Garden Notes

Plenty of Thyme

2006 June 19
tags: ,
by mike
Thyme Flowers

Our thyme is blooming, with its light pink flowers adding a bit of additional interest to the variegated leaves of the fragrant plant. At about two years old, our thyme has grown to over eight times the size of the young plant in the two-inch pot we purchased at the locale garden center. We’ve given it little attention other than occasionally watering its garden bed and cutting a few sprigs every now and then for cooking.

Thyme is a very hardy plant, only really requiring nicely drained soil. It does best when planted in full sun. When planting, work some compost or other organic material into the soil to help the soil drain better and to provide nutrients to the young plant. Thyme also does well in containers.

After three or four years, thyme starts getting increasingly woody. When this happens, it’s time to divide your plant. In April, dig up your thyme and shake or brush as much of the soil from the roots as you can. Gently tear the plant in to three or four pieces and replant them. Give them a few months to gain back their strength. Harvesting can start again in mid- to late-summer.

Thyme is a very flavorful and fragrant herb, used in many different types of dishes. I like to mash it up with sage and rosemary from my herb garden and cook some Herby Flank Steak. It’s also great when added to gravy, sauces, vegetable stock or even sprinkled lightly over scrambled eggs.

If you’ve got a spare sunny spot in your garden, you should definitely plant a small bush of this easy-to-grow herb. In no time, you’ll have plenty of thyme.


Bishop’s Weed

2006 May 2
by mike
Bishop's Weed
Bishop's Weed

Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), also known as goutweed, is a leafy groundcover, seen most commonly in its variegated form. It can spread very aggressively by rhizomes, so care must be taken when choosing a spot to plant it. Many gardeners consider this invasive plant a pest and warn against planting it, but it is very hardy and will spread quickly to fill in a bare, neglected area.

Bishop’s weed is perfectly suited for its garden bed on our property. It fills in a long, 3-foot wide strip of land between our house and our driveway. It’s bordered on all sides by concrete, so it will not be spreading anywhere soon. It’s also on the shady, north-facing side of our house that is not reached by our sprinkler system. Despite the lack of sun and the dry earth, it remains bushy and colorful throughout the summer, adding a bit of interest along an otherwise boring bit of driveway.

For next spring, I am planning on planting either tulips or daffodil bulbs along this same strip of ground. The flowers will bloom just as the bishop’s weed begins to peek out of the dirt. As the flowers and their greenery fade, the bishop’s weed will just be reaching its 10 to 12 inches of height and will take over the strip for the summer.

Apple Blossoms, or Why aren’t there many apples on my tree?

2006 April 25
by mike
Apple blossoms
Apple blossoms

One of my favorite parts of spring is when the gnarly, old apple tree in our backyard explodes with fragrant, pinkish-white flowers. As soon as you take a step out the backdoor, you can smell the incredibly sweet scent of the apple blossoms.

Given the large number of blossoms on our apple tree, we get surprisingly few apples in late summer and fall. One big factor in this is that we have a lonely tree. It’s the only one in our yard and none of the neighbors bordering our backyard have an apple tree. Apple trees are considered self-incompatible, or in other words, they cannot pollinate their own flowers or any flowers of trees of the same variety. If an apple tree can get cross-pollinated from a tree of another apple type, it will greatly improve the quality and yield of the apple harvest.

Our apple tree is large and its small apple production is still way too much for Carol and I to take advantage of, so we’re not too concerned about improving the apple production. If we were, though, we’d have to be sure to pick out another apple tree that blooms at the same time as ours, since the flowers only bloom for a short time. A crabapple tree could also provide suitable pollination if both trees bloom at the same time.


Planting Dahlias

2005 November 4
by mike

Planting Dahlias

I’ve pulled up a raised bed’s worth of ground cover with the thought of planting dahlias there in the spring. I’ve been doing a bit of research on planting tips and came across an informative site, The Garden Helper. Here’s what their page on dahlias had to say:

Dahlias should not be planted until all danger of frost has passed, and the soil temperature reaches 58-60 degrees F. Excessively wet soil may cause the tubers to rot, so if your weather has been wet and stormy, you may want to wait for a drying trend.

Dig and prepare a 12 inch diameter by 12 inch deep planting hole. Mix a shovel full of compost, a handful of bone meal, and a little Dolomite lime to the soil which was removed.

Fill the planting hole with the soil mixture until it is about six inches deep. Then place the tuber horizontally in the bottom of the hole with the eye pointing upward. Tall varieties will need staking, so this is a good time to set an appropriate size stake into the ground next to the tuber (near the eye). This will prevent damage which can result if it is added after the tuber has begin to grow.

Cover the tuber with about two inches of your soil mixture and water thoroughly. When the sprout begins to emerge from the soil, gradually add more soil mix until the hole is entirely filled. Once the plant attains sufficient height, secure it loosely to the stake. (I recommend using a length of an old nylon stocking because it will stretch as the plant grows, rather than cutting into the stem, as string will do.) Add more ties as the stem grows until the plant is supported approximately 24 inches below the eventual top of the plant.

A Dahlia in bloom is a heavy feeder, so you may want to consider using a water soluble “bloom type” fertilizer about a month before the plants begin to bloom.

Dahlias which have been started in pots may be planted in the prepared hole following the same procedures you would for any other perennial plant.

That sounds a bit fussy compared to what I’ve done with garden over the past year, but after seeing what a year of near neglect does, I’m ready to get my hands dirty in the yard again.

