March 26, 2014

Plant of the Month: Bloodroot


"Every woodland garden needs Bloodroot." Try Googling that sentence and you'll see how many people recommend this magical ephemeral that pokes its way through the forest floor for a brief moment in time in early spring.


While it isn't blooming in my garden yet, Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is one of the first plants to emerge in spring. It blooms quickly, as the spring sun warms the soil, but before deciduous trees add their leaves. You're likely to miss it if you aren't watching for it, because the blooms only last for one to three days.


One of the best descriptions of the "how" and "why" of Bloodroot's growth and pollination is in this article at Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. No other plant is quite like it.


The single-stemmed large leaf and separate-stemmed bloom emerge side by side, with the leaf curled around the flower.


The blooms open during the day, and close up at night.


The name Bloodroot comes from the red color of the sap in its stems and roots. I haven't wanted to pull mine up, because I have so few, but here's a link to a photo of the roots from the USDA Forest Service. The plant was used by American Indians for many medicinal purposes, and for dye and war paint, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center.


Bloodroot is native through about two-thirds of North America--starting in the north from Manitoba and down through Texas in the south, and eastward through most states and provinces. It likes moist, wet soil; shade or part shade; and a healthy layer of leaf mulch.


I found out recently that the best way to propagate it is from its seeds, planted immediately in the soil before they have a chance to dry out. The seeds ripen about four weeks after flowering and are ready at that point to be harvested and planted.


I'm planning to sow some Bloodroot seeds this spring. I noticed a large, healthy patch of it last year that I hadn't noticed before, so that's a good sign.


Bloodroot is definitely one of my favorite plants, and I'm learning more about it every year. My friend, Karin at Southern Meadows, in Georgia, has Bloodroot blooming in her garden now, so visit her to learn more about this beautiful plant.

I'm linking this post to Gail's Wildflower Wednesday. Head on over to her blog, Clay and Limestone, to learn about favorite wildflowers from around the world.

March 20, 2014

Patience, really?

It's time to wrap up the "Lessons Learned" meme for the past season, and I must mention one more lesson I've learned: Most of the Northern gardeners who participated in the meme this time have a lot more patience with winter than I do.

In December, I was determined to enjoy the little joyful moments of winter, including the pretty little winter berries, the juncos, and the ice formations.

December January February

But this brutal winter kept even the juncos under cover most days, and kept me inside--away from the nifty ice and the pretty little berries.

"Patience" was the most common theme of your lessons this season. I'm impressed. Generally, I'm a patient person, but not with winter.

So you Northern folks who still feel patient get the prize. And gardeners in the South and in the Southern Hemisphere: I envy you.

In any case, thanks to all who participated, including:

Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys, in Texas, U.S., who describes the lessons she learned when a prison escapee was on the loose in her community, yet she was determination to venture out and prune her Roses anyway. The escapee was later captured, but the newly clipped Roses suffered a cold-weather setback. Rose learned, "Like a desperate escapee, the weather is never predictable. You have to keep alert to it. Odds are, it will come into the garden sometime during the year, wreaking havoc. It can be record cold, an extreme drought, or scorching summer temperatures. Some years, it's all three."

Angie at Angie's Garden Diaries, in Scotland, U.K., shares "when not to move a Clematis." While she's since received very specific advice on the topic, Angie learned one very specific lesson: Do not move a Clematis "one hour before a doctor appointment, knowing full well your blood pressure will be checked!" She's also come to realize that "gardeners all have their own gardening regimes. What works for some will not work for others. When is the best time to move, and when is the wrong time to move? Can or should it be moved? Sometimes the answer is with the gods!"

Sue at Diary of a Suburban Gardener, in Victoria, Australia, offers lessons from record heat and drought this past season--obviously, the opposite problem of most of us U.S. gardeners this year. Sue learned which of her impressive plants can survive and thrive at the extremes. Among them: Common Sage, native Australian grasses, Veronica perfoliata, Plumbago auriculata, Rosemary, various Euphorbias, Santolina, Hellebores (in shade), Wallflowers, Ornamental Comfrey (in shade), Scented Geraniums, and Indigofera australis. She also shows glimpses of animal visitors to her garden.

