Live Plant Update 4/12/21

So, a lot has happened in the garden in the last ten days or so. I am finally up and mobile (and in PT, oh joy) and am able to get out and do some of the larger planting. Luckily, last week my orders of living plants started rolling in.

First to arrive was a Coral Knock-Out Rose I ordered from Home Depot (I was getting impatient waiting for the nurseries and garden centers to send out my plants, so I did finally buy a few from Home Depot). My plan for the rose is to create a screen between myself and my neighbors on the right side–our fence is a picket-style fence that is only 3′ tall, and the lack of privacy is killing me. The rose was smallish, in my opinion, for a 1 gallon rose, but seems healthy and has a ton of fresh growth on it. I know it’ll take a few years for it to turn into the screen I envision it to be, but hopefully it’ll be a great yard decoration until then.

Next to arrive were my Night-Blooming Jasmines (Jessamine). Trying to veer away from large corporations (on the whole), I canceled my order with Burpee and found a dealer on Etsy who had amazing ratings and a decent price on the jasmine. I ordered three plants, thinking that they would be tiny and I’d need three or so to fill up a large pot for my deck. They were not. They were exquisitely packaged and each were at least 10″ tall and fully bushy. And, despite our week of 50s/60s temps and on-and-off again rain, they are thriving, with plenty of new growth. It looks like I’ll need to re-home at least one of them, as these are in no way hardy to my zone and I’ll have to bring them inside to overwinter them.

Next up were my strawberries from Johnny’s Seeds. All of the 25 bare-root strawberry plants in my order were healthy and moist with long roots. I planted about 18 of them in my Greenstalk and the rest went into small planters to give away to friends. The strawberries are not much to look at now, but since I took the pics they have sprouted–and at least one of them has been eaten by some unknown critter 😦 Which is probably why the smallest order is 25 plants–they assume I’m going to lose some of them, one way or another.

I think in the future, when I buy annual or biannual live plants, I’m going to stick with Johnny’s. They are the only company (aside from the Etsy dealer) that delivered the quality product that they said they would, when they said they would. They are a bit more expensive than places like Burpees or Ferry Morse, but from all I’ve seen and heard, they are extremely reliable. I have an order of sweet potato slips due to arrive in May; hopefully they’ll be of the same quality.

This week a few other plants have arrived: a ZinFin Doll hydrangea and a small order of Jersey Knight asparagus roots, The hydrangea was from Home Depot (same order as the rose) and arrived in pretty good condition. The plan for that is to also be a living screen blocking off part of the fence with my next-door neighbors. I hear that hydrangeas grow fast, and sooner is better than later. (We also have a ten-year-old QuickFire hydrangea next to the house, which is about 8′ tall at this point and looks like a small tree. If the ZinFin Doll gets anywhere near that height, I’ll be happy.) The asparagus was a last-minute panic buy from a random seller on Amazon, but the crowns arrived today in very good condition–I was highly impressed. Assuming we have no rain, they’ll go into the ground tomorrow.

New plants that are on the horizon: two Limelight Prime hydrangeas, both to help block the fence on the other side of my yard. Also, after forty-four years of waiting, I’ve finally ordered a red Japanese maple to fill in the empty spot between the garden and the back of the house. Bloodgood Japanese Maple, I can’t wait to add you to my growing menagerie of plants. ❤

A mature Bloodgood Japanese Maple tree

Leeks are planted!

The leeks are planted! As are the onions. I just barely made it in time–waiting 2.5 weeks out of the 3 weeks that Dixondale recommends as the limit. The starts did look pretty dry, but they weren’t moldy. I gave them a good watering and some fertilizer, so here’s hoping they’ll settle in. We have relatively warm weather for the next 2.5 days before it heads back into freezing again, so hopefully that’s enough time for them to get acclimated. Item #1 marked off of my Garden 2021 to-do list, huzzah!

More Live Plants

So, the longer I sit at home waiting for my knee to heal, the more plants I buy. It is what it is.

