Hard to believe but the median date for the first frost is just around the corner, and I still have lots to do in the garden.

I’m pretty sure I know where writers get a lot of their ideas for monster movies…from the insect world.

This is the second time of the year when the jungle needs the most weeding…the first being early spring. But unlike spring, it’s now hot and the mosquitoes are in abundance, not to mention the humidity makes the simplest task a chore. The weeding needs to continue though or the undesirables will reign supreme. So on really hot days, in addition to my normal insulated water bottle, sunglasses, hat, sunscreen, gloves, weed prong, hand pruners, basket and iTunes, I have added a 100’ outdoor extension cord and a 20” industrial floor fan.

Past mistakes seem to come back and bite you. When I started planting my garden nearly 19 years ago, I didn’t think to keep a master list of my plants mainly because I didn’t know then how much I would come to rely on it for accurately identified photo images. For the first five years, I just labeled my plants with a handheld label maker, with no connection to a database. Then I finally wised-up and started logging my plants in an Excel file and printing labels with a label maker that could print from a merge file.

I often have people tell me they don’t grow iris because the bloom just doesn’t last long enough. Since I have had a lifelong affair with iris, my jungle includes quite a collection of iris and they do have a rather short window. Regardless, I decided long ago I preferred to savor their ephemeral beautiful rather than foregoing them all together. With that in mind though, I have to work all the harder to balance a sea of green swords after the blooms have all faded...another good reason to acquire more plants!

It’s not until their dainty little blooms appear that I can more easily differentiate a patch of Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucularia) from a patch of squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis). The flowers of Dutchman’s breeches are often described as looking like “a pair of white pants hanging by their legs on a clothesline”…but to me, they look like upside down, yellow-waisted M.C Hammer parachute pants. And when the wind makes them dance, even more so. Squirrel corn looks like traditional little white hearts, oftentimes touched by pink.

My pink dawn viburnum (Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’) took a hit this past February when low temperatures dropped to minus zero for several days, just as it was budding out. I thought for sure all the blooms were toast, but upon inspection, I see some surviving petals still making a show. That isn’t to say the reproductive components of the surviving flowers weren’t damaged, so time will tell whether berries are in the making for this year…but at the very least there won’t be as many.

Winter may still be with us, but preparation for spring is starting to move into high gear for me in terms of garden activities. One thing recently crossed off my February “to-do” list was seeding transplants of very hardy vegetables and herbs like broccoli and parsley. Seeding the first week of February gives me enough time to grow good-sized transplants for planting in their preferred window of 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost. How did I arrive at the first week of February as my transplant seeding date?

When it’s below freezing outside, I have the option of just coming inside where it’s warm. Plants on the other hand can’t, so instead have evolved amazing adaptations over millennia to survive prolonged sub-freezing temperatures. Plants definitely differ in how much cold they can take, so ratings based on the USDA cold hardiness zone map are a good resource to avoid planting a species that won’t survive the winter.