Flowers for Late Winter and Early Spring—part one of a series

I love to watch the progression of winter into spring by noticing the flowers as they appear while the season progresses. This year I kept a photo-log. I was happy to find that even though I’m not well enough organized to keep the dates, the camera is. I started on February 1 with the first daffodil that I saw:

happy February

My morning welcome on February first. Daffodil bulbs should be planted in November

Walking up by the meditation garden I noticed that one of the hybrid Lenten roses (helleboris) had bloomed. February 8

hybrid lenten rose

Hybrid Lenten rose in February. These shade-loving plants may be planted any time of the year. They are evergreen. (helleborus)

On February 12 a flash of red caught my eye and I decided that, even though it is not a flower, it is a source of early color so I have included the nandina berries.

nandina

A nandina bush may be planted any time of the year. The berries usually show up around the first of November

The weather this past spring was exceptional and things seemed a bit different in the flower world. In Rome, Georgia, where I live, I’ve noticed over the years that the “tulip magnolia” (magnolia soulangeana) only shows a good bloom every four or five years. The freeze usually gets them—but this year, 2017, I saw this magnificent specimen in bloom on February 14

soulangeana

This magnolia is deciduous (not evergreen) and it blooms in the spring before producing leaves. “Tulip magnolia (Magnolia soulangeana)

A flowering quince at the end of my driveway is somehow still alive after being totally neglected through a drought and bumped repeatedly by my truck bumper. It was in bloom on February 17.

quince

The flowering quince is an easy-to-grow shrub that was probably prized by your great-grandmother. Don’t plant it near a traffic area

Another of the hybrid Lenten rose plants bloomed on 2/23.

hybrid helleboris

There are a lot of varieties of this plant. Some of the new ones can be a bit pricey but they are all lovely–and easy, easy. They love shade.

It had been hanging in there all winter out on the porch but with the coming of warmer weather my prized double orange pansy was showing off on February 24.

double orange

The double orange pansy started showing off as the weather got warmer.

My wife received a nice camera for Christmas and she presented me with a high definition of a beautiful daffodil. I played with it a while and got this composition. February 24

bring your own sunshine

A pretty daffodil for the end of February. photo by Dekie Hicks

My February photos started the month with daffodils and right at the end of the month I took this picture which I titled “spring cluster.” February 26

spring cluster

More daffodils to finish off the month of February. They just make you happy, don’t they?

My wife, Dekie, showed me a plant languishing in the corner of the yard and told me that an old lady had given it to her years ago and that it was special. We dug it up, put it in some good dirt, and gave it some tender loving care. The plant rewarded us with lots of pretty flowers and we were able to identify it as a flowering almond. March 1

flowering almond

Flowering Almond may be grown as a bush or trained as a small tree. It is related to the peach and the cherry

I saw a bright glow of flowers on a protected lorapetalum bush on March 2

lorapetalum

Lorapetalum is colorful and easy to grow. It seems to bloom shortly after pruning most of the year.

The red azalea in the back yard showed off on March 3 with a nice grouping of flowers. I knew it was early and I was right. A freeze zapped the blooms a couple of nights later.

azalea morning sun

The first week of March is too early for azalea blooms in north Georgia. Sure enough, the cold zapped the blooms. Oh, Well, maybe next year.

The pansies that I planted in the meditation garden last October were there all along but on March 22 I noticed that they were really going to put on a show. My grower had shown me a new variety of pansies developed for hanging baskets. I thought I would try it on a hill side and I was rewarded with quite a show. March 22

march meditation

The drifts of pansies performed well this year.

I went by to see my friend Marilyn on March 23. Her hillside was covered in the beautiful old-fashioned pink phlox. Now, I would love to know the history of this plant. I know that Marilyn got it from Granmaw Sue but I knew Sue for many years and she was elderly when I met her. Granmaw sue had at least five acres of flowers and she loved to share. Maybe she lives on in the hillside planting. Phlox subulata, March 23

Marilyn's phlox

I used to see this “creeping Phlox all over the rural south. Not so much, now. You have to get it from an old lady to be successful.

Dianthus is one of my favorites. It is pretty hardy and there are so many colorful varieties. I think it is interesting that the dianthus (pinks) is related to the carnation that we are all so familiar with in flower arrangements. I think I planted these dianthus plants in November and they over-wintered very well. April 2

april dianthus

There are many varieties of dianthus. They will tolerate cold but seem to decline in the heat of summer. Then they return in the fall.

