Best of Show for Fall Flowers

Wildflower Seeds

by Sandy Swegel

And the nominees are:

Asters, Asters and Asters.

I am always entranced by asters. They offer intense color at summer’s end and an alternative to the perfect rounded chrysanthemums you see for sale everywhere.  I don’t have many asters because sometimes they just dry up in late summer heat or they flop all over because I was too busy with the tomatoes to stake them…This year the asters bloomed and bloomed and bloomed.  Even wild asters were beautiful.  The Aster novae-angliae is a wonderful performer that does well even in partial shade.  Included with the nominees this year is the Daisy Aster, not a real aster but an Erigeron, but I have it lined along the edge of the garden where it has formed a mat of little white flowers for months this year.  Next year, I’m trying all of the blue asters.  They are just magnificent this year leaning through the neighbor’s chain link fence.

Yellow Columbine

Always a good performer, yellow columbine is still pumping out flowers this fall. One little plant will probably get the “Most Determined” award by managing to seed itself and then grow up through the juniper. Yellow Columbine and Blue Scabiosa have competed in past years for being both the earliest and latest bloomers.

Red Salvias

The blue salvias were nice enough this year, but the red salvias rule this fall, having tall bright flower heads in full bloom, glorious when highlighted by the gold foliage of nearby trees and shrubs.  The Salvia coccinea in the wildflower garden and the Salvia greggii and Salvia splendens in containers are competing for who can be the most vivid.

Agastache

Hummingbirds and bees love the red salvias, but the agastaches must be very tasty this year.  A couple of weeks ago some wild winds had knocked over the agastache so I went out to try to stake them up a bit.  The bees that were out there happily feeding had a definite opinion. Their hum changed from a happy “I’m just eating and going here and there” to a menacing “Don’t touch my dinner” as I was jostling the plants and I decided the flowers looked just great, leaning over the nearby echninacea.

The judge for the garden awards isn’t very impartial, so the asters will probably win because they haven’t gotten any awards in recent years, but I think all four of these flowers would look fabulous planted together in a wildish meadow type design.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Fall Gardening: Getting Ready

Preparing Your Garden For Fall

by Sandy Swegel

What a great time of year this is.  And not just because the harvest is upon us and tomatoes are ripening and winter squash are filling out.  It’s a great time because school is starting again and school supplies are in the stores bringing up great memories and nostalgia for the beginning of the school year.  Sure we all hated summer vacation ending, but getting new pencils and notebooks and going back to school and seeing old friends was invigorating. The slight nip in the night air that starts in August in Colorado stimulates a new enthusiasm, much like a new year or a new chance.

Going into the garden in August is a lot like getting ready for school again.  First, you have to get rid of the chaos and clutter of summer.  We’ve been vacationing or sneaking naps in hammocks and somehow, the weeds we were carefully hoeing when they were an inch tall in May, have grown taller than us and have seed heads. So the first step of getting ready for Fall Gardening is taking a deep breath and clearing out the weeds and debris that might have snuck into the garden.

On Your Marks First, you have to be able to see your marks.  Clear out the weeds that are choking things like the bindweed threatening to bring the corn to its knees. Pull out tough stalks of spring lettuce.  They’re done…let them go! Those radishes that have been baking in the summer heat…time to recycle them into compost. Any place with diseased-looking leaves:  clear out every last leaf to reduce the chances of trouble there in the future.

Get Ready. Get ready to meet old friends again…the cold-hardy or cool season crops.  These are all the sturdy plants that don’t mind a morning freeze.  Swiss Chard and Kale or Spinach can be frozen solid on an October morning and be perfect for dinner that night.  The secret to having fresh vegetables in the Fall and long into winter is to plant while the soil is warm so that the plant is full-grown by frost.  After it gets cold, plants don’t grow very quickly, but the garden will keep them ready to eat for months.  Get ready to plant a big garden.  It’s not the end of a garden season, but the beginning of one.

Get Set. Make a plan.  Think about how many salads you’ll want  (or how many pounds of greens you bought last year.)  For greens, you want two general different kinds:  the soft sweet salad greens that will last you until hard frost and the sturdy kales and chards and collards that will be good for cooking. The local farmers call it a “braising mix” that you can pick and stir-fry well into winter. Don’t forget carrots.   This is also time to make a plan if you want a cold frame or want to set up a row cover to extend the season.

