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The Magic of Trilliums


trilliums, woodland flowers, ephemerals

Each Easter, the Trillium cuneatum rises from my woodland garden floor in camouflage colors and whispers that spring is here. It will quietly disappear a few weeks later and cause me a bit of concern. Will it return next year? I feel honored it has chosen to survive in the dry shade of my back yard. It seems so Appalachian to be growing in the Deep South! Little Sweet Betsy is an appropriate name. It causes me to slow down and appreciate the beauty of nature with quiet reflection.

Flower gardens are created and planted according to the will of the designer, but there are some plants that can’t/won’t be forced into an artificial design. Spring ephemerals are like that. They typically don’t like to be moved or bothered. If you have them, respect their location and work with their whims. Digging them up to transplant will probably kill them. Native spring ephemerals can never be used as part of a large-scale landscape project. Their place is with knowledgeable native plant gardeners, botanical gardens, and as protected volunteers in your landscape. They are special because they can’t be tamed.

Purchasing woodland ephemerals should be done with care. There are people who collect these treasures illegally, sometimes by poaching them from public parks. Do some research. Find out how the plants were propagated, and only purchase them from legitimate sources. 

Long Plant Division

Propagating Your Own Heirloom Plants

an iris division

It was worth it to stop everything this morning and go outside. It was 62 degrees and overcast. The new, little perennials were just peeking their heads out of the ground, fighting off the late season winter weeds. There’s a golden moment every year when the soil is soft with late winter/early spring rains and the herbaceous plants are still small enough that your rough handling will do minimal damage to the green parts. This moment will only last a couple of weeks.

Now is the time to dig up big clumps of your favorite, old-school perennials and divide them. Daylilies actually appreciate being disturbed in this way every few years. If left in place, they tend to die out in the center of the clump and form an unattractive donut in the landscape. Division rejuvenates them. The cool thing is, division gives you lots and lots of free plants!

Daylilies and Iris are great candidates for division because their enlarged root systems store nutrients to minimize the shock of being ripped apart in separate sections. As they mature, they form new, thickened root structures that sprout the beginnings of new plant babies. I’m not sure exactly when this happens, but somewhere in the process, the new baby roots split completely from the mother plan to form an independent plant. You wouldn’t know this to look at them. Their feeder roots are intertwined tightly, with all the plants in the bunch in one tight, group hug.

It is really hard to break up the loving tangle of roots, but with a little bit of muscle and some help with leveraging tools, you can do it. When you do, it is amazing how many separate plants you can propagate! One clump of daylilies can produce 25 new plants. It becomes apparent why, when left in place, the overcrowding can cause a decline in the vigor of the original plant.

Year-round Color with Bulbs

Plan for Spring this Fall

roadside flowers, ice follies, double smiles, narcissus

Old-fashioned spring bulbs keep giving and giving and giving. They come back year after year in spite of stress because they are dormant and store energy underground during the worst heat and drought of summer. They have very few insect pests and disease problems. Some are deer-resistant and can be very poisonous. Your childhood home most likely has a clump of German Iris still living, Spring Beauties in the lawn, and cheerful yellow Daffodils scattered randomly. Nothing lasts like self-reliant bulbs! I love them, because they are a connection with perennial gardeners of the past.

The time to buy spring bulbs is in the fall. It pays to know which bulbs can take clay soils, heat, drought, and humidity. If you live in the Southeast and purchased Daffodils from a wholesale nursery in Oregon, where they propagate their cold-loving bulbs in moist, well-drained soil, new bulbs may only last one year. Bulbs have a range of cold-tolerance, so check out the hardiness of each species before you buy. When you make your fall bulb purchase, choose varieties adapted to your area, and if possible, buy from a local or regional supplier. If you wait too long to plant in the fall, your new bulbs will dry out and mold, just like onions left too long in a refrigerator. Planting by Thanksgiving gives bulbs exposure to cold and improves the bloom.

In heavy clay, forget trying to grow Anemone sp., Camassia sp., Dahlia sp., Eranthus sp., Fritallaria sp., or Galanthus sp., unless you’re up for some disappointments. They’re not impossible, but they are a challenge for beginners. Here are some recommendations for bulbs and bulb-like favorites for heavy clay.

Annuals... Three Times a Year!

How the Seasonal Color Calendar Works

It is surprising how often you should replace seasonal color displays. Once a year is not enough. There is a schedule landscape professionals use for temporary floral displays. It follows the calendar in a unique way. Plants labeled as annuals do not last a full year, but they can stretch through more than one season. Seasonal color needs refreshing at least three times a year.

An annual isn’t called an annual because you plant it once a year. It is called an annual because, if left to its own devices, an annual will complete a full life cycle sometime within one year. A seed can grow into a full-sized plant, flower, and then go back to seed and die long before twelve months go by. It often takes only a few months. Corn seeds can be planted, grow to over six feet tall, produce ears, and die in just a few weeks. Annuals can return once a year to repeat the cycle of germination, growth, and seed production, often depending on gardeners to start the process.

There is no rule requiring you to use only annual species in temporary beds. A lot of color-burst professionals include perennials and ornamental grasses to add visual excitement to flower beds. They throw out all the plants as if they were spent annuals before each new planting cycle ends. That leaves room for the next, great knock-out combination!

Party Decorations

Christmas Party Potluck

party decorationsOur party is tonight. It has been fun preparing for guests and decorating. Here are some tips that we learned by doing this for several years in a row.

• Start planning early. We decide on a theme a year in advance, and then look for items on sale throughout the year that fit the theme. This year we are doing a peppermint candy theme. Gathering up a bunch of themed items provides inspiration for your decorations, and shopping with a mission is fun—like a scavenger hunt.

Arranging Flowers the Easy Way

The Fun Part of Setting a Table!

You’ve selected your vase or container, secured the oasis or frog, purchased and gathered flowers and greenery, and conditioned the plant material. Now you can finally start flower arranging!

First, provide a collar of greenery around the edge of the vase. Then add floral stems. Keep the larger blooms near the base of the arrangement, and decrease the size of the blooms as you work your way to the top. One easy method to insert the stems is to simulate a clock. Put matching stems at noon, three, six, and nine. Then put a few more at one, four, seven, and ten.  Keep inserting stems at two, five, eight, and eleven. Add filler material in the holes. Done! It’s not imaginative, but it looks great, if you are using pretty flowers.

Traditional mass arrangements can be dense and tightly filled, or left open and airy, for a more natural look. Try to keep the size of the arrangement no more than two-thirds the size of the container, or it will be top-heavy and out of scale with the vase. You can create strongly shaped domes, cones, or squares with tightly spaced blooms. The stems on geometrically controlled arrangements need to be short to maintain the form of the oasis material which has been cut into the final geometric shape. Many of Martha Stewart’s table arrangements are done in traditional mass form.

You can build easy, posey-style bouquets by hand-holding the arrangement and adding stems radially around the outside of the bunch, and then tying the stems together with ribbon. The stems can be long and elegant for a tall, columnar glass vase, or short and hidden in a smaller container. By tying the stems together, you may be able to omit the floral oasis or frog. You can also avoid the need for oasis by using a fish-bowl-shaped vase and dropping the hand-held bouquet into the opening, with all the stems falling into a pleasing and casual angle, evenly distributed around the bowl.

Real-life Wildflower Plots

Success with WIldflowers

If you want a completely care-free garden with lots of color, just plant wildflowers, right? All you have to do is buy a seed mix in a bag or a can. They usually have a photo of a kaleidoscope of blooms on the front. Then scatter the seeds on the ground and wait for the magic to happen.

The PR representative for wildflowers has been very busy the past couple of decades spreading misconceptions about wildflower meadows! I don’t think there were any conspiracies. It’s just that we all hope and wish it were true. Amazing outcroppings of colorful flowers sprout and flourish on their own, and native plants germinate in cracks in street gutters. If wildflowers are so tough, then why can’t we simply purchase a mix of wildflower seeds and cast them onto the ground and let the garden fairies do the rest?

It makes sense, but in reality, establishing a self-sustaining wildflower plot is a very complex task! I’ll try to distill all the intricacies into plain talk to help you produce a real-life wildflower experience that will work well in the field.