Posts by Jane Miller

Jane Miller

irrepressible blooms

I don’t know about you, but my patience has been tested this spring. Just when I thought winter had finally lost its grip, a freak snowstorm hit Iowa last week, leaving several inches of heavy, wet, white stuff in its wake. But we Midwesterners are resilient. And so too, it appears, are many of the blooms that were caught naked in the arctic blast. The fat lavender buds on my Jane magnolia, for example, were just beginning to open when temps plunged from 82 degrees one day to 32 the next. If the cold doesn’t finish them off, I figured, the wind and driving sleet will. Happily, I was proven wrong. My magnolia blooms are still intact and prettier than ever.

This isn’t the first year that early blooms have had their toughness tested. Spring’s mood swings happen so often that cool-season gardening has become, well, cool. We can resist planting tender geraniums and petunias until warm weather is here to stay if garden centers offer up a smorgasbord of irrepressible flowers. Here are several container recipes that I’ve tried that will flourish even if temperatures dip into the nippy range.

These pink pots set the tone for picking plants that show off the season’s hottest hues: soft shades of pink, purple, green, and gray. In the background pot: Helichrysum Icicles, English ivy, Osteospermum Soprano Light Purple, and Diascia Little Charmer. In the foreground pot: Diascia Little Charmer, Intensia Neon Pink phlox, Heucherella Stoplight, Armeria Rubrifolia, Osteospermum Soprano white, Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa, Nemesia Compact Innocence, and Ajuga Catlin’s Giant.

The edible ingredients in this container salad garden are just too pretty to eat…for now, at least. Included in the mix: Pigeon Red kale, Esmeralda lettuce, chives, Ultima Baron Merlot pansy, and Sorbet violas.

This sky-blue planter brightens a gray day with these cheerful, chill-shrugging occupants: Sutera Blue Showers, Snowstorm Giant Snowflake bacopa, Bracteantha Sundaze Golden Beauty, Osteospermum Orange Symphony, Nemesia Compact Innocence, Trinitaria pansy, and Fire and Ice hosta.

 


Jane Miller

garden hero

Where do your fruits and vegetables come from? This week, my refrigerator is stocked with spinach and blueberries from Florida, raspberries and strawberries from California, grapes from Chile, hothouse tomatoes from Canada, and peppers from Mexico — all courtesy of a recent shopping trip to my local Costco. In Iowa, where cold weather often lingers into April, I welcome the year-round availability of such delicious diversity. But fresh produce is a luxury that many of us take for granted. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, 23.5 million Americans live in “food deserts,” areas with little or no access to grocery stores that provide fresh, nutritious, affordable foods. Imagine having to feed your kids only what the corner convenience store sells.

As I see it, we’re becoming increasingly dependent on food from far-flung places. And the further we are from where our food is grown, the greater disconnect with healthy eating. The solution? Planting a vegetable garden is a good start. In raised beds. In containers. In urban areas. In schoolyards. Anywhere there’s a strip of soil and sunshine.

For Ron Finley of South Central Los Angeles, the only spot available for growing veggies was along the curb in front of his house. When the city tried to stop him, Ron — a self-described “guerilla gardener” — took his fresh-food crusade to the streets, literally. He started an organization called L.A. Green Grounds, which help people turn hell strips (the wasted land between sidewalks and streets) into what Ron calls “food forests” that provide “nourishment, empowerment, education — and healthy, hopeful futures — one urban garden at a time,” according to Ron’s TED profile. I encourage you to listen to Ron’s TED Talk. I did, and now he’s one of my garden heroes.

Plant a garden. And then spread the word.


Jane Miller

Spring Wingding

One of the oldest known bird species, Sandhill Cranes stand 3-4 feet tall. Only the adults are adorned with red crowns and white cheeks.

Gray is a hue I usually associate with the dead of winter, not the advent of spring. By this time of year, I ‘m done with frozen monotones and yearn for a thawing dose of bright colors — the yellow in forsythia blooms, the red in a robin’s breast, the green in early narcissus shoots – that seem to shout, “No doubt about it, spring is here!” But my bias against gray became, well, less black-and-white during a recent a road trip on I-80 in Nebraska, where I witnessed thousands of silver-winged Sandhill Cranes. Their display was anything but drab.

Every March, more than a half-million Sandhill Cranes gather for several weeks in the Central Platte River Valley. Right there, in the heart of Nebraska, they have their crane convention. They dine on the previous year’s leftover field corn and entertain each other with peculiar courtship dances that show off their long, elegant necks and 6-foot wingspans. It’s no wonder birdwatchers flock here to watch the annual migration. Even from a distance, these birds are magnificent.

