Monthly Archives: January 2012

Forcing Spring

I found a very helpful link the other day from the folks over at The Frelinghusen Arboretum in New Jersey about cutting and  forcing branches to bloom  in the late winter. I have seen many very informative articles, like this one from Fine Gardening Magazine, but the arboretum’s  is a standout. It lists the shrub or tree, its usual bloom date and the number of days it will take to come into bloom inside your house based on the date you cut it outside. Once you look at the chart you will see  what I mean, (it is far more clear than that lousy expanation I just wrote).

I use my own system here…it goes like this.

Most spring flowering shrubs need a cold dormancy period of about 6 weeks before you can cut them for forcing. I pretty much like all the seasons here for a short while , but then quickly tire of being too hot, too cold, too gray, or too sick of dirty snow. About the time I am feeling quite sick of winter, I know it is time to go cut some forsythia for forcing. Forsythia is one of the earliest and most reliable of shrubs for indoor bloom. A few weeks after  the forsythia has bloomed and is starting to shatter  and messing up my table, it is time to cut cherry and pear branches, followed by redbud and lilac (which is usually a fail for me.)

That , I know is very unscientific, but it works for me. But this chart is a positively a wonder. If I had a specific event I wanted to have flowers for in the spring, I could actually PLAN what I was forcing …wow. That would be pretty impressive. The chart is obviously based on the  NJ  USDA  hardiness zone, but I know approximately when things come into bloom here so could modify it for my zone.

Off topic, and speaking of zone, the USDA working in tandem  with many reputable plant people , has come up with a new weather zone map and it is very interesting. Take a look at what changes may have come to your area by using their new zip code feature. According to the new map , Jefferson went from 5b to 6a, but I will  still always plant like we were zone 4 because fo our elevation and unpredictable snow cover.

Back to branches……in our new hardiness zone this year things have indeed been mild and so I cut forsythia and the buds were already starting to swell . They will open much quicker than the chart says given how unseasonably warm it has been here. I also cut some of my favorite viburnum, burkwoodii, whose blossoms have the most heavenly scent and I would be ectastic if I could enjoy them more than once a year. Viburnum is difficult to force, but given the  mild temps and using the arboretums suggestion of tenting around  them with a ziploc to provide  humidity , the buds are definitely opening!!!! Keeping my fingers crossed  ;)


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Workin’ it

One of the workshops I offer to Garden Clubs  is a primer in pressing flowers from the garden and making them into cards. It is lots of fun and easy for even those who feel “craft challenged”.  At the workshop I  bring all the floral material , so they don’t have to press their own flowers YET…but I hope they will after I give my stellar directions for fool proof pressing.

A.) Make sure you pick flowers/leaves in the afternoon, and on a dry day. For some methods of pressing, moisture is enemy #1

B.) pick whatever you like the looks of, you have nothing to loose trying to press something  no matter how chubby it looks (boy, if that only worked with humans I’d be golden!)

C.) If you are using heavy  books (encyclopedias etc to press which is old fashioned but effective all the same), get some newspaper, tissue paper or looseleaf paper and place  the bloom or leaf carefully on a piece , and gently flatten it before covering it with another sheet of paper. If I press this way I always go back a day or two later and check to see if it seems wettish. If it does, I take it out and let it sit on the counter overnight to dry a little, then put it back in the book between fresh sheets of paper.

D.) the flower presses they sell made of corrugated cardboard work on the same principle and are usually  pretty  decorative to boot

E.) When pressing  lots and lots of floral material,which I do at high bloom time here in The  Burrow( June through August), I have large presses made of plywood cut into 2 foot squares that I fill with layers of flowers and paper like above but stack up to 5 or 6 sheets of plywood high. I wrap ratcheting bungee cords around them and draw them tight, and will continue to tighten them as the flowers dry and shrink.

F.) for fast pressing, and also when I am pressing something large like a mophead hyrangea  or rose, I use the microwave.For my microwave press I use pieces of ceramic tile (from home improvement store) , 100% wool fabric (which readily releases moisture) and paper.

These tiles are 12 x12 ,but you can use smaller ones

Layer 1 tile, 1 piece of wool cut to fit tile,

then a sheet of paper, then the flowers , another sheet of paper, another piece of wool ….coffee optional  ;0

and finally the 2nd tile.

Place the whole thing in the microwave and Microwave on High Power for 1 minute for leaves or delicate flowers (the object is to NOT cook them), and for larger things, like roses, I cook for  1 miute then flip them over  then cook  1 more minute. When you take them out of the microwave to flip them you can see all the moisture that has escaped the flowers went through the paper and wool and had condensed on the tile. Just wipe it dry before you put it back in.

If the tiles are too large to rotate in your microwave without banging the door look for a button that says “turntable off” on the front of your microwave and push it, or you can  use smaller tiles, or if all else fails listen to the banging ;)

These are roses I bought at the market last night and pressed in the microwave . Aren’t they pretty?

