THE SEED-STARTING TRAIN KEEPS ON CHUGGING

This is the hardest part of growing plants from seed, if you ask me. I started my first seeds at the end of February and I was so into them. I tended them lovingly. I checked on them four times a day.

And now, well the relationship has changed. There are still plants to be started and hundreds to be tended. But there are far more pressing and exciting jobs to do in the actual garden. Frankly, I get a little sick of my seedlings by now because they are just so needy. Well not really, but they apparently want water, light and warmth.

I jest. A little. But I will admit that I don't approach the care of my little baby plants with the same zeal that I did two months ago. Still, I've put a lot of effort into them so far. This is no time to shirk my responsibilities.

The tomatoes have grown about another four inches or more since I shot this photo.
Let's start with the tomatoes. I never used to start my own tomatoes from seed but you can grow so many interesting varieties that you just can't find if you buy plants. I planted 80 tomato seeds from eight varieties, two in each soil block, just in case one didn't germinate. Guess what? I had 100% germination! After thinning, that means I have 40 tomato plants. In case you were wondering, I have room to grow about 10 tomato plants in total, and my mom is growing a few different varieties that I'd also like to try. All will find homes, but seriously, next year, someone tell me to control myself!

Anyway, the tomatoes are growing far better than any other year. I can't explain why, but I did start feeding them about once a week with a very dilute fish fertilizer after I transplanted them to 4-inch pots. But the fact that they are growing so well is becoming a problem. It's still too cold for them to be outside in the temporary greenhouse (nights are still cold here), but they have outgrown all my lights. I may have to start adjusting the height on my racks inside to accommodate them.

Nicotiana in the back with tiny Plectranthus in the front.

Peppers and eggplant under LED lights.

Everything else is growing well, although not as rapidly as the tomatoes. I've had two relative disasters: gomphrena (only two germinated out of 16; something I blame on not soaking the seeds long enough before sowing) and zinnias, which continue to be a thorn in my side. I plan on direct sowing zinnias later, but I like to start a few ahead as well, especially the Profusion zinnias that I like to use in containers. Only about four the Profusion seeds germinated in each of the two colors I planted. I'm really sad about that and I have no explanation for it.

Out in the greenhouse, the foxgloves, poppies and parsley are trucking away, seemingly not minding the cool nighttime temperatures.

And believe it or not, there are seeds yet to be sown. I wanted to start a few cucumbers and lettuce inside ahead this year, just to extend the season a little bit. I'll direct sow each as well. I also went to get more decorative with my lettuce planting, which will be easier to do with plugs rather than seeds.

I did a quick Facebook live video Monday night after work where I sort of ran around the garden looking at seeds, so for the complete rundown of what's happening in seedling land, check that out below (worst freeze frame ever; it's like Facebook purposes picks horrible scenes).



How are you feeling about your seedlings now? Are you still as fired up as you were in late winter?

PROGRESS ON THE CIRCLE GARDEN

There are so many things happening in the garden at this time of year that it's nearly impossible to report on it all here. But it is certainly blog-worthy when actual progress is made on a project!

Most of the weekend was dedicated to working in the circle garden, to the detriment, of course, of the rest of the garden, which is sorely in need of attention. But there is real pleasure in getting some actual gardening done in this area, which I've been renovating since last fall.

When we last left the circle garden, I had ripped out the existing paths and created new ones with metal edging and paver base, which will be topped with decorative gray gravel when all the planting is finished, weeded it like crazy and shared the design plan.



Somehow there was a lot of excessive soil after the path project last year but I left most of it in the beds assuming it would settle a bit. As it turned out, it didn't, and the better part of three hours was spent hauling very nice soil to a pile. I'm guessing it was about a yard and a half if not two yards just judging from the size of the pile.


Then I was able to get back to my beloved, if not quirky, chive hedge. I dug up everything that was already planted on the edges, just to inspect it and make sure it was weed free (a worthy effort judging by the pile of weeds I had), and then divided everything to outline every section of the garden in chives. I don't know that they'll grow together this year yet to form a proper hedge, but probably next year.

Rhubarb from grandma's garden that probably originally came from her parents' farm.
The next day I picked up four boxwood ('Baby Gem' which is a cultivar I've not used before and not the one I went to pick up—I had been planning to buy 'Winter Gem'), one for the center of each section. Then I laid out all my stakes and string again and created each planting area. I rehomed some rhubarb from my 100-year-old grandmother's house for the rhubarb area, but I'm sad that I won't be able to harvest any this year. And I also replanted the Egyptian walking onions I overwintered last year. I'm a little light on those so I'm hoping to find someone in my master gardeners group who can spare a few.


From here on out, it's really just planting left to do in that garden and I'll take on that project as I get plants or as things are ready to transplant. It's lovely to see progress though. And for a few precious moments I know that there is one weed-free spot in my yard.





FRIDAY FINDS

Gosh, it's a little crazy being post-Easter already! The next big holiday is Memorial Day! Crazy. Anyway, here's what I'm digging this week.

I like seeing interesting floral arrangements. I sort of aspire to have a clue about flower arranging, which I don't, but I figure practicing will help.


But I was confused why the water in one of my Easter table arrangements was turning blue. The other day I figured it out (see above). By the way, there are no real photos of my arrangements because Easter was mostly a fire drill. Once again, my oven misbehaved. We figured out that it works fine when there's just one thing in it but when you load it up, it runs very low. Grrr.

