Winter Garden Experiment #1: Pansies!

It is becoming a reoccurring theme during the months of December, January, and February for me to try some sort of growing experiment because I’m bored, miss gardening, and want to see if it works. Some are far shots, some have failed, but if I’ve wasted resources in the process at least I’ve learned something as well. This year, however, I believe I may have put together a system that just might work, and if it does it should get the spring garden off to a nice, early start. I’m also becoming more and more interested in having more flowers in the garden and starting them from seed, hence my first winter experiment for 2018:

Pansies!

Back in December I was at a local garden center with some Christmas gift money burning a hole in my pocket. So of course, when I saw they still had a couple stands of seed packets left over from the spring rush I had to take a look. $40 later I cheerfully drove away thrilled with my new selections, one of them being the Swiss Giant pansy blend from Botanical Interests. I’ve never grown pansies before, from seed or otherwise, so this is a new adventure for me. With their frost hardy constitution, I thought it would be fun to see just how early I could get these beauties started.

The first step was to follow the directions on the packet and and cold stratify the seeds. I decided to do this in a damp paper towel, inside a plastic zip bag, inside a brown paper bag (to provide them the necessary darkness they need to germinate), and stick them in the refrigerator.

I left the seeds in the fridge for about five days.

I really like using the damp paper towel method for larger seeds that I want to pre-sprout, but since the pansy seeds are so small, I think next time I do this I will just sow them in seed starting mix and stick them in the fridge that way, as it was a pain trying to get the damp seeds off of the towel and into the seed starting mix. Praise God for toothpicks.

After sowing the stratified seeds into my favorite seed starting mix, I stuck the containers in a box to keep them in the dark and set them out in the garage. Once the sprouts emerge they will be grown under a light strip in the garage where it stays cool but not frigid. Once they are big enough and the weather is more accommodating, the transplants will be stuck in a cold frame and eventually into their final containers.

I’m excited to see how this particular winter “experiment” turns out. Lord willing, I’ll have some lovely blooms to enjoy this spring!

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Deck Farming 2017: Wins and Fails

I consider 2017 my best year of container gardening (or as I sometimes call it, Deck Farming) to date. Not, mind you, because I produced an epic amount of veg (I certainly didn’t) but because of how much I learned, and how well I feel it set me up for this year’s gardening escapades. And so, without further ado, here are some of my wins and fails for the 2017 growing season:

WIN: 2017 was the first year I attempted starting tomatoes from seed indoors under a shop light, and I am pleased to say that the Glacier and Super Bush seedlings that came from it were hale and hearty!

FAIL: To harden off my precious tomato seedlings I let them spend some time outdoors getting used to the sun and wind. One evening as I stepped out to collect my dear little darlings, I discovered to my horror that a rude groundhog had eaten my poor little plants down to stubs! I’m sure you can imagine my rage and despair. However, it was early enough in the season that I was able to replace them with transplants from a local nursery, praise God.

WIN: I finally got around to growing the Rattlesnake pole and Scarlet Runner beans I’d ordered the year before. The Rattlesnake beans had a great flavor.

FAIL: I overcrowded them terribly, probably didn’t give the Scarlet Runners a deep enough container, and due to being sick a good part of late spring and early summer did not water them nearly enough. The Scarlet Runners never gave me beans, but I did get to finally have a look at their flowers.

WIN: I managed to successfully produce a few peppers and eggplants from nursery transplants.

FAIL: Mr. Awesome doesn’t like peppers or eggplant, and I didn’t get around to eating them much either. They were a waste of valuable space and growing medium.

WIN: I grew some lovely baby lettuce

FAIL: Didn’t grow enough lettuce. My new, long term gardening goal is to produce enough leafy greens all year long that we do not need to buy any at the store.

FAIL: Our poor plants were beset with cabbage worms again this year, and I wasn’t well enough, or diligent enough, to get outdoors and pick them off. Think I’m going to just have to get some BT this year seeing as they have been eating my seedlings away.

ALSO FAIL: I grew no less than three different types of basil last year and I think I may have used them once in cooking. Same goes for the other herbs.

WIN: I grew some lovely varieties of marigolds from seed that I was very happy with, specifically Bambino and Naughty Marietta:

I’m finding I much prefer marigold varieties with single flowers over the double. Something about them seems so joyful, and they aren’t what you typically see offered in flats at garden centers.

EPIC, EPIC FAIL: The last time I was blogging I mentioned that Mr. Awesome bought me several lovely own root roses for my 30th birthday and stated that I would be bringing them indoors that winter to protect them. Well, I didn’t, and I lost EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. Talk about a hard lesson learned!