Go. It’s just like Spring again…only this time your mind isn’t gaga over a million possible gardens.  So focus on the task at hand—growing enough food for you and your family and friends to eat all Fall and Winter. Prepare the soil. Dig out big weeds. Mix in compost or organic fertilizer. Smooth the surface. Water thoroughly. Let the soil sit for two weeks for soil activity to restore itself. Order the seed you don’t have. Try something a little different like the Asian greens or just something new. They should arrive by the time your soil has rested. Plan a season extender. You can stretch your fall garden into January or February even if you live in a cold place. You can use a cold frame, a hoop house, some row cover or just bags of Fall leaves thrown over plants on extra cold nights.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Sow Your Poppies Now!

Add a Pop of Color To Your Garden

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.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

The Joy of the Garden Routine

Enjoy These Morning Moments

by Sandy Swegel

Rifling through the garden in the early sunrise hour this morning, I paused to look up at the morning sky that looked just like the ones in Renaissance paintings.  Following the beauty to the earth, I saw for the first time this year my garden in full growth and fertility.  I got a glimpse not just of weeds and tiny seedlings but of orach in its vibrant purple color and arugula in bloom.  Peas and favas are reaching for the sky and putting out delicate blooms.  Re-seeded larkspur will probably open in just a few hours.  I did pull a few weeds and start some more chard seeds on a blank patch.  But I got bundles of fresh greens for my morning juice, leeks to put in the crockpot for dinner, and magnificent lettuce for an evening salad.  The garden today has begun to return much more than I have put into it.  Tomatoes are still in walls of water and many plants are tiny, but the lovely routine of the season has started.

From now, I’ll settle into my 15 minute morning garden routine, slightly amended with today’s revelation.

Look up at the big sky. Look at the vitality of life between the sky and the earth.
Pull the big weeds.
Harvest the food for the day.
Fill the empty spots with new seeds or plants.
Water what is dry.
Look once more in gratitude and wonder at the big sky.

There will be times I spend more time in the garden because it’s fun or an ambitious project is taking hold.  And there may be times when I’m not keeping up with the pests or weeds that sneak in and there will be some remedial work.  But for the most part, if I am consistent in my 15-minute daily routine, my time in the garden will never be a chore but will be invigorating and full of nourishment and inspiration for the day.

How to Make Garden Friends

Seeds Bring People Together

by Sandy Swegel

Many of the ideas for this blog come from questions I hear from an email list of gardeners I belong to.  I introduced a new gardener to our group this week and she was so grateful to suddenly have a whole network of people she could turn to when she had a question.  She’ll soon realize what we all know:  that it is so cool to have so many plant-geek friends.

Our group started rather accidentally, but you can start your own low maintenance group of garden friends.  You’ll learn lots about gardening and many of your gardening buddies will turn into real friends because gardeners are really nice people.

Most of our group had gone once or twice to a local gardening club but didn’t really fit in because we were interested in growing food and the garden clubs here were more interested in flowers.  Our group started accidentally by one of us posting a note on the virtual bulletin board of one of those proper flower groups that said, “Tomato Seed Swap, Saturday. Email for details.”  We just wanted to try some new varieties of tomatoes without going broke by each person ordering 10 different packs of seeds. We’d just order seeds together.  Well, ten people showed up for that first meeting.  Then, of course, we had to trade emails so we could find out how everyone else’s seeds were doing.  Then someone brought up the topic of manure and if that made tomatoes grow better.  Soon one person took a truck to a local farm and we all showed up at his house with an empty bucket for manure.  Come harvest season, another person invited us to her place to see her tomatoes.  The key to us becoming a cohesive group was that Niki saw how much fun we were having and declared “We needed a name.” and She announced we were the “Boulder Culinary Gardeners.”  Soon we were having email discussions about zucchini and herbs and organic pest control.  Although we had all been gardening on our own and felt we didn’t know much,  collectively, we knew a lot about gardening.  Post a question on the list and one of our small group had an idea of the answer.  Since then 10 people has become 150 and we all know so much more now.  We haven’t saved much money on seeds though.  Turns out gardeners can never have enough seeds.  So we still share tomato seeds, but we take the money we saved on those to buy heirloom squash and watermelons and plants we had never heard of before like broccoli raab.

You can make new garden friends pretty easily using this method.  Or help others build a community of friends who grow food.  A friend belongs to an HOA where people didn’t know each other well but all of them belonged to an email list for HOA business.  My friend offered HOA members a  free Seed Starting class and Seed Swap. (Seed avarice seems to be the real secret to bringing gardeners together.) Five people showed up and now are making friendships across the high fences of the HOA.

Make some new friends today.  Everybody wants to grow food these days but don’t know for sure how to do it.  Just about everybody wishes they had more friends with similar interests and don’t really know how to do that.  Seeds can bring people together.