Well, now I have to go to HomeGoods.

This is a joke, right?

This, definitely is a joke. Well it would be for me anyway.

I bet the No. 1 thing people go to a nursery looking is screening or blocking a view. Here are some ideas.

I'm so envious. I want to go to this nursery for a behind-the-scenes look!

I was so busy last weekend that even though it was beautiful weather, I didn't get into the garden at all! So this weekend I will make up for that. On the agenda is some serious weeding and general clean up, a bit of plant division, a whole bunch of chive hedge work and a horse manure run. Glamorous stuff, I tell you!

Will you be gardening this weekend?

ORC WEEK 3: CHA CHA CHANGES

Ah yes, Week 3 of the One Room Challenge. I remember this week from when I did this last year. It is when the panicking properly starts. Because right now it does not feel like I'm even remotely halfway through this basement project.

You can catch up on Week 1 and 2, but most of the work is happening on the computer. I've made a list of the items I need to purchase for this renovation and I've been working hard to check things off. That's ironic since I've mentioned on more than one occasion that this is a low-budget affair. But when you're doing a space for the first time—and that's really what this is as we just sort of stacked stuff down there before—there are a lot of things that you need to collect.

This is a pretty terrible photo, but it illustrates how we basically painted everything the same color, from the ceiling to the walls to the trim.

The biggest change in the space is also the simplest: paint. I'll never know what I was thinking when I decided to paint the walls down there raspberry and baby blue, but I'm far more in my comfort zone going with a cream color. We chose Benjamin Moore Mascarpone, which I've used for the trim and some of the walls in most of the rest of the house, for two reasons: 1. We had a lot of it left over from other projects so I didn't need to buy much, and 2. I just didn't have it in me to go through the whole "Which shade of off white should I pick?" thing. Honestly, it's a little warmer than I might have liked, and interestingly, the less expensive paint we went with for the walls, which we did have to buy, is far more yellow than the trim paint that we already had, even though they are all Benjamin Moore formulations, but it's OK.



I also changed out the door hardware from the bright, cheap gold to a more classic black. I originally decided on black accents in that space for the same reason I chose the paint color—ease—but I'm very happy with the decision. It's not just simple, not to mention black is often a less expensive finish than some others, it also works well with the space.

I chose these simple door knobs with a square rosette for the closet door and the louvered doors to the other half of the basement. (Here's an affiliate link for them.) Sidenote: Painting louvered doors is like visiting the seventh circle of hell and I don't recommend it.


And of course, my favorite bit so far is the industrial lights I made for less than half of what I could have purchased them for. It was a much easier project than I anticipated and I detailed the whole how-to here.

Next week is a big one: Floor time! I'm certain that more than anything a new floor is going to transform this space.




Make sure to check out the featured One Room Challenge participants as well as the hundreds of guest participants making huge changes to one room in their house in this crazy challenge.


HOW TO POT UP DAHLIAS FOR A JUMP ON SUMMER

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Facebook or Instagram that I have a dahlia addiction. This has been an ongoing problem and my collection seems to keep growing (although I continue to play with different methods of saving tubers from year to year and have yet to hit on one I am happy with).

I garden in zone 5b, but there's a lot more to it than than. Because we are about 500 feet from Lake Michigan, it is very slow to warm up here. In fact, it was a gorgeous weekend, but each morning at my house was foggy and overcast and it wasn't until later in the day that the sun was shining. On mornings like that, when I drive up the hill near our house, less than a quarter-mile away, every window in the car fogs up and I have to pull over to open up the windows and turn on the defrost until the car acclimates to the 20-degree (or more) temperature change). The air temperature at the top of the hill is about 70 degrees. The air temperature at the house struggles to reach 50 degrees, thanks to the influence of the enormous 40-degree lake we love to look at from the window.

That means that zones that are much cooler than ours are actually much warmer in spring (although we are warmer in fall and winter). It's a funny little microclimate, and a good reason why you really have to know your own garden and not rely on just the USDA hardiness zone map. But the practical application is that I can't plant things as early as many of my neighbors to the west and even north can.
'Cafe au Lait' dahlias are some of my favorites. They change color throughout the year. By autumn they were all lovely, buff and cream.  

And dahlias fall into that category. Dahlia tubers absolutely will not stand cold soil. Cold, wet soil is likely to make them rot in the hole, and spring in my garden adds up to a whole bunch of cold, wet, soil. That leaves me with two options: Wait until the soil is sufficiently warm to plant tubers in the garden, or get a head start on growing dahlias by potting them up for a bit.

There are pros and cons to each method.

The benefits of just waiting until the soil is warm enough to plant tubers directly into the ground probably start with it being easy. You plant them once and forget about it. But there are a lot of cons: You get a later start on the season so blooms will come later; it can be difficult to store tubers properly that long (especially if some that you buy have already sprouted); and it's easy to forget where you planted them in the garden and you may accidentally dig them up or plant something else too close.

Planting in pots has obvious benefits that counteract most of those cons. You can get tubers out of storage sooner, get plants going so they have a healthy root system and good amount of top growth by the time they can be planted out, and you'll never forget where you planted one because you can see it. But that all comes at a price. You will need a lot of gallon-sized nursery pots (I save all my nursery pots for planting up dahlias and seedlings but did have to buy some to supplement my collection a few years ago), a lot of potting mix (I probably went through 3 cubic feet potting up my dahlias), and there's a lot more time in the planting and ongoing tending of the dahlias.

