While walking around in my garden (a highly recommended shelter-at-home activity), I was pleased to see one of the earliest Irises to come into bloom. (Local gardeners in slightly warmer locations already enjoy several Irises.) This specimen is Iris pallida ‘Variegata’, which is appreciated primarily for its green and yellow or green and white foliage.
We continue our exploration of three categories of gardening activities that are suitable under social distance constraints and rewarding to the gardener.
1. Care for Your Garden
Engaging school-age children in gardening is a way for parents to and grandparents to help children to learn and be productive while sheltering at home. A fine source of gardening activities is the non-profit Kids Gardening organization (kidsgardening.org).
Short-term gardening activities can be enjoyable for adults and children to work together, but as we deal with extended stays at home, consider more programmatic approaches.
Borrowing concepts from formal schooling, adults should adopt a gardening curriculum for young learners. Basically, a curriculum involves learning objectives within a defined scope and following a logical sequence. Gardening naturally involves periods of a given plant’s development with beginning, middle, and end (germination, growth, ripening), so it lends itself to clear lesson plans.
Browse to kidsgardening.org and explore the menu, “Educator Resources” for a wealth of ideas for gardening with kids at home. The website offers many options, so interested adults will need to commit time to select lessons that are suitable for their site, workable with available tools and other resources, and interesting for both adults and children.
Salvias should be pruned heavily every year to remove spent branches and promote fresh new growth. Some gardeners accomplish this pruning in the late winter, just as the spring shoots begin to appear at the base of the plants. That approach works fine, but this year the opportunity came and went, leaving the apparent option to skip pruning until next year.
Then, I learned of a more complex situation. Salvia specialist Kermit Carter, of Flowers by the Sea advised different strategies for each of four kinds of Salvias:
- Rosette-growing, herbaceous perennials, e.g. Hummingbirds Sage (Salvia spathacea). Deadhead spent flowers; cut to the ground when growth stops (prune winter bloomers in summer, summer bloomers in autumn).
- Deciduous or semi-evergreen types with soft stems, e.g. Mexican Bush Sage (S. leucantha). During the season, cut spent stems; at first frost, cut all to the ground.
- Deciduous, woody-stem varieties, e.g. Autumn Sages (S. greggii species). During the season, cut spent stems; at first frost, cut all to the ground (same as above).
- Evergreen, woody species, e.g. Karwinski’s Sage (S. karwinskii). Remove old wood at any time to encourage fresh growth.
Now, the task is to identify each type of Salvia in my garden and prune accordingly.
2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge
This lesson on Salvia pruning illustrates the importance of knowing the plants in your garden, as the foundation for their cultivation. For any given plant, the gardener can gain important information by searching the Internet for the plant’s botanical name. In many cases, a search by common name will lead to the botanical name, and useful knowledge.
For many popular garden genera, specialized web sites provide good basic facts of value in caring for plants. In the above example, Flowers by the Sea has an extensive database of Salvia species and cultivars.
For the large category of bulbous plants, a fine resource is the Pacific Bulb Society, which maintains a wiki with images and growing advice for a great range of bulbous plants. The Society’s name relates to its geographic origins; the wiki includes plants from everywhere. By the way, “wiki” comes from a Hawaiian word for “quick,” and it refers to “a website that allows collaborative editing of its content and structure by its users.”
3. Enrich Your Gardening Days
Opportunities abound for virtual tours of public gardens. In previous columns, we have recommended public gardens in California and in England and France. Here, we feature some of the now-closed great public gardens in the United States, outside of California.
- Chanticleer, A Pleasure Garden. This is a relatively small public garden (35 acres) that had been a private garden before 1990. Today, Chanticleer has been called “the most romantic, imaginative, and exciting public garden in America.”
- New York Botanical Garden. 250 well-tended acres of plants. Use the Garden Navigator to explore the current and historic living collections, see photos, get plant information and see when they have bloomed at the garden.
- United States National Arboretum. This amazing place, established by Congress in 1927, has 446 acres of plants. Try the Arboretum Botanical Explorer, a unique learning tool available on the website.
Enjoy your gardens and gardening and stay healthy.