May 30, 2012

Garden lessons learned: spring 2012

As we launch into summer here, there’s only one plant I can think of so far this year that reached its peak on schedule: the Peonies. There are probably others, but the vast majority of plants in my garden have emerged, matured, bloomed, and faded weeks ahead of their normal schedules.

To celebrate the reliable end-of-May blooms of my Peonies, I’m featuring them in this “Lessons Learned” post. I have three hybrid Peony bushes in my garden: ‘Edulis Superba,’ ‘Sarah Bernhardt,’ and ‘Kelway’s Gorgeous.’ Even they were abnormal in one way—fewer blooms, because the Oak trees leafed out several weeks early, cutting off the supply of sunshine.

The biggest lesson I learned this season was a fascination with abnormality. We had a solid two weeks or more of summer-like temperatures in March, which set springtime in motion with a vengeance. Now I know what it’s like to experience a three-month-long spring season. Usually, March is quite wintry here, April is variable, and May is almost always mild and spectacular.

So, on with other lessons learned this season:

1. Do your homework before you select a new plant. In my last post, I shared how I learned late that rabbits really like the taste of Hyacinth Bean plants. I don’t know what I was thinking! Of course legumes must be protected from the jaws of the evil big-eared creatures (I say this in jest—I never kill rabbits, I just get mad at them and try to repel them with appropriate plant selections as much as possible.)

2. Plant more Daffodils, and no more Tulips. Rabbits eat Tulips down to the base, but they don’t touch Daffodils. All the Daffodils I planted in the fall emerged and bloomed in March—and their bright yellow faces lasted into April! On the other hand, I gave up on Tulips several years ago. Maybe I’ll try again if I ever get a dog to chase away the rabbits.

3. When plants are beautiful, appreciate them in their full glory. It’s appropriate to shake your head and say, “That’s not normal,” when Magnolias and Dicentras bloom in March. But then pause to appreciate their splendor. Even when a plant is off its “normal” schedule, take time to enjoy it. Spring ephemerals, especially, fade fast on warm days.

4. Determined chipmunks are almost as pesky as hungry rabbits. I tried every trick under the sun to keep chipmunks out of my potted annuals on the front porch this spring. Cayenne Pepper, cat litter, baby powder, chili powder, spiky evergreen clippings, lava rocks, and onion sets—none of them, alone, did the trick. In the end, a combination of these methods has finally started to keep the chipmunks at bay.

5. Honey Locust leaves might be good mulch for a kitchen garden. The jury’s still out on this one. I raked up the Honey Locust leaves last fall, and top-dressed my veggie/cut flower garden for the winter. One benefit was a sure thing: There were fewer weeds. But the Tomatoes, Cucumbers, Zinnias, Cosmos, and Snapdragons I planted two weeks ago aren’t growing very fast. I’ve been watering them thoroughly, and they’ve had plenty of warmth and sun. I think I’ll supplement with some of my customary mulch—Marsh Hay.

6. Photograph more foliage. I’ve always appreciated unique and varied foliage in the garden, but I don’t spend enough time capturing it. My lens tends to gravitate toward showy blooms. One goal for the summer is to dedicate more time and memory card space to foliage.

Those are the biggest lessons I learned during this unusually early and warm spring. Part of me hopes for a more normal spring next year, and part of me secretly wishes every spring would be this glorious.

Now it’s almost “summer” here—time to enjoy long days, lemonade, water sports, and fireworks. What lessons did you learn this spring (or fall for friends in the Southern Hemisphere)? And what seasonal celebrations are you looking forward to in the weeks ahead?

Please join in the “Lessons Learned” meme by including a link to your post in the comments. Or, you can click on the “Lessons Learned” tab at the top of this page. The Mr. Linky widget will be live until the solstice—when I’ll do a wrap-up post about all our lessons. And join Donna at Garden's Eye View for “Seasonal Celebrations.” You can combine the two in one post, or link to them separately.

Thanks, in advance, for sharing in these memes! The wrap-ups at the end provide a fascinating glimpse into garden lessons and celebrations around the globe.

Note: Here's the code to add the Lessons Learned widget to your blog:

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May 26, 2012

Don't feed the rabbits!

"Rabbits consider Hyacinth Bean plants a delicacy."

Wow, can you believe that?! "Rabbits consider Hyacinth Bean plants a delicacy!" That is a quote from several sources.

And I have a yard full of hungry rabbits ...

...  and baby bunnies.

And tender Hyacinth Bean plants ... oh no!

I was so excited the other day to see that the Hyacinth Bean seeds I'd planted had germinated, broken through the soil, and were growing fast. And then I was thinking, gosh Hyacinth Bean plants look similar to Peas and Beans. I wonder ... do rabbits ... eat them? My first thought was "Duh!" And then, "Oh no!"