'Art Deco' gallery dahlia.

When you're as in love with dahlias as I am, the choice is pretty clear, but just planting them straight in the ground may work better for people with warmer springs.

You can see some of the dahlias I'm growing this year here.

Dahlia tubers all potted up. And no, I didn't count them. Some things are better left unknown.

Planting them in pots couldn't really be simpler. I just put a few inches of potting mix—I never use potting mixes with fertilizer added. It's like baking with unsalted butter to me; I like to control my ingredients—in the bottom of a gallon-size container, put in the tuber either on its side or pointed upward (you want the "neck" of the tuber where the eyes are pointed up) and then cover it up with more potting mix so the top of the tuber is buried at least a couple inches. I don't worry about filling the container all the way to the top with potting mix. Some tubers are smaller and don't need as much.

Then—and this is a step I learned from NOT doing it—label every pot. I know you think you'll remember that a grouping of pots all has the same kind of dahlia so you'll just label one and keep those together. That will not happen and you'll need to plant these well before you see any blooms. I finally broke down and bought a case of cheap plant labels so I will stop scrimping and forgetting what plant is what. Affiliate links at the bottom of the post will point you to those and some of the other products I like for potting dahlias.

Assuming that your potting mix is nicely moist, as it is when you open a fresh bag, there's no need to water tubers in pots right away. In fact all they need to get growing is warmth, so I just put them in bins or laundry baskets and bring them in the house. When shoots start appearing I'll water them and gradually move them outside to the temporary greenhouse. If you're potting up tubers that already have shoots, don't worry about them too much because they'll probably be heading off in odd directions. Just plant the tuber as above and cover the shoot, unless it's heading in the right direction and ends up above the level of the soil. In that case, I water the container and put it in a bright spot, usually in the greenhouse.

Then it's just a matter of giving your dahlias water and light as they grow until it's time to plant them out, which is usually the first or second week of June in my area, but depends entirely on the weather. Happy dahlia growing! Any questions, leave them in the comments.

ORC WEEK 2: FLOOR OPTIONS GALORE

Welcome to Week 2 of the One Room Challenge. I'm "playing along" as a guest participant in the blogging event that has people making over a room in six weeks and linking up via Calling it Home.

In Week 1 (which I just published a couple days ago) I laid out the room, the issues, the challenges and a very rough design concept. But any renovation of that room would fail if I didn't deal with the main issue in the room: the floor.

A variety of the colors available from Globus Cork that we considered for the project. Top row: Alabaster, Ocean Fog, Pisello; Second row: Slate Gray, Bleached, Sage; Third row: Cement Gray, Ocean Blue, Natural; Bottom row: Graphite, Whitewashed, Sable.

The existing floor—pink and blue sheet sheet vinyl—could be described as hideous at best. This was not something that I could just design around. And honestly it wasn't really the best kind of flooring for this space. In fact, flooring in this space has a long list of qualities it needs to have:

  • Durable. This is a hard working space because we are constantly walking back and forth through that space to get to the utility side of the basement.
  • Able to deal with water issues. We have two sump pumps in the basement—one on each side—that manage the rare water issues we have down there. That side of the basement has never had a real water problem other than the one time the sump pump failed, but it's a basement, so water can happen. 
  • Add warmth. The basement isn't well insulated and although there is heat down there, the space is naturally cooler than the rest of the house.
  • Dampen sound. Even with low ceilings, the acoustics are not the best. Couple that with the likelihood that the washer or dryer could be running in the next room, or the furnace may kick on and it's not exactly super quiet. Anything that can help dampen the sound would be good.
Vinyl (doesn't solve any other than the water issue), wood (warm but nothing else), carpeting (no way, never near a potential water issue) and tile (durable, but misses the mark on the rest of the requirements) were out. In fact there was only one kind of flooring I could come up with that actually fulfilled all the requirements: cork.

I love cork floors. Our family cottage used to have them when we were growing up and they survived soaking wet kids full of sand from the beach, wet towels left for days, several months with no heat and more. Back then cork floors were the color of cork, not unlike a bulletin board. Which is not bad, but doesn't work in every space.

But now, cork can be found in just about every color under the rainbow. I reached out to Globus Cork to work with on this project in part because they offer hundreds of color and texture combinations. The fact that their cork tiles are easy to install, meaning we could do it ourselves, was a bonus. 

Globus Cork is providing flooring for this project so that I can tell you about the process of choosing it, installing it and living with it. Of course all opinions are my own.

Globus Cork offers more than 40 colors of cork in three textures, all of which can be cut in custom patterns. You know how they say that sometimes having more options is worse than fewer? Honestly there is so much to choose from that it can be a little overwhelming, although a project gallery on the website helps spark the imagination.

The neutral options we considered (clockwise): Cement Gray, Alabaster, Bleached, Whitewashed and Natural in the middle. 

I knew I didn't want a basic solid-color floor for the basement. I felt like it would be a missed opportunity to not do something a little out of the ordinary for a space like this, so I ordered several color options to get a feel for just how bold we wanted to go. And although we played around with some of the blues and greens, I'll admit, I'm just not a good enough designer to know how to make something like that work for the long term. I think plenty of people could make a floor to die for that is very bold and exciting and even timeless, but I don't trust changing tastes enough for that.

So we quickly narrowed down the options to a more neutral palette, and one that was light in color because we need to do everything we can to make that space feel brighter and larger. Although I liked Cement Gray, it seemed like the oddball out among the neutral options we pulled, so we nixed that. And I loved Natural, but there was a warmth to it that didn't work well with the stone in the fireplace, so I pulled that out of the running as well. Then it was a decision of whether we wanted two or three colors.


I think we could have made any pattern look really nice with a combination of Alabaster, Whitewashed and Bleached, but my concern was that the floor might get too busy. So we narrowed it down to two: Alabaster, a cream color, and Bleached, which is basically bleached natural cork (the two end tiles shown above).

Here's the diagram we made showing what we plan to do with the random stripe design. Nothing like making things complicated.

As for the pattern, I thought a stripe going across the room might help the space appear a little wider than it was and, for no reason other than to do something a little different, I opted for a random stripe. The design will be about two-thirds Bleached and one-third Alabaster, with stripes of random width and placement. 

On paper is one thing, but we'll see how it looks in the space. It's liberating to be doing something a little out of the ordinary and I think it will help turn a very basic space into something a little special. 


There are so many amazing renovations happening as part of the One Room Challenge. Check out the featured participants and the guest participants (more than 200!). 


HOW TO POT ON TOMATO SEEDLINGS

There comes a time in every seedling's life when it must move out of its cramped confines into bigger digs that will allow it to keep growing.

Given proper heat and light, tomato seedlings grow faster than most other kinds of seeds, so they need almost constant tending from the moment they are planted. I sowed my tomato seeds—two seeds per soil block—on March 25, put them on a heat mat and within five days almost every seed had germinated. Within nine days I had a 100% germination rate (that's almost unheard of) for the 80 seeds I planted.

By April 4 it was time to thin the seedlings down to one per soil block (the same applies if you are planting in cells or modules). I made a quick Facebook live video showing the technique that you can view.


By the time I got home last weekend, it was clear that it was about time to pot on the seedlings. I find it easier to know when to pot on when using soil blocks because you can clearly see the roots. By examining a block I could see that long roots were coming out of the blocks in every direction. That plus the fact that the soil blocks were requiring more and more water was the signal that these babies were growing and fast.


Although all the plants look healthy, with dark green leaves and, in most cases, at least two sets of true leaves, I was surprised at how tall they were. The stems were thick, which is good, but they were all about 4 inches tall, which seems taller than usual. Perhaps the bulbs in my grow light aren't as strong as they were last year or some other factor accounts for that. The good news is that the problem is easily fixed.

Prior to transplanting, the seedlings had thick stems that were a little taller than I would have liked.

You probably know that tomatoes should be planted either in a trench or deeply so that roots will form along the buried stem. That same advice holds for potting on seedlings. I choose to transplant the soil blocks to round 4-inch pots that are deeper than many square pots. I save almost all my pots from plant purchases for this purpose and just rinse them out. I know that you are supposed to sterilize pots in between uses, but I'm a lazy gardener and I've never done this.

Transplanting is simple: Just put a small amount of potting mix—I move on real potting mix at this stage of life, although I do not use those with fertilizer already mixed in—in the bottom of the container, rest the soil block on top, then fill the rest of the container with potting mix just very lightly settling the soil on top. There's no need to firm it down as watering will do that naturally. I left only about a half inch to an inch of stem sticking up above the soil level. The buried stem will create more roots and should help the plant thrive.

When potting on, I put a small amount of soil mix in the bottom of the pot, set the soil block on top and filled with soil, burying all but about a half-inch of the stem. The buried part of the stem will grow new roots.

This is where soil blocks really shine in my opinion. Because they haven't been pried out of a cell, there is basically no root disturbance and the bottoms of the roots are nicely spread out.

There is a danger of potting on seedlings into pots that are too big. When the soil-to-root ratio is high,  it can be easy to overwater them. If you're jumping up to the size of pot I chose without a stop at a smaller pot in between, you have to really keep an eye on the water and make sure you don't drown them, allowing the roots to rot. Presuming I can keep a handle on that, these tomatoes will live happily in these pots until the beginning of June when I'll transplant them to the garden.

From here on out the care for the tomatoes won't change much from what I've been doing. They will stay under grow lights inside for several more weeks before I move them out to the outdoor greenhouse and then gradually harden them off before planting. Because tomatoes are so sensitive to temperature, I transition them very gradually. It can take them weeks to recover from a temperature or light related shock and when you're growing tomatoes in the upper Midwest, every week is precious. From now on I will also fertilize with a very dilute fish fertilizer.

The stronger I can make my seedlings now, hopefully they better off they will be when they finally get in the garden. And that means healthier plants and more tomatoes!


Following are affiliate links to some of the products I use to grow my tomatoes (and the rest of my seeds). If you make a purchase through my link, I receive a small commission, but the price you pay never changes. Thank you for your support!

ONE ROOM CHALLENGE: A DO-IT-ALL SPACE DESIGN

I've mentioned the basement project here before, but only in an introductory fashion. Frankly, not much has happened with it, but there's one sure way to make sure it gets done: Put it on a ridiculous schedule for the world to see. Enter the One Room Challenge, which technically began last week but I got a little behind on so you're first being introduced to it today.

Last year we redid the first-floor bathroom as part of the One Room Challenge and two things came of it: I swore I'd never try to get a room finished in six weeks again, but I got a room finished. 

