Finch seed socks may be the simplest of all bird feeders. I first saw them at a garden center where a tree had a dozen of these socks hanging beneath the canopy in the shade. The whole place was a finch mob scene and these bright yellow and orange birds were flitting around there in flocks. Naturally I had to have some because the whole idea was so simple. Anyone with a needle and thread can whip one up in an hour if you have the right fabric. It’s simply a tube bag with a draw string at the top. Ready made socks are sold at most online or local pet or wild bird supply stores. The socks are filled with black thistle seed which can be bought in large quantities. The tiny black seed doesn’t pass through the net but the finches can reach in and get it with their sharp but stout little beaks. Shop for finch socks and seed at Wild Birds Forever http://www.birdsforever.com/thistle.html There is but one caveat about finch socks. Be prepared for a lot of birds including non-finches too. Once they discover your source they can deplete a whole bag or more each day. Hang near windows to enjoy from indoors or spread around your garden to create a golden finch sanctuary.
The world of tulips is immense, but amidst the most beautiful flowers in the world are some really twisted varieties. They won’t appeal to everyone, but for certain design styles, these bulbs can turn a good spring garden into a forld class affair. Sometimes perfect upright tulips are too rigid for modern design. The ability to juxtapose twisted flowers and stems against the sharp lines of sleek surfaces creates a dynamic contrast. Parrot tulips produce these very unusual petals with bold stripes and broken colors along with frilled edges. For lovers of rich reds and the luxurious interiors with their silks and satins, dark antique furniture and heavy drapes, Rococo is an ideal choice. Intense color combined with striations produces a true Old World look. As flowers open their form disintegrates to create even more exotic shapes. This is a real man’s tulip. She is named China Town, and this beautiful flushed beauty is most feminine. Tulip centers in a rich sap green are edged in magenta then lighten to pale pink. Planted into beds of perennials and shrubs, their large flowers, casual form and vivid colors are perfect for that coveted cottage garden look.
Seeing a garden unusually early in the year may cheat you out of its full peak season glory, but there are benefits. This residence in northern Germany demonstrated a most useful means of training vines to masonry buildings without sacrificing the structure. On structures that are painted, this system allows the cables to be detached with the main vine runners to repaint or repair. It’s fully visible early before the vines have fully leafed out. This clematis has been perfectly trained up a dual set of cables attached to the face of the masonry wall. The verticals end at the top plate then a new set juts off at an angle to follow the roof line. A close up of the assembly at the base of the wall illustrates heavy lag eye-bolts anchored in the mud sill, in this case it is wood due to the half-timber construction. It must be very strong to hold the wire tension. Barrel turnbuckles at the base allow the homeowner to occasionally tighten the tension as cables stretch with vine maturity. Wisteria begun years ago on the same system illustrates how vine trunks cope with the tight cable over time. Turnbuckles may be loosened as well to accommodate the growing diameter of woody trunks that spiral around the cables. This proves it is a viable solution over the long term.
One of the great things about being in media is access. This year it was a private tour of the best Dutch gardens featuring virtually every bulb known to man in full bloom. But we didn’t just see Keukenof the greatest bulb extravaganza in the world, our visits were to small lesser known sites, many of them residential. I found a plethora of new ideas which I’ll share with you over the coming weeks. A table made of a slab of salvaged steel plating on sawhorses displays urns of snowdrops and terra cotta filled with gorgeous purple crocus. One garden was actually a very deep backyard created by a woman who ran a small garden shop and nursery in her home. This is unusual to find such an operation in a residential district but thankfully the locals let her do it. Like most of Holland the site was immaculate with not a leaf out of place nor a weed in sight. The garden owner is enchanted by cool colors of blue and purple, so she created a most unique combination of pots and plants. This table featured metal containers planted with succulents and other unusual foliage along with a few spectacular accents. I think what probably caught my attention about this long display of foliage and flowers is the cool color palette. But we’ve all been trained that all cool is just too dull and needs an occasional red or yellow to bring it up in temperature. Somehow despite the lack of such contrasting spots of bright hue this works by creating incredible diversity in an amazingly small space without being overwhelming.