Tag Archives: Flowers

Photo Friday: Between Seasons

Last weekend, where I live, the temperature seemed to boost about 40 degrees. Sun and warm winds suddenly replaced the frigid air. Overnight, it seemed, fruit trees burst into blossom — nothing subtle or slow — and I could smell wild onions and grasses and the sorts of shoots that signal spring. One front yard on my street, however, is having trouble letting go of the last leaves of fall even as they’re being eclipsed by a splashy early spring show.

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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Photo Friday: San Francisco Storefront

How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds

I love nasturtiums and this summer I had a real cascade of them tumbling over the deck boxes in their bright colors and peppery scents. My daughter and I went to weed them the other day and noticed that many had gone to seed and still many others had dropped their seeds on the deck. We gathered the seeds excitedly, figuring that since they were intact and recognizable as the nasturtium seeds we’d planted before, we should be able to save these for planting in the future.

After all, what better way for kids to learn about the process of seeds becoming plants than to collect, save, plant and grow their own seeds?

I since found a couple of wonderful resources about seed saving.

Mr. Brown Thumb has a lot of great information about collecting nasturtium seeds, complete with a video. He says that larger seeds are best, and that it doesn’t matter if the seeds are brown or green. This is good news because I found plenty of both.

About.com has a lot of great information about seed saving in general, including which other seeds are good candidates for saving:

Methods and Timing for Saving Seeds

Always choose the best quality plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables from which to save seeds. Look for disease resistance, vigor, great flavor and productivity. Next year’s plants will only be as good as this year’s seed. Harvest seeds either:

  • When the seed pods have dried on the plant (flowers, beans, broccoli, lettuce…)Keep an eye on the pods as they start to brown. Most seed pods will open and disperse on their own. You can catch seed by placing small bags over the seed heads when they look ready to pop or by pulling the plant just before completely dry and storing upside down in a paper bag.

Storing Saved Seed

  • Make sure the seed is completely dry, or it will rot or mold in storage
  • Remove as much of the chaff as possible
  • Store in a paper envelope, labeled with the variety and year
  • Place the envelopes into an air tight container, such as a canning jar
  • Store in a cool, dark, dry place
  • Stored seed is best used the following year

What Seeds Can Be Saved?

Open Pollinated or heirloom, self-pollinated plants are the only varieties that will grow true from seed, meaning the seedlings will be exactly like the parents. These are the seeds worth saving.

Self-pollinated plants are the easiest to save and include: Beans, Chicory, Endive, Lettuce, Peas, Tomatoes. You can also save many heirloom flower seeds such as: cleome, foxgloves, hollyhock, nasturtium, sweet pea, and zinnia.

I dried my seeds on this old bulb storage crate from the Netherlands. It’s come in handy for all kinds of drying projects.

I stored my seeds according to the above guidelines. I’ll plant them next year and will let you know how they do.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Gardening 101: How to Get Growing, Even if You’re a Total Beginner

You might read gardening magazines in the market — their covers emblazoned with the greenest leaves and the most perfect flowers. You may have even brought some home and, inspired by the pictures, attempted to create a garden plot or at least grow a few tomatoes for a salad.

Maybe you’ve never tried gardening at all but you’re curious to try it, to join those who are growing their own food and picking flowers from their yards.

Everyone has to start somewhere. Even if you’ve never grown so much as a pansy, the following steps will get you and your garden up and running.

Select your site. Ideally your plot will get 6-8 hours of full sun per day. If such a site is not available, be sure to buy crops specifically intended to grow in the shade. If you don’t have adequate flat space, explore other outdoor space like patios, pass-throughs, or decks. You can still get a lot of usable space by planting in large boxes and having plants climb up trellises, which many love to do. Your space needn’t be too large. A 10×10 foot plot can support a few rows of different crops. Often gardeners get overly ambitious and plant more than they can reasonably maintain. If your site is traveled by munching animals, such as deer, you will want to construct some kind of fence around it.