Once all the flowers are dried, pressed and ready, I use them too make arrangements on card stock using elmers glue to hold them in  place. After the glue is dry, I scan the image onto my computer as a jpg. file that I can use to design note cards .

If the arrangement came out really nice and I want to frame it, a quick trip to the copy center for a high quality color copy is all it takes. Once matted and framed it is really hard to tell that you are looking at a print and not the actual flowers. Very cool.

Here are some photos of the artwork The Wellesley Home and Garden club made today. They are a super bunch of ladies who listened carefully when I put on my teacher hat and really came up with some gorgeous designs. This afternoon I will be scanning the arrangements to make into cards.


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When Life Gives you Lemons

Hard to believe that anyone in their right mind would consider an unseasonably warm and snow free winter “lemons”…but alas…that is how I feel. I am a New Englander through and through. I like my seasons long and unendurable, giving me cause to wish myself into the next one. Whether too hot, too cold, too much ice, or too much rain, it is part of being a New Englander to comment,  complain, obsess and fixate on the weather here.

Other than the two vicious and early snowstorms in October, any precipitation we have had has been in the form of rain. Cold, wet ,dreary rain. The bright side of winter is the snow, it makes even the coldest day seem bearable, and gives one a reason to curl up with a good book or a knitting project and veg on the couch guilt free. Rain does not give one a warm fuzzy curl up on the couch feeling. The snow also provides a lovely white blanket over all  the gardens that are now brown and dead and should have been cut back but weren’t because, after all, who would see them under all the snow?? GRRRRR.

More snow benefits…. It insulates the plants from the cold air temps and protects them from drying winds

It buries many smaller shrubs and evergreen perennials keeping them safe from marauding wildlife

It shows the tracks of said wildlife so I can hunt them down where they live

and you can sled, cross country ski and snowshoe over some of the finest land God ever created.

Well, you know the saying: “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. So, on the “lemonade” side  of things, we have been able  to be outside  pruning and stacking brush from the earlier storms, working  in our shirtsleeves and no gloves. This year will be the first time we have ever been able to burn brush in January, usually we can’t navigate the yard or even find the brush that has been buried under snow. I have also started some other cleanup and painting  projects out there, and we were able to clean the garage and load up the shed.

Back to the “lemons” side….no one comes inside all red cheeked to sit and warm up with a mug of hot cocoa while the mittens dry in front of the fire.

and while we are in “lemon” territory, let me celebrate , quite literally..LEMONs (or potential lemons anyway)

As you may  recall, Bill bought me an untagged lemon tree for Christmas last year from a vendor who shipped it unprotected in sub-zero weather. I thought for sure it was a goner, it placed it in the garage to await it’s fate. In a moment of weakness and guilt , I brought it inside and placed it in a sunny window where surprisingly it has flourished and come back to life. This week I noticed while watering that is was loaded with buds, which means flowers, and may eventually mean LEMONS!

That surely is a bright spot in this very gray, very ugly, very un-wintery winter.

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Happy New Year

Although I am not usually a “resolutions” kind of gal, I figured for 2012 I could at least put a smidge of thought into what I could try to do better in the garden in 2012.

My biggest resolution ought to be SAVING: wether time or money, (both seriously need attention here), I need to have a plan. First, I will try to recycle as many seed and plant catalogues as soon as I go through them. In the depths of winter they become my sustenence and my sanity as the gray takes over the skies for weeks at a time and my mood plummets with the temperatures. By the middle of February, when the garden here is at it’s bleakest, there will be a stack of them full of post-its and circles and notations and in my weakest moments the orders will start flying out via computer and snail mail. This year I am at the ready with a fresh yellow legal pad( my go-to for all writing) where I will carefully track the few seeds and plants I NEED (note the verb) and try to order as many of those from one or two vendors to also save postage and the inevitable wandering eye once I log on to their beautiful websites.

As for time, I know I have to re-work the area around the new shed, but other than that I am calling a moratorium on new garden beds . There are 4 large gardens here and half a dozen smaller ones and that is enough to keep any sane person busy and content.

No dreams of the mythic and unattainable “white garden” I plan every year ,

no dedicated herb garden ( Idon’t even cook so what the heck do I even think I want it for??), and

absolutely NO sneaky garden tricks like saying I am just re-edging when I am really excavating 20 more square feet for new plants. And this time I mean it. Really. Honestly. Cross my heart .

On the positive side of my resolutions, I am going to visit as many other gardens, both public and private, as I can.

I am going to work harder at starting things successfully from seed,

and last but by no means least, I am going to write more and finish  the project I have been promising Bill (and myself) will be done soon for the past 3 years.

That ought to do it for me…..what resolutions for the garden are you planning for 2012?


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