April 27, 2019

Cool Flowers, by Lisa Mason Ziegler


Cool Flowers
, by Lisa Mason Ziegler

5 stars: A book I have come back to again and again.

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? My fan-girl gushing about this lady and her wealth of knowledge might have been a clue for you! 

Pansies were my first clue that this book may be a key resource for me. I’ll tell you why. Pansies love it cool, or even cold. Therefore, I wasn’t too surprised when they survived the winter last year (and this one too.) What really surprised me was how well they did all summer. Usually they will just fade into nothing when it gets really hot, but they kept on blooming prolifically all summer long last year! 

Look how gorgeous these pansies are—this was taken in August! 

High summer heat and they were thriving.

I live in a mountain valley, and I know elevation has an effect on frost dates and USDA frost hardiness zone and such. However, technically I am in the same zone here (5b) as I was in Washington state, and my pansies never survived a summer there, unless they were in full-on shade! These were not, by the way. Mostly sun, as a matter of fact.

So I decided to go really big for what Ms. Ziegler calls “cool flowers,” another name for hardy annuals. These are flowers that actually prefer cooler weather. Many of them will either winter over, if started in the fall, or can be started VERY early spring to pump out blooms before most other flowers have even woken up!

So I thought if the pansies are making it all summer long, maybe some of the other cool flowers will do just as well! At least, that’s my hope. In fact, the 2 flowers that did the very best in my garden last year were also cool flowers: bachelor’s buttons and Bells of Ireland. Like the pansies, they bloomed all summer long for me. I think I’m on to something here!

Bells of Ireland, July 2017

Here’s an incomplete list of the hardy annuals she covers in the book: Ammi (Queen Anne’s lace), bachelor’s buttons, Bells of Ireland, black—eyed Susan, dill, feverfew, foxglove, poppies, pincushion flowers, and so on. Some of my favorite flowers are on that list! Each flower gets its own page with tips for seed-starting, winter-growing strategies, and a section called “Keep the Blooms Coming.”

If that was all she covered this book would be a valuable resource. In addition to the individual flower facts, she also has chapters devoted to the life cycle of a hardy annual, seed starting, healthy soil, etc.

Full-color photographs, tips, and sidebars, offer even more information.

Some of my flower farming books are a one-time read, or maybe an occasional second look. This is one I have gone back to time and again. I also recently took Lisa’s seed starting course and it was fabulous.

She has a website with videos, online classes, a shop, and more, called The Gardener’s Workshop..

If you have this one (or get it) tell me: did it open your eyes to a whole new world of flower planting? 

April 20, 2019

April Bloom Day: Daffodils and Hyacinths


For those of you wondering what “Bloom Day” is, there’s a garden blogger who writes at May Dreams Gardens, who hosts a monthly roundup called Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day. On the 15th of every month, anyone who wishes can link up their blog and show off what they have blooming in their yard and garden right then. I have done it for years on my other blog, and would like to get back into the habit with this one. If nothing else, it’s nice to look back and compare from year to year. However, since I am 5 days late this month, I’m not planning to actually link up. Next month!

Get ready for picture overload!

Without further adieu, here’s what I’ve got blooming in my garden right now:

Front Flowerbeds

Front flowerbeds, on the right.

I am finding I especially love the white daffodils with pink cups. 
The mini yellows are pretty darn cheerful, though!

Front side of the front beds, hyacinths, tulips coming, columbine that came back!

Far front corner.

This little cutie is a checkered fritillary, under the plum tree out front.

Side Yard: Oval Bed

Oval bed—a few daffodils, with plenty of tulips, alliums, and perennial bachelor’s buttons coming.

I love all the different daffodils in this picture! This is the oval bed in the side yard.

Front Porch Beds and East Side

Hello to the pansies!—(and the weeds. Sigh)

A few hydrangeas, plus tulips and more pansies!

Almost blooming—east side tulips!

Yay! These lilies are coming back!

Back Corner Bed

Look at the bushy yarrow in front! Woohoo!

Tulips growing in the back corner bed, with way too much grass!

Back Yard

These daffodils are the ones I planted last fall; a mix of doubles. 
They are along the fenced side of the garden.

Lovely mix of hyacinths behind the greenhouse. Next year I need to add some other colors!

My crate tulips are coming up! I’m going to move them into the greenhouse this week, now that we’ve got the one side rolled up, so that I can take off the wire without fear of DEER.

These are around the base of the peach tree. Can’t wait to see them fully open!

One last patch of daffodils in back.
 I didn’t think these would come back this year, so this is a pleasant surprise!

Phew! Did you make it all the way through? I did warn you!

What’s blooming in your neck of the woods right now?

April 13, 2019

Fast Breakers, Snow, First Harvest, and More!

 So, as usual, it’s been a busy week around here. Here’s some of what I’ve been up to:

Sun Sugar cherry tomatoes, one of many varieties I started last week. Keeping my eye on the goal, here! These were grown in my Washington state garden.

