From my Instagram, you might be wondering what the @#$%^&# is going on in my world. Most days I am wondering the same thing! The short story is that my husband of five years asked me to move out in early November after a year and a half of trying to make the marriage work. I moved to Michigan with the fuzzy kids (little black cat, large slobbery dog and a realio, trulyo horse) and all my junk the day before Thanksgiving. I’ve been hanging out in my middle sister’s basement for the last month figuring out my next steps for a new beginning.

Some of you may know that I am in my real life a health care attorney. I’ve decided to apply for reciprocity of my license in Michigan. I did not do that when I moved here during the separation for my first marriage over a decade ago. I also didn’t apply when I was taking care of my Dad during his final battle with cancer. So, this is a big step in acknowledging and accepting that Michigan will be home for the time being – until my nephews and much anticipated niece are older. My horse is Michigan born and bred. We both HATED the cold and snow the winter we lived here. Heck, we moved to Los Angeles after that brief stay in Michigan to enjoy the warm temperatures and palm trees! But here we are – both back in the frozen tundra to watch the kiddos grow up.

Both of my sisters and their families live in West Michigan. We have agreed that I cannot live farther than an hour from their houses. Thus, I have started my search for a property to rejoice in all of my passions: gardening; horseback riding; tinctures, teas and tinkering; and much more. Thyme In a Bottle Flower Farm & Apothecary will be a public destination for guests sometime in 2024.

In the meantime, during this surprisingly cold and snowy December, I’m starting over with my spring plans. In Virginia, USDA Zone 6b/7a [hover over why this is important], I had my early daffodils up around St. Patrick’s Day or the Spring Equinox (17 March or 20 March) depending on what holiday you wish to mark on your calendar. (You will see my blogs incorporating more into the natural cycle of the Earth, since these cues are what plants have evolved to sense and react.)
My original plan was to have one bouquet and three arrangements for 6 weeks between the Equinox and the end of April. Why so short? My niece is due 1 May!!!! I knew I had to be in Michigan by the end of April no matter what. Now, I don’t have that big disruption in the middle of flower high season! Yay! But I now have later starting point – generally three weeks.

TypeNameBloom GoalBloom TimeVarietyStem Production
FocalDaffodil8-AprEarly - MidIrene Copeland1
FocalDaffodil15-MarEarlyButter and Eggs1
FocalDaffodil8-AprEarly - MidDouble Campernelle1
FocalDaffodil8-AprVery EarlyRip van Winkle1
FocalDaffodil8-AprEarly - MidErlicheer1
FocalDaffodil15-MarVery EarlyRip van Winkle1
FocalDaffodil8-AprEarly - MidErlicheer1
FocalDaffodil8-AprEarly - MidBridal Crown1
FocalTulips15-MarEarlyEarly Double Mix1
FocalTulips8-AprVery EarlyDuc van Tol Red and Yellow1
FocalTulips8-AprEarly - MidAvant Garde1
SpikeScillia15-MarEarlySiberica Blue1
SpikeSnapdragons8-AprEarly - MidChantilly - Sherbert Tones4
SpikeSnapdragons8-AprEarly - MidCool - Pink4
SpikeSnapdragons8-AprEarly - MidChantilly - Lt. Salmon4
SpikeSnapdragons8-AprEarly - MidChantilly - Pink Light4
SpikeStock8-AprKatz - Yellow1
SpikeStock8-AprIron - Yellow1
FillerDaffodil8-AprHouse blend - yellow1
FillerMuscari8-AprBackyard blues1
FillerDaffodil8-AprHouse blend - yellow dwarf1
AirGalanthus8-AprVery EarlyWoronowii ikariae
AirCorydalis Solida8-AprEarly - MidWhite Knight
AirTriquetrum8-AprLateThree Cornered Leek
AirStipitatum8-AprLateWhite Giant
AirEremurus8-AprVery LateWhite Beauty

In West Michigan, USDA Zone 5b, I can hope to have the early daffodils up by Easter which is 9 April this year. I took photos in 2021 when I was taking care of my Dad of what flowers came up when, so I have documented some of the weather cycle. This very late last frost date (some years it is June!) totally disrupts my plan to do a spring CSA centered around Easter. Plus, I don’t have an affluent neighborhood that I primed with free flowers the prior year. 2023 will have new sales targets and marketing tactics by word of mouth and networking in my sisters’ friend pools.