I’ve picked up more bulbs, some lavender, and even another dahlia (I know, I don’t need any more). Here’s what I’ve got on order so far:

Miscanthus “Encore” (Proven Winners)

Miscanthus “Encore” (Proven Winners)

The Miscanthus is the plant I’m most excited about currently. I never thought I’d be the type to buy ornamental grasses–it’s always seemed too mature and “posh”–but, lo and behold, I am now aware of their many practical benefits.

The fence around my backyard is pretty but impractical. It’s also only a few years old, so I don’t have a really legitimate reason for tearing it down and putting up a more practical one–nor do I have the funds at the moment to do so. The fence is about 3′ high and in the picket fence style, with about 3 or so inches between each vertical slat. It’s pretty, but offers no privacy, and if we ever get a dog that is medium-sized or larger, it’ll be useless. (My parents, the former owners, had a mini dachshund.) As our back fence borders the alleyway, which is well paved and often used by joggers and dog-walkers in the neighborhood, I constantly feel like random strangers are walking through my backyard. it’s highly irritating but I couldn’t figure out how to handle it without spending a bunch of $ on a new fence, which my fiancé would never agree to. Enter ornamental grasses.

I came across the idea of using large ornamental grasses as a hedge while watching “You Can’t Eat the Grass”‘s bulb unboxing the other day–they had bought a different variety for use at their farm. I did some searching on Google and found one I liked–the Encore by Proven Winners 🙂 I have a strip of dirt between the fence and the alley which is currently populated by 30-year-old day lilies which need to get dug out anyway. So, I ordered six of the grasses to plant in that area, which should cover the fence. And it’s grass, so I imagine it’ll grow pretty quickly once they get established. And it is supposed to have really nice fall colors and “winter interest”, which means the breeder recommends not cutting them back until spring, so means that the hedge will last most of the year. Problem solved! Hopefully.

English Lavender–Hidcote

Another plant I picked up is some English Lavender (Hidcote). I haven’t grown much lavender, and the small plant of French lavender I picked up last year I attempted to overwinter on my back deck, thinking it was hardy to my zone. Apparently not. Looking back, I think I was basing this belief on the fact that lavenders definitely overwinter just fine in California, where I lived for 15 years. (Many places in CA have massive lavender and rosemary bushes edging the houses.) Alas, I am no longer in CA and need to deal with Zone 5b limits. So this time I did some research and picked up a few English lavender plants, which are hardy to my zone. I bought them from Michigan Bulbs, a company i’ve never purchased from before, but I had a coupon for free shipping 🙂 and many other online stores are already sold out. The plants are bare root, apparently, but I imagine they should fill out pretty well over the course of the summer.

Also from Michigan Bulb company are some more bulbs:

First, a mixed bag on dwarf Gladiolus bulbs. Dwarf, as I’ve never grown gladiolus and didn’t want to have to mess around with staking yet another type of flower. Next, a mixed bag of Anemones (again, a type of flower that is new to me). Finally, a mixed bag of ranunculus, as I had also ordered most of my ranunculus from Easy to Grow bulbs, and I wasn’t sure of the quality. Looking on Amazon, Easy to Grow is the main seller of ranunculus, and the reviews on the bulbs are pretty bad. (I had bought the bulbs directly through their website, which does not have any reviews.) So I figured the worse thing that will happen is I end up with too many ranunculus bulbs.

Finally, I did pick up another (!) dahlia. And I picked up some more Cafe au Lait tubers, because I realized I spent way too much on it earlier (it was the first dahlia I bought, and I spent like $15 for 1 tuber (!)–which, once I realized what I had done, completely broke my discount-loving heart.) I was so offended by this that I decided the only logical solution to this would be to buy more Cafe au Lait bulbs cheaper somewhere else. Obviously. So I did, but I needed to add more to my order in order to get the free shipping, so… I also picked up a mixed bag of caladiums and the “Melody Pink Allegro” dahlia, because it’s really pretty and pink and I’m a sucker.

