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Spring 1999 Mary's Plant Farm Newsletter

Spring will come, green slippered, sun haloed and robed in violets.
L. W. Sutton

     The above words cannot become an actuality too soon for me, although Feb. has not been dull. We started potting perennials from the back frame on February 3rd., and I was able to resow quite a few perennial seeds, especially the ones needing a freeze to break dormancy. I had sown plenty of foxglove and lupine last June, as we sold out quickly in the Spring. So on Feb. 8th we dug and potted the foxgloves, and also the lillium bulbs that arrived from Holland. I was even able to dig boxwood for a customer. Which brings me to the subject of Winter gardens. Im so delighted when someone discovers there is beauty in the garden in Winter. Many plants that give beauty in the Summer, really come into their own in the Winter garden. Theres always the evergreens, dwarf or large. The hollies (flex), our native I. Opaca and I. Verticilata, or the shade loving I. Pedunculosa. But what of the other colors. The lovely silvers of Santolina incana (or green of S. viridis), Artemisia Powis Castle or Lavenders. The silvery blue of the architectural looking stems of Euphorbia myrinitis, or Rue. The Arum italica with its large green tropical leaves that snow and ice or -36 degrees cant hurt. The leaves disappear in the heat of Summer, but they leave large stalks of red berries that are even more spectacular. The evergreen Autumn or Christmas Ferns or the tall Leatherwood Fern that out shines the Ostrich variety because its evergreen. The cyclamen that sends up the beautiful variegated foliage in fall and blooms pink into December, or the deep pink one I just picked before the beautiful Feb. 12th snow fall. Its foliage will come later. Sedum and sempervivums change color in the winter. The extra large leaves of Bergenia cordifolia turn dark rose and purple in winter and resume their vivid green color with the first warm Spring day. And evergreen gingers, liriope and the curly ivies are so pretty tumbling over a wall or large rock. All the berried shrubs and trees some with textured exfoliating bark. The vivid green twigs of Kerria variegata or K. Flora plena if you dont have room for the red or yellow twigged Cornus. Although the variegated C. Ivory Halo does stay short. And grasses, not forgetting the lovely blues of the dwarf Festuca and Helictotricon. There are bulbs that start blooming by the end of January. The Eranthus (Winter Aconite) with their yellow petaled heads above their green ruffled collars, even snows couldnt daunt them. Snow crocus blooming everywhere the sun had warmed the ground. All the Helleborus were heavily budded when I checked them Feb. 6th. Theres a deep purple one growing in the raised bed along the back wall that has been a joy to see every time I leave or re-enter the house. I resisted picking it because by leaving the bloom I will enjoy them several times a day for over 3 months. A caller told me Your always writing of the blooming flowers in February. This is the first year I've had Helleborus and the fragrant Iris dandefordi and reticulata in bloom. I'm glad that these little things make other people happy also. In Feb. I enjoyed a Winter walk in the garden with a young gentleman, picking a snowdrop and seeing the real beauty of the flower up close. As Beverly Nichols says in one of his books, you must either pick or lie down on the ground to see into the flower.

