Last evening my 89-year-old mother and I sat in our lawn chairs in the backyard, half dead from many hours of toiling in the gardens. Mom looked across at the neighbor’s yard, a featureless expanse of green lawn, and remarked, “I bet they’re just as happy as we are, and they don’t have a single flower in their yard.”
Nevertheless, I look forward to planting season on the ol’ homestead every spring. My master plan, to replace ever blade of grass on the property with a flower, is advancing nicely. I installed a large, new shade bed this spring and filled it with hostas, astilbe and ferns. My mom approved of converting an otherwise barren patch of earth underneath a massive maple tree to this purpose. However, she has cautioned against any more excavations. “I think any more gardens might make the yard look a little … junky,” she averred.
Yep. That’s what I was going for. Call it an homage to that classic 1970s sitcom, “Sanford & Son.” Once I roll in a few derelict cars and leaking oil drums, the scene will be complete. Watch for my spread in “Better Homes & Gardens.”
Perennials are the foundation of most of my beds. Unfortunately, my favorite flowers are all of the sort that do not naturally occur on the tundra (i.e., central Minnesota). Here in Zone 3-to-barely-4, plants like gladiola, dahlias, begonias and calla lilies have to be laboriously dug up in the fall and reinstalled in the spring. Each fall I “lift” dozens of dinnerplate and other fancy dahlias, wash them off, label them and store them in a cool room in the basement. And every spring I unpack the boxes and throw away the alternately withered or mushy contents, which will invariably have croaked over the winter.
I have tried every method propounded by the gardening magazines to preserve these devils: wrapping each individual corm in plastic wrap, burying them in vermiculate, in sawdust, in wood shavings. The result is always the same: I fork over a C-spot to someplace like White Flower Farms or Spring Hill Nursery for this year’s “Dinnerplate Dahlia Collection.” Ka-ching!
I have slightly better luck overwintering gladiolas; about three-quarters of the bulbs I toss into a paper bag and stuff into a dark corner are viable the following spring. Begonias are a lost cause; happily, they’re fairly cheap (after Memorial Day, at least).
My real success story, however, is cannas. And by “success story,” I mean oh-my-god-what-am-I-going-to-do-with-all-these-damned-cannas. I started with a single plant half a dozen years ago; this spring I’ve already put in three dozen huge rhizomes and have another crateful still in the basement to find a home for. I’m not even particularly fond of these tropical-looking plants that produce a rather lukewarm fringe of flower late in the season. But it’s hard not to respect a plant as robust and prolific as this is. At the rate it’s reproducing, I’ll be able to put in a 6’ canna hedge clear around my property in a few years.
In the meantime, though, I still have to figure out what to do with that couple of dozen rhizomes languishing in the basement. Every nook and cranny in all the full-sun beds have already been claimed. I can think of only one solution. Looks like I’ll have to dig a new bed on the west side of the house. (I think there’s a broken down old snowblower in the shed that would make a nice focal point.)
Just don’t tell mom.