Crocuses from my garden last year.

Donna at Gardens Eye View, in New York State, U.S., has big plans for retirement. And she's celebrating! Her lessons: "Lean in and enjoy where you are, even if it's cold and snowy. Find the beauty and joy of your surroundings. When I stop fighting and being negative, I see the lovely details of the early morning sun sparkling on the snow, the different textures of the snow, and the way the spent blooms catch the snow, and so on." This kind of reminds me of a song from the movie "Frozen" that I can't get out of my mind ...

Rose at Prairie Rose's Garden, in Illinois, U.S., offers the wisdom that while there might not be colorful blooms outside during the winter, what's more beautiful than a bright red cardinal on freshly fallen snow? Rose shares her techniques for overwintering several specific plants. She's looking forward to finding out how they fared. I agree with her and commiserate on these points: "This winter has been a reminder of what true winter in the Midwest is like ... Winter has taught me a lot about patience, but the best part of winter for me is that it makes me appreciate spring that much more."

KL at Beautiful Boonton and a Novice Naturalist, in New Jersey, U.S., describes the joy of birdsongs--especially as the winter wanes. She's noticing them gathering materials for nests. She's also spends the colder days planting seeds for her summer garden. Her biggest lesson: not to rush when planting and tending indoor seeds and plants. She also shares the importance of having a garden plan--"where each plant will go, when they will go in, and what will come after them ... planning for the garden is an absolute must."

Lilac buds in late winter.

Others with lessons added in their comments, include:

Lynne at Irish Garden House, who considers the pros and cons of deadheading her Rhododendrons. John at Gardens at Waters East is anxious for the snow to melt so he can get out into the garden. Deb at Deb's Garden wants more Sedges, after recently learning how much she loves them.

Helene at Graphicality-UK is pleased that she didn't lose any plants this winter, because London didn't have any frost. Tatyana at My Secret Garden warns not to water Burro's Tail succulents if you want them to overwinter. Lee at A Guide to Northeastern Gardening hopes the winter wasn't too harsh on the plants.

Hellebores emerging last spring. Can't wait to see these babies!

Aaron at Garden of Aaron says "winter interest" does matter to him, and many of his plants weren't as winter-hardy as he thought they would be. Jason at Garden in a City plans to share what he learned in a garden designer drafting class. Sweetbay says planning does little good, since the weather and the voles have other ideas.

Jen at Muddy Boot Dreams loves to "look out the window at the snow-covered mounds that are my plants, and plan." Tammy at Casa Mariposa says winter allows her to step back from garden problems and solve them in a more rational way than she would during the growing season.

Ricki at Sprig to Twig says moving potted plants to the front porch isn't protection enough during the coldest days of a brutal winter. Karen at Quarry Garden Stained Glass is lamenting the sun scald and dessication that some of her plants suffered from this brutal winter, and plans to wrap them next winter.

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So there you have it! Wow, that's a lot of lessons! If I forgot anyone with lessons to share, please let me know and I'll add them here.

I'm still digesting all the new knowledge, wisdom, and advice. I promise to try to be more patient, really I do.

Yeah, I can see myself sitting here right about now.

Or maybe I'll just move south.

(I mean no disrespect by the title of this post. It's a tease, and I'm simply poking fun at myself for my lack of patience with winter. Oh, and happy spring to gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere, and good harvest to those in the Southern Hemisphere!)

March 16, 2014

Seasonal celebrations: taking stock


The crossroad of winter and spring is a fascinating place--where last autumn's leaves, winter's melting ice and snow, spring's new plant growth, and other mixed media from nature come together.

Like other gardeners at this time of year, I'm taking stock of which plants survived, which ones may have died, and any damage from the brutal winter and herbivorous critters.

I'm linking in with Donna's Seasonal Celebrations and Pam's Foliage Follow-Up.


