Only 75 Days till Spring

A good time to plan your garden strategy.

When it comes to developing an action plan for any type of well-balanced flowering garden, I went to my daughter and friends to get an idea of what really works. Creating your own garden can be a personal experience; you have to please yourself. Don’t just go to the gardening department at Home Depot and see what will be available for the coming thaw. Invest some time and decide what you really like. Breaking things down to the basics, you can have foliage, flowers or both. If this is your first time garden, and have dreamed of rows of daffodils, don’t sweat it if you haven’t already planted your bulbs (like tulips and lilies). Even though they should have been planted in the fall before the deep freeze, you can always find these bulbs already potted and blooming ready for transplant into your garden.

Here’s some tips to get you started:

  • Do your homework. Browsing some flower and gardening magazines, or even online articles, can help you get inspired. Popular catalogs can supply you with high-quality plants for spring as well as providing soulful garden reading to get you through the cold months of winter.
  • Determine what your Hardiness Zone is. A good place to check out is the USAD Agriculture Research Service at: The Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a specific location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. Typically, here in Connecticut the zone is 6a (-10 to -5 F).
  • In general, you want to give your annuals and perennials an early start. Plant peonies, pansies, foxgloves, etc., and let their roots get established. You can plant container-grown plants as long as the ground isn’t frozen, but mulch well. North of zone 6, wait till spring to plant bare-root perennials.
  • For low to no maintenance choices, which still offer vibrant and striking foliage, consider coleus or sweet potato vine. Ground cover like these grow quickly and spread out to cover blank spots in your garden.
  • Garden Landscaping. If you have the desire, you can do light landscaping using gardening timbers and/or stacking stones to build up higher and lower areas to plant your garden. Varying the elevations from one section to the next adds much to the visual attractiveness of your separate beds. Start small and work slowly developing a tiered layout.

One of the fastest selling category in nurseries today is miscellaneous bulbs, and if you want to experiment a little try something other than the tulip, daffodil and crocus variety. Some choices suggested by Better Homes and Gardens are:

  • Glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa) – Bright blue, star-like spring flowers with fine-textured strappy foliage.
  • Cape cowslip (Lachenalia) – Tubular flowers in spikes on fleshy stems. Bulbs quickly multiply to form clumps; hardy in zones 8 to 10.
  • Flowering onion (Allium) – Bright balls of color atop naked stalks.

You can also follow nature’s lead and scatter some seeds. Nancy McDonald, managing editor of The American Cottage Gardener, suggests these selections:

  • Flanders poppies (Papaver rhoeas) – Also known as corn poppies. They’re a cinch. The seeds don’t need to be buried, and once established, the plants self-sow. Shirley poppies, a strain of Papaver rhoeas, come in red, delicate pinks, peach and rose, all edged in white.
  • Panicle larkspur (Consolida regalis ssp. Paniculata) – A cloud of dainty blue flowers, more delicate than regular larkspur.
  • Hollyhock (Alcea) – Some biennial, some perennial, hollyhocks come in shades from soft pastels to rich reds and nearly black maroon. Alcea rugosa, a lemon-yellow midsummer bloomer, is resistant to rust.
  • Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) – A biennial that produces white spikes with pale pink markings in its second year, beautiful rosettes the first.
  • ‘Superb Pink’ and the Loveliness hybrids (Dianthus superbus or related species) – Some of the most sweetly scented choices around.

Sure, you may be longing for spring, but why not also plan for a more colorful winter. The old standbys like hollies and nandinas produce berries, but other trees and shrubs can provide winter interest as well. Unlike herbaceous plants, shrubs and trees can be planted well into winter as long as the ground is not frozen, with better root development occurring with earlier planting.

What about a Butterfly garden?

Purple coneflowers are a worthy butterfly garden staple across the eastern half of the US. The flower petals are a soft pink hue defying the expectations of their common name. There are many cultivars of this variety, but the native variety seems to attract the most pollinators. The Northern Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum americanum), is a host butterfly plant for Giant Swallowtail Butterfly Caterpillars. A bush-like tree, it is a good option for those growing with less space since it grows to only about 20 feet high. You can also keep it smaller by cutting it back. Zizia aurea (golden Alexander), a lesser-known member of the carrot family, grows 2-3 feet high and produces small, sunny blooms in late spring. It is also a host plant for eastern black swallowtails. Remember if you have problems with rabbits, make sure to place a barrier around your plants.

Collarette Dahlias, like zinnias, come in a rainbow of colors. They’ll attract some monarchs, but bees really love the blooms that keep bursting until first frost. After the plants die back, you can dig up dahlia tubers to store and plant next season. They are also fast growing annuals started from seed.

Getting Real

When it comes to physically setting up your garden space, start with a drawing of your available plot. Remember that most plants will spread out so don’t crowd them too close together, provide some space for them to expand. Consider adding garden ornaments. Whether it’s a small stone frog, an inviting gazing globe or a cast water-pouring angel, these added accents add depth and dimension to your garden space and will help perk up the winter landscape. The vast selection of garden decorations made from frost-proof cast concrete with weather-proof glazing, have made outdoor art a popular pastime. Other focal points can include sculptures, garden structures, large stones and boulders or even containers. With just a little planning you can create dramatic or subtle, year-round interest within your landscape. Garden features such as small ponds, arbors or a lone container can also be used as the center of attention when placed in contrast with their surroundings.

Try to be creative and don’t be afraid to ask the professionals at your local nursery and garden center for help. Gardening helps feed the soul and a well-thought-out execution is a feast for the eyes and your nose.