The garden gate swung open a full month early this year. While we embraced that gift, it meant some changes to our busy schedules. My wife and I had planned on still having lots of free time for other activities in March before the busy gardening season started in mid-April. After some rescheduling, we managed to free up time to start the vegetable garden; clean up the many flower beds; plant, divide, and transplant perennials; prune shrubs and trees; mulch; and mow the lawn.
And weed. As a result of our very mild winter, every blessed weed seed produced last year survived the winter and germinated helter skelter throughout all our gardens, both flower and vegetable.
The Good News
Here is some of the beauty our early garden has offered up this year.
This lovely silvery lavender lilac continues to amaze me. It's over 50 years old, has branches four inches in diameter that are gnarled and twisted, and--as you can plainly see--blooms profusely. I'm so glad that I didn't follow conventional wisdom and "prune out older stems to increase the production of blossoms."
|This is Kerria Japonica 'Pleniflora,' a shrub that deserves to be more popular than it is currently. Not only does it have beautiful, sunny, double yellow flowers after its main flourish in spring, it continues to produce blossoms the whole gardening season. Add to that stems that remain bright green through winter and you have a shrub worthy of planting in any garden from the north central states all the way to Florida.|
|Rhododendron 'Northern Starburst' is a variety valued for its cold hardiness to -25 degrees F. It's an early, prolific bloomer, whose blossoms are not harmed by frosty temperatures, the like of which we've just experienced here in Iowa.||Viburnum x burkwoodii 'Mohawk' is in its northernmost range here in our Zone 5a gardens. It's an early blooming viburnum that has done well for us despite some rather cold winters. I planted it alongside a public walkway that meanders through our gardens and that I cross daily when I'm out gardening. I did so, because its flowers have the most wonderful fragrance which I, as well as the general public, can enjoy in our comings and goings.|
|Fringed Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia) is a native woodland flower that self sows modestly in our gardens. It has a long blooming season and exceptionally handsome foliage, which adds interest from early spring to frost. Very easy to grow, this bleeding heart is hardy in Zones 4-9.||Like the kerria above, this yellow Iris bucharica deserves to be more popular than it is currently. It's the earliest iris to bloom in our gardens. Hardy in Zones 4-9, it's long-lived and a reliable bloomer.|
|One of my favorite garden flowers is Melittis melissophyllum 'Royal Velvet Distinction.' A member of the mint family, it has orchid-like blossoms that are distinctive and long-lasting. I like to use them as a decoration on desserts (see photo at right). It's hardy in Zones 5-8.||
Here is a Melittis blossom, accompanied by spearmint leaves, atop a serving of Chocolate Truffle Loaf with raspberry sauce. A recipe for this heavenly dessert appears at the end of this article.
All the plants in the table above survived the frosty nights unscathed. Others, unfortunately, did not. Plants not already under stress are pretty resilient when damage strikes, so I expect that those below will recover fairly quickly.
Hardy Kiwi Vine
| Japanese Anemone
| Locust 'Purple Robe'
Our Mystery Blossom Contest Winner
|Lavatera trimestris 'Silver Cup'|
Congratulations to woofie, who was first to identify last month's mystery blossom. At left is her favorite flower photo, a beautiful shot of Rose Mallow. I visited with woofie a bit about her gardening experience.
How did you come to be a gardener?
I think I've always been fascinated by propagating plants, ever since I was little and one of my friends showed me that you could grow new cactus plants just by breaking off a piece and sticking it in a pot of dirt. We used to dig them up just to check the progress of the roots! Poor little plants!
How long have you been gardening?
I've been tinkering with plants as long as I can remember. But I've only gotten really serious about it since my husband got me a greenhouse about 10 years ago. Little did he realize what a mania he jump-started!
If you had a chance to give just one piece of advice to a beginning gardener, what would it be?
Join ATP!!! Seriously, the online gardening sites are such a goldmine of useful information, particularly for someone just getting started, and of course I'm just a teeny bit biased.
Why did you choose this particular photo for publication?
I took this picture the first year I tried these flowers. I bought the seeds on a whim and didn't really know what to expect. I was amazed at how large and lovely they were, and this picture came out particularly well. The flowers remind me of satin ribbons. I grow them every year now.
Do you have a favorite flower?
I have LOTS of favorite flowers! But if I had to choose just one, it would be roses (doesn't everyone?), even though they are difficult to grow here and I only have a few. And if I had to choose a particular rose, it would be Peace...even though so far I haven't been able to grow hybrid teas here...and I don't really like yellow flowers...but my Mom did. I grow a lot of things just because my mother liked them.
Do you grow vegetables as well?
Got to have fresh salad greens! And DH likes tomatoes and squash, so I grow a few things to please him...after all, he DID get me that greenhouse!
Do you have any other hobbies?
Reading! Do not stand between me and a good book! And I love opera. I don't think my dogs count as a hobby, more a way of life.
Is there anything else you'd like readers to know about you?
Nope. I've already said more than I usually do.
|MYSTERY BLOSSOM FOR APRIL
In this photo, the mystery blossom is the calla-shaped bloom with the long protrusion. Plants in its genus produce tubers that are used in traditional Chinese medicine. In our Zone 5 gardens it generally blooms in May.
HOW TO ENTER THE NAME THAT BLOOM CONTEST
Scroll down to the forum at the end of this article. Click on the thread, "April Contest Entries." (The thread may not appear immediately after the article is published. If there is no thread by that name, please start one titled "April Contest Entries" if you'd like to identify the mystery flower.) Enter the name of the plant pictured at left, either one of its common names or its botanical name. (This is a hybrid, so you need only provide the genus name). It's important to also include its cultivar name, which appears in single quotes when it's cited. The winner gets to select a photo of a blooming plant from her/his garden, to be published in next month's What's Blooming article, along with a brief interview.
Check back often to see if the bloom has been identified. If readers are having difficulty, I may provide a hint.
ABOUT COTTAGE-IN-THE-MEADOW GARDENS
Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, owned by Larry and Wilma Rettig, South Amana, Iowa, has been featured in local and national publications, on the Internet, and is listed with the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., in its Archives of American Gardens. Larry and Wilma grow over 300 varieties of flowers, trees, shrubs, and vegetables. Since 1986, they have maintained a seed bank that preserves vegetable varieties brought from Germany to the Amana Villages during the 1850s.
Recipe bonus: Chocolate Truffle Loaf with Raspberry Sauce
2 cups heavy cream, divided
3 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 8-oz. pkgs. semi-sweet chocolate
1/2 cup light or dark corn syrup
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Raspberry sauce (below)
Line 8 1/2 X 4 1/2 X 2 1/2-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap. Mix 1/2 cup cream with egg yolks. In 3-qt. saucepan stir chocolate, corn syrup and margarine over medium heat until melted. Add egg mixture. Stirring constantly, cook 3 min. Cool to room temperature.
Beat remaining cream, sugar, and vanilla until soft peaks form. Fold into chocolate until no streaks remain. Pour into pan. Refrigerate overnight or chill in freezer for 3 hrs. Serve with sauce. Serves 12.
Raspberry sauce: In blender puree 1 pkg. (10 oz.) frozen raspberries, thawed. Strain. Stir in 1/3-cup Karo Corn Syrup.