A long time ago I lived in a house that had an old, hand dug well in the back yard. The sides of the well had been bricked up and the well was no longer used, but it was a garden accent. A purple oxalis plant languished in the sorry dirt next to the well. It died every winter and then I noticed that in the spring it poked its head back up and tried to grow again. One year I potted some up and treated it right. It rewarded my efforts with a show. April 4

purple oxalis

A hardy perennial, it will withstand much abuse. Needs bright light Some people call its green cousin “shamrock”.

My final offering for this first part of the series is the iris. Now, talk about a survivor, this is it. We had a big stand of iris in the yard and wanted to thin the plants out. I dug them up and piled them up next to the fence where they stayed, neglected, for about two years. Last September I grabbed a shovel full of them and threw them on the side of a hill in the still developing meditation garden. They thanked me for finally paying attention to them. Here they are on April 8

iris and sky

The iris is a survivor and thrives on neglect. It needs dividing periodically, so share with your friends.

Some time in the next two or three weeks I will post another installment of this series. It’s a good activity for a rainy day. Thanks for visiting

Johntheplantman

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john

A Tribute to the Lenten Rose

What all can I think of to say about this wonderful plant that blooms for Lent, just as its name promises? It tolerates shade, deer don’t eat it, it blooms when the human psyche most needs it, it’s easy to grow, perennial, and it increases its population by free-seeding.

Lenten rose (or 'hellebore')--a true harbinger of spring

Lenten rose (or ‘hellebore’)–a true harbinger of spring

As the cold, the snow, the freezing rain and the dark days of winter begin to change to more acceptable weather, I look for the flowers of the Lenten rose—also botanically known as hellebores. In most cases the blooms hang down, preparing to drop their seeds at their feet. I stretch out on the warming ground to get a picture of the open flower against the sky

Looking up at the Lenten rose flower with the sky blue background

Looking up at the Lenten rose flower with the sky blue background

Lenten rose makes a very practical and pretty under-planting for plants that perform later in the season. Here is a grouping of hellebores in front of hydrangeas and acuba. The combination works well.

planting of Lenten rose, hydrangea, and acuba. A good mix for shady places

planting of Lenten rose, hydrangea, and acuba. A good mix for shady places

The hellebores also work well in larger natural areas. It is not common for a plant to colonize an ivy bed but the picture below is proof positive of the possibility. Lenten roses are available in several pastel colors as well as white.

Lenten rose naturalized in the middle of an ivy bed under a maple tree.

Lenten rose naturalized in the middle of an ivy bed under a maple tree.

A year or two after the initial planting of the Lenten rose you may start to notice the appearance of seedlings around the parent plant. The seedlings should be left in place for a while to mature and then may be transplanted. If you wish, however, you may just leave them in place and they will form a colony.

lenten rose seedlings appear a year or so after the momma plant is installed.

lenten rose seedlings appear a year or so after the momma plant is installed.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

Plants that perform well in a shade garden—adding texture and color.

Selecting plants for a shade garden is tricky. I have found that there are many variations of light and shade in such an environment and sometimes it just takes a lot of trial and error to get the plants in the right places. There is ‘bright shade,’ ‘moderate shade,’ and ‘total shade.’ All plants need at least some light to grow. I suppose that the shadiest garden would call for a planting of moss and mushrooms—given enough humidity.

As the shade garden articles will be an on-going series, I have started gathering pictures of plants that have fared will in such a location. Other articles on shade gardening may be found if you CLICK HERE.

I think that my number one favorite shade plant is the Lenten rose (helleborus). This plant offers a soft evergreen beauty and puts forth a wonderful burst of color in the late winter to early spring. It is best planted in clumps and will naturalize itself into a colony as time goes by.

Lenten rose (helleborus)--The perfect plant for the shade garden

Lenten rose (helleborus)–The perfect plant for the shade garden

I want to show you pictures of the same area of one garden. We planted some ferns years ago and then planted helleborus to the front of the ferns to fill in. I have watched this part of the shade garden over the years and it is rather interesting. Here is a picture of the spot in March. The ferns are dormant.

lenten roses will multiply over the years by seed, forming a colony

lenten roses will multiply over the years by seed, forming a colony

As the spring and summer progresses, the ferns come up through the Lenten roses and in July, the planting looks like this.

deciduous ferns and lenten roses in the summertime.

deciduous ferns and lenten roses in the summertime.