Tomato Woes & Seedling Updates

First let me talk about the tomato and pepper seedlings. I learned this week that they are what you might call “fast breakers!” Meaning, once they come up, they really grow fast. Normally that would be good, but with my set-up right now it’s not. Here’s the deal. I’ve got my heat mat on a table in a different room of the house than my grow lights. This is a room we don’t use very often, hence the light isn’t even on in there most of the time. Not a problem for slow breaking seedlings. I water them at least once a day, especially when they’re on the heat mat, so I’m checking on them very regularly. Usually you don’t want to move them to the lights until about 50% have germinated. For the slower seedlings, once I notice that enough of them are breaking through the soil, I move them over to the lights to continue growing. Not a problem.

So I checked my baby tomatoes and peppers a couple of nights ago, and I had some coming up—YAY! There were still just 5 or 6 out of 20 per section, so I wanted to wait. When I checked on them the next day not only were a bunch more up, the ones that had already popped through the soil earlier were now 3-4 inches tall and pushing against the plastic dome! WHAT?! These are leggy seedlings! They’re stretching to find light. Darn it! You can always plant seedlings deeper when you pot them on to the next size, but 4 inches? That’s the size of the pot itself! Ug!

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to do about it. They had already stretched, so it’s not like you can un-stretch them! After moving them under the lights and stewing over it for a day, I decided to just pull out those super tall ones and immediately planted a new seed in the same soil block. Not sure if that will work or not! These took less than a week to grow on the heat mat, so I’m hoping I still have time to sprout some new ones in their place.

Now they’re under the lights, which I have as close to them as possible (my trays are on wood blocks to raise them even closer) and… several of them have stretched out tall again. Sigh. I’m telling myself that they’re not as tall as those first ones. It could be a lie. The peppers are actually behaving better—they’re only slightly stretched. Say, 1 inch instead of 3 inches.

So much to learn with these seedlings!

Meanwhile, on a happier note, I got 2 trays of pansies potted up to bigger containers, and so far they are looking really happy and growing even bigger. Yay! My last tray and a half were still all quite a bit smaller—I’m wondering if they are the violas?—so I’m going to wait to pot them on to the next size up.

Note to self: I need to buy more pots to put all these babies in! Oh, and also—more plant tags! (The popsicle sticks I used all molded/rotted. Oops. Back to plastic, I suppose!)

I want to start hardening off the bigger pansies this week. It would be very helpful for them to continue growing outside, as it would free up space inside under my grow lights. That’s precious real estate right now!

Finally, the snapdragons I started are still very small and few in number, but I noticed yesterday that many of them have started to grow a set of true leaves. That’s very good! Last year my snaps stalled out completely for almost a month. These have at least made visible progress each week—seed leaves growing bigger, etc.—so I’m hopeful they will continue on. Last year a grand total of 5 seed-grown snaps made it out into the garden, and it was July before they were big enough, mind you. July! That’s way too late for the likes of them! So I am hopeful that these will be ready to plant out in a month or less.

The carnations are in the same boat—true leaves just coming.

This Week’s Accelerated Learning Opportunity

We had a really nice spring day last week, that I unfortunately spent inside working feverishly on a marketing project: homemade seed packets as giveaways for a local business conference I attended. I made 60 of them! I’m proud of me. They were asking for 100 to put in the goodie bags given to each attendee, but at last count right around 55 people attended. For the win!

It was a fantastic learning experience for me. That’s business-speak for “I made tons of mistakes!” I really did, though.

Mistake #1: printing off the seed packet templates instead of just ordering some plain small envelopes and being done with it! Even with a paper trimmer, it took a really long time to cut out and glue together 60 seed packets. Especially because I wanted them to look cute, so I had extra papers I glued on, plus the seed-starting instructions. So much cutting and gluing! What a waste of time! They can’t be THAT expensive to just buy. See how much I am learning?

Mistake #2: I printed them off onto beautiful, medium blue paper…which made my information on the front of the seed packet hard to read. Not much I could do about that one after the fact.

Mistkae #3: I put the name of my business on a part of the packet that actually was designed to be a flap, so it got folded under and glued down! I almost gave up right then and there when I noticed that. Instead, I ended up including a business card in every packet, so that they would actually have all my info.

Need I go on? In any case, at least around 50 people have my information and 10 of my precious Bells of Ireland seeds. Maybe something good will come of it. I am actually impressed that I had that many Bells seeds. Plenty leftover, too! I think I would have run out before the full 100 packets, though.

Now to get mine planted!

Snow and More Snow

So, the day after the business conference guess what? It started to snow! It has continued pretty much every day since. Hey—at least it is melting off by suppertime, now. Thank you April. This morning we woke up to snow AGAIN, but this time it melted off by lunch. So there is that, I guess. I was able to get out and plant my 9 new raspberry plants this afternoon, and even mulch the whole bed with pine needles to lower the pH.

Just so I don’t forget, I planted: 3 each of Amity Red, Red Latham, and Anne Yellow.

This was actually 2 weeks ago—but we woke up to the SAME thing this week! I did not take new pictures, because, well—here it is. Or here it was. AGAIN.