Dahlia Tidbit

2005 October 19
by mike

I was doing a bit of research into dahlias, since I’m planning on planting a bed of them next year. On Wikipedia, I found this interesting bit of information:

In 1872 a box of Dahlia roots were sent from Mexico to the Netherlands. Only one plant survived the trip, but produced spectacular red flowers with pointed petals. Nurserymen bred from this plant, which was named Dahlia juarezii with parents of Dahlias discovered earlier and these are the progenitors of all modern Dahlia hybrids. Ever since, plant breeders have been actively breeding Dahlias to produce hundreds of cultivars, usually chosen for their stunning and brightly coloured flowers.

It’s amazing that so many of the beautiful dahlias that are all over my neighborhood are decendants of a single plant that survived a sail aross the Atlantic ocean.

The picture above was taken at the Point Defiance gardens in Tacoma, WA.

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Black-eyed Susans

2005 August 21
by mike

This picture was taken at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park. While the colors are a bit off in the background, it shows how overwhelming the striking yellow of black-eyed susans can be when they are in full bloom.

The state flower of Maryland, black-eyed susans are of the genus Rudbeckia, named after Olaus Olai Rudbeck, a botanist and physician from Sweden in the early 1700s. The flower can be either an annual or perennial and often spreads itself naturally through its seeds, resulting in a late-summer wildflower show along country roads.

Black-eyed susans are available in many varieties, some with short flowers and others that reach five feet in height. The petals vary from bright yellow to orange to almost brown and the flower’s “black” eye can be large or small and actually be green.

Black-eyed susans are available in many varieties, some with short flowers and others that reach five feet in height. The petals vary from bright yellow to orange to almost brown and the flower’s “black” eye can be large or small and actually be green.

Black-eyed susans provide quite a show in the late summer and fall gardens, attracting butterflies and the occasional curious passerby. Their yellow bursts of color are a great addition to just about any landscape.

Changed Hosts

2005 August 13
by mike

I’ve changed hosts for this blog. Up until yesterday, it was hosted on an old Pentium II machine with a 97% full, non-backed up hard drive and very little RAM. I’ve signed up with Dreamhost after hearing good things about them. Everything seems to be working fine so far. This will be my first post on the new host and a test to see if I’ve got everything set up properly.

By the way, Dreamhost is running some great deals right now through the end of August. I got triple the normal bandwith allowance and triple normal disk space, as well as 60% off of monthly fees for as long as I maintain an active account.

Flowering Plum Tree

2005 August 8
by mike

We have a flowering plum tree (Prunus x blireiana) in our back yard. Its deep burgundy leaves contrast strikingly with its light pink, fragrant flowers that pop out in early spring. During the first month of spring, the flowering plum tree really has no match.

It starts out as a bare, dark-barked tree and as the temperatures start to reach the mid- to upper-40s and the daylight is still around after the day’s commute home, small dark pink flower buds add a hint of color to the branch tips. Then, suddenly, the flower buds burst open, covering the tree with a perfumed layer of delicate blossoms. The flowers are tiny with almost-white petals and with dark pink stamens protruding from their centers.

After a week or so of sweet smelling blooms, the petals start falling like a mid-March snow. While the plum tree sheds is blossoms, its leaves start to emerge. The young leaves, shiny and soft, surround the ever-thinning flowers, slowly turning the tree from a light strawberry-frosting-pink to a dark, well, plum-colored purple. At times, when the light is right, the tree is almost black; when the sun shines through the leaves from behind the tree, however, it glows with a merlot-tinted hue.

As the summer burns on, small plums appear throughout the branches. Our plum tree has small fruit–plums only an inch across. The seeds take up the majority of the plum’s insides; the rest, however, is filled with an intensly sweet juice. It’s no wonder the local birds love them. Last year a regular group of birds would fly back and forth from the tree, taking plums to who-knows-where in their beaks. Smaller birds would perch on the branches and pierce the plums and lap up the juice. Luckily, they left a few for us to enjoy.

After all of the plums have been eaten and the temperatures start to drop, the flowering plum tree starts to let go of its leaves, covering the ground this time with its dark red litter. Most of the leaves fell into our flowerbeds; I just left them where they fell to act as a mulch to keep the tulip bulbs a bit warmer over the winter. The rest were raked up and spread among the other flowerbeds. Finally, the tree’s dark branches contrasted against the gray winter skies, resting up for the next year’s spring show.

Bleeding Heart

2005 August 7
by mike

The bleeding heart is a plant in one of several species in the genus Dicentra known for its flowers: they appear to be tiny hearts with a drop of blood hanging from the tips. The most commonly found bleeding heart is the Dicentra spectabilis, or Japanese bleeding heart. Its pink and white flowers contrast nicely with its broad bluish-green leaves. The Dicentra spectabilis blooms in spring, giving a nice burst of color into the garden and goes into dormancy as the summer heats up. The bleeding heart does best in a shady area, since it is native to the woodlands of Japan.

Other varieties of the bleeding heart are the Dicentra Formosa (western bleeding heart) and Dicentra eximia (Fringed bleeding heart). They are similar to each other in appearance, with fern-like bluish-green leaves.



2005 August 6
by mike

The hyacinth was originally native to the Middle East and was purportedly first cultivated by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The hyacinths grown in ancient times were far less showy than modern versions. Dutch hybridizers transformed the early sparse-flowered hyacinths into garden-worthy showpieces over a period of centuries.

The hyacinth blooms in relatively early spring, with its fragrant flowers available in a multitude of colors: red, blue, yellow, white, pink, and purple, to name a few. During their first year, the flowers are packed thickly around its central stalk. As the years go by, though, the flowers become less densly packed.

Hyacinths need well-drained soil and benefit from a sunny location. However, if they are being treated as annuals, they can be planted in a shadier location since the bulbs won’t need to recover for another season’s flowering.