Around where I live they call the next plant ‘plum yew.’ The botanical name is ‘cephalotaxus harringtonia prostrada.’ I really like this plant. It is rather slow growing until it takes hold after a few years, but it is very hardy and sturdy. As the plum yew grows, it provides a nice soft, evergreen with a fern-like texture.

Cephalotaxus, or 'plum yew'--excellent in the shady border, but give it room

Cephalotaxus, or ‘plum yew’–excellent in the shady border, but give it room

One of the most popular shade plants is the hosta. I read somewhere that there are so many varieties of hosta that a lot of them don’t even have names. One should try several different locations in the shade garden to find just the right place for the hostas. Too much sun will scald the leaves and they won’t grow to their best in too much shade.

hosta is a natural for the shade garden

hosta is a natural for the shade garden

There are a number of varieties of variegated acuba. I think the one pictured here is called ‘gold dust.’ Acubas may grow into rather large bushes and add a spot of yellow here or there. A small problem is that acubas are sometimes attacked by a black looking leaf spot–this is a fungus and is easily treated. Refer to THIS Article for information on controlling the problem.

Acuba offers a bright spot of yellow in the shade garden.

Acuba offers a bright spot of yellow in the shade garden.

A shade plant that is growing in popularity is the heuchera or ‘coral bells.’ There are several varieties with different and interesting leaf colors. The coral bell flowers are produced in clusters on long stems. I would say that the plant would be used mostly for the foliage. It is a reliable perennial

heuchera, 'coral bells'--don't worry, nobody else knows how to pronounce it, either.

heuchera, ‘coral bells’–don’t worry, nobody else knows how to pronounce it, either.

My favorite flower for summer color in a shady area would be the impatiens. They come in a wide variety of colors and enjoy a shady location. They will need a little bit of dappled sunlight, though, to perform at their best.

Spots of color are easy with impatiens

Spots of color are easy with impatiens

A number of spring flowering bulbs will perform well in a shade garden, also. Daffodils and woods hyacinths are among them. These bulbs may be planted in November and will return year after year to delight you with their pretty, fragrant flowers.

hyacinths, daffodils, and a number of other spring blooming bulbs will enjoy the shade garden

hyacinths, daffodils, and a number of other spring blooming bulbs will enjoy the shade garden

The shade garden articles will be an on going project. You may subscribe by signing up in the box at the top right of this article and receive an article a week to your email.

I would appreciate any comments or suggestions on choosing plants for shade gardens. Leave a comment.

And a Word from Our Sponsor:

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at wherdepony@bellsouth.net

Lenten Roses, planting grass seed, and the early spring vegetable garden

Getting gardens ready for the early spring growing season.

The week before the vernal equinox was a busy one.  The gardens were calling.  I walked into a back yard and enjoyed seeing a section of the beautiful meditation garden that was highlighted by the Edgeworthia and the Lenten roses.  I love Lenten roses (helleborus species) because they are true to their name, blooming without fail for Lent.

A meditation garden with Edgeworthia and Lenten roses

A meditation garden with Edgeworthia and Lenten roses

I studied the various colors of the Lenten roses and then carefully moved some of the leaves that had been left from the fall to find exactly what I thought would be there.  The seedlings from last year’s blooms were up and thriving.  Helleborus will often make a beautiful colony if it is planted in the proper location.

I love seeing the little Lenten rose seedlings up from last years blooms

I love seeing the little Lenten rose seedlings up from last years blooms

Lenten rose seedlings may be left to mature and become hardy.  Fall is usually a good time to carefully lift the baby plants, separate them, and move them around the garden.  They grow rather slowly and they seem to abhor the confinement of pots, but transplanting and thinning will give them room to grow and show off.  If you ever end up with too many Lenten roses, they make a wonderful gift for a friend.

Lenten rose, one of the first flowers of the new year--and long lasting.

Lenten rose, one of the first flowers of the new year–and long lasting.

Please remember my rule for giving plants to “mature” ladies (see, Mom, one more time I didn’t say “old lady”)—if you are going to give plants to someone, it helps to plant them also.  Sometimes a gift of plants creates a burden on the recipient.  At any rate, the gift of Lenten roses will always be appreciated.  They grow best in loose dirt in the shade and deer don’t seem to eat them.  What a plant!