The list of things I did NOT get done continues to be longer than I care to think about,. Spraying fruit trees with dormant oil (must get on this one pronto—once leaves start to unfurl, it’s too late!), pruning, spreading nitrogen on the garden and tilling, etc. etc. etc.

Hey—speaking of planting and being in the garden today. Guess what? I found several seedlings out there that have popped up on their own. I can’t quite tell if they’re zinnias or sunflowers. They’re just getting their first sets of true leaves, but those are still pretty small. In any case, they must be very confused, because neither flower does well with cold weather! Now I don’t want to till, though, because I want to at least give them the chance to make it! Not sure what I’m going to do about that. (Scoop them into a pot until after tilliing? Skip that part of the garden? Just plow them under (gasp)?)

First Harvest

I’ve got several bunches of daffodils blooming in my front flowerbeds right now, and the hyacinths behind the greenhouse are breaking into bloom as well—albeit on very short stalks. So I did my first official harvest round of the year. Woohoo! It was so fun to be cutting my own flowers again! I’ve got a bunch daffodils on the verge of being ready—maybe for this week!

My plastic fork deer deterrent has worked for the tulips! So I am expected many more of those this year than last, as well. Did I mention that already? So what I did was take a bunch of plastic forks and stick them, tines up, around my emerging tulip foliage. So when the deer bend down to eat them—POKE ‘EM IN THE NOSE! Ha! Last year nearly every bunch I had got munched down to the ground, but this year they are looking strong and healthy—nearly 6 inches tall now. YES!

Also, the crate full of tulips I planted is finally coming up. That’s the last area to have snow, I realized, so I guess they’re just in a colder spot than everything else. I’m hoping it extends my tulip season out by a few weeks. The ones in the crate are nearly all parrot tulips.

So, what have you been up to this week? Have you had any “fantastic learning experiences” you want to share with me?

April 6, 2019

Grown-Up Mud Pie Kitchen


Doesn’t this look delicious?

As I have been preparing to plant a bunch more seeds this week, I really felt like a kid making mud pies all over again! My greenhouse has an entire corner devoted to bags of different types of soil and soil amendments, and the various things I was doing required different soil for each. I was [roughly] measuring, and mixing, and adding water and mixing some more. It was fun!

So, would you like a Grownup Mud Pie Recipe?

I decided this year that I want to be done buying potting soil. Right now it’s at least $10-12 PER BAG. Friends, that’s highway robbery! I use enough of it that I just can’t be paying that much.

FUN FACT: Potting soil contains ZERO actual soil! Did I just blow your mind? This is why you can’t just go out to your garden and get a nice big shovel-full of soil and expect your container grown plants to be happy.

This is a very basic version:

DIY Potting Soil

2 parts compost: can be homemade (free!) or purchased (1 cu. yard = $35)

2 parts peat moss, or coconut coir: coconut coir is a renewable resource, but also more expensive. Your call. (3 cu. ft bag peat moss= $12)

1 part vermiculite or perlite: these are super-heated rock that resemble Styrofoam pebbles. (4 cu. ft = $24.90)

optional: a little bit of fertilizer

Mix well, until all components are uniformly distributed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

That’s a whole lotta “aged steer manure” for the garden, plus compost. This was from fall, 2 years ago. Lovely, lovely dirt! Also, our greenhouse was still under construction, as you can see!

This is the recipe I used yesterday to fill up my bins where I planted anemones. I didn’t add any extra fertilizer, because the peat moss I was using had some in it already. So, the separate components are a bit more expensive to buy, but you can then use them to make so much more potting soil then you would get in your 64 quart bag! That bag of vermiculite is huge and has lasted me almost a year.

I think the peat moss is really the most expensive part, but I can buy that as I need it. It doubles in volume once you pour it out, as well.

I have a couple of big black plastic bins from Lowe’s—I think they were originally for mixing concrete maybe. Anyway, they have worked great for my mud pies!


The other recipe I made yesterday was for my soil blocks. Are you familiar with that method of seed starting? I am certainly no expert, but I’ve decided to do it on as much as I can this year. It saves a ton of space, and you don’t have a bunch of plastic containers to store, clean, and get in the way. Plus, the plants are supposed to do much better—grow more quickly and have less transplant shock when you put them out into the garden.

Here’s a link to the soil recipe I used for that: Homemade Blocking Mix Recipe.

To learn more about soil-blocking, here you go.

These links are both from Lisa Ziegler’s website. She’s a flower farmer back East and one of my mentors—even though we’ve never met! I’ve read her books and taken an online course from her. I feel like I know her, let me just put it that way! She doesn’t know me at all, though. ;) Such is life.

Here’s a website I found that includes specific recipes for 6 different types of homemade potting mixes. I saved it on my computer! I love it when other people figure things out so I don’t have to do it!

By the time I was done yesterday, I was covered with a fine coating of dirt. It was a good day!

I was slightly less dirty than this! [My oldest back in the day—ultimate mud pies!]