Next up on my list of living plants to arrive, I believe, will be the Asparagus crowns from Gurney. Still need to plant my leeks/onions, which I should finally be able to do this weekend, assuming the dr gives me the ok at my appointment tomorrow. I’m thinking that many of these seed/plant companies assume that I have limitless amounts of land or that I’m actually a farmer. I am not. I don’t know what I’m going to do with 10 asparagus crowns–I really only have space for 5 at most, honestly, unless I start planting them in the lawn against the side fence–and the 25 strawberry plants and 25 sweet potato slips on order will likely be too many than I can manage as well. But that’s the size of order that they sell. Already, my local friends are getting inundated with seeds; the same will go for bulbs and live plants, I guess. (I’ve already hit my mom up for some of my dahlias, but as she lives in a condo now, she has much less space and no desire to care for a bunch of plants. 😦 ) But as I’d really rather not grow any of these from seed, my options are limited. There are worse things, I suppose.

They’re here! (and way too early): Onions and Leeks

So my first live plants arrived a few days ago! Dixondale’s leeks and onion starts have arrived. I knew they’d ship in March but the posted ETA was 3/15 and I assumed they’d arrive a few days after that. They did not. They arrived 3/11/21. I was caught unprepared.

This was not necessary Dixondale’s fault. I had not read the website thoroughly to begin with and originally had them scheduled to arrive back at the end of January. Dixondale, however, being the professionals that they are, checked my zip code and decided that I really wanted the leeks to be shipped mid-March. Once I finally found the email that told me this (several weeks after the fact-my inbox has been getting really strict in deciding which emails are junk and which ones are not), I relaxed. At least, I did until my knee surgery got more complicated than expected and I found out I’ll be on crutches for at least 6 weeks, not 2 weeks as originally planned. On top of that, they did actually arrive at least a week before I expected. While the snow has all melted, I haven’t gone outside to even look at my garden. Nothing in my garden is prepped yet.

When the leeks and onions arrived, I wasn’t even really mobile enough to get the materials to unpack and store them properly in my back hall (which in the winter works well as cold storage). Luckily, a gardening friend was stopping by that day anyway and helped me unpack and store them. The “plan” is for her to come over again tomorrow to attempt to get out into the garden tomorrow and plant some of them, at least. Dixondale’s website states that, since leeks and onions are part of the lily family, they can store up to three weeks in a cool, dry area, and not to been worried if the tops and bottoms turn brown b/c they will revive once planted in the soil. To be fair, given our current weather and the temperature of our soil, this week really would have been an ideal time to plant the starts, had I not been injured.

Luckily, I did do a pretty good job tidying up last fall, so the garden is not a mess. And I have a large tub which was going to hold sweet potatoes but for now can hold most, if not all, of my leeks starts. I think I’ll try to plant the onions in the beds that already are half-filled with garlic; those beds are already prepped, and I might as well keep the alliums together. And I’ll likely have extras to give to my friend should she want them. No two-person household really needs that many leeks or garlic.

I ordered one bunch of Lancelot Leeks (the only variety they carry) and a mixed bunch of long-day onions, which ended up being comprised of Walla Walla sweet yellow onions; Ringmaster white onions; and Redwing red onions. (I’ve only ever tried the Walla Walla onions, but onions are onions, I guess.) Each bunch has 50-60 starts in it. I’m mostly excited to grow the leeks. Over the last few years I’ve picked up a couple of staple recipes that use leeks, and they are a pain to get from the store as they are not always in stock and are often expensive. Luckily they do store quite well in the fridge, even already chopped and cleaned.

Here are my favorite recipes for which I hope to use my own home-grown leeks:

Potato Leek Soup — I substitute cauliflower for the potatoes–it has a better glycemic index, and I think it tastes better with cauliflower anyway.

Chicken and Leek Pie (William Sonoma) — This recipe tastes amazing. I make it exactly the way the recipe calls for (which is almost unheard of in my kitchen). It really is that good. The way I make it is essentially as chicken pot pie, with bottom crust but no top crust. It freezes well, too.