WIN: Last September I was moseying around a local greenhouse which the few times I’ve been there has had some truly impressive rose bushes for sale. Being later in the season, their remaining stock was 50% off, so for less than $15 I brought home a lovely grafted Burgundy Iceberg rose, which bloomed its heart out until I finally brought it into the garage to (Lord willing) safely hibernate until spring.

WIN: After watering a particular houseplant and having it overflow onto our lovely antique Victorian secretary, I banished all of our houseplants outdoors to, frankly, thrive or die. They had been looking quite forlorn anyway, and I wasn’t terribly worried if they didn’t make it. I told myself if they did well I would worry about what to do with them when the weather turned cold again.

Well, the field trip outside did the majority of them a great deal of good. They grew, got plenty of water, sunshine, and humidity, and I didn’t have to fear for our furniture or worry much about them for a couple of months. I fully intend for this to become a routine in our household. Another big bonus to taking them outdoors was my Christmas cacti were given the conditions they needed to flower, and put on quite a show:

WIN: I read Eliot Coleman’s books, The Four-Season Harvest and The Winter Harvest Handbook. Living in Michigan in zone 6a where we are beset with cold weather six months of the year, the concept of winter growing is extremely attractive to me. I also made my first cold frame and put it to use, but that’s probably a good subject for another blog post.

Those are some of the main highlights of the 2017 growing season. My main goal for 2018 is to grow enough produce that it makes a significant impact on our diet (and bank account). I’m especially excited to put to practice what I’ve learned about season extending and winter growing, and hope to have more cold frames together by spring to start seedlings in.

God bless!

Rose: Ballerina

It was quite a revelation when I discovered that some roses only have five petals per bloom. Having had the image of a red hybrid tea imprinted on my mind from childhood to be what qualified as a rose, I don’t think it ever occurred to me that a simplified version existed, which most likely lead to my initial reaction of, what’s the point of a rose that doesn’t look like a rose?

But my perception quickly changed, partly due to the lovely photos in Peter Beales’ book Passion for Roses, and also that I had read somewhere that single roses did better in part-shade conditions. Of course, variety is always nice, so when I made my list of “must haves” before making the order from High Country Roses, a couple of singles made it to the list, one of them being Ballerina.

She didn’t disappoint me.

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Ballerina is a repeat blooming hybrid musk that I anticipate will keep me in lovely blossoms all through the growing season and should stay a relatively manageable size. If I remember correctly, she had a light scent in the mornings which disappeared by afternoon. Her open, single flowers offer a nice opportunity for pollinators.

The main problem I had with her was caterpillars making Swiss cheese out of her leaves as they did with all of my roses. With all of the rain we’ve had during this summer and fall most of the roses ended up with mildew on at least a couple of leaves, and Ballerina may have as well. Still, I expect her to be an easy going rose that shouldn’t give me much trouble in years to come.

 

 

Rose: Bill Reid

Of the roses I received this year, Bill Reid was one that really bloomed its heart out for me, and I praise God for that because this rose carries special sentiment for me.

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Bill Reid in front, not long after planting

This spring  I was scrolling through the High Country Roses online catalog (something, I must confess, that occupied a good bit of my time early in the year…), when to my great surprise, I came across a rose that carried the same name as one of my grandmother’s brothers. Confused, I tried to mentally page through what little I knew of the man (now passed on), and could not come up with any connection he would have had to roses. I called my mother and we laughed over such a strange coincidence which was only deepened by the fact that my grandmother’s favorite color of rose is yellow, as was her mother’s.

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The rose, of course, has no connection to my great-uncle, and neither did the artist whom this rose is named after. Still, my grandmother thought enough of it to ask to see the rose, and when I showed her the picture in the HCR catalog, she very kindly offered to get me one for my birthday.

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Bill Reid is part of the Canadian Artists series; a compact, repeat flowering floribunda that can handle temperatures down to zone 3. My young plant doesn’t appear to be very thorny, but that may change as it matures. It has a very light (citrus?) sent which isn’t all that impressive but what it doesn’t do for the nose Bill Reid does for the eyes.

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I have more pictures of Bill Reid than any of the other roses that bloomed this season, as I wanted my grandmother to see how lovely the rose she gave me turned out. She was delighted, and I am thankful to have a rose that will always remind me of her.

 

 

 

Introducing the Roses

I went rose crazy this spring.

When I first became interested in gardening I thought I would be focusing mostly on edibles, as the whole homesteading/self-sufficiency thing is very appealing to myself and Mr. Awesome, who comes from an agrarian family. But then catalogs and library books happened, and suddenly I was entranced by the idea of having a rose garden, albeit a potted one. I prayed that I would be able to get three rose bushes by the end of the 2016 growing season. I ended the year with fourteen, praise God! Most of the roses were an early 30th birthday present from Mr. Awesome and my grandmother.

