Primping for Winter Interest

by Sandy Swegel

As Fall proceeds at full speed, our tasks in the garden take a new direction as we start primping for winter interest.  There’s no longer time for flowers to set new buds to bloom before frost.  There won’t be any tomatoes that aren’t already on the vine.  A killing frost will come soon and kill off many of the annual flowers. So it’s time to start getting the garden ready to look good this winter.  Now instead of thinking about colorful flower displays, we turn our thoughts to structure and texture in the garden.  We want to leave tall flower seedheads to dramatically collect snow in winter as well as feed the birds.  There’s no more deadheading roses – now you want to see the rose hips mature and redden as the air gets cooler. Tall ornamental grasses will sway dramatically in winter winds.

In short, here are the things you don’t need to do anymore this year.

Stop deadheading flowers. You want to see stately stems of echinacea and rudbeckia in the winter garden. Blooms of butterfly bush frozen in place will give a hint of color into the winter.  Small plants you thought were finished like scabiosa or dianthus will throw out a few final blooms that provide some late bee nectar.

Let dying foliage stay in place.  Earlier in the season, I’d pull off dead leaves from daylilies, so things would look their best.  Now, brown and golden foliage against green leaves is part of the vibrancy of Fall.

Let vines wander where they may. I spend a good part of the summer garden season trying to prevent aggressive Virginia Creeper from pulling down branches of the wild plum and apple trees. Now the crisp red color of the Virginia Creeper delights me and I love seeing its leaves vining all throughout the garden.  Even the weedy self-sowing morning glories have beautiful golden tones as they twine up and down flower stalks.

Let your flowers reseed.  The easiest way to garden is to let your flowers reseed themselves.  Bachelor Buttons and Mexican Hat and California Poppies are all dispersing their seeds to soak in the winter moisture and cold so they can burst forth again next Spring.  Some seeds I’ll collect for starting in pots next Spring, but it’s nicest when they just seed themselves in place.

Let the annual weeds be. It’s always time to keep after perennial weeds like thistles and dandelions, but annual weeds that crop up now won’t usually have time to make flowers much less set seed before killing frost.  It’s usually safe to just leave them alone.

Let your vegetable garden reseed itself. I’ve left the leek flower stalks in place.  Big seed heads of dill and parsley and anise are allowed to stand in the vegetable garden.  Even the lettuce and spinach and chard that bolted in summer heat now remain and drop their seeds to return next Spring.  I usually absentmindedly forget some of the garlic and potatoes….that will all return next year to be vigorous new plants.  Arugula has already multiplied itself a thousandfold in my lettuce bed.

The one task still to do?  WATER if needed.  The dry low humidity days of Fall can desiccate the garden.  If you don’t have rain, be sure to do some supplemental watering so that your perennial plants go into Winter well-watered.  Desiccation from dry air and winds is responsible for more winterkill than mere dry soil.  So give everything a good drink now before all the leaves fall.  You may have to water again in November and throughout the winter if it’s dry, but a well-watered Fall garden has an excellent chance of surviving even brutal winter conditions.

Seed Starting in July

by Sandy Swegel

As a gardener, I’m always surprised by the veggie seed sales in July.  I know from a marketing point of view the prime seed-buying season has past and companies have to move product still in inventory.  But from a gardening perspective, it doesn’t make much sense to give 50% discounts in July because a gardener should be starting lots of seeds now.  It’s the perfect time to start seeds!  Of course, I always think it’s the perfect time to start seeds.

How to know what to plant in July?  Stand in the garden and look around.

What do you not have enough of?  I don’t know why I thought ten chard plants would be enough when I love to eat the red-stemmed chard.  There’s barely enough to eat for this week much less into the Fall.  And kale?  I didn’t know last Spring that I’d get into juicing this summer….I’ve gone through all my kale and spinach.  And carrots add so much sweetness to juice I clearly need more.

What do you want to can? More beans, please.  More cucumbers.  Beets for pickling.

What do you want growing in Fall? Broccoli is so good in Fall.  Our CSAs are starting their broccolis now for Fall sales.

Typical plantings in July:

Beans Carrots Cucumbers Beets Kale Spinach Chard Scallions

You can try some of the atypical plantings too.  I’ve seen research from Iowa that says you can still plant corn up to the fourth of July and get a reasonable crop.