We are asking this room—the finished half of our full basement—to be a bit of everything. Its main function will be to serve as an office for Mr. Much More Patient, who started his own business at the beginning of the year. There will also be a sitting area that may some day become a small workout area and room for storage. It needs to be bright (did I mention it's a basement with teeny windows?) and durable because we'll be in it and walking through it to get to the business end of the basement. And it needs to be done on a budget.

The budget, actually, has budged a bit since I introduced this project. Pennies, which was the original budget, was not exactly realistic, so we've found a bit more to dedicate to it. But the plan is still to DIY everything, reuse furniture and materials wherever possible and call upon a few main features to carry the design. 

Speaking of design, the mood board above gives an idea of where the space may be headed. The overall palette is cream with black accents. The floor will be warm and cozy and still very functional and with the exception of the office furniture, will use pieces we have on hand to fill the space.

And frankly, it can only get better. Remember this before picture? Ouch. It's so painful.



To review, here's what we're dealing with: A long, skinny room  with three small glass block windows, a cold floor and a low ceiling that also houses essentially like the electrical panel and a sump pump. But it does have a beautiful fireplace so it's not devoid of character.

Can we make something of it? Stayed tuned over the next five weeks to see it come together and find out what we can do on a tight budget entirely done DIY.
And don't forget to check out all the amazing projects linked up and participating with the One Room Challenge hosted by Calling it Home. Since I got a late start on this, I'll be back with more in a couple days!

I'M BACK: DISPATCHES FROM TRAVEL HELL

Holy smokes. I'm finally sitting down to reach out to you all to just let you know I'm still around a little bit about what's been happening.

I tend to do little personal updates as part of Friday Finds, but there was no getting to a computer on Friday. Last week I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, for a fun event with all the Troy-Bilt brand ambassadors, a group I'm happy to be included in.

Unfortunately we all got caught up in the Delta airlines mess related to storms on Wednesday. I won't bore you with the whole horror story, but I left my house at 5 a.m. Wednesday and didn't get to the hotel in Savannah until 10 a.m. Thursday. And as if that weren't bad enough, flights were screwed up when I was supposed to fly home on Friday as well, so I didn't get home until Saturday night.

The whole group of garden blogger brand ambassadors. Of course they took this photo AFTER we gardened all day!

This cute herb garden was beautiful but we also added a few plants and cleaned up some beds here as well.

The good news is that I did manage to get to Savannah to help rebuild and expand a children's garden at the Savannah Area Council of Garden Clubs Botanical Garden that was damaged in Hurricane Matthew. Along with Planet in Action and some local Troy-Bilt representatives, our group of 10 brand ambassadors put in several new gardens that should develop into really lovely places for kids to enjoy. I'm proud to be associated with a company that really reaches out to help and not only did Troy-Bilt organize the whole garden makeover, but they left behind a collection of equipment to help maintain the garden and gave the organization another $5,000 to help support the garden.

Officials from Troy-Bilt, Planet in Action and the botanical garden celebrated Troy-Bilt's donation. 

The other good bit was that although I missed out on seeing so much of Savannah, I met some more great people including Amy from Get Busy Gardening who ended up being my travel partner for most of the trip as somehow the two of us kept getting stranded in the same places. After countless hours in airports, about five hours in a rental car, two hotels and a handful of bars, Amy and I got to know each other pretty well and I can assure you, she's a good person to get stuck in a bad situation with.

All of this means that things on the blog got completely backed up because believe it or not, all that travel mess didn't really allow for much time to actually work on things. (It's difficult to type when you're standing in one line after another.)

Allow me to catch you up. First off, the latest One Room Challenge started next week and I'm going to do it again. So later today (or possibly tomorrow) you'll see a post introducing my project (technically you've already seen it but I finally have some more focus on it and it's completely different from the bathroom I did last year.) I'll post the update on Thursday to get on schedule with the official guest participant posts.

With all the travel delays I felt like I was gone for ages but it was really only four days. Still I was shocked to see how much the garden had changed in that time. Daffodils are up all over the place. Garlic mustard weed is popping up all over (and now is the best time to deal with it). In between other projects on Sunday I pruned roses and a few more clematis, set up the temporary greenhouse (affiliate link) and suddenly felt overwhelmed with all there is to do.

More coming, but I just wanted to let you know, I'm still around and not planning to fly anywhere soon!

I am a compensated brand ambassador for Troy-Bilt. But I mentioned this project here because I thought you'd be interested, not because I was paid to. And of course, all opinions are my own!

DEALING WITH DISEASE: VERTICILLIUM WILT

Given that I delayed a lot of garden work in fall, it's no surprise that the first real job I did in the garden this spring was a task I should have taken care of several months ago. And it was that much more painful for having waited.

Last September I shared the sad news that one of my favorite plants had been hit with a nasty disease: verticillium wilt. I watched as my Lemony Lace elderberry (Sambucus racemes) wilted one chunk at a time, and just when it was finally getting to a good size after three years in the ground.

Verticillium wilt is a nasty soilborne disease that affects many plants (here's a list), including elderberries. Last year I cut off the affected branches, making sure to disinfect my pruners) but I knew when I did it that wouldn't solve the problem. The only real remedy for dealing with it is to dig out the plant and a large area of soil around it.

With those beautiful fat buds, it was even more difficult to dig my Lemony Lace elderberry out last weekend. 

