There is something special about old-fashioned plants, the ones we sometimes label as “heirloom.” They are the first ones spoken for at plant swaps and the ones that ring the cash registers at those special plant sales. They are found at many garden centers in the spring or fall depending on season but not in quantities you can rely on. In other words, you better be the first one there when they hit the shelves.
One such plant is the summer snowflake. This persevering little trooper of the lily family, known botanically as Leucojumaestivum, doesn’t really receive the accolades it deserves. First, consider that it is a rock-solid perennial, cold hardy from Zones 4 through 9. This means that just about the entire United States can grow it. The bulbs multiply freely, giving you many more to add to your garden. In fact, they appreciate being divided about every three to five years and planted in the fall.
They are native to the Mediterranean region – North Africa – and have been in cultivation since the 1500s. You see them flourishing in old cemeteries, and almost like an archaeological beacon, they will point out where old farmhouses once stood.
The little bell-shaped flowers have a slight fragrance and are comprised of three sepals and petals (tepals) that look quite similar, each bearing a green, jewel-like dot at the tip. Each stalk or scape usually bears two to six flowers.
If you are blessed with an abundance of rocks, you will have quite a companion for growing in the adjacent streams of soil, or you can plant it in beds with jonquils and spring-blooming shrubs.
Larkspur (Consolida ajacis)
Once May arrives, the rural roads in the South are like a giant painting of cottage gardens, thanks to the larkspur, Consolidaajacis. The spiky 2-4-foot blossoms come in shades of blue, pink, white and even two-toned. Though they are considered annuals in the South, their reseeding capability makes them one of the most persevering plants in the garden – returning for years. You’ll find them in the cracks of the sidewalks and in places you never dreamed. This means you will want to do a little larkspur management.
This is a rare plant in the garden center and to have those incredible blossoms in May is an issue of timing. Larkspurs should be seed-sown in the fall. Lightly sow the seeds on top of loosened, well-drained soil and tamp with a garden hoe. The seeds will germinate with the cool rains of fall, forming small plants. Seedlings can be transplanted in late winter if handled with care.
Plant yours in bold drifts with Knock Out roses (Rosa ‘Radrazz’), Coreopsis and our next old-fashioned plant, the ox-eye daisy.
Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare)
Rose campion (Silene coronaria)
There is just something about fresh, springtime white. Daisies are the flowers young ladies seem to find most enchanting. Perhaps it is because they are among the most favored wedding flowers. Known botanically as Leucanthemumvulgare, it is native to Eurasia and is tough as nails.
It is so tough it can be grown along the roadside or in medians. While it is not a repeat bloomer, you are just about guaranteed that it will be back next year. You can also count on your patch being a little larger than before. This is where it sometimes gets a bad rap, as it spreads by underground rhizomes and can reseed as well.
The ox-eye is like a Shasta with a wildflower appearance. Many consider it a “Shasta extender.” In other words, it blooms first, ending just as the Shasta begins. This could cause your neighbors to think you have a super-green thumb with daisies blooming for so long.
The ox-eye seems to be a perfect match for Early Sunrise coreopsis (Coreopsisgrandiflora ‘Early Sunrise’), ‘Homestead Purple’ Verbena, yarrow (Achillea spp.) and the glorious larkspurs mentioned above and our partner below, rose campion.
Rose campion is native to northern Africa and southern Europe, but seems most at home in our cottage gardens. The felt-like leaves were once used for lamp wicks. The old botanical name we grew up with was Lychnis from the Greek word for lamps. The new name, however, is Silenecoronaria. It is considered a biennial or short-lived perennial, yet it always seems to reseed, meaning those wonderful iridescent, rose-colored blooms and showy silver foliage is always present in the garden.
The flower show starts in May with flowers opening one at a time, lasting only a day. But the bloom period lasts into summer. Keep the mulch to a minimum, which allows the most opportunity for reseeding.
The plants will reach about 3 feet tall; allow for one of the most incredible drifts of color in any garden. In addition to the partners mentioned above, consider it an absolutely heavenly companion with other gray-leafed plants, such as Artemisia ‘Powis Castle’.
Phlox is treasured by gardeners across the country. But it is also one of dozens of plants that are passed over because they are typically not in bloom come shopping time.
The phlox I am referring to is called summer phlox, or garden phlox, Phloxpaniculata. It is native to the U.S. – over a large area – and you more than likely will buy one of more than 100 varieties available.
Most get fairly tall, 3-4 feet, and would look great planted at the rear of a perennial garden. Taller selections may require some support to keep their large blooms from falling over. There are great new compact selections such as the Peacock series.
To really create a dazzling display, give yourself plenty of room. Make your beds large enough to plant in informal drifts. Combine with other summer perennials such as Coreopsis, daisies, Rudbeckia and various salvias. By combining with other perennials, you may not have to give the taller varieties support – or if you do, it will be hidden.
Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana)
When August arrives, any blooms are welcome, and the obedient plant, one of the most persevering native perennials provides a bounty. Physostegiavirginiana is native to 39 states and Canada.
Feeding bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, it’s perfect for the backyard wildlife habitat. The spiky texture is incredible with its pink to purple blooms rising 2-4 feet. The tubular flowers align vertically in columns along the stem. The lower flowers open first with the bloom proceeding upward over time. The obedient plant is in the mint family and is aggressive. The plant name actually comes from the way the flowers, when bent, will maintain the position, obediently, for quite some time. But that is where any obedience ends.
One of my favorite combinations is to partner it with the old-fashioned yellow-flowered tansy (Tanecetumvulgare). The yellow flowers, borne on 3-4-feet tall plants, form an idyllic, late-summer complementary color scheme. An informal drift of flowers would look quite at home against a white picket fence, completing a cottage garden setting.
Country Girl Chrysanthemum
Country Girl chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum x rubellum)
The Clara Curtis or Country Girl chrysanthemum is not only an heirloom, but it is still in major production. Unrivaled fall displays of large rose pink flowers on plants that return year after year is the reason. Known botanically as Chrysanthemum x rubellum, it is one mum that will indeed be a long-term perennial.
Whether you call it ‘Clara Curtis’ or ‘Country Girl’, do your part to ensure that your children can grow up with this flower. Plant them in full sun to produce the most floriferous, compact plants. A little afternoon shade is tolerated. The soil must be fertile, organic, rich, moist, but very well drained. Drainage may indeed be the key to winter survival.
One of the prettiest displays I have seen of ‘Clara Curtis’ was growing with tall, purple Gomphrena. The pink flowers also combine wonderfully with purple fountain grass (Pennisetumsetaceum ‘Rubrum’) and muhly grass (Muhlenbergiacapillaris). Grow with burgundy-leafed coleus selections. The fall bloom cycle also works well in the perennial garden with the Mexican bush sage (Salvialeucantha) and Salvia ‘Indigo Spires’.
We live in an age of great new plant development, but there will always be room for these old-fashioned plants that have stood the test of time.
A version of this article appeared in Georgia Gardening Volume 12, Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Norman Winter.
Place herbs adjacent to grills and food prep areas, which are all small, underutilized locations that will encourage you to use them.
If you could only grow one group of edibles, herbs should be at the top of your list, due to their versatility in the kitchen. They are also easy to grow, due to their forgiving nature and generally not picky on their soil conditions.
When you consider that purchasing a cut bunch of herbs is the same price or more than a small potted plant, it just makes sense to grow them yourself.
We all have small areas that we pass by every day that we overlook. We should stop thinking of an herb garden as a dedicated garden bed for herbs, and start integrating our herbs into our existing landscapes. It is true that some can be used as ground cover, but they do not have to be given that much space. Place them pots in between your flowers or other edibles. Exhibit them near small, underutilized locations such as on front steps, windowsills, back porches, in your kitchen, adjacent to grills and food prep areas and you will be encouraged to use them often.
Garlic and chives planted in blocks make use of an otherwise useless space. By having herbs along the walkway, cooks have it easy.
Herbs are great for not only cooking, but also for adding textures, scents and visual appeal to your garden. Luckily for us, herbs will grow in just about anything. They are easy to grow in containers for yearlong supply or for those with limited space. Herbs don’t need to be fussed over. Aside from starting with a high quality organic soil that contains trace minerals, I do not fertilize my herbs. If you find that your plants are lighter green or have mottled leaves you can add a diluted liquid fertilizer that contains nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and a small amount of trace elements every two weeks.
Investing in a loose potting soil that maintains moisture is ideal. Herbs generally have small root systems and don’t mind drying out in-between waterings. Thyme and oregano will not be as flavorful if they get a lot of water. Oregano will even grow in poor soil.
Far left: Variegated Cuban oregano hanging from a small basket makes use of a small space by going vertical.
Top: Sage (Salviaofficinalis) can grow quite large. Some cultivars are more compact such as Yugoslavian cutleaf, dwarf common and germander sage.
Left: Rosemary planted in a decorative pot by the backdoor makes it easy to incorporate the herb into any Mediterranean dish.
By regularly harvesting, you will get bushy herbs. Pinch terminal growth every few days to keep plants looking full. The more you harvest the more you get. During the growing season, you could use the “cut and come again” approach to use them in the kitchen every day. You must use them or you will lose them. Harvest before they set flowers.
Most herbs will require plenty of sun, typically six or more hours. For herbs grown indoors, a south- or east-facing window is best. Herbs that are labeled as full sun elsewhere may do best in partial shade in the South. Not many herbs can be grown in full shade, but many can grow in lightly shaded areas.
Small pots, like those seen in many magazines which show 2-3 inch terracotta pots with herbs growing in them, in reality dry out very quickly. If I cut a large part off for cooking, I try to root the stem. If even a small portion of the cuttings make it, I am happy. I can’t have enough herbs. I do use small pots for newly rooted cuttings. Some herbs, you may not want to ever plant in your garden, like mint, due to its spreading properties.
Left: Genovese basil, a cultivar of Ocimumbasilicum, is an Italian variety that can get up to 2-feet tall. Middle: I didn’t always like Cuban oregano (Plectranthusamboinicus), likely because I ate it raw the first few times.Grow this plant as an annual. Right: Toothache plant (Spilanthesacmella) may enhance the immune system, improve digestion and help nausea. The name comes from the numbing properties it has when the leaves and flowers are chewed.Grow this plant as an annual.
The more soil mass you have, the more flexibility you will get. By using larger pots you will not have to be married to your plants. You can leave them for a few days and the soil mass will allow for the correct moisture retention.
Thyme’s a wastin’
Now that you are familiar with some herb basics, try it yourself. Kick off the summer with some of these flavorful combinations.
10 Container Combos — Create flavorful fares in one pot
Tiny Thai Pepper
Baked & Loaded
Herbes de Provence with American Twist
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum muticum)
Curry (Helichrysum italicum)
Hot & Spicy Oregano
African Blue Basil
Cultantro (Eryngium foetidum)
A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 21, Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Kenny Coogan.
Shrubs and small trees provide multi-season interest with geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) adding spot color for the summer. The curved patch of grass helps show off the plants and soften an area near the walkway.
Keep shrubs and trees from blocking walkways. When shrubs get this big, it’s usually best to take them out.
Make sure the edges of landscape beds are crisp, neat and weed free.
Whether you are planning to sell your home or just update the look, there are a few things you can do in the landscape to boost your property’s curb appeal.
“Stand in front of the house and look at it with fresh eyes,” said Glen Kemery, a real estate broker with Snyder Strategy Realty, Inc., in Indianapolis. “Pay attention to the details.”
Is the paint cracked, peeling or faded? Is the trim crisp and clean? Are the shrubs pruned properly? Consider taking some of them completely out, especially the overgrown, misshapen ones, he said.
Consumers value properties with an attractive landscape about 11 percent above the base price, according to Smart Money magazine. Several studies show a well-designed landscape adds 15 to 20 percent to the value of the home.
You want to make sure your yard looks good, without a lot of weeds, and that your grass is green. When potential buyers look at that, they think, “wow, if the outside looks this good, the inside must look good, too,” Kemery said.
Whether selling the house or just spiffing it up, people are interested in low-maintenance landscapes, said Judy DePue, a landscape designer for 35 years and owner of New Vistas Landscaping in Goshen. DePue is a certified fellow of the Association of Professional Landscape Designers.
A lot of old-fashioned evergreens, such as yews (Taxus spp.) and junipers (Juniperus spp.), need regular pruning to keep the size in check, she said. “The newer look is not everything is filled with all greens.”
DePue said one of the color trends is burgundy and other wine-colored hues, such as the USDA Zone 3-hardy Little Devil ninebark (Physocarpusopulifolius ‘Donna May’). It has an upright habit, is somewhat resistant to powdery mildew and is 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Pink flowers pop against the deep burgundy foliage in spring. Many landscape designers and homeowners use this shrub as an alternative to Japanese barberry (Berberisthubergii), which is on some states' invasive species list.
Little Devil ninebark (Physocarpusopulifolius ‘Donna May’) is a low-maintenance shrub with trendy burgundy foliage.
Dwarf plants don’t usually need a lot of pruning, she said. Among DePue’s favorites is ‘Green Gem’ dwarf boxwood (Buxus x ‘Green Gem’). This slow-grower will get about 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, but keeps its lush, evergreen mound with little or no pruning.
Preferring low-maintenance tree and shrub plantings, DePue shuns annuals, perennials and containers for spot color, emphasizing that many require more work, such as watering and deadheading, or planting every year.
For an instant, fresh new look, paint the trim around the door a contrasting color.
Add a new light and stylish, decorative house numbers to spruce up the porch.
Besides replacing plants, another way to give your home a facelift is to paint the trim or add other coordinated, complementary color schemes, said Betty Schelle of Indigo Gardens and Design in South Bend. Schelle, a former stay-at-home mom, founded her business three years ago.
“Pick an accent color and refresh the paint on the window trim or the front door, and repeat it again in the landscape with flowers or pot color,” she said. “The color theme repeated makes the house look clean and uncluttered.”
Add the color to the mailbox and enlarge the house numbers to an Art Deco or another appropriate style, said Schelle, also a member of APLD.
If your house sits back from the road, go with specimen plants with bold foliage. Fine-textured plants will not catch the eyes of passersby, if your house sits 50 feet away from the road, she said.
Replace outdated metal awnings with more fashionable eyebrow pergolas above windows or an arbor over a door. Adorn the fixture with perennial vines, such as Clematis spp., Kentucky wisteria (Wisteriamacrostachya), American wisteria (W. frutescens) or honeysuckle (Lonicerea spp.), which will also provide some cover over porches and doorways. Climbing black-eyed Susan (Thunbergia alata), hyacinth bean (Lablab purpurea), scarlet runner bean (Phaseolus coccineus) and morning glories (Ipomoea purpurea) are good selections for annual vines.
If changing foundation plantings, make sure to plant the new shrubs 3 to 4 feet away from the house to allow for a maintenance alley for washing windows or painting, Schelle said. Widen narrow borders around the house and plant shrubs and small trees for textural and seasonal interest.
Lastly, she said, plant annuals. Whether trying to sell your house or perk up the look of the landscape, a $60 investment in three flats of bedding plants goes a long way in adding color, sass and eye appeal, she said.
A version of this article appeared in Indiana Gardening Volume 6, Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, elanathewise/istockphoto.com, Bailey Nurseries, jlende/istockphoto.com, seeman/morguefile.com.
Cercropia moth caterpillar feeding on cherry leaves.
People don’t often think about insects in winter. Frankly, most people don’t think about insects at all except when they are being tormented by mosquitoes in the summer. As gardeners, though, we tend to consider insects and the natural world more frequently than other people. We notice tomato hornworms nibbling tomato leaves and spiders scurrying from under squash leaves. In the flower garden we notice the praying mantis waiting patiently for prey and butterflies visiting flowers we planted just for them. In winter though, insects seem to disappear. What happens to the pests that drive us crazy and the other bugs that fascinate us during warmer months?
Contrary to popular belief, a cold winter won’t eradicate garden pests. Insects didn’t become so successful by dying out each winter. They have evolved many different ways to cope with the lethal cold that befalls much of the country each year. Many insects, like birds, just get out of town and migrate south to Florida or Central America. A well-known example of this is monarch butterflies, which migrate thousands of miles each fall to southern California and Mexico, only to return each spring. This is also the strategy of potato leafhoppers, which migrate north from the Gulf Coast each spring to feed on squash, maples and many other plants.
The majority of insects have found ways to survive the winter without transcontinental migration. Scarab beetles such as Japanese and June beetles, spend the winter underground where temperatures remain fairly constant. To achieve this, adult beetles lay eggs in the summer from which grubs hatch. The grubs burrow into the ground, feeding on plant roots. As they become larger they burrow deeper and spend the winter 12 inches or more below the surface.
Japanese beetle grub with parasitic Tiphia wasp larvae attached to thorax (note lump behind legs), which feeds on grub fluids.
Perhaps more interesting than the grubs are the parasitoid wasps that use the grubs as food and a free ride below ground for the winter. Adult wasps in the genus Tiphia are 1/2 an inch long and feed on nectar. Female wasps burrow into the ground following the scent of their preferred grub species. They sting the grub to paralyze it long enough to attach an egg to the grub’s body. The wasp larva is a parasite of the live grub piercing its skin and drinking its juices. While the grub moves down the wasp larva is carried deep in the ground where, in its final stage, the wasp larva eats the entire grub and spins a silk cocoon in which to spend the winter.
Other insects, which spend the winter exposed to freezing temperatures, have physiological ways to cope. Spending the winter in a non-feeding life stage is one way to cope with extended periods of cold weather and inactivity. Eggs are a non-feeding life stage of most insects and a common way to spend the winter.
Praying mantids exemplify this behavior. The insect has one generation per year that begins and ends with a large brown egg mass. In the fall, adult female mantids release brown foam that hardens around a twig or a stalk of grass. Each foamy mass contains hundreds of eggs that will remain dormant all winter and hatch in the spring. Look for these when cleaning up the garden in fall. Although the pest control benefit of mantids is mixed – they consume pests but also spiders, butterflies, bees and other beneficials – they are one of the most interesting insects to watch and a favorite for classroom show-and-tell.
Praying mantis egg case deposited on the dried stalk of ornamental switchgrass.
Another insect that spends the winter as eggs in a foam-like mass is the eastern tent caterpillar. You can easily spot the oval masses on cherry twigs in winter when leaves have fallen. Each contains hundreds of caterpillar eggs. Prune them off to avoid dealing with big silk tents in the spring.
Butterflies and moths often spend the winter as a pupa, commonly known as a cocoon. You may find silken cocoons stuck in sheltered locations such as under tree bark or on the ground under leaf litter or mulch. The cecropia moth caterpillar spins its cocoon attached to a tree branch. Caterpillars are 3 to 4 inches long with spiny red, blue and yellow tubercles. Caterpillars feed on cherry, maple, apple and other trees all summer. In the fall they spin a large brown cocoon with a tough outer layer to protect them from predators.
Most insects and spiders will remain in your yard and garden throughout the winter. Research has found that leaf litter and mulch will help preserve predatory insect abundance in winter, and reduce pest problems in spring.
Many gardeners work hard to plant the correct flowers to attract and feed butterflies and other beneficial insects in the summer. Allow stalks of perennial flowers and grasses to remain in the garden through the winter to provide shelter for many insects and preserve the eggs and pupae of butterflies and other insects that may be attached to them. Considering the needs of butterflies and other insects when winterizing your garden could increase their abundance in spring and help conserve some threatened insect species.
A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 22, Number 9.
Photography courtesy of Steve Frank.
A little planning now will help you enjoy a lush, prosperous garden when summer comes.
Whether you are a veteran victory gardener or an eager beginner with a few pots, experts agree that a little advance scheming makes for a better garden, saving time, money and wear and tear on your own momentum. February, with its frigid air, freezing rain and slumbering garden, is a perfect time for planning.
A good place to start is to read gardening books. From the great offerings in the State-by-State Gardening Bookstore to the many different websites and blogs, winter reading helps you visualize your garden. There is plenty of historical and modern inspiration out there just waiting to fire up your imagination.
Once you have done your research, you are ready to plan. The looming choices you have to make are location, size, soil preparation and plants.
Graph paper works great to map out the dimensions of your garden, and even plan wwhere you will plant them, giving each one appropriate spacing.
First things first – when it comes to having a successful garden, location is key. For a vegetable garden, the best spot is a sunny location with at least six to eight hours of full sun, away from shade trees, shrubs and underground septic tanks, but conveniently located near a water source. It is an added bonus if your garden is visible from a window, delighting your eye with its green sprawl and luring you out for a few minutes a day for garden tending.
Knowing how much water each type of vegetable needs can help you figure out where to place them in your garden, so you do not have plants that like wet feet beside plants that need a little dryness.
Size and Soil Preparation
Make your garden a realistic size, tailored to your experience, lifestyle, motivation and physical capabilities. Plan your garden dimensions to ensure that you enjoy pleasant industry in the greenery and insect hum, but not so big that you begin to dread unmanageable chores.
Once you map the perimeter of your garden, investigate good soil preparation in order to prime this essential element for healthy garden growth. It is never too late to perform a soil test, available through the cooperative extension service. While it might be too cold to plant anything just yet, it is a great time to take advantage of some of our warmer days to get outside, turn over your soil and add compost or other necessary amendments.
Researching which plants to put in your garden might just be the most fun part of this process. This is where you get to peruse gardening catalogs and magazines, dreaming about what you are going to plant this spring. Make sure they will fit your garden’s hardiness zone and conditions, as well as your own personal taste. If your vegetables’ growing habits match your garden and your fork returns eagerly to them on your plate, you are bound to enjoy your garden more with fewer disappointing harvests.
Make sure to order your seeds early, not only so you will have them when planting time arrives, but also to ensure the best selection from the distributors.
Mapping it Out
Start with rough sketches on graph paper so you have a good to-scale garden layout. Remember to include 24-inch-wide footpaths. This is an optimal distance to conserve as much growing space as possible, but still give reasonable access outside the beds so you do not compact the soil. It also leaves room for working tools such as wheelbarrows. Establishing 4-foot-wide beds allows an average gardener’s reach from either side into the middle for comfortable planting, staking, weeding and harvesting. Include room in your plan for present or future garden ornaments, water features, abodes for beneficial garden creatures and a nearby work counter with a water station.
When it is time to pick exactly what you want to plant, consider planting dates, water requirements and good companions. Then, create a simple chart, reducing important references for each plant to a single line. A 10-row table allows a space for the vegetable name, planting date, planting distances, mature size, watering ratio of 1- inch/per frequency in days, notes or tips, yield per plant, companions and enemies, days to harvest and harvesting guides. This chart conveniently compares planting information, and correct vegetable layout ensures the best harvest.
Drawing your plan out on loose-leaf graph paper gives it some portability so you can take it right out with you to the garden when it is time to plant.
It is helpful to research companion plants that work well together. For example, this information may prompt you to place sweet potatoes with pole beans in the same bed because roots and legumes are often mutually beneficial. But if you are using your table, you will notice that the sweet potatoes prefer watering at three weeks while the beans crave a deep drink every five days. Each deserves neighbors with comparable needs. Making these arrangements and rearrangements on paper first is a good reason for planning.
Once you have chosen your vegetables, charted their information, and planned your garden dimensions and design, it is much simpler to populate each bed with appropriate citizens. Make another graph with the planting distances drawn to scale to determine how many of each vegetable your garden can support. Your own loose-leaf garden journal can bring this portable mini-library right out to the garden at planting time.
A realistic garden plan also helps you order seeds appropriately. You know ahead of time that you will need cool-weather, seeds such as garden peas and beets, early. Slow growers such as peppers and tomato seeds need to have six to eight weeks before the first frost, so you can start them indoors and transplant in late spring. Your plan will alert you to the proper ordering time to get the seeds and plants in hand when needed, or better yet, avoid missing out on some craved vegetable because you did not order before they sold out.
Making a chart with the specifics for each plant can help put all the information you need right at your fingertips.
To polish your garden plans even more, take a spin with some of the excellent, online, interactive planning tools such as the “Grow Planner” iTunes app, featured on Motherearthnews.com. This one enables you to draw the dimensions and shapes of your beds and drop in vegetable shapes from an extensive list. The program automatically spaces vegetables correctly, creating a list as you go that you can access later and print with planting dates, quantities, spacing and seed sources. It is just one more tool in your arsenal to help you hone your gardening skills.
February is a great time for the savvy gardener to plan and be a jump ahead of the good garden weather that is just a few weeks away. Your garden can burst into life when the scribbles on a February graph emerge in summer as a happy green jungle of juicy delights, right in your backyard. Most of all, it is just more gardening fun until we can get back in the dirt.
A version of this article originally appeared in a February 2013 State-by-State Gardening E-newsletter.
Photography courtesy of Ruth Mason McElvain.
The holiday of love is just around the corner, and the most popular presents are bouquets of tulips, roses, and other cut flowers. Throw in a bottle of Champagne or a lovely dinner, and the evening will be yours. Remember, too, that both women and men appreciate a beautiful bouquet!
To give the perfect Valentine’s Day bouquet, select the freshest flowers, protect them from the cold when transporting, and provide proper care.
Whether you purchase your flowers from a florist, winter farmer’s market, garden center or grocery store, look for bouquets with lots of buds that are just starting to open. These will continue to open over time extending the beauty of the bouquet.
Avoid flowers that are fully opened or with loose pollen. This indicates they are past their prime.
Tall varieties of lisianthus (Eustoma spp.) can sometimes be purchased at florists or bucket shops, or you can grow them in the garden. Look for seeds from online retailers.
Flowers from shops
Make sure to wrap the purchase before leaving the store. A plastic or paper wrapper will protect the flowers from cold weather.
Once home, remove any of the foliage on the bottom of the stems. Submerged greenery decays and rots, releasing fungi and bacteria in the water. This plugs the vascular system of the cut flowers, preventing them from absorbing needed water.
Remove the bottom inch or two of the stem just prior to placing in the water. Cut the stems at a 45-degree angle with a sharp knife. Cutting on an angle prevents the stems from sitting flat on the bottom of the vase, providing maximum exposure of the water absorbing vessels.
Place freshly cut flowers in a clean vase with warm, about 100 F, water that contains floral preservative. The warm water speeds the uptake of water by the flowers while the floral preservative feeds the flowers and prevents fungi and bacteria from forming.
Keep the vase filled with the preservative and water mix. Recut stems every few days to keep the flowers fresh. Remove faded flowers and rearrange the remaining blossoms to maximize enjoyment.
Further extend the life of Valentine bouquets by displaying them in a cool location away from direct sunlight, hot spots, and drafts inside the home.
Make a fresh cut on the stems of roses before arranging them in a vase.
Roses, especially red, are a favorite Valentine’s flower. There is nothing more disappointing than when the stem just below the blossom bends, ruining the bouquet. Fortunately there is an easy cure. Remove the roses from their vase. Recut the stems and submerge the whole rose – stem, leaves, flowers, and all – in a sink or tub of warm water. Leave the roses submerged for 20 to 60 minutes until they revive.
In the meantime clean and refill the vase with fresh water and floral preservative. Recut the stems on a slant, under water if possible and arrange the roses back in the vase. The now perky roses will last for a week or more.
Coneflowers (Echinaceapurpurea) are easy to grow and are appreciated in the garden by bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. We humans enjoy them as cut flowers indoors.
Grow your own annuals
Don’t limit cut flowers to special holidays. Consider growing a few of your own to enjoy fresh throughout the growing season and in dried arrangements year-round.
Select a variety of annuals and perennials that bloom at different times. The choices are many and you may be surprised to find you already have many candidates already growing in your landscape. Here are just a few to consider.
Annuals are an easy group of flowers to start with. They bloom all season long providing an ongoing source of flowers to enjoy. Zinnias are heat and drought tolerant and look great in the garden or vase. Select disease resistant ones for maximum beauty and minimal care.
Grow a few dwarf sunflowers (Helianthusannuus) from seed for late summer and fall bouquets. Consider pollen-free varieties, such as ‘Chocolate Cheery’, ‘Pro-Cut’, and ‘Sunrich’, which are less messy and last longer as cut flowers.
Include cockscomb (Celosia spp.) varieties with crested, plumed, or wheat-type flowers. They are heat and drought tolerant. Just be sure to rinse away any insects that may be hiding in the blossoms before moving them indoors.