It’s probably too late for squash or tomatoes to grow from seed….but those seeds store for many years, so if there are varieties you know you’ll want to plant next year, it’s fine to buy the seeds now.

While you’re in the veggie garden, this is also a good time to plant perennial herbs and flowers that will last for years and bring pollinators.  This is also a great time to seed annuals that reseed themselves.  Cosmos and marigolds are good examples.

The biggest challenge to seed starting in July is making sure the seedbed stays moist during germination.  A sprinkler set with a timer to run just a short while every day helps.  Or my personal favorite and much written about helper:  row cover.  Put your seeds down. Water thoroughly. Lay some row cover over the seeded area with rocks to hold the row cover down.  That will give you some extra needed protection from the hot July sun.

It’s National Pollinator Week!

Six years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of this week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, etc.

Often overlooked or misunderstood, pollinators are in fact responsible for one out of every three bites of food that we eat. In the U.S. bees alone undertake the astounding task of pollinating over $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. Beginning in 2006, pollinators started to decline rapidly in numbers.

BBB Seed Company (Boulder, CO), The Colorado State Beekeepers Association, Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association, Boulder County Beekeepers Association & 12 garden centers/stores across Boulder & Larimer Counties in Colorado are teaming up to celebrate National Pollinator Week! We will have a Pollinator Table set up at all 12 locations during Pollinator Week June 17-23rd with pollinator literature, brochures, pollinator wildflower mixes and more. On Saturday, June 22nd from 10am-2pm, each table will have a beekeeper there to answer any questions adults & children may have about pollinators, planting for pollinators, protecting pollinators, etc! Come help us Celebrate, Honor & Protect our Precious Pollinators!
So visit your local nursery or garden center during Pollinator Week, pick up some seeds or flowering plants and learn about the vital role of bees and other pollinators!

Locations in Larimer County include: • Downtown Ace Hardware, Fort Collins • Fort Collins Nursery, Fort Collins • Fossil Creek Nursery, Fort Collins • Bath Garden Center, Fort Collins • Gardens on Spring Creek, Fort Collins • JAX Ranch & Home, Fort Collins • JAX, Loveland

Locations in Boulder County include: • Flower Bin, Longmont • JAX, Lafayette • McGuckin Hardware, Boulder • Harlequin’s Gardens, Boulder • Sturtz & Copeland, Boulder

Name Your Garden!

by Sandy Swegel

A friend told me years ago that everything should have a name, even inanimate objects. She was helping me garden one year and within just a couple of weeks, everything we might ever have a need to refer to had a name. The big orange wheelbarrow, of course, was “Pumpkin.” The red bargain shovel was “Scarlet.” My little hand shovel was “Scout.” Soon my old truck had a name (Zohar) and it just went on and on from there. Her premise was, that if you’ve named something, you take better care of it. This must be true because I lost my good pruners that season, most likely because they were anonymous.

I love gardens. In the past few months, I’ve become so infatuated with making my garden look as amazing as humanly possible, and I’ve even managed to get my friends doing the same. Just the other day a friend of mine had new composite fencing installed by Ecomposite, whose fences are made from recycled plastic and wood. However, out of all of my friends, none of them have the passion for gardens that I do, to the point where I even have names for the gardens that I see.

Gardens just begged to be named. They even name themselves. The wild area with the chokecherries and wild roses is “The Thicket.” A client’s garden that is full of lavender and has the best mountain view in town is “The Anti-Depression Garden.” The part of the yard with two apple trees and a cherry is “The Orchard.” My names aren’t particularly clever sometimes, but they either convey the essence of the garden to me or they are a convenient way to talk to other people. Or most other people. A gardener who happened to be an engineer left me a message once asking me to weed in the “Ovate” garden. The what? I said. But ovate was very clearly the proper technical name for the shape of the bed.

You get the idea. You can name your garden after the plants that live there or the shape of the bed or the emotion the garden evokes. Garden writer Lauren Springer coined the phrase “hell strip” years ago to describe the space between the sidewalk and the street. Everyone knows what you mean when you say “The Hell Strip.” For years a favorite area at the Denver Botanic Gardens was the Red Garden…every plant, every foliage and bloom, was red.

