Ahhh…just when the frost-free date officially arrives (May 12th), perennials are delivered via postal service and the seedlings are beginning to outgrow their wombs a cold snap hits! Though it feels cold to us humans who had so quickly adapted to the unseasonably warm weather of last week, the cooler temperatures this week aren’t that unusual for Illinois this time of year. Which means now is the perfect time for everything to head out to the field including me! I spent most of Monday pulling weeds that had sprung up since the flower beds were prepped a month ago and planting, planting, planting. Flowers that I direct seeded include: Amaranth (Love Lies Bleeding), Celosia (Flamingo Feather Cockscomb), Lupinus Texensis (Texas Bluebell), Indonesian Kennikura (Cosmos), Asters (Double Rainbow mix), Baby’s Breath (Covent Garden), Globe Amaranth, Nasturtium and Marigold. Plants transplanted include: Sunflowers, Snap Dragons (Rocket Mix) and many more still to get in the ground. Perennials (!) in the ground now include: Chrysanthemum S. Alsaska (daisy), Salvia May Night, Eryngium Jade Frost and Sapphire Blue. With plants now settling into the earth, discipline and attention on my part is required. I enjoy this daily ritual of watering and weekly weeding. I look forward to this quiet time spend caring for things as they grow.
Perennials are the closest thing to permanent in a garden. They are heartier plants, that live through winter and flourish year after year. Once well-established they flourish with little maintenance. Annuals grow for only one year. I plant them, they live through the growing season and die. Next year, if I want to grow them again I have to start all over. This year most of the flowers in your arrangements will come from showy annuals. Since they only live one year they really give all their energy to blooming. But in addition to proud annuals, perennial flowers also make beautiful cut flowers. They often add qualities of delicacy and fragrance to an artful bouquet. Since I live at a cooperative house that is committed to permaculture design, I’ve portioned aside a bit of this year’s purchasing funds to include some perennial plants as well as prairie plants. I ordered the perennials from Bluestone Perennials. Aren’t these lovely? (Eryngium Jade Frost Perennial pictured here.)
Starting seeds is always one of my favorite springtime activities. Each seed contains so much potential. The activity of organizing all of these little containers, clearing space near sunny windows, and filling each cup with peat moss and potting soil is deeply gratifying. For the first time in several long winter months my hands are again in the dirt and it feels so good. And then like magic in the course of a few short days there is LIFE!
This morning I watched
the pale green cones of the rhododendrons
opening their small pink and red blouses –
the bodies of the flowers
were instantly beautiful to the bees, they hurried
out of that dark place in the thick tree
one after another, an invisible line
upon which their iridescence caught fire
as the sun caught them, sliding down.
Is there anything more important
than hunger and happiness? Each bee entered
the frills of a flower to find
the sticky fountain, and if some dust
spilled on the walkways of the petals
and caught onto their bodies, I don’t know
if the bees know that otherwise death
is everywhere, even in the red swamp
of a flower. But they did this
with no small amount of desperation – you might say: love.
And the flowers, as daft as mud, poured out their honey.
– Mary Oliver, from House of Light (1990)
Last Saturday (on the eve of spring equinox) I planted the first of our 2011 flower seeds outdoors. They are cold hardy varieties. Even though our central Illinois frost-free date isn’t until May 12th these flowers should be able to survive below freezing temperatures. Bachelor’s Button Black Boy and Love-In-A-Mist are the seeds I planted first. They were purchased from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.
Baker Creek is a great little farm/company out of Mansfield, MO. They collect, grow and save rare heirloom seeds from all over the world. The seeds offered through Baker Creek are always open-pollenated, pure, natural and non-GMO. For more details about what that means go to the Baker Creek Website. Last year I drove down and attended the spring planting festival hosted at Baker Creek. It was a great trip. There was an old-fashioned costume contest, which I did not win, but dressed for, plenty of chickens, turkeys, sheep, plants, friendly folks and seeds, seeds, seeds.I would recommend it. It’s the first Sunday and Monday of May.