Triple Mushroom and Leek Soup –A great soup for a cold day. I omit the cream in this soup (as I do with most soups, as I’m lactose intolerant). I think it tastes amazing either way. For this soup, I recommend a health dose of shiitake mushrooms, with a few white mushrooms and the rest crimini mushrooms (or whatever version of portobello that looks good at the store that day). I’ve also made it using chantarelle mushrooms once; it was divine.

I’ve also been told that the leek greens are also good in veggie and chicken stock, though I usually just toss or compost them instead.

Leeks are amazing. They are one of the few plants I’m growing this year that I’m really counting on to succeed. The rest (tomatoes, peppers, sweet potatoes, et al) are honestly just a bonus.

Ordering Live Plants, part 2–Flowers

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time watching gardening videos on YouTube this past year. Between quarantine and my knee surgery, I have’t been able to do much; and with this long winter, I’ve needed to be reminded that the green will come again.

I’ve found a lot of vloggers I like, but the downside (?) is that they’ve inspired me to expand my garden from just veggies to include flowers–most of which I’ve never even heard of, much less grown. And many of them are not grown from seed.

Dahlias

Lavender Perfection

Dahlias seem to be the big flower this year. Floret Flowers, a small family flower farm in the Pacific Northwest, is very influential in the cut-flower industry (the flower version of market farmers). They just put out a new book on dahlias, Discovering Dahlias, which has really amped up the buzz. Dahlias are one of those weird plants that have a huge amount of variability in their DNA, so the only way to guarantee what type and color of flower you’ll get is to divide up a tuber (or take a cutting from a growing tuber). You can grow them from seed–I’ll be doing both this year–but with the seeds, it’s a total toss up what type of dahlia you’ll get. The seed mixes I’m planting are Unwins Mix (Baker Creek); Redskin Mix (Pinetree Seeds); and Dwarf Cactus Mix (RH Shumway’s). They will not be as big nor as luxuriant as the flowers from the tubers, however.

Dahlis are a bit finicky; the are not frost hardy, and so in my zone (5a/b) we have to dig them out each fall and store them overwinter. The bonus of this is that, like most tubers, they multiply when they are planted; you’ll usually end up with more than you started. (Which is awesome, because dahlia tubers are expensive.) Swan Island is the oldest dahlia farm in the US; and Floret Flowers usually grows dahlias ,but took this year off so they could build up their stock again. Both of these farms are pretty expensive, however. The best prices I’ve found on dahlias (non-wholesale) is from Longfield Gardens in New Jersey. However, no matter which company you try, most dahlia tuber varieties are already sold out. The ones I’ve ordered are scheduled to be delivered mid-April.

Here are some of the dahlias I’ll be growing from tubers:

“Dinner plate” dahlias (7″-10″ blooms) Left to right: Fleurel; Lavender Perfection; Noordwijks Glorie; Thomas Edison; Vancouver; and Cafe au Lait. Cafe au Lait is considered one of the most desirable dahlias, and is often used in bridal bouquets.

Other dahlias–“Pom Pon” Dahlias (4″ blooms) Left to right: Black Satin; Cheers; Great Silence.

Ranunculus

Those darn YouTube gardeners have also turned me on to another type of flower I’d never heard of: ranunculus. Ranunculus are grown from corms (kind of like really small tubers) and from what I understand, they are almost as pretty as dahlias but are not nearly as finicky. They like cold weather and can be planted as soon as soil can be worked. Of courser, my orders won’t be delivered until mid-April, as that’s when the flower companies have decided that they should be planted in my zone, but next year I should be able to get them in the ground much sooner. I’ve decided to go much less dramatic with the ranunculus colors as well. Left to right: Picotree Red/Yellow (Longfield Gardens); Tecolote® Pastel Mix; and Tecolote® Rose (Easy to Grow Bulbs).

