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gardens, life, etc

I've been thin on the ground lately because I've been putting in a ton of overtime. 

It's also spring, my favorite time of the year.  I used to love autumn, and I still do, but spring is also glorious.  This year, I celebrated by ordering four cubic yards of compost for the garden.  What?  It's a whole two cubic yards less than last time!  I swear!

Gardening has been quite a challenge this year.  As other avid gardeners know, the zones and frost dates have changed in much of the states.  However, this year, things were quite off in the opposite direction, and I had snow and hard frost in May (yes, really).

Despite those challenges, thus far this year, I have planted:
Fruit trees!
I'm super excited about these fellas.  All were from Trees of Antiquity.  They get a huge thumbs up from me.  My mom helped me plant them, as she has taken certified arborist classes.  We planted:
Red Gravenstein (apples)
Sweet Bough
Arkansas Black
Kidd's Orange Red
Grimes Golden
Duchess of Oldenburg
Victoria Limbertwig
White Pearmain

Stella and Napoleon/Royal Anne (cherries)

Baby Crawford and Polly White (peaches)

Violette De Bourdeux/Negronne (cold hardy fig)


These were primarily planted for creating beneficial microclimates for our bird/animals and for enjoying.
Mary Rose (Austin, rich pink)
Wise Portia (dark pink, eaten by bunnies last year)
Tess (Austin, red/dark pink)
Queen of Sweden (Austin, light pink)
Peace (pink/yellow)
Pink Peace (pink with hint of yellow)
Chicago Peace (pinkier with bit of yellow)
I'd hoped to order Princess Alexandra of Kent, another rich pink Austin, but everyone but Austin US was out, and I just can't force myself to order from them, given the hugely mixed reviews they've gotten and the ridiculously increased prices (when you're more expensive than Heirloom by 30% that is a LOT). 

Perennials and Annuals
I'm putting in all sorts of perennials this year.  Last year, I experimented with several different online companies, as my local nurseries have somewhat vague stock.  I ordered from Burpee, Park's, Bluestone, Annie's, and a couple others.  Here are reviews of these folks.

Annie's Annuals and Perennials
I was surprised to discover that Annie's, which I had heard such wonderful things about, had the highest death rate of all (worse than Park's, which is kind of impressive, really).  They were also far and away the most expensive.  While their selection is unparralleled and their descriptions fun and funky, I also think they suffer from, well, excessive optimism and not in a good way.  It's fine to mention that some annuals will reseed given the right conditions, but in my case, despite solid care and following recommendations for location and yes, proper hardening off, the annuals just plain weren't suitable for my zone.  As in, the full sun hit them and in two weeks, they were dead.  Not a little wilty, not a little scruffy, dead

In my own garden, I often grow tomatoes more or less wild, as a self-renewing patch that requires only watering to get started.  Once I'm in a gardening locale, I can plant in my favorite tomatoes and be assured that, if I want, I can have that same (or similar) tomatoes show up in that spot the next year. 

It would be ridiculous of me to sell tomato seeds with the notation: "These little fellas self-seed regularly!  Plant two in a good spot and you'll be assured of plenty of volunteers come next spring!  Both tasty and delicious, this plant is easy to grow.  Recommended for anyone who has a 'black thumb'.' 

I can hazard some guesses as to why my tomatoes will reseed themselves like bizarre volunteers for a food army.  It could be that I use long slow good fertilizers in my soil (Fox Farm brand, for the curious).  It could be that I have chosen appropriate tomatoes for my zone.  It could be that I have what some more woo gardeners call a plant affinity (that is, there's a special spiritual connection here). 

But I can assure you all that perfectly respectable master gardeners in other locales (even nearby) do not have to regretfully rip out tomato volunteers that show up in random places in their yards.  They just don't.  A few might, but most don't.  Tomatoes are considered one of the jewels in the gardening crown, and nearly everyone I've ever known will say that these beasts must be started indoors. 

I do not doubt that Annie herself has more reseeding annuals than she needs.  I'm sure that her guesses as to zone appropriateness are well-intentioned and probably true for certain parts of a given zone (such as particular Cali micro-climate zones).  But her plants do not do well here, and except for a few particular plants I have no hope of getting anywhere else (larger dianthus, a plant that is practically unkillable and some native monarch-specific milkweeds) I will regretfully not purchase there again.  I certainly will not use her planting locale/zone guides in regards to me.


This is one of my favorite gardening companies, but they have their faults.  They produce excellent varieties, but their seeds have become more and more expensive over the years.  Prohibitively so.  I now only purchase seeds from them every other year, using the last year or two's seeds in larger quantities to make up for lower germination rates.  We're talking six or seven bucks per packet for some of their new varietals.  Ouch.  But for consistent seed quality in really hot summer appropriate hybrids, they cannot be beat.  I've never had their seeds fully fail on me.

They are going bankrupt--for good reason.  Avoid like the plague.  Please.  There were weird bugs in my cardboard and they sent the wrong plants.  I got a refund....eventually.   But not soon enough to plant what I'd wanted. 

Bluestone Perennials
This little company underwent a major change a year or two ago.  Instead of selling small plants they've switched to larger 4" coconut pots.  I was dubious, because I hate coconut pots.  I'd tried those pots years ago and they never ever broke down. 

However, I had a coupon.  So I tried a small selection of their plants.  Unlike Annie's, these plants trouped slowly and doggedly through heat, massive drought, clay soil, and a lot of slugs with no problem. 

These Bluestone plants sailed through our unexpectedly brutal winter with zero difficulties.  Even the ones I forgot to plant (hey, they were stuck in a kind of muddy patch, OK?  I got....distracted.  As you do.) did just fine.  I mean, lolwhut super plants.  I have a mum in such a tough spot that's so lush it should be wearing a cape and a sparkly superhero cape. 

Unfortunately, Bluestone plants are NOT cheap.  Their shipping is about standard for well-packed online plant companies.  But the good news is that in spring, if you have bought from them during the season at regular prices, you get to leap on their 50% off sale.  That's when I stock up on plants I need in larger quantities or try things I'm unsure about. 

A few weeks ago, I bought nine perennial sunflowers, a bunch of quince, some daylilies, and some dianthus, poppies, anemone, and hosta.  Bluestone thoughtfully chose NOT to ship over Memorial Day weekend.  Yes, it meant my plants were delayed a bit, but it also meant my plants arrived ALIVE.  Big thumbs up from me. 

They also have the best search engine for plants.  You enter your criteria (location, soil type, zone, color, height, etc) and voila.  They tell you what will work.  Brilliant.  Free.  Fabulous.  Great for planning dream gardens!

I will post comments about bulb companies later, if there is interest.


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 8th, 2013 01:37 am (UTC)
Thank you! This is interesting. Bluestone looks pretty cool.
Jun. 8th, 2013 08:09 pm (UTC)
My pleasure! I really like Bluestone. Their specials are pretty good, too.
Jun. 9th, 2013 02:31 am (UTC)
I should tell my aunt; I often profit from her castoffs. I think all I have room for at the moment is annuals, though something invariably gives up or winterkills. Plus I really need to split up the spider lilies in the spring. They're pretty but holy crap they are getting too big.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )