it to your bouquets. Keep in mind however, that Baby’s Breath only blossoms for a short period of time and has to be replanted periodicaly. We sow a few seeds every couple of weeks through the season to ensure a steady supply of this useful flower.

One of the fun parts of the cutting garden is the carnations we grow. They can be used to make your own boutonniere to wear in your lapel. Some varieties are hardy in our area and return every year as a perennial. If I remember right, ‘Sonata’ is one such variety.

Finally, don’t forget about tulips and other spring bulbs that can be planted in the fall into the cutting garden for your early bouquets. As they die back, you can plant your annuals right over the top of the bulbs and get a double crop out of your space.

So if you have the room, have some fun and add your own favorite flower to your cutting garden. You won’t have to worry about which color of flower goes with which in the garden until you put them into the vase !

Bob

Catalogs,catalogs and more catalogs

Have you gotten all your seed catalogs ? I think all mine have come in the mail. I’ve been pouring over some of them at work and got my seed orders done last week. Did them online, which is not my favorite way to do them but you get results fast. 3 of my 4 orders have come already. Ordered on Tuesday and received one company’s shipment by Monday.
I grow a lot of annuals for one of my gardens at work at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens. That garden will have a Centennial Garden theme this year, so I was looking for varieties that were old, preferably from 1907 or before to showcase varieties that people would be using back then. One catalog with lots of heirloom varieities is Select Seeds. They’re online at www.selectseeds.com. It has lots of old fashoned favorites plus unusual flowers.

One variety that I ordered is Cosmos ‘Double Click’. It’s a double petaled cosmos in pink,crimson and white. Some of the flowers look very full. I think visitors will like it. I also ordered Heliotrope ‘Marine’. it has dark purple flowers with a “baby powder’ scent. Though it says it can be 2 ft tall, it’s not been much over 1 ft in my garden in the past. Probably not the right conditions for it.

One flower that’s not well known is the annual phlox. Only a foot or so tall with sprays of tubular flowers that are almost like the tall garden phlox that we’re more familiar with. A light pink variety with a dark pink eye is called ‘Brilliant’. Another one is an heirloom from before 1889 with pale yellow flowers called ‘Isabellina’. They will bloom mid-summer into September.

I’m trying Sweet Peas for the first time. From what I’ve read they won’t like our hot humid Michigan summer, but since they’re started in early,early spring I should get blooms in late spring and early summer. The seeds can be planted before the frost is out of the ground! They will need some support. One varieity is 6 ft tall. The seeds have to be nicked or soaked for 12 hours. Sweet Peas don’t like acid soil which means my gardens at work are okay but I wouldn’t be able to grow them at home in Petersburg. I’m looking forward to some fragrant beauties.

I ordered over 40 different varieities just from the Select Seeds company. In another blog I’ll tell you how I start all these seeds. It’s going to be a busy spring!

Bye for now, Judy

Half-way Point

Ground Hog’s Day has come and gone, I hope yours went well.

When I was a kid growing up in the Ida area, Ground Hog’s Day was always a big deal. This was due, in large measure, to the rural character of that part of Monroe County at that time.

Farmers who kept livestock would always take note of how much hay was in the mow and how much corn was in the grainery. February 2nd, they always said, was the half-way point between the last harvest of the previous year and the arrival of the first pasture for the upcoming spring. If more than half of their hay was left on that date, then they had enough feed to last through the rest of the winter. That whole ground hog shadow hullabaloo was there just for fun.

We as gardeners should follow those old farmer’s example. This is the perfect time to check your items in storage if you haven’t already done so. For example, today we checked our canna and dahlia roots dug last fall ( to be re-planted in the spring ) for any signs of decay. The bad ones were discarded to keep the remainder from rotting. We inspected the geraniums in the cold storage room and they looked fine. This year we also tried keeping our extra banana plants in cold storage instead of in the greenhouse since we were running out of room for them. They look pretty rough, however, I believe the growing points deep inside the trunk are dormant and just fine.

We also checked the refrigerated cooler, as it is located in the same storage building. A few red onions are beginning to sprout. That is to be expected because that variety is not a ” keeping ” variety. So we will have to use those up first. The yellow ‘Copra’ onions look as good as the day they were placed into storage. The garlic, put into storage last August, are in fine shape too.

The cooler is also the winter home to our hyacinths we will begin forcing in the greenhouse, next week. They were potted up last fall, five bulbs to a six inch pot. The tiny ‘Tete-a-tete’ dafodills looked great as well. Those of you who potted bulbs for forcing, should check the bottom of the pot to see if the roots have grown through the drainage holes. This holds true whether you keep them in a ‘fridge or outdoors. This will give you some idea how far they have progressed. Most of our hyacinths have strong healthy roots just pushing through the drainage holes. Hence, our plan to bring them into the greenhouse on Monday.

One other unexpected item came to light during our annual Ground Hog’s Day inspection, the refrigerated cooler had broked down sometime during the last couple of days. Instead of cooling the inside of the cooler, it seemed to be heating it instead! The temperature inside the cooler was 67 degrees F. The storage room where it was located was 45 degrees F. That’s how I realized something was wrong. πŸ˜‰

So you see, Ground Hog’s Day really does serve a useful purpose.

