Sharp-Lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)
These tiny, pretty pinkish-white flowers are one of the first blooming woodland natives to make an appearance in early spring. They are happy in partial shade with nutrient-rich soil, and can withstand very mild drought.
I was admiring this patch yesterday afternoon when the gardener saw me and stopped to chat.
Spring is finally here.
Yes, it’s such a relief. I’m bursting with excitment!
Pointing to a tidy woodland garden coated in leaf mulch: I’ve got to clean this mess.
No way! I regularly stop by your garden to see what it’s doing and it is always beautiful!
What is it with gardeners? Every single one I have ever met is quick to apologize for the “wretched” state of their garden. People, your gardens are beautiful. And if you need a reality check just take a look at my street garden and get over it already! It is completely destroyed with last year’s fence in shambles and making it’s way across the sidewalk with large dog turds and assorted random garbage peppering the space. The poor crocuses are barely visible. Am I sweating it? Well maybe a little. But a few hours on what promises to be a warm Sunday afternoon with a pair of gloves and some clippers and it will be back in action!
We’re sitting just on the cusp of cherry blossom season here in Toronto. They generally make their stunning appearance in late April/early May. The following poem was included in my local Farmer’s Market newsletter and I couldn’t resist posting it here as a beacon of hope for those of us who have been stuck with a never-ending winter. Spring is on the way! It is assured.
As the years stream by
My own life passes from me
Still I am renewed when I see the blossoms
My heart’s sorrows disappear
- Fujiwara no Yoshifusa
Cherry blossom season is an important time of year in Japan, with the flower’s short blooming time symbolizing the fleeting nature of life. I can’t mention cherry blossoms, known as Sakura without mentioning my friend and a friend to many You Grow Girl forum members, Sakura who left too soon, much like her namesake.
Seed-starting season is in full swing in these parts. I’ve been getting loads of questions about it via email and figured it was time to put together a seed-starting recap here on the site.
I started my own tomato, pepper, and tomatillo seeds this weekend and put in orders with two seed companies to complete my 2007 Scary Mega Plant List. This last order totalled about 25 packs of seeds coming in at roughly $75 US. When you take into account that this does not include the transplants I will get in early June… well now you know why it’s the “Scary Mega Plant List.” I don’t want to scare anyone off and give the impression that gardening has to be this expensive. I do not fall into the norm since I consider my garden to be an experiment and a BIG, BIG part of my job. I grow as many new varieties as possible every year in search of beautiful, drought tolerant, delicious, and container-suitable plants to share with you. Most people do not grow 5 different pea varieties on their urban rooftop!
First I’ll show you my plan for this year. In my last post I gave a review of the Windowsill Seed Starter. What I did not mention is that I managed to snag the larger version at a garage sale for $3! The larger version is much more reliable with larger pockets that will keep your seedlings healthy for a more reasonable length of time — the downside being that it will not fit on a windowsill.
Because I am short on space I have a crazy plan based on last year’s experiment in which I moved my final repotted transplants to a window in the hallway of our apartment building to live out their final days before heading outside. By the time they were large enough to repot, the hallway was warm enough to accomodate them. It also made a nice transition from cushy to slightly-less-cushy. I’m pretending that was one stage in the hardening-off process. When faced with obstacles it helps to wrap them in a thin veneer of positivity.
Here you can see the little tags I made using toothpicks, sticker paper, and indelible ink. The other major downside to this kit is that it is too tall to work with my beloved heating mat. It’s been unseasonably warm so I think I’ll be fine without it.
These are the ratios I prefer. If you don’t need a huge batch you can use this as a basis for choosing a store-bought seed-starting mix. Always read the label and look for an ingredients list. Most popular brands have chemical fertilizers added that are both unneccesary, but will defeat the purpose of growing organically. Instead, buy a basic mix and add in your own organic materials. I suggest adding a touch of vermicompost and watering your plants with a diluted sea-kelp mix. To be clear, seeds do not require any fertilizers until they produce their first set of “true leaves”. In basic terms this means the second set of leaves you will see. The first leaves that appear are called “seed leaves” and feed the seedling until the first “true leaves” appear.
- 1 part peat or coir (Coir is a sustainable peat substitute made from coconut husks. Peat is mined from marshland, destroying natural habitats. When you can, use coir.)
- 1 part perlite (popped volcanic ash that creates good drainage.)