Before long, nature will cue the cranes to continue northward on their incredible journey, which began as far south as Mexico and will end in their summer nesting grounds in Canada and Alaska. Chances are good that our paths will cross again. Sandhill Cranes have a lifespan of up to 20 years. Their longterm survival, though, depends on conservation of their wetland habitats.

I now see gray in a new way. Silver wings, it turns out, are like silver linings — they signal that brighter days are on the horizon.


Jane Miller

summer’s humming right along

Summer ends in a whir of wings in my yard. While some gardens are winding down for the season, mine is revving up with late-season flowers that cater to the sweet appetites of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. Perennials such as hyssop (Agastache), butterfly bush (Buddleja davidii), and cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), join the 24/7 dessert buffet provided by long-blooming annuals, including begonia, lantana, cardinal climber, Pentas, petunia, salvia, and zinnia.

Where have these thumb-size iridescent cuties been all summer? No doubt they’ve been noshing on native blooms and bugs in fields near my home. Just this week, though, I spotted a female hummer hovering in front of my kitchen window as if to say, “Hey, you! Didn’t you have a feeder hanging in this very spot last year?” It’s true: Hummingbirds have amazing memories. They return to the same nectar-rich gardens each year.

August and September bloomers are especially important to the Ruby-Throated (the only hummingbird species that resides east of the Rockies) because they fuel a marathon migration to Mexico and Central America that begins a few weeks from now. The males leave first, followed by the females and offspring. Hummers double their weight for the 2,000-mile trip, taking time to top their tanks in gardens that also serve sugar water, the avian equivalent of an energy drink.

After spotting my first dazzling diner, I wasted no time filling my collection of hummingbird feeders and hanging them within view of every room of my house. One of my favorites is a window-mounted model available at Wild Birds Unlimited. It adheres to glass with suction cups, awarding closeup views. You can purchase packaged instant nectar, but I prefer mixing up small homemade batches made from 4 parts water (boiled, then cooled) to 1 part sugar. Contrary to popular belief, the solution need not be tinted with red food coloring. I clean feeders every few days and refill with fresh sugar water.

By Labor Day, most Rubies will be gone. In the meantime, I’m going to relish these final days of summer, the sweetest season of all.


Jane Miller

birthday bloom

HepaticaBlogI celebrate two flowers on March 30th every year. On this date, without fail, Hepatica blooms in my yard. One of the earliest woodland wildflowers to emerge in spring, its tiny cup-shape purple, pink, or white flowers grow just 6 inches tall, often appearing before the foliage unfurls. This native is so delicate in stature that its arrival each year often brings me to my knees for a close-up view. Unlike woodland ephemerals that die back to the ground after they bloom – such as spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, and Virginia bluebells – the heart-shape, three-lobe leaves of Hepatica keep growing during the spring and summer months. My little clump never requires attention other than my yearly gestures of appreciation. The leaves that drop on the plants in autumn act as both blanket and nourishment.

The other flower I rejoice on March 30 requires a little more upkeep. On this day 14 years ago, my daughter Jayne came into the world. Jayne’s birth was every bit a miracle for me as Spring’s rebirth is each year. She’s a beautiful bloom in her mother’s eyes.

Welcome back, Hepatica. And happy birthday, Jayne.

Jayne's interest in gardening began when she was just two.

Jayne's interest in gardening began when she was just two.


Jane Miller

spring unleashed

Spring unleashes the inner puppy in gardeners. With boundless joy, we can’t wait to get down on all fours and dig in the dirt as soon as the ground thaws. Thanks to a new German Shepherd pup in my house, our first signs of Spring this year were muddy paw prints on the living room carpet.

Apollo is all ears when I tell him Spring has arrived.

Apollo is all ears when I tell him Spring has arrived.

With house-training little Apollo as my main motivator, I spent a lot of time outdoors this past month examining every square foot of our property, several times each day. Nose to the ground, Apollo follows scent trails of rabbits and deer while I inspect the tree and shrub damage those hungry critters have caused.

Yesterday, I discovered a pair of cheerful yellow winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis) blooming in my woodland garden. Nearby, a clump of jonquil (Narcissus hybrids) sprouts were muscling their way through the leaf litter. Fortunately, the rabbits and deer find these tender morsels distasteful.

Before too long, I’ll be digging in the garden. I hope Apollo doesn’t get any ideas.

Winter aconite is one of the earliest flowers to bloom in spring.

Winter aconite is one of Spring's earliest blooms.

Fingerlike narcissus sprouts punch through a fallen oak leaf.

Finger-like narcissus sprouts break through a fallen oak leaf.