Sunday, October 19, 2014

The curtain falls, but not today


Deschampsia, Physocarpus, Achillea, Festuca, Calamagrostis

There is a persistent garden legend around here that has begun to annoy me. I heard it again the last week of July from a new-to-gardening friend. I told her that her container plants looked really thirsty (my thoughts were more like, “All that money you spent on those annuals is going to go down the drain if you don’t water them today!” Yeah, they were really that close to death. Her response? “It doesn’t matter, right? They are just going to die in a week anyway.”

smells great too

Au contraire, my friend. I have plants blooming into October (stop laughing everyone)! I told her she had a good month or 6 weeks left of her container and to keep watering it.

Salvia, Sedum, Carex (collected locally), Dianthus, Alyssum, Stachys

What was blooming, September 23rd, in my garden*:

1. Salvia

2. Achillea

3. Alyssum

4. Dahlia

5. Petunia

6. Papaver

7. Verbascum

8. Penstemon

9. Periscaria nummalaria aurea

10. Viola sp.

11. Sedum

12. Moss

Sagina subulata 'Aurea'

What was blooming, October 17, in my garden:

1. Salvia

2. Achillea

3. Alyssum

4. Penstemon

5. Moss

*You’ll notice this list is not very specific as far as variety, but my computer (to put it in the evocative language of someone that lives at my house but shall remain unnamed) “took a dump” and my plant list is looking something like $%^&&*>"*!@#

There was quite a drop off in types of plants in bloom over the course of about a month, but still, it’s something! It should give heart to those who assume Alaska has a three month window of bloom that ends like a guillotine on midnight, August 31st.  And for the record, it hasn’t snowed yet at my house. Woohoo!!


What is the die-off date in your area?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

I don’t need the reminder, thanks

This is not my dream, Mr. Crosby

Today, Bing Crosby told me his favorite dream. We are not on speaking terms, Bing and I, but he got up in my grill, as the kids say. How can I ever forget the moment?

There I was, pushing my cart along, searching for bulk commodities at an enormous food warehouse, and then out of nowhere, I’m walking past the sound of a voice crooning “I’m dreaming of a whiiiiite Christmas… just like the ones I used to knowwww.” I was momentarily stunned and distracted from my important quest for sliced apples with the thought “#$%^” and then the thought “but it was only Halloween and Thanksgiving at (that other store) today! I guess it really is colder on this side of town.” Alaskans don’t need or like to be reminded that snow is coming, so take your dream, Bing, and stuff it.

What’s the rush, I say. Either pace yourself with dignity, retailers, or just leave everything up all year. Need an Easter wreath in September? No problem, (store) has it on aisle 175, just shy of the St. Patrick’s Day edible glitter for your cupcakes and after you hit the Valentine’s Day throw pillows.

I want the dignity of enjoying autumn without thinking any of these three things: 1. how many hours it’s going to take to set up the Christmas tree, 2. what, oh what to buy for the in-laws, and 3. whether we should do a ham or turkey this year. It is getting colder, I admit. But that could be said for 9 months of the year here. I am trying in vain to live in the moment and merchants aren’t helping.

I don’t wear a coat yet (a vest doesn’t count). I haven’t put my bicycle away. The lawn still needs to be mowed (blech) and the dandelions are in bloom. So that means it is not Christmas, nor even Halloween.

My plants, for the most part, are still alive in their containers (albeit the favored ones are in the house because the piano movers came on Friday and everything in their path to the front door would have been demolished). My variegated Carex is still going strong after two summers outside and a winter in the house, so back in it came. My most expensive plant (grumble, mutter), the Phormium, also came inside. “Is this the final resting place for this octopus plant?” someone asked me yesterday. It is both a maroon curtain to the kitchen and a jump rope for the dining room. I haven’t decided if I will bring the dark-leaved Begonia into the house or it will die a sudden, cold death like the petunias and the orange Dahlia. But you get the point, right? It is barely autumn, let me have a minute more with my season!