- 1 part vermiculite (water absorbing material made from the mineral mica)
Last spring the world aligned in such a way leading to what I can only describe as a collapse in judgement wherein I purchased an actual device to start my seeds in. Firstly, I am a gluttonous gardener and had compiled a frightening collection of seeds to grow, and then Lee Valley had the gall to open a store in downtown Toronto, luring me into their crack den of nearly useless gadgetry and fancy door locks.
I broke down and purchased Lee Valley’s Styrofoam Windowsill Seed Starter last season knowing it would be problematic but having been sold on a few key features: it’s just the right size to fit my narrow old-school window ledge, and it’s self-watering. While you can get your seeds started in just about any old yoghurt container or milk carton, gardeners who are short on space will empathize with my dilemma, How do I grow the maximum number of seedlings in the tiniest amount of space? The answer, like most quandaries in life comes down to finding a system that presents the least number of problems… or growing less seeds. Not going to happen. In fact my list for this year has increased!
Here’s what I wrote last year:
I pay $20 for Styrofoam so you don’t have to. [ed. Here's where I convince myself I am doing this all for you.] The first problem I noticed was no tagging system. I fixed that by fashioning tiny tags that don’t interfere with the dome using toothpicks, sticker paper, and an indelible marker. So far I don’t mind it as it fits perfectly on my narrow windowsill and I haven’t had to even think about watering for days. However, seedlings are only just starting to emerge and my suspicion is that the real challenge will come as they near transplant size.
The challenge I am referring to is the starter’s tiny cell size. Sure you can start a lot of seeds in a small space but what happens when those tiny seedlings start to grow? Lee Valley’s write-up on their website suggests using the starter for slow-growing plants such as broccoli and lettuce. Now, lettuce is a cold crop that does not require a start indoors, and I don’t know about you but I would hedge a bet that people with small indoor spaces often have small outdoor spaces. What percentage of those people intend to grow more broccoli in that small space than tomatoes? Just saying.
So here’s what my plants looked like about three-quarters of the way to planting time:
You can see that the plants are a bit leggy (tall and thin). This is the reality of windowsill growing. My window is south-facing and gets good light but it’s just not as ideal as an artificial lighting set-up.
A massive tangle of roots was created causing some stress on transplant. You know, what with all of the ripping and the tearing. Hint: Seedlings hate that.
Purple colour on the underside of tomato leaves is a sign of potassium deficiency. I transplanted these seedlings to recycled transplant containers shortly after taking this photo. The seedlings came around and lost that purple tinge once they had some room to spread their roots and take up nutrients. I watered regularly with sea kelp and added a bit of vermicompost to each pot at transplant time.
In the end is all of the fuss worth it? The advice I always give and stick by is to save your pennies and employ transplant-sized, reusable containers to get the job done. Starting with appropriately-sized containers that will take you from seed to transplant means less work in the long-run and prevents any desperate late-spring juggling acts to find enough light for all of your much-larger-than-anticipated seedlings. But of course if you’re like me and you’ve got bigger dreams than seed-starting space I would suggest saving your tomatoes for regular-sized containers and trying hot peppers, annual flowers, and just about anything else in the windowsill starter. Or if you’ve got to have those extra tomatoes you can do what I will probably do, give it a go now, panic later.
Famous for candy-sweet cobalt blue blooms that resemble tidy clusters of pint-sized grapes, muscari is a versatile, carefree spring bloom. Pack a punch and plant bulbs in eye-catching “rivers” or clustered together in problem areas under trees and in rock gardens. This hardy bulb will even survive in the toxic soil beneath black walnut trees!
Muscari stay in bloom for weeks and multiply effortlessly. Grow white muscari (Muscari botryoides ‘Album’) to use in a spring wedding bouquet or slip a handful of wispy M. comosum ‘Plumosum’ into a vintage medicine bottle. Or better yet, grow my personal favourite M. latifolium whose elongated, bi-colored flower spikes have a dark blue base that ascends to a light blue/lavender top.
With fall bulb planting season in full swing, I couldn’t help posting this little blurb I wrote for the April 2006 issue of Budget Living Magazine that never was. I just love the pretty little delicate blooms of muscari. I have a tendency towards the tiny little bulb plants that naturalize on their own. There is a garden I pass regularly on my travels that is really just a little teeny patch underneath a magnolia tree that comes to life in the spring with an assortment of small flowering bulbs, arranged very carefully for maximum impact as the garden cycles from one flower and is replaced by another. I literally find myself stalking that little garden every spring and was relieved to finally meet one of the owners last year and lay to rest any fears about my weekly presence crouched down with an assortment of cameras in front of their house. They have video surveillance in front!