Taking that step last weekend was even more difficult because there were lovely fat buds on the branches that I knew would turn into gorgeous feathery leaves. And they would look good for a little bit but it's likely that they too could succumb to the disease. Or maybe not. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the symptoms might not show up this year: "The initial symptoms may occur on only one branch or may involve the entire plant. Oddly, following the initial symptoms, there may be no sign of the disease for several years even though the infection continues to reduce plant vigor."

There aren't a lot of good ways to get rid of verticillium wilt once you have it. You can attempt to solarize the soil by covering it with plastic and "cooking it" it several months—six or more, which isn't a very practical solution in a packed garden. I decided to dig out the entire plant and as large and deep of an area of soil that I could. All of that went immediately to the burn pile.

I don't see solarizing that area as practical for me, but I'm considering giving it a good burn with the weed torch. I don't know that that will work, but I don't think it can hurt.

The elderberry looking gorgeous last year with freshly leafed-out foliage.
I have another Lemony Lace elderberry in another part of the garden that was much more immature but by the time I went looking for it last spring it looked like there was a chance it too had the disease. I haven't yet dug that one out. By the way, I asked the folks at Proven Winners who developed that plant if it was particularly susceptible to verticillium wilt and they said no more than any other elderberry. So I wouldn't hesitate to plant it if you don't have problems with other elderberries.

One of the plants that is susceptible to the disease is Viburnum and my garden is full of them. In fact there is a group of three large Viburnums not far from the elderberry I dug out and one was looking not quite right last year. I'm keeping a close eye on it but already I can see it doesn't have the same flower buds that the others have. I'm crossing my fingers it's not verticillium wilt that's causing the problem.

The optimistic gardener would look at this as an opportunity to plant something new in that spot that is resistant to verticillium wilt. I'll get there eventually, but I'm still sad this beauty had to go. 

WEEKEND FINDS

What a week. Well, weeks. I have been at an uncomfortable level of "busy" lately and I can't wait to be back to normal busy, which is my happy place.

But caring for my seedlings is a wonderful break. Two times a day I check on them, making sure they are properly watered, rearranging them under lights or on the heat mat, petting them and generally checking on their well being. 

I sowed tomatoes last weekend and they came up so fast they were already stretching by the time I got them under lights.

There's a bit of a Clark Griswold situation going on with the power cords in the lower left corner. Four-light fluorescent on top, new LED light in the middle, old two-light fluorescent second from bottom and the heat mat on the lowest rack. 
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That peculiar blue glow is coming from the new LED light I got this week. I don't fully understand how to compare the fluorescent grow lights I'm familiar with to LED light, so this much smaller light, that apparently is meant to hang much higher is odd to me. I bought one of the less expensive lights I could find because I'm not quite sure how it will work. You can be sure I'll let you know.

Think zinnias and marigolds are has-beens? No way.

My friend Linda from Each Little World gave a compelling review of this book that had me running to buy it. Speaking of which, I'm excited to be seeing Linda this weekend at a gardening symposium she told me about in Madison.

I've been looking for some dining chairs to use when we have large gatherings that can be easily stored but are still sturdy. The requirements were that they either fold or stack, were comfortable and weren't hideously ugly. And budget was a factor. 

After a lot of back and forth between a bunch of different styles, all of which I perceived as being a bit trendy, I decided I might as well go for trendy, but trendy that I like. I found this black bistro chair at Williams Sonoma and loved how it looked staged at a table, even if it has a bit of an outdoor vibe to it.  So then I went on a hunt to find it at a more realistic price. Here's what I came up with.

Williams-Sonoma Parisian Bistro chair $125
AspenBrands dining side chair from Wayfair $118.99

Table in a Bag French Café Bistro Chair, Amazon $75
As far as I can tell, they are all the same chair and certainly the last two are. The descriptions and reviews for the last two say they are stackable and I love the idea that they will work equally good outside when we entertain in summer. I may get some cushions for them but I'll wait to see how they sit first. 

That's it from here. Saturday will be a day for inspiration at the gardening symposium I'm going to and I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to get some time in the garden on Sunday. I have a lot of work I need to do as well but I'll go positively nuts if I don't get in there to do some cleaning, even if it's with a rake from the edges. What's on your agenda this weekend?

A SIGN OF SPRING

There are signs of life in the garden. Somehow the leaves that I removed in fall reappeared and all of the perennials that I left standing in November are waiting to be chopped down, but underneath the mess, things are happening.

The earliest daffodils in my garden, which live in a little microclimate along the house, have been up for awhile, but even in other areas, tiny green bits of daffodils are popping up.


Perhaps the most wonderful sight in the garden was this one, where some very wet winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) popped up their heads after a rainy and generally miserable weekend. When the sun comes out (which it must, eventually), the daisylike flowers will open up.

These cute little ephemerals, which are native to Europe, spread easily once established, which is how I got the few I have: those who have them are generally happy to share. Deer don't eat them, which is a requirement at this time of year when the deer are very hungry. Every resource I consult says they bloom in late winter before crocuses do. It's late March, and I do not consider this to be late winter, but who am I to argue with flowers?

This is not a particularly spectacular plant and were it not for the fact that ANY flower is reason to celebrate at this time of year, it wouldn't be much noticed. Still, that's reason enough for me to grow it and wish it well as it wanders my garden.


