Saturday, May 26, 2018

Salad Success

Ever have a plant that just won't grow for you?  Or even a whole group of plants?  For me, it was greens.  It didn't really matter what type - if it went in a salad, it probably wouldn't grow for me.

Spinach 'Bloomsdale'
Seeds wouldn't germinate.  It would be too hot or too cold.  Slugs ate the lettuce.  Grubs ate the spinach.  Whatever the reason, I never ended up with enough greens for a even a garnish, much less an actual salad.

Corn Salad 'Bistro'
This year, however, I was determined that things were going to be different.  It was going to be THE YEAR.  I sowed early greens in well-prepared raised beds and under the protection of a row tunnel.  I soaked and germinated my stubborn spinach seeds between damp paper towels in a baggie and then planted them in seedling trays indoors.  Lettuce seeds were also started indoors before careful transplanting into the veggie bed.

Did it work?  Did all my efforts pay off?

claytonia, spinach, lettuce, and corn salad
It was a resounding success.

To my delight, this year all of my salad greens grew - almost too well!  I can probably now invite the entire neighborhood over for salad and garnish some pasta plates while I'm at it.

one of many harvests of Claytonia
I grew four different types of greens this spring, and they all did well.  My favorite was Claytonia, also called miner's lettuce after being used by California Gold Rush miners to prevent scurvy.  Native to western North America, it has mild-tasting, succulent type leaves and eventually little white edible flowers.  It was both the easiest green to grow and the most productive.  I couldn't eat it all and started giving bags of it away!

Lettuce 'Four Seasons'
The 'Four Seasons' Lettuce was delicious, productive, and the prettiest of them all, with its beautiful red-tinged leaves.  Corn Salad, aka Mâche, did well and was the earliest of the greens to grow.  Last on the list was spinach.  I love spinach, but it was most notable for both taking the most work to grow and for bolting the earliest in the warm weather.  I did still get quite enough for a salad or two, though.

I call that success!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Yellow Fever

The eagerly-awaited daffodil season started the end of March this year.  Of course, with the cold and snowy April we had this year, the earliest daffodils ended up looking a little chilly.

Thankfully the weather finally warmed up, and I think all of the spring flowers started blooming at once!

Clockwise from top: the very fragrant Narcissus x odorus flore pleno, Narcissus 'Cragford', Narcissus 'Electrus'
Anyone who sees my garden in spring can guess just how much I love daffodils.  My collection somehow keeps growing every year.  The botanical name for daffodil is 'Narcissus', named either for the Greek word for intoxicated (narcotic) or for the Greek hunter from mythology who fell in love with the beauty of his own reflection.  Either reason is pretty fitting...

Narcissus 'Audubon'
Which is my favorite?  It would be so hard to pick just one, but every time I see the small and delicate-looking 'Beryl' with its wind-swept petals, I fall in love.  Photos never do this one justice.

Narcissus 'Beryl'
My favorite varieties are the miniature daffodils, whose blooms are often only the size of a quarter - or even as small as a dime.   And there's always room to tuck just a few more little ones in the garden, isn't there?

Miniature daffodils in my garden:
Top - N. 'Mite', Middle - N. fernandesii, N. 'Toto', N. 'Sun Disc', Bottom - N. 'Hawera', N. 'Xit'
If you really want to see a large number of different daffodils, though, go to a daffodil show.  The past couple of years I've started bringing daffodils to the Seven States Daffodil Show at Tower Hill Botanical Garden.

Seven States Daffodil Show in 2017
It is so much fun to get together with other daffodil-lovers and to see so many different varieties of daffodils all in one room.

the unusual-looking Narcissus 'Rip van Winkle'
There was worry that with the late spring we wouldn't have as many daffodils up and blooming in time for the early May show, but our fears were unfounded.  There was even extra excitement, as a couple guests judges from California flew in for the show, including Dr. Harold Kooporwitz, a noted daffodil hybridizer.

just one of several rows full of daffodils
So many beautiful blooms in one room!  Of course, one of the best parts is perusing the daffodils for new varieties that one might want for their garden...

A collection of 10 different miniature daffodils
(including a couple that I don't have that would look lovely in my garden...)
Even the daffodils outside somehow knew that there was a show going on and didn't want to be left out.  Tower Hill's Field of Daffodils was in full bloom just in time for the show.

Field of Daffodils at Tower Hill Botanical Garden
If you decide to visit a daffodil show, however, do be careful.  Those crazy people who love and collect daffodils are said to have 'yellow fever'...

N. 'Altun Ha'
and I've found it's quite contagious.

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Marsh Marigold, Herald of Spring

April snow has finally made way for April showers, thank goodness.  We've had a spell of warm weather, and everything has popped up at once!  The spring bulbs are putting up a splendid show, and the earliest native flowers are starting to open for the awakening pollinators.  This year the award for earliest native blooming perennial goes to...

...the lowly Marsh Marigold, aka Caltha palustris.

The Marsh Marigold, which I planted out in my detention pond last year, barely edged out my patch of Sanguinaria for first native blooms of the season.  And what cheerful blooms they are after the winter!  People as well as pollinators can spot the brilliant yellow of the flowers from far away.

The botanical name for Marsh Marigold is very apt, as 'Caltha' means 'goblet' and refers to the shape of the flower, while 'palustris' is Latin for 'of the marsh'.  The Marsh Marigold is actually part of the buttercup family and not a true marigold at all.  As one of the harbingers of spring, Marsh Marigolds have been used throughout history in various spring celebrations.  The nickname 'marigold' refers to its use in medieval church festivals honoring Mary (i.e. 'Mary gold').  In parts of Ireland and the UK, this spring flower was picked on April 30 - the day before May Day - and placed on doorsteps or in mailboxes to keep away evil sprites and fairies.

Marsh Marigold flowers
Here the Marsh Marigold is sometimes also called kingcup or American cowslip.  These names are quite tame, however, compared to some of its many nicknames overseas in the UK.  Just a sampling of nicknames include horse blob, water boots, crowfoot, water dragon, cow lily, drunkards, gools, publicans-and-sinners, and crazy Beth.  I just know there must be some interesting stories behind some of those...

Marsh Marigold is native to the Northern Hemisphere and blooms between early spring and summer, depending on its location.  It is hardy in zones 3-7, and prefers full sun to part shade.  As you might expect, it likes wet soil.  If there is a dry spell or the weather turns hot, the plants might die back and go dormant until the next spring.  It will spread to make large drifts and is easily divided after it blooms.  There are several different varieties and sub-species of Marsh Marigold available, some with pale yellow or white flowers, and some with doubled flowers.

Marsh Marigold with doubled flowers at Garden in the Woods
Some people are allergic to the sap, and all of the plant contains a toxic glycoside, so it should never be eaten raw.  Young leaves are edible after being boiled in a couple changes of water, and young flower buds can be cooked and pickled like capers.  As the plant matures, however, the amount of toxin increases, making it more unpalatable.  Thankfully this toxin also makes it quite resistant to the ever-present deer and rabbits in my yard.

I just enjoy the blooms as the much-welcome heralds of spring that they are.
Happy May Day, and happy Spring!

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