Usually I'm a very trusting person, but when it comes to bulbs and seedlings, I just have no faith. It's an awed kind of faithlessness. After all these years of gardening, I guess I still can't believe the miracle of it. That from tiny seeds grow such beautiful things. My friend Marie said pretty much the same thing on Facebook the other day: "After almost 40 years of life I am still astonished and thrilled each spring when the forsythia bloom..."
Every spring I start my seedlings in my Bio-Domes (available at Park Seed and a very worthwhile investment, mine have lasted for years). I put them in the window and I swear, an hour later, I am peering down into the cells.
Anything yet? No?
With the direct-sown crops, I'm even more of a wreck, down on my knees searching the soil where I broadcasted lettuce seeds and peas. They're not coming up. They won't come up. It's been a week. This is the year when they're not going to sprout.
But they do.
My bulb paranoia is a little more justified. Three years ago I planted over two hundred daffodils along the lower stone wall. The show that spring was spectacular. But the following year: no show. Not one daffodil. I'm not exaggerating. NOT ONE! If I hadn't taken pictures of the blooms, I would swear I had hallucinated the whole thing. To this day, I don't know what became of them. I assume something ate them. But ate all of them? From underground? It's bizarre.
So you can imagine my angst this year, trying to recall the exact location of all the daffodils and alliums I dropped in October. Every day, poking around the beds for the telltale shoots. I put some here. I think. Maybe here? Surely here. I know I put them here. Where are they? They're not coming up. They have to come up. Everyone else's are coming up. Some people's are in bloom. Where are mine? I'm a failure. Where are they? They're not coming up.
They came up.
So my seedlings are started, and thanks to this unusual spring I have been busy busy busy outside. The cool weather crops are sown, the beds are raked out, and I've been occupied with the usual rearranging of plants based on what was successful last year, and what was a failure. I'm waiting on a shipment of plants as well, which brings up the topic of mail-order nurseries.
It seems January 1st brings a free-for-all of soft porn garden catalogs in the mail, and a lot of people ask me if I ever do order plants online. I do, but not as much as I used to. When we moved to this house there was not one flower in the whole 1 1/4-acre lot. I ordered a lot of plants online and learned a few valuable lessons the most valuable being if you buy cheap, you get cheap. Sure, maybe you can get 10 plants for $10.99, but they will be tiny, possibly damaged from the shipment, possibly bareroot with no viable life, and it will be 2-3 anxious years before they really establish themselves. Is it worth it? Well, when you're kind of broke with over an acre to fill, it has to be. Gardening requires extraordinary patience.
These days when the garden catalogs come, I peruse for pleasure and ideas. I tear out pages and take them with me to local nurseries. I'm at the stage now where I don't start many perennials from seed any more, it's mostly veggies and annuals.
This year I am starting a ton of lupines because I love them so much, and a breed of variegated heliopsis called 'Sunburst.' I like the foliage a lot. I started some orange and yellow Butterfly Weed, too, because the kind I have is pink and I don't like it much.
Here are two online nurseries that I do regularly buy from:
Graceful Gardens in Mecklenburg, NY, run by Amanda and Mark Shenstone. They have an interesting operation where they sell their plants in 4-packs, and you buy trays of 8 packs for around $80. That comes out to $2.50 per plant, which is virtually unheard of in the online nursery world, and you'd think for that price you'd be getting crap. But let me tell you, these are good plants. The first time I opened a box from Graceful Gardens, I nearly passed out. The packs were gorgeous. Lush, healthy, definitely not crap. So every year I order from GG those small-seeded things I have such trouble germinating myself: foxgloves, poppies, etc. They don't carry a huge selection, you won't get the latest breeds or exotic varieties or the hard-to-finds. They have the tried-and-true foundation plants and their quality is first-rate. So is their customer service.
Bluestone Perennials in Madison, OH. They have a larger selection, and are a wee bit pricier, but their plants arrive in excellent shape and I've never lost one—whatever I ordered from Bluestone remains a star to this day.
Once upon a time I did order a lot of hellebores through catalogs. Grown hellebore plants are extremely pricey and I always felt I could just afford one. One lousy hellebore just doesn't cut it. So I went with the option to buy five or six online every year. Sure enough they arrived with maybe two leaves, and it has taken about four years for them all to mature, but well worth the wait. Here they are, all growns up! By the way, the best way to photograph hellebores is to practically lie on the ground and point your camera up at them.
They are so gorgeous, and they have the most wonderful timing, blooming right when you think you're going to go out of your mind with winter fever. And check this out, they made babies! As soon as they grow some true leaves I will transplant some, and pot the rest up and give away as gifts. Let me know if you want one. Or three.