Spring, are you here yet?

Guest Post by Marian Keith, Landscape Supervisor
Post by Marian Keith, Landscape Supervisor

I’ve come to expect warm temperatures and blooming things by early March after the oddly mild winters of the recent past. This year, persistently frigid weather has kept spring at bay, at least for now. In fact, we just finished shoveling a healthy load of snow as I write this on March 6th. Still, there have been signs of hope: we’ve spotted several flocks of sandhill cranes passing over Oliver Winery on their annual journey northward, cardinals and titmice have begun their predawn serenades, and the crocuses, snowdrops and hellebores are ready to burst open on the next warm, sunny day. Spring is at the doorstep.

By mid-March, the first daffodils should start opening, providing the first big splash of color. We have dozens of varieties representing a wide spectrum of colors, sizes and personalities, and add a few new ones each season. One of our newcomers, daffodil ‘Exotic Mystery’, bears pale, greenish-yellow, split-corona flowers that bloom in clusters atop tall stems in mid- to late April. Another new one, ‘Galactic Star’, promises long, flaring, creamy-white trumpets with ruffled edges that melt into rounded, slightly backswept, primrose petals. Sounds sweet, huh? It should begin blooming by mid- April.


Crocus ancyrensis ‘Golden Bunch’ smiles on a sunny day in late winter.
Tiny but magical, daffodil ‘Hawera’ is one of my favorites.
Tiny but magical, daffodil ‘Hawera’ is one of my favorites.
Daffodil ‘Ambergate’ is unusual for its orangey-buff petals complemented by a dark orange cup.
Daffodil ‘Ambergate’ is unusual for its orangey-buff petals complemented by a dark orange cup.
Tulip ‘Black Parrot’, one of our staples, looks terrific with pale yellow daffodils.
Tulip ‘Black Parrot’, one of our staples, looks terrific with pale yellow daffodils.

Despite the extra effort they require, I can’t resist tulips for their big, lush flowers and delicious rainbow colors. We take special pains to protect them from deer and voles for your viewing enjoyment. This year I’ve aimed for some different combinations that depart from my usual “color recipes” of the past. One particular large sweep blends shades of scarlet, burgundy, and maroon with accents of white and cream, with a few other bulb varieties in complementary shades. Bet it will be beautiful!

Large-flowered alliums carry the show through May, bringing structural drama to the garden that is equaled by few other flowers. This year, look forward to the debut of Allium ‘Spider’, a hybrid between A. atropurpureum and one of my favorites, A. schubertii. Its large, violet starbursts should look just dreamy amid the warm blossoms of our amber Flower Carpet roses. Also new is ‘Summer Drummer’, with sturdy stems that can reach an incredible height of four to seven feet! Both these varieties are expected to bloom in June.

Come visit our main tasting room soon and treat yourself to a glass of delicious Oliver Wine and a stroll or a picnic amid the fresh flowers of spring. We cannot wait to see you!

Allium schubertii, a favorite of ours and a parent plant of the new hybrid, Allium ’Spider’.
Allium schubertii, a favorite of ours and a parent plant of the new hybrid, Allium ’Spider’. Photo by Jessie Keith
Statuesque Allium ‘Mars’ highlights the gardens in May
Statuesque Allium ‘Mars’ highlights the gardens in May

Spring is just around the corner!

Post by Marian Keith, Landscape Supervisor

In the midst of all the snow and ice we’ve been experiencing, it may seem hard to believe that spring is nearly within sight. But by the end of February, increasing daylight and warmer temperatures will begin to break up the monotonous cold and we will see stirrings of life and definite signs that winter is on its way out. As the earth warms and becomes active, the first green tips of spring bulbs will break through the surface of the soil. Birds will start singing their morning songs and insects will be seen humming sleepily about, waking up from their long winter’s nap.

Crocus chrysanthus ‘Blue Pearl’, blooms in late winter
Snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii) are a welcome sign of spring

At Oliver Winery, the first flowers to appear are always our parking lot island plantings of Crocus chrysanthus.  Opening as early as the last week in February if sunny weather permits, these small but bright sparks of purple, blue and gold are like healing medicine to my winter-weary spirit.  The crocus are accompanied by snowdrops (Galanthus elwesii), which bloom in drifts of fresh white above the thawing ground.