Prepare the soil. Use a pitchfork to loosen the ground, preferably down to about 8 inches. Clear the surface with a heavy-duty rake. Break up dirt clods and pull weeds. These can be added to a compost, if you’ve chosen to compost. If you wish, you can buy packaged soil for a nice even top layer that will have some nutrients in it, especially if you suspect your soil is poor. (You can always take a sample into your local garden-supply store for an opinion.) Either way, some sort of packaged fertilizer should be added as well. A general mix for new plantings is usually good, but the folks at the garden center may have more specific advice based on your soil and what you’d like to grow, as well as how much organic matter you want to add. Always water thoroughly before adding fertilizer. (And have kids wash hands after handling.)

If possible, plan some paths in your garden. They will make it easy to water, weed, and harvest without stepping on plants. Some people cover the paths with tanbark or other material (available at garden-supply stores) to mark them and to discourage plants from taking root there. Make sure you have a good path for your hose and a water source.

Plant the seeds or seedlings. For most people, this part is especially fun. Follow the packet instructions for seed spacing and conditions. You may want to lay a line of string as a guide, or create a furrow. Some stores carry seed tapes, which you just lay down in a straight row. Tapes are great for tiny hard-to-handle seeds like carrots, which can be difficult, even for adults. Large, easy-to-plant and -grow seeds include nasturtium and pea. If you’re planting bedding plants, be sure to give each lots of room to spread out and grow. Try to anticipate the heights of your plants to get the tallest ones into the back.

Fertilize. If you didn’t add fertilizer to the bed while preparing the soil, you’ll want to add a little bit while planting. There are fertilizers on the market that are designed specifically for new growth. Your local garden center is the best bet to point you toward a good fertilizer for your garden and conditions. Many people fertilize plants again at about six weeks into the growing process.

If you are gardening in containers, get the biggest containers you have space and money for. Check for adequate drainage holes. If you don’t have good drainage, you can add netting or pieces of broken pottery to the bottom of the pot. You may also want to add perlite, which will aerate the soil while helping it retain moisture. Fertilize as you would in a garden plot.

Water your plants or seeds. New transplants and freshly planted seeds like lots of water. The best kind of watering is done gently and deeply, so that the water soaks through to the growing roots of the plants. Once your plants are established, you will probably need to water every other day or so when the weather is sunny. (Plants in containers usually need water more often than plants in the ground.) If a plant droops during the day, or the soil feels dry more than a couple of inches down, it needs water. It’s best not to water in bright sunshine because the sun can evaporate the water or even cause burned spots on the plants.

Keep up the good work. Continue watering and caring for plants as needed. This can include pulling out obvious weeds and cutting back any growth that has died or become unattractive.

Be sure to harvest what you’ve grown. Sometimes I’ve been so proud of my work and/or not sure when to harvest that I’ve let plants go past the point when they’re edible or useful and all the way to seed. Take a chance and cut and enjoy what you’ve done. More will usually grow back!

Get comfortable. There are lots of items available to make gardening more comfortable. I suggest knee pads, if you’re going to be doing a lot of kneeling, a sun hat to protect your skin, and old shoes you don’t mind getting dirty or gardening clogs made specifically to get wet and dirty. (A pair of gardening clogs lasts for years. They’re also very comfortable and you can leave them outside.) Most people like gardening gloves and there are a range of them on the market. I find them irresistible to buy at gardening and hardware stores, with their cute patterns, but I almost always end up taking them off and getting my hands really dirty — the better to feel the plants, the dirt, and what I’m doing.

Have fun entering one of the oldest and most rewarding hobbies around!

Celebrate May Day with Floral Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets

The earliest May Day celebrations commemorated Flora (above), the Roman goddess of flowers and spring. So it’s fitting that May 1st, which marks the mid-point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice, be celebrated with flowers in baskets and in pretty wreaths around the head.

