We’re well into spring in central North Carolina and, blessedly, are nearly done with pollen. Go, Mother Nature! We’ve got three new hives to get our garden underway, but I noticed last year those hard workers keep the flowers on point, too. Jenny’s irises started blooming over the weekend, and they are just beautiful.
Poor Narcissus, the handsome fella doomed by the avenging goddess Nemesis to fall in love with the water nymph Echo, who could only repeat the words of others. The early-Spring flower is said to have sprung from where he died by the riverbank–it’s fabled to have been the last flower Persephone picked before being swiped by Hades. It’s also the scene of Sigourney Weaver’s final battle with in Alien.
I love a good story, particularly when it carries over to my other favorite pastime, gardening. The narcissus is a great example, in mythology and gardening and art, of the concept of vanitas … the idea that every living thing must come to an end. Like Narcissus’ young life, narcissus flowers have a very short blooming period. Narcissus is one of dozens of varieties of daffodils, all of which are pretty easy to grow.
According to the American Daffodil Society, “plant the bulbs when grounds have cooled, in some climates September and for warmer climates in November.” They need well-drained soil in a sunny spot, and will grow well in hilly landscapes. Plant them at least a foot deep, and make sure they have plenty of water the year you plant them. They acclimate pretty quickly and will multiply on their own. I’ve had some bulbs bloom five or six years in a row, and them some that never bloom more than one season. Crucial to the survival of bulbs, in my experience and by growing tip, “do not cut the foliage until it begins to yellow (usually late May or June).”
Keep in mind that daffodils, like many other bulbs, are great flowers to share with family and friends. They’re perfect spring companion plants for things like roses, hellebore, peonies, hyacinth, and astilbe. They’re the flower for the month of March, and since my son‘s birthday falls in March, we have them all over the yard.
In May, my friend Maggie brought me a bunch of gladiolus and rain lilies. The gladiolus have since bloomed and faded, but the first little rain lily has finally shown her face. And, oh, how pretty she is! FYI, just ignore the bare ground … Mr. Sickles and I are in desperate need of mulch, but at this point we’re waiting for the fall.
Pink rain lilies (Zephyranthes carinata) are perennials native to Mexico, Colombia and Central America. They’re vibrant and delicate, and a shocking pop of color in an otherwise green portion of my garden. One great element of this little beauty is that we won’t have to dig her up to winter indoors, thank you baby Jesus. And with rain on the horizon, the rest of the bulbs are likely to bloom this week, too. Hurricane Isaias is forecast to head this way in some capacity, so batten down the hatches and stay safe, y’all.
Last week, the gladiolus that my friend Maggie gave me started to bloom. All four varieties are just lovely. Check them out:
For the next couple OG columns, I’m going to focus on supremely summertime topics in the garden: flowers, vegetables and fruits. To kick it off, I caught up with Nicole Rosenberger, who owns Turtle Rock Gardens and is part of the Red Roots Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) subscription program. Her combination of annuals and perennials paints the county in blooms.
When I asked if she brought in any cut flowers for herself, she said: “I always have lots of cut flower around the house–I’ll never get tired of them! I grow them because I love them so much. I mostly just have the cast offs from making bouquets though, rarely do I go out and make myself my own.”
Nicole grows a regular cadre of annuals, including zinnias (her fave), dahlias, snapdragons, lisianthus, nigella, cosmos, ornamental tobacco, celosia, amaranth, sunflowers, scabiosa, and marigolds. And when I asked if there was something she’d like to try, she said, “There are so many flowers out there I would love to grow but I only have so much space! I try a few new things every year.”
That’s some pretty sage gardening advice that applies to everything in life: try a few new things every year.
For more information:
I had a nice stroll down memory lane today, recalling how fun it was last spring when my friend Jenny called and asked if I wanted any bulbs. “Come on over,” she said. “Okay!” I replied. She gave me so many irises, ajuga, daffodils, daylilies, and nandinas that she had to follow me home with her trunk filled, too.
This week’s Optimistic Gardener talks about the importance of sharing plants among friends, and the stories those plants have to tell. Jenny’s irises are at least five or six decades and four generations old, and the red cannas Pat Decator is sharing with Denise Effrein are a century old. When I ran into Denise while on a walk, her car was filled with irises (from another friend down the way) and Pat’s canna lilies.
And then there’s Maggie Zwilling–my former supervisor at CCCC, a good friend, and to top it off, a real pistol–who found out I was writing about sharing plants and brought over about 30 gladiolus and rain lily bulbs. There are so many things in life to be thankful for, and good friends are definitely top of the list. Quite frankly, it feels as good to share plants as it does to receive them.
What plants are you sharing? What’s their story?
Let’s face it, anybody who knows me understands that I am going to have something in my garden called ‘Screamin’ Yellow False Indigo. Because, screaming. Turns out, this is a beautiful perennial. It’s easy to grow, brightens up its (expanding) corner of the garden, and is easy to split in the fall. I got mine two years ago, as two skinny shoots, from Growing Wild Nursery at the Chatham Mills Farmers Market. It’s thriving in our garden in three different sunny spots that drain well, and this fall I’ll be able to split it again — this time with my MIL. I’m going to trade it for some hellebores.
Lavender is one of my favorite plants … it’s an herb, it’s a flower, it’s a perennial, it’s a mosquito-repellent. It’s Mediterranean, and makes me think of our trips to Rome, Spain and France. If I close my eyes and walk through the lavender in our gardens, it transports me back to some of my very favorite memories with my very favorite people. Growing and caring for lavender is very easy, and best of all, now is the time to plant it! I discovered through trial and error (which I probably could’ve asked about) that it’s best to leave the lavender as it is in the fall, rather than trimming it back for the winter. If you trim it back, it’s done. Kaput. But if you let the branches and leaves get dried and dead looking, surprisingly, they green-up in the spring. Lavender is great for clipping and bringing inside, and either enjoying in a vase with water or letting it dry. Once dry you can sew it into eye masks or add it to potpourri (that’s old school). Or, if you’re like my son, make lavender syrup for coffee and to drizzle over vanilla ice cream. I also like a dash of it in a glass of Prosecco. 🙂
Clip a handful of lavender leaves and flowers (equal parts of both). In a saucepan, add 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and the lavender, and bring to a boil. Stir it regularly until the sugar dissolves (about 4 minutes), then turn it off and let it steep for half an hour. Pour into Ball jars or pretty glass containers through a strainer, and let cool completely. It’ll last for about a month in the fridge, so I find it’s better to make it in small batches so it doesn’t mold before I can use it all.
When planning my gardens, my goal is always one and done. By that I mean: plant evergreens and perennials and enjoy the fruits of my labor from the deck with a nice glass of wine. But every year I add a couple annuals in to my cutting garden, because zinnias. And cosmos. and globe amaranths. Annuals make the butterflies happy, they brighten up the meadow, and they give me pretty things to clip and bring inside. Don’t have a cutting garden yet? It’s easy. Pick a sunny spot with good drainage. Prepare your soil (it should be loose and weedless, add in compost and fertilizer if you’ve got it), plant your plants and cover with a light layer of mulch. Good plants for a cutting garden include bulbs like daffodils, gladiolus and tulips; annuals like zinnias, cosmos and sunflowers; and perennials like lavender, coneflower and coreopsis. Flowering bushes like roses and lilac are also great for clipping and bringing indoors–but consider anything that flowers or has interesting texture. Some of my oddball favorites are lantana, euonymus, lorapetulum, azaleas, and huechera.
What annuals do you plant in your cutting garden?