Other gardens I’ve named are the grassy area in the back where I threw the wildflower/grass mixture, “The Meadow.” The small bed near the entry door to my house is “The Nursery” where I heel in all the plants I acquire but don’t know where to put them. My very friend Rosemarie’s garden beds are very practical and organized like the busy engineer and supermom she is. Her favorite bed though is a small strip we named “The Diva Garden” where she can plant outrageous purples and reds and those “OMG I have to have that plant” purchases to nurture her wild side.

I think the plants in the named beds do thrive better. Maybe it’s because once garden areas have a name, I have a relationship with them and take better care of them. I named my new pruners “Snippy” so I won’t lose them so fast this time. Now if only there were a way to link them to the ICloud so I could just hit the button “Find my Pruners” and they’d ring until I found them.

Less is More!

by Sandy Swegel

One of my favorite things to do is spend other people’s money.  Or better said, to go shopping with them and encourage them to buy the cool things they want to buy.  I always covet plants and yet I know I don’t have the time or space to buy as many as I want, so it is fun to live vicariously through others. “Yes that Japanese maple would look beautiful by your front door.”  “You just have to get this hand forged trellis, wooden ones are so dinky and break after awhile.” etc.

I’ll still encourage people to buy quality garden structures or funky garden art, but I’ve slowed down on encouraging them to buy lots of plants.  It was writing last week about biointensive gardening that reminded me. One of the themes of John Jeavons’ book is to create one garden bed and create it well (double dug, good soil amendments). Better to have one bed producing a lot of food than three beds barely eking out enough for dinner.

Plants need attention to establish, at least if you live in a difficult climate like Colorado.  You can’t just plant a bunch of plants and ignore them.  I know, I’ve accidentally killed a lot of plants that way.  You just end up guilty at the waste or feel like a failure as a gardener. So slow down before you buy out the garden center or plant out hundreds of seedlings. Just because it’s inexpensive to grow from seed doesn’t mean your work growing and planting isn’t valuable. We’ll leave for another day, and a bottle of scotch, the esoteric discussion of the karmic implications of killing plants.

How to Practice Less is More Focus on one section of your garden for new plantings Decide to spiff up just one area this year with new plants. I encouraged my friend to focus on the entry bed for now and later get plants for the rest of the yard. Many gardeners have “nursery” beds for new plants where they let them grow the first year.  They can remember to take care of the babies in the nursery.

Pick a learning theme of the year. I kept twenty new plants alive and thriving the year I made an herb bed and planted twenty different herbs just to learn how they grew. (FYI it’s easy to grow lots of ginger and one tansy plant is enough for the rest of your life.) Another year I focused on containers and planted containers of annuals each of one color in a matching pot.  So cute.  The focus on one kind of plant helped me be a better gardener.

Repetition I love one plant of every kind, but a designer friend showed me how cluttered and unattractive that can be.  Pick a few plants and repeat them and your garden will look professionally designed.  For example, in a perennial bed, plant one kind of grass as a “bones” of the bed and plant a few native flowers around the base of each grass.

So enjoy the season and the new plants…but make “Less is More” your mantra. Unless of course you have a full staff like Martha Stewart does.

Front Yard Vegetable Gardens

I’m fortunate to know lots of gardeners.  They are a quiet bunch for the most part and sometimes rather eccentric.  But they are on the forefront of an environmental movement that is making a big difference in our community: turning front yards into vegetable gardens!  It begins as the gardener runs out of room in the backyard to make more garden beds, and starts looking wistfully out the front window at the expanse of green lawn. Going from backyard to front yard is like going to a different country.  The vegetables out back are grown organically with manures and compost. There are honey bees and birds and butterflies attracted to the flowers growing among the vegetables.  The front lawn is a pristine deep green thanks to synthetic fertilizers and weed killers but lacks the vitality and delight of the backyard.

For most people turning the front yard into a vegetable garden takes some negotiating with a significant other who likes the lawn, but the idea of not having to mow week after week often tilts the balance.