Finally, I’ve also ordered my absolute favorite flower, Night-Blooming Jasmine. Night-blooming jasmine is actually not a real jasmine; it’s a jessamine, which is a member of the nightshade family. Technically night-blooming jasmine is not perennial in my area, as they can’t handle frost; but I’ve been told that if I keep them potted and bring them inside to overwinter, they should survive. So that’s my plan. 🙂 I absolutely *love* the smell of their flowers; regular jasmine just does not compare, and I’ve desperately missed their smell since I moved back to IL.

Ordering Live Plants, part 1–Fruits and Veg

Or, some plants are better not grown from seed.

In planning for this year’s garden, I ended up taking a few shortcuts. While growing veggies and flowers from seed is easily the cheapest way, some veggies and flowers take a very long time to mature and produce food. And I’m not the most patient person.

Veggies:

Asparagus

I had high hopes for having fresh asparagus this year until I found that it takes a good 3-5 years before you can harvest any asparagus that you’ve grown from seed. In lieu of this, many seed companies sell 2-3 year old asparagus “crowns” which is the root of an asparagus plant. I’ve ordered a set of 10 crowns of Jersey Knight Giant asparagus from Gurney’s (many other seed companies were already sold out). Jersey Knight seems to be the favored variety.

Jersey Knight Giant asparagus

Leeks and Onions

Leeks are another crop I had high hopes for. It can be grown from seed–I actually have three packets of different varieties in my seed collection already. However, my experience with growing both leeks and onions seeds last year was really frustrating–all I got was a series of chives, or, at best, green onions. So when I heard that you could order leek and onion “starts”, I jumped on it. (Onion starts are different from onions sets, which are essentially bags of mini onion bulbs which more often than not will bolt early–onions are biennials and the process of being stalled at the small bulb stage makes them think they are on year two and should start putting out flowers instead of growing a bigger bulb.) Several companies, such as Johnny’s Seeds, sell onion and leek starts, but one company specializes specifically in onion and leek sets: Dixondale Farms. I ordered a bunch of leeks (30 or so in each bunch) and a bunch of mixed onions–yellow, red, and white from Dixondale. These will be the first of my live plants to arrive as they are supposed to be shipped out mid-March. I think I’ll put them in the beds next to the garlic, though at this point I’m not sure if I’ll even be able to get into the garden to prep the beds and plant them. Erik may end up doing more gardening that he had planned on this spring.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are another crop that could theoretically be grown from seed but no one does. Instead, companies sell “slips” (sweet potato starts), or you could make your own from old sweet potatoes. Last year I received three different types of sweet potato slips from Baker Creek–Pumpkin Yam, Jersey Yellow, and Molokai purple. Of the three, the Pumpkin Yam grew best and tasted amazing roasted. The Jersey yellow did not grow that big, and also didn’t cure well. The Molokai purple were also very skinny–they cured well, but as they are so thin I haven’t bothered to use them in cooking yet.

As I’m not sure if Baker Creek will even offer sweet potatoes slips this year, I went ahead and ordered a set of Murasaki Purple sweet potatoes from Gurney and a set of 25 slips of Mahon Yams from Johnny’s Seeds. I think I’ll plant them in a large container again this year. One set of slips is set to arrive in late April, and the other set is scheduled to arrive late May. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do with the April set, yet as sweet potatoes are finicky and only like hot weather and April is not hot in Northern IL.

Mahon Yams

Apple Trees

My first purchase when we moved into the new house were some apple trees. Unfortunately, they were sold out last summer, and even when I went to pre-order trees this winter, many were already sold out! My preference is Fuji apple, but all the companies I could find were out of stock. Instead, I ended up with a HoneyCrisp and a Haralson, both of which cross-pollinate well with Fujis (and each other), from Gilby’s Orchard, a tree company based in MN. These apples are all dwarf varieties, as I live in the middle of the city and full-sized trees would be too large (plus, a pain to manage). I’m not entirely sure where I’ll put them yet, but there is plenty of room as all of the house’s previous trees have been removed due to illness and old age.