Enjoying the seedlings made me think of the reason I had come to this garden in the first place.  I needed to patch up a little piece of fescue grass that had not performed properly.  Here’s a picture of the problem.

March is the perfect time to fix bad places in seeded lawns

Apparently some of the grass had washed out over the extremely rainy winter.  At least, I think that’s what happened.  One never knows.  The usual practice is to aerate and over seed cool season grasses in September, but if it doesn’t turn out quite right, an early spring patching job will usually suffice.  In my much younger days I tried just spreading seed on the ground but nothing ever came up.  Later, I learned how to do it.

Clean the area so the seeds will not have to compete

Clean the area so the seeds will not have to compete

Starter fertilizer, turf-type fescue seed, a potato hoe, and a rake--that's all you need

Starter fertilizer, turf-type fescue seed, a potato hoe, and a rake–that’s all you need

The important part of the process is to chop up the ground just a little so that the seeds can be covered just a bit.  I like to use what Granny called a “potato hoe”.  This is one of my favorite tools.  I use the potato hoe to chop into the ground in the bare spots.  It’s kind of like painting a floor and not ending up in the corner.  You don’t want to walk over the chopped up ground until after the seeds are in.

A potato hoe is ideal for the preparation

The next step is to spread the seeds and fertilizer over the chopped up places.  I use a starter fertilizer with high phosphorous which should get the roots moving fast as the seeds germinate.  After spreading the seed and fertilizer, I cover it up by running a leaf rake over the area.  You may think this will rake up the grass seed, but it won’t.  The raking will wiggle the seed around and down.

Rake the soil after putting down the seed and fertilizer.  Bring the seed into contact with the ground

Rake the soil after putting down the seed and fertilizer. Bring the seed into contact with the ground

Finally, it is good to tamp the ground and pack it around and over the seed.  You can rent or buy fancy equipment for this, or if you are lucky, you will have some size thirteen shoes to work with like I do.

The cheapest tool to tamp the seeds and dirt down.

The cheapest tool to tamp the seeds and dirt down.

I started carefully walking on the grass and got bored, so I backed the truck up and found just the right music to dance to.  I spent a delightful fifteen minutes dancing all over the grass while the cd player cranked out the song by Friends of Distinction:

“GROOVIN’ IN THE GRASS IS A GAS, BABY CAN YOU DIG IT?”

I started dancing and waving my arms and grinning at the coming of spring and the fact that it was a beautiful sunshiny day.

Dance

Dance

BABY CAN YOU DIG IT?

And off to the vegetable garden. I figured that it would rain in a day or two, so instead of watering in the seed as I usually do, I headed out to the Boys and Girls Club.  The early spring veggies needed planting.  The kids had cleaned out the left over turnip greens and were able to donate somewhere around 200 pounds of greens to the Community kitchen.  I thought that was a neat twist!!

We planted sugar snaps peas, lettuce, spinach, radishes, and beets in the beds.

Planting early spring veggies.  My first time for beets.

Planting early spring veggies. My first time for beets.

And this was funny

I had also ordered sets for potatoes—French fingerling and Yukon Gold.  The trick is to cut the potatoes up and plant them so that the eye can grow and make plants.  Some of the kids were astounded to learn that we would plant potatoes to grow potatoes.

The ten year old never knew that potatoes were planted to grow potatoes.

The ten year old never knew that potatoes were planted to grow potatoes.

One of the youngsters found a piece of hambone in the dirt—just a little circle like you would get with sliced country ham.  I don’t know how it got there, but I couldn’t resist when he asked me what a ham bone was doing in the garden and I told him, “We put that in there so we could grow us a big ol’ hog.”

The boy just shook his head and said, “Man I sure did learn me a bunch of stuff today.”

To read a previous article about the Boys and Girls club garden, go here:

https://johntheplantman.wordpress.com/2009/11/29/raised-beds-for-a-vegetable-garden/

*********

These articles are brought to you by John P. Schulz, author of the novel, Requiem for a Redneck .  You can read more of the adventures of John the Plant man on our Amazon page:

For the ebook edition, click here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00FOAJCGO or for the print edition go to:

http://www.amazon.com/Requiem-Redneck-John-P-Schulz/dp/0981825206/

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