Charlie’s Mid March Newsletter
I’m on the last of my flower shows for 2018 as you read this newsletter. Chicago is bursting with color at the Navy Pier as the Chicago Flower Show is in full swing. As always, if you’re reading this in Chicago, stop by Saturday to hear me speak on Container Gardening.
One plant that can be grown in containers, or in the ground, is alpine strawberries. I love these sweet, little gems for their versatility and toughness. Read more about them here.
Lupines are one of my favorite naturalizing perennials. I love seeing banks in full bloom in spring with these colorful wildflowers. I talk about growing them in the garden here.
Calendula is a great annual flower in the garden, medicinal herb and culinary plant. It does it all! There are many new varieties on the market and I talk about keeping your calendula in bounds because, if you’ve grown it before, you know it loves to self sow.
Finally, I share more information about my webinar on Cottage Gardening on April 5th. If you’re interested in growing annual and perennial flowers in a way that they seem to naturalize and flow together, this may be a webinar for you. I’ll also cover many other elements of a cottage garden. Check it out here and sign up soon before the early bird discount ends.
And, I’m on the road again this summer. Check out our Western New England Garden Bus Tour that I’m leading with Leonard Perry of the University of Vermont on July 16th and 17th. We’ll be visiting some famous and unique gardens in Western Massachusetts and Vermont. It’s only an overnight, so easy to fit into your busy summer schedule.
March has been a bear in the Northeast this year with snow, winds and cold. I’m looking forward to a balmier April. Until next time I’ll be seeing you… in the garden.
- Vermont Garden Journal Radio- This week; Unusual Cucumbers
- Connecticut Garden Journal Radio- This week; Crocus
- In the Garden (WCAX-TV CBS)- This week; Easy Houseplants
- Where’s Charlie Speaking? March 17, 2018, Chicago Flower Show, Chicago, IL
Everyone loves fresh, large, juicy strawberries from their own garden. While we grow the June and everbearing varieties, there is another type of strawberry everyone should try. Alpine strawberries are like wild strawberries in that the plants are small and the fruits are sweet and diminutive. However, I like the alpine strawberries because they keep producing fruit all summer, stay compact in a mound form and come in varieties with yellow or white colored fruits. They’re great edible landscape ground cover plants and can fit in a container, too. They’re the perfect small space strawberry that’s low care.
While more growers are producing plants for sale in garden centers, I simply start them from seed indoors. ‘Migonette’ is a traditional alpine strawberry variety with red fruits. ‘Pineapple’ is a yellow heirloom colored variety that gives off a rose and pineapple fragrance and are sweet and tasty. I grew ‘Attila’ alpine strawberry years ago from seed and now I have an ever expanding patch of them. ‘Attila’ sends out runners, unlike most alpine strawberry varieties that have a bunching growth habit.
Start alpine strawberry seed now under lights indoors or directly in the garden in warmer areas. Once the seeds germinate, separate the plants, repot into one size larger containers and grow them until a few sets of true leaves have formed. Plant in full sun on compost amended soil. Once established, alpine strawberry plants will slowly enlarge producing fruits all summer. You can grow them in containers mixed with herbs or annual flowers, too. You’ll have to protect the plants from extreme cold in northern areas, but they should last many years.
In the garden give alpine strawberries some compost each spring and a shot of an organic liquid fertilizer to get them growing. For varieties with runners, you can spread the planting around by transplanting young plants in spring to new locations.
There’s nothing that puts a smile on my face faster than a hillside of beautiful blue lupines in bloom. This wildflower spreads and charms viewers with their attractive flowers and sturdy plant. Although a short lived perennial in cold climates, lupines do have lasting power. They are legumes with a taproot and spread by self sowing. While blue is the traditional color of lupines, they also come in pink and yellow versions.
The Russell Hybrids are the most famous selections, but there are dwarf versions now that make great garden plants. The Gallery series features Blue, Red and Yellow varieties. This series only grows 18- to 24-inches tall and are less fussy about soil conditions than the taller hybrids. The Gallery series is a nice combination for a flower garden. While they will self sow, like the wildflower versions, they are more manageable in the garden.
Plant seedlings or seeds in spring. Transplants will flower sooner. Lupines don’t grow well in heavy clay soil, so make sure the soil is amended with compost. Some varieties will act like annuals and self sow, while others will perennialize in the garden. Deadhead spent flower stalks to stimulate a second bloom cycle later in summer. Since they are legumes, lupines only need some compost in spring as fertilizer. For those flowers not deadheaded, enjoy the seed heads that form and can be used as rattles or in flower arranging.
Lupines are deer and rabbit proof. They can get aphids in spring, but simply blast the aphids off the plants with a stream of water from a hose and they aren’t likely to climb back up onto the plant.
Calendula is one of those all purpose plants. The bright, cheery orange or yellow flowers brighten up a flower or vegetable garden. These annual plants are tough, spreading seeds each summer and growing each spring. The flowers are not only attractive, the petals are edible in soups and salads. Plus, you can make a mean healing salve from the plant as well.
There are a number of calendula varieties in the orange and yellow flower color range. ‘Pacific Beauty’ is a mix of single and double flowers in a range of shades of orange and yellow. It’s a heat tolerant, cut flower variety. ‘Resina’ has orange flowers with a high resin count. It’s good for medicinal purposes and for use as a dye plant. ‘Flashback’ is a cool series with colorful tops of the petals backed with maroon or burgundy colored petal bottoms. ‘Strawberry’ is a unique variety for its light colored petals. It makes a nice dried flower in arrangements.
Start calendula indoors from seed to get a jump on the season, or sow the seeds in the garden once warm weather settles in. Thin to 6- to 12-inches apart. Calendula will flower best in the cool spring and late summer. Keep deadheading plants to stimulate more blooms. However, don’t be surprised if it stops blooming a bit in mid summer. Harvest flowers for eating and medicinal uses once they are fully open, but before they start to fade. The morning is the best time to get the highest resin count.
If you want calendulas everywhere, let some flowers go to seed. Be aware though, the seedlings may not be true to the parents for flower color and calendula will grow everywhere, especially pathways, so will probably need some weeding out each spring.
In Our Garden: Cottage Gardening Webinar
There’s something soothing about a cottage garden. The flowers, shrubs, vegetables and vines all blend together in a pattern that looks natural, but has actually been carefully planned out. If you like cottage garden designs and are thinking of creating one in your yard this year, consider coming to my,
I’ll talk about the history of English Cottage Gardens, how that style has changed in the USA and the plants that make a cottage garden work. Also, I’ll talk about other elements in a cottage garden including the pathways, fences and borders, structures and ornaments.
So, come join me on April 5th for a visual tour of cottage gardens with lots of plant suggestions. As always, if you have questions send them along. I’ll incorporate them into my talk. If you can’t make it on April 5th, no problem. All those who sign up will get a link to the talk a few days later.
Sign up now for the Cottage Gardening Webinar before the Early Bird Deadline passes. Hopefully, I’ll see you in April in the cottage garden.