Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Can you see them?

They may not look like much but the first green tips of crocus are more than enough to lift winter-weary spirits.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Save the black walnuts

Someday, these three black walnut seedlings will be state park worthy. We planted them last fall -- they're still safe and snug under snow cover.

So, instead of focusing on issues such as creating jobs or designing a better tax system, some Minnesota legislators are pushing a bill requiring the DNR to cut and sell black walnut trees in two state parks to raise revenue.

What are they thinking? I don't see the point of cutting down trees that may be as old as a century or more for a cash infusion that really won't make much of a difference in the budget. The Austin Daily Herald calls the idea "wacky", and I have to agree.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's all about timing

Who says amaryllis are just for Christmas?

This one came out of the winter closet a couple of weeks ago. Its needs for dormancy met (at least eight to 10 weeks), it began sprouting new leaves and now has two fat flower buds. (Photo shows one bud, but there is another one.) 

I'd say the five-buck investment was worth it -- this is the second round of blooms.

The National Arboretum has information on growing your own.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

March (moon) madness

Spectacular moonrise Friday evening. Lovely reflections on the driveway glacier. The silly dog alerted the neighborhood.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Bonfire ignites

In the next few months, those little pale pink nodules will grow into a lush plant 
with graceful orange-red bell-shaped blooms.

In bloom, Begonia 'Bonfire' is a hot little plant. Hot enough, in fact, to make room in the downstairs closet to overwinter it. A weekend check of the overwintering chambers revealed tiny nubbins of new growth on 'Bonfire.' Time to move it to brighter quarters!

I've been really happy with 'Bonfire.' The burn begins slowly, but will escalate into a full-fledged explosion of color in the next few months. It's easy care during the growing season -- I treat it as I treat most of my container plantings. That means a weekly shot of liquid fertilizer and nearly daily watering in hot weather. The last two summers it's had a place near the front door where it gets morning sunshine and afternoon shade. It may get moved to the backyard this year, near the pond but out of intense afternoon sun and where it may better fit in with the prevailing color palette.

Overwintering the plant couldn't be easier. In fall, right about the time of the first frost, I whack off the stems and leaves. It's brutal but necessary because I want the plant to go dormant. Make sure the pot is moist and move it into a dark, cool place. I use the big downstairs closet where we also overwinter the potted water lilies and store the potatoes and onions. I check on it occasionally during the winter and if it seems exceptionally dry I give it a sprinkle of water. (But not too much -- I don't want rot to set in.) Then, in spring, it tells me when it's ready to come back into the light, and I, gradually, over the course of a couple of days, acclimate it to brighter conditions. Once it gets a little more growth under its belt, it will start getting lightly fertilized, and, possibly, a new pot and fresh soil. Then, sometime around the end of May it will find its way outside.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Through the home office window this morning

There is one patch of bare ground in the yard. In a semi-sheltered area near the back hill. Southern exposure. Can you say deer magnet?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Little black petunia

My fashion sense can pretty much be summed up in one word: black.

Black is classic. And it plays well with other colors. Maybe that's why my eyes zeroed in on the black petunias at the Annual Flower Trial Garden at Colorado State University last summer. The petunias -- 'Pinstripe,' 'Phantom,' and especially 'Black Velvet' are catching a lot of attention. The March/April issue of Northern Gardener magazine features the three cultivars in a story about new annuals; other horticultural publications also have picked up on the petunias -- especially 'Black Velvet' -- bred by Ball.

It was the color that turned my head and the heads of the experts evaluating the plants' performances in the sunny, dry climate of Fort Collins, Colo. On evaluation day on Aug. 9, 2010, 'Black Velvet' earned the highest marks among these three petunias, scoring 6.8 out of a possible 10. Judges noted its "incredible" flower color but uneven habit. In September, in the end-of-season remarks, judges described 'Black Velvet' has having a unique color, many flowers and moderate vigor.

We happened to be in Fort Collins in August at about the same time as the plants were evaluated so I can vouch for the "incredible" color. It was deep and rich. My only disappointment was that, like so many petunia descendants, there seemed to be little fragrance. 

I see 'Black Velvet' more as a container plant than a bedding plant, although it could be striking tumbling along the edges of a light-colored walkway. It would be classy in a silver or mossy green container mixed with something white such as bacopa or alyssum or lobelia. Or maybe an urn of 'Black Velvet' petunias surrounded by a collar of the lime-green foliage of creeping jenny. Hmm ... opportunities await.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Seventh Day March

 Morning with the silly dog.

A year ago at this time we were seeing the bright green shoots of chives and the red-purple tips of early tulips. Not so this year -- all is still buried under the snow. And it's likely we'll see more snow this week.


Nevertheless, we gave it the good ol' college try -- here is The Seventh Day Project: March 2011. (See sidebar at right.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jam-a-pa-loo-za (featuring chutney gluttony)

 The results of an afternoon spent canning.

The plan: Pear Chutney, Brandied Cherries, Ginger-Grape Jam, Tomato Jam (two versions), Current Jelly.

The setting: A sunny kitchen on Minnesota's Iron Range.

The players: Five women in need of a late winter pick-me-up.

We gathered on Saturday with fresh gingerroot and other spices; garden and farmstand cherries, grapes and tomatoes still colorful and flavorful after several months in the freezer; and a collection of various sizes and shapes of jars along with the kettles and other paraphernalia necessary for a fun afternoon of canning and catching up.