April flowers: indoors and out!

By Roger Erpelding
Contributing Writer 

If April showers bring May flowers, do March showers (of snow or rain) bring April flowers? Absolutely!!!

As Beth and I toured the yard and the sun room this weekend we encountered a wide variety of plants in bloom. Saturday morning dawned cool and foggy, a good time to water the indoor plants. Mary, the clivia miniata, is in her full glory. There are four large heads of florets in bloom–orange, and slightly fragrant. Over the winter, these flower stalks have turned toward the east window for light; Beth turned them around so she could more fully enjoy the visual effect of the mass flowering.  The dwarf nectarine tree continues to bloom  although some of its pink flowers are now spent. It has now developed its spring leaves. I would place it outdoors if I knew a late frost would not be occurring; it is fine in the sun room for the time being. I continue my attempts to hand pollinate it–we’ll see if results are forthcoming.

Later on Saturday morning, the fog lifted and the sun shone. I decided to take a yard tour, which was rewarded initially by two forsythia bushes, fully in bloom. Their small yellow flowers bloom along the main stems, with the flowers having very short stems.

As I walked along the south side of the house, I could smell where the flowers were located. There were a large assortment of hyacinths in bloom at that location. Later, Beth told me there was a wide assortment of pink, blue and purple flowers. These were hyacinths I forced a year earlier, and placed at this location in April 2010. They are a shadow of their former indoor forced selves, but the stand is good.  We’ll see how they do in subsequent years. There are also a few daffodils that I placed in this area as well–the large yellow “Dutch master” cultivar that are doing well.

Years ago Beth planted some miniature daffodils in her perennial garden that are now fully in bloom. She also has some tiny blue flowers to the north of them, perhaps Siberian squill. In the northwest corner of my perennial garden are a few hyacinths and daffodils still surviving that were forced years ago. Just south of them, I noticed that the Virginia bluebells will be flowering soon.

It is always helpful to affix descriptive labels to various flower beds and gardens. In fall 2008, we had an area tilled up which we have come to call “the pine tree garden.” Last year we had an additional area tilled up which we have come to call “the apple tree garden.” In the pine tree garden, a large mix of double daffodils is fully in bloom. The ones in the apple tree garden are newer, and are just growing nicely. As you plant outdoor bulbs in the fall for next spring, you will notice that in their first spring, they will grow and flower later; I do not know the reason for this. Just east of these two gardens, along the wooden fence, is a long row of daffodils that have been in place for years. During the past two years, they have really bloomed profusely. Beth tells me that the ones along the fence are mostly yellow; the mixed double ones in the two new gardens are a variety of various colors.

“It’s a miracle!!” Beth proclaimed. The heliboris (Lenten rose) that had been decimated this winter by some hungry critter is definitely pushing back. In addition to new leaves, there are several flower spikes. One of the buds is so close to blooming that Beth can see its yellow color.

Saturday was a busy day for us, so we really got very little yard work done. Sunday, fortunately, was a different story. Boxes of plants came for Beth and I late last week. I received a shipment from Dutch Gardens, mostly perennials. Beth received her plants from White Flower Farm, again mostly perennials with the exception of a butterfly bush (budlea davidii). We sorted them all out Saturday night so we could begin work on Sunday morning with little fanfare. I already had a Braille label attached to a metal stake for the white Tennessee iris, which I placed in the apple tree garden. My box also contained a free gift–a daylily, with the cultivar name of “crimson pirate.” It was placed in the apple tree garden, and since I know daylily growth so well, I will be able to locate it easily when I bring my label to it. I already know it is in the southeast corner of my portion of the apple tree garden, and will be able to feel the daylily shoots which are a couple of inches above the ground.

Beth’s perennials are in a new garden on the north side of the driveway, west side of the house. She chose to design and plant them without my assistance, but asked that I dig the hole for the butterfly bush after I had completed my tasks. This was easily done, and by the time the bush was planted and watered, Beth was about done with her planting. Good timing!

Gardening is full of surprises–some pleasant, some disgusting. I already mentioned the Lenten rose above. So, after we finished Beth’s work, I went to the garden to rake off more leaves to encourage the soil to dry out for tilling. I happened to reach up, and noticed that the two apricot trees were in bloom. I could only reach the lower branches, so I asked Beth to take a look. Sure enough, both trees were in full flower, for the first time in years. During the previous two winters, it was cold enough where the flower buds froze before they developed into blossoms. The weather will be favorable for the next few days, so I’m hoping for some wind and bee pollination. A late hard freeze, always possible this early in central Iowa, could spell the doom of any forming fruit. But it sure would be nice to have a crop. Seeing the flowers caused Beth and I to reminisce about the great crop we had a few years ago; we still remember the taste of those wonderful fresh fruits!

Last August I planted a number of crops, including spinach, lettuce and radishes, for a fall harvest. This was generally a bust. The fall was warm, but dry. This spring, a number of spinach plants have sprung up. Before the garden is tilled, I’ll harvest my first crop. Whatever remains will be tilled under as a “green manure” crop. I have grown and purchased enough spinach leaves that  I can feel what the crop is, and judge how large they will need for their harvest.

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