A Few of My Favorite Greens

“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

– Pedro Calderon de la Barca

 

The end of February is upon us, and J. and I have officially made it through our first full year of pollinator gardening. Having lived and breathed the garden’s dynamic kaleidoscope of color and movement, I can honestly say that the emergence of buds cannot come fast enough at the Schulz house.

For many of us, gazing out the window at winter landscapes dotted with scraggly drab twigs and crumpled up leaves can seem a bit overwhelmingly depressing. It’s not surprising, then, that the urge often exists to “cut it all back” and get rid of the brown. I get it. I truly do. But for pollinator gardeners like us, the lanky brown-ness must subsist, for beneath all of that misshapen debris lies a dormitory of snoozing insects just waiting for the alarm clock of spring to buzz (no pun intended). Dead vegetation is also a corner store for winter birds, providing left-over seed pods for consumption and material for nest construction. This is one example in life where garden function must supersede form. So what do we do with all of this brown? I say interject some green.

We’ve had some pretty cold temps in North Texas this winter, so cold that even our Frostweed iced, so I was surprised to see some of our plant varieties in the pollinator garden actually maintaining their green. If you are beginning to think about planting for the spring, I would highly suggest incorporating the following selections into your design, as they will continue “going green” throughout the winter and, thus, inject a little life into your deceased landscape, so to speak. They also might be the one saving grace that keeps those hand pruners and shears tucked neatly away, as they should be, for the winter.

So, try a few of these specimens out and see what you think. I snapped all of the primary photos of the plant while temps were still in the 30’s outside.  These are a few of MY favorite greens!

 

Curley-Leaf Parsley

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This was truly our winter showstopper!  We had temps down close to 10° F, and our parsley just kept on trucking.  I can’t attest to flat-leaf varieties and their ability to sustain the cold, my guess would be that many wouldn’t be as hardy, but the curley-leaf was a winner. Throughout this blog I will try to give the specific scientific name on anything, so that if you look to make a purchase you will know exactly what you are buying, BUT that will also require committed organization on my part, which means not discarding the original packaging. Sadly, I can’t provide the exact Genus and Species for this variety, BUT I will be hosting a plant share this spring to promote #plantsharenow and will have a few potted starts to share.  In addition to its continuous greening abilities, parsley is an excellent host plant for the Eastern Black Swallowtail. I should mention, however, that if you happen to plant fennel next to your parsley, the Swallowtail will eye your fennel as a slice of chocolate cake and your parsley as an apple. We’re all fine with eating apples, but, given the choice, most of us will choose the cake. Planted side by side, our fennel WAY out-performed the parsley in Swallowtail attraction.

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Female Eastern Black Swallowtail release, post-hatch.

 

Spanish Lavender

We bought this species (Lavandula stoechas ‘Otto Quast’) as a plant start from a local nursery. The purpose in our purchase was for its blossoming fragrance and ability to attract bees, butterflies and even hummingbirds, and we really didn’t even think about its evergreening capabilities. I like this addition because it easily grows from 1 to 3 feet tall, creating some nice wintry green height to any bed.  We have two clumps flanking each end of our pollinator garden for balance. With the other nectar choices that we had in our garden, again chocolate cake versus an apple, I found that butterflies and hummingbirds landed elsewhere, but the bees absolutely loved this plant.

 

Pink Primrose

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A third favorite, and kind-of a bonus surprise, was this variety of Primrose. Apologies here for sure. I have no idea about the specific scientific name. This came in a wildflower mix packet in one of those, “Let’s see what happens if we just scatter this,” moments. I will have some starts of this available at the #plantsharenow event this spring as well. Primrose is a clumping plant that easily spreads in colonies, so to speak, so it can make for an excellent ground cover. Some of the leaves will turn a lovely crimson in fall and winter, speckled among the green, so it also provides additional color interest. You can see in the photo above that a few of our clumps seem to exhibit the possible beginnings of Botrytis Blight, by the brown spots appearing on the leaves. This wouldn’t be surprising, considering all of the moisture we have had lately, coupled with the lack of air flow that often happens in clumping plants. We’ll have to get on this soon so that it doesn’t spread!

 

Dwarf Mondo Grass

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I cannot compliment this Dwarf Mondo Grass enough! We purchased this variety in flats from a local nursery. Unfortunately I did not keep a tag, but I will also have volunteers for the taking, that have begun spreading into unwanted territory, at #plantsharenow. We planted our pollinator garden on a pretty steep slope, so we used this mondo grass as a bottom border between the bed and the concrete sidewalk to help deter runoff and soil erosion. We planted the initial plants (across a 40+ foot span) about 6 inches apart, from center to center, and a year later the entire border is completely full, with no visible space between plants. This border remained green and full throughout the entire winter season, which helped consistently define our garden as “a garden” to passers-by on walks with children and dogs.

I know it seems a bit strange, as spring is upon us here in North Texas, to be discussing winter…but if you think ahead with some of your plantings this spring, you just might find yourself a little happier on the tail-end of the 2018 brown dog. 😉

All the best,

A. J.

– All content images by Amanda J. Schulz

 

Do you have a favorite winter green? Tell us about it below!