Wreaths can be made with real or synthetic flowers, and simple crowns can be made with construction paper. To make a floral wreath, make a circular form out of a coat hanger or other wire and make sure it fits the intended head. Wrap the ends of the wire tightly around the main circle to secure it. Tape each flower on by the stem with floral or a dark-colored masking tape wound around the base a couple of times.

Wind one or more colors of ribbon around the wreath. Ribbons can also be tied on to hang at intervals. To do this, cut and double a length of ribbon, so that each side is as long as you want it to hang. Make a loop at the top. Place the loop against the wire with a couple of inches to spare at the top and pull the two ends through the loop to secure the the ribbon. Knot the ends, if desired, to prevent from fraying.

May baskets are another tradition from a bygone time. They summon an era when children filled baskets or other containers (even simple paper cones) with freshly picked flowers and left them on neighbors’ doorknobs or doorsteps as a surprise. Since May Day often falls on a school day, we varied the tradition by bringing a basket of flowers to school and giving the basket or individual flowers to Anna’s teachers. Some people fill May baskets with candy.

In Hawaii, May Day is also known as Lei Day.

This delightful video comes from Kari at Active Kids Club and features children making a fresh crown of dandelions. This joyful activity is perfect for May Day or any day when the spring, the outside, and a mood of celebration beckons.

See also: Dance Around a Maypole for May Day.

Painting: Flora, by Louise Abbéma, 1913. In Public Domain. May Day Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman. Video: Kari Svenneby

Tulipmania 2010, Part 2

In my last post on tulips, I featured the Parade and Apeldoorn tulips and gave some background on the Tulipmania that gripped otherwise sensible people in 17th century Netherlands. This post will continue to highlight the beauties that graced my spring container garden.

I highly recommend planting tulips, as an easy individual or family project. It’s one that will bring you a lot of joy for relatively little effort.

Apricot Beauty

I love apricot-sherbet colored tulips, and the early-blooming Apricot Beauty did not disappoint. A single tulip with a nice classic shape on an 18″ stem, the Apricot Beauty looked great with its companion flowers, the Beau Monde and the Negrita, and, in particular, really helped welcome Spring.

Beau Monde

I find the delicate, bi-color Beau Monde to be very painterly. An early Triumph, with a pleasing shape on an 18″ stem, it featured wonderful blush-colored swipes on bright white petals.

Negrita


Accompanying the prior two in their early spring box was the Negrita, which, interestingly, lasted much longer than the other two. This is a beautiful Triumph tulip, with a great shape and distinct deep magenta color. It’s a good performer, and stands 22″ high, with a wonderful drama and color to it that allows it to mix well with lots of different flowers or stand on its own.

White Parrot

The lovely White Parrot tulips were the last of all the tulips to come up. This is a great, late-season creamy white tulip with varying brushes of grass green traveling from stem to flower. Fairly large flowers sit on 20-22″ stems. Though I found the typical parrot “frills” to be a bit more subtle than they are on other types, this is just a very pretty flower.

Until next year!

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tulipmania 2010, Part 1

A few centuries ago — before the peak of the dot-coms and the housing market and, well, banks and investment companies — it was a flower that caused a giant investment craze and its subsequent crash.

Drawn by their intense color and beauty, wealthy 16th and 17th century Dutch and Germans paid increasingly extravagant prices for the Turkish exports. In 1634 a Dutch man paid roughly half his fortune for a single bulb, solely for the purpose of admiring it. The mania continued to increase. More and more people sold their houses and land to purchase tulips, until their money was fairly worthless, goods and services were priced beyond what people could afford, and people had to barter in the bulbs. Still, they threw themselves lavish parties, with beautiful tulips everywhere, until at last a tulip deal, for 10 Semper Augustus bulbs, went sour. On that first default, people started to panic. Prices dropped precipitously, and people found themselves in financial ruin.