I rushed to look it up on the Internet, and found out not only do rabbits eat them, they actually consider them a delicacy! I guess I can see why.

But we can't have this! So I ran to the garage, grabbed some simple wire fencing material, and created a rudimentary protective cage around the tender plants.

It doesn't look very impressive, but hopefully it will keep the rabbits away until the young Hyacinth Bean vines have a chance to establish their footing.

By the end of the summer, hopefully they'll be gracefully arching up and over the arbor.

Speaking of gracefully arching, the Mock Orange I described in my last post is now in full bloom, so I had to share...

Next up: Garden Lessons Learned during the spring of 2012 and Seasonal Celebrations with Donna at Gardens Eye View. It sure has been an educational season!

May 21, 2012

Plant of the month:
Mock Orange

My neck aches. This is not surprising, as I noticed during the weekend that the Mock Orange is starting to bloom—from the top down. In my excitement, I spent a little time with my head tilted back and my neck craned to get a few shots of the blooms catching the sun’s rays.

And the buds preparing to bloom.

Mock Orange (Philadelphus) is an easy-care shrub. I honestly don’t do much with mine except enjoy it. But year after year it graces its space with cascading boughs of fluffy, white blooms. It’s drought-tolerant, according to, which isn’t surprising since I rarely water it. It sits atop a stone wall and creates a pleasant, light privacy hedge.

The scent of Mock Orange is described by various sources as citrusy or Jasmine-like. I also note a hint of Rose, but it’s a very subtle, not overpowering, scent.

Apparently Mock Orange boughs are commonly used by florists in bridal bouquets—you can find a few examples on Pinterest. I have used it in floral arrangements, and it drapes nicely over the edge of a vase. And the dragonflies like it, too.

Other factoids of interest:
• Grows well in zones 4-7;
• Prefers sun or part sun (mine is in a spot that gets ample morning and some afternoon sun);
• Grows 3-15 feet tall, and up to 6 feet wide; and
• Has a long, easy-care lifespan.

I honestly don’t know which variety of Philadelphus the previous owners planted here, but I’d guess it’s either lewisii or coronarius.

If you need an easy-care, tall hedge/bush with pleasant-scented, cascading blooms, Mock Orange is a great option.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One other reason my neck is sore is from looking up at a similar angle to the jumbotron at my son’s graduation from UW-Madison on Saturday. I can’t believe my little boy is a college graduate and on his way to an exciting engineering career!

I apologize for being out of the blogging loop, but it has been a crazy week. I can’t wait to visit my favorite bloggers!

May 14, 2012

May in the Midwest

If you're considering a trip to the Midwestern U.S., May is generally a good weather bet. If you're able to spend a few days, you'll likely encounter a little rain, mild temperatures, and impressive plant life. Everything is green and growing and many of our prettiest perennials are blooming.

For this Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up, there are plenty of plants to showcase in my garden, including several that I hadn't captured with my camera until now. Among bloomers, that includes Viburnum, Cotoneaster, Wild Geranium, and Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart.

Viburnum opulus

Cotoneaster horizontalis

Geranium maculatum

Dicentra eximia

Some plants have been blooming for weeks on end, including Vinca, which I posted about in March, Dwarf Korean Lilac, and the more common Bleeding Heart, Dicentra Spectablis, in pink and white.

Vinca minor

Syringa meyeri

Dicentra spectabilis

Of course, Lamium can be counted on to bloom most of the growing season.

Lamium maculatum

A few other highlights include a few remaining Lilies-of-the-Valley, the waning Cushion Spurge, and the always-dramatic Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Convallaria majalis

Euphorbia polychroma

Arisaema tryphyllum

The foliage is nearly as fascinating as flowers this month, including several I hadn't photographed beforeRocket Ligularia, Cranberry Bush Virburnum, Oak Fern, and the foliage of Dicentra eximia.

Ligularia stenocephala

Viburnum opulus

Gymnocarpium dryopteris

Dicentra eximia

Solomon's Seal currently resembles an Asiatic Lily, but it's really all foliage. The flowers will appear where the buds are nowalong the stems in clusters.

Polygonatum biflorum

Mayapples are past their prime and some animal or human has been rooting around in my patch, possibly looking for Morels? Still, Mayapples are always fascinating plants to view.

Podophyllum peltatum

And then, of course, there are the Hostas. I know many people tire of Hostas, but they frame my garden nicely and come in numerous varieties and sizes.

If you're wondering what the white, fuzzy stuff is sticking to my plants, it's Cottonwood seeddropping early, like everything else this season. It's a nuisance, but kind of fascinating in that it resembles snow among the green, growing landscape.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day and Foliage Follow-Up. And thanks to Carol and Pam for hosting!