Do you live in the moment? What holiday d├ęcor is up around your area?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Help! New to Alaska garden scene, what to plant?

Periodically I get an email from a new-to-Alaska gardener. It usually runs something like, “wow, I didn’t know people gardened in this forsaken hole. What are some plants that come back every year?”

Firstly, quite a few long-time Alaskans don’t seem to be aware they can garden here, either (93.56%, according to a number I just made up). Secondly, besides dandelions and a handsome crop of chickweed, I have cultivated quite a few easy care plants that an Alaska newbie should know about. “Easy care” meaning you aren’t doing the horticultural equivalent of burning money. I do that too, but don’t recommend it for beginners. Bad for morale.

wild Geranium

1. Geraniums. Found a geranium at a home improvement store? Most likely a Pelargonium (an annual). Perennial geranium leaves aren’t as thick as Pelargonium leaves. Also, you won’t find true geraniums planted at the grocery store or gas station. You may, however find Pelargoniums there in abundance. I don’t judge.

If you place geraniums in full sun and do not water them, then no guarantees. Otherwise, I’ve found them to be cheerful in spring and early summer. Sometimes my Geranium ‘Johnson’s Blue’ foliage actually gets a decent gold or even orange in the autumn.

2. Peonies. There is an explosion of interest in peony farming in Alaska. Apparently we have peonies in bloom at a time of year that no place else in the world does, hence a demand from the cut flower market. Point is, they do really well here with a minimum of care. Don’t bury too deep or plant too shady. You will stake and manure in spring, sorry.

unloved, water, abandoned Iris: still ticking!

3. Irises. They grow well here, almost too well. Trying to lift and divide a mature clump is quite a chore, but hey, I say that about everything. You’ll often see our own blue-purple native Iris setosa in gardens around here, but there are other colors and kinds.

4. Primula. I haven’t grown many primroses, but there are special interest garden groups devoted to them across the state. Lovely in spring. Some have interesting leaves throughout the summer, some not so much.

5. Monarda. Bee balm can get a touch of mildew on occasion for me, but very easy.

6. Hostas. Many sizes, colors, textures. They can do full sun here, but appreciate a good watering until established. And maybe after that, too.

7. Delphiniums. I hesitate to include these because to the absolute necessity to stake and hover for pests, but oh well. They can be magnificent in the English cottage-style garden and they are plenty hardy.

Papaver nudicaule 'Champagne Bubbles Pink'

8. Poppies. Oriental, Icelandic, Himalayan, we love them all and they love us back. Also, the annual types won’t return for another show but have always reseeded well for me.

9. Sedums. Many different types and kinds. Raised beds are good because drainage is essential for longevity. Bonus points for a gravel top dressing.

10. Trollius. All kinds of yellow and gold colored flowers available. Pretty hard to kill and takes shade.

11. Aquilegia. Lovely for spring, beware leaf miners and sawfly larvae.

12. Lilies. Asian types are some of the easiest, drainage and soil prep important. Staking is usually a must.

Deschampsia 'Pixie Fountain'

13. Ornamental grasses*. Many different kinds are hardy here, the key being the words “cool season.” Grasses (like Miscanthus, Cortaderia, etc.) that are “warm season” growers do dreadfully or not at all in this cold place. Some easy-to-grow picks: Deschampsia (tufted hair grass) any and all cultivars (but ‘Schottland’ may be my fave), and Calamagrostis x acutiflora (feather reed grass), all cultivars I’ve seen are great (but ‘Avalanche’ might be the winner…for today).

*I ask you not to buy the variegated grass Phalaris ‘Feesey’s Form’ and then write me complaining it took over your yard. I do not recommend it except for contained plantings, like, um, containers. In fact I find it quite stunning in a container. Caveat emptor!

Good luck, new Alaskan gardeners! You can do it with a little luck, cash, back breaking labor, a snow covered winter and a long, sunny summer interspersed with drizzly days that water everything. Maybe an electric fence around the garden, too. Bears and moose also enjoy gardens in Alaska.


Any plants that new gardeners should not try?

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