Sunday, March 18, 2007

Thoughts of Other Colors

Sunday, March 18, 2007

17 degrees here on the hill with a haze above the trees and an ultra fine snow falling. Received a couple more inches of light, fluffy snow last night that is moving around with off and on again winds. The blue jays have been here since 6:15 and have a lot of the snow kicked off the feeder. They are talking a lot today but I can't figure out the words. I noticed the grosbeaks talking back to them but their words were muddled from mouths full of sunflower and millet.

It's peaceful looking today but my color of choice is turning to green. I know that will be slow in coming and staying but things will be dramatically different in a couple weeks. Yesterday was a longer day than I wanted and the day's shoveling has caught up with me. Big storms have matched big holidays this year but regardless of the day, a thousand shovels of snow makes for a weary shoveler.

Color in the garden is always welcome and some gardeners are amazed at masses of color we have put together. Obviously a garden looks better every year but there are certain ways to get there in a year or two with just a little patience. The required budget is also manageable.

Regardless of their gardening skills, people seem to understand "daisies" and "black eyed susans" and they use those names frequently. When we talk about any of the leucanthemums or the rudbeckias we are talking about the sunflower family which also includes asters and echinacea and similar flowers we enjoy a great deal. As I have attested to with frequency I am not a botanist and I guarantee you that I'll never speak with confidence about plant families. What I do know is that any of the leucanthemums or rudbeckias will give you color without expense and they look fine mixed with sneezeweed, daylilies and a smattering of the bright red crocosmia 'Lucifer'.

If you like to start seeds, garden centers and mail order can offer wide possibilities for well under $2.00 a packet. Companies purported to sell wild flowers often include these in their all- too-expensive mixes because they serve as a filler. Many are guaranteed to thrive and make you think the other 59 varieities you thought you bought are mixed in there too. If you don't want to start seeds inside, sowing directly into the garden works well.

For many, a trip to your favorite nursery is a quicker way to get the color going. These are often potted in 3 and 4 quart containers for $3.50 to $10.00 and sometimes there are two gallon pots of well established plants for $15. Smaller is better than bigger here because it's important that the roots get well established. These flowers have fibrous stems with roots which get woody over time. As they age, those roots become sponges for water which in a place like Vermont leads to their demise in three or four years. The good news is that they self seed nicely and once established you will probably have some in the garden for a long time.

Those that swear by well amended soil with lots of organic material will find that these flowers might well grow better with neglect in poor soil that drains well. The prevalence of organic material sometimes contans more fungus and encourages the rot we are trying to avoid. Trial and error will get you where you want to be in a couple seasons. Do what we do and let them go to seed and then in late fall rub the seedheads back and forth in between your fingers, letting the seed fall to the ground. You won't notice the results for two years and by then you'll be on your way to great swaths of color which you can enjoy for a good part of the summer.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the feeder is empty and a single dove pecks cracked corn from the ground and probably thanks blue jays with poor manners for making breakfast an easier meal.

George Africa

No comments: