When it's as hot as the devil's toenails outside, the thrill of the garden is somewhat diminished. Which doesn't mean that I'm not thinking about the garden or about what I want to do to the garden, I'm just not "doing" it as rapidly as when temperatures were cooler.
Even my faithful pug helpers have abandoned me for the cool of the air conditioning.
When the new catalog for Terra Nova Nurseries, a wholesale firm, hit my desk, it opened up another world of opportunity that could be enjoyed in the comfort of AC. Of course, it will be an opportunity that is stalled until next year, as these plants will not be at local retailers until then.
The next big thing is evidently heucheras and heucherellas, with a lot of echinaceas thrown in. So get ready to be wowed by the color combinations that will be available to us in the spring.
While I was contemplating where to jam in a few more plants (yes, I confess, I do buy plants without a definite place to plant them), I took a ride to a local garden center. There were fire-sale prices on all types of plants -- and a carload later, I now have a planting table full of things that will require me to wander outside and brave the elements, sooner rather than later.
They even had nice pots of calla lilies, at a very reasonable price. Calla lilies are somewhat hardy in my urban garden, if I plant them in a protected area. Which brings me in a roundabout way to the subject of planting. Containerized perennials, shrubs and trees can be planted now. Just pay attention to watering. Even annuals, which can be picked up for a song, will give you another two months of color.
Many nurseries are having sales, and now is a great time to get plants you might not otherwise purchase. I also just got a shipment of "Mary Todd" daylilies from Oakes, a mail-order daylily nursery (www.oakesdaylilies.com). "Mary Todd" is an old butter-yellow stalwart that absolutely deserves a place in the garden. I planted the large brown clumps, and three days later, green was already popping up.
Being almost bomb-proof, daylilies can be moved just about any time. Simply lift them, shake off the dirt and shear back the tops, leaving just enough greenery to keep a grip on the clump. I use a pair of kitchen shears, but garden shears will work as well.
While daylilies bloom with little care, if you keep them well-watered you will increase the number of blooms next season. My next-door neighbor, Shirley, said it was OK if I poached a little of her yard for the new flower bed. Gardeners can always find a way to put in more plants.
Yes, it's hot. Yes, it's summer. It is also time to be thinking about planting fall bulbs. A Connecticut wholesale company called Colorblends, a mail-order firm that deals only in fall bulbs, takes the guesswork out of choosing planting partners. Owner Tim Schipper has been selling prime-quality fall bulbs since 1985, his family has been in the bulb business for three generations. While they started out concocting blends for mass plantings in public parks, they have branched into the home-landscape market.
The bulb combinations they have come up with have all been tested, Schipper says, and they are quite picky about the ones chosen to make it into the catalog. The bulbs are judged for time of bloom, scale, size, etc. In other words, you can have a professional blend of bulbs that will bloom in lovely synchronization in your garden just by purchasing one of their collections.
Anyone can purchase bulbs from Colorblends; however, there is a $60 minimum order required. Many of the bulbs can be purchased in quantities of 25. Most of the blends come in 100-bulb orders. If you can't use that many, you might be able to split the order with a friend. They also sell bulb planting tools.
Karen Atkins, a friend who is also a garden designer, tells me she relies on Colorblends for all her orders and says they send top-quality bulbs. She especially recommends the French Blend.
"(The bulbs) are a little more expensive, but they always come in really good shape -- well packed, dry. I've never gotten a bad batch," she says.
Colorblends does not ship bulbs until the proper planting time, which Schipper says is when the soil temperatures reach 55 or 60 degrees. That is later than they turn up in stores, but you can reserve them now. If you don't happen to get everything you need once fall rolls around, you can get most varieties shipped quickly later in the season, he says. But by reserving now you will be assured of getting the collection of your choice. Single varieties can also be purchased. For a catalog, go to www.colorblends.com or call 1-888-847-8637.
And one more thing: Most tulips are not perennials. While daffodils, crocus and blue squill will happily naturalize in the garden, most tulips do not. That is due to a number of factors, the greatest being that the tulip bulbs are produced under optimal conditions with the idea of getting the largest bloom from the bulb the spring after planting. After that, the bulb deteriorates and re-blooming, which can occur, isn't usually as successful in following years. So buy tulips as you would any other annual and enjoy them while they are in bloom.
"We want people to have a great experience with bulbs, the first time out," Schipper says.
Gardening can be a physical occupation both outdoors and in, especially now when the produce starts rolling in. Who doesn't have too many zucchini? Here's an especially good recipe for zucchini bread given to me by Freda Vogelsberger of South Park, Pa., near Pittsburgh. She makes multiple loaves and freezes them. For those who don't really like zucchini, you would hardly know it's in this bread, and the sour-sweet dried cherries really added another taste dimension.
FREDA'S ZUCCHINI BREAD
(Tested by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
1-1/2 cups oil
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon pumpkin-pie spice or cinnamon (I use cinnamon)
1 cup shredded zucchini
1 cup, drained crushed pineapple
1/2 cup raisins or dried fruit such as cherries or cranberries (I used dried Michigan cherries that were slightly chopped in the food processor.)
1 cup chopped nuts (I used pecans.)
Beat eggs, oil and sugar together until thick. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.
Fold in zucchini, pineapple, dried fruit and nuts. Batter will be stiff. Spoon into three 8-by-5-inch foil pans and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes, testing to make sure bread is done.
Bread can be frozen.
-- Freda Vogelsberger