… looking forward to 6 more weeks ’til spring,

Bob

Vegetable makes national news

Every once in a while, during a rare harmonic convergence, the fashion and design industries intersect with the gardening world. Earlier this month, it happened again; the folks who decide such things, picked out the ” Color of the Year ” . This no doubt is old news to some of you, however, I just found out about it a couple of days ago.

I can hear it now, voices saying, ” where the #$X* you been?, in a cave? ” I just find it hard to keep up with current events.

So what does all of this have to do with gardening?…. everything! You see, the Color of the Year is ” Chili Pepper ” . Actually to be more accurate, its offical name is “Pantone 15-1557″.

They describe it as ” a deep, spicey red”. Leatrice Eisemen, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute, was quoted as saying, ” in 2007 there is an awareness of the melding of diverse cultural influences, and ‘Chili Pepper’ is a reflection of exotic tastes both on the tongue and to the eye. At the same time, ‘Chili Pepper’ speaks to a certain level of confidence and taste. Incorporating this color into your wardrobe and living space adds drama and excitement, as it stimulates the senses. ”

It looks like to me, we can all look forward this year to seeing this color in everything from hats and shoes to easy chairs, toasters and wall paper.

This is not the first time that gardening and the fashon/design industry have collided. In 2005, the ” Color of the Year” was ” Tulip Violet “, sometimes known as ” 16-3823 “.

You my not know this about me, but I have already worn this 2007 color. It showed up on my shirt completely by accident last week after my second helping of Judy’s home made chili !

For more color fun, I suggest you visit Colorstrology.com to find out what your own personal color is. Using your birthday as a starting point, this site uses a mix of astrology and color science to come up with your color. Mine by the way is “17-4320 “, its uncanny how accurate thay are!

Not seeing red, but Adriatic Blue instead,

Bob

Monroe Conservation District Annual Tree Sale

The Monroe Conservation District has sent out its order form for the Annual Spring Tree and Shrub Sale.

This tree sale has been going on each spring for as long as I can remember. Back when the sale first started, The Monroe Conservation District was known as the Monroe County Soil Conservation District. The new name really fits the organization much better because they are involved in so much more than soil conservation these days.

If you check their web site www.monroecd.org you can see a whole list of Conservation issues they address: Forestry, Ground Water, Erosion Control, Karst and others.

I hope you still have your copy of the yellow order sheets that were sent out in the local newspapers. If by chance you missed placed your form, you can call them at 734-241-7755 extension 101 and get another copy.

One part of this sale I like is the fact that trees can be purchased in lots as small as 10 trees all they way up to multiples of 100. So if you need just a few for the back yard you can order just ten, if you need a few thousand to build that wind break for the back 40, you can do that too.

In addition to trees and shrubs, Michigan native plants and wild flowers are also available. A quick look at their list shows plants such as: Bottle Gentian, Lady Fern, Obedient Plant, Wild Lupine, Woodland Sunflower and more. These plants are sold in 1 quart pots.
They also offer an assortment of supplies and such. One item that caught my eye was the “regulation size” bat house that can house up to 300 bats.

Keep in mind that most of the trees and shrubs sold here are seedlings, so 50 trees will easily fit into a 5 gallon bucket. Some larger, older plants are available as well.

The order deadline is March 30th, which will be here before you know it.

Proceeds from the sale supports the District’s various conservation programs that happen right here in our community.

Bob

Ice

I haven’t been able to post here on the old blog for a couple of days because of the ice storm that blew through earlier this week. The greenhouse is located in the area that was without power for a few days. Thursday was the first day we had all the power back on and we had a lot of catching up to do.

The temperature dropped to around 34 degrees ( colder at floor level ) for two nights in a row before we were able to get an electrician to correct a wiring problem we had with our boilers. After he left we were able to limp along on generator power. We had heat, but the generator could not handle the water well.

The generator sent a couple of power surges and blew out a few fuses in our greenhouse ventilation system but no real harm was done. However, I was still finding blown fuses in some of the equipment today.

Remember those begonias that I wrote about awhile back that had to be in the right temperature range in order to germinate? Well, apparently the germination process had started and was well under way when the power went down. It looks like we had a good germination rate as there are plenty of seedlings today and seem to be doing well despite the frigid start of their young lives.

Time will tell if the bananas were damaged as their growing points are buried inside the trunk of the plant. No damage was done to the Easter Lilies, citrus and tomatoes. The Coleus and Ipomea ( sweet potato vine ) that we use for taking cuttings (for starting new plants for spring ), did get “burned” by the cold but did not die. The Strobilanthes (Persian Shield ) was fine as well as the Chicken Gizzard Plant.

A bright note in all this was the Pansy seedlings ( Viola ), they absolutley loved the 30 degree nights and 50 degree days we had inside the greenhouse.

A disaster was averted by the use of propane heaters ( before the electrician arrived) and a generator. So now its back to normal and full speed ahead.

From now on I’ll take my weather like I take my Vernors, without ice!

Bob