The majority of the roses came mail order via High Country Roses out in Colorado. I really can’t recommend them enough if you are looking for young, own root roses. Their selection is great, shipping costs are reasonable, and the customer service is very good. One wet April morning, I received one of each of the following:

  • Cardinal de Richelieu
  • The Fairy
  • Gruss An Aachen
  • Buff Beauty
  • Marchesa Boccella
  • Ballerina
  • Zephirine Drouhin
  • Mountain Mignonette
  • Distant Drums
  • Madame Pierre Oger
  • Bill Reid
  • Awakening
  • Honorine de Brabant
  • Reine des Violettes
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Rose order before being taken out of the box. The bloom you see above is the Gruss An Aachen. Though the petals were not at their peak, it smelled wonderful.

Before their arrival, I made sure I had all I needed for my new charges. I had found enough good sized pots to house them in in the recycling bin of a local nursery, which cost me nothing (if you have a nearby nursery or home improvement store that lets you raid their recycle bin, this is a great way to get plastic containers for free). I had also picked up a bag or two of Dairy Doo and some cedar mulch.

The instructions High Country Roses sent along with their order recommended hardening the little plants off before planting them out. Since they were going into pots and I could stick them under our balcony until they were more comfortable with their surroundings, I called HCR and asked if that would be an adequate hardening off period. The gentleman said it would be fine, so I geared up to plant.

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The Fairy, planted and ready to grow.

All of the HCR roses got the same treatment. I made a mix of some soil I had left over from the year before, peat moss, homemade compost, Dairy Doo, and a bit of Espoma’s Rose-tone. After planting them in their containers, I surrounded them with a thin layer of Dairy Doo, mulched them with the cedar, and gave them a drink.

The two climbers, Awakening and Zephirine Drouhin, got the largest containers (at least 20 in. and probably close to 20 gallons of space) as well as a couple of homemade trellises I DIYed.

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Awakening with the bamboo trellis I made by tying poles together with fishing line. May not hold up for long, but at least it’s light weight.

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Zephirine Drouhin with the much heavier trellis I made by screwing together 1 1/2 x 3/4 in. untreated pine lumber. Much heavier but more professional looking.

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Buff Beauty

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Honorine de Brabant up on our balcony.

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I believe the rose in front is Bill Reid. I think that’s The Fairy behind it.

Overall, everything went in just fine. In hindsight I think I should have been a bit more conservative with the amount of compost I put in with them, and perhaps left off the Espoma as Buff Beauty and Reine des Violettes ended up quite leggy. I also regret a couple of my container choices. A few simply did not drain well and with the unusually wet summer we had, it was a bit of a shuffle to keep the roses from drowning.

A few weeks later I was looking through the discount section at a local nursery and saw that they had a few David Austin roses there with mildew ravaging their leaves. Despite the mildew and the fact that they were grafted, I couldn’t resist the price tag of $10 each and brought home a Harlow Carr and a Wollerton Old Hall. I tried to keep them away from the other roses to keep the mildew from spreading and treat them as best I could. Eventually I just defoliated them both. Harlow Carr Survived by Wollerton Old Hall did not. That week  Zephirine Drouhin showed up with mildew. I don’t know if it was a coincidence or if I had infected her by bringing in the new comers, but if I had to do it over again I think I would have left the discounted roses where they were. Still, Harlow Carr gave me some very lovely blooms this season, even if it is a bit of a thorny monster.

Poor Distant Drums had a bit of a struggle. It ended up on our balcony where I think it simply got too hot and eventually expired. A big bummer considering the lovely coffee fading to lavender color of its blooms.

It is amazing how quickly roses grow though, and I was very happy that Awakening, The Fairy, Gruss an Aachen, Marchesa Boccella, Ballerina, Mountain Mignonette, Distant Drums, Bill Reid and Harlow Carr all bloomed at least once.

I’m very thankful to have the roses around, and am excited to see how they do next season (assuming I don’t kill any more of them before then). I look forward to them becoming big, mature plants. Most if not all of them will be overwintering in our garage (a perk of growing them in pots). Most should safely grow in our zone, but I see no reason to take the chance. We had a mild winter last year, but the two years before that were quite brutal.

Eventually I plan to re-pot them into larger, more stately containers, but for now they should have plenty of room to stretch their legs, at least until spring arrives.

2016 Growing Season: What I Learned

Last year the gardening bug bit me in the worst way, and I don’t think I’ll ever be the same again. Living in a condo, Mr. Awesome and I don’t have property of our own to plant on, but what we do have is roughly 516 square feet of porch, deck, and balcony space. You can grow just about anything in a container provided it’s large enough.