Seeds of Sustainability – Vol. I

– Featured Image photo by: Nathaniel R. Schulz

“Inside of the seed is an entire forest.”

– R. A. Delmonico

 

I have a goal of better honoring sustainability in 2018. To speak these words, though, is to also commit to thinking several moves ahead, which sometimes proves difficult when balancing a career, volunteer hours, managing a household with two little ones and, now, tackling coursework for a Master Gardener’s certification. I mean, I’m decent at chess, but I’m no Bobby Fischer.

In doing some research on sustainability, I came across a great summary of what it means to garden sustainably. Planet Natural Resource Center defines the concept by saying:

“Sustainable gardening is one of the most important and effective sustainability practices that we can follow. Its practice and benefits include respecting, and improving the soils, using native plants, shrubs and trees to create beautiful landscapes, feeding one’s family fresh, organically-grown fruits, berries and vegetables and utilizing every renewable resource that nature provides, from rain water to gravel.”

Being that it’s finally winter, so-to-speak, here in North Texas, we can begin to sustain with a relatively easy task…harvesting seeds. If you are concerned that maybe the seed ship has sailed, bundle up and do a little outdoor exploring. I harvested several varieties last weekend, as some of the final seeds had not yet fallen. Fall/winter harvest on all of the species highlighted in this post can really stretch from October through January, depending on the brutality of the North Texas weather.  Old Man Winter has been pleasantly kind this year (excluding his somewhat irritable demeanor this past week). I collected eleven different varieties of seed from our pollinator garden, intent on expansion to new spaces and also to further my commitment to #plantsharenow with other enthusiasts. These eleven, I’ve categorized into four basic groups:  (1) the clusters, (2) the pom rockets, (3) the paratroopers and (4) the k-dots (kids doing their own thing).  I’ll discuss the first three in this post and follow up with category #4 next week. In terms of supplies for harvesting, I prefer to collect in brown paper lunch bags versus plastic bags, as plastic tends to promote condensation and mold. Once seeds are harvested and cured, dried out for a bit, we use Proterra Seed Envelopes for dividing, labeling and sharing our treasure.

You can understand how best to collect seed by first understanding the differences in plant varieties.  Pollinator gardens are full of what I call “clustered” flowers, such as our purple Celestial Mistflower, yellow Fennel and white Frostweed, shown below.  Being clustered blooms, their seeds will also cluster into quite a bounty, solidifying the truth that sometimes a little does, indeed, “go a long way.”

As these flowers cycle through their blooms and begin to dry, you will want to harvest when you see the color black.  You can easily see the black whorl of Celestial Mistflower seeds, ready for collection, in the center of the photo below (left). Notice directly below that, however, is a completely empty casing void of black. That’s when you say, “Bon voyage!” That ship has definitely sailed. Similarly, the Frostweed clusters in the second image (right) are full of nestled black seeds, and you can again notice the difference in the fully open and empty casings, further along the stem, in the lower right section of the photo.

Fennel clusters are a little different in that each tiny flower on the cluster produces one seed.  The seeds are ready when they appear as little dried footballs with black stripes (again black being key). If only nubs remain at the end of the stems, the seeds have already fallen.

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The next category I’ve cutely coined the pom rockets due to how the flowers dry and how the seeds emerge. Once all petals wilt and fall away from blooms like the Blanket Flower (left) and Mexican Sunflower (right), shown below, you are left with a pom pom-like ball, housing dozens of seeds. But harvesting these seeds requires a little more effort and can be prickly, so slip on your gloves.

The pointed tip of the seed is wedged down toward the center of the ball, and the flat, butt-end is what you see from the outside when looking down into the casing. Note the butt-end of the Mexican Sunflower above (lower right) has a distinguishable black spot in the center to help you better “spot” the seed. I find that if you take the tip of a paring knife or the end of the blade on a good pair of hand pruners, I love the tool below by Cutco, you can pop the seeds right out. Line them up, and they look like little rockets shooting off into outer space, or preferably your soil, to work their magic.

Finally, there are those flower varieties that I place into the paratrooper category.  Examples of these might be Tropical Milkweed and Milk Thistle, below.

“Why paratroopers,” you ask? These seeds detach using lovely silken threads, like parachutes, to be carried by the winds to their final landing sites.  I absolutely love the paratroopers.  The Tropical Milkweed seed, shown lifting in the breeze below, is simply nothing short of poetry in motion.

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It is worth noting, though, that paratroopers can be prolific. So if you don’t want ten thousand Milk Thistle popping up around your yard, I’d keep some of the jumpers in the plane. Just clip the blooms immediately after they flower, before the silk appears, and only selectively allow a few blooms to go to seed.

With a little effort and forward-thinking, we can all adopt some sustainable practices. Get out in your winter garden today and see which seeds you can still find hanging around for harvest. Keep some for your own spring garden, #plantsharenow with a friend and join me in a few days as we wrap up with tips on our final seed collection category…the k-dots.  Happy hunting everyone!

All the best,

A. J.

– All Content Images by: A. J. Schulz

Have any great tips on seed collection? Reply and share below.

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