May Day

May Day May Day
It is ironic that May Day is an emergency word used internationally as a distress signal in radio communications that we have seen used in the movies. It is ironic, because the arrival of the first day of May is a celebration of flowers and spring. May Day was celebrated on May 1 by some early European settlers to North America with May baskets. These are baskets that were filled with flowers or treats and left at someone’s doorstep. The giver rings the bell and runs away. The person receiving the basket tries to catch the fleeing giver; if caught, a kiss is exchanged. Good idea to wear running shoes that day so you can catch the ringer and “plant” one on them!
Today the arrival of May usually means the last frost days are passing and tender flowering plants can be enjoyed in our gardens and landscapes. Mother’s day is a weekend to give and receive flowers to celebrate both Mom and the promise of a new gardening season. Later in May as we celebrate the Memorial Day holiday, plants and flowers play a big role in remembrance as well as our home gardening enjoyment.
I read recently that “a weed is a flower with an advertising budget”. Today plant breeders have developed flowering plants for our landscapes that bloom longer, brighter and more reliably than the blooms enjoyed years ago. Dahlias, Pansies, Gerbera Daisies, Calibrachoa, Coleus and Petunias are great examples of how we have come a long way baby.

Gerbera Daisy
Gerbera Daisy

Container gardening popularity has driven the development of reliable, continuous blooming and colorful plants that you can enjoy all summer long in your little corner of the world.
An easy container to design is a mono-culture container. Choose a single variety for your container along with an attractive container. Next mono-color combinations use two different shades of a color, but because you are using the same color you don’t have to worry about the colors clashing…they blend in shades. Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel and mix together easily. These can be effective and very colorful combinations of pink and red, pink and orange (a favorite of mine) yellow and orange, orange and red, violet and red, blue and green, and blue-violet. My favorite approach is using complimentary colors. On a color wheel, complimentary colors are directly opposite of each other…like red and green, orange and blue, or yellow and violet.

Complimentary colors Purple and Yellow
Complimentary colors Purple and Yellow

Finally you might want to try your hand at a three way combination color scheme. I call it a triple play, some people call it a triad. This combination uses 3 colors that are spaced equally on the color wheel – the points of a triangle. Examples would be a red-yellow-blue or violet-orange-green combination. Try a red-yellow-blue or pink-yellow-blue triangle combination.
Here are two quick pointers for your May Day combinations. Remember that pink is a great color to include because it plays well with almost any color including orange and red. Also remember for best success plant your container working from the inside to the outside of the pot thinking “Focal, Filler, Edger, Trailer”.

Pink and Orange combination
Pink and Orange combination

When you have “Thyme” on your hands

In this fast paced world of busy lives, Herbs pamper us with gifts from the garden. We all know that the garden is good for the mind, body and spirit when we need to unplug. It is “sage” advice to take some “thyme” for yourself and benefit from growing some Herbs. Herbs are easy to grow with some good soil and sunshine. Perfectly suited for containers they can be grown anywhere, even if your space is small.

Herbs are perfect for use in containers with other plant material
Herbs are perfect for use in containers with other plant material

That said I recommend also incorporating Herbs into the landscape with your other plants and flowers. A dash of Lavender, Nepeta, Thyme or Oregano can spice up any landscape with color, interest and aroma.
“Basil” instinct tells us that Herbs in our life provide a lot of benefit. Your garden should give back to you. Herbs do that in a big way. Aside from their obvious “scent”-uous nature, herbs give back to us in countless ways. As soaks and teas, aromatherapy and steams, oils and perfumes, elixirs and medicine, rubs and skin care, treats and colorful garnish, herbs like the garden truly benefit the mind, body and spirit.

Sweet Woodruff is an herbal groundcover used to float or "steep" in white wine (thank our German friends) to make a great tasting white wine for a sunny May day!
Sweet Woodruff is an herbal groundcover used to float or “steep” in white wine (thank our German friends) to make a great tasting white wine for a sunny May day!

