February garden chores: bit by bit

Pulling daylily foliage away from plants.

February has decided it’s March, and so the late winter season waltzes on into spring. Many years ago, I read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott, wherein Lamott’s father told her the only way to accomplish anything–including writing a book–was “bird by bird.” So, as I do my garden chores, I will do them bit by bit, bed by bed, or bird by bird. Bird by bird sounds much more pleasant, doesn’t it?

Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.
Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott.

I could wait until March to do many of these garden chores. We will have more cold weather, but my garden broke dormancy and is growing whether I like it or not. I might as well get ahead of the game.

I could wait until March to do many of these garden chores. We will have more cold weather, but… Click To Tweet

Let’s get started:

  1. Clear away dead perennial foliage. My garden is mostly perennial plants. I leave their dead stems remaining all winter partly because small pollinators and other native insects overwinter in the hollow stalks. The other reason I wait? I’m lazy. There it is. As I take debris to the compost pile, I leave it mostly intact for the pollinators to emerge when they’re ready.

    Cut off seed heads from 'Annabelle' hydrangea. Before you trim back any shrub though, especially hydrangeas, make sure your variety blooms on new wood. 'Annabelle' is one that does so you can trim it back as much as you like.
    Cut off seed heads from ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea. Before you trim back any shrub though, especially hydrangeas, make sure your variety blooms on new wood. ‘Annabelle’ is one that does so you can trim it back as much as you like.
  2. Cut back ornamental grasses. It’s quite the chore if you do it by hand. Many of my friends use a Sawzall like this one by DEWALT DWE304 10-Amp Reciprocating Saw, but I find them cumbersome. I like my Fiskars 23 Inch PowerGear Hedge Shears much better. Speaking of Fiskars, with their help, I’m doing a giveaway next week. Check back for details, or better yet, subscribe!

    Ornamental grasses only need care at the beginning of spring. Cut them back and wait for the show to begin. February garden chores.
    Ornamental grasses only need care at the beginning of spring. Cut them back and wait for the show to begin.
  3. Trim back hellebore foliage and press heucheras back into the ground. We’re having another 70F+ degree day today, so you’ll know where to find me. I’m working on the back garden where I’m doing all of the above trimming and cutting back. Because the hellebores have ugly foliage, I’ll cut it back to expose the flowers. As I’ve written before, not everyone does this, but our temperatures fluctuate so much in winter, I have to cut off the ugly foliage. That way I can enjoy the beautiful flowers in all their glory. I’m particularly fond of the Winter Jewels™ series of hellebores right now. I bought some at my local nursery last year, and I may run by there this week to see what else they have. I posted ‘Red Sapphire‘ on Instagram this week, and people loved it. It’s a beautiful upward facing hellebore with a scrumptious color. I just went to Bluestone Perennials and bought three, whoops, five more: Helleborus Flower Girl, Golden Lotus, True Love, Rome in Red and Sparkling Diamond. Some of these–I bet you can guess which–are part of the Wedding Party™ series. Actually, Sparkling Diamond is another Winter Jewels™ selection. I’m planting them in a shady area in the back garden. It’s one of the few places I can still expand that has some shade. In Oklahoma, hellebores appreciate the shade of a tree, and like the same spots heucheras do. Heucheras like to heave themselves out of the ground in winter so push them back into the soil. Apply the same procedure for any other unhappy heaving plants. Hint: Shasta daisies do this too.

    Hellebore Red Sapphire, part of the Winter Jewels series.
    Hellebore Red Sapphire, part of the Winter Jewels™ series.
  4. Weed the paths, or spray them with horticultural vinegar, or a weed killer if you’re not organic. Those early spring weeds can be prolific so get started now. You can also use a blow torch to top kill many weeds. It won’t kill the roots, though.