Daffodil ‘Jetfire’ is bright, beautiful and vigorous
Scilla siberica is the perfect complement to early daffodils

As March rolls around, waves of daffodils will begin to open in succession, led by ‘Jetfire’, a perky and vigorous favorite of mine with golden, swept-back petals and a long, bright orange cup.  These are gorgeous in combination with the electric blue blooms of Scilla siberica, a tough, easy and inexpensive little bulb that naturalizes freely here.  Next in line is miniature daffodil ‘Tete a Tete’, and then breezy ‘Barret Browning’, whose fresh white petals surround a small, vivid orange cup.  This last beauty makes a spectacular show beneath the lavender-flocked branches of our stand of eastern redbuds (Cercis canadensis).

Tulip ‘Juan’ blooms brilliantly in late March

The first tulips start to flaunt their colors towards the very end of March.  Among the best and brightest is ‘Juan’, a variety I consistently use from year to year.  Its unbelievably brilliant red petals are glowing yellow at the base, and are set off by decorative, blue-green foliage that is mottled and striped with purple.  Like other Fosteriana tulips, ‘Juan’ will perennialize well if not eaten by critters (we have no such luck).  It is particularly smashing in combination with blue hyacinths.

Anemone blanda ‘Blue Shades’ look great with everything!

One of my absolute favorite early spring bulbs is Anemone blanda ‘Blue Shades’.  These cheerful, daisylike flowers form low, spreading pools of pale to deep blue among the feet of taller bulbs and emerging perennials.  Although beautiful anywhere, they look particularly amazing with orange and apricot-hued tulips such as ‘Orange Emperor’ or ‘Daydream’.  Let them to go to seed as I do, and they will eventually make breathtaking drifts.  White and pink varieties are also available, and these may cross with the blue ones if planted nearby, making for some fun new color surprises.

‘Daydream’ tulips glow against a scrim of lavender-flowered eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis)

Oliver Winery is the perfect place to drink in the sights, smells and sounds of the first warm days of the year.  Come celebrate spring with us by enjoying a picnic by the pond and a stroll down our many winding, flower-lined paths.  On cooler days, our porch and patio heaters allow guests to sit outdoors comfortably while enjoying a glass of wine in the fresh air and sunshine.  We look forward to seeing you here!  It won’t be long now before everything bursts into life again.

Garden Update-Early freeze forces creative bulb planting strategy

Post by Marian Keith, Landscape Supervisor

The spring bulb display at Oliver Winery this 2011 promises to be spectacular, with 44 tulip varieties and several new types of narcissus, muscari, allium and frittilaria, comprising a total of 4450 bulbs. Typically, we are still wrapping up our planting through the first couple weeks of December. But winter arrived uncharacteristically early following Thanksgiving, with snow and continuous sub-freezing temperatures cutting our plans short. We were also a little more behind than usual due to all the extra time spent watering during the long fall drought. Regardless, my assistant Ralph and I were on a nice roll of speed planting by the middle of November, and had half the bulbs in the ground before the Arctic Blast hit. By early December, the ground was covered with snow and frozen solid as a rock. Extended forecasts showed no signs of thawing in the near future. What to do?

Potted bulbs rest beneath a blanket of mulch and black plastic.

We finally resorted to planting the rest of the bulbs in plastic nursery pots, 5-6 to a container. They were then watered, stacked on pallets and allowed to sit in our cool but above-freezing Service Building for two weeks in order to begin forming roots, which they did beautifully. Following this, the pallets were moved outdoors and placed against the thick, east-facing retaining wall where our mulch is usually kept. They were then covered with black plastic sheeting and surrounded with a thick wall of mulch. This should give the bulbs sufficient protection from excessive moisture and temperature fluctuations while also allowing them the cold period they require in order to bloom in the spring. If all goes well, they will be transplanted to their designated beds when the ground thaws in March. In the future, pains will be taken to make sure everything is planted by the end of November!

Tulips 'Orca', 'Spring Green' and 'Banja Luka' in spring of 2005

On a smaller scale, we have had success in the past using a modified version of the above technique, heeling pots of bulbs into the ground against the east side of a building where the overhanging eaves afford protection against excessive moisture. These have been used to fill the colorful planter barrels that decorate the exterior of the Tasting Room in spring. It has not worked for us to simply plant the bulbs in the barrels in fall and leave them exposed to the weather, as it tends to result in rotting and poor flowering.

A pot of brilliant 'Banja Luka' tulips

Our many glazed, ceramic pots are planted up in fall, watered lightly, and placed in an unheated storage shed for the winter. Again, this gives them the cold they need while protecting from extremes that can cause cracked pots and bulb failure. When taken out, watered and placed in a sunny location in March, the potted bulbs take off wonderfully. This method was suggested to me by our own Tasting Room staff member, Julie J, who puts her own potted bulbs in an unheated garage to overwinter. Thanks, Julie!