My first step is to appreciate the soil at my sister’s house. It is sand like most of Michigan which is very different than the thick clay I was battling in Virginia. If you haven’t figured out your topography and soil structure, its very worthwhile to find your county’s GIS website and identify the soil available to you. I am also using this to better identify potential properties for my future homestead. I also will get soil samples to test once the snow has melted.

Both sand and loam lose nutrient quickly and will require an annual refresh. Plus, without the clay component in the soil, I am now battling moles and voles in addition to the pesky deer. I was able to have three yards of a mix of alpaca vermicompost and mushroom compost dropped off by Country Roots before the big snowstorm. I used this mix with peatmoss to create a soil for the very tasty and expensive tulips in bulb crates.

I’ve been back and forth on whether to put the other bulbs, corms and rhizomes into bulb crates since I likely will have a new home for all these plants by July. I already planted a number of bareroot roses and other perennials that I dug up from my garden – including many biennials like Canterbury bells and foxgloves. Ultimately, I think I have decided to put in a four foot by 50 foot row in a East-West orientation in a flat area without trees next to the fenced garden for the daffodils and other deer and mole/vole resistant items (allium, fritillaria, necraroscordum; and scilla). Any super tasty plant will end up in a bulb crate or pot to keep them safe. The bulbs will be overseeded with breadseed poppies, cleome and nigella since they hate being transplanted.

TIP: Need to measure large areas of land? Google Maps and Google Earth let you do it for free! Right click on the map where you want to start your measurement and choose “Measure distance” from the drop-down menu. Then click on the map at end point. The software calculates the distance between the two points. Its super fantastic and FREE!

Soil – check. Sunny spot with 6+ hours of sun – check. East-West orientation – check. Next is what to plant, when and expected bloom time. Yes, it is time for plant calculus!

Much of the decision making comes down to the ability to extend seasons. I have low caterpillar tunnels that I can use to protect young plants and the soil from low temperatures. I also have a raised bed with a cover that does act as a nice greenhouse (Gardeners’ 4×8 cedar raised bed). My plan in Virginia was to use that in November to start the ever-difficult diva ranunculus. With the crazy winter storm and low temperatures, I would have put a heater into the structure to make sure that the soil stayed warm and I didn’t lose the crop. I don’t think that the frame is sturdy enough to handle snowy Michigan winters. My plan at this time is to use cattle panels with braces to create a polytunnel.

What do I want to include in these spring bunches? Early spring bouquets are different than mid and late spring. Early spring will just be tulips and daffodils. Squill, grape hyacinth and other bulbs may be part of the mix. Mid- and late-spring = I want to include other flowers. It is these that I need to plan for with mid-spring being the end of April and late spring into the middle of May. Iris and peonies begin their bloom at the end of May (early summer) which will require the full arsenal of filler, supporting flowers and airy accents.

Cold-tolerant snapdragons (Group I) are able to handle light frosts. But they can’t go out in an unprotected site and make it until spring. Group I varieties are typically 80-100 days to first bloom. If I want mature spikes ready for mid-April (15 Apr), the seedlings must be started no later the end of January (25 Jan), bumped up to a pot around Valentine’s Day (14 Feb) and put out in a cold frame or polytunnel by the Equinox (20 Mar). I also plan to include apple of Peru, bells of Ireland, bupleurum, Chinese forget me not; clarkia; corn cockle, euphorbia, feverfew, gillyflower (fragrant stock), honeywort, lunaria, orlaya, toadflax, pansies, violets and others in this early season planting cycle. Anemone and ranunculus will end up in this packed polytunnel as well. Not sure yet where I will put the sweet peas either as I have a bunch I plan to plant out and seemingly running out of room! Luckily, I have about an acre to play with of land and can always find more consulting clients to pay for my passion projects!

Quick note about the other diva of the flower garden: lisianthus. They take a really long season to bloom before it gets too hot. I will be starting them on New Years Day so that they have five months of growing indoors before I plant them out! Seriously, they take that long. Other flowers that I am starting this early are cup and saucer vines, big blue salvia, fragrant gillyflower (stock) and roselle (tea hibiscus).

With all this change, I will be doing a limited release of seeds next month for cold hardy plants. I’m likely going to push the launch day back so that I can figure out what I need and what I don’t. I am close! Same goes for the podcasts. Stay tuned to my Instagram for details. Be safe and plant well!

Thyme in a Bottle is a tradename of Searfoss & Associates. Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.

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