So what happens when you turn your front yard into a vegetable garden? In the beginning, neighbors eye you suspiciously, worried you’re going to lower property values.  By mid-June, as you’re starting to get some good produce and butterflies are flitting about, people are a bit curious and start to walk by on your side of the street.  A neighbor kid on a bike asks “Whatcha doin’?” when you’re out shoveling compost onto the new beds.  By mid-summer, tomatoes are coming in strong, and the guy next door is hanging out watching you build a vertical wood structure to handle the squash that wants to grow out into the street.  Finally, come Fall and pumpkin season (hey look, Halloween decorations are already growing right in the yard) you realize you know the names of some of your neighbors. And you’re going to have to plant a bigger garden next year to plan for sharing the bounty with your new friends.

It is a lot of work converting a front yard into a vegetable garden.  There can be serious digging involved. You have to change your practices from lawn management to building safe and healthy soil. You have to keep things tidy and attractive. The rewards of front yard vegetable gardens are many. More food, more space to garden, more people who understand the relationship between food and the environment, and best of all, sharing late summer produce with friends and kindred spirits right in your own front yard!

Gardening for Beginners

If you are a beginner, you’ll soon learn that Gardening is both an art and science….and a bit of luck. You start by reading books and the backs of seed packets. You ask other gardeners and talk to strangers at the garden center. But mostly you observe. You watch what others are doing. You watch the plants in your garden. You pay attention to the weather and birds and insects and raccoons. And best of all, no matter what you know, or how long you’ve gardened, there is always something new to learn. It doesn’t matter either if you don’t have enough space outside to do gardening. You can easily just get something like these LED grow lights and do some gardening inside, or you could go see if there is a community garden center that you could partake in. There are loads of options.

The Very Basics you Need:

Light. Gardens do better in sun. You can get by with partial shade but if you want tomatoes and beans, you need at least six hours of sun a day. More preferably.

Soil. Roots need soil and air. If you have soil that needs a pickaxe to dig a hole, you need to add “amendments” like compost or composted manure, to lighten the soil. It doesn’t need to be fluffy like potting soil…but it needs to have enough air to receive water and to drain.

Water. With drought at record levels all over the country last year, it’s easy to understand that plants need water. When you’re starting seeds, the soil needs to be moist on the surface till the seeds germinate. Later, the soil needs to be moist an inch down when you put your finger in the soil. In the beginning, when plants are young, you might need to water every day. You have to keep checking. There’s a solution to this problem, if you have a look into the Powerblanket sizing chart and follow up by purchasing the recommended size, this will allow you to have a temperature controlled bucket which will preserve the water supply throughout summer.

Space. Plants need space both above and beneath the ground. Not too much space because they do like growing in groups and communities. But read your seed packet and be sure to give your plants at least a few inches of space.

Time. Gardening is a four-dimensional event. It changes dramatically over time. You need enough time for the plants to grow to full term. Lettuce is ready to eat in a few weeks. Winter squash can take 100 days. As the weather changes, what the plant needs changes, so you have to keep adapting. You also have to keep track of time and can’t let a week or two pass without checking on your garden.

Love. Gardens that children grow will often thrive even though the kids don’t do everything right. That’s the love factor. I look back at my first gardens and can’t believe I managed to get anything to eat. But I loved the process. I loved playing in the dirt and watching seeds germinate. I loved the idea of the garden even when I forgot to go out to water. I loved the red tomatoes in the sun. And the plants forgave my shortcomings and grew in that atmosphere of love.

Watch, Learn and Enjoy.

Or as we like to say at BBBSeed: Grow. Enjoy. Share.

Resources:

‘Organic Gardening’ magazine is a great resource. Years of articles are online. You can start with their basic how to garden. http://tinyurl.com/bhlqfcy

Square-foot Gardening was most helpful to me when I started learning. Gardening seemed like such a big project…but I could do 4 feet x 4 feet without feeling overwhelmed. http://www.squarefootgardening.org/

Gardening is very different in an arid climate like Colorado compared to humid places like Louisiana or Oregon. Check with your local Cooperative Extension (every state has an extension service from its ag university.)

Gardening for newcomers to Colorado is here: http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/garden/07220.html

www.gardeninginfozone.com

Floriferous! Designing with Annuals

More color. More flowers. These are the most common requests I hear from clients and friends who have lovely gardens full of perennials but whose gardens at certain times of the year still look a bit too green. Annuals planted in large drifts or patches is an easy and very colorful answer. And with certain annuals, they reseed themselves so it’s almost as if they are perennials…you don’t have to do much to get them to return each year.

