Thursday, September 22, 2011

Northward bound

Being up in Canada visiting family reminds me that we Bay Area gardeners enjoy a gardening experience unlike most of North America. That is, to garden year round if we so choose. As I drove up through Idaho and saw the roadside nurseries, some were already making preparations to close for the winter. While I appreciate having my garden as company in December and January, there is something to be said for having a period of rest, of allowing Nature to throw a blanket over the land during the winter. Seeds having fallen to the ground will wait for spring rains and warmth; perennials likewise lay low and wait for their horticultural clocks to wake them up at just the right time. At no time have these natural triggers been more in evidence than in 2011, when our crazy weather has caused havoc with vegetable and flower gardens alike. Boundaries between spring and summer and between summer and fall were blurred, if not dismissed altogether.
And yet plants will find a way no matter what we throw at them in the way of obstacles. Bulbs still bloomed; perennials returned, if perhaps not as vigorous; some plants waited out the cool, wet spring and bloomed a month or two later. And now certain deciduous trees and shrubs are losing their leaves earlier than usual. As usual, we gardeners roll with the flow, making our mental notes as to what's taking place. Our gardens certainly show the benefits of our attention, the composting and the pruning and the feeding. And yet, one of the maddening yet rewarding aspects of gardening is that Mother Nature is so much more in control of what happens and surrendering to this can be a wonderful lesson. And I find that for every disappointment (a plant's poor performance) there are many wonderful surprises -- plants mysteriously reviving themselves, plants rebounding after a poor year, plants bucking the dismal weather to put on a magnificent show. I'm learning to appreciate it all and to realize I can't make it perfect, don't want to make it perfect. Commune and enjoy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Bulbs, bulbs, bulbs

Spring may seem like a long way off but in one regard it's already here. That would be in the arrival of spring blooming bulbs at your local nursery. There are of course a large variety of tulips, crocus and daffodils but these are just the tip of the iceberg. Spring favorites include fragrant hyacinths, which come in an increasing variety of colors, including a yellow for 2012, sweet smelling freesias and all manner of irises. Dutch irises are always popular and they too are broadening their color spectrum beyond purples and yellows. One of my favorites is Bronze Beauty, which combines bronze and purple tones. Then there are the bearded irises, with larger and more colorful blooms. They can be a bit more finicky but the reward is great. There's a reason there are bearded iris societies. I can also recommend some less common irises. Start with ensata (Japanese) irises, which feature enormous flowers. Siberian and Louisiana iris offer some fun patterns and are available as corms. Iris pseudacorus is a water loving iris with striking markings and delicate petals. Want to go native? Pacific Coast iris are a west coast native with flowers covering the entire color spectrum, many with attractive streaking.
There are lots of other colorful spring bulbs available in bulb form. Sparaxis (Harlequin flower) are an early blooming, very hardy perennial. Count ixias (corn lily) in that same category. Super easy to grow, will multiply and offer a bit of height to your bulb bed.
Got onions? No, not cooking onions bu the ornamental kind. To the uninitiated, it's hard to believe that this family could produce attractive flowers but they do, everything from tiny little guys like Allium neopolitanum to the giant globe alliums like Cristophii and Schubertii. It's really quite astonishing, the variety in this genus.
There are to many spring bulbs to list them all but eying the colorful boxes in the nursery holds out the promise for a spring not too far in the future, a promise that can sustain us through the long winter.
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