3 PLANTS I'LL GROW THIS YEAR

I keep lists of plants I'm on the hunt for in various places—on sheets of paper in my purse, in an app on my phone, at the back of my garden notebook. This way I remember to grab them if I find them at a local nursery.

Each year there are a handful of plants that I get really hung up on for whatever reason. Here are three that I'm hoping to add to my garden this year.

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BOUTELOUA GRACILIS 'BLONDE AMBITION'
Monrovia photo

The first is a grass. I'm fussy about grasses. I've been through the ringer with less-than-well-behaved grasses in the past, so I choose them carefully. The one that I'm currently lusting after, a blue grama grass with a great name—Bouteloua gracilis 'Blonde Ambition'—caught my eye several years ago. It is a nice size plant—super tall grasses make me jittery—and has the most charming seed heads that sit perpendicular to the stems. The whole thing makes for an interesting plant. Of course those cute seed heads can turn into a nightmare but everything I've read says this is easy to control from a reseeding standpoint. I've struggled to find it in the past, but it seems to be popping up in many more places so I hope it will find a home in my garden this year.

Zone 4-9
Size: 30 to 36 inches tall and wide
Available online at: High Country Gardens, Plant Delights Nursery, MonroviaSanta Rosa Gardens, among others 

GEUM TRIFLORUM
Paul Drobot photos

The next is a plant that has popped up quite a bit on this blog lately: Geum triflorum. This is another one that's been on my radar for some time, as almost every garden I've toured seems to have them. And Proven Winners horticulturist Stacey Hirvela told me she can't imagine having a garden without it. Bonus points for the fact that it's native in much of the northern U.S., is a pleasant but not aggressive reseeder that will gradually work its way around and a gold star for it looking great for much of the year.

Zone 3-8
Size: 6 to 18 inches
Available online: Prairie Nursery, High Country Gardens, and as seeds

ACHILLEA
'Richard Nelson', Bluestone Perennials photo
'Terra Cotta', Bluestone Perennials photo

I can't believe I'm about to say this, but the next plant on my must-have list is Achillea millefolium. You know ... yarrow. The plant that everyone has had in their garden forever. I feel like I have to defend my reasoning for not growing this plant before. I'm certain it has everything to do with the goldenrod yellow color I most typically associate with this plant. That harsh shade of yellow has never been a favorite of mine (even though I sometimes don't mind it in early autumn). That combined with the sort of loose habit of Achillea always made me think "weed" when I saw it.

But guess what? Achillea is so much more than that. Cultivars range from an easy-on-the-eyes lemon yellow to shocking pink, dark red, peach or orange. Some are more compact than others, which also appeals to me and all are said to be very attractive to pollinators.

A few varieties that are worth a look:

Zone 3-9
Size 12-36 inches

These were the three plants I had to have last year and wouldn't you know it, every one of them made it into my garden last summer. I still love them all. 



SPRING: A TIME TO TAKE STOCK OF GARDEN PROJECTS TO COME

Happy spring!

In preparation for the first day of spring, we spent some time over the weekend walking through our still partially snow covered yard taking an assessment of what needs doing this year.

The creek that runs under this little bridge and it's twin a bit farther east  ranges from a trickle to a gully washer  at various times during the year.
At the top of the list is replacing the bridges Mr. Much More Patient built over the creek the year we bought the house 15 years ago. He used cedar for the boards but they seem to have fared no better than the pressure treated structural timbers over the year. The whole enchilada is rotting. I don't think we can complain as they've lasted a decade and a half and it will be a good excuse to make them a little wider. Not only does my two-wheel wheelbarrow barely fit on it (and it has careened off the side on more than one occasion), but there is a very small chance we may have a garden tour at the house next year and I'd like the bridges to be a touch wider for guests just in case.

The boards on top just lift up and you can see that there's rot in the structural bits too.

I also took the time to make a few notes about areas of the garden that I'd like to do some rearranging in, particularly in the sunny part of the garden north of the house. This has been the default garden for things I'm dividing or don't know where to plant, but I'm feeling the need to do a little fixing up in that area.

While walking to that garden we looked up and noticed the the chimney has mortar falling out all over the place again. We love that chimney but it has serious issues. We've had two people out over the  years to fix it. The first one was OK but sloppy. The second one, I think, actually lied about even going up there to do anything. So now we find ourselves having to find a mason and I'd like to get that done sooner rather than later because they always trash the garden.

If you look closely, you can see that the beds are bulging pretty badly. When we built it we sunk eight 4x4 cedar posts in the ground so we thought it would maintain its shape, but that's not been the case. In retrospect we should have added strapping to keep the beds from bulging. You can see the metal brackets on the front corner that are temporary measures to hold it together this year.
The bridges aren't the only thing rotting in our yard. The main raised bed garden is completely falling apart. We knew this would happen. We built it using cedar posts and untreated pine. In its eighth year, the pine boards are bowing terribly and rotting everywhere. The ones on the north end have crumbled. What we didn't expect was that the cedar 4x4 posts have also rotted. Is cedar not like cedar used to be? It seems like it's failing quickly.

The north side of the garden is in the worst shape. Not only are the boards rotten, but the posts they are screwed in to are as well. 

The solution is a patch job. We've bought some corner brackets to hold it together and we'll have to replace the boards on the north end with something. Even scrap wood would be OK. Mr. Much More Patient has some plan to get the screws to bite into the rotten posts.

