Discoveries Await in the Garden

By Michael Leach

As the incredible NASA rover seeks signs of extinct life on Mars, I don jacket, gloves and boots to discover life in the garden.

My quest lacks any scientific or other significance, but it’s exciting for me. To behold snowdrop blossoms, crocus shoots and swelling magnolia buds fires hope.

In this part of the Midwest, winter sets no records (so far). Still it’s been a trial. Months of always cold, mostly gray weather preceding a snowy mostly subfreezing February. As the snow pack melts away, daily excursions across the backyard wasteland produce a harvest of sightings. 

Just as NASA chose a landing site rich in potential for discovery, I too, know where to search. My eyes carefully scan little warm places, microclimates where the scant winter sun strikes longest and protected areas near the house.

In mid-January the snowdrops beside the walk near the backdoor were opening. As the piles of snow melted in late February, there they stood as if nothing happened. Deliberately planting such tiny wonders in places easily seen from the warmth of indoors enhances the show (no jacket, gloves and boots are needed to see them). I also plant clumps of these early birds elsewhere in the garden to enliven forays into the brown world of wintery death and dormancy.

More than green awaits. Sound is back.

Water trickles into the roof gutters overhead as the snow mass melts. Occasionally crystal icicles shatter as they plunge from rooftop glaciers. Little streams, once muted by an ice slab, babble again.

The resident male cardinal, who began singing pretty regularly about Valentine’s Day, is joined by other birds almost every morning.

Even before melting commenced and birds chirped, I brushed snow from the glass top of the tiny cold frame to speed warming. I cleared weeds and debris from this solar-heated grow box in January, and have been looking for weed seeds sprouting at least once a week since. Germinating weed seeds will  indicate it’s warm enough under glass to plant cold tolerant greens for a jump on the growing season.

Doesn’t that sound hopeful — growing season?

Favorite Flora: Species Tulips

Wild for Species Tulips

By Teresa Woodard

Imagine an alpine meadow of dainty tulips in Kazakhstan or stout red tulips thriving on the rocky slopes of the Elburz Mountains in Iran.  After seeing this collection of images from Tulips in the Wild, I decided to give these tough little beauties a try.

Last fall, I planted clusters of 8 to 10 Tulipa linifolia and Tulipa clusiana ‘Tubergen’s Gem’  along edges of our meadow.  In April, they made a charming show with natural, wildflower-like blooms – much more fitting for the meadow setting than their larger, more showy hybridized cousins.

If you want to try planting some of these ‘wild’ or species tulip bulbs this fall, here are a few suggestions.  Plan to order a larger quantity than expected, since the bulbs are smaller and look more impressive when planted in mass.  Also, consider a location where these diminutive spring flowers will get noticed like a walkway, a mailbox garden or a border’s edge. The bulbs will grow best in a sunny location with good drainage, ideally a sloped area that is not irrigated. While deer are known to eat tulips just as they open, I was fortunate they didn’t find these blooms. However, be prepared to protect them with barrier plants or a deer repellent.IMG_6162

For bulb sources, check out Colorblends – 888-847-8637; Brett and Becky’s Bulbs — 877-661-2852; Van Engelen — 860-567-8734; and Bluestone Perennials — 800-852-5243.

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