Tulips 'Juan' and 'Professor Rontgen' brighten spring containers

Prime flowering time for spring bulbs should peak in early through mid-April. Please make sure to stop by, sip a glass of wine and enjoy the fruits of our labors!

Narcissus 'Quail' and tulip 'Black Parrot' shine in early May

Four Plants that Shine in Winter


Post written by Marian Keith, Landscape Supervisor


While most plants have given way to the snow, ice and freezing temperatures so typical of our Indiana winters, there are some that continue to look beautiful, nasty weather notwithstanding.  Coniferous and broadleaf evergreens are a given, of course, but there is also a wealth of plants out there whose colorful foliage, interesting bark, or pleasing shapes are just the ticket on a cold, gray, February day.  Here are just a few of my favorites:

The assertive, golden starbursts of Yucca ‘Color Guard’ look just as good in January as in June.  A variegated form of a southeastern United States native, this architectural personality thrives in full sun and scoffs at heat and drought.  It looks smashing in combination with evergreens and grasses in winter, and makes a great companion to all sorts of warm-weather perennials.  Try it with Gaura lindheimeri ‘Siskiyou Pink’ and dark-leaved sedums for a truly electrifying summer display.

Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sanguinea) ‘Midwinter Fire’ seems pretty ho-hum in summer, but its green leaves drop in autumn to reveal a blaze of twigs that fade from golden-orange bases to vivid, scarlet tips.  Similar in appearance is the taller Cornus sericea ‘Cardinal’, whose bright, coral-red stems seem to glow in winter.   It is set off to great advantage against our limestone sculptures, as seen here:

Both these shrubs appreciate full sun and regular moisture, and spread slowly via stolons.  Brightest bark color occurs on young wood, so I prune about 1/3 of the twigs to the ground in spring each year to ensure a good flush of new growth for the following season.

Sedum ‘Angelina’ has received a lot of press in recent years, but despite its trendiness, I must confess that I am in love with this carefree little succulent.  Always beautiful and never ugly, it forms a politely spreading mat of brilliant, green-gold foliage, and looks excellent spilling over the edges of containers or retaining walls.  The plant is easily divided by simply digging up a chunk and planting it shallowly in its new location.  Winter doesn’t detract from its looks, and actually brings blushes of bronze and orange to the tips of the foliage.  Here it is, smiling happily through the snow in one of our punishing parking lot islands:

Very nice!

Visions of Spring

Post by Marian Keith, Landscape Supervisor

It’s a cold, gray, soggy mess outside, but baby, I’ve got my plant and seed catalogs to keep me warm.  Spread out across the desk in front of me, they conjure visions of summertime in my head.  Not only do garden catalogs give me a great mental jump-start  in winter, they open up a whole world of cool, unusual, or hard-to-find plant varieties that might not otherwise be available locally.  This is so important to me- I really want to give our Oliver Winery visitors the opportunity to see new things and to leave feeling inspired about gardening and the natural world in general.  This year I’m focusing heavily on growing unique and attractive herbs, annuals, vegetables and tender plants from seed, as this is such an easy, inexpensive and gratifying way to fill the garden with tasty food, bright color and character.

Making a list is a great way to start

After I’ve thoroughly perused all my catalogs and compiled a big “Mother List” list of potential new plants, I go back through it to decide if I actually have a place for everything.   If a plant makes the cut, (not all do), it gets highlighted, ordered, and placed on a new list.  My next step is to plan how to combine all the new arrivals, a process to which I give considerable care and thought.  Take those purple artichokes I’m planning on growing, for instance.  Being big, architectural, thistle-like plants, they will function as a dramatic focal point, and would look sharp with the feathery foliage of bronze fennel (which is already out in the garden and is easily transplanted).  The twining, dark stems and lavender flower sprays of purple hyacinth bean ‘Ruby Moon’ would look stellar climbing up bamboo supports, and the burgundy-splashed foliage of Thai basil ‘Holy Red and Green’ could keep the purple theme going.  Strawflowers in shades of apricot will add sparks of heat and contrast to the mix, as will the terracotta blooms of Thunbergia ‘Sunrise Surprise’ weaving among the hyacinth beans.   And so it goes.

As orders of seeds arrive in the mail, I organize them according to when they will need to be sown.

Packets of seeds ready to be planted in the Oliver Winery Garden

Although it is still January, I have already started several batches of early season, spring bloomers under grow-lights in our service building.  Among these are Viola ‘Psychedelic Spring’ (how can anyone not like a name like that?) and sunset-hued, biennial wallflowers, which are completely new to me.  And this is only the beginning.  With seedlings already on the go, it seems to me that spring is just around the corner.  I can hardly wait!

Seeds started early in the service building.