Charlie’s Mid February Newsletter
Mid-February for me means the beginning of flower show season. It’s an amazing experience being fortunate enough to visit many flower shows across the country. I have a jam packed schedule speaking at some of these shows since most US flower shows fall between February and April. If you’re going to a local or regional flower show I offer some tips on best times and ways to view the displays and booths without getting overwhelmed by the crowds.
But spring is around the corner and even budding in warmer locations already. It’s time to think lettuce. There are so many different types and varieties I thought to focus on red leaf types in this newsletter. Learn more about varieties and growing them here. Another red edible is strawberries. But instead of talking about the large fruited types, I thought to wax poetic about alpine strawberries. I’ve been growing these for years and love these diminutive plants with sweet fruits. Learn more about red, yellow and white fruited varieties here.
Also, foxgloves are a popular biennial flower in many home gardens. Some gardeners may not realize newer varieties grow more like perennials. I talk about these in this newsletter.
We’ve had an overwhelming response to my September, 2017 Tour of the Chateaux, Gardens & Food of the Loire Valley, France. If you’re still interested in this great trip, check out the details. We will be running a waiting list for those that can’t get in.
Finally, many of you have seen and heard me talk at flower shows, garden club meetings and Master Gardener conferences around the country. Many others have missed me in these venues, so I decided to offer an on-line webinar of one of my talks on April 20th from 7pm to 8:30pm EST. I’ll be live, on-line giving a talk on Small Space Edible Gardening. And they will be 30 minutes at the end of the talk to answer your gardening questions. There will be more details to come soon about the price and how to sign up. Imagine enjoying my garden talk and getting your questions answered without leaving your own home! Stay tuned for details.
Until next time, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.
Spring is lettuce time. If you have a cold frame, greenhouse or even a sunny window, you can start some lettuce now depending where you live. There are different types of lettuce to grow such as loose leaf, romaine and head lettuce. While most varieties have green leaves, red lettuces have gained in popularity. There are some beautiful varieties that not only look and taste good in salads, but are attractive in your landscape.
A beautiful rose and gold leaf colored oakleaf type is ‘Oscarde’. It’s good as a full sized head or picked young as baby greens. ‘Outredgeous’ is so red you may not think it’s a lettuce. The magenta colored leaves grow on loose leaf heads. ‘Pomegranate Crunch’ is a mini red romaine with dark, almost purple, colored leaves, while ‘Ruby Gem’ is another baby red romaine with great red color. ‘New Red Fire’ and ‘Redina’ are some of the frilliest lettuces around and have good diseases resistance. ‘Red Deer Tongue’ has unusual, triangle-shaped, deer tongue shaped, red leaves.
I find the best way to have early lettuce is to start seedlings indoors. You can get them to germinate quickly and grow to a transplantable size in the regulated environment of your home. If you have cold frames, amend the soil with compost and plant once the ground has thawed and the coldest part of the winter has past. Mix in some fish emulsion fertilizer every time you water to give them a boost. What’s great about leaf lettuce is you can harvest at any point. Thin lettuces when young and eat the baby greens while letting some heads mature to full size.
For more details on growing lettuces, go here.
Foxgloves are fabulous English cottage garden flowers that brighten up a flower border with their pink, white, yellow, rose and purple colored flower stalks. Traditionally foxgloves have been biennials. This means the first year you get a small plant and the second year the flower stalk forms and blooms. If you’re growing foxgloves in a cottage garden, you’ll always have flowering plants each year due to the self sowing that naturally happens with these flowers.
Newer varieties, though, grow more like short lived perennials. These flower each year from the same plant. You still want to make sure you have baby replacement plants coming up, but the mother plant can last a number of seasons. ‘Dalmation Rose’ features bright rose to purple colored blooms in early spring. ‘Dalmation Peach’ is similar to the rose colored versions but with peach colored flowers on short, 20 inch tall flower stalks. ‘Camelot Lavender’ grow 3 to 4 feet tall with lavender colored blooms with darker speckles. These hybrids are hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9 and flower in spring. Plant foxgloves on compost amended, well-drained soil in full sun for the best flowering. However, they can tolerate and flower in part shade, especially in warmer climates. Plant in summer or early fall to get flowers the following year. Some of these newer hybrids will actually flower the first year if planted in early spring. Each year, weed out self sown foxgloves that are crowding themselves or other plants. Crowded foxgloves will produce smaller plants with less flowers. Plant foxgloves with other perennials such as Shasta daisies and echinacea. Since butterflies and hummingbirds love the flowers, plant foxgloves close to a window or patio so you can enjoy the blooms and wildlife.
Learn more about growing foxgloves here.
One of my favorite Foodscape plants is the alpine strawberry. This small fruited wild strawberry grows in clump-shaped plants. They stay low to the ground and produce tasty fruits all summer long. Unlike the traditional strawberry plants, they don’t form runners and spread wildly, but stay contained in a slowly expanding clump. This makes them favorites for rock gardens and low flowering borders.
The fruits are bigger than wild strawberries, but smaller than their cultivated cousins. While we always think of red as the color of strawberries and ‘Mignonette’ is a good example of a red alpine strawberry, these plants also have yellow or white colored fruits, too. ‘Pineapple’ is an heirloom variety with yellow colored fruits. What’s nice about the yellow fruits is birds don’t seem to notice them as easily.
I’ve successfully started alpine strawberries from seed, sown now. Grown under lights indoors, they turned into small transplants that give you a jump on the season. When transplanted in May in zone 5, they will produce fruit the first year and every year thereafter. Alpine strawberries won’t give you enough fruits for canning and freezing, but they’re perfect for a adding to shakes, cereals and desserts. They’re tough plants that survive the cold easily. One heirloom I’ve grown, ‘Attila’, is a running type of alpine strawberry that is perfect as a ground cover.
Keep alpine strawberries growing strong by weeding well around them each year, adding compost in spring and keeping them well watered during dry periods. Slugs and snails love alpine strawberry fruits, especially during wet weather, so use organic slugs baits and controls that I describe here my video and podcast.
Learn more about alpine strawberries.
In Our Garden: Flower Shows
Flower shows are great for reminding us that spring is just around the corner. After a hard winter, we all need some bright flowers and perfumed fragrances to bring up our mood. Flower shows have become very popular and many now only run for a long weekend. This means you’ll be fighting crowds when you arrive. I remember my first visit to the Philadelphia Flower Show. We arrived midday and it was so packed that I could hardly see the exhibits. Since I go to many flower shows, I thought I’d offer a few tips on the best way to enjoy them.
First of all, if possible, get there when the doors open to really have time to look around and take pictures of the exhibits. Another good time of day is late afternoon. The day crowd has left, but the after work crowd hasn’t arrived yet. If you get there when there are fewer people, go to the exhibits first and take your time and enough them. The booths are educational and fun too, but you’ll have more opportunities to visit those once the hall fills up with people.
When shopping for live plants remember it’s cold outside. If you’re buying a plant, tuber, or root that needs to be in the ground, you may have to wait a few months. Talk to the vendors about storage or potting them up indoors to keep your purchase alive until planting. Always buy varieties that are hardy for your area, especially if you live far away from the flower show in a different climate.
Oh, and visit the seminars. They’re free, a great way to get gardening ideas and they provide you with a little rest. Check out my flower show speaking schedule for this year and if you’re at the show when I am, stop by and say hi!