    Crapemyrtles may look dead while they're still dormant, but they're not. Wait for signs of life before pruning.
    Crapemyrtles may look dead while they’re still dormant, but they’re not. Wait for signs of life before pruning.
  5. Wait for crape myrtles to leaf out before pruning. You can cut off seedheads if you don’t have anything else to do–see me laughing here–but please don’t over prune crape myrtles. It’s very hard on them. Some would even call it crape murder. Just wait a bit longer instead so you can see where to cut.

    February garden chores. Newly pruned rose from the blog in 2008. Have I been writing this blog that long?
    Newly pruned rose from the blog in 2008. Have I been writing this blog that long?
  6. It’s time to prune roses. Again, take your time. Pruning roses is a bit like parenting teenagers. Most of my roses are already leafed out which is way too early, but what is a gardener to do about the weather? Nothing, my friends. Nothing.
  7. You can also plant bare root roses now. I know we’re still seeing Rose Rosette Disease, but I see less and less of it around town recently. Maybe it’s finally blown through. Because I don’t live in a housing development where anyone grows roses, I’m willing to give them a try. I bought three new David Austin roses this week. Two of mine, ‘The Lady Gardener’ didn’t make it last year, so they are replacing them. I bought ‘Boscobel,’ ‘The Alnwick Rose’ and ‘The Poet’s Wife.’ We shall see how they do in my unforgiving garden. ‘Olivia Rose Austin’ planted last year is plugging right along.
  8. Fertilize roses, daylilies and fescue lawn. I ordered Mills Magic Rose Mix for my roses. I like this natural fertilizer a lot. I will also fertilize my daylilies and front fescue lawn with Milorganite. You can also overseed your fescue lawn now. Don’t wait until the weather gets hot.
  9. Sow seeds. You can now sow seeds for cold crops outdoors, and if you have a greenhouse or a seed sowing station, you can now sow indoors too. Tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, etc. are ready to start indoors. Lettuces, spinach, beets, chard, kale and other cold weather veggies can be sown outside now. Turnips from the garden are especially good. They taste nothing like the turnips you get in the store. I find cauliflower, cabbage, and broccoli hard to grow here in spring. It’s easier to start them indoors and transplant in fall.

    Leaves cover every path in the back garden including the one between 'Annabelle' hydrangeas.
    Leaves cover every path in the back garden including the one between ‘Annabelle’ hydrangeas.
  10. Clear away leaves. I live in a wooded area of Oklahoma because we are east of I-35. My garden is always covered up in leaves. I either blow them away or rake them into compost piles. I also have piles of shredded leaves that I use as garden mulch.
  11. Speaking of Mulch. Use whatever type of biodegradable mulch you like. I use shredded leaves and shredded pine bark on my gardens. I keep my homemade compost for planting.

Okay, you have your marching orders for February garden chores. It’s supposed to be beautiful all week. I’m headed out to cut back more foliage and trim up those hellebores. Want to join me? I could sure use the help.

It's supposed to be beautiful all week. I'm headed out to cut back more foliage and trim up… Click To Tweet

Travelogue: the Chelsea Flower Show, Part I

Chelsea Flower Show crowds after lunch.

Sorry I missed last Friday’s travelogue. My mom has been in and out of the hospital the past couple of weeks. She is currently “in” again. I’m a bit punchy today, but didn’t want to miss another opportunity to again travel to England with you. There is so much to tell you about the Chelsea Flower Show that I’m going to do parts I and II.

The Chelsea Flower Show was the entire reason we went on our trip in May. For gardeners, the Chelsea Flower Show is the epitome of garden fashion and design. It’s like a Catholic pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostelaor for Muslims, Mecca. I have always wanted to see the Chelsea Flower Show. Always.

As in F-O-R-E-V-E-R.