Increase the wow factor in bouquets with lisianthus (Eustoma spp.) also known as prairie gentian. It may be hard to find in the garden center but are commonplace in the florist’s cooler. The delicate flowers are one of the longest lasting cuts you can grow in the garden. Grow in full sun with consistently moist soil. Taller varieties will need staking in the garden but the extra work will be rewarded with beautiful bouquets. Look for seeds for tall varieties at online retailers.
There’s nothing quite as fragrant as a bouquet of fresh-cut peonies (Paeonia spp.). Many florists will have these in season, or grow your own for years of pleasure.
Grow your own perennials
Add a few perennials to the list. Include spring, summer, and fall bloomers for months of enjoyment. Peonies (Paeonia spp.) have long been grown for their spring blossoms in the garden and for the flower vase. Many varieties are fragrant, adding to their appeal. Grow these long-lived plants in a sunny location with moist, well-drained soil.
Irises come in a rainbow of colors and make great additions to spring bouquets. Purchase plants in spring or rhizomes in late summer. Follow planting directions on the tag for best results.
Harvest a few roses (Rosa spp.) to display in a vase or combine with annual or perennial flowers. Harvest a few of the rose hips for winter arrangements and displays.
Plant a few coneflowers (Echinacea spp.) for the bees and butterflies to enjoy and to use as cut flowers. And once the petals fade the remaining seed head, cone, looks great in dried arrangements.
Liatris, also known as gayfeather, is a popular perennial with florists and gardeners. The spikes of white or purple flowers are long lasting. Use these for a bit of vertical interest in the garden and arrangements.
Grow a few hardy mums (Chrysanthemum spp.) for fall bouquets. This last splash of color makes the perfect fall bouquet. Select from the many flower sizes, shapes and colors for the season finale.
And don’t overlook bulbs and herbs. The early blossoms of spring flowering bulbs provide a bit of winter relief. The fragrant flowers and foliage of herbs make them nice fillers in bouquets. And harvest a few evergreen sprigs, hosta leaves and lady’s mantle (Alchemilla spp.) for greenery. Force a few flowering shrub branches to add form and color to your spring bouquets.
Flowers from the garden
Extend the beauty of cut flowers from the garden with proper harvesting and conditioning. Harvest the flowers early in the morning when the plants are crisp and full of water. Use sharp shears to make the cut.
Collect flowers with buds that are just starting to open. When back in the house remove the bottom leaves, cut the stem and place in warm water for several hours or better yet overnight. Recut the stems before creating the arrangement.
Bottom line, if it is blooming in the garden it is worth trying a in a vase. You just might be surprised.
A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Pixabay.com, assy/Pixabay.com, Nile/Pixabay.com, Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp, elm98/canstockphoto.com.
A cold winter evening is just the right kind of weather to fire up the oven and bake the fruits of fall and winter, savory winter squash (and that includes pumpkins). The aroma that drifts through the house will make even the pickiest eater hungry. Best of all, because they store so well, you can usually purchase all types through the winter months.
Most winter squash is Cucurbita moschata; pumpkin is sometimes C. mixta, and sometimes C. pepo or C. maxima.
Winter squash is a long-season plant, and should not be sown outdoors until the soil is quite warm. It needs full sun, plenty of moisture as it ripens the fruits, and fertile soil. It’s important to watch for squash vine borer throughout the season, but otherwise squashes are fairly easy to grow. Just give them plenty of room. If you don’t want to grow your own, shop farmers markets for winter squashes.
Begin harvest in late summer-fall
Winter squash begins ripening in August and continues into October. Although most winter squash can be harvested when young and used like zucchini, the point to growing winter squash is usually to keep them over the winter. Winter squash is ready for harvest when the rind is hard enough so that you cannot make a dent in it with your fingernail. This means it has cured enough to store well. By the time the first frost arrives, the squash should all be ready to harvest.
To control fungal problems in storage, wash squashes well with soap and water. For extra protection, you can dip them in a mixture of one part bleach to six parts water, making sure to get the stem end. Then, they are best stored on wire racks or someplace with good circulation and cool conditions, such as the basement. Squashes should ideally be stored at 50-55° F, and if your basement is warmer than that, be sure to check them periodically for rotting.
New varieties for small spaces
Some newer varieties that are becoming quite popular are dwarf and semi-dwarf forms of the traditional squashes. These produce shorter vines and smaller fruit, making them easier to handle in tight spaces, and easier to cook for two people. Pumpkin is the king of winter squash. We usually connect them with Halloween because of the jack-o-lantern, but they are also really tasty to eat.
Pumpkins, especially small pie pumpkins, make a delicious winter meal.
Pumpkin pie made from fresh pumpkin is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted, and pumpkin is also very good when baked and mashed like potatoes.
For years, the most popular winter squash was acorn squash, mostly because it was commonly available year-round. This baseball-sized green ribbed squash has bright orange flesh. But there are so many others available now that there’s no need to limit yourself. Delicata squash, which is oblong, cream to yellow with dark green stripes, and Sweet Dumplin’ are some of the sweetest squash you’ll ever eat. They have rich orange flesh like a butternut, but are infinitely sweeter. There are hundreds of types of winter squash out there, from buttercup and blue Hubbard to spaghetti and butternut squash.
Stuffed Squash Acorn, Delicata, or any small squash
2 oblong or round squashes, cut into 1-inch thick slices, seeds and membrane removed
6 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
1½ tablespoons curry powder
2 apples, diced 2⁄3 cup apple juice
½ cup cranberries, fresh or frozen
Sauté onion in butter, add the curry and cook for one minute. Add the rest of ingredients and sauté until liquid evaporates. Place squash rings in a shallow baking pan, fill with sauté mixture and bake at 350°F for 40 minutes.
How to prepare
All it takes to bake most winter squash is to cut them in half and invert them on a rimmed cookie sheet. Remove the seeds before baking, especially if you want to toast them, or you can bake with the seeds intact and remove them after baking. They will come out easier this way.
Bake for an hour or so, depending on the size of the squash, at 350° F and serve with butter, brown sugar, maple syrup, or stuffed with whatever sounds luscious. Flesh should be soft when pierced with a fork. All winter squashes are cooked the same way, and can be interchanged in almost any recipe.
The cooked flesh freezes well, and if you measure it in one-cup batches and place it into freezer bags, it’s ready to pull out for use whenever the mood hits to make muffins or squash bread.
Spaghetti squash is a little different, in that when it is cooked, you can separate the flesh into strands, which really do resemble spaghetti. The “spaghetti” is delicious with a little butter and Parmesan or even spaghetti sauce. And it doesn’t have the high calories of pasta.
Butternut Squash or Pumpkin Gratin
3 cups torn day-old bread
2 cups cooked squash (any with rich orange color)
2 tablespoons olive oil 1⁄2 cup chopped onion
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup ricotta cheese 1⁄4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped parsley 3⁄4 teaspoon salt 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper
Fresh bread crumbs or panko
Cover bread with hot water and let stand until softened, 3-5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Sauté onion and garlic in oil until tender. Mix bread, squash, and rest of ingredients in large bowl. Add onions and garlic. Spread in oiled, 2-quart casserole and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake at 350°F, uncovered 35 minutes, until slightly puffed and beginning to brown.
A version of this article appeared in a January February 2017 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of MSPhotographic/iStockphoto and Kate Jerome.
Okra ‘Candle Fire’ offers bright red fruits for eating or floral displays.
It’s that time of year again. The 2017 winners of the coveted All-America Selections Vegetable Awards, which recognizes only the tastiest, easiest-to-grow vegetables, have been announced. The AAS’s mission is “to promote new garden seed varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America.” I am growing these new varieties this year because, although they may be short in stature, they are heavy on harvest and big on flavor.
Pea ‘Patio Pride’ (Pisum sp.)
Pea ‘Patio Pride’ only needs 40 days to maturity, making it perfect for succession plantings. Sow the seeds directly into a container or in the ground about 8 inches apart in full sun in early spring, and then again at two week intervals to keep the peas coming throughout the spring and early summer. The plants are so pretty, I will plant some in a container on the patio in early spring with colorful pansies for a combination ornamental and edible display. ‘Patio Pride’ will grow to about 2 feet tall – no staking needed – and will reward you with a consistent harvest over many weeks. Pick the pods of ‘Patio Pride’ early for best flavor and tenderness. I will sow seeds again in midsummer for an early fall harvest, keeping the young plants watered and shaded from the worst of the summer sun as they grow.
Squash ‘Honeybaby’ (Cucurbita sp.)
‘Honeybaby’ F1 is a productive variety of winter squash that produces a lot of fruit on a compact plant. These shorter vines grow 2 to 3 feet tall with a vigorous, bushy habit that results in healthier plants that resist powdery mildew later in the season. Even though the vines are shorter than other butternut-type winter squash vines, stake ‘Honeybaby’ vines to help support the blocky, wide fruit. You can expect eight or nine 1⁄2-pound fruits per plant. Sow seeds in full sun about 10 inches apart as soon as soil temperatures reach 65 F to ensure maturity in about 90 days. I will plant them as the centerpieces of two large containers with purple sweet potato vines trailing over the edge The dark-purple leaves should make a nice complement to the deep orange fruit.‘Honeybaby’ is sweet and nutty, and meatier than similar winter squash varieties. Enjoy ‘Honeybaby’ baked, steamed, or cooked in soups, sauces, and stews.
‘Mini Love’ is a red and juicy little watermelon with few seeds.
Watermelon ‘Mini Love’ (Citrullus Sp.)
‘Mini Love’ F1 is a personal-sized Asian watermelon, perfect for smaller families, or smaller gardens. The 3- to 4-foot vines produce up to six fruits per plant and can be grown in large containers. This deep-red fleshed watermelon has a thin but strong rind that can be carved for fruit salad presentations. ‘Mini Love’ has a high sugar content, making it sweet, crisp, refreshing, and juicy with few seeds – a true summer delight for watermelon lovers. Sow seeds indoors one month before the last frost date (around May 15 in our area) for transplants, or directly in the ground in full sun once the soil has warmed in spring. Space the plants 3 to 4 feet apart, and keep the soil moist for the first weeks. You can expect up to five light-green striped fruits per plant, each weighing 7 to 9 pounds. I will grow these in my small garden where tomatoes grew the previous year, and add lots of compost to the soil to make up for the nutrients depleted by the tomato plants.
A Golden Oldie
Cucumber ‘Straight-8’, the AAS Vegetable Award Winner for the year 1935, remains a favorite with home gardeners because of its reliable production and great taste. A dual purpose cucumber, ‘Straight-8’s sweet and mild flavor makes it good for either eating fresh or pickling. Plant ‘Straight-8’ seeds about 1⁄2-inch deep in full sun about 6 inches apart, or plant groups of five seeds set about 4 or 5 feet apart. The plants are short, about 3 feet tall. Harvest the fruit when they reach about 8 inches long and 2 inches in diameter for best flavor.
Okra ‘Candle Fire’ (Hibiscus Sp.)
Okra ‘Candle Fire’ F1 is a unique red okra with rounded pods that are a brighter red color than the other reddish okras available. ‘Candle Fire’ received high marks from the AAS judges for productivity, taste, texture, and tenderness as well as for the ornamental value of red pods on red stems. ‘Candle Fire’ thrives in the heat, and is disease resistant even during the hottest, most humid days of summer.
Sow seeds 18 inches apart in full sun after soaking them in water overnight for best results. Expect up to 30 fruits per plant in two months from sowing seeds or one month from transplants. It is maintenance free, except for the frequent harvesting. Enjoy okra ‘Candle Fire’ fresh or boiled. I will grow these in the garden so in the fall I can use the dried fruits in flower arrangements.
Try Something New
I have grown many AAS Vegetable Award Winners in the past, with great results. This year’s crop looks very promising, and I am looking forward to a long gardening season with lovely, prolific plants in the garden and containers, and delicious fruits and vegetables in the kitchen.
A version of this article appeared in Pennsylvania Gardener Volume 7 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of All-American Selections.
My frizzle chicken using the stepping stones to patrol for pests within my purposeful garden.
Recently I picked up the Bill Nye book Unstoppable: Harnessing Science to Change the World. The science guru suggests that in order to be long term residents on this planet we need to start making small, impactful changes to our daily life. Using different forms of energy, like solar panels, and growing our own food were some of his suggestions.
Edibles in the Landscape
Three years ago when I purchased my 1-acre homestead, I was not given a blank canvas. The yard had more than 20 large oak (Quercus) trees, a pool, and grass. The grass was a mix of invasive species and the medium- to high-maintenance St. Augustine grass. Grass lawns are good for children and dogs to play on, high foot traffic areas, swales, and a place for the occasional vehicle to park on. However, if your lawn area doesn’t serve a purpose, you might consider a lower-maintenance ground cover instead. Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermumasiaticum), perennial peanut (Arachisglabrata), beach sunflower (Helianthusdebilis), sunshine mimosa (Mimosastrigillosa), ornamental sweetpotato vine (Ipomoeabatatas), or mulch are all great alternatives to a water-guzzling, fertilizer-demanding grass yard. My front yard is still a mix of grasses, but my backyard now has mulched pathways with edible and ornamental plants in loosely defined beds surrounding the large oaks.
To me, who wanted to garden purposefully everywhere in my yard, the oaks presented a few problems. I want to grow large amounts of tropical fruits and seasonal vegetables. Since the oaks shaded much of my yard, I focused on plants that could handle moderate amounts of shade. After some experimenting, I discovered that many vegetables do quite well with some shade here in the sizzling Sunshine State.
I understand that the oaks are purposeful. They provide much needed shade in the summer and leaves, which are composted, in the fall and winter. Their roots also help with soil erosion on my steep incline of a homestead. To make them more useful I planted various edibles at their base. Now passion fruits (Passifloraedulis), luffas, and other gourds scramble up their trunks to reach the sun. Visitors are quite impressed when they see oak trees “producing” fruits.
Passion fruit now falls from the oak trees in my yard.
In addition to my seasonal vegetable garden, I have interplanted edible plants between the oaks. Edibles that I keep as shrubs include katuk (Sauropusandrogynus), cranberry hibiscus (H.acetosella), moringa (Moringaoleifera), and chaya (Cnidoscolusaconitifolius). I also have some specimen fruit trees such as jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), white sapote (Casimiroaedulis), and loquat (Eriobotryajaponica).
Bees making their home in a screech owl nest box.
To increase my yields, I encourage various forms of pollinators. After a pair of screech owls raised two owlets, honeybees moved into the next box. On hot days, the hive, which is 15 feet off the ground, is covered by bees cooling their hive by flapping their delicate wings.
In addition to being attractive, the passionfruit vines, which have a very small footprint, attract bees and butterflies. Rather than having one designated butterfly garden, milkweed (Asclepias spp.) is dispersed haphazardly throughout the yard to promote the flow of pollinators.
Currently I am growing two varieties of luffa. Luffaacutangular, which blooms at night, and L.aegyptiaca, which blooms during the day. These attract different pollinators such as butterflies and moths. When harvested, the luffas are used to scrub chicken food bowls, birdbaths, and plant pots.
To increase the purposefulness of the yard, I am slowly replacing pure ornamentals with specimens that are both useful for humans beyond aesthetics, and attractive to pollinators. Natives such as beautyberry (Callicarpaamericana) are attractive, feed wildlife, and can also be used to make a palatable jelly.
Pinecone ginger or shampoo ginger (Zingiberzerumbet) is also scattered throughout my homestead. I can definitely make space for a plant that is colorful, vigorous, and used as a natural soap/shampoo in my yard.
Mulch and leaves help with weed suppression.
Close to one of my banana circles is a good-sized compost bin I easily made using four pallets. Garden scraps are recycled there and feed the bananas (Musa spp.). When the leftovers have decomposed to fine rich compost they are returned to the very gardens they originated from. By actively composting, we are encouraging nature’s natural way of recycling.
In addition to my pallet compost bin, I have a smaller plastic bin near another vegetable garden and a brush pile in the far back discrete corner of my yard. The brush pile is more of a passive compost area, where large branches and logs provide homes for native wildlife such as reptiles and birds.
Since the backyard is comprised of mulched pathways and stepping stones, there is no need to rake the oak leaves as they fall. The leaves provide nutrients to the plants and impede weed growth. Mowing over the leaves will break them apart and allow decomposition to happen more quickly.
As a person who is childless by choice, I do not have the joy of raking leaves into giant piles for a child to destroy by jumping and running through. Instead, I happily have a flock of domestic ducks and chickens to patrol my yard for pests and yes, play in the leaves. The backyard poultry eat leaf-destroying slugs and harmful beetles. All of which is done without the use of chemicals. As an added bonus, the birds provide a great number of eggs weekly, which I do not see human children contributing.
One of my chickens crossing one of my many mulched pathways.
Incorporating sustainable features into the design such as rain gardens, bioswales, and ways to harvest rainwater is a must if you want every inch of your yard to be purposeful. A rain garden is a low section of the landscape planted with plants that like to get their “feet” wet. The garden collects rainwater, giving it a chance to “strain” out impurities before draining into the aquifer.
Due to my yard being at such an incline, I have four cypress trees (Taxodiumdistichum) planted at the bottom of my property where an ephemeral pond occurs during the rainy season. This seasonal pond is surrounded by edibles including watercress, water chestnuts, and various types of bananas. According to IFAS, good flowering plants for rain gardens include blue flag iris (Irisversicolor), goldenrod (Solidago spp.), swamp sunflower (Helianthusangustifolius), spider lily (Hymenocallisliriosme), and milkweed. Many of these are native and will attract butterflies and other wildlife.
Bioswales, which are often seen in parking lots, reduce runoff water and increases groundwater recharge. In addition to bucketing water from the ephemeral pond to water my vegetables I also have several rain barrels. Unfortunately, these barrels are filled within a day or two of heavy August rains and are used quickly when the rains stop in the fall. In-ground cisterns may be a better option for those who truly want to be sustainable as Florida presents two opposing seasons: dry and flooding.
How do you utilize every inch of your garden? Send me a message to share your ideas. We would love to hear from you.
My front yard is still a mix of grasses but my backyard now has mulched pathways with edible and ornamental plants in loosely defined beds surrounding the two dozen large oaks.
A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardener Volume 22 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Kenny Coogan.
left: The Woodstock Emperor gong is a dynamic addition to the garden. The bronze gong catches and reflects the sunlight brightening your garden while the subtle tones evoke a sense of peace. right: The lyrical ring of delicate garden bells brings wonderful music to a quiet garden.
Step into your garden, close your eyes and listen. What do you hear? Does your garden sound as pretty as it looks? Along with texture, color and fragrance, sounds help create a unique environment in your garden. Enhancing and manipulating these sounds make you the backyard conductor of your own garden orchestra. Composing a garden symphony is easy, just start with what you already have and build on it. So grab your wand (trowel) and begin.
The gentle hum of Mother Nature’s beauty is a great foundation. The sound of running water, the rustling of foliage, the call of birds and the buzz of bees create the underscore of your garden. Preserving and enhancing these garden sounds is a priority. Providing birdhouses, and nesting areas for wildlife will ensure a steady supply of natural sounds. Planting flowers that attract insects and bees will help keep these natural musicians in your garden.
left: An outdoor water fountain enriches the garden with mesmerizing water sounds while also providing visual stimulation. top right: A large fountain makes a grand statement in the garden. It can block out unwanted background noises while adding a distinct element of elegance. bottom right: A gently cascading waterfall is the most soothing of all sounds in a garden. Stacking flat stones is a perfect method of imitating the natural flow of water while enhancing the visual appeal of your garden.
Consider a fountain, brook or waterfall as the string section of your symphony. Rustling leaves murmuring in the wind add harmony. And when creating your garden’s design, choose plants that not only look good but “sound” good as well. Bamboo shoots braying side by side create rhythm. These are the woodwinds. Trees such as beech and oak cling to their leaves long into the winter where the whipping winds create soulful sounds. Soft hemlocks and pines can help mute unwanted noises by providing a green sound barrier while crescendos of dropping acorns add the element of surprise.
Metal gongs and silver wind chimes make up the brass section. Chimes, gongs and bells fill the air with a variety of sound. The addition of hand-tuned musical metal brings healing sounds to your patio or garden. The tranquil melodies of these outdoor musical instruments, powered by nature’s gentle breezes add to the harmony of your garden. Their physical movement contributes to the overall intrigue of the composition.
left: Rain chains and bells softly contribute to the sounds in the garden. Placing a rain barrel underneath enhances the sound of the falling rain while also conserving water. center: Wind chimes come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials and are one of the most common sources of garden sounds. right: A garden bell hung near an entryway or gate is said to attract luck. Just another reason to include one in your garden.
Sometimes, the natural world brings an element of sound to brighten up your garden. Big fuzzy bees like these create a soothing hum as they go about finding nectar and spreading pollen.
Bullfrogs and cicadas are the percussion in the symphonic garden. Lush plants and secluded ponds foster habitats that will encourage these natives to keep the beat. Raindrops hitting the surface of a birdbath or dripping from a gutter chain also help keep time in the garden. Wind socks, wind spinners and flags crack and thrash in the current adding their voice to the garden song.
When creating your garden symphony leave no stone unturned. Consider walkways, wind chimes, flags, plants and fountains as your instruments. Their movements should harmonize with each other while creating distinctive sounds of their own. The most interesting garden symphonies combine a wide array of sounds. A well-balanced garden symphony will combine natures beauty with man made accessories to create a melodious paradise restorative to the soul.
A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 22 Number 9.
Photography courtesy of Kelly Bledsoe.
A pair of lipstick-red planters, planted with dome-shaped boxwood, adds height, color and a bold sense of style to this outdoor living space, while also creating a cozy nook for the sofa and framing the view to the green space beyond. The rectangular planters are planted with sheared boxwood hedges and help divide this space from another adjacent seating area, lending intimacy to both rooms.
The practice of container gardening has been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, with containers traditionally being used to house rare and exotic plant specimens, to allow tropical or cold-sensitive plants to be moved indoors for the winter, or to display arrangements of brightly colored, botanical overachievers. In any case, the plants they contained tended to be the emphasis rather than the containers themselves. In today’s modern gardening world, however, there are all kinds of different and exciting options when it comes to containers. Modern materials combine with bright colors and new, inventive designs to give us garden containers that can truly make a statement on their own, regardless of what is planted in them. This rising trend of using bold, architectural planters is the perfect way to express yourself and to add a stimulating new dimension to your garden and outdoor living spaces.
The texture and unique shape of this tall planter, along with a dramatic yucca plant, are the perfect finishing touches for the empty corner of an outdoor living space.
The first step is to choose the perfect container. As with any project in the garden, I recommend first considering your home’s style and choosing a container to complement it. That is not to say that your planter selection necessarily has to match the style of your house. By design, modern-day architectural containers tend to be on the contemporary side, but they can still be right at home in a traditional setting. In fact, some of the most compelling design statements are made by contrasting different styles, for example, a sleek, brightly colored planter in an otherwise subdued, formal setting. In addition to complementing the style of your house, your container should also complement your own personal style and personality. After all, it is your statement we are making here!
Next, consider the size, shape and color of your container. In terms of size, you should err on the side of larger versus smaller since objects tend to appear smaller outdoors. Plus, a larger planter will be easier to keep watered, will give plants more room to grow and will make a bolder statement, and that is what we are trying to achieve! As a practical matter, you should also consider where your container will be located and choose one that is appropriately sized.
The same reasoning applies to choosing a particular shape. First and foremost, your planter should fit into the space it will occupy. Some other shape guidelines to keep in mind are that tall planters will add drama to a space and are good for flanking an entrance or framing a distant view. By contrast, shorter containers may allow for an uninterrupted view of something desirable and evoke a feeling of serenity. Similarly, planters with hard lines and sharp angles can make a particularly strong statement and are good for defining spaces, while round or curved containers may be more versatile and seem more inviting.
This sleek, oxblood red planter and variegated yucca plant add color, texture and excitement to a white-walled modern entry that is otherwise devoid of color.
When it comes to color, the matter is mostly one of personal preference, but also keep in mind any surrounding elements, such as flowering plants and building materials, and avoid any colors that might clash. To make a more powerful statement, pass on muted colors and earth tones and instead go for more powerful hues, such as primary colors, black or white. You might also consider the lightness or darkness of where your container will go. For example, a bright yellow planter will stand out and lighten up a dark, shady area, whereas a black or dark blue container may have little to no impact there.
Finally, think about the material choices available for your container. From resin and fiberglass, to modern metals, to stone and stone aggregates such as terrazzo, the material your container is made of will affect its texture, weight and durability in the face of exposure to the elements, as well as normal wear and tear.
Bronze-colored jars add to this home’s main entry. The metallic finish and waffle texture propel the jars’ impact beyond their relatively subtle color. Creeping juniper add an understated touch of greenery.
Closely connected to the process of choosing the perfect container is the process of determining where it will go and, therefore, where you will make your grand statement. The most important factor to remember here is prominence. To have the proper impact, your planter needs to be in a prominent location where it will not be overlooked. Some of my favorite ways to use architectural containers include the following:
Entryway: A pair or grouping of containers is a great way to add interest and a sense of importance to any entry, whether it is to your home, office or garden. You can even create an instant point of entry simply by placing a pair of matching containers at the outer edge of any given space.Focal Point: It is hard to get much more prominent than a singular focal point, and a compelling container makes a great one indeed. For the most impact, place yours in the middle of a space, at the end of a walkway or in line with a strong line of site from within your home.
Boundary: To be appealing and to function properly, every space needs boundaries, and architectural planters (particularly squares and rectangles) are perfect for defining spaces.
A series of strong-lined rectangular planters helps define a patio boundary, drawing a distinct line between living space and landscape. The contrast of the planters’ form to the rolling hills of the pastoral scene beyond adds to their impact.
A sleek, bowl-shaped planter filled with a sculptural yucca and seasonal flowers reinforces the architectural statement made by this home’s pergola-covered entry.
Many of you are avid plant lovers, I know, and are probably saying, “Can we get to the plant in planter already?” Well, don’t worry; we are here! And not to burst your bubble, but one of the best things about bold, architectural containers is that almost doesn’t matter what plant or plants you choose, since the container makes such a statement all by itself. But this also means that you can choose any number of plants that might interest you and the impact your container has will be just as powerful regardless of your area’s climate or gardening zone. Here are just a few things to keep in mind: As always, choose plants that are appropriate for the amount of sunlight or shade to which they will be exposed. Also consider a plant’s form and decide whether you want to ramp up the drama of your architectural planter with an equally structural planting or tone it down with something soft and subtle. Finally, go back to the color you chose for your container and pick plants that will be complementary.
A version of this article appeared in a March 2012 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Daniel Keeley.
Saffron, the bright red stigmas of Crocus sativus, is frequently overlooked as a candidate for the home herb garden.
If, like many of us, you have been trying to eat more locally produced food lately, no doubt you have already learned how to keep the produce bin stocked with beans, tomatoes, lettuce and corn by growing them at home or visiting the local farmers’ market. Nothing beats local produce for flavor and nutrition, and eating close to home helps conserve the fuel that would have been used to transport the food across the country. But what about those wonderful, exotic flavors like ginger? They will always have to come from far away, right?
Not necessarily. Spotting a basket of really high quality organic ginger labeled “Product of Alabama” in a local store suggested to me that many tropical and subtropical seasoning plants might not be that out of reach for the average gardener. In October 2010, the Knoxville News-Sentinel published a story about Roger Kane, a Knoxvillian who successfully grows bananas, figs, citrus fruits, even pomegranates, in pots that he moves into his garage for the winter. That cinched it.
This year, with a little luck, my ginger will come from the garden, along with some other flavors most gardeners seldom consider. If you want to try growing your own, here are some tips and techniques.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) grows from the fleshy rhizome sold in grocery markets as “ginger root.” Choose a plump, healthy looking specimen with numerous “eyes” like potatoes. The best time to plant is in spring, but you can grow ginger any time if you can protect it from frost. Purchase the rhizomes in quantity when they are on sale and store them dry and cool until you need them. Soak the rhizome in a bowl of lukewarm water overnight before planting if it has become shriveled.