This little toad has greeted me on the back porch table all winter--teasing and reminding me that spring eventually will come again. The Pansies in the pot behind him appear to have survived temperatures well below 0F (-18C). Is that possible? I guess I'll find out if they start growing new shoots.


Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) is making an appearance right on schedule. I wouldn't be surprised to see it blooming soon. Amazing little ground cover plant!


Whenever the snow recedes, there's always a healthy crop of Moss. The plant nerd in me loves the delicate textures and colors of Moss--I could study it for hours.


Pachysandra (P. terminalis) stays evergreen--even after repeated arctic blasts. Soon these little green buds will transform into delicate white flowers.


Plenty of Daffodils are making their appearance.


Crocuses, too! These need protection from rabbits, so I need to add some type of barrier.


Speaking of rabbits, they've been partying with squirrels under our Yew bushes. I counted more than a dozen corn cobs in one small area, together with rabbit skat, gnawed branches, and torn-off foliage. Apparently rabbits avoid eating Yew shrubs ... unless they're starving. My imagination is running wild with images of rabbits, squirrels, mice, and other critters hunkering down here during the worst winter days ... not a pleasant sight.


But one sight that has my heart singing is the first appearance of Hellebore foliage. Looks like they survived! The Oak leaf mulch and snow must have insulated them sufficiently. Yay!

Some areas of the garden still have mounds of snow, and in many spots the ground is still frozen. But every day brings more discoveries of plants and animals that survived this brutal winter.

Remember to check out Seasonal Celebrations and Foliage Follow-Up!

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Coming soon: The Garden Lessons Learned wrap-up. Please share a post or your thoughts about lessons you've learned during the past few months. To join in, click here to leave a comment with a link to your post. Thanks!

March 10, 2014

A Wisconsin winter walk-off

lone twig

Does this look like spring?


How about this?

No, of course, it does not!

With that said, spring is definitely making an appearance here in my little town of McFarland, near Madison, Wis. On Sunday, I took a walk to join in the "Winter Walk-Off" meme, hosted by Les at A Tidewater Gardener. There were definitely signs of spring, though many of them weren't too pretty.

early spring



Any time we see water (of the unfrozen variety) outdoors here at this time of year is cause for celebration! There were plenty of water puddles Sunday, and more on Monday, when the temperatures hit 57F (14C)!

But the point of the Winter Walk-Off is to show what I noticed along the way.


The first thing I noticed was the huge flock of cedar waxwings in my neighbor's humongous Cottonwood tree! I didn't get a very good photo, but seriously--there must have been at least 100 massing the top branches of that giant tree. At first they were too far away for me to be able to tell what type of bird they were, but their high-pitched whistle gave them away. And then, zooming in with my camera confirmed it. A tripod would have helped, but oh well.

street view

Next, I headed down the street toward the lake. This is a simple view of a park down the street, which looks pleasant just about every time of year.


At the lake, it was perceptibly colder than it was just a couple of blocks inland. But there's always something fun to see at the lake, which is about a five-minute walk from my house.


Several people ice fishing.


Lots of dock parts, waiting for milder weather.


Huge snow drifts, framing the playgrounds ready for the next season.


Not much chance pedestrians will be walking here for a while.


An ice hockey rink. I wonder how much longer this will be safe.


And a Christmas tree, firmly frozen several yards from the shore.

Next, I headed for higher ground.


Sumac seedheads bright in the late winter landscape.


Dried grasses and forbs adding "winter interest."


More snowmelt along this sunny road. The songbirds were very vocal along this stretch!


Geese flying in every imaginable direction.


Flocks of birds hanging out on warm rooftops.




And fluffy buds everwhere, just waiting for the "real" spring to happen.


This Milkweed seed pod caught my eye on the way home. I wonder if it froze solid before it had a chance to pop open? Will it have a chance to share its seeds when the warmer weather hits?

For other posts in the Winter Walk-Off meme or to join in, visit Les at A Tidewater Gardener.

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Coming soon: The Garden Lessons Learned wrap-up. Please share a post or your thoughts about lessons you've learned during the past few months. To join in, click here to leave a comment with a link to your post. Thanks!