Below are my thoughts after going. It was an overwhelming and oh-so-charming experience. Because I have so many pictures, I’ll sprinkle the gardens throughout this post and use captions to tell you about them. If you click on the gallery, you can see larger images. There are also good garden descriptions on the RHS website.  Before you go, here’s some advice:

  • Get there early, as in when the doors open at 8:00 a.m. I waited for my group and was an hour and a half late. That was a mistake because the crowds became very thick very fast. I had trouble seeing any of the gardens after 10:30 a.m., and after lunch, things were impossible. See the featured photo at the top? That was one little roadway full of people in the afternoon. The entire show was that way by 12:30 p.m.
  • Wear your best, broken-in walking shoes. The show is huge, and there is much to see. There is also a great shopping area so plan on spending some money.
  • Only buy things you can comfortably place in your suitcase. I chose three pair of gardening gloves, a cute gardening hat I’ll wear to Garden Bloggers’ Fling next week, four kitchen towels with pretty prints, two hand tools and a scarf. All fit in my checked luggage, and I had some practical souvenirs of things I can’t get in the states. You’re probably surprised I bought gardening gloves. Well, the ones in England are prettier than ours. I found some lovely weeding gloves with flowers. Sorry, I didn’t take a photo before I used them. As for the tools, I bought another hand weeder because I can’t get enough of those, and when I renewed my subscription to Gardens Illustrated, I got the coolest trowel. It has a sharp end. They were also offering a gorgeous coffee table book by Arne Maynard, but that was too heavy to carry around the show and to the airport. After so many trips, I’m a light packer, and I’ll be honest, I check my luggage. I love the airport, but I can’t people watch while lugging my world around with me.
  • Wear layers. It was quite cool in the morning, hence why I bought the scarf. By afternoon, it was very warm so I took off my sweater and scarf placing them in my bag. I always suggest a crossbody bag that’s not too big so it doesn’t dig into your shoulders, but still big enough to hold things. I bought this Kate Spade Cobble Hill Mini Ella in Bright Papaya before we left. My smaller Nikon 1 V2 digital camera fits in it, and the purse has an expandable zipper. It was perfect for my needs.
  • Try to see the gardens first and then shop. You have a chance at the very beginning of the day, or late in the evening, I hear, to see those gardens. Go through the main pavilion and out into the gardens beyond. Later, return to the Great Pavilion (big white tent) and out to the display gardens first thing.

I was exhausted by 2:30 p.m., and then Bill and I walked down to the Chelsea Physic Garden which I’ll profile in another post.

As I walked out the doors of the Great Pavilion to gaze upon the elegant display gardens, I saw a crowd of excited people gathered around one platform. I shimmied through the crowd, and gasped. Yes, I gasped. To see one’s heroes is always full of edgy excitement. Can you guess who I saw? I’ll give you a clue. He hosts one of Great Britain’s most famous garden shows.

Yes! Monty Don, and by the awestruck group gathered around him as he worked, the Brits are as fond of him as I. Can you imagine a garden writer and television personality in the U.S. being treated like one of the Kardashians? To get these shots, I had to thread my camera lens between many heads and shoulders and do a lot of cropping. Good thing I had a DSLR with me, isn’t it?

If you don’t know who Monty Don is, you don’t do much reading about Great Britain’s horticulture scene, and you must not watch Gardener’s World on Youtube the way I do. I stalked Monty and worked like a fiend to get these shots. I’m fortunate the English were so accommodating. They really are the nicest people.

It’s no wonder everyone was hanging on his every word as he did his interview. Every night on the news during the Chelsea Flower Show, there was an feature–either an hour or thirty minutes long–I can’t remember–profiling the show. Hosts interviewed designers. Other hosts made vignettes explaining about plant use and the history of gardening. Others discussed how you could achieve some of the elements of the display gardens in your own home. It was gripping television I tell you, almost like a U.S. sporting event. I found it all so charming. So did Bill.

Okay, that’s it for Part I. I have more surprises in Part II so come back by.

Oh, one more thing, I’m speaking in Tulsa on Monday, July 11 at 7:00 p.m., about Dream Patios, Balconies and Decks at the Tulsa Garden Center. The Tulsa Herb Society invited me to be their keynote speaker this year. The talk is free and open to the public. I hope to see you there.