A ginger rhizome is ready to plant when the eyes begin to show signs of development.
Select a container at least four times larger than the piece of rhizome you are planting. A 12-14 inch azalea pot works well. This will allow for the development of an extensive root system. Fill the container three quarters full with a good, well-drained potting mix containing plenty of compost. Place the soaked rhizome on top of the mix with the eyes pointing upward. Cover with more potting mix and water well. Place the container in a plastic bag in indirect light until green shoots appear. Then remove the bag and water well. Keep the plant in bright, indirect light and never allow the soil to dry out. Growing plants need protection from wind and should be brought indoors any time the temperature is headed below 50 F. The ideal growing temperature is 75 F to 85 F.
It can take as long as a year for a container-grown ginger plant to reach its mature height of 2 to 4 feet. Plants started indoors in February will nevertheless produce a harvestable crop by the following September. You can achieve more robust growth by transplanting a container-grown specimen to the garden when nighttime temperatures are reliably above 50 F. Select a spot with good drainage, partial sun and rich soil. Dig in plenty of compost and sand if your soil is heavy clay. After transplanting, feed the plants every three weeks with a soluble organic fertilizer, such as fish emulsion or liquefied seaweed. Ginger thrives in hot, humid weather and thus adapts quite well to muggy Southern summers. If you are the impatient type, you can carefully harvest a few tender shoots from the outside edge of the clump for use during the summer months. This “baby” ginger is not as pungent as the later mature crop will become.
When the leaves begin to turn yellow late in the season, it is time to harvest. Dig up the rhizomes, and immediately replant the ones you want to grow next season. If you keep the containers cool and dry, they probably will not sprout again until mid winter.
Fresh ginger freezes well. Just peel, chop and place in suitable containers. You can also store chunks or slices of fresh ginger in a jar, covered with brandy. Either way, the fresh ginger taste is preserved.
Lemon grass grows rapidly in full sun and rich, moist soil.
Essential to Thai, Vietnamese and other Asian cuisines, and a good source of lemon flavor, lemon grass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a tropical perennial that can be grown outdoors in very mild winter regions, but must be wintered indoors or started anew each season in most parts of the South. Because it needs a large container for its prodigious root system, starting over each year is the best technique. Visit the grocery store in early spring to buy new starts. Lemon grass is sold in bunches of several stems with most of the foliage removed. Each stem has a bulbous base. You may see tiny roots or root buds sticking out from the base. When planted, the basal portion quickly roots and grows into a clump a yard or more in height and about as wide. Insert the stem about an inch into a small pot of damp soil mix, and roots will quickly form. When new roots protrude from the drain hole in the pot, you are ready to transplant outside, but wait until all danger of frost has passed and the weather is warm.
If sited in full sun and rich, moist soil, lemon grass grows with amazing rapidity. Plants should be fertilized regularly. Add compost to the bottom of the planting hole, and side dress monthly with additional compost, fish emulsion or seaweed extract. The ideal growing temperature is 75 F during the day and 60 F at night.
The leaves of lemon grass have sharp, serrated edges that can deliver a nasty cut. Wear heavy gloves and a long-sleeved shirt when working with them. To harvest, select stems with bases is about half an inch in diameter. Remove foliage with clippers, and trim to 8 or 10 inches in length. Stems will keep well under refrigeration for a week or two, or you can chop and freeze them. Lemon grass can also be dried and used to season herbal teas. Lemon grass grown outdoors often takes on a reddish cast, enhancing its decorative value in the landscape. You could even use it as a protective, although temporary, hedge.
Lemon tree in a terra-cotta container.
Citrus trees have a lot to offer: lustrous green foliage, richly fragrant flowers, and of course, their delicious fruits. Unfortunately, they are not hardy and must be grown in containers in all but the frost-free areas of the country. Choosing appropriate cultivars for container culture, however, will enable anyone to grow citrus, if you can provide them with a cool, well-lighted space during the coldest weather. Fruit production begins in the second year after transplanting, and increases as the tree gets larger. Therefore, as the tree grows, choose the largest pot that you consider portable enough to be moved inside when necessary. Younger trees, however, should not be “overpotted.”Any good potting mixture is suitable for citrus trees, as long as it drains well, although commercial mixes intended specifically for citrus are widely available and recommended. Several authorities suggest avoiding both peat moss and pine bark in mixes intended for citrus. Water when the top 1 inch of growing mix feels dry. Feed once when the plants move outdoors, and again about three months later, using a good, balanced organic fertilizer. Glossy, dark green leaves indicate that the plant is receiving adequate nutrition. Err on the side of less food and less water. Too much of either will result in leggy, unsightly growth and poor fruit production.
Commercially-produced citrus tree cultivars are grafted to one of two rootstocks: sour orange or trifoliate orange. Try to locate stock grafted to trifoliate orange, as this rootstock is both smaller and more cold tolerant than the sour orange. The smaller size will adapt better to a container, and greater cold tolerance means you can wait longer to bring plants inside in autumn and take them back outdoors earlier in spring.
Nothing is quite like the unique, indescribable flavor of saffron. The dried stigmas of an autumn crocus, Crocus sativus, saffron is seldom considered a choice for the home herb garden. Nevertheless, saffron crocus is as easy to grow as its spring-blooming cousins, and will repay your efforts many times. A few pinches of dried saffron can set you back 10 dollars in the grocery store.
Saffron grows well in Zones 6 through 9, and prefers good, well-drained soil in full sun. A patch of 10 square feet, enough to accommodate about 50 corms, will provide an increasing abundance of spice as the plants mature and multiply. Set them out in summer, while they are dormant, 6 inches apart and 3 inches deep. You can overplant, if you wish, with annual flowers or summer herbs such as basil. Pull up the annuals when the weather turns cold, or when you see the new green shoots of saffron poking through the soil in autumn. When the lovely lavender-blue flowers open a few weeks later, harvest by picking the bright red stigmas by hand. You can use them immediately in such Mediterranean dishes as paella, bouillabaisse and risotto, or dry them for a few days before storing in an airtight container for later use.
With a little ingenuity and close attention to choosing the proper cultivars, gardeners anywhere can enjoy exotic flavors from a backyard plot.
A version of this article appeared in a February 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of istockphoto.com/askintulayover, John Tullock, istockphoto.com/szefei, istockphoto.com/romaoslo.
As the Director of the Allen Centennial Garden, a public garden on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I’m always on the lookout for plants that extend the season of interest for our visitors. Plants that are hardy, easy to grow and dependable rank high on this list of some of our favorites.
Those That Linger
Plants in this category push the boundaries of what’s possible in the face of hard frosts. These plants thrive in cool temperatures and reward you for keeping them around, despite winter’s imminent arrival.
Most commonly used as an early spring bedding plant, pansies perform just as well (if not better) in autumn through the frosts and light snowfall of early winter. While not a guarantee, fall-planted pansies have a chance to overwinter and start blooming all the earlier the following spring.
Typically thought of as champions of the summer garden, snapdragons are a powerhouse when it comes to delivering color late into the season. The key to their continued flowering is constant deadheading. If the plants are allowed to set seed, they’ll cease flowering. However, this might be desirable in your garden, as snapdragons can reliably reseed for many years in the right space. At the Allen Centennial Garden, we have a red snapdragon that has come back reliably and repeatedly for many years in our rock garden.
A standby of traditional fall bedding plants, kale varieties give some of the best displays when temperatures begin to fall. Both ornamental and edible kales are durable through frost; however, the ornamental varieties tend to be the go-to choice as their purple, red, and white pigments intensify with each cool day. I’ve used ornamental kale in container arrangements through December. Combined with evergreens, Osage orange fruits, golden dogwood stems and a few twinkle lights, kale can make an amazing holiday display.
4. Forget-me-nots and Poppies
The blue forget-me-not (Myosotis sylvatica) and most poppies (Papaver spp.), with the exception of Oriental poppies (Papaver orientalis), are cool-season annuals. Cool season annuals can be direct sown in fall for a jumpstart on an early spring display. These plants will form a tight rosette of growth in fall similar to a mini head of lettuce and then erupt into flower when the garden begins to come alive in mid-April and May. Any of these plants can be sown indoors in February and March and treated as true annuals; however, plants that are fall sown will produce a much more impressive display.
Those That Punch through Snow
Plants in this list don’t waste any time in late winter and early spring – they can’t wait to get up and get growing. Some even create their own heat to melt the snow around them!
Without question, winter aconite is my favorite plant in this list. The charming Eranthis hyemalis is one of the earliest harbingers of spring, often pushing up through pockets of melting snow in mid- to late February. Growing only a few inches tall, on warm and sunny days the cheerful yellow buttercup flowers open up and exude a mild and charming honey-like aroma. Growing from small rhizomes that, when dormant, could easily be mistaken for a clod of soil, winter aconite easily naturalizes throughout a garden by reseeding. Seeds mature by mid-May to early June, and with a little help from a gardener, they fall and germinate at the soil surface. Within one to two seasons, these new plants will be blooming and producing seed of their own. After the plant sets seeds, the foliage withers away until the following spring. Winter aconite thrives in a woodland garden or mixed perennial border, and it doesn’t require many rhizomes to start your own colony. Before you know it, you could have a golden ground cover in February that honeybees and other pollinators adore.
6. Skunk Cabbage
Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) is one plant that literally forces its way up through snow and ice. A native plant along swamps, streams and ponds, skunk cabbage is a fascinating plant with an ability to create and regulate its own internal heat, much like any mammal. Maintaining an average temperature of 36 F, it produces this warmth as it metabolizes oxygen and starches stored in its roots. True to its name, skunk cabbage produces a potent odor to attract pollinating flies that are normally attracted to decaying meat. The flowers resemble a sort of mottled purple, red and brown hooded cap. Big, tropical-like leaves emerge following the flower and remain through mid-summer when the plants go dormant until the following spring. While skunk cabbage requires specific growing conditions, its sheer intrigue and unique adaptations make it worth growing to beat the winter blues.
Other Plants that Love the Cold
Bulbs Iris reticulate
Perennials Helleborus foetidus
7. Witch Hazel
If skunk cabbage is the “stinker” of the spring garden, then witch hazel is its sweet, sultry and spicy counterpoint. A deciduous shrub native to North America, Hamamelis vernalis is a truly marvelous plant. Clusters of spider-like flowers cover the stems and bloom January to March. On warm days (30 to 40 F), witch hazel emits a powerful and intoxicating fragrance. The sweet, spicy and sometimes fruity aroma has been compared to baked goods and fruits like concord grapes. Flower color ranges from a strong and pure golden yellow to burnt orange and a deep pinkish red. These multi-stem shrubs appreciate regular moisture throughout the growing season and can tolerate full sun to part shade, making them a great choice for rain gardens and low-lying areas.
One of the classic early spring plants, hellebores come in a range of different colors and bloom types, with new varieties introduced each season. Hellebores straddle two categories on this list – those that push through snow and those that are evergreen. The deep green, palmate, serrated leaves of the hellebore retain their color through winter and into early spring. Each season, new flower buds and leaves emerge from the plant crown, making the old leaves redundant. It’s a personal preference whether or not to remove the old leaves in spring – it won’t do any significant harm or good to the plant beyond vanity. The only real challenge with hellebores is that, despite the incredible diversity and beauty of their flowers, the flowers face downward. If possible, planting them along a shaded wall or raised area will allow you to enjoy the flowers more fully. They also make tremendous cut flowers, allowing you to enjoy them right at eye level on the kitchen table.
Those That Are Always Around
When talking about winter interest and evergreen plants, most of us instinctively gravitate to conifers. Conifers certainly perform an important function in the winter landscape and have earned their rightful place in this category, but there are a number of evergreen plants that can add a new punch.
9. Oregon Grape Holly
A colony-forming shrub, Oregon grape holly (Mahonia aquifolium) truly is a plant for all seasons. Big, bold, glossy, holly-like leaves are evergreen throughout winter and great for use in wreath making around the holidays. Best planted in part to full shade in organic, acidic soil, Oregon grape holly will deliver a show throughout the year. Huge panicles of showy yellow flowers dance on top the stately leaves in spring, followed by clusters of jewel-like, edible blue-black berries in late summer. Plant at least two to three plants in a small colony to encourage optimum fruit set. Single plants likely will not fruit well, if at all.
10. Carex ‘Ice Dance’
Sedges are a rich and diverse genus of plants, and C. ‘Ice Dance’ is a stand out performer for its wide bold leaves, up to 24 inches tall, outlined in white. When planted close together, several carex plants will quickly form a ground cover – a great alternative to traditional ground covers such as winter creeper (Euonymous fortunei). Leaves of this carex are evergreen throughout the winter, and in fact, the plant can suffer (or at least look pretty bad) if cut back in fall or spring. Adaptable to shade and part sun, ‘Ice Dance’ is a versatile and durable plant.
11. White Willow
The common name of this plant really doesn’t do it justice, as the winter stems of this willow are anything but white. A range of cultivars of Salix alba are available; however Salix alba var. vitellina is a standout in the winter garden. Gradation of color from golden yellow to orange to deep red cascade from the base of each stem to the tip. I prefer them to shrub dogwood for this reason as most dogwoods are a single, solid color and lack such a striking color gradient. During the growing season, these plants are fairly unassuming with regular simple green leaves. Winter is when they really “come alive.” For the best display, cutting the stems back to the ground no later than early spring will force a flush of new growth. This not only helps keep the plant under control (willows are notorious for being aggressive); it also provides a great source of material for winter containers, wreath making and more.
A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 22 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Pan American Seeds (photo 1), Ben Futa (photos 2 & 5), Joe Desousa (photo 3), Joshua Mayer (photo 4), Ron Capek (photos 6 & 8), Christopher Tildrick (photo 7), Andrey Zharkikh (photo 9), Midwest Groundcovers (photo 10), and D. Brown (photo 11).
The flowers of true roselle start off pale yellow and age to pink.
People are often confused when it comes to roselles. That’s understandable, since true roselle and false roselle do look alike. But since both are used for different purposes, it’s important to know the difference.
True roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is the more famous of the two. Also known as Florida cranberry, its calyces (collective term for the sepals of a flower) were used by early Floridians to make a substitute for cranberry sauce. Roselle calyces, and products containing them, were once a popular commercial export in Florida. But due to freezes and other factors, the trade died out following World War II. Now roselles are back, thanks to a renewed interest in Florida heritage plants.
The calyces of true roselle are harvested while they’re still tender, crisp, and plump.
Jamaican Sorrel Drink
1tsp. whole cloves
5 cinnamon sticks
1 tsp. allspice
4 cups fresh calyces
1 large piece of ginger, smashed
1 gal. water
Boil all ingredients for 20 minutes and remove from stove. Cool in refrigerator overnight. Strain, then add honey or sugar to taste, along with a splash of rum.
Dried true roselle calyces can be found in specialty markets.
False roselles resemble Japanese maples.
True roselle has never been out of favor in the Caribbean. Known as sorrel, its “fruits” are harvested some 10 days after flowering, while still tender, crisp, and plump. These are used to make a drink that’s very popular at Christmas-time. Various recipes add rum, ginger, and sugar. In Africa they are frequently cooked as a side dish, eaten with pulverized peanuts. Closer to home, true roselle is also one of the main ingredients in Red Zinger tea!
The calyces of true roselle produce their own pectin, so none needs to be added when making jams and jellies. Roselle fruit combined with pineapple chunks, raisins, and nuts makes a nice conserve. The juice of true roselle is also used to treat medical ailments in many parts of the world. Roselle tea is very high in vitamin C, and delicious hot or cold.
The flowers of true roselle are especially pretty, opening a pale yellow, then fading to pink. Like most hibiscus species, they only last a day. Young leaves are used as a spinach substitute in some parts of the world, though I find the leaves of green false roselle far more palatable. The University of Florida IFAS Extension lists ‘Victor’ as a particularly good variety of true roselle for south Florida.
False roselle (H. acetosella), or maroon mallow, looks more like a Japanese maple. Its claim to fame is its tart leaves that can be added raw to salads or cooked as a vegetable. They’re a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants. Its flowers are also occasionally used in teas and other drinks, where they offer more color than flavor. The calyces of false roselle are not fleshy, however, and are generally not eaten.
False roselle is very ornamental in the mixed border.
Bring cup of water to a boil, and then add 3-4 fresh or dried calyces. Reduce heat and simmer until water is bright red (8-10 minutes). The longer you steep it, the brighter the color and stronger the flavor. Sweeten as desired, and serve either hot or cold.
The short-lived flowers of ‘Red Shield’ are very showy.
Some false roselles show considerable variation in their leaves.
Even today, roselles continue to be grown more for ornamental purposes than consumption in Florida. Nonetheless, they are attracting the attention of food and beverage manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies who feel they may show promise as a natural alternative to synthetic dyes.
‘Red Shield’ is the most common form of false roselle. Trouble is, it self-sows everywhere. But its burgundy foliage and deep pink flowers make it well worth growing. Many cultivars of false roselle are available, including ‘Mahogany Splendor’ with deeply serrated leaves, ‘Haight Ashbury’ with tonal varieties of cream, pink and burgundy, and ‘Panama Bronze’ with dark green leaves tinged with bronze. Dark-leaved varieties of false roselle need full sun to bring out their rich colors.
Most people treat roselles as annuals, though they often perform as short-lived perennials in my garden. I grow them for show, but some folks grow them as a food crop like tomatoes or okra (to which they’re related). False roselle looks great in the mixed border, where it offers great contrast in color and form.
Though we sell roselles year round in the Mounts nursery, most are started in late spring, since calyces require some four months to mature. Roselles are photoperiodic, meaning they do not begin to flower until the days become shorter in the fall. Calyces ripen progressively from the lowest to the highest, and are easier to break off in the morning than at the end of the day.
Roselles are usually started from seed, but may also be started by cuttings. If left on the bush, pods will eventually turn brown, split open, and release their seed. In fact, the easiest method to collect seed is just to let a few flowers dry naturally. Seed contains irritating little hairs, however, so wear gloves when collecting it. If you prefer to start plants from cuttings, use a soilless mix for optimal success.
Roselles at a Glance
Hardiness: Zones 9-11, Zone 8 with winter protection Height: 4-5 feet Light: Full sun to partial shade Habit: Annual or short-lived perennial Blooms: Late fall through winter
A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardener Volume 20 Number 6.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.
It has long been a custom in Mexico to place flowers around church mangers on Christmas Eve. Folklore tells the tale of a poor young child who could not afford flowers. An angel appeared to him and told him to pick some weeds by the side of the road, and place them on the manger. When he did, the weeds turned into beautiful red flowers that the Mexicans called Flor de la Noche Buena, or the Flower of the Holy Night.
How did Flor de la Noche Buena become one of the most popular potted plants in the U.S.?
That story starts in the early 19th century, when Joel Poinset was named the first U.S. ambassador to Mexico. During a trip in 1828 he discovered an unusual tree called Cuetlaxochitl. The Aztecs had distilled the red bracts of this plant to make dye, and used the milky sap as a treatment for fever.
Poinset loved the vibrant color of the plant and sent home cuttings to be given to friends and botanists. Gradually, it became available for sale under the name Euphorbia pulcherrima, Latin for “the most beautiful Euphorbia.”
Poinsettia ‘Plum Pudding'
Facts and Myths
The colored parts of the poinsettia are actually modified leaves called bracts. The true flowers are in the center of the bracts and are usually yellow and white.
It’s a myth that poinsettias are poisonous. Studies have shown that even if a 50 pound child ate 500 bracts, it would not kill her. But the plant can cause stomach upset in pets and humans, so it’s best to avoid eating it. The milky sap can also cause skin irritation.
Buy the Best
Here’s what to look for when buying a poinsettia. First, the foliage should be dark green. Avoid foliage that has brown spots that indicate poinsettia scab. The colored bracts should not have green around the edges. Don’t purchase plants that are drooping or wilting, especially if the soil is wet. This can be a sign of root rot. Don’t buy plants with fallen or yellowed leaves, or that have yellow pollen starting to fall from the flowers. This is an indication that it’s past its prime. White spots the size of a dime indicate powdery mildew.
Before leaving the store, make sure the plant is completely covered. Even a few minutes at temperatures below 50 F can damage the leaves, shortening its life. Put it inside the car with you, not in the trunk.
Poinsettia ‘Strawberries and Cream’
Placement in Your Home
Once you’re home, place the plant near (but not touching) a sunny window, in a room that has temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. Poinsettias don’t like changes in temperature, so don’t place it near heat vents or fireplaces, or near outside doors that are constantly opened and closed.
Poinsettia ‘Twilight Monet’
Check the soil daily and water it when it starts to get dry. When watering, remove the foil that usually surrounds the pot and allow the water to drain away completely. Fertilizer isn’t necessary while the plant is blooming.
You can get your poinsettia to bloom again next Christmas by following these steps.
In early spring, cut the plant back to about 8 inches. Continue watering regularly, and fertilize with a balanced houseplant fertilizer twice a month.
Once all danger of frost has passed, you can place it outside in a shady spot. Avoid full sun. Continue to water and fertilize. By early summer, it should start to get bushy. Prune it back to keep it compact.
Once the nights start getting colder, take the poinsettia back inside.
Now comes the crucial part. Starting in early October, the plant will need 14 continuous hours of darkness. Put it in a closet or cover it with a large box for 14 hours every night. The room should have an even temperature of between 60 and 70 degrees at night. During the day, bring it out into a sunny room for up to 10 hours.
Continue to water and fertilize.
If you’re lucky, you should have Flor de la Noche Buena by December 12, National Poinsettia Day.
A version of this article originally appeared in a December 2013 State-by-State Gardening E-newsletter.
Photography courtesy of Ron Capek.
Bring spring early to your home with a stunning display of spring bulbs indoors. Hint: For a longer flower show, bring bulbs out of chilling at one- or two-week intervals.
Are you looking for a way to brighten up the long winter days? Forcing spring bulbs is simple and fun and brings some color to the gray of winter. While not a very intensive activity, it does require some planning. Start by gathering the following supplies:
• Potting medium and soil scoop or small trowel
• A variety of containers
• Watering can or access to a water source
• Spring-blooming bulbs
• Metal or plastic plant labels and writing utensil
• Cold storage location and plastic bags or wrap if using a refrigerator
Step 1:Choosing Your Bulbs
For the best results, purchase high quality bulbs. Smaller bulbs will be easier for beginners. Inspect your bulbs to ensure they are dry, firm, and free of mold or decay. There are countless online suppliers that will ship bulbs out in the autumn, but my first stop is always to my local nursery to see what they have in stock. Some great choices for beginners include crocus, small daffodils, grape hyacinths, snowdrops, miniature iris, and tulips.
Step 2: Potting the Bulbs
Planting bulbs outdoors requires little effort – simply dig to the proper depth, drop the bulb in, backfill the soil, and forget about it. Forcing bulbs takes a little more precision for best results, but isn’t much more difficult.
• Begin with clean, sterile pots (a 1:10 bleach solution will clean your used pots and allow you to get more wear out of your summer annual pots). It is important to consider where you will be chilling your bulbs before choosing pots to ensure you have enough space.
• Loosely fill the container with soil with a minimum of 1 inch on the bottom, but allowing room for the bulbs (according to the chart below).
• Place bulbs into the pot as close together as you can without them touching. Do not push the bulbs down into the soil.
• Lightly fill around the bulbs with potting medium, leaving about ¼ inch from the top of the container for watering.
• Water the container until the soil is evenly moist.
For a fun twist, mix up your bulbs in the pot to create a miniature garden in a container. Make sure to pay attention to the individual planting depth requirements.
Step 3: Chilling Out
The key to success is giving your bulbs adequate time to chill in temperatures of 35-48 F (40 F is ideal). Depending on your fall and winter climate, there are several options: a north-facing shaded area outdoors will keep your bulbs cool without the sun heating containers above ambient temperatures. If outside is not an option, unheated attics, cellars, or garages will also work.
Finally, if you have some room in your refrigerator, that will keep temperatures the most stable for your bulbs. (See chart for chilling requirements.) Outdoor storage generally does not require extra watering, but those kept in covered or indoor locations need to have regular watering to keep soil moist (covering with plastic wrap or placing in a bag with vents cut will help reduce water needs).
If you are fortunate enough to have an extra refrigerator, or even an extra crisper drawer, to chill your bulbs, go for it! It will maintain the ideal temperature, but make sure to store your apples elsewhere to eliminate exposure to ethylene gas, which will spoil the bulbs.
Step 4: Forcing the Bulbs
When you have reached the required chilling time, it is time to start bringing your pots out into the sun. In the home, the ideal location is a cool spot that receives bright, indirect sunlight. It is important to transition your plants slowly by keeping their temperatures at 50-60 F for the first week. Your bulbs will begin to grow and bloom within two to three weeks.
Half the bulb should show above the soil line
Only the tip of bulb should be above the soil line
Cover bulbs with 1 inch of soil
Cover bulbs with 1 inch of soil
Cover bulbs with 1 inch of soil
Cover bulbs with 1 inch of soil
I really enjoy cooking with fresh herbs, but buying the packaged variety at the grocery store can really add up. So, this winter I’m growing my own indoors. We created a space-saving herb garden to hang on our kitchen wall. The design keeps herbs handy without taking up limited shelf or counter space.
Select a sunny space on the wall or under a bright light. Measure the area where you’re going to hang the herb garden, then cut the backing board to size. We chose a scrap piece of cedar and sanded the board. We left ours natural, but you could easily paint or stain the wood to match your décor.
Attach clamps to the jars to make sure they’ll fit snuggly. We used simple duct clamps purchased at a home center. Then, remove the clamps from the jars.
Lay the jars out on the board. If you’re stacking them, make sure to leave enough growing room for the plant. Make a mark where the clamp will attach to the board.
Attach the clamps to the board, using mending plates to hold the clamps in place.
Line the bottom of the jars with rocks for better drainage.
Add a good potting mix and insert the plants. Pack soil around the plant, lightly tamp it down, and add a little water.
Attach heavy-duty picture frame hooks and wire to the back of the board.
Attach the jars to the board, tightening the clamps.
The final step is to hang your finished project on the wall.
A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Kathleen Hennessy.
An existing deck is transformed into an outdoor room with the addition of a new arbor and gracious set of stairs to the backyard.
“Outdoor room” has become quite a buzz phrase. But what does it really mean? You won’t find it in the dictionary, because there is no true definition. An internet search, however, will bring you all sorts of interesting results. An outdoor room is really any exterior space that is furnished or outfitted around a specific function. It’s a room with a purpose and a view!
Did you know that statistically, the average person spends in excess of 90 percent of their time indoors? For that reason I like to approach the design of outdoor spaces and rooms from the inside out, so to speak. Designs that integrate while capitalizing on views, circulation paths and functional relationships create a sense of cohesiveness and flow from the interior to the exterior, inviting us outdoors.
Planning and Design
Some outdoor rooms are truly rooms, with walls and ceilings that enclose them. These might be a breezy sunroom with lots of high windows and skylights, a conservatory, screened porch or veranda. Other designs might include decks or patios with columns, planters, benches, retaining walls or other architectural and landscape elements. Open and freeform layouts can create an implied sense of enclosure with the use of a more limited palette of design features. A change of material underfoot, for instance, along with nice furnishings and container plantings can define an area. For transitioning a steep slope, the use of multi-level terracing inherently solves challenging site conditions while creating found spaces for outdoor rooms. In any case, a well-designed outdoor room brings the best of both worlds together – our indoor comforts blended with a wonderful connection to nature.
Overhead structures give a strong sense of enclosure, whether they are solid construction or an alternative design. Imagine an arbor with the romance of a flowering vine wrapping through it, an architecturally built roof with columns, the flexibility of a retractable awning or of course, the open sky. Choosing a particular style or motif for architectural features and accents can set a strong design theme or lend a sense of exotic, faraway places. As always, the styles you choose will greatly impact the character of the completed design.