To get this effect of a burst of color in your garden, you’ll want to try a “specimen planting”. This is an intense patch of just one type of flower. It can be many different colors of the flower but just one kind of flower gives a vivid look.

Here are my favorite specimen plantings:

Cosmos bipinnatus in a tall mix of pink, white and crimson is a favorite in gardens.  They grow about waist high and don’t really need deadheading.  There’s something old-fashioned and timeless about cosmos that people love to have them as regulars in their yards.

Four O-clocks.  I was excited to see this new addition to the catalog this year.  Not as ubiquitous as cosmos, they are a magnificent part of a garden, especially when planted somewhere you can see them outside your kitchen window when you’re preparing dinner. They really do stay closed during the day and open around 4 pm.  They aren’t adapted to daylight savings time….so it might be more like 5 pm in your yard.

Zinnias.  These are the annuals you wish you planted, come mid-summer. Each bloom lasts a long time, is perfect for cutting, and the specimen planting provides a tall sturdy vibrant color.  Another old-time favorite for a good reason: they are great flowers.

Chinese Asters. This is another new addition to the catalog this year that inspires me.  Midsummer and fall, in particular, are times that don’t have the variety of colors people desire.  The perennials of this time tend to the yellow/orange range  Chinese asters are a great burst of purples and pinks and creamy whites that have large flower heads that make them perfect for cutting. They’ll handle full sun, but I’ve seen asters thrive in areas with dappled shade where just a little shade enhances their color in the blazingAugust sun.

These four are my current favorites for annual specimen plantings. Add in other annuals like poppies mixed throughout the garden and maybe the calendula mix in the vegetable garden, and your garden will “pop” all season long.

What’s Growing on my Windowsill?

It’s still too early to start seeds indoors in Colorado, but I’m yearning for fresh growing things instead of the brown stubble of winter that greets me outdoors. My growing space is an unheated solarium that dips down to 40 degrees at night but warms up to the 70s and 80s during sunny days.  Last month, I started three containers that now are steadily producing that vibrant spring green color.

Pea greens.  These give me special pleasure because I like the taste of peas and because tiny containers of pea shoots in the grocery store cost $4.99. I snip these for stir-fry or to toss into the juicer.

Microgreens. Yeah! Salad. They aren’t big enough for eating yet but it’s joyful to recognize tiny beets and lettuces growing on my sill.  Hardly any work involved….I just opened the pack of seeds and spread them on some potting soil. I’ll clip them in another two weeks or so and let them keep growing till outdoor greens are ready.

Wheatgrass. My little flat of wheatgrass is just beautiful with its promise of spring meadows. I put some into the juicer, give some to the chickens who love spring grass, and let the rest keep growing a mini field in the house.

Now if I were a hunter like my sister’s Texas family is, it would be much easier to provide my own food in winter. Yesterday, I opened my front door to find at least 100 Canada geese walking around my suburban yard.  If I had been fast, I could have caught one with my hands, they were that close.

Sow Your Poppies Now!

Every year, there’s one packet of seed I always spread.  More important than tomatoes or basil, my two favorite vegetables, I never forget to sow a pack of poppies.  I use the Parade of Poppies mix liberally in a couple of different areas…one is a long fifty foot long, six-foot wide wildflower area along the road that’s minimally watered.  I love the bachelor buttons and asters and columbines in the wildflower area…but I always want more poppies so I sweeten the poppy mix each year by overseeding sometime between Winter Solstice and St. Patrick’s Day, preferably the night before a big snow so the snow can hide the seeds from birds and mice and the melting snow will hydrate the seeds and cause them to sprout.

I sprinkle some of the poppy seeds in the perennial bed where the daffodils and lilacs grow mostly untended.  The poppies bring bits of apricot and red and pink color that make the beds sparkle.

My favorite poppies are the Icelandic, alpine and Shirley poppies for their color and elegance and especially for how some of them will follow the sun through the course of the day, just like sunflowers do.

The California and Mexican poppies are the hard workers of the summer garden, putting out oranges and yellows even in the rocks along the hot sidewalk in August.  I’ve let them spread themselves in the xeric garden on the edges of the purple Russian sage where they always make me smile.

Try some poppies in your garden this year. Later, after seedheads form, you can collect the seeds from your favorite colors and spread them in hidden spots in your yard so they’ll surprise you next year.