This is the Semper Augustus bulb:

Luckily, today, in the U.S. in 2010, I can get beautiful tulip bulbs for under $1 apiece, refrigerate them (through our mild northern California winters), plant them, and have a deck full of lovely tulips in spring. All but the last of this year’s tulips are a memory. But, what a memory they were!

Parade


Pictured at the very top of this post and above, is the Parade tulip, which performed extremely well. The bulbs are huge, and the bright vermilion red flower sits atop a sturdy stem that rises to a great 22″-24″ height. They seemed to last a long time, too. I planted them to alternate with the Golden Apeldoorn tulips. Both are Darwin Hybrids that came up at the same time, in the middle of tulip season.

On sunny mid-afternoons, their petals would fly open in the sun.

Golden Apeldoorn


A beautiful companion to the Parade, the Golden Apeldoorn matched it in size, color and majesty. It has a wonderful rich yellow color, a beautiful shape and a sturdy 22″-24″ stem.

You can’t beat this bright, cheery color combination for welcoming spring.

My next post will feature my other spring tulips: Apricot Beauty, Beau Monde, Negrita and White Parrot.

Tulip history is from the excellent 1841 (reprinted in 1980) book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions & the Madness of Crowds, by Charles Mackay.

More information about choosing, storing and planting tulips can be found in my earlier post here.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman, Drawing, Public Domain.

Flea Market-Inspired Spring

Inspiration and beauty are all around. For many, Spring is a season of sun-dappled sidewalks and flea-market weekends. Of exploring shapes and colors which take their cues from nature, history, and the whimsy of a flowing line. It’s the season of looking around with fresh eyes.

Spring Inspiration

Spring is almost upon us. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Vernal Equinox will officially occur Saturday, March 20, at 17:32 Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This corresponds to 1:30 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, and 10:30 am on the West Coast.

During the twice-yearly Equinox,  the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, and the Sun is vertically above a point on the Equator. (The name “equinox” comes from the Latin for the words “equal” and “night — on these days night and day are approximately the same length.)

In my neck of the woods, the sun has begun to shine warmly and flowers have shot up above ground. Here’s hoping for a pretty, play-filled spring where you are.

As always, at times of seasonal change, I turn to the haiku poets to help give gentle expression to the turning of the year.

Now wild geese return …
What draws them
Crying, crying
All the long dark night?

-Roka

From my tiny roof
Smooth … Soft …
Still-White Snow
Melts in Melody

-Issa

Good morning, sparrow …
Writing on my
clean veranda
with your dewy feet

-Shiki

Opening thin arms …
A pink peony
Big as this!
Said my bitty girl

-Issa

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Tulip Planting Time

Well, we got the bulbs in a shade before New Year’s. This was very late for us, but a neighbor and terrific green thumb assured me it was okay, as the bulbs had had more than their share of fridge time leading up to the planting, and the soil is still diggable.

I’m in Sunset gardening zone 17 (USDA Zone 9), in which you pretty much have to plant bulbs fresh each year. While each spring, some do come up where I’ve neglected to dig them out, they’re generally not as hardy or pretty as they were the first year. Perhaps this is for the best. Each year brings new trips to the local nursery and new types of tulips to try. I usually buy 60 or so bulbs — enough for a good show on the deck (one of the benefits of a smaller garden) and a volume discount, while not enough to upset the flower budget. The homely bulbs go into the fridge in mid-October for their long (especially this year) hibernation. And, on an invariably cold, crisp day — in 6″ deep holes (aided by a simple bulb digger) and with a little organic fertilizer — into the ground they go.

The Blooming Bulb site sells bulbs and offers more detailed tulip planting and storing instructions. The Plant Expert is a fabulous resource about choosing, planting, storing and growing bulbs and all kinds of plants. Another is Doug Green’s Flower Garden Bulbs, which sells bulbs as well. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs also sells bulbs throughout the year by mail order. A huge bulb and perennial seller worth knowing about is K. VanBourgondien and Sons. They offer good prices, an extensive selection, and a catalogue worth perusing, any time of the year.