The reason we're not doing a proper fix is that I'm very excited to report that the plan is for a complete redo of the veggie area next year. The dream of a potager is one I've been trying to shake for a few years but it just won't go away. So my plan is a new set of raised beds, room on the edges for growing fruit, a large fence around the entire thing and a small seating area to soak up the sun in the center. On the rough sketch I have there is also a faint dotted line on the back of the fenced-in area that says "Future greenhouse." I should be so lucky, but it doesn't hurt to have a plan just in case.

This is also the time of year when I make notes for future plantings. I stuck a few sticks here and there around the garden to represent possible locations for trees, which helps me visualize the location from various spots inside, as well as judge the amount of sunlight an area gets throughout the day, something I'm generally terrible at (optimism make me see sun that's sometimes not there).

These are difficult days for a gardener. There is a lot of pent-up desire to garden but no ability to do so. This kind of planning helps. In fact, maybe gardening is like proms and parties in that sometimes the anticipation is even better than the main event. 

WEEKEND FINDS

The week again got away from me, but that's no reason not share some good stuff from the web. Here's some of my favorite finds.

Gardener admission: I don't care for asparagus. I'll eat it if it's roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper but I do so begrudgingly. But I know plenty of people love it and I think it's a beautiful plant. If you're itching to grow some, here's how.

I need work on the decorating part, but it tasted amazing.

A couple weeks ago Mr. Much More Patient celebrated his birthday and his only request was a weekend of his favorite meals and a chocolate cake. I made Ina Garten's Beatty's cake but used this chocolate cream cheese frosting recipe. Best. Cake. Ever. (As confirmed by several friends and family who also got some because we don't need an entire cake for two of us.)

Speaking of Ina, you can buy her New York Pied a Terre. It doesn't exactly thrill me.

After all that cake I should probably do this.

I do love a space with just a hint black and these are really good.

I went to the Philadelphia Flower Show a few years and thought it was one of the better garden shows I've been to, but still a little disappointing in that so many of the show gardens put plants together that never would grow together. Looks like that's changed.

By the time you read this the weekend will be in full swing. The garden is (again) covered in snow so there will be no outdoor gardening activities for me this weekend. There will be some more seed starting (which one must do if they are going to grow as many different things as I am) though. And of course there's that little project going on in the basement that I haven't brought up for awhile to deal with.

What will you be doing this weekend?

FINDING A FOCAL POINT

Big things happen in my garden when I'm not able to garden. It is absolutely a case of my gardening eyes being much larger than my gardening stomach, but what else is a gardener to do during the long days of winter than think about the garden?

The west side of the house is the first part you see when you drive in.

This spot along the west side of the house has been problematic over the years. First I grew a very questionably hardy Japanese maple there (it died; I was sad). Then I planted a rather ordinary witch hazel there as the focal point. Unfortunately I was at the mercy of local nurseries, which seem to stock the most plain-Jane cultivars they can find, and ended up with a not-so-special plant. The best that area has looked was in the early days of the planting there. The witch hazel was small but lush, in front of it were black Heucheras and on the edge was a swatch of Hakonechloa 'All Gold'. 

The second year after planting this area was looking pretty good (minus the creeping Charlie problem in the lawn).

But the Hakonechloa happily took off and the Heuchera, which is not long lived in my garden to begin with, suffered. It's still there, it's just much shorter than the Hakonechloa, so you can't even see it. I divided all that Hakonechloa three years ago to make the new garden by the garage and I'll be able to divide it again for the new circle garden this year. Despite being considered a shade plant, it thrives in that spot with just a big of fading late in the summer. It's an all-star in my garden, seemingly accommodating a variety of light conditions.

But several years later it's less of a success.
Clearly this spot is in need of a bit of a redo. The good news is that because of the large spruce we cut down on the south side of the driveway there will be more light on this side of the house. Also, it's really more of a west southwest exposure, so there is light there by late morning. You can get a feel for the layout of the garden—this space is labeled as the "West side garden"—in the slightly outdated "artist's rendering" of the garden that I did a few years ago, below.



The most important part of that planting, and frankly, perhaps one of the most important parts of the entire garden as it is visible as you drive in, is the focal point plant in front of the chimney. In my opinion, it needs to be highly structured and a little simple so as to not compete with the busy pattern of the stone. I've been wary of dark foliage because I want it to stand out against the dark of the chimney.

A month or ago I took Margaret Roach's 365-day garden webinar. It was very good and full of valuable information but the only thing I can tell you about it right now is that Margaret has an Asian pear espalier on the side of her house and I'm in love. I would love to link you to a picture of it but I can't find one that links back to Margaret's page, so you'll have to trust me that it's fabulous. I've been obsessed with the idea of doing an espalier tree in front of the chimney ever since and that led to a ferocious amount of calling around to local nurseries. 

The good news is that I found one not far away and they claim to be reserving it for me (I always wonder if nurseries are really saving plants though as they never take a deposit and it all seems very casual). Supporting it will requiring putting bolts and wires in the stone or mortar. Obviously a full southern exposure would be best, so fruiting may be slightly compromised but that's OK. I'm frankly more worried about aesthetics than production and would have been equally happy with a non-fruiting espalier if one were able to be located. 

I will leave the Hakonechloa after dividing in hopes that it can handle the increased amount of sun, but the Heuchera will be replaced. With what, I don't know. But it feels good to go in to gardening season with a plan.