I get frustrated with gardening books. There are so many books and websites that target the beginning gardener, and plenty of obscure titles that target gardeners who geek out over a single genus. The ones for advanced readers seem to need a degree or two to understand, while basic ones mainly copy and regurgitate other references already out there. The first half has pretty pictures but no new techniques, and the last half of the book is a big fat encyclopedia that duplicates the information in all the other books I have. There aren’t good one-stop-shopping resources for that middle-gardener. Of course a book like that would be several inches thick. Or cover a table-top.
[Here’s my mom’s partial garden book library. My library is only a fraction of this size. Thank goodness I get to borrow from this, with generous check-out privileges!]
I’m not likely to make a significant dent into the Gardening 2.0 literature, but I sure wish I had a calendar that kicked me in the butt to do the tasks that I’ve been neglecting. My biggest problem is thinking ahead several months … if I want Dahlias in summer, I’ld better pull last year’s out of storage now. I have to throw out the ones that didn’t make it, order more, and start forcing them for cuttings. Hanging baskets this year? Better order and start the seeds. Crud, the apple trees are starting to swell, do I prune, or did I miss the pruning-window again this year?
I always panic a bit knowing that I’ve forgotten some essential task in the garden that just screws me for the rest of the year.
I try to renew all of my garden-related memberships at the start of the new year; it keeps the business record-keeping simple. I tend to procrastinate over the three or four “Renew Now” notices and panic a bit when I get my “Final Issue” … did I send the check and it just crossed paths in the mail? Here are my top recommendations for memberships:
- NPA – Northwest Perennial Alliance – Founded by hort-nerds in 1984, it developed the largest public perennial border in the country. Garden tours and seminars.
- NHS – Northwest Horticultural Society – Fantastic speakers and garden tours.
- NARGS – North American Rock Garden Society – Worth joining for the seed exchange alone.
- HPSW – Hardy Plant Society of Washington – Local speakers, rare and unusual plants and bulbs at annual plant sales, large seed exchange
- ASCFG – Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers – National ornamental flower farming association supporting local growers (video)
- GWA – Garden Writers Association – For garden communicators in print and video. Many nationwide meetings.
- GFM – Growing for Market – For growing herbs, fruits, vegetables and flowers on a farmers’ market scale
- RHS – Royal Horticultural Society – Even though most RHS events occur in the UK, the magazine The Garden is top-notch.
- Gardens Illustrated – Another fine horticultural periodical worth the subscription price.
Oh crap, did I order that?
Of course, all the best gardeners placed their orders in late fall and are sitting smugly, gloating over those lovely seed packets. Right? Problem is, plant lust kicks in and I just have to have that hot new thing. Or that old-but-new thing you just have to try. Matt Mattus, I blame you.
- Seeds – Many good seed companies abound, but seek out the ones that don’t include photographs in their catalogs. You probably know many of the genera, so you’ll only have to google the differences between cultivars, right? Seek out local garden groups, seeds curated for growing in the Northwest, and seeds for professional growers. There are many specialty growers for your favorites; Hello, sweet peas? I also recommend Renee’s, Annie’s, Johnny’s, GeoSeed, Baker Creek, and Swallowtail.
- Bulbs – Now is the perfect time to order Dahlias (Dan’s, Swan Island), and all of those other summer bulbs like Cannas, Crocosmia, Lilies, and Gladiolus. Save your Narcissus, Tulip, and minor bulbs like Crocus, Muscari, Fritillaria, Eremurus and Allium for the late summer and early fall bulb sales.
- Chrysanthemum cuttings – A new infectious interest in chrysanthemums is affecting growers and farmers. Join a local chrysanthemum chapter, or order cuttings from King’s Mums.
- Edibles – Too many delicious things to try. Get your recommendations from NWEdible. Order cane fruit and bare-root fruit trees now.
This is the mantra in the summer perennial border. Spending one day a week trimming back plants and sweeping edges will do wonders. It’s a little impractical to pick a day by the calendar in the winter; for sure it will be raining. Instead, take those few dry hours whenever they occur to clean up.
- Clean out the gutters and unclog storm grates.
- Clean out your greenhouse (or polytunnel, or cold frame, or garage, or windowsill) to get ready for the growing season. Wipe down surfaces, clean out old pots. Prepare new potting soil.
- Wipe down winter containers, and if you haven’t already, lift them up on pot-risers to ensure drainage.
- Prune dead wood from fruit trees and shrubs. Large-flowering Clematis blooms on 2nd year vines; check pruning guides from the experts.
- Prune fruit trees, and ornamental deciduous shrubs. Join Plant Amnesty for more guidance.
- Trim off Hellebore leaves and burn them (or tie off and dispose of in the trash, not municipal waste); they harbor the botrytis fungus which will splash onto the flowers.
- Replace tired flowers in your winter containers with cyclamen, pansies, and primroses. You can even sink those narcissus and tulip bulbs you forgot to plant deep into the pot for some late-spring color.
- Apply mulch to your garden beds … chicken-n-chips and steer manure will kick-start spring growth in perennial beds. Use arborist chips under trees and shrubs, and on pathways.
Like we actually need an excuse to go plant shopping?
You can force Paperwhites, Hyacinths or Amaryllis for a late-winter pick-me-up. Go shopping for winter-fragrance shrubs like Daphne bholua (the longest blooming daphne from late October through January), Sarcococca, and Hamamelis so you can choose them in bloom. Don’t forget to drop in a few Primulas for a pop of color!