Monday, March 3, 2014

On Building a Garden in February

Posted by: Mary Small and Duane Davidson, Jefferson County Extension

Joyce Kilmer wrote “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” We have to add “or a poem as lovely as a blooming garden in February.”

Our Jefferson County Master Gardeners just finished their turn at planning and building the annual CSU Extension educational garden at the Colorado Garden and Home Show. During a period of dreary days with snow and wind that would try the patience of Job, our souls had this incredible opportunity for refreshment. How could anyone be cranky seeing a harbinger of spring, the forsythia, in full bloom? Or smelling the heavenly hyacinths that gradually opened during our 3 day build?

We chose the theme "Mulches for Every Garden." In the six sections of the exhibit we showed how different kinds of mulch can be used effectively in the home landscape and vegetable garden.
Mulches for Every Garden
Featuring: Pine needles and bark chips
In this section, we created a sort of woodland setting to show a mulched home landscape using pine needles and recycled bark/wood chips. We also developed signs containing bullets of “quick information” about the mulches. Thanks to a donor, we were able to include a meandering flagstone path throughout to complete the mood.

The rock garden demonstrated the use of pea gravel, which is just perfect for xeric and heat-loving plants, allowing moisture to drain away from leaves and retaining heat during our cool summer evenings. You can easily create a dry riverbed with cobble in your own landscape.
Two sections were devoted to vegetable gardening and these were fun and a bit challenging to create. In one garden, we laid straw (or grass clippings) over a few layers of newspapers, which helps control weeds by blocking light. Because we had quite a slope to this garden, we enlisted the help of some spray glue to hold everything in place!  

Obtaining grass clippings in the dead of winter would not be an easy task, so after the last fall mowing Mary collected them from her lawn. They were sun and air dried in a west-facing sunroom and just turned out just perfect for the show! As we set up the garden, we cut out a section of the newspaper and pushed back both straw and grass mulch to show the drip irrigation lines installed underneath.
Vegetables with plastic mulch in various colors
The other vegetable garden was also challenging to create as we wanted to show the use of plastic films over soil where warm-season vegetables were being grown. After measuring everything, we duct-taped three triangles of plastic (black, red and silver) together. Black warms the soil, of course; tomatoes grown in red mulch yield more fruit and reflective silver mulch deters various insects. One of the most wonderful parts about this garden was the use of tomatoes in fruit! Radishes were seeded in trays and when covered in mulch, appeared to be rows of these plants.

Two sections were devoted to “living mulch” in both shade and sun locations. Living plants generally are more attractive than the usual mulches made of dried materials.  When placed in beds with other plants having similar light needs, the effect was almost ethereal. I especially liked the pairing of coleus and coral bells with the shade-loving ground covers, expecting to see fairies dancing about when no one was looking.  Living mulches do require continual care and maintenance compared to non-living ones, but I hope you’ll agree that the textural differences and colors make up for that.
Pairing coleus with coral bells
We enjoyed our 10 days surrounded by blooming plants at the show and hope that we can do the same outdoors soon!

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