So, what did we plant?

Negrita

Of our six different tulips, one was a returner from last year, the irresistible Negrita. The Negrita is a great tulip with a dramatic magenta color that provides a nice contrast to more pastel-colored tulips, and a classic big Triumph shape that is slightly elongated. This is one of our Negritas last year. It’s a sturdy, thick-stemmed flower, 18-22″ high.

Beau Monde


The Beau Monde brings out many a poet among bulb catalog writers. Blooming Bulb writes: “Huge chalice-form blooms are a creamy white with flames of raspberry red and bright yellow around the inside bottom of the bloom.” Brent and Becky’s Bulbs calls them “beautiful and alluring”. Both note that, while the Beau Monde is officially classified as a Triumph, it’s strong and hardy like a Giant Darwin. I think they’re supposed to be around 18″ tall, but am seeing a wide range of heights offered. We’ll find out in a few months!

Apricot Beauty

I am always on the lookout for classically shaped tulips in a soft salmon or apricot color. Last year I found it in a Daydream tulip and this year I’m hoping the Apricot Beauty is as pretty as its picture. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs tells me it’s also fragrant – hooray! – a Single Early tulip with a range of heights from 12″ up. (The tag in the nursery said 14″ — early flowering tulips tend to have shorter stems.)

Golden Apeldoorn


In another section went two brightly colored and popular Darwin Hybrid tulips. Blooming Bulb tells me that “the Golden Apeldoorn has golden yellow blooms with a black star shaped base. Very weather resistant with strong stems.” They are predicted to be tall – 20″ or so.

Parade


Joining the Apeldoorn is the bright red Parade. That one is described by Blooming Bulb as “deep scarlet red with a black base. Regal blooms on 24 inch stems!” We can’t wait.

White Parrot


We usually try to plant one especially exotic tulip – one with frilly edges or flames of color shooting through it. This year’s is the White Parrot. Writes Blooming Bulb: “Large white blooms with apple green brush stroke markings sit atop strong, straight 18-inch stems. Impressive in the garden and in the vase.” Sounds pretty enough to paint!

Photos: Beau Monde, Apeldoorn and White Parrot: Blooming Bulb; Apricot Beauty and Parade: Netherland Flower Bulb Info; Others: Susan Sachs Lipman

Let Nature Decorate your Holiday Table

Nature often makes the best decoration. Especially in Fall, leaves, fruits and nuts are readily available in public spaces, in addition to being eye-catching, pretty, and free or nearly so.

Of course, the hunt is a highlight of the pre-planning. It provides a fun family tradition, and a way to enjoy nature together in the beautiful Fall, before bringing some of it inside for lovely — and free — table decor. My favorite tabletop finds include buckeyes, chestnuts, multi-colored leaves, ivy, pine boughs, pine cones, branches with berries and, from the store, mini pumpkins, persimmons, apples, mandarin oranges, and pears.

Above are fall tables from two different years. Both feature collected items from nature and inexpensive store-bought fall flowers that my family and I arranged in a shallow bowl, using a “frog” to hold the stems in place. All of our glassware and china has been handed down, including the festive red glasses. I layered inexpensive tablecloths and fabric runners.

One Thanksgiving morning, our cousins gathered branches and boughs for their table and made cute homemade placecards for each guest.

Another guest provided this very festive and yummy cake. I made the Cranberry Crunch squares from Susan Simon’s The Nantucket Holiday Table. They’re very good, and a great use for cranberries.

If you’re fortunate to be able to collect buckeyes, chestnuts or acorns in your area, they can make an inexpensive, natural, interesting filler for a large vase of flowers.

Friend Mary Mauro cleverly filled a very tall vase with mini pumpkins for a gathering. (She is also a gifted flower arranger.)

I hope you have an inspired, happy Thanksgiving.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

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