Lighting for outdoor rooms can have a conventional approach or may be avant-garde with fixtures hung from tree limbs, mounted to columns, posts, walls or in unexpected places. Light fixtures may be integrated into stairways or retaining walls for safety and interest. Lighting plays an important role in establishing a mood and creating visual movement. Accenting blooms and foliage of perennials, annuals and vines are just a few of the possible horticultural effects. Various design elements, although very nice during the day, take on a bit of magic when illuminated in the night. Your eye is always drawn to the light, and in turn to the specific features chosen for accentuation.
The arbor provides a structure for vines to climb, supplies shade and creates a lovely setting for colorful containers and hanging plants.
Outfitting Your Outdoor Room
Furniture options for outdoor rooms are continually being updated and expanded. One of my favorites is the double chaise lounge that has separate backs for flexibility so that one person can be sitting while the other is lying down. Sophisticated choices in outdoor furnishings and accessories have transformed the design of exterior spaces to a level that rivals the refinement of a well-appointed interior. The limitations of outdoor furnishings of the past have given way to stylish offerings in synthetic wicker, wrought and cast aluminum, teak and other sustainably harvested woods. Twig furniture lends a country and rustic feeling to a scene.
Furniture and fabrics have been re-engineered for durability and colorfastness. Exterior rugs now visually mimic their interior counterparts and offer new options in design. The use of color and pattern for visual pop, the addition of statuary or sculpture, perhaps the drama of billowing draperies – all of these elements add to the excitement and endless possibilities for creating an outdoor room. Let your imagination roam!
Many outdoor rooms incorporate the convenience of an al fresco kitchen. These kitchens can be outfitted with components that raise the bar for cooking and entertaining. Infrared grilling systems, power burners, built-in refrigerators, sinks and storage units offer flexibility in configuration and functionality. Often these units are integrated into low masonry walls faced with natural stone, faux stone or brick. Stainless steel and decay-resistant wood cabinetry are options for freestanding units. If budget permits, combining the kitchen with a fireplace, overhead canopy or bar seating creates a high-styled solution with substance. Countertops may be of natural stone, solid surface materials, granite or concrete. The materials and finishes should be chosen for durability and to coordinate and complement other outdoor features and style.
The newly created setting provides a beautiful and functional outdoor room while transforming the aesthetics of the entire backyard.
A favorite annual flowering vine is Ipomoea alba, or moonflower. The immense pure white flowers and lush deep green, large foliage complement the white arbor and railings. Moonflower is the nocturnal cousin of the common morning glory. Flowers open at dusk and are quite fragrant.
A water lily sits peacefully in this container that has been made into a small fountain. On the right is Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’).
The Featured Project
The starting point for the creation of this entertaining, dining and relaxation space was a large existing deck which had serious limitations for enjoyment. The original deck almost spanned the width of the home, but the only outside access was from the driveway on the far end of the deck. Equally problematic, from the back door of the house the rear yard could only be accessed by walking across the deck to the driveway and around. The flow was cumbersome and awkward. Even the family dog could not gain easy entry to the rear yard.
The first design priority was to modify the circulation by installing a new set of stairs from the deck into the backyard. The stairs were positioned directly across from the center of the home and the exterior door. This area was also identified as the natural placement for the dining table due to its appropriate size, convenience and great visibility from the yard and interior of the home. A new arbor creates three-dimensional definition and complements the architecture of the home. The arbor supplies shade and a lovely habitat for colorful containers, hanging plants and a structure for vines to climb. The newly created setting provides a beautiful and functional outdoor room while transforming the aesthetics of the entire backyard.
One of the final touches included installing a cleverly positioned plant shelf around the outside perimeter of the deck for display of an impressive collection of bonsai and other plants. The shelf elevated the plants out of harm’s way and simplified access for maintenance.
Our outdoor spaces and rooms come alive when we join the scene. These spaces are created and intended, after all, to allow us to gain full enjoyment of all our surroundings, and to support and enhance our lifestyles. They are a backdrop for our lives. These spaces draw us to the fresh air, become the setting for celebrations and provide us with peaceful havens for retreat.
Nighttime brings its special magic for outdoor dining.
A version of this article appeared in Virginia Gardener Volume 8 Number 9.
Photography courtesy of Vicki O’Neal.
Your local farmer’s market is loaded with all the ingredients for your fall feast.
In my mind, there is no better time to be in the kitchen than right now. The cooler temperatures cry out for warm, hearty meals that bring everyone together.
Normally I’m the only one in our house who will eat squash. But, there is something about this creamy, slightly spicy, butternut squash soup that makes it pass the test. Paired with a second season greens salad and a loaf of fresh bread – all purchased at the farmers market – it’s perfect for a fall lunch or dinner.
2 medium butternut squash
4 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups chicken broth
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon sea salt 1⁄8 teaspoon ground cayenne
¼ teaspoon Sriracha sauce
8 ounces cream cheese, softened (you can use light or regular cream cheese)
Roasted butternut squash is ready to be added to the soup
An immersion blender creates a smooth
and creamy soup.
Garnish the soup with a little fresh rosemary,
add sea salt and ground pepper to taste,
and you’re ready to eat.
Cut the butternut squash in half and clean out the seeds. Place the squash on a jellyroll pan and roast in the 350 F for an hour or until soft.
While the squash is roasting, heat olive oil over medium heat in the bottom of a large soup pot. Add the butter and heat until it is melted. Add the chopped onions and cook just until they’re translucent. Add the broth and spices to the onion and heat to a boil.
Lower the heat. Remove the squash from the oven and scrape the flesh from the skin and put in the soup pot. Discard the peels.
Add the cream cheese and mix everything together with an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can process the squash and the cream cheese separately in a food processor or blender, then add to the soup.
Heat the soup through, making sure it doesn’t boil.
A version of this article appeared in a November/December 2016 print edition of
Photography courtesy of Kathleen Hennessy.
Even gardeners need a place to refresh, garner new ideas, and simply enjoy another garden and see new plants. There are many places in South Florida to explore and enjoy, however, there are four gems that stand out in my mind. Each has a unique story and inspiration to touch a gardener’s soul.
1. Naples Botanical Garden
At the heart of the garden, the cool pools filled with exotic water lilies are a modern reminder of Monet’s water lilies. Adjacent to an outdoor concert venue it is a perfect setting to relax and enjoy music.
Visitors are welcomed by the cool tropical lushness of Kathryn’s Garden. Aroids, ferns, and other shade-loving plants thrive around a refreshing water feature.
Naples Botanical Garden is the newest gem in the crown of South Florida. While NBG was founded in 1993, the garden as it is today completed the First Master Plan phase and opened in 2014.
Each of the gardens that emerged treat the visitor with modern designs using stunning specimens found in the tropical/sub-tropical regions. The moment you enter, Kathryn’s Garden, with a lush, shady jungle pool, greets you. The next area, Irma’s Garden, treats the senses with some of the most charismatic and unusual plants. That is just the beginning of the experience. Each subsequent garden promises something more and never disappoints.
There are more than 12 distinct garden plantings so far, including a children’s garden, orchid garden, and water garden. These are arranged to not just educate about the pants themselves, but to inspire through arrangement and aesthetics. The new Karen and Robert Scott Florida Garden will highlight vistas into the natural area (restored wetland) in the garden. Showcasing natives then inviting visitors to explore the true nature of the state.
Several of the gardens were designed by landscape architect Raymond Jungles. As the director Brian Holley emphasized, “We had the opportunity in designing the garden to incorporate plants in landscapes rather than focus on taxonomic collection displays.” The result is a must-see series of landscapes.
Left: No matter where you turn in the garden there is a vast array of colors, textures, and variety of plant material. Right: The Lea Asian Garden features a Javanese temple ruin with bamboo, edibles, and other exotic Asian plants. The garden features old and new design elements representing the plants and culture of the Asian tropics.
2. Bok Tower Gardens
The new welcome center.
Gentle plantings surrounding a water feature set the serene mood for the gardens to come.
Bok Tower Gardens is nestled in Lake Whales and began as a vision and gift to the community by Edward W. Bok, an immigrant from the Netherlands. The garden itself sits at 298 feet above sea level and highlights the unique structure of the Singing Tower carillon. This historic garden is considered one of the greatest of the famous landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmstead, Jr.
Rolling pathways lined by delightful plantings give cause for reflection and enjoying the
day in the garden.
The Singing Tower carillon can be seen from nearly everywhere in the garden and in season its melodies entrance visitors.
Treasures to be discovered in the new
The original gardens were not focused on flashy color and exotic plants but designed to enhance the peace and tranquility offered by the bells in the tower. Lush green landscapes with gentle presentations of color still earmark the style of the garden today. Walking the old garden plantings instills a visitor with a sense of place and quiet reflection, as evident in the reflecting pools under the towers mirroring the beautiful structure.
In 2012 Bok Tower Gardens initiated construction of a master plan, the first additions to the gardens in 87 years. The new gardens gently mirror and contrast the old with a style that blends to the theme of peace and reflection. The newer gardens include a pollinator and edible garden complete with outdoor kitchen to entertain and educate. The garden is also christening its Children’s Garden with areas for the smaller gardeners to both learn, have fun, and burn off some of that extra energy.
3. McKee Botanical Gardens
The original stone bridge was rediscovered and now is a highlight to the garden.
McKee Botanical Garden brings us to Vero Beach on the east coast. McKee is a special place, dating back to the 1930s, making it one of Florida’s first tourist attractions. Originally 80 acres of tropical hammock, the original developers hired William Lyman Phillips, from the Frederick Law Olmstead firm, to design the basic infrastructure of streams, ponds, and trails. Collections of waterlilies and orchids accented the native flora, giving it an exotic, jungle ambiance. As time passed, it became neglected and forgotten until the 1970s, when the land started being developed. All but 18 acres were developed and in 2001, McKee Botanical Garden was dedicated.
Left Top: The new additions to the garden blend into the feeling of old Florida, using natural materials and dense plantings to give a coherent look. Right: Attention to detail adds to the feeling of old Florida that made McKee famous. Left Bottom: Winding paths and waterways make the exploration of this jungle paradise special. There are vistas and plants to discover at every bend.
Now visitors are treated to that feeling of “old Florida” in both the jungle atmosphere and the historical features of the garden – including the world’s largest solid mahogany table. Trails meander through the rediscovered waterways and there are treasures to be discovered in every corner. One of my favorite plant groups is the ferns and there are many to be found among the winding trails. The garden is definitely a revisiting of that subtropical woodland it was known for in its heyday.
4. Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden
Some of the newer underplantings accent the palms and trees adding interest to the landscape.
The tropical greenhouse has been renovated and displays some more sensitive tropical plants. The adjoining butterfly house showcases some of the colorful fauna from the tropics.
Fairchild displays an expansive variety of plants, from diverse tropical and subtropical environments. Their efforts to explore and collect new species will undoubtedly add even more interesting things to discover.
The Baily Palm Glade, like many of the garden rooms, overlooks a tropical lake and highlights the many varieties of palms in the garden.
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is found in the lower east coast near Miami, in Coral Gables. Originally the home of the famous plant explorer David Fairchild, in 1938 the garden opened as the continuation of his dream to explore, display, and share plants from around the world.
The extraordinary collections focused greatly on palms, cycads, and tropical flowering trees. In more recent years the gardens have expanded their displays, adding understory plantings to highlight and enhance the collections.
Recently Dr. Chad Husby has been exploring tropical regions, focusing on Asia and the surrounding regions, looking for new plants to bring back. These plants are making their way into the garden and in time, given performances, will potentially find their way into our plant palettes.
This is of course not an exhaustive list of gardens to explore. There is a myriad of small and worthy gardens to find – the University of Southern Florida’s small but lush garden pops into mind. Botanic gardens have inspired and encouraged gardeners since the first one – Bartram’s Garden in Philadelphia – opened in 1730. Today they continue to provoke the imagination and provide places of refection and information for gardeners to enhance their own spaces. I encourage gardeners to take advantage of these institutions. Whether learning what and where to plant or to simply enjoy the world of plants they are invaluable spaces.
When You Go Keep in mind, even Florida has seasons. Many of the gardens look the most spectacular in the summer (prepare appropriately) but there is something to be seen in all seasons, especially with the tourism industry and the desire to wow visitors year round. The gardens also have annual events that can be wonderful for learning or simply enjoying an enhanced experience. Check their websites for dates and other information that will help you plan and make the most of your visit.
Antique Roses Never Went Out of Fashion by Linda Kimmel #Fragrant #Roses
“I feel as if I had opened a book and found roses of yesterday, sweet and fragrant, between its leaves.” – L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island (1915).
R. spinosissima ‘Altaica’ — Cream to white blooms with yellow stamens. Flowers form along the entire stem (instead of at the ends). Blooms early in the spring season and will cover the entire bush, resembling a mound of snow. The plant is upright, bushy, prickly and will reach 4 to 6 feet.
What is an antique rose? Sometimes antique roses are called heirloom, heritage, vintage or old garden roses. Whatever your preference of terminology, they are a wonderful class of roses whose date of introduction precedes 1867. They are extremely fragrant, grow without chemicals, and are adaptable in a wide variety of growing conditions. They can create a mood of romance, or nostalgia, stirring up sentimental memories of your grandmother’s yard with sprawling roses on the fence or trellis.
‘Alba Maxima’, also known as the “the great double white,” can be grown as a climber, reaching 8 to 10 feet high. Being disease resistant, hardy and beautiful, it is a lovely addition to any garden.
‘Königin von Dänemark’ is one my favorites. Beautiful, light pink, very double blooms that are fragrant. The bush is disease free and winter hardy.
Antique roses are a delightful piece of living history. They have endured the trials of time—found growing in old cemeteries or abandoned homesteads, surviving decades without human care or maintenance. While momentarily forgotten or replaced by newer remontant varieties, antique roses have prevailed.
As we move towards a “greener” earth, antique roses are making a strong comeback in modern gardens. They are easy to care for, resistant to disease, winter hardy with nice floral performance and fit comfortably in borders and perennial beds without seeming out of place.
There is great diversity in the antique rose classes: Understanding their personalities will help you choose the right rose for your garden. All rose recommendations are well known and suitable in USDA Zones 5 and 6. In addition, they all can be planted in the early fall.
Old Roses: Species (wild or native) and their hybrid counterparts
Species are wild flowering shrubs. Generally, they have a simple flower form of four to eight petals and drench themselves in blooms from late spring to early summer. Environmentally friendly, the flower provides pollen for bees and their prickly stems provide safe havens for the birds to build a nest. Rose hips (seed pods) produced after flowering provide winter interest for landscapers and a healthy food source for various wildlife. Because of their role in the food chain, species roses are often included in food forest and land restoration projects.
R. gallica versicolor ‘Rosa Mundi’ is an eye-catcher in the garden with semi-double pink flowers, striped with white. The bush is compact and suitable for smaller gardens. It is a sport or a mutation of the R. gallica officinalis ‘Apothecary’s Rose’.
‘La Belle Sultane’ is less known than some other Gallica roses, but provides a striking color contrast of violet to deep-crimson blooms. Long canes and attractive foliage provide movement and contrast in a mixed perennial border.
Gallica roses (Rosa gallica) are native to southern and central Europe, being one of the oldest classes of garden roses. They were cultivated by the Greeks and Romans for their medicinal benefits and were used to treat nearly everything from war injuries to common headaches. Empress Josephine, Napoleon’s first wife (in the early 1800s), managed a magnificent rose garden at her Chateau de Malmaison. The empress collected roses from around the world with two-thirds being Rosa gallica.
Gallica roses tend to be smaller shrubs, 2 to 4 feet tall, and once blooming. They are semidouble to very heavily petaled (100 petals), pink to brilliant purple and wonderfully fragrant. They are extremely winter hardy and actually prefer cooler climates over temperate Zones. They are easy to grow in poor or gravely soil and full sun.
Dating back to biblical times, Damask roses (Rosa × damascena) are the queen of fragrance. With their delectable perfume, it is no surprise Damask roses are regarded as symbols of love and beauty. Flowers are utilized by the perfume and cosmetic industries for their “attar” or essential oils. In Eastern cultures, they are often used as culinary spices, herbal teas, jams or desserts. Because of their remarkable qualities, Damask roses have been used extensively in hybridization programs and have given rise to thousands of new rose varieties.
Damask roses in the right climate may grow 7 feet tall — definitely much taller than Gallica roses, but are just as hardy. Their growth habit is sprawling with open airy branches and small clusters of blooms. Their colors range from shades of light to medium pink, with a few light reds. A few varieties will bloom twice a year with the first flush being the most spectacular.
Alba roses (Rosa hybrid) are a small class of antique roses, dating back to the Roman Empire. Alba roses are the easiest to grow, even tolerating some dappled shade. They are very winter hardy, have good disease resistance and are deliciously fragrant. They are vigorous, growing 5 to 8 feet in one season. Their canes can be lanky. As their name implies, Albas are mostly white to very pale pink.
‘Fantin-Latour’ is an outstanding “cabbage rose” or centifolia. It captured the hearts of the Dutch Master painters, displaying large, light pink and heavily petaled blooms. Blooming in the spring on a hardy bush with few prickles, it emits a lovely fruity fragrance.
Centifolia roses (Rosa × centifolia) are closely related to the Damask roses, Intensely fragrant, but not nearly as old. They are thought to be the product of Dutch breeders in the 17th and early 18th century. Resembling peonies, these antique roses have about 100 petals. Much revered for their beauty, Centifolia roses were found in the paintings and art works of the Dutch Masters. Typically appearing in various shades of pink, the blooms tend to be heavy, globular or cup-shaped. Having a rather lanky growth, their canes will arch and flower heads may nod. A little support with a peony cage will help keep them off the ground, especially if it rains.
Moss roses (Rosa hybrid), not to be confused with the annual plant rose moss (Portulaca grandiflora), are thought to be mutations or sported Centifolia or Damask roses. They display a fuzzy growth (moss-like) on their sepals, calyx and a portion of the stems. The reason for the genetic mutations is a mystery. This fascinating characteristic was then crossed and bred into new varieties. A Moss rose in the garden is destined to become a conversation piece.
The original five
These five types are the original antique roses. They have some color limitations, with only a few yellow and no orange varieties. However, their calming array of pink colors and relaxed growth habit allows them to blend easily into most modern gardens. Some claim it is a disadvantage that most of these original antique roses only bloom once per season. They provide a lot of bloom all at once for three to four weeks in the spring, strutting a spectacular display. We don’t ask, nor expect more, from our rhododendrons or viburnums.
Beautiful antique roses used as a hedge give privacy, versatility and striking nostalgic charm.
My favorite antique roses
Species Rosa rugosa— an extremely hardy shrub, tolerant of sandy dry soils and cold winters. Blooms are single petaled, pink to deep red and will repeat throughout the season.
R. rugosa ‘Alba’
R. spinosissima ‘Altaica’
Gallica roses R. gallica versicolor ‘Rosa Mundi’
R. gallica officinalis ‘Apothecary’s Rose’ — blooms are a semi-double deep pink to fuchsia with a strong fragrance.
‘Leda’ — has pink buds, opens to fully double white with pink tipped blooms. All of the Damask roses have an intoxicating fragrance.
‘Celsiana’ — is a semi-double light pink with bright yellow stamens.
‘Madame Hardy’ — is a classic Damask, very double, pure white with a green button-eye center.
‘Königin von Dänemark’
‘Madame Plantier’ — blooms are white, very double with a green eye. Resembling ‘Madame Hardy’ in color and center, except the flowers are smaller and tend to cluster.
‘Salet’ — is one of the best Moss roses on the market. It is fully double, bright pink with strong fragrance and will repeat bloom. A sweet compact shrub that is suitable for smaller gardens.
Antique rose care
Antique roses are easy to grow. Some old garden roses have survived for years with complete neglect. However, the more you put into the rose plant, the more you can expect to get back. Antiques or modern roses all perform better in full sun (a minimum of six hours, with eight hours or more preferred). They love morning sun, but will do well in southern and western exposures. When picking a garden site, avoid nearby trees, shrubs or aggressive plants, whose roots may become invasive and compete with the rose for water and nutrients.
Antique roses can be planted in the early fall or spring. Whether bare-root or potted, the same principles apply. Preparing the garden beds in advance is recommended, but not required. Add a generous supply of organic matter, such as compost, well-rotted horse manure, shredded leaves or grass clippings. Almost any soil type will benefit from adding organic matter. Roses prefer well-drained soils. By preparing beds in the fall, the soil and added amendments have a chance to blend, while beneficial soil microbes have time to mature. Fall planting is perfectly acceptable and preferred by many rose growers. Plant early, about six weeks before the first frost, so the roots have ample time to get anchored. Provide a little extra winter mulch for protection.
Budded or grafted roses should be planted at the union, just below the surface of the soil. For an own-root potted rose, the rose should be carefully removed from the pot with as much root and soil intact as possible. The soil line of the potted rose should be even with the natural soil line of the garden bed.
Mulch after planting. A 3 to 4 inch layer of mulch is recommended. Mulch will help to suppress weeds, reduce the spread of fungal diseases and retain soil moisture. Organic mulches (such as hardwood fines, pine straw, compost or shredded bark) will break down over time, adding humus and nutrients to the soil.
Antique roses require minimal pruning. Most antique roses bloom on second-year growth. Thus, pruning should be done shortly after the spring bloom, otherwise you will cut off next year’s roses. Of course, dead or nonproductive stems can be removed anytime.
A version of this article appeared in a September/October 2016 edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Linda Kimmel, Teresa Byington, and Carol Tumbas.
Cedar waxwings show up in the early spring to devour every berry in sight, often getting drunk from the fermented fruit. These birds act like canaries when they show up in groups, hanging upside down and snatching fruit from the hackberry tree.
It is a sad fact — habitat for birds and other wildlife is becoming more fragmented and wildlife populations are suffering due to the harm we as humans cause by moving our home and business developments farther and farther out from city centers. Ultimately, we are throwing the balance of nature out of whack. If we turn this alarming trend around and work toward becoming more ecologically responsible land stewards, would our personal actions help to restore the balance of nature? I want to be optimistic and say yes. As we cultivate our own yards and those of our communities, we should take responsibility upon ourselves to put nature back into the landscape and then encourage others to do the same. If we do what it takes to restore nature in our own yards, then we will be rewarded by the joy and wonder of nature on a daily basis, making us happier, healthier and wiser. I think the birds would be happier as well!
Creating a bird-friendly yard is a good way to start the process of becoming a “Conscientious Gardener.” If you consider your yard an extension of the nearest wild space or bird flyway, and provide some of the same essential elements of natural habitat, then you will be helping to bridge the gaps of the forest caused by sprawl, you’ll gain a better understanding of the needs of migrating and resident birds, and you will be rewarded by the nature that comes to your back door.
A bluebird gobbles up berries from the hackberry tree. Other favorite foods for bluebirds are berries from various sumac shrubs (species include smooth, winged and fragrant).
To create a bird-friendly environment, you must provide food, water, shelter and places for birds to rear their young. Birdhouses, birdbaths and brush piles are the easy ones to check off the list, but to provide a fine-dining smorgasbord for your feathered friends, you need to consider building several types of habitats by creating variety in plant groups in the areas you cultivate.
A meadow of native grasses, purple coneflower, evening primrose, standing cypress and tickseed will surely bring in the goldfinches.
Meadows – made up of native grasses and flowers – will attract pollinating insects, insects that feed on the plants and will give space for the birds to flutter about. Flowers and grasses will provide many seeds for species of finches, sparrows, buntings, grosbeaks and warblers. You may also plant nectar-producing plants for hummingbirds to share the space. Meadows do not have to be large or messy. Border a meadow with a neatly cut lawn, fence or a formal border to balance the look.
If you are starting from scratch, or underneath existing large trees, a woodland habitat should be built from the ground up and start at the forest floor. A good layer of leaf litter, compost and pine straw combined will invite microorganisms, worms, grubs and insects. Robins, towhees, flickers and juncos will scratch and poke about to find the food. Above the floor should be seasonal wildflowers and small plants, then shrubs, and understory trees – all planted in layers underneath the taller trees. Native plants and trees will attract the right insects and produce safer fruit for birds to eat. An increasing number of studies show that fruit produced by non-native plant species isn’t as healthy for the birds as fruit produced by native plants and they may sometimes actually be harmful. Plant plenty of plants that produce nectar, seeds and fruit, and don’t be so quick to deadhead or prune the birds’ food source. Add a brush pile amongst the bases of thicket-forming shrubs for brown thrashers, wrens, catbirds and sparrows.
Chances are you will have several woodpeckers show up if you leave a snag or two for the birds. This red-headed woodpecker hopped from branch to branch searching for the perfect hiding spot for the acorn.
Leave low-hanging limbs on the trees for birds to perch on as they search for food. Rose-breasted grosbeaks are fun to watch as they migrate through in
Cooper’s hawks will nest in tall pine or oak trees in suburban neighborhoods as long as there are stands of larger trees. Songbirds are on the menu for these babies but the parent hawks also bring them snakes, rabbits and mice.
A diversity of tall trees in groups will mimic the forest and will provide nesting sites, elevated views and protection from predators. Food sources abound from trees. Nectar from the flowers of tulip poplar attracts orioles. Tiny seeds from pinecones attract warblers, kinglets, pine siskins, titmice and crossbills. Oak leaves are larval host to many butterflies and moths, which are important food sources for breeding birds especially. Hackberry trees provide fruit for bluebirds, cedar waxwings and robins. Tall trees are also excellent structures for species such as nuthatches, robins and warblers. If there are enough tall trees in your neighborhood to form a good canopy, species of owls and Cooper’s, sharp-shinned and red-shouldered hawks will take up residence and build nests, or will use the trees for roosting.
Don’t forget to leave a few snags, or dead trees. If there’s no danger of the dead or dying tree falling on your house, leave it for the birds. Woodpeckers and nuthatches will excavate cavities for nesting and will forage for beetles and ants in the bark. Brown creepers, wrens, titmice, chickadees and small owls will also use cavities in dead wood to nest.
Plant, discover, watch, observe, map out your yard and report your findings to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Yard Map (content.yardmap.org).
Woven stick panel is inexpensive and is easily removed for access.
Over the past 30 years I have been snapping images of the ways gardeners hide the necessary evils – pool equipment, meters, propane tanks, air conditioners, and electric boxes. In this photo essay, I refer to all of them as the catchall term “the air conditioner.” Solutions fall into three basic groups – plants, enclosures, and walls/screens.
Left: Front and back of a wooden fence covered in ivy that hides pool equipment. Right: Front and back, an upright boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Fastigiata’) hides pool equipment.
Here is a three-sided trellis box. The lid lifts off.
I use the three-part hinged wooden screen in almost every garden I design. It can be easily removed for access to meters, electric boxes, generators, or air conditioners. It can be painted, stained, or left natural.
Two-sided wooden can corral with hinged doors.
Wooden enclosure with hinged doors for garbage cans. Note ramped curb for wheeling garbage bins.
Broadleaf evergreens like holly (Ilex spp.), boxwood (Buxus spp.), Aucuba, Indian hawthorn (Rhaphiolepisindica), and leucothoe (Agarista populifolia) are effective solutions, as are conifers like arborvitae (Thuja spp.). Evergreen climbing plants like Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) and ivy (Hedera spp.) have also been successful.
[Editor's Note: Aucuba, Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica), leucothoe (Agarista populifolia), and Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens) are not hardy below Zone 7.]
All of these plants are widely available and are the least expensive way to hide equipment.
Enclosures were made from fencing, stone, and trellis. Finishing details like capstones, feet that raised wooden enclosures above the soil, and attractive hardware made a difference between solutions that looked amateur and those that looked professional. One clever solution was a can enclosure that shared a wall with delivery bays for landscaping materials.
Walls and screens I saw were as simple as woven sticks and complicated as artistically stacked stone. They are useful if your guests will be viewing from only the front. My favorite solution is the three-paneled hinged screen that can be quickly removed for access to equipment.
In my own garden, I have taken an idea from Helen Yoest and thrown camouflage netting over an electric box and over a propane tank.
I hope some of these ideas will work for you.
A version of this article appeared in a
March 2016 edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of June Mays.
