Sunday, May 5, 2013

Yard: Evolution of the Bulbs

One of the best gardening decisions I made was to plant bulbs last fall. There's a high level of pay off, since just a few hours of digging results in big, bright blooms to cheer up early spring. Bulbs are great for shady gardens like mine because they show up before tree leaves fill in. It's also nice that crocuses and daffodils will come back and spread year after year. I'm totally going to plant more bulbs this fall, including a mini field of grape hyacinths.

bulbs carefully spaced in a big hole

crocus bulbs hiding under the just planted and stamped ground in the fall

crocuses arrived in march

crocuses, spent a few weeks later

meanwhile, tulips and daffodils peeking up 

daffodils and tulips blooming in late april

Friday, May 3, 2013

Yard: Signs of Life

So what exactly is happening in the yard?

The lawn is dotted with dandelions. Evan loves dandelion greens, but we can't eat these leaves straight from the ground or we'd get lead poisoning (more on that later). Last weekend, he collected some seeds and planted them in a container to grow dandelions for eating.

We killed off other whole sections of ground cover last summer by ripping out weeds and having pots and a table in the middle of the yard. Now we're trying to fix that by planting grass seed - perennial rye and pasture mix that Evan's parents gave us.

A few perennial wildflowers are reemerging - coneflower, bee balm and something that is black eyed susan or daisy respectively. Around them I scattered marigold, blue cornflower and cosmo seeds. I collected perennial seed packets too because seeds are cheap and I wanted lots of flowers, but only recently realized that perennials don't usually bloom the first year. So I'm kicking myself for not buying more established perennials when they were on sale last fall.

Radishes on the left, arugula on the right. Hope they keep growing.

I planted three mums in the fall, but only one came back, which my mom said is normal. The tall plant seems related to sweet woodruff and hopefully it will produce little white flowers like a wild baby's breath. Those are stinging nettles poking out of the fence. I kinda hoped they wouldn't come back because they really do sting and are a gardening hazard. And again, I can't make nettle tea because of the leaden soil.

Dusty miller thriving after the winter and hostas returning.

The garlic I planted in the fall is going strong, as is kale.

Potted herbs that survived the winter: Catmint, marjoram and parsley. The rosemary and regular mint did not make it. I kept meaning to bring them all inside overwinter but was too lazy to clean off the dirty pots. I'm tempted to put the catmint in the ground. I hear it will spread invasively, but what's so bad about that?

What's peeking up in your yard? Tomorrow I'll show you the bulbs!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gardening Brain

I have a bad case of what I'm calling gardening brain. Over winter, while the natural world went dormant, so too did my thoughts about it, leaving me free to think about the rest of my life. But now, for the first time, I'm landscaping, and it's overwhelming. It may be a small yard, but I'm dreaming of looking out my window and seeing greenery and flowers everywhere. I've planted a few things in pots before, but now I'm going back to my flower strewn childhood roots and putting things in the ground, and it's become a preoccupation.

It began in February while it was still snowing, and I created spreadsheets outlining overambitious plans. I sketched out a map that I'm mentally reevaluating as I go along. I'm puttering around in the yard getting too lost in what I should plant where, in what pot or what bed. I'm moving plants around and reseeding when things don't come up quickly and trying to decide whether it's worth it to plant another kind of vegetable seed or pick up another ornamental plant. Evan says he'll get mad if I move another plant around, and then I make him dig holes so I can do it anyway.

On my daily bike rides through the city, I'm paying attention to what's growing in a way I never have before. I'm noticing not just that the daffodils and tulips are up, but the less showy plants next to them too, and how they're arranged. I'm realizing that landscaping is a personal choice chosen from endless possibilities, like fashion, and I'm trying to absorb inspiration from everywhere - from the shady brownstone front yards, the sidewalk planters, the foliage peeking through the fences of community gardens, from walks through the botanic garden. You can be lazy and have a few shrubs or pansies in mounds of mulch or you can work lush magic. I see all the plants and I want them too.

But it's early spring, seeds are in the soil, little sprouts are coming up, my yard isn't thriving yet, and except for the bulbs, there's just a lot of dirt. I'm impatient to know how it's going to grow. I could speed things along by buying lots of already grown plants. But the problem is that gardening can get expensive quickly. As a renter, I'm trying to balance my desire for all the plants with the reality that I'm frugal. There's a wide gap between what I would do if I owned property and what I should reasonably do with this rental property since I don't even know if I'll be here long enough to see the perennials bloom next summer (probably, but who knows). I don't want to invest too much of my time and money - just enough to have enough prettiness.

So I'm sowing seeds, buying starts selectively and reminding myself to wait and see. It's all an experiment, and I must be patient and happy with the daffodils that are blooming and not sad at the dirt that's not.