     Each year I drift more and more toward the naturalistic or American garden style, but it isnt for everyone. I still like some of my gardens in borders, rockeries etc., but all that grass we had was not essential and all those hours of mowing can now be spent sitting on a bench in the more casual mulched areas, gazing at the flowering trees, shrubs or the wildflowers and bulbs planted there. Ive discovered its a lovely setting also for the planting of Fall blooming Colchicum and Stembergia. The lavenders and whites of the Colchicum compliment the fall purple and white of the Callicarpia berries. According to the number of customers I had in Nov. and Dec. last year, everyone was gardening. I accomplished a lot in the north border, removing the Silver Amur grass that spread too far (the others dont). The fact that I neglected to do some of the fall chores that needed to be done is moot. I should have been wrapping the bases of the roses, hamameles etc. with the netting bags from grapefruit, potatos and such that we save for that purpose. Now I find some of the roses will have to be cut to the ground because of extreme rabbit damage. The bloom will be a bit later on everbloorning varieties but will create some loss of bloom on the remontant (once blooming) roses. A caller in January asking about roses wondered why anyone would plant a rose that bloomed only once each season. I told them to visit around the first week of June when the fragrant Harrisons Yellow, Constance Spry, Alchemist or others are dripping with bloom and covering the ground. Its like drowning in fragrant rose petals. While Im on the rose subject, late Feb. or March is a good time to put granular fertilizer around each bush. I admit I dont always get this accomplished, but would like to. You can get a 40 lb. bag of 10-10-10, a good general all purpose fertilizer at a very reasonable cost at Farm & Fleet. You could also use 5-10-5. Also I always use the wood ashes from the fireplace around roses, peonies, and iris rhizomes. They can be put on anytime in the winter even over snow. Be sure to push it away from the crown of plants in the Spring when new growth starts. Also save some dry ashes for over your hosta roots just before they leaf out to control slugs. Make sure no slug eggs are in the soil at the crown of the plant. For more about slugs refer to our other newsletters from previous years. We have copies. With last years drought we discovered again that many gardeners that mulch heavily, think when they water their plants the water is going into the ground. Many types of mulch create a barrier when it becomes too dry, not allowing enough water to penetrate into the ground. Do not presume that the water soaks in, even if the soil looks moist. We had gardeners call last year saying they were watering plants but they were still wilting. When they were told to remove the mulch and dig down with a trowel to see how far water had penetrated, they were shocked to find less then an inch of wet soil.. A plants water absorbing roots are deep in the ground, not in the top inch of soil. Drought can also create trouble with plants that were grown in the medium mixes, that are used instead of soil. Once that mix dries out, it is difficult to get water to penetrate. Thats why we will always use soil for our potting. All plants dont require the same soil. We mix it to suit the plant. Sand is added for Oriental poppies and Penstemons, extra spagnum for Astilbe and water loving plants. Perlite is added to all for drainage. Comments from our customers who say our plants grow best, is proof to us. What about the size of pots? We get many calls from prospective customers asking are your plants in gallon containers? Size of the container depends on growth size and root system of the plant. We believe in the pot fitting the plant. Back to the subject of drought. Zeriscaping is the use of plants that can tolerate dry conditions. Many years ago (Im not saying how many) when I was horticulturists for region 4 of the O.A.G.C. I used the theme 'Youve got to grow it to know it. This-was reaffirmed to me last year in the drought Here, we had no rain from July 11th till Oct. I know it probably rained where you were. It would pour in Oxford then skip us and rain at the bottom of the hill in Hamilton. I had originally seen Cephalanthus (Buttonbush) growing in over one foot of water. I loved the white balls of bloom. Its a native shrub that is now getting a lot of attention. Ive grown and sold it for several years, but my plant is not in water, but along the woodland area where water runs during a storm. But last fall it sat there bone dry while everything around it withered. The green leaves were as slick as ever, with never a drooped leaf. I couldnt believe it. Another good drought tolerant shrub or small flowering tree is Chionanthus Retuses, the Chinese Fringe tree. It blooms almost identical to our native Chionanthus Virginicus which prefers rich moist soil, but has the added advantage of exfoliating bark. Both are also pest free. Another nice small tree that tolerates drought and shade is our native Hophornbeam or Ironwood (Ostrya virginiana). Isnt Spring wonderful, a new year with a fresh start. Weve planned so many new projects, and also on arrangements for our annual Gardeners Day, Sunday June 6th from 12:00 to 5:00. Guided tours with Mary will begin around 12:30 or you can tour on your own as always. Seminars will follow:
     1:30 p.m. Container Gardening - Sheni Berger
     2:00 p.m. Planting for Butterflies and Birds - Mary Harrison
     2:30 p.m. Herbs - Ruth Towne
Herb refreshments will follow. Many who read the article about us in Midwest Magazine, call to ask if there is a charge or a rain date. No, it is always the first Sunday in June and we hold it rain or shine and host it as a party for our gardening friends. As always reservations are appreciated. We hope you can join us for the afternoon.

©Mary Harrison 1999