Daffodils are standing tall on sunny corners. Crocuses are braving the cold to unfurl their tiny purple flowers. The tips of tulips are peeking through leaves in gardens all over central New Jersey. It’s gardening season again! Well, almost. What tasks can eager gardeners get started on right now?
Slow down a bit, suggests Ken Karamichael, senior program coordinator at Cook College.
“March is a time to get excited about gardening,” he says. “It’s a time to get ready.”
Okay, so the real action hasn’t started. No matter, the planning is fun too — and essential, according to Karamichael, who says that the over-eager have been known to run out and prune the buds right off flowering trees, dooming them to a bare spring and summer.
Unless you’re absolutely sure of what you are doing, shelve the shears, and get ready for two weekends of garden-planning paradise. The 117th Philadelphia Flower Show runs now through Sunday, March 12, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center at 12th and Arch streets. Full information on times, directions, parking, workshops, and exhibits is available at www.theflowershow.com.
Karamichael plans to attend the venerable Philadelphia Flower Show along with a contingent of devoted New Jersey gardeners. At the same time, he is deep into planning his own event, the “Home Gardener’s School,” which is celebrating its 30th anniversary on Saturday, March 18, beginning at 8 a.m. at Cook College’s Hickman Hall. Cost: $60. Full details, including directions, are available at www.cookce.rutgers.edu.
No doubt, even a veteran like Karamichael will come away with a few ideas from the Philadelphia show. One of the most elaborate, event-filled flower shows on this planet, it offers instruction in all phases of gardening and examples of the work of the most innovative gardeners. Here is how the show is described on its website. “Enchanted Spring...A Tribute to Mother Nature” will take visitors from the fantastical to the practical and inspire even the most hesitant of gardeners to take up a trowel and start planting.
“Discover the largest plant sculpture in the world, Natura, goddess of Nature, rising 27 feet from the Show floor. Visitors enter the Show under the glorious and fragrant Floratopia Tree, which will teem with flowers, birds and butterflies. Visitors will also enjoy 10 acres of other great gardens, inspirational landscapes, and fabulous shopping.”
Something to get excited about, for sure. The Cook College gardening event is also designed to get gardeners’ juices flowing in time with the rising sap in their trees.
“There will be something for everyone, for new homeowners and for green thumb hobbyists,” says Karamichael. Participants can choose among 28 hands-on workshops. There are sessions on container gardening, vegetable gardening, attracting birds or butterflies to a garden, flower arranging, landscape design basics, heirloom tomatoes, azaleas, and perennials.
A lot of attention will be given to soil and its role in creating a healthy garden. No state has as diverse a range of soil types as New Jersey, says Karamichael. “Your family member two counties away will have different soil than you have,” he says. Soil is the “blood” of the garden, he points out. It is essential to know what you’re dealing with if you want your plants to thrive. Toward this end, everyone who attends the Home Gardener’s School will go home with a soil testing kit, complete with instructions on how to use it.
Light and water are also essential elements in a garden, and the Home Gardener’s School will demonstrate that no matter how moist or dark a yard, it is still possible to grow a luxuriant garden.
What if there is no yard at all?
No problem. Monica McLaughlin, horticulturist with the Rutgers Gardens, is presenting a workshop on the basics behind successful container gardening to “breathe new life into your patios, walkways, desks, and more.” Participants will each create and take home a container garden.
Bulbs are most often planted into the ground, but can also do well in containers. Judy Glattstein, author of “Bulbs for Dummies,” provides extensive information on the wide variety of summer bulbs available and on how to incorporate them into a garden.
Karamichael says that, in celebration of the Home Gardener’s School’s 30th anniversary, there will be surprise guests, contests, and giveaways galore. His event, like the Philadelphia Flower Show, should provide plenty of excitement for winter-bound gardeners yearning to get out there and play in the dirt. Meanwhile, they can be warm and dry inside, but still surrounded by the beauty, fragrance, and promise of plants in all of their glorious variety.