Start with a good lightweight growing mix and a good sized container. Pick a sunny spot and you will be in your ele-“mint”. No need for lots of fertilizer, over-watering and over-fertilizing weakens the plants and diminishes the oils in their aromatic foliage. Remember that herbs are a collaborative sort, often making great companions with vegetable plants. I don’t have scientific proof but I can tell you I am convinced that tomatoes off the vine taste better when basil is planted nearby.

Affordable and fun to grow
Affordable and fun to grow

Here are some herb suggestions for you from my garden and the benefits they provide me.
Basil….uplifting and energizing. Make me think of summer and fresh tomatoes.
Borage….easy to grow, a good companion with a cucumber like aroma
Chamomile….soothing with a sweet apple fragrance
Hops….amazing visual impact in the landscape
Lavender….beautiful flowers, healing and rest
Lemon Balm….aroma, rest, cleansing
Mint….stimulating and cleansing. And invasive…grow only in containers
Parsley….Healthy refreshing edger or border
Rosemary….Aroma, strong pine like fragrance. Perfect late season herb.
Sage….Rich, earthy, appealing foliage
Thyme….decorative, stimulating and collaborative
Oregano….spice of life, great groundcover or container edge or trailer
Nepeta and Catmint….pungent aroma and long lasting bloom.

Be a Smarty Plants

Recently I asked my friends on Facebook what their word of advice would be for someone new to gardening and just starting out. Many offered some well rooted advice to mulch or water or be open to change. Having a vision, a good foundation of organic soil and to start small were other popular words of well grounded wisdom. One of my Facebook friends suggested that frozen berries in wine was a good pain reliever.

Don't "wine" about your landscape....do something about it this fall
Don’t “wine” about your landscape….do something about it this fall

Another suggested buying Motrin along with a lot of plants. Those who had thrown in the “trowel” suggested the new gardener give up before their backs and hips, have a drink and hire someone to do it for them. I liked the fact some felt variety was important and that gardening is good therapy.

In the spirit of turnabout is fair play, I asked myself the question. If left with suggesting one thing, I would recommend that a “smarty plants” invests time in their garden in September and October. Along with great deals on plants, the fall climate is perfect for plant establishment. In fall the soil cools down after a hot summer but is still warm and rainfall is more plentiful. Plants put in the ground focus on root establishment instead of top growth. Plants put in the ground in fall are well rooted and take off quicker in spring. This applies to woody landscape plants, trees, perennials, bulbs and even annuals like pansies. Frost tolerant pansies provide color in fall and then overwinter under the snow to outperform spring planted pansies the following spring.
The weather in fall is enjoyable for yard work, even mundane work such as the lawn. Feeding your lawn in fall is important to develop a thick well rooted lawn. Grass seed grows well in the fall for patching or starting a new lawn, September is arguably the best month of the year to start a lawn in Michigan. And when it comes to weeds, well “weed” need to talk. Perennial weeds send their food reserves to the roots in fall just like the trees. If you apply weed killer you’re getting good translocation of the herbicide into the roots instead of just top kill. Also many annual weeds like Henbit germinate in the fall to become rampant and blooming in the spring. Fall applications of weed control keep these weeds from becoming a problem in spring.

Lawn along top of the picture cut short all summer.....lawn in foreground deck was raised on mower. Any questions?
Lawn along top of the picture cut short all summer…..lawn in foreground deck was raised on mower. Any questions?

If you “plant”-asize about gorgeous flowers in spring, September is the perfect month to plant flowering bulbs. It can be as easy as dig, drop, done. Bulb selections go way beyond tulips with many of the “minor bulbs” like Scilla, Fritillaria and Alliums or Dutch Iris to name a few. Planted in a well drained soil these miracle orbs will pop up and surprise you next spring.

Bulbs are planted....time to run in the 5K event
It’s bulb planting time!

September planted Mums provide brilliant fall color. Mum-Ma-Mia! Hardy Mums and Asters can be displayed in pots for fall color and then if planted in the ground before winter with a light mulch covering should come back next year.
Be a “smarty plants” and make a date with your yard and garden this September.

Mum Ma Mia!
Mum Ma Mia!