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Winter-sown seeds germinating

I had just enough success during the growing season of 2015 to get me wholeheartedly curious and moderately obsessed with gardening. Thanks to a slew of mouth-watering seed catalogs and a number of library books, I was determined to plan 2016 down to the minutest detail and have an epic year. But once the leaves began changing their colors and fluttering to the ground and the days cooled down, the realizations that I had not fulfilled half my plans for this growing season, that I would have to wait another six months to try again, and that what I could do this time of year I probably shouldn’t be spending money on, threw me into a full fledged pity party.

Ungrateful much?

Saturday morning I sat in bed with my journal. As I sipped my cup of coffee, I thought about all that had gone on this past spring and summer, and I realized that, far from having wasted the year, a good deal had been accomplished and I had plenty to thank Jesus for:

  • God answered my prayers about our light situation. Our condo is in a fairly wooded area and our deck is shrouded by several large walnut trees. This caused me considerable worries as most of the things I’ve been dying to grow do best in full sun. After praying for some help in the matter (“Lord, would you please just get rid of that tree… and that tree?”), I decided to go ahead and experiment, and praise God, the tomatoes ripened and roses bloomed in places I had some serious doubts about. I now have a better idea of what will grow where.
  • I end this season with fourteen rose bushes and three ferns I didn’t have last season. The ferns came from a kind neighbor and the rose bushes were mostly birthday presents from Mr. Awesome and my grandmother. I became fairly rose obsessed early this year and prayed that Jesus would let me have three roses by the end of the year, which He more than answered.  A subject, no doubt, for another post…
  • This past winter I discovered I could compost in plastic totes in our garage with few issues.
  • I made my first seed order by mail, the result being I purchased entirely too many varieties. But now I have a large mason jar full of seeds, most of which should be viable next year.
  • I gave winter sowing a try and had a good bit of success with it, though I think I will  make some changes to my method if I try it again.
  • I grew enough tomato plants from seed that I had more than enough seedlings to give away to family and friends.
  • I discovered Dave’s Garden and the Garden Watchdog, which have proven to be very valuable resources when choosing mail order seed and plant companies to order from.
  • I improved the soil in our containers by adding our homemade compost as well as Dairy Doo.
  • I attended a garden expo at a local nursery and took in several seminars. It was a joy to be in such a contagious gardening atmosphere.
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The Bill Reid rose

So, I didn’t grow all forty-some varieties of seed I purchased, and many of the ones I tried to grow didn’t make it, but some things did. Two of the sixteen rose bushes I bought expired, and the others had mildew and cabbage worm problems, but some gave us beautiful blooms. I didn’t entirely cover our deck with  pots and raised beds as I had fantasized, but through the kindness of others I received many plants that should last for years.

As six months of winter race towards us, I thank the Lord for all He has given me this growing season and for all He’s taught me.  And I still have much to look forward to. While the earth rests and snow piles up outside, I can armchair garden, sating myself with gardening books and seed catalogs. I can continue to learn, dream, and plan; praying that 2017 will be my best gardening season yet.

Dreaming of A Potted Paradise: A Garden of Containers

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A few months ago I had an epiphany.

Since the craziness of getting married and our first holidays as a married couple had passed, I finally realized something: I’m the woman of this house and I can, so long as Mr. Awesome doesn’t hate it, make improvements to/decorate our condo.

Bam.

Now, this may not seem like much of a revelation to some, but it hit me upside the head, blindsiding me and chasing me over to Pinterest where I glutted myself with several hundred interesting (and hopefully frugal) ideas of changes I could bring about in our love nest. Weeks later, something else occurred to me, or rather re-occurred to me, as I’d thought about it last summer: We have a large deck, a good sized porch, and a balcony off the master bedroom. Flowers. We need flowers. Lots and lots of flowers.

After waiting for the weather to warm up and putting the idea on the back burner for a couple of weeks, my mother and grandmother came for a visit, bringing with them some plant stands the folks were no longer using. We made a trip to the local home improvement store, and I did not return empty handed.

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I must confess that I cheated. I didn’t buy pots, soil, and cleverly design these aesthetically pleasing mixed containers myself.

They came that way.

They were on sale.

I hope to plant some large containers myself in the future, as my vision for our deck contains even more flowers than these beauties (think opening credits of My Fair Lady). Our porch is still bare and unwelcoming, and I’m fantasizing about our balcony looking like one of those European balconies you see in travel photos. But what we have is an excellent start, and I am thankful to get to look out our windows and see these colorful ambassadors of the beauty of God’s creation.

And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so.

And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:11-12 (KJV)

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