If you have ever seen a beautyberry in fruit, you are not likely to forget it. The brilliant, iridescent purple berries that cluster along the stems of Callicarpa dichotoma and C. japonica in late summer and fall will stop you in your tracks. I can’t think of another plant that sports such an arresting, audacious color. Carolyn Ulrich, editor of Chicagoland Gardening magazine, saw a beautyberry in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, at Thanksgiving a few years ago, and wondered, “What is that?” To her surprise (and delight) she learned that it grows in Zones 5 and 6. An enterprising landscaper has installed a couple in my city neighborhood. I have to have some.
Easy Does It
Care of shrubs is pretty simple.
• Most flowering and fruiting shrubs prefer evenly moist, well-drained soil and full sun.
That said, most will do fine in part sun.
Aronias tolerate wet and poor soil.
• Fertilizing isn’t usually necessary, but an occasional or even an annual scattering of a low-nitrogen feed can be beneficial.
• Water shrubs well and regularly in their first season. After that, water as you do the rest of the garden.
• Callicarpas should be pruned hard in March or April every year. Some experts say prune to the ground; others prefer to leave 5 to 6 inches. In the warmer microclimates at Fernwood, Bornell prunes back only to live buds, resulting in a larger specimen.
• Viburnums can be kept smaller and more shapely by judicious pruning of longer stems in early spring.
Berry Happy Together
While a few shrubs, such as most hollies, require a male plant amongst the berry-producing females to assure fruit, many others, callicarpa included, wish for companions rather than lovers. Alone, they fruit sporadically but produce the most berries when a pollinator is planted in close proximity. The best pollinator is of the same species but of a different variety or cultivar. Bloom times should also match for best berry set.
Kunso Kim, head of collections and curator of The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill., doesn’t hesitate to name Callicarpadichotoma among his favorites. The most root-hardy callicarpa, it can die back near the ground in winter and still survive. “It has a graceful habit,” says Kim. “The leaves are smaller than the other beautyberries, and the stems are slender, so that when they are covered with fruit, they tend to hang down. Very attractive.” He favors the C. dichotoma cultivar ‘Issai’. Its Japanese name translates into “Second Year.” It produces berries a year or so ahead of other callicarpas. ‘Issai’ and ‘Early Amethyst’ fruit most heavily of all the group. The two are attractive and prolific planted together.
Steve Bornell, manager of plant collections at Fernwood Botanical Gardens & Nature Preserve in Niles, Michigan, adds an endorsement for another C. dichotoma. “This is our first spring with ‘Spring Gold’, which is showing striking green and gold new foliage right now.”
C. japonica can get a bit leggy, but it appreciates being cut back hard in the spring so height and legginess problems can be controlled. Bornell offers this suggestion. “A mixed planting of C. j. ‘Leucocarpa’ and C. d. ‘Issai’ complement each other.”
C. mollis and C. bodinieri var. giraldii are not as hardy as dichotoma and japonica, don’t fruit as heavily and the leaves are larger and tend to obscure the berries. C. americana, native to our South, is not reliably hardy here.
The spring flowers and fall coloring of callicarpas are pleasant though not extraordinary. It’s the berries that are to die for.
Berries and flowers of Blue Muffin™ (Viburnum dentatum)
Fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus)
Eye-popping purple isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but fall berries come in so many colors and shades that there should be one for every taste. If you lean toward bright blueberry with a lustrous glow, southern arrowwood Blue Muffin™ (Viburnum dentatum ‘Christum’) is for you. It’s a compact beauty, growing 4 by 4 feet, with splendid white spring flowers, glossy foliage, handsome fall coloring and a profusion of berries that birds adore.
How about pink followed by turquoise? The tall (10- to 15-foot) blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolum) and rusty blackhaw (V. rufidulum) also flower beautifully and provide fall fireworks of bright red glossy foliage from which the blue berries (actually drupes) protrude. Ed Lyon, director of the Allen Centennial Garden on the University of Wisconsin- Madison campus, thinks the underused V. prunifolium is tough as nails, with great fruit and excellent fall color. In his part of Wisconsin the callicarpas need a protected site, but the viburnums, especially the haws, scoff at below-zero temperatures.
Lyon urges us also to consider the possumhaw (V. nudum), especially the 6-foot cultivar ‘Winterthur’ that features the same magnificent all-season displays as the other haws, plus huge 4-inch fruits. Kunso Kim loves the possumhaw Brandywine™ (V. nudum ‘Bulk’). “It has glossy leaves that turn rich burgundy in autumn and a breathtaking fruit display. The green drupes change to bright pink, then to bright blue and wild grape.” Brandywine is a fine cross-pollinator for ‘Winterthur’. Most haws will pollinate each other, and all attract bees and butterflies that do the job.
The native fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus) and the Chinese species (C. retusus) can barely be considered shrubs at 12 to 20 feet tall. But they bloom so ecstatically and produce such a surfeit of “bloomy” medium-blue fruits beloved of birds that they make a grand addition to a middle-sized or large garden. Since they are dioecious like hollies, only the females produce fruit and require a male in the vicinity to do so. C. virginicus is the hardier of the two, the one suitable for Wisconsin, says Ed Lyon.
Red fall berries are archetypal — beacons in October, standouts against the snow in winter like little drops of blood. Luckily, our area supports many shrubs that provide them. Hollies are rivaled by viburnums and some lesser-known plants. Boyce Tankersley, director of living plant documentation at the Chicago Botanic Garden, Glencoe, Ill., thinks no one should be without a highbush cranberry viburnum Redwing® (V. trilobum ‘J.N. Select’). He describes it as “growing thicker than most with a tighter bunching habit, simply lovely blooms, bright red autumn foliage and ruby berries that, as they mature, become translucent. With the sun behind them on a fall day, they are a glorious sight.” Redwing® grows up to 10 feet tall, but one can easily control its size by cutting back the longest stems.
Viburnum Cardinal Candy™
Redwing® American Cranberrybush
(Viburnum trilobum ‘J. N. Select’)
The Linden viburnum Cardinal Candy™ (V. dilatatum ‘Henneke’) inspires Kunso Kim to poetic flights. “It’s like manna to bees and butterflies. It’s a nice height, 5 to 6 feet, that can be maintained shorter with pruning, and produces abundant bright red fruits in late summer that still cling to the shrub the next spring when flocks of cedar waxwings come to nibble away. And it gives a good fruit set without cross pollination.”
Steve Bornell praises the Viburnum dilatatum ‘Erie’ growing at Fernwood for its fantastic coral red fruit and adds, “We also have an 8-foot Cotoneaster multiflorus, which sports red berries over red fall foliage — a show stopper along our entry drive.”
For the smaller garden that might be overwhelmed by the statuesque beauties mentioned above, the smaller, sprawling cotoneasters C. horizontalis and C. hessei are great choices. Kunso Kim describes them as having a “fishbone structure,” refined and graceful, just right for spreading over a wall or bank. Their small, dense shiny leaves support and show off the bright red berries.
And the easy-to-grow native aronia or chokeberry should not be overlooked, though Ed Lyon claims that its rock-hardiness causes its overuse in Wisconsin. Says Kunso Kim, “Aronia arbutifolia ‘Brilliantissima’ is a shrub that has it all: fruit for the birds; nectar for insects; cover for wildlife and multiseason beauty from its nectar-loaded white to pinkish flowers; dense clusters of glossy red fruit that persists through winter; and brilliant red foliage in autumn.” Cultivars of black chokeberry (A. melanocarpa), especially ‘Morton’ and ‘Iroquois Beauty’, have shiny black berries. “With profuse small white flowers, chokeberry is gorgeous in spring and again in fall with wine-red foliage,” Kim declares. Nothing improves a garden more and gives it better bones than planting shrubs. Add some of these season-prolonging fruiting charmers, many of which have berries that persist through the winter.
A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 17 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Ron Capek, Proven Winners, and Bailey Nurseries.
The cool tones of the white and purple viola complement the blue fescue, as well as the ajuga in the background.
Adding color to your garden in winter can be a challenge. For many gardeners, barren beds are something we learn to live with until spring. After all, our winters can be harsh with temperatures frequently dipping below freezing. Most flowering plants do not survive in these conditions. However, there are some that flourish, and even thrive, in cooler temperatures. Brightening a winter garden doesn’t have to be difficult, you just need to pick the right plants for your conditions.
Bedding plants are the answer for many of us. While you won’t find flats of petunias and impatiens available at your garden center in November, there are plants that will brighten a bleak winter landscape. The plants listed below will provide you with a colorful garden even when everything else seems gray.
Beyond Pansies, Cabbage and Kale
When I say bedding plants for winter, most people think of pansies, cabbage and kale. While these are wonderful plants for your cold weather landscape, pansies and ornamental cabbages are not the only winter bedding plants available to Southern gardeners. In spite of our sometimes difficult winters, we have a nice variety of plants that can bring a little color to the landscape when we need it most. Go ahead and plant pansies and cabbages, but while you’re doing so, add some of the plants mentioned below and transform your garden from basic to beautiful.
Antirrhinum majus (Snapdragons)
Antirrhinum majus has long been a favorite of gardeners everywhere. Many of us played with these plants as a child, pinching the bloom to make the “mouth” open and shut. Whether it’s the bit of whimsy they bring to the landscape, or the fact that they bloom when few other plants do, snapdragons have been cherished for years. Easy to grow and available in a variety of colors from bright bold tones to soft pastels, they brighten any landscape well after the weather turns chilly.
A tender perennial in warmer zones, in Zones 5 and 6 Antirrhinum majus is grown as a hardy annual. However, there is the possibility that they will reseed and survive until spring. They are available in sizes from 10 inches to more than 36 inches tall, and bloom in late fall and early spring. Regular deadheading promotes a longer bloom time. Snapdragons make great companions for other cool-season plants such as pansies and kale.
Primula aricula 2
Primula auricula (Primroses)
Like Antirrhinum majus, Primula auricula is an old-time favorite. The bright flowers conjure up memories of gardens from years ago. Primula blooms in very early spring, around March, and produces neat compact flowers that come in a variety of colors. They are beautiful in mass plantings or in moist woodland settings. Primula thrives on moist, rich soil and some of the polyanthus hybrids (P. x polyantha) can easily be grown from seed. Because they love moist soil, watch out for slugs.
Primula is available in heights up to 2 feet tall. They do not form loose clumps like pansies, so Primula’s neat compact design is perfect for a more structured or formal garden.
Hellebores, Helleborus spp., are a great winter-blooming perennial that also provide foliage year round in the shade garden…and they’re deer resistant too!
Helleborus (Lenten Rose)
There is something mysterious about Helleborus. Blooming when the ground is still sleeping, these seemingly delicate flowers are a delight to tuck into containers and beds. Sometimes, Helleborus will even push its way through a blanket of snow to bloom, its single rose-shaped face nodding toward the ground. Most varieties grow about 2 feet tall and 15 inches wide. They need well-drained soil, otherwise, soggy roots can kill the plant.
Helleborus are best planted next to a porch or patio, anywhere their understated elegance can be appreciated. One word of warning, all parts of the plant are toxic and should be kept away from children and pets.
This yellow and purple Rebelina series viola delights in the fall garden and is in constant bloom in spring until heat and humidity set in.
Viola tricolor (Johnny-jump-ups)
For such a delicate plant, violas are wonderfully hardy. Only 6 to 8 inches high, and available in a wide variety of colors, tiny violas are perfect for cool-season beds and planters. They poke through the soil in early spring and remain blooming long after other flowers have stopped. Violas prefer cool conditions and rich, moist, well-drained soil. Deadhead for a longer bloom time. Plant violas en masse and you will transform your barren winter garden into a wonderland of color.
Winter doesn’t have to be an off-season for gardens or gardeners. Yes, it is a time to slow down, to reflect on the past season’s work and to plan for the next year. But with the right plants, your garden can still be colorful even when everything else is wintery gray. This year, move beyond pansies, cabbage and kale. Experiment with some of the flowers mentioned here and your winter will be much more colorful. Even in the “off” season.
Don’t Forget Ground Covers
While I’ve focused on flowering plants, a splash of green against the gray winter sky can have an enormous impact. A ground cover that keeps its color in winter can liven up almost any landscape. Luckily, there are several that will flourish in our area.
Some ground covers to consider are: Hedera helix (English ivy,) Brunnera (Siberian bugloss) and Vinca minor (periwinkle). Planted along borders and in beds, using these vines as ground covers can brighten your garden even in winter. Add some of the flowering plants listed above, and enjoy even more winter color.
One word of caution, some vines can be aggressive and extremely invasive. If you decide to add them to your landscaping, make sure you keep an eye on their growth, trimming them back as needed.
The garden’s brick pathways lead viewers through the garden.
When Ralph Coffey decided to move his garden from Lake Norman to Asheville, N.C., he knew the 100-mile journey was a risk. He spent years cultivating his collection of unusual plants and he couldn’t imagine leaving them behind.
He was lured to western North Carolina by the opportunity to establish The WhiteGate Inn and Cottage in a historic home built in Asheville in 1889. The stately bed and breakfast is now surrounded by a lush garden marked by large Japanese maples, magnolias, conifers, and perennials.
Some gardeners would leave their precious plants behind or gift them to a friend or neighbor. Instead, Coffey brought along approximately 450 of his favorite perennials, shrubs, and trees with him to the mountains.
The gardens surrounding WhiteGate Inn’s historic home welcome visitors.
left: Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) grows near the greenhouse, which contains approximately 1,500 orchids and tropical plants. middle: Various maple trees bring fall color to the WhiteGate Inn’s porch. right: Stone gargoyles stand guard along the garden’s steps.
The process of transplanting a massive garden can be daunting, but for Coffey it was all about timing. He started the transition a full year before the move, digging around the roots of the trees every two or three weeks to ready them for their journey. When the plants were dormant in late November, he made his move. “I didn’t lose a single thing,” says Coffey. “And I moved some fairly large Japanese maples here.”
In the months leading up to the move, he gradually pruned the trees’ canopies to compensate for the loss of roots. Giving them relief from supporting too much weight helped to avoid placing excessive stress on the plants. He moved a prized magnolia when it was 10 feet tall. It now towers over the garden at a full 25 feet, bringing with it fragrant flowers in the spring and year-round interest.
Starting with mature plants gave his new garden an established look from the beginning. “I transplanted so many of these plants that it created an instant effect,” he remarks.
left: Wooden and metal sculptures punctuate the garden’s wooded areas. right: Water features weave around the garden’s natural growth
Entering the garden feels like slipping into a hidden cove full of deep greens and subdued colors. Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) reveal their vibrancy each fall before the evergreens take center stage. A robust, well-established garden mirrors the feel of the historic inn, creating an enticing oasis for passersby.
The gardens are primarily for the inn’s guests, but anyone can visit with advanced notice, says Coffey. It’s been 16 years since his initial move, but he’s still finding the ideal layout for his garden. Simplicity guides his process, which relies heavily on self-seeded plants that emerge each year. “When you have self-seeded plants it creates a wilder effect,” he says. “I like the idea that every year is different. You don’t know where these things are going to pop up.”
left: Ivy (Hedera) grows throughout the historic inn’s garden. middle: ‘Flying Dragon’ hardy citrus (Poncirus trifoliate ‘Flying Dragon’ is an unusual garden addition. right: Found objects like this antique radiator add visual interest to the grounds.
As his garden evolves, so does Coffey. “Now I spend more time moving things around, relocating things and pulling things out than I do planting things,” he says.
Gone are the days when he’d buy a dozen flats of annuals each spring. Now he spends his days tending to the plants he already knows and loves, always ready with a shovel to give them a new home just a few feet down the path.
A version of this article appeared in Carolina Gardener Volume 27 Number 9.
Photography courtesy of Jen Nathan Orris.
Fern-filled urns, clipped boxwood (Buxus spp.), and attractive brick paving combine with varying sizes of ‘Degroot’s Spire’ arborvitae to let visitors know they have arrived at the front door of this stately home.
It is no secret that plants come in many shapes, sizes, and growth habits. For those of us who are fortunate enough to know the joys of gardening, we get to take advantage of this great variety when creating our own personal Eden. Two nearly identical groups of plants that are both fun to work with and practical, are columnar and fastigiate evergreens. While these two terms are often considered interchangeable, there is indeed a slight difference, but only by a matter of degrees. This difference is so small that it really does not affect the ways these plants can be used. What these forms have in common are dense upright growth and an inability to develop broad, spreading, side branches. This results in skinny plants that reach for the sky, yet ask only for just a little space in your garden to do so.
Blue Italian cypress (Cupressus sempervirens ‘Glauca’) frames this ancient brick wall and gate without obstructing its architectural details. Unfortunately, the aggressive Wisteria climbing on top will not be so kind once it breaks dormancy.
One of the most practical ways to use these evergreens is to create tall, yet narrow, screens or hedges. This is especially useful for people who garden in today’s smaller spaces and want to create a sense of privacy without sacrificing precious garden real estate. Additionally, these plants will not make anyone a slave to pruning, unlike many traditional hedge choices. For those that want a bit of height in these same small gardens, a single tall, narrow specimen will give them what they want without requiring the space and sunlight that a larger tree would.
Unfortunately, many shortsighted builders leave narrow strips of nearly useless garden space wedged between walls and paving sections. These spaces barely have enough room to grow a few annuals, let alone a tree or a shrub. However, they may have room enough for something tall and skinny. When space is not an issue, these plants can also be used in informal, thoughtfully spaced groupings, and a more natural feel can be obtained by selecting distinctly staggered sizes of the same plant.
Tall narrow plants are often used to accentuate the features of a building, whether to frame an entrance, line a walkway, soften corners, or to enhance vertical architectural elements. For taller buildings, these plants are one way to add a layer, or a bridge if you will, between the height of the structure and the garden that surrounds it.
Dense narrow evergreens can be added as “thriller” to container designs. ‘Sky Pencil’ holly (Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’) has been used to great effect in these combinations.
Speaking of structure, planting tight narrow evergreens is one way to add this design element to looser, more free form gardens that may need it. Used this way and repeated, a sense of rhythm can be created in the process.
Contrast is another design element that can be added to gardens by combining these evergreens with more rounded, open, or sprawling plant forms. You can achieve this same contrast in container gardens by adding a tall vertical element for a bit of drama. This is especially useful in winter containers, as many of these plants can easily withstand lower temperatures.
Whether columnar and fastigiate plants are used artistically or practically, there is a small place in gardens of all sizes for these “exclamation points” to be used as punctuation.
Tall narrow evergreens are an excellent choice for privacy screening, and to create a sense of enclosure. Here a tightly planted row of ‘Degroot’s Spire’ arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis ’Degroot’s Spire’) does that well, but also leads the eye towards the distant red mobile.
Buxus sempervirens ‘Dee Runk’
Dee Runk boxwood
8’ x 2’
light sun to shade
tolerant for a boxwood
Buxus sempervirens ‘Fastigiata’
8’ x 3’
light sun to shade
dark green foliage
Camellia sasanqua ‘Autumn Rocket’
Autumn Rocket camellia
8-10’ x 3-4’
light sun to shade
white flowers in late fall
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Fastigiata’
Upright Japanese plum yew
8-10’ x 3-5’
light sun to shade
heat and humidity tolerant
Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Korean Gold’
Korean Gold Japanese plum yew
6-10’ x 3-6’
light sun to shade
Chamaecyparisthyoides ‘Red Star’
Red Star Atlantic white cedar
15-25’ x 6-8’
plum-purple winter foliage
Blue Italian cypress
25-40’ x 4-5’
Cupressus sempervirens ‘Swane’s Golden’
Swane’s Golden Italian cypress
15-20’ x 2-3’
Cupressussempervirens ‘Tiny Tower’
Tiny Tower Italian cypress
25-30’ x 3’
smaller than the species
Euonymusjaponicus ‘Green Spire’
Green Spire euonymus
15’ x 6’
full sun to shade
salt and drought tolerant
Ilex crenata ‘Sky Pencil’
Sky Pencil Japanese holly
6-8’ x 2-3’
full sun to part shade
good for containers
Ilex vomitoria ‘Scarlet’s Peak’
Scarlet’s Peak Yaupon holly
20’ x 3’
full sun to part shade
native, red berries
Ilex vomitoria ‘Will Fleming’
Will Fleming Yaupon holly
8-15’ x 2-3’
full sun to part shade
may need occasional pruning
Juniperus chinensis ‘Spartan’
Spartan Chinese juniper
15-20’ x 4-5’
Juniperus virginiana ‘Brodie’
Brodie eastern red cedar
20-25’ x 6-9’
drought and salt tolerant
Juniperus virginiana ‘Taylor’
Taylor eastern red cedar
15-20’ x 3-4’
dense foliage, very adaptable
Thuja occidentalis ‘Degroot’s Spire’
Degroot’s Spire arborvitae
15-20’ x 2-3’
full sun to part shade
foliage bronzes in winter
Thuja occidentalis ‘Jantar’
6-10’ x 3’
full sun to part shade
bright golden foliage
Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’
12-15’ x 3-4’
full sun to part shade
common and easy to find
Thuja occidentalis ‘Yellow Ribbon’
Yellow Ribbon arborvitae
8-10’ x 2-3’
full sun to part shade
golden yellow foliage
A version of this article appeared in a June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Les Parks.
Sadly underutilized, C. palustris ‘Summer Sunshine’ was the highest-rated perennial coreopsis in Mt. Cuba Center’s trial. Vigorous plants grew to a height of 30 inches and bloomed for six weeks starting in late September.
Interest in native plants, such as Coreopsis, continues to surge as gardeners realize their benefits. Breeders respond with a dizzying array of new cultivars, but which one is right for you? A research report issued in December 2015 by Mt. Cuba Center can help you decide. They trialed 67 different varieties of perennial coreopsis over a three-year period, and after speaking with George Coombs, research horticulturist at Mt. Cuba Center, it’s clear that only the toughest survived.
None of the plants were coddled, because the average gardener doesn’t have time for that. They weren’t staked, sprayed, or fertilized. Winter hardiness was an issue; not because of temperature, but because Coreopsis prefer a sandy, well-drained soil, and the soil at Mt. Cuba is loamy clay. Mostly, it was the clumping types that perished; the rhizomatous ones were more adaptable. Another source of causalities was a wet summer – 12 inches of rain in June – that caused widespread root rot followed by disease.
The top four varieties that not only survived, but thrived, under these adverse conditions are listed in the quick facts or the photo captions. You can read the entire report on Mt. Cuba’s website, mtcubacenter.org. And if you have well-drained soil, consider some of the varieties that scored well, but didn’t survive a winter. For instance, ‘Mercury Rising’ died in Mt. Cuba’s trials, but it’s a winner in my garden. It’s all about your soil and picking the Coreopsis that’s right for you.
C. verticillata ‘Zagreb’ garnered fourth place at the trials.
Beginning in June, bright yellow flowers carpeted the 20-inch tall plants.
Common Name: Tickseed
Cultivars to Look For:Coreopsis tripteris ‘Flower Tower’ took second place in the trial. In August, sturdy, 8-inch-tall stems are topped with cheerful yellow flowers that measure 2½ inches across, the largest flower in the trial. C. tripteris ‘Gold Standard’ took third place, but many not be available at nurseries for several years.
Zones: Vary for different species, often 4-9
Type: Some are annual, but this article focuses on perennial Coreopsis.
Exposure: Full sun for all but C. latifolia, which prefers shade or part shade.
Soil: Well-drained soil is best, but rhizomatous types adapt to clay soils.
Watering: After their first year, trial plants survived on rainfall alone.
When to Prune: In late winter, cut to the ground.
In Your Landscape: Plant a pollinator garden with a variety of Coreopsis to extend the bloom season and support a great diversity of pollinators.
A version of this article appeared in Alabama Gardener Volume 15 Number 4.
Photography courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center.
Two-spotted spider mite feeding results in yellow or white flecking on upper leaf surfaces, usually the first sign of an infestation.
The thought of spider mites can bring chills to an avid gardener, rekindling memories of the damage inflicted to a favorite plant by tiny creatures you can hardly see. Of all the pests in the urban landscape, spider mites are probably the most difficult to manage. They are periodic pests of an extensive list of trees, shrubs, and flowers, attacking both evergreen and deciduous plants. They are not insects but are more closely related to spiders; therefore, management options by homeowners are limited. Their common name is derived from the ability of most species to produce silken webs on host plants. Because mite populations tend to be explosive, infestations often go unnoticed until plants are already showing significant damage. The two-spotted spider mite and spruce spider mite are the most common pests.
Spider Mites Are Very Tiny — Period
Spider mites are very tiny, about the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Mites have needle-like mouthparts for penetrating plant tissues, and are found primarily on the undersides of leaves. Their feeding results in yellow or white flecking on upper leaf surfaces, usually the first sign of an infestation. With heavy mite feeding, the foliage takes on a silvery or bronzed cast. Web-producing spider mites can smother the foliage with a fine silk, which collects dust and makes the plant look dirty. Under favorable conditions, spider mite populations quickly build, causing premature leaf drop, poor plant growth and potentially the death of infested plants. Under optimum conditions some mites can complete a generation in as little as a week.
Spider mite species seem to be warm-weather- or cool-weather-active pests. The two-spotted spider mite is a “warm-season” mite, doing best in the dry, hot summer weather. It is most commonly found damaging winged euonymus and viburnum species, as well as perennial and annual flowers. The spruce spider mite is a common “cool-season” mite, thriving best in cool spring or fall weather. This pest infests all types of conifers, especially spruce and pine trees, junipers and arborvitae shrubs. Conifers often react slowly to mite feeding. Yellowing and bronzing of the needles may not be seen until summer, even though the damage may have occurred the previous spring.
As spider mite infestations expand, it is not uncommon to see silken webs enveloping plants — especially perennial plants such as these columbines.
Managing Spider Mites
Spider mites threaten the health and appearance of your plants. Early detection of spider mites, before damage occurs, is important. To check for spider mites, hold a sheet of white paper under a branch and tap the branch sharply. If present, mites will fall off and be seen as tiny specks crawling over the paper. If crushed, most plant-feeding mites will produce a green streak.
Before selecting a pesticide option, try to reduce your mite problem by hosing down your plants with a steady stream of water every day for a week or so. In addition to physically dislodging mites by “syringing,” populations are less explosive under these moist conditions that promote a fungal disease of the mites. Of course, wetting foliage in this manner also increases the potential for plant disease. If you still find large numbers of mites on your plants, reduce spider mite problems and conserve natural enemies in the home garden by using the least toxic materials available. The natural enemies in your home garden are your most important weapons against spider mites.
Chemical Control Using ‘Soft Pesticides’
If a treatment is necessary, use insecticidal/miticidal oils and soaps. Both petroleum-based horticultural oils and plant-based oils such as neem, canola or cottonseed are available to homeowners. These can be used on perennial and woody ornamentals during the summer but avoid spraying flowers, which can be damaged. Do not apply soaps or oils on water-stressed plants or when temperatures exceed 90 F. Since soaps and oils work by contact only, thorough coverage of the upper and lower leaf surfaces is necessary for good control. For control of heavy mite infestations, especially on high-value plants, you may want to consider hiring a professional applicator since they have access to more specific miticides than is available to homeowners.
Spider mite populations can easily spread down a row of susceptible shrubs
such as burning bushes (Euonymus alatus).
Two-Spotted Spider Mites
The two-spotted spider mite is often introduced on infested bedding and houseplants, so the first principle of spider mite management is prevention. When purchasing new plants, carefully inspect the lower leaf surface for any signs of pests, especially mite webbing. It is always best to quarantine new plants for a few days until you are sure that no mites are present.
With a little knowledge and vigilance, keep mites away; no one likes to recall the nightmares that spider mites can cause.
A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Douglas A. Spilker Ph.D.
Most any small flowers from your garden make colorful filler for potpourri.
One of my favorite duties in the nursery at Mounts Botanical Garden is pruning the herbs. Every week I make my rounds, pinching things back and trimming as needed. Needless to say, I end up with a lot of material. By the end of the day, visitors have snatched up most, but what’s left gets stuffed in a bag, and I bring it home to make potpourri.
Vetiver root makes a great fixative for potpourri.
Even in my own garden I never throw herb clippings away. I unceremoniously dump them in a crystal bowl in the living room, where they perfume the air as they dry. When the bowl is full I scrunch the leaves, and the good stuff falls to the bottom. Then I use the leftovers for mulch.
“Potpourri” means “rotten pot” in French. In the 17th century, they would layer fresh herbs and flowers with coarse salt, which acted as a preservative and drying agent. Fortunately things are a bit easier today. In fact, making your own potpourri is so easy that I’m amazed more people don’t do it.
There are more complicated methods for making potpourri. But I like to keep things simple and love how each batch smells a bit different from the one before. If the process intimidates you, you can always find recipes online. But it’s much more fun to invent your own.
Potpourri is composed of three elements: filler, fixative and fragrance. I like using bits of orange peel and dried flowers for filler. The petals of strawflowers (Xerochrysum bracteatum), Gomphrena and marigolds (Tagetes spp.) work especially well. For a fixative, I use patchouli (Pogostemon cablin) leaves or vetiver root (Vetiveria zizanioides), both of which grow well down here. Fixatives help reduce the evaporation rate, which keeps your potpourri smelling good longer.
Use your imagination and make your own special blends.
‘Louis Philippe’ rose petals retain their color
long after they dry.
The leaves of pineapple sage make a great
aromatic filler for potpourri.
Remember, lemon balm isn’t just for tea.
Use its leaves for potpourri!
Scrunching herbs after they dry makes the
“good stuff” fall to the bottom.
Thankfully, we’re past the days of tucking sachets into clothing to disguise odors, or strewing them on floors to deter pests. But potpourris still have their place. I fill small bags (available at craft stores) with potpourri and put them in dresser drawers to keep things fresh. Herbal sachets also make great housewarming gifts. I once gave them to guests at a garden party, attaching each one to an herb. Remember to buy “see-thru” bags if you want to show off their contents.
I like using the petals of ‘Louis Philippe’ (the “cracker rose”) in potpourri, because they hold their color for a long time and have a nice fragrance. Some herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and lavender, retain their aroma much longer than others. But when it comes to potpourri, anything from mints to sage can be used.
The best time to gather leaves for potpourri is in the morning, after the dew dries, but before the sun starts stressing leaves. Always gather four times what you need, as everything shrinks considerably after it dries. If you’re making potpourri for display purposes, scrunch leaves slightly or not at all after they dry. Then add larger items, like pinecones, spiraled orange peel or cinnamon sticks.
Most herbs take about a week to completely dry. I dry large batches on baking trays in air conditioning, but window screens work well in non-air conditioned areas, since they afford good ventilation. Remember to dry only a single layer at a time. Otherwise, some herbs with high moisture content may actually mold before they get a chance to dry.
A good combo to promote sleep is chamomile flowers, lavender buds and lemon balm leaves. You can even make an easy herb “pillow” by filling a wine bag with potpourri and sewing up the end. I make Christmas sachets with balsam needles and attach them to Christmas gifts. Balsam sachets are great for sock drawers.
Lavender flowers are about the only blooms that hold their fragrance when dried, but just about any small flower from your garden can be used in potpourri as filler. I use the leaves of lavender as well as the flowers, as they still offer considerable fragrance.
Some people add a few drops of scented oil to intensify the fragrance of potpourri, but I’ve never found this necessary. Oils are great for adding to older mixes, but I find crunching them up a bit is usually all that’s necessary to restore their fragrance. Depending on the herbs used, some combos remain fragrant for two years or more. Keeping them sealed until needed makes them last even longer.
*Editor's note: The author lives and works in Florida. The general information in this article can be used to a variety of effects; however, specific plants mentioned may have trouble growing in different zones.
A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardener Volume 19 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.
Wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus) (foreground), yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea) (center), Kenilworth ivy (Cymbalaria muralis) (background) and sedum (below) all do their parts to cover the ground. The corydalis has a lovely habit of seeding into the most interesting location and forming a rolling carpet on top of open ground. It blooms for nearly the full season.
Ideally, good, aggressive garden plants are tough, spread nicely and can be controlled easily by pulling, cultivation or herbicides. The thicker and taller they are, the better they suppress weeds. But what exactly are ‘good’ aggressive plants?
Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea)
“The difference between you and me,” snarls the villain to the hero, “is not so great.” It’s a classic moment in action movies that forces us to process in our minds the sometimes razor-thin, but important, differences between good aggression and evil domination. In the garden, knowing the difference between good and appreciated vigorous plants versus bedeviling invasive ones can mean the difference between a bountiful and vibrant garden or a disgusting mess.
While no one could or should understate the woeful impact invasive plants have had on our ecosystems, I sometimes worry that a lot of ground has become merely a showcase for mulch rather than a place for diverse and beneficial plant life simply because people have become fearful of aggressive plants. Remember, ecologically turf is always better than asphalt or mulch and richly planted gardens are always — if maintained — better than turf.
Two tough competitors tumble over a wall in a battle for space. Snow in summer (Cerastium tomentosum) in the foreground and cranesbill geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’) in the background are both spectacular in bloom and provide rich carpets of foliage the rest of the season.
Aggressive or Invasive —Define Please
There’s no way around it. Any mention of “aggressive plants” will stomp all over the thin ice of the native-versus-exotic debate. So let’s define some terms.
Invasive Plant: An exotic plant that can jump spatial barriers, escape into wild places and grow in large enough numbers to create monocultures or near monocultures. A native plant cannot be “invasive.” It can be weedy and not something you want in your garden, but it cannot be “invasive.”
Monoculture: A situation where a plant is aggressive to the point it excludes a significant percentage of indigenous plant life in the wild.
Regionality: A plant that is very desirable in one region may turn out to be invasive in another. If in doubt, check with your local extension agents or expert nursery staff before introducing potentially invasive plants in your garden.
Stylistically, filling the voids between plants with more plants helps increase multi-season interest, provides color and textural contrast, increases habitat and food for beneficial insects and wildlife, increases repetition and is simply good design. Functionally, vegetation performs all the roles we would typically assign to mulch better than mulch. Growing more plants is a win-win.
Just because plants used for such purposes are often called “filler” or “ground cover” doesn’t mean they must be banal! A swath of black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) in midsummer bloom is a show stopper. A carpet of plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) in bloom and fall color in late September is a sight to behold. A river of hardy geranium (Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’) flowing between blooming azaleas is capable of upstaging them.
Arkansas bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii) gradually becomes a big, sturdy plant. If you move seedlings or plant it in sizeable numbers as in here at The Scott Arboretum in Swarthmore, Pa., you can cover large amounts of real estate with beautiful, beneficial plant life.
Cranesbill geranium (Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokova’)
Ideally, good, aggressive garden plants are tough, spread nicely either by seed or vegetative growth, can be controlled easily by pulling, cultivation or by glyphosate or pre-emergents. The thicker and taller they are, the better they suppress weeds. Filler plants can be any height, but they should not exceed one-third the height of your nearby specimen plants. Needless to say, such plants can go a long way towards allowing you to garden more on a small budget.
So don’t be afraid. Don’t be shy. Put some rambunctious things in your garden, spur your horse, and ride off into the sunset.
Examples of Good, Aggressive “Filler” Plants
Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis ‘September Charm’)
The Next Generation by Rebecca Stoner Kirts #Advice #Kids
Picking time with Grandpa.
“Every child is born a naturalist.
His eyes are, by nature, open to the glories of the stars, the beauty of the flowers, and the mystery of life.”
So how do we tap into this and keep kids connected to gardening? As a young child I remember watching my mother work in her iris beds arranging the blooms for entry into competitions. I was so proud that I was able to share this garden time with my mother. It was my special connection to her. With six brothers and sisters, one-on-one time was cherished. Lovingly my mother set me in motion down the path of an unstoppable passion for gardening. I love this quote by Alice Walker, “In search of my mothers garden, I found my own.”
My father, who was a very involved corporate businessman, always found the time to pick apples with us or gather sticks from the yard. Working with him was not a chore; it was a privilege that continued the nurturing of my soul. My father would spend hours transplanting black-eyed Susan or violets, believing everything in nature deserved a place to thrive. All six of us loved learning about gardening and nature from Dad.
My parents’ love of gardening is forever ingrained into me. From continuing the tradition of planting hundreds of daffodil bulbs, to keeping bees, to moving violets, all that was important to both my parents and is now so very important to me.
How do I continue to keep that love of gardening alive and moving forward through the generations? As I said before, I do believe the love of nature and gardening is born in each of us. However, if the seed is not nurtured, it will not grow. Exposure to nature is the key. It does not necessarily have to be a children’s garden, it can simply be your own backyard or a near by park.
We are blessed to have many garden areas designed just for children. I recently spent a delightful afternoon in Lexington at the University of Kentucky Children’s Garden with my grandchildren. I am not sure who had more fun. The garden has many great areas to explore including a wading creek with pocket gardens along its banks. Since the temperature was in the high 90s it was the place to be!
To me nothing is more fun than having the grandsons in the backyard. Events such as spotting the red cherries on the trees and crawling around the strawberry patch to pluck out the sweet berries are both great for hours of entertainment and garden nurturing. As the summer progresses, there are veggies to pick and taste. My goal is for each of them to eventually have their own garden patch. The boys will get to decide what they what to plant. Being 4 and 5 years old, this is just the beginning of what I hope will be a lifelong love of growing their own food or at least knowing where food comes from.
Even if you don’t have a big space, you can have a garden. Pots on the back porch can hold bright red cherry tomatoes or sweet smelling herbs. The Children’s Garden at University of Kentucky has a pizza garden with all the plants needed for a great pizza pie. It also has a color-coded garden and a horse garden where oats, carrots, and timothy grass grow. These are all plants horses love to eat. Taking a theme that your child can relate to and planting a garden focusing on that theme is not only fun, but also educational. Believe me your kids will love it
Nothing attracts kids like water. As children, my kids loved helping with the watering can, spraying the hose, or manipulating the sprinkler. On hot days this will always be a hit – plus it helps children learn the importance of water in the garden.
What child does not love to touch or pet another living creature? As a young child my daughter would sit out in the garden and dig in the dirt to find worms. She loved the worms and would softly talk to them. Because we had read books about their importance in a garden, she would carefully place the worms back in the earth to do their job. To this day, at 32, she still has a very soft caring heart for all living creatures.
Sometimes ladders are just not tall enough.
The sight of butterflies flitting across the top of the oregano or bees buzzing on the squash blossoms adds much excitement and energy to a garden for kids. I will never forget the squeal of delight as my grandson, Thatcher, saw his first firefly emerging out of the ground.
Do you know any child that is not thrilled with finding treasures? The love of things “found” such as stones, sticks, and stems can become children’s favorite playthings. Natural treasures open avenues of imagination and fuel the process of make-believe. We once lived in a house that was wonderfully tucked into the woods. My son would build forts and secret hideouts out of branches and thick shrubs. These were very special spots and hours would be spent tending and caring for his house and the gardens he pretended were surrounding them.
Many children’s gardens have living “teepees” covered with peas, or beans, or gourds. The plants vine and encircle the structure, providing a unique hiding place.
Maybe the answer to the question on how to raise a gardener is incorporating all of the above and making a space that the teacher and the student enjoy together. I have raised one generation of nature-loving gardeners, hopefully will that will continue. I will keep working on it. Passion is contagious and when coupled with love, patience, and sharing.
Picking cherries requires teamwork.
Rainy or too cold?
You can explore the garden through great books, of which there are so many. Here are a few of my favorites:
Books for little ones: Two Little Gardeners, Margaret Wise Brown How Did That Get In My Lunchbox?,
Chris Butterworth Weeds Find A Way, Cindy Jenson-Elliott Bee & Me, Elle J. McGuinness Oh Say Can You Seed?, Bonnie Worth Linnea In Monet’s Garden, Christina Bjork and Lena Anderson
Books for adults: Let’s Garden, Carla Lidstrom and
Anya Karin Nyberg Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots, Sharon Lovejoy A Child’s Garden, Molly Dannenmaier
A version of this article appeared in the September 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Showcase houseplants on an attractive plant stand on the patio. The outdoor air benefits the houseplants and the plants benefit the patio design. Included in the display are rose- and lemon-scented geranium, ‘Dragon Wing’ begonia, angel wing begonia, Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) and an amaryllis (Hippeastrum sp.).
For every puzzling garden area, a great container or two (or three) might provide the ideal solution. Containers enhance patios, decks, porches and other places with no soil. Do not limit yourself to those areas — containers work well throughout the yard and garden.
Great containers can fit everywhere or anywhere and can serve any garden purpose. They can: add color, height and interest; be a single container that becomes the focal point in a location; become a grouping of multiple containers; create a monocolor group or a multicolor group; coordinate colors or contrast colors; and conceal flaws (such as a container hiding a utility box).
A single container can make a statement with a bright bold color, its size, and its unique shape or design. Several containers can fill a space, display a vignette, create a mood and hold holiday decorations.
Size it up
Match the size of the container to the size of the garden area. A large container or a group of large containers balance a large space. Small containers tuck easily into a small area. So select containers that fit the space. A white or light-colored container adds light to a dark space, for example. Then select plants that fit the container size and space. Large containers can handle large plants and small containers look balanced with smaller plants. Select plants that coordinate with or match the color of the container.
On the patio
A plain concrete patio begs for the personality of well-planned brightly colored containers. The height of taller pots placed around the edge of the patio defines the space. Select vivid red, blue or yellow pots and fill these containers with equally bright flowers and vines. Plant flowers that fill out nicely such as Begonia spp. and vines that drape over the sides such as the native Passiflora incarnata and ornamental sweetpotato vine (Ipomoea batatas) ‘Tricolor’ or ‘Marguerite’. A patio is also a good location to showcase houseplants arranged on an attractive plant stand. Most houseplants benefit from a summer outdoors in a location with afternoon shade.
On the deck
Decks look a bit bare without planters. Attached containers will enhance deck railings. Fill the containers with gracefully flowing plants to add color and depth. Locate large containers at the corners of the deck and plant lantana (Lantana camara) or hardy Hibiscus spp. The yellow, pink and red clusters of lantana and the huge pinkish blooms of Hibiscus ‘Kopper King’ and ‘Turn of the Century’ will keep the color coming all summer. Both varieties grow 3 or 4 feet tall. The size and color of the containers and the fullness of the plants create a garden room on the deck.
Create a whimsical dish garden filled with miniature succulents and lunch plates. Plants include Sedum ‘Blue Spruce’ and hens and chicks (Sempervivum tectorum).
On the porch
Colorful pots will add pizzazz to a plain porch. For shady porches, think of the traditional Boston fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) overflowing in white wicker hanging baskets and white wicker urns. Add red blooming geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) and locate them strategically throughout the porch. For sunny porches, use more substantial containers such as terra-cotta or ceramic, and fill them with plants that like sun such as pink or red Petunia spp. and coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides). Coleus plants are available in many pretty foliage colors: red, orange, yellow, lime green, burgundy and pink. Coleus also feature various shapes: ovate, long, small and frilly.
A porch is the perfect location for seasonal containers as well. Great containers filled with red, white and blue petunias or Calibrachoa spp. signal Fourth of July celebrations. Red Christmas containers could feature red twig dogwood (Cornus sericea) stems, holly (Ilex) and other evergreens.
Containers can conceal flaws
Containers can conceal areas that do not enhance a garden design. For example, air conditioning units deserve covering up. Place tall planters in front of the unit, allowing an air circulation space of a foot or two between the unit and the planters. If the unit is in a dark corner, use darker containers, but lighter flowers such as pink, white and green Caladium spp. For a unit that is along the side of the house in plain sight, build a whole garden of containers around it, making sure to build in a path for maintenance. You can build a trellis fence around the unit as camouflage, but how much more interesting it would be to install a grouping of containers of various heights in front of the trellis. Use a monocolor pot theme with multicolored plants, such as Zinnia spp., for example.
A sunny spot is also a good place for an herb container garden with pots of basil (Ocimum basilicum), mint (Mentha spp.), thyme (Thymus spp.), marjoram (Origanummajorana) and oregano (Origanumvulgare).
Maybe a fence is just not as pretty as it could be. Hang containers overflowing with colorful plants on the fence or place containers in front of the fence. Even if the fence is very nice, unusual containers will enhance it.
A hanging basket overflowing with bright pink petunias, violet pansies (Viola x wittrockiana), lime green ‘Marguerite’ ornamental sweetpotato vine and pink geranium (Pelargonium sp.) adds color and interest to a plain fence.
An unusual terra-cotta planter with a section for each hen and chicks plant adds interest to a fence. Hen and chicks require very little moisture and grow well in a vertical container. The planter is firmly attached to the fence for safety.
Add whimsy to any garden with containers. Containers shaped like giant frogs or cats bring smiles from visitors. Miniature container gardens or fairy container gardens also add whimsy.
Include garden art in the container among plants to add color or seasonal interest. Use art pieces that fit the size of the container — try placing small garden art pieces in smaller containers and larger art in larger containers. Tuck in statues of little gnomes, frogs, kittens, puppies or rabbits. You might also add miniature garden furniture, garden fairies, Christmas ornaments or Easter eggs. Stick to a theme with garden art, as too many different kinds of unrelated garden art might look junky. For example, the theme could be gnomes, and all the garden art pieces are all gnomes peeking around corners. Or the theme might be rabbits, and all art pieces are stone rabbits hiding under large leaves.
Even a little red wagon serves as a great container in a yard or on a patio. This wagon is home to violets (Viola sp.), basil and playful garden art.
A small cat planter filled with lavender (Lavandula × intermedia ‘Provence’)adds whimsy to a small deck or a patio table and brings smiles.
Create a tiny hypertufa container that is just perfect for a small space. Plant succulent string of pearls (Senecio rowleyanus) and watch them grow right over the edge of the container.
Greet visitors with a pair of blue garden clogs planted with bright lime green sedum. Both container and plants bring color to the porch.
Create a hypertufa container. Then plant dwarf conifers such as Juniperus squamata ‘Blue Star.’Add small decorative rocks, whimsical toadstools and other garden art.
Tips for great containers
Follow these container and plant selection tips to create a balanced garden design.
• Containers should fit the size and features of the area (large containers or groups of containers in large spaces, smaller containers tucked into smaller spots).
• Plants should fit the container size (large plants in large pots, smaller plants for smaller pots).
• Ensure the plants in the container work together (similar moisture and light needs).
• The plants should be right for the container’s location (sun, part sun or shade).
• Ensure both containers and plants enhance the space with color and interest
A version of this article appeared in
Missouri Gardener Volume 6 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Anita Joggerst.
Under the canopy of a large oak, colorful daylilies (Hemerocallis) and Knock Out rose (Rosa ‘Radrazz’) dominate the curvy flowerbed. Both are low maintenance, provide excellent color and can tolerate some shade. Beyond the bed is undeveloped land with a potting shed nearby for easy access to tools and
Many gardeners dream of a backyard that is both aesthetically attractive as well as functional. Jeff and Terri Melby of Vicksburg, Miss., transformed a grassy subdivision backyard into a retreat where they can entertain family and friends as well as enjoy quiet evenings together. Jeff, a coastal engineer, designed the hardscape elements while Terri, the master gardener, added plantings that soften the impact of stone and concrete while adding color to the landscape.
The Melby home is a two-story house with a screened-in back porch and detached carport. A large swimming pool occupies a strip of land beyond the carport with a lattice fence and landscaped flowerbeds surrounding the pool. It was always a popular spot for outdoor gatherings when their children were teens, but a part-time job in a garden-themed gift shop piqued Terri’s interest and Jeff’s creativity, which started them on a journey that changed their backyard into an exciting landscape.
A glazed ceramic urn crafted in Vietnam inspired the small water feature that Jeff made for Terri as a Christmas gift. It became a fountain and dramatic focal point that trickles water into a small reflecting pool. Constructed over a weekend, Melby used a pond kit purchased from a local nursery and stacked stones to camouflage the thick flexible liner. Terri added various plantings including moss that soften the stone ledge and nearby area.
The size, color, and shape of the ceramic urn catches the eye of all who enter the backyard area. Used for its evergreen foliage and shade tolerance, a mat of chartreuse creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is the predominant plant near this water feature. Iris sibirica boasts intense purple blue spring blooms with small linear foliage in contrast to the low round Hosta and Heuchera. A Japanese maple (Acer palmatum) provides height and color in the background.
Water creates a relaxing atmosphere in a garden. Gold fish swim beneath water lily pads (Nymphaea), both hardy and tropical types that grow in pots on a shelf in this reflecting pool. A filter system with an ultraviolet light developed for ponds reduces algae growth.
The fountain was such a success that a larger pond was added. Jeff and their teenage sons hand dug the pond along the exterior of their screened-in back porch. Another flexible liner was used with a re-circulating submersible pump to keep the water oxygenated for the fish that reside in the 18-inch deep, 1,000-gallon pond. Strangely, no fish were ever purchased by the Melbys. They speculate that eggs must have been in the soil of one of the tropical water lilies they bought and hatched in their pool. The original three goldfish are now 22. Stacked stone was repeated around the perimeter plus flagstone and pebbles were added to enlarge and add interest to the feature as well as provide better access for maintenance.
The addition of a large patio housing a pergola and freestanding fireplace was their next project. Again, their family provided the labor. The flooring is mortared flagstone with a redwood stain used on the wooden pergola that blends well with the coloration in the flagstone. An outdoor furniture grouping near the fireplace encourages year-round enjoyment and a coordinating arbor they call “The mini me” repeats the style and color of the pergola. Containers are used here and throughout the landscape with seasonal plantings.
Lattice stained to match the pergola was added over the structure to adjust the amount of sunlight that filters through the pergola. Containers of climbing ‘Peggy Martin’ roses add color and interest to this
The outdoor kitchen can be easily accessed from the swimming pool deck or the pergola topped patio. ‘Mermaid’, a very vigorous climbing rose, grows on the lattice fence near the pool and repeats the color of the umbrella beautifully when it is in bloom.
Last year an outdoor kitchen was added between the swimming pool deck and the patio incorporating the same flagstone around the sides of the bar area but utilizing a lovely turquoise blue stained concrete top that repeats the color of the water in the swimming pool.
Hardscape is defined as anything that is not a plant in a landscape design. It functions as the backbone of the design and helps gardeners to create attractive and functional garden rooms or spaces as the Melbys have done. Plants are added to soften, enhance, accent, unify and to add personality, warmth and tranquility to outdoor spaces.
A version of this article appeared in Mississippi Gardener Volume 16 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Miriam Jabour.
Parsley hawthorns are handsome, hardy large shrubs or small trees with attractive bark and lacy parsley-like foliage that turns orange and gold in autumn. The thorn-tipped branches are covered with white flowers (sporting red anthers) that attract pollinators in spring. The red fall fruits are eaten by mammals and birds. Parsley hawthorn is also the larval plant of the gray hairstreak butterfly.
In the wild it is found along rivers, in floodplains, and in wet woodlands. Companion plants include flowering dogwood (Cornus florida), Sassafras albidum, wild blueberry (Vaccinium), American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana), and strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus).
Common Names: Parsley haw or parsley hawthorn
Botanical Name:Crataegus marshallii
Color: White flowers and red oblong fruit
Blooming Period: Blooms March to May, fruits in early fall
Type: Native deciduous large shrub or small tree
Mature Size: 15-20 feet
Exposure: Sun to part-shade
When to Plant: Best in fall
How to Plant: Space trees about 20 feet apart in part shade. Prefers rich, moist well-drained, acid soil, but will tolerate poor soil and seasonal flooding. Propagate by stratified seed.
In Your Landscape: A relative of the mayhaw, this small tree can be used in group plantings making it an excellent addition to the sustainable landscape.
Parsley hawthorn flowers have a musky sweet fragrance and are important to native pollinators. The oblong red fruit provides winter color and food for wildlife.
A version of this article appeared in Louisiana Gardening Volume 18 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Yvonne L. Bordelon
This modern recreation of an English wildflower meadow at Kew Gardens contains many plant species common in Tudor times.
Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savory, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed with the sun,
And with him rises weeping; these are flowers
Of middle summer, and, I think they are given
To men of middle age….
A Winter’s Tale
Act IV Scene III
William Shakespeare not only knew his human nature, he also knew his plants. Visual imagery played a prominent role in much of Shakespeare’s work and no more so than his descriptions of plants that would have been instantly recognized by original theatergoers to the Globe Theater in London. Many of our common and beloved garden flowers have been mentioned by Shakespeare in works ranging from comedies to tragedies with so many being listed by name that whole gardens devoted to Shakespeare’s flowers have been built worldwide.
While poets and writers mentioned flowers earlier than Shakespeare, what was it about his writings that brought to light so many of the flowers of his time? Like much in his work, it was a reflection of the times in which he lived. A product of the Tudor period, having lived through much of Queen Elizabeth I’s rein, he experienced the blossoming of English Renaissance and its emergence from a backward, insular island nation to a world power fueled by exploration and trade. Trade and the wealth it generated, along with a greater sense of security following years of war and intrigue created an environment in which English arts thrived. As medieval life gave way to a new prosperity, gardens expanded from strictly food production or herbal medicinal plantings to “pleasure” gardens where flowers were grown for beauty.
Mentioned as furze or broom in Shakespeare’s plays, gorse (Ullex sp) is a heavily scented legume common to English and Scottish moors.
A daisy that Shakespeare would have encountered growing wild on his trips from his home at New Place to London.
As famous as Shakespeare’s works are, very little is known about the man, although he was reputed to been a keen gardener. Unfortunately, most of this gardening reputation is based only on his references to plants and the fact that he was able to retire permanently to his country home in Stratford–upon-Avon in 1613, only three years before his death at age 52. Still, I like to think that anyone who can vividly describe the sight and fragrance of such flowers had to have had a more than a casual acquaintance with those plants.
Tudor gardens during the reins of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I can’t be compared to today’s English flowing perennial borders or naturalistic park-like settings developed by the great 18th century garden designers, but they were a great leap forward from the bare utilitarian monastic cloister gardens or the simple vegetable patches. Tudor gardens were formal, even stiff, in design and contained far fewer plant species than would be found in a typical garden today. The designs were often small square or rectangular plots or “knots” outlined in boxwood (Buxus sp) or some other tightly trimmed evergreen shrub such as the native yew (Taxus sp) with the center of these intimate spacing’s containing some type of objet d’ art such as a sundial or even a wellhead for watering the garden. The middle of the knotted areas were filled with either flowering plants or brightly colored gravel or chipped stone. Bowling greens, fountains, summer bowers, and pleached alleys were also popular. Lead planters or urns were filled with flowering plants. Lead, native to England, resisted the English weather better than Italian stone or terra cotta. I can’t image those lead urns blowing over in the equinoctial gales coming off the North Sea. Of course this was centuries before lead poisoning became a concern.
Shakespeare mentioned specific plants in a variety of ways in his plays. Twenty-nine separate scenes take place in a garden. Rose, an important plant during that period although differing greatly from what we know as modern roses, was mentioned often and used symbolically in Shakespeare’s plays to represent the Houses of York and Lancaster as these two dynasties battled for control of the English throne. The House of York, represented by a white rose, was ultimately defeated by the House of Lancaster, which was represented by a red rose, which in time became associated with the red Tudor rose, a symbol still prominent in decorative carvings of many Tudor buildings.
Shakespeare often mentions roses in his plays. Fragrant rose varieties such as these specimens growing on a Tudor-era building at Windsor Castle would have been familiar to Shakespeare’s audiences.
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” is arguably the most famous quote associated with a rose and was spoken by Juliet to Romeo. It would be interesting to know which rose Juliet had in mind, although my money is on the sweetbriar or eglantine (Rosa rubiginosa), which smells like fresh apples when the foliage is crushed and is native to Northern Europe.
Shakespeare’s mention of the apothecary shop in Romeo and Juliet shows his familiarity with the herbal pharmacopeia of the time. The late 16th and early 17th centuries were early in the days of plant exploration and introduction, and while the potato might have just been gaining a foothold in England, supposedly introduced by that old sea dog Sir Francis Drake, many other exotic plants such as oriental lilies from Asia or flowering annuals from the New World, were not well known at this time, which may explain why Shakespeare mentions so many commonly grown wildflowers or herbs.
So if you have a hankering to plant after the Bard, what plants should you include in your Tudor garden? The square or rectangular bones or “knots” could be something along the lines of boxwood or maybe a native equivalent like yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), which lends itself to tight shearing but is more adapted to our climate. Some of the plants most commonly mentioned in Shakespeare’s works include wood’s violet (Viola sp), roses (the previously mentioned eglantine rose, but also musk and damask roses), Pansy, lily (Lilium spp.), poppy (Papaver spp.) and sweet broom (Ulex gallii also referred to by Shakespeare as furz or gorse) a legume shrub with a sweet heady perfume. Also mentioned is cowslip (Primula), found growing in cow pastures from which the common name is derived. Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile), of course, was well known as a soothing tea ingredient even in those days. Marigold is curious because the marigold we know today is from Mexico and wouldn’t have been around during Shakespeare’s day. Shakespeare’s knew what we call pot marigold (Calendula officinalis) and not Tagetes; the old story of common names being carried over to newly discovered species. Daffodil (Narcissus) and carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) also called gillyflower are both mentioned in A Winter’s Tale. Herbs include hyssop, rosemary, leeks, mint, and oddly enough, garlic. Fruits mentioned include strawberry, blackberry, pomegranate, mulberry, cherry and fig. So as Ophelia said in Hamlet: “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance; pray, love, remember and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts.” Remember these when sitting in the garden.
A pocket park in central London is reminiscent of a Tudor knot garden with rectangular beds outlined in tightly clipped boxwood filled with a variety of plants and other garden features such as a stone urn.
A version of this article appeared in an April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Grown ornamentally worldwide, this “popping” yellow flower from tropical central and eastern Africa is a calorie-free treat that you should add to any one of your gardens. In warm climates such as ours, it can reach 6-10 feet in height. The bright yellow orange blooms arise from contrasting black buds making it quite attractive. A member of the Fabaceae family, this legume has been used as a cover crop or green manure in some areas.
I first saw this plant at a popular amusement park in Florida and thought it was named because the buttery yellow blooms looked like they were popping. I smelled the flowers but they didn’t have much of a scent. It wasn’t until much later that I learned that the foliage smells like buttered popcorn to some. Others interpret the smell to things less appealing such as mice or wet dogs. Although, of the reviews I have read and the people I have talked to, they purposely put these plants near doorways or garden entrances because they enjoy the fragrance, especially on a breezy summer day.
The smell and flower color is also attractive to many garden visitors such as pollinating bees and butterflies. This plant blooms spring through fall, but does best when the temperature is warm and the humidity is high. The flower spikes can reach up to 1 foot tall. The erect racemes have as many as 30 rounded flower buds, with each unopened bud enclosed by a black bract that opens to five petals. After flowering is complete, the plant produces bean-like pods that can grow up to 5 inches. Each flat brown pod contains up to 16 seeds. These seeds can be used, but these plants are offered for sale as rooted cuttings.
A gardener in St. Petersburg said that he bought three 8-inch rooted cuttings from a friend down his street. He planted them in full sun, about 3 feet apart in sandy soil. Regularly watering the seedlings three times a week, these plants grew into shrubs six months later. In that time they had reached 3 feet diameter and 4 feet tall. This gardener planted it in beds near the house to increase his curb appeal. Other options include planting as a specimen plant in a container or surrounding it with colorful annuals such as pink Cosmos and orange Dahlia. I like the idea of planting yellow Zinnia, marigolds (Tagetes spp.), and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) for a monochromatic look. In some very warm parts of Africa this semi-deciduous, multi-branching shrub can reach up to 25 feet. Now that would really make your garden pop.
The garden is a mixture of formal and fun elements. The checkerboard, composed of white marble stones and mondo grass anchored in the center by a dogwood tree, playfully contrasts with the formality of the boxwood parterre.
Most people spend their first weekend in a new home unpacking and settling in, but not Jane Brown. When she and her three boys – ages 8, 14, and 16 – moved into their home in 1999, they spent their first weekend replacing boring, foundation plants. In the weeks before her move, Jane made no decisions on draperies or interior paint colors. Instead, she purchased a myriad of azaleas, hydrangeas, and crapemyrtles. Her first priority was getting them planted. She says, “I think the neighbors thought we were crazy, and they felt sorry for my boys. They kept bringing us food!”
Soon after moving in, Jane fell in love with her current husband, Mike. After marrying in 2001, their first garden project was building a shed to house Mike’s enormous collection of tools, spare parts, and building materials. They finished it in just three months. Mike is an engineer, and they both laugh at what’s in the well-organized shed. “The neighbors know that if they need a sprinkler head or a piece of PVC pipe, they don’t have to go to Lowe’s. They just call Mike.”
At that time, the backyard was a disaster. Poor planning when the subdivision was developed resulted in a large holding pond in Jane and her neighbor’s backyards. Two-thirds of the backyard was a swamp full of marsh grasses, scrawny trees, mosquitoes, snakes, beer cans, milk jugs, and whatever other debris washed down from nearby Green Mountain. Somehow, Jane saw potential. Together, the newlyweds embarked on a quest to correct the drainage issues. Although it took several years, their persistence paid off. The city placed large culverts for drainage; the swamp vanished, and they had a blank canvas in their new backyard.
As pretty as the white-blooming Begonia and ‘Limelight’ hydrangeas (H. paniculata ‘Limelight’) are, it’s the arbor that commands the backyard. Covered in vines it frames the angel statue perfectly.
All of Mike’s tools and their do-it-yourself attitude were about to come in handy as they dug into their next project, creating a backyard oasis. The plan called for deep, raised beds along the perimeter of the yard. Jane carefully stacked each and every one of the 12 tons of rock, while Mike installed irrigation and lighting. When it came time to lay sod, Jane kept it to a minimum. She says, “I knew that I would be going to the local nurseries and falling in love with homeless shrubs and flowers. We left large beds empty for my garden to grow, and over the years, we slowly filled them.”
The garden was taking shape, but it lacked a strong focal point, and they thought their angel statue needed a frame. The arbor, added in 2006, solved both problems. They worked together on the design. Jane searched Pinterest, other online resources, and gardening magazines, and Mike turned their ideas into reality. What he built was exactly what the garden needed. When you have a busy garden with a lot going on, you want one thing that grabs your attention the moment you enter the space, one thing that is grander than anything else. That’s Jane’s arbor.
Like any good do-it-yourselfers, Jane and Mike will never be “finished” working on the garden. Last year they expanded the deck, which now includes a stone fireplace and a pizza oven. Mike knows that in the spring of every year, Jane gets restless. She starts looking at gardening magazines, and he knows that soon she will be saying something like, “Honey, how hard would it be to build me a potting shed?”
The newly expanded deck has plenty of room for entertaining.
How to Build an Arbor
By Mike Brown
Eight 6”x6”x12’ treated posts
Twelve 2”x8”x10’ treated boards
Eighteen 15’ 7” long x 3/8” diameter painted steel rods
Nine 9’ x 3/8” diameter painted steel rods
250 feet of #12 insulated copper wire
2 pounds of 3” deck screws
2 pounds 2½” deck screws
• Set two rows of four posts on 9-foot centers into holes backfilled with concrete. (Editor's note- Check our local building codes for the proper depth of support posts.)
• Cut posts so that all of the tops are level and 9 feet above ground.
• Attach a set of boards horizontally along the outside tops of the post rows with 3-inch deck screws.
• Using 2½-inch deck screws, attach another set of 2”x8” boards face to face with the first set but between the posts in each row, creating 3-inch wide beams along the tops of the rows of posts on the outside. There are no boards connecting the two rows.
• To support the rods used for the top of the arbor, drill eighteen 3⁄8" diameter holes 4 inches deep into the top of the beams, six between each pair of posts.
• Using eighteen 15’ 7” long rods, mark each rod at the center and 39 inches either side of the center. Place one end of each rod into matching holes in each beam to create the semi-circular top of the arbor.
• To tie the centers of the 18 semi-circular rods together, attach three 9-foot-long rods, to the previously marked centers of the semi-circular rods with wire, overlapping the ends of these rods and tying the ends together.
• Using two sets of three 9-foot-long rods, tie the semi-circular rods together at the 39-inch offset marks.
• Run wire diagonally between the intersections of the rods and the ends of the rods at the beams to provide diagonal support to the top of the arbor.
• Add trim to the top and bottom of posts.
The Chinese snowball viburnum (Viburnum macrocephalum) on the left of the photo is one of Jane’s favorites. It goes crazy in spring when it’s covered with fat, white blooms. Behind the viburnum are Endless Summer (‘Bailmer’) hydrangeas, variegated lacecap hydrangeas that bloom white and blue, and the taller shrubs are oakleaf hydrangeas. The bed running along the front fence looks different every year. Jane plants pansies and cabbages in fall. Then in spring, she replants it with whatever catches her eye at the nursery.
When it comes to DIY skills, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. This dragonfly was a Mother’s Day present that Jane’s son, Matthew, fashioned from bedposts for the body, ceiling fan blades for wings, and tub drains for eyes. Not to be outdone, Mike used his engineering skills to create longer-lasting dragonflies for Jane out of wooden posts for the body, painted aluminum for wings, and cabinet knobs for eyes.
The width of the beds surrounding the backyard varies. Here in the corner, it’s broad enough to accommodate a bench and a planting of oakleaf hydrangeas and it still has room for an edging of Hostaand creeping phlox (P. stolonifera).
Is there anything better than spending time in the garden with your children and grandchildren? Jane and Mike don’t think so. Here they sit between son, Matthew Odle, on the right and daughter-in-law, Amanda Odle; son, David Odle; and grandson, Sebastian on the left. Jane holds Missy, the family dog.
Formal elements, such as the statues flanking this swing, the conical shaped dwarf Alberta spruces (Piceaglauca‘Conica’) planted just behind them and the ‘Green Velvet’ boxwood (Buxus ‘Green Velvet’) in Grecian stone pots, blend easily with more casual elements, such as the oakleaf hydrangea (H. quercifolia) and dogwood trees (Cornusspp.). This arbor was another of the couple’s do-it-yourself projects.
A version of this article appeared in Alabama Gardener Volume 15 Number 5.
Photography courtesy of Andrew Lecher.
If you have ever received a shipment of steaks or seafood, you may have wondered if there was another use for the Styrofoam cooler the product was shipped in. Not wanting to send it to the landfill, we’ve had one sitting in the rafters of our garage for a while. It’s now getting a new use as a cooler table.
The design of this table is a basic box with legs. We used inexpensive 1x4 inch and 1x6 inch pine boards and gold, triple-coated deck screws. Because you design the table to fit around your cooler, you can use any type of cooler you have on hand.
1. Measure your cooler to determine the box width, length, and height. Add 6 inches to the length side and three inches to the width side to allow room for the cooler.
2. Measure the boards for the legs, sides, front and back of the table. Our legs measure 26 inches. The front is 28 inches and sides are 21 inches.
3. Cut each of the boards to length.
4. Assemble the legs using a nail gun.
5. Screw the front and back boards to the inside of the legs.
6. Attach the sides, front and back together.
7. Screw in 1x2 inch boards to create a base for the bottom of the table.
8. Place the boards on top of the base and secure with screws.
9. We attached 1x3 inch trim pieces with a nail gun for a more styled look.
10. Create the tabletop using 1x4 inch boards to create a frame. Drill pocket holes into 1x4 inch boards. Fill in the frame by attaching the boards with screws. Attach the top with hinges.
11. The completed table features handles on the sides and a bottle opener on the front.
12. Filled with your favorite beverages this cooler table is ready for entertaining.
A version of this article appeared in May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Maggie Head.
There’s a reason why tillandsias are called air plants. Just don’t call them airheads.
You may have seen an air plant hanging in an open-faced glass vase or hanging from a seashell at your local garden center. They are becoming popular. Air plants are easy to grow if you follow a few rules – and easy to kill if you don’t. Air plants may be sold with the hype that they live on nothing but air, but this is not the case.
First, what is an air plant? Air plants are in the bromeliad family. The air plant genus Tillandsia (tih-LAND-zee-ah) is the largest in the bromeliad family. The names tillandsia and air plant are often used synonymously and many affectionately call them Tillys. There are a couple of major differences between tillandsias and the other bromeliads. Most bromeliads have tightly fitting leaves that hold water in a reservoir at the center of the plant. Many tillandsias also have this “rosette” shape, but care must be taken because if water is retained too long in the center of the plant, it can cause the plant to rot and die.
Most bromeliads grow as “normal” plants with water-absorbing roots in the ground or on a host. Tillys use their holdfast roots to anchor themselves in place, water is absorbed: through their leaves, not their roots, with few exceptions.
Air plants are epiphytes like many bromeliads, tropical ferns, orchids and Christmas cacti. An epiphyte is a plant that is anchored to another plant or object that is called the host. The host only supplies a perch, but no nutrients. Spanish moss is a tillandsia that is common in the Southern states and is often seen hanging from host trees, telephone wires, fences and the occasional light pole.
You can successfully grow air plants in your house without roots. They can be attached to bark, rocks or other household decorations with wire, glue or Velcro. Or you can set one down in a sunny place where you think it looks best.
Tillandsias are native to the warm and temperate areas from the southeastern United States through Mexico and down through all of South America. There are different species that are native from coastal areas all the way up to mountainous elevations more than 9,000 feet high. Some are native to forests, and many grow among cacti and on rocks or on sand in deserts.
The air plant leaf is covered in scales or hairs called trichomes that act as sponges to quickly absorb water when it becomes available. For the species exposed to more sunlight, the trichomes also reflect up to 70 percent of the sunlight that strikes the leaves. Tillandsias that are native to drier xeric climates have larger, denser and often feathery trichomes covering the leaves. Tilly leaves in wetter mesic climates are often smooth and look transparent, but they are still covered with trichomes.
Most tillandsias follow the same basic form, having leaves that emanate from a central axis and then gradually tapering to a point. However, some leaves can be short and spikey while others can be long and curly. Some are bright green while others are covered with the white, fuzzy trichomes. Many look a lot like the leafy top of a pineapple plant, which is no surprise when you know that both air plants and pineapples are types of bromeliads. They range in mature size from just 1 inch to more than 3 feet across.
When many tillandsias bloom, the leaves turn red or pink to attract hummingbirds, their natural pollinators. They send out a flower stalk that can be two to three times the length of the leaves. The stalk is usually brightly colored. The tube-shaped flowers attract hummingbirds. Some tillandsia flowers are very fragrant and attract moths or butterflies. The colored leaves and inflorescences can last for weeks. Each flower generally lasts for a day but a number of tillandsia inflorescences produce many flowers over a month or two.
Tillandsias are easy to hybridize. Rainforest Flora, Inc. from Southern California has created several hundred over the years. But the main way they reproduce for most of us is by producing offsets, or pups, after blooming. As the pups reach about half the size of the mother plant, they can be separated. However, by leaving them together, they will eventually grow into a gorgeous clump that will have multiple inflorescences at the same time.
How to Grow Tillandsias
Paul Isley III, president of Rainforest Flora, says, “Indoors, place them close to a sunny window, but make sure that they only get direct light for an hour or two at a time. Southern exposure is great, but watch the amount of direct sunlight they get. Xeric (drier growing) tillandsias that usually have stiffer, harder leaves and a more pronounced covering of white trichomes will do better with more sun than the softer, greener leaved tillandsias.”
Outdoors in the summer, bright shade is best. A little direct sunlight is usually fine. When the weather begins to turn, bring your air plants indoors. The best times are those few weeks when you don’t have to use either the air conditioner or the furnace.
Indoor watering is normally easy, according to Isley. “Using a container that has a lid, collect rain water. Submerge the air plant every week for several seconds, take it out and turn it upside down for a few seconds so water can’t collect in the base, which can cause the plant to rot, and put it back. If the tilly is getting good light, that should be enough unless the air is unusually dry, as it often is when central heating or air conditioning is used. In this case, try to have some other plants or other water source around to add a bit to the humidity. If the leaf edges ever begin to curl up toward each other more than normal, this is a sign of dehydration – the plants wasn’t receiving enough water frequently enough. The solution is to submerge the plant in the “good” water overnight. This will cause it to completely rehydrate if it hasn’t dried out too much.”
Keep water for your tillys in a tub with a lid to prevent it from getting dusty and evaporating. You can use this same water until it runs out. I like using a gallon plastic ice cream container for my smaller tillandsias and a 15-gallon storage containerfor the bigger plants that are mounted on large pieces of wood or bark. I collect snow in the winter but, of course, I don’t use it until the water has warmed to room temperature. If the plant is blooming, don’t dunk the flowers under water.
Outdoors, tillandsias just need a quick spray from the hose. Once the leaf is wet, more water isn’t needed. Just be careful not to water the xeric tillandsias too often since they don’t need it.
Isley says, “Fertilizing tillandsias is also easy. In fact, if you put a quarter teaspoon/gallon ratio of Epiphytes Delight or Miracle Gro in your dipping/soaking tub, your fertilizing task is done! You can use other fertilizers but the key is to make sure that the nitrogen component has ammoniacal and nitrate nitrogen. The urea-based nitrogen in most commercial fertilizers needs bacteria in soil to break it down so that plants can use it. Tillandsias don’t have soil, so the urea nitrogen isn’t broken down and is wasted.”
Tillandsias make beautiful architectural accents anywhere in the house. No matter where they are normally placed for best growth, they can be easily moved to a new location for decorating purposes. “In normal conditions, you can put a tillandsia pretty much wherever you want for a month or so with no permanent harm to the plant, but eventually they want to receive bright light and sufficient water,” Isley says. “Many people rotate their plants on a monthly basis so that they can have them where they will look the best but not necessarily grow the best.”
The most definitive book on tillandsias is Tillandsia II by Paul T. Isley III. This coffee table-sized book is filled with hundreds of color photos and covers the biographical history of how tillandsias were discovered and propagated.
Also from Paul T. Isley III, “The Genus Tillandsia” is a fact-filled 28-page booklet with many gorgeous color photos for those who would like an introduction to these remarkable plants.
Air Plants by Zenaida Sengo is not just a book about growing tillandsias. It covers many beautiful ways to incorporate them into the design of your indoor landscape, including several craft ideas, such as Christmas wreaths.
A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 22 Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Jeff Rugg.
“And now for something completely different.” It’s time to play a little bit of classic comedy movie trivia. From which movie did the following line become famous: “We want a shrubbery”? If you’re my age or have ever in your life encountered the classic Monty Python skits you would know that this line is from the hilarious bridge scene as the Knights of the Round Table attempt to correctly answer the pun posed by the Knights that say “Ni!” to gain access across the guarded bridge in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Yes, shrubbery. It’s just a fun word to interject into any conversation. But what exactly may be considered a “shrub”? In any landscape or garden there are maybe three or four layers of plant material. Working from the top down, you first find the dominant canopy. The big ones, what I call “legacy” trees –those species that will outlast your grandchildren. Next is the sub-canopy. In the Southeast this may be comprised of dogwood (Cornus spp.), redbud (Cercis spp.), serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) and such. Below or intermingled with these are, yes, shrubs or shrubbery. Finally, completing our multi-layered landscape cake comes the ground covers, perennials, and what I call landscape details.
But back to shrubs. This component of your garden may be hugely diverse, with plants ranging from 18 inches tall to those that are as tall as any visitor. Similar to trees, the two major categories of shrubs are evergreen and deciduous. While I love the sense of stability and permanence evergreen plants play in the garden composition, I can also find these on the verge of mundane; that is unless these also flower or fruit. In my mind or at least in my garden if a plant doesn’t do double or triple duty I haven’t the real estate to offer. In other words, I like to select plants that are treasured for not just a 10-day bloom once a year but those that may also have appealing fall color, winter textural interest, and also feed me or some wildlife to boot.
Here’s a question: Do you think there would be a stampede of tourists when the Louvre opens most days making their way to the Mona Lisa if there were three of them? I doubt it. So too are those “specimen” shrubs in your garden. It’s unlikely that any of us have a mass of globe blue spruce or lace leaf Japanese maple. Some plants are really so unique that they deserve to be the only representative of that species in the garden. There are others that require a quorum in order that their vote is heard. A mass of coralberry in the fall and winter can put on a striking display. The same may be said of winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), ‘Midwinter Fire’ dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’), and Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica).
Now for another thing to consider, native or non? While this article possesses a somewhat unrelated title, I do feel compelled to at least address the tip of this iceberg. In full disclosure I must let it be known that I teach a university course on native plants so I do love them! In a world of homogenous architectural design, our native flora are about the only thing left to create a true sense of place. I saw a design recently proposed to “beautify” some of our interstate interchanges and nearly had a mini-stroke when I saw that the plant palette consisted of holly, blue something juniper, crapemyrtle, and daylilies. “Where is your creativity?” I wanted to scream (but held my tongue until the appropriate time). Let’s show the millions who drive by these public parcels some of our exquisite native plant communities. OK, with all of that being said, I will also confess that in my garden there exists a multitude of plant material that was not born in the USA. The absolutely number-one thing is do NOT plant any invasive non-native plant material. Don’t buy them. Don’t plant them. Period.
So, true to form and just like the classes I teach, it may appear to some that I’m rambling so let’s return to our story. What you will find below are but a few of the shrubs I would wholeheartedly endorse for anyone who desires to stray from the horticultural crowd a smidge without having to go through the hassle of searching the Eastern Seaboard. What you won’t find on this list are hollies, juniper, yew, or laurel. This is not to say those species are irrelevant but for the sake of space I’ve focused mainly on slightly less common plants.
1. Coral berry
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners (provenwinners.com)
I first discovered this plant as I began teaching my native plants course. This species has a beautiful display of fruit beginning in late fall and lasting most of the winter, at least in my garden. I either feed my feathered friends too well or they don’t find the berries all that appetizing. Using a mass of this plant can add some winter interest to an otherwise unnoticed place of your garden. With a bit of an evergreen backdrop (see, I DO find some evergreens necessary) the fruit will display even more so.
2. Virginia sweetspire
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners (provenwinners.com)
This is a multi-seasonal showpiece. Mid-spring cascading bloom in addition to some outstanding fall color (given enough sun) makes this plant a fine addition to any garden. Best used in mass and again, consider that all-important word in any design – contrast. Place as a front layer before some evergreens to bring out the best characteristics.
3. Winter daphne
Photo courtesy of Phillip Oliver
I’m a sucker for fragrance. This evergreen produces some of the finest smells this side of Lilacville. It prefers a fairly rich, moist soil, and does best with a little bit of shade and good drainage. For several years I just didn’t trust winters so I had mine in a container and moved it into the house every February to disguise the stale, trapped air. I finally got brave this year and stuck it in the ground. (Actually, the blasted thing just got to be too heavy to drag in and out).
4. Paper bush
Photo courtesy of Melissa Burdick
Perhaps a borderline plant for certain zones but once this puppy has an established root system it can bounce back from near 0 F. Mine is planted near the street and there isn’t another plant I own which generates more “what is that?” than this large shrub. As I mentioned earlier I’m not usually a fan of one-time performances (i.e., blooms but no berries or fall color) but the unique blooms in winter have prompted more than one passerby to ask where I got the ornaments for that plant.
Photo courtesy of Proven Winners (provenwinners.com)
Are you old enough to remember the Russian satellite Sputnik? How about those crazy ceiling lamps that look like a starburst? (The ones that are making a big comeback). That is exactly what I think of when I see the blooms of a buttonbush. Once established this shrub enjoys being cut back pretty hard now and then to rejuvenate itself. A pale yellow fall color is nice but the blooms are the attention getters.
Given the choice, I’m a cool color guy. Not a huge fan of orange unless I’m eating one or it’s mixed with pink and yellow in a glowing sunset. The lavender/blue blooms on a caryopteris fit the bill nicely, especially layered against the pale golden foliage offered on some cultivars.
7. Winterberry holly
Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries (baileynurseries.com)
Again, not much to these plants other than a showy red berry but what a sight on a fluffy snow kind of day. The mast production of these are not always heavy and you’d better be quick with the camera before the birds find them because they (the berries) will be devoured pronto. Look for varieties that are on the dwarf side unless you have a humongous yard as these can get in the 8-foot range. These plants are dioecious so you have to have fertilized flowers in order to have berries. One male in the vicinity will pollinate several female plants.
8. Blueberry, rabbiteye
Photo courtesy of Allen Owings
Another multi-season masterpiece with fruit that appeals to us humans as well as the birds! There are so many options – species, cultivars, hybrids –and they come in just as many sizes, so be selective and make sure you have more than one for proper cross-pollination. Rabbiteye blueberries are native to the South and are a good choice for southern landscapes.
This shrub’s fall color can rival anything in your garden for late-season interest. If you want to have some blueberries to sprinkle over your granola at breakfast make sure you invest in some bird netting or you’re back to plain grain.
9. Sweet pepper bush
Photo courtesy of Mengmeng Gu
Long after the thrill of spring’s fresh new growth and dazzling flowers has faded, the bottlebrush blooms on this highly fragrant plant emerge. Sweet pepper bush (I resort to calling it clethra) has a nice medium texture with semi-glossy leaves, with the bonus of attracting pollinators. Planted near a screened porch or deck this beauty will nicely bridge the gap between spring and fall for garden interest.
Photo courtesy of Julie Souza
The standard, grandma version – Abelia grandiflora – is delightful through the summer months. Just ask any bee. But there are cultivars such as ‘Edward Goucher’, ‘Mardi Gras’, ‘Francis Mason’, ‘Kaleidoscope’, and more. Semi-evergreen in many areas of the South this shrub makes an excellent hedge or divider when creating your outdoor rooms. Glossy leave provide a solid backdrop to the pinkish white summer blooms. Not super fragrant but I still think its underused and overlooked when plant shopping.
11. Winged sumac
Photo courtesy of Nellie Neal
Anyone who has driven along a road or interstate in the East has seen and probably sloughed off this large shrub/small tree as a “weed.” I know that’s how our DOT surely views it as they happily spray their herbicides willy-nilly every summer. This is a wonderful fall interest plant if you have the room. Winged sumac, smooth sumac (R. glabra), or the high dollar Tiger Eyes sumac (R. typhina ‘Bailtiger’) all add an amazingly colorful layer to our native landscapes. Especially when sandwiched between a mass of native broom sedge (Andropogon virginicus), and eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Again, this isn’t a petite plant so perhaps not owing but merely appreciating its fall display may be the best approach given the size of most gardens.
Photo courtesy of Sid Mullis
Number 12 of our fabulous dozen is hearts-a-bustin or strawberry plant. This is another of those unsung native heroes in my opinion. Not really noticed most of the year but when fall comes with its first hint of cool, this plant flashes on a unique display of fruit which contrast beautifully with its attractive green foliage and stems. This is another one you’ll want to plant in clusters. The orange berries breaking away from their spiny, red seed pods don’t last a terribly long time but sometimes it’s the anticipation of what’s about to be displayed that makes my eyes widen.
The list above is in no particular order so feel free to just throw a dart or three to make your selection(s). Naturally, before you buy or order do your homework and research the cultural requirements for each and see which are a match for your zone, soil, light requirement, and so on. So go out there and fill every garden void you spot with some off the beaten path beauties. Happy Planting!
A version of this article appeared in Tennessee Gardener Volume 16 Number 5.
I love many things in life and two of those things are my cats, Julian and Princeton. No matter the external or internal factors that affect my mood, my cats can always give me a boost. Not only can they make me laugh out loud, but they also may be able to better my health. Some research has shown caring for a cat can reduce stress, risk of stroke, anxiety, depression and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
Something else that I am very passionate about is gardening. There are not too many other hobbies that directly impact your health as powerfully as gardening – and the benefits reach beyond growing your own food. Vegetable growing encourages healthier eating habits and gardening in general improves your mood, may lower osteoporosis and diabetes risk and can lead to better sleep patterns. According to a 2014 study getting your hands dirty in the garden can also give your immune system a boost.
If caring for cats and gardening both bring me benefits, can I combine the two into one super beneficial hobby?
Removing birdfeeders and only providing birdbaths will help deter cats, but not entirely.
Gardening with cats
Regardless if you personally care for a cat or not, chances are that a cat will cross your garden path. Several years ago the American Feral Cat Coalition estimates that there are approximately 60 million feral and homeless stray cats living in the U.S.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission there are over 77 million pet cats nationwide. Of these, about 56 percent or 43 million cats spend some time outside. That’s over 100 million cats living outside! Cats are becoming a common feature not only of our city streets and parks but also our landscaped backyards.
After speaking with many gardeners I could not find too many that said that there was a direct benefit of having cats in the garden. One told me that he had moved his cat’s food bowl and litter pan closer to a fruit producing tree to deter the squirrels and other wildlife from eating his crop.
Some gardeners believe that outdoor cats receive more exercise, maintain a healthier weight and benefit from the stimulation from the outside world.
Pat O’Shea, a Master Gardener since 1999, currently cares for four felines. In 2007 she started, Kitten Sittin’, a home pet sitting business.
When O’Shea gardens she lets out two of her cats to join her, Smokey and Princess. “I have my eyes on them at all times and they do not leave my yard,” she says. She even takes Smokey for walks around the yard. “I have a harness and a leash and he loves smelling the bushes,” she adds.
O’Shea says if you are lucky enough to have an enclosed pool or lanai the cats would appreciate the fresh air and sunshine. She concludes that since she doesn’t have any kids to send through college she has built her cats an elaborate outdoor “cat condo,” which keeps them and her backyard wildlife safe.
Pat O’Shea’s cat condo keeps the cats safe, but also allows them access to the great outdoors.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) says if you are going to garden with your cats you should first ensure that your cat has been seen by a veterinarian and you have discussed their individual healthcare plan including outdoor access. Like O’Shea the AAFP recommends that you supervise your cat when outdoors. They also urge cat owners to bring their cats in once a year for a veterinary check-up and apply the proper vaccinations and parasite screenings and prevention. Cats that have a microchip and collar with a tag are much more likely to be reunited with their family if they were to be frightened and become lost.
Gardening without cats
For many cat owners, like myself, the dangers of having a cat outside outweigh the benefits. In addition to parasites, cats can be injured from a wide range of external factors such as vehicles, domestic and wild animals and toxic plants.
Occasionally a feral or neighborhood cat can turn from a feline friend to a fecal felon. If you have a cat that is using your beds as a litter pan there are a few solutions, although felines are territorial and it can be hard to break the pattern.
After speaking with many gardeners I could not find too many that said that there was a direct benefit of having the cats in the garden. One told me that he had moved his cat’s food bowl and litter pan closer to a fruit producing tree to deter the squirrels and other wildlife from eating his crop.
Decomposing mulch is great for plants; however it is also a kitty litter invitation. Cats prefer sandy or rich humus soil to dig through, prior to going the bathroom. If cats frequent a certain area, you can purchase cat specific products that have tiny triangles protruding upwards which supposedly deter the cats due to the uncomfortable feeling on their paws. This can become expensive and unless a large area is covered the cats may just move to the adjacent location that doesn’t have this product.
Bird netting and chicken wire are less expensive alternatives. To use bird netting lay it on top of the mulch. When the cat comes up to scratch, the mesh prevents them from digging down and the cat will likely move on. Chicken wire is heavy duty and can be covered with mulch to make it visually pleasing. Cut pieces so they fit snuggly up to your plants. This also works for dogs as well.
Underneath decks are great places for cats to hide for protection and to access soft dirt. Although scents that deter such as black pepper oil are only marginally effective, especially after a rain, when placed under a deck they will not have to be replaced as frequently. If the cat problem is happening in your vegetable garden you will not want to use store-bought oil. Placing peels of citrus fruit, placed every few inches will help deter cats due to the smell. It will eventually break down into the ground, giving nutrients to the soil, but also will need to be replaced.
White vinegar can also be used as an invisible deterrent, though you will not want to use it near plants. A new application will need to be applied after each rain, and the good news is that vinegar is inexpensive.
“With modern technology, you could also consider motion detectors that make a noise, produce a light, or set off a sprinkler or water spray action,” Dr. Marcus Brown, DVM, the president of AAFP says.
He adds, “Fencing in your gardens can be very helpful to keep all unwanted visitors out including dogs, cats, rabbits, rodents, raccoons, and deer.”
Gardening for cats
Although some cat caregivers may not give access to the outdoors, that doesn’t mean we can’t designate an area of our garden for them.
“Catnip is a great herb to grow in your garden and bring it in to share with your cats. There are many plants that are toxic to cats so be sure to check-out which ones are safe,” Dr. Brown says.
Here are the top ten herbs that you can grow for your cats.
Will elicit euphoric sensation similar to catnip, for cats who don't respond particularly strong to catnip
Catnip, catswort or catmint
Relives stress and nervousness. Catnip baths can soothe itchy skin. Repels mosquitoes and flies.
Cat's claw, Dandelion root
Uncaria tomentosa and genus Taraxacum
Benefits humans and cats. Contains natural cortisone which will help with allergies.
Chamomile, Calendula, Echinacea
Medicinal properties include reducing skin problems such as itching. Some veterinary herbalists use them as a tincture.
Benefits humans, dogs and cats. Can soothe allergies and help endocrine and digestive problems. May help with arthritis as it has anti-inflammatory properties.
Strong smelling herb is known to relax humans and stimulate cats. Herb energizes slow, lethargic cats into fast furry felines.
(Editor's note- Before you buy or order do your homework and research the cultural requirements for each and see which are a match for your zone, soil, light requirement, and so on.)
Cat caring and gardening will always bring me joy, but for now I will keep the two interests separate. If my cats are going to enjoy my plants from my garden they will do so indoors.
A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Number 3.
Photography courtesy of Kenny Coogan and Pat O’Shea.
A “holding area” out back stores her orchids until they bloom.
With their unique beauty and ease of care, it’s easy to see why Palm Beach resident Polly Reed fell in love with epiphytes.
But there’s another reason too. “Truth is,” she says, “I ran out of room years ago, and growing things vertically is the only way I can continue to buy plants and still keep some semblance of order.”
Polly’s pink walls and blue accents make the perfect backdrop for her epiphytes.
Polly’s predicament is a common one. Fortunately, the salmon-pink walls surrounding her front garden provide the perfect foil for the green/gray leaves of tillandsias and other epiphytes. So do Mediterranean blue accents like doors, latticework and decorative tiles. Polly’s epiphytes give a vertical lift to her garden, but they also act as artwork.
Polly’s epiphytes play a dual role as artwork.
More plants are epiphytic than most people realize. We usually think of epiphytes as either bromeliads or orchids, but they’re actually found in every major group of the plant kingdom. About a third of all ferns are epiphytic, as well as many hoyas and cacti.
What is an epiphyte? Simply put, it’s a plant that grows on another plant and derives its moisture and nutrients from the air, rain, and often, debris accumulation. Epiphytes are not parasitic, and don’t deliberately harm their hosts. Instead, epiphytes and their hosts share what scientists consider a “commensal” relationship.
All this matters little to Polly. From tillandsias to orchids, she just appreciates their beauty. Tillandsias are attractive in their own right, she notes, but their small size also makes them extremely adaptable to so many situations. Google them and you’ll see them used in earrings, bridal bouquets and even living wreaths.
Polly has collected tillandsias for years, but a recent trip to Naples Botanical Garden inspired her to make a tillandsia “curtain” by stringing small ones on fish line. “It’s so easy,” she says, “and a subtle way to separate one area of a garden from another.” Tillandsias need some protection from the sun, but are more sun-tolerant than most people think. “Generally speaking,” she says, “those with stiff, gray leaves require more light and less watering, while those with softer, lush green leaves require less light and more watering.”
Tillandsias can be tucked most anywhere, Polly notes, but when mounting them (or any bromeliad for that matter), don’t use anything containing copper. Most bromeliads are extremely sensitive to it and will quickly succumb. For small plants, use hot glue or liquid nails, trying to keep the adhesive on the root and off the leaves. Larger bromeliads can be held in place with strips of old pantyhose until they attach themselves to trees.
“You can frame succulents as well as epiphytes and hang them anywhere,” she says.
Like other bromeliads, the life cycles of tillandsias end after blooming once at maturity. New pups will form around the base of the mother plant, and they will eventually complete the same cycle in one to three years. Fertilizing tillandsias is usually not necessary, Polly notes, but if you do, go easy and apply at quarter-strength.
The showiest epiphytes in Polly’s collection are her prized orchids, which she displays in several ways. Some grow on trees, others grow in pots attached to latticework, and some even hang from a curtain rod. When attaching them to trees (especially Phalaenopsis) she doesn’t bother using sphagnum moss. “It can keep them too wet,” she says. She keeps many of them in a holding area on her back patio, bringing them out front when they burst into bloom.
Shooting star hoya (H. multiflora) is aptly named, and Polly’s favorite.
Watering epiphytes is a breeze, Polly says. “I basically leave tillandsias to God and nature, but if we do get a prolonged dry spell I just hit them with the hose for a few seconds.” As for her orchids, she makes sure her vandas get watered every day, but only waters cattleyas once a week.
Polly also loves hoyas. Her favorite is shooting stars (H. multiflora), which blooms year-round. Most hoyas are vine-like in nature, but this one has a bushy, upright habit. Like most hoyas, it loves being pot-bound. She grows it in a hanging basket under a large gumbo limbo, which also supports her rotating orchids. “It doesn’t smell,” she notes, “but its beauty more than makes up for it.”
There’s no substitute for experience when growing epiphytes, Polly says. She’s currently experimenting with Medinilla magnifica, commonly referred to as pink lantern. “I could never get it to bloom until someone reminded me that it’s epiphytic in nature, and grows in the crotches of trees in the Philippines. It finally did bloom when there was hardly any soil left in its container.”
No doubt Polly will find a way to elevate even that medinilla one day, not to mention her prized Cochliostema odoratissimum, an epiphytic plant so rare that it doesn’t even have a common name. “Eventually,” she says, “I manage to find just the right spot for everything.”
A curtain Rod? Who knew?
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 20 number 3.
Photography courtesy of Tom Hewitt.
This female Asian tiger mosquito is sucking blood from a human host. This species of mosquito can transmit West Nile virus.
There is an ongoing battle in our yards and gardens. The leader of the resistance is a vamp with a taste for blood. But there are some practices gardeners can use to reduce the number of hungry female mosquitoes lurking out there.
Besides ruining a day in the yard, certain mosquitoes can transmit West Nile and other diseases in their quest for the blood needed to produce eggs. In fall, mosquitoes mate and the males die. The females spend the cold months hidden in protected places, such as hollow logs and in the cracks of buildings. So it is a good practice to clean up debris and caulk buildings in fall.
We all know that female mosquitoes need still water to lay eggs. Effectively minimizing standing water by improving natural drainage is the key to controlling mosquitoes. The addition of solar pumps to water features also helps. The circulating water produces rippling, which drowns the pupae. By increasing water flow and decreasing water surface tension, it is also more difficult for the females to lay eggs.
Native fish consume masses of mosquito larvae. Mosquitofish and tilapia should not be introduced into natural bodies of water, but are useful in self-contained water gardens.
Permanent sources of water that contain fish such as ponds, water gardens, and canals usually develop ecosystems that can support a larger, more diverse concentration of natural predators. The Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association states that, under normal circumstances, natural predators eat 95 percent of an adult mosquito’s offspring.
Stephen Tvedten, author of Natural Mosquito Control, (who holds pest control certifications in several states and is head of the Advisory Board for the Natural Pest Control Council) found that using potentially hazardous synthetic pesticides is not the best way to control mosquitoes. In fact their use often creates an abnormal situation by also killing large numbers of natural predators (which are slower to repopulate). When the remaining mosquito larvae hatch in a few days, their numbers steadily increase unchallenged.
Some Basic Practices to Control Mosquitoes
• Install tight screening and weather stripping.
• Use sodium vapor lamps or yellow non-attractant light bulbs outside.
• Empty all standing water and clean roof gutters.
• Keep tall grass and weeds trimmed to allow airflow through the yard.
• Rather than spraying synthetic poisons in breeding areas, using strains of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) such as Bt israeliensis (BTI), or Bacillus sphaericus (Bs) will kill the mosquito larvae by interfering with their ability to digest food. Bt is available in floating discs or as granules.
• As a last resort, add lightweight mineral oil to standing water where fish or dragonflies are NOT present.
Left to right: Lavender (Lavendula spp.), horsemint (Monarda citriodora), and basil (Ocimum basilicum) can be used to make essential oils that can be applied to the skin as repellents.
When working in the garden or just enjoying the outdoors, try some of the many natural repellents on the market. Garlic, cedar, peppermint, lemon oil, or citrus-based sprays are good mosquito repellants, as are herbal essential oils including basil, citronella, eucalyptus, lavender, and lemongrass. Soybean oil-based repellent protects from mosquito bites for 1½ hours. Since mosquitoes are not strong flyers, you can also set up a fan barrier to blow them away from you before they have a chance to bite.
While deet is an effective insect repellent, its potential side effects include memory loss, headache, weakness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tremors, and shortness of breath in humans (especially children). Until further studies are done it should be used with caution. A personal non-deet mosquito deterrent that I have found effective is a clip-on battery operated fan using metofluthrin cartridges. It is safe if used as directed.
Mechanical mosquito traps with bait will kill thousands of mosquitoes in your yard, but they can be expensive to purchase and maintain.
Mosquito Traps and Baits
A homemade bait trap containing spinosad, an approved organic substance made with soil bacterium or boric acid, mixed with fermented fruit juice will attract and kill adult mosquitoes. Both are considered safe for humans and other mammals, but be sure to place your bait traps out of the reach of children.
Mechanical mosquito traps – such as Mosquito Magnet – utilize scent-bait, carbon dioxide generation, plus fans and suction to attract, trap, and kill mosquitoes in a 1-acre area. This is a rather pricey solution, but I can testify that it does work.
Biocontrol Methods and Natural Predators
Predatory fish such as mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis), millionfish (Poecilia reticulata), minnows, and certain species of carp – such as goldfish and tilapia – will eat mosquito larvae in stand-alone garden ponds.
Motionless ponds without fish can be treated with Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis (an organic bacteria that kills mosquito larvae). Another way to disrupt the breeding cycle is to dust areas where mosquitoes breed with food-grade diatomaceous earth.
Encourage damselflies, dragonflies, and other natural predators such as bats, lizards, frogs, spiders, and native birds including chimney swifts. This free pest control squad will chow down on thousands of mosquitoes without your having to lift a finger.
A version of this article appeared in a June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Yvonne Bordelon.
Hybridization has produced double blooms with ruffles.
In the 1700s Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus named the daylily Hemerocallis. The name – combining the Greek words for “beauty” and “day” – refers to the fact that a daylily bloom is open for only one day. Although each bloom lasts only one day, each stalk usually has multiple buds that open over several days.
Daylilies have been called the “perfect perennial.” They grow in a variety of hardiness zones, soil types, and pH ranges. Sunlight and adequate drainage are the main requirements for daylily success.
Daylilies have been a source of horticultural study and hybridization in the 20th century with more than 35,000 cultivars on the market today. Daylilies can be found as passalong plants or as collector’s editions.
Daylilies are classified as evergreen, deciduous (also called dormant), or semi-evergreen. I have grown both evergreen and dormant varieties, but evergreen daylilies reportedly grow better in the warm Southern states.
Daylilies come in all colors except true blue.
The golden throat of this daylily bloom is very distinctive.
Common Name: Daylily Botanical Names:Hemerocallis lilioasphodelus (old yellow daylily); H. fulva (orange daylily) Hardiness zones: 3-11 Type: Herbaceous perennial (evergreen, semi-evergreen, or dormant) Light: Full to partial sun Soil: Moist, fertile, well drained (crown will rot if drainage is not adequate) Size: 1-4 feet Spacing: At least 18 inches apart Bloom Time: May to July, with some re-blooming varieties extending into the fall Landscape Use: Excellent in a perennial border. Daylilies have more impact when planted in swaths of the same color.
Plant in swaths of the same color for maximum impact.
When I began growing daylilies, I had two wonderful mentors who grew rows of color-coordinated, named varieties. This was their recipe for success:
Full sun: Eight hours is best. Friable loamy soil: Add decomposed mulched leaves. Plant the crown: No more than 1½ inches below the soil. Mulch to minimize weeds and increase moisture retention. Adequate moisture: At least 1 inch per week or more during the summer. Fertilize: Twice a year with a well-balanced fertilizer (10-10-10, fish emulsion, or composted chicken, cow, or rabbit manure. The first fertilization in spring – increased amount of phosphorus to promote more blooms; then at conclusion of bloom season – increased potassium for root development. Divide: As the plants become crowded, usually every three to five years.
Daylily cultivars in the 12-18 inch category are excellent at the front of a border.
A version of this article appeared in Mississippi Gardener Volume 16 number 5.
Photography courtesy of Denise Pugh.
Normally when you hear the term “cover up,” it refers to something that is either sinister or political in nature. When it comes to cover up in the garden, it is actually a great thing, because we are talking about cover crops. Cover crops are an important component of any home garden. They have multiple benefits including building the soil, controlling erosion, preventing weed infestation and limiting the spread of certain disease and insects. Cover crops are an extremely environmentally friendly practice that allows the garden to “rest” or leave the garden out of production for a short period of time. While cover crops are traditionally planted in the fall, they can also be used in the spring and summer.
Here is an assortment of planted cover crops.
The benefits of cover crops are well known and I personally saw what happens when you do not utilize them. I planted a large summer garden on a new farm tract we purchased several years ago and failed to plant any cover crops that fall. As the summer garden faded and I tilled in the remnants of the crop, my garden looked fresh and well maintained. However, about a week later we had a gully washer of a rainstorm and because of the slight slope I had in my garden area, it looked like a highway system of eroded ruts suddenly appeared the next day. I knew that I made a mistake by not planting some type of cover crop. Even on relatively flat gardens, heavy rains can create havoc on unprotected soils. Every season since then my garden is planted in a fall cover crop, which has become an essential asset to my garden.
When it comes to selecting a cover crop, traditional choices for the fall include wheat, rye, and oats, often mixed with a legume crop such as clover or winter peas. I personally use a mix of winter wheat, oats and crimson clover quite regularly. All of this green material adds valuable nutrition back into the soil once it is tilled in during the spring. The legume crop has the added benefit of providing available nitrogen to the upcoming summer crop. These legume crops fix nitrogen and release it back into the soil once they are tilled in. Summer cover crop selections include seed such as buckwheat, millet or even sunflowers. While on the subject of cover crops, they do not have to be nonedible plants. I have begun planting a mix of cover crops that are both edible and hold the soil. I plant an area of the garden with a broadcast mixture of greens, including mustard, collards, and turnips. I broadcast it out along with fertilizer and allow these to grow in a dense mat on my bare garden soil. I then go in and thin the plants as I harvest to eat accordingly while allowing them to prevent erosion and provide beneficial nutrition later on when they are tilled in.
Here, those cover crops have been tilled in to the soil to add organic matter and nutrition back into the garden.
Cover crops can be established quickly when planted on a well-prepared seedbed. Prepare the bed by removing old vegetable plant material and tilling to a depth of 5-6 inches. Seed or seed mixtures can then be broadcast over the planting area and then lightly dragged or raked in to the soil. It is a good idea to soil test first to determine the pH and fertility needs of your cover crop. Lime and fertilizer can be applied at the time of planting. Take care when planting tiny seeds such as clover as they need exposure to sunlight and should not be covered too deeply. Ideally, they should be just under the soil surface. Seeding rates vary depending on the crop you are planting, but in general 3 pounds of a grass-type cover crop and ¼ pound of clover or peas per 1,000 square feet should get the job done. Legume plants such as clover and peas should be inoculated prior to planting. Inoculation basically means applying an appropriate strain of beneficial bacteria to the seed to assist in breaking down the seed coat. A feed store will help you in the proper selection of the right inoculant. Once cover crops are planted be sure to provide them enough irrigation to germinate and become established. Once established, rainfall will normally keep then thriving and supplemental irrigation is often unnecessary.
Cover crops provide a win-win situation for your garden. They provide benefits at the start by holding the soil and possibly provide an edible harvest as they grow. They also block out weed infestation and other damaging pests. At the end of their cycle, they act as a green manure by providing organic matter and beneficial nutrients to next seasons’ crop. I cannot imagine ever planting a garden again without cover crops.
A version of this article appeared in a November/December print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.
‘Trevi Fountain’ lungwort (Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’) is insect and disease resistant and a perfect companion for spring-blooming bulbs.
The secret to growing a healthy, easy care garden is finding the right plant for the right place. And, nowhere is that more important than in a shade garden. The first thing to access is how much sun the plants will actually get. And that can vary in different parts of garden.
In a part-shade garden, the area may get direct sun for a few hours a day and then the sunlight is filtered through leaves for several hours. If the total sunlight equals four hours of sun a day, part shade plants will thrive there. However, if all or part of the garden gets only filtered sun, that area is a true shade garden.
‘Burgundy Lace’ painted fern complements broad-leaf perennials, such as hosta.
Competition for Space and Nutrients
No matter how rich the soil, how well plants are watered and how much they are fertilized, part shade plants will fail to thrive if they don’t get enough sun. Although sun-starved plants may not die in a season, they may not produce flowers and are often plagued with pests, such as slugs, and diseases, such as powdery mildew.
Shade gardens planted with deciduous or evergreen trees have another issue – root competition for water and nutrients. Adding organic material, such as shredded leaves, composted bark fines and compost, to the soil when planting and as mulch will help to hold moisture, as well as feed the soil.
Many plants will adapt to a dry shade garden if care is taken to get them well established the first season. Begin at planting time by watering the garden well a day or two before planting. Soak the roots of plants in water for a few hours prior to planting.
Start With Smaller Plants
Plants in 4½-inch or quart-size containers often are easier to plant in soil where there are a lot of tree roots. In the first year, they will probably need watering weekly and possibly more often when the temperatures reach into the 80s. A good tool to help monitor the soil’s moisture content is a Luster Leaf moisture meter, available in the houseplant section of garden centers. A rain gauge, also available at garden centers, will help to monitor the amount of rainfall the area receives. Dry shade gardens need 1 to 1½ inches of water weekly. However, that amount may increase if planting in sandy soil.
Shade-loving, evergreen hellebores bloom in winter and are deer resistant.
Apply a Natural Mulch
After planting the shade garden, I mulch the surface of the soil with a lasagna layering of organic materials, beginning with ¼ to ½ inch of compost.
Next comes an inch or more of shredded leaves recycled from my yard in fall. I top off the mix with an inch of composted bark fines. If you have fresh wood chips or pine needles available, they will do nicely, too.
Most shade garden plants bloom in spring or early summer. However, the garden can be colored up by planting easy-care annuals, such as begonias (B. spp.), most of which bloom non-stop throughout the season. The large varieties, such as begonia Big and Whopper (B. x benariensis) and Dragon Wing (B. x hybrida) fit in beautifully and adapt well to dry shade.
‘Purple Dragon’ spotted dead nettle brightens a shade garden.
Recommended Shade-Loving Perennials
Here are some plants that do well in shade gardens, and once established, are able to compete successfully with tree roots.
Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)
This tough-as-nails North American native fern thrives in shade and part-shade gardens. Disease and pest free, it’s also resistant to nibbles from deer and other animals. Hardy to Zone 3.
Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)
Used as a ground cover, its green and white foliage, which varies by variety, brightens up shaded gardens almost year around. Newer varieties, such as ‘Purple Dragon’, bloom off and on through the end of summer. Hardy to Zone 3.
‘Patriot’ and other hostas, which have cream or white markings on the leaves, brighten the shade garden. Hostas come in many leaf textures, colors, patterns and sizes.
The classic plant for the part- to full-shade garden, these workhorses come in all sizes and leaf shapes, along with a variety of textures, colors and patterns. Many new varieties produce showy and fragrant flowers. Hardy to Zone 3.
Japanese Painted Ferns (Athyrium niponicum)
These silvery-fringed leaf lovelies thrive in my dry shade garden. Hardy to a frosty Zone 4, they self-sow their spores readily in the humus rich, moss covered soil in my garden. They add season-long color and texture.
Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.)
The leaves of lungworts may be speckled or splotched or totally frosted with silver white that seems to glow in the shade garden. Lovely pink or blue flowers emerge in spring followed by their delightful leaves that last for three seasons or more. ‘Mrs. Moon’ is a dependable variety and if she takes, you may consider becoming a collector of the many new varieties. Slugs don’t usually bother lungwort. Hardy to Zone 3
Lenten Rose (Helleborus x hybridus)
Flowering as early as December, the blooms on these evergreen perennials last for months in the shade or part-shade garden. Newer varieties are hardy to Zone 4. Colors come in white and shades of pink, coral, green and burgundy. Hellebores are deer resistant.
A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries, Perennialresource.com, and Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp.
Deadly Rose Rosette Disease Moves Across the Country by Delisa White #Disease #Pests #Roses
Rose gardeners throughout the country need to be vigilant in watching for the symptoms of an increasingly common problem known as rose rosette disease.
Rose rosette disease causes irregular reddening of leaves.
The history and cause
Rose rosette disease (RRD) is fatal, and it has been spreading throughout North America since being first identified in California in the early 1940s. Killing both wild and cultivated roses of most species and cultivars, RRD is considered the most devastating disease of roses. In recent years, hot dry summers have increased the rate of spread and have allowed the disease to move throughout the Midwest.
The causal agent of rose rosette disease is a virus, which may be spread from rose plant to rose plant by any of three methods.
• Roses may become infected if asymptomatic rose buds from stock plants are used in the commercial grafting process, resulting in the production of infected new plants.
• Transmission of RRD is through root grafting, which occurs naturally when roses are growing close together in a bed for several years. The roots will often grow together, or graft to one another, resulting in a shared vascular system through which the RRD virus can pass from plant to plant.
• The most common method of transmission of the virus is by an eriophyid mite (Phyllocoptes fructiphilus). This narrow bodied four-legged mite is three to four times smaller than the more common spider mite, and feeds on new tender growth of rose stems and buds, passing the RRD virus into the vascular system of the plant. Though the mites are flightless, they are blown great distances on upper air currents, to be deposited randomly onto the rose plants of unsuspecting gardeners, resulting in the long-distance movement of the rose rosette virus.
The incidence of rose rosette disease is associated with the spread of its primary host plant, the common and invasive multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). Multiflora rose was introduced to the United States from Japan in the late 1800s for use as rootstock for cultivated roses. Since that time, multiflora rose has spread uncontrollably and is now considered an invasive species in most states. It is highly susceptible to rose rosette disease.
A large multiflora rose plant may live with the RRD virus for as many as six years, serving as a reservoir for the virus and a host plant for the eriophyid mite until the plant’s eventual death. Initially it was hoped that RRD would wipe out the populations of invasive Rosa multiflora, but this has not occurred. While reducing the population of invasive multiflora rose might be a benefit of RRD, there are certainly no benefits of having RRD in the garden or landscape.
Aberrant growth, usually redder than normal, is a strong indication that your plant has rose rosette disease.
The disease is fatal and plants should be dug up and destroyed.
Rose rosette disease in the garden
All species and cultivars of garden roses are thought to be susceptible to rose rosette disease, and as is the case with many viral diseases, there are no cures or treatments for infected plants.
Additionally, the most common vector of RRD, the eriophyid mite, is very tiny and difficult to detect, so gardeners must learn to recognize the earliest symptoms of RRD in order to prevent its spread throughout rose plantings and landscapes.
What to look for
Symptoms of rose rosette disease may vary slightly depending upon which cultivar of rose is infected, but there are several general symptoms that gardeners must watch for.
General symptoms of RRD first appear in spring, intensifying through the summer. These include distorted leaves and growth. This distorted new growth may include brooming, which is dense clustering of small branches into tufts resembling brooms. These brooms and distorted leaves may look like herbicide damage.
RRD will cause distinct red coloration of distorted tissue, as well as the rapid elongation of new red stems. These newly elongated stems will usually be thicker than the parent canes, and will often contain an excessive number of soft and pliable red thorns. Certain rose cultivars, when infected with RRD, will not bloom, and other cultivars may produce small, deformed flowers with mottled coloration.
Roses with rose rosette disease develop clusters of bright red shoots, called witches’ broom, in spring.
What to do
Since there are no chemical options for dealing with rose rosette disease, careful cultural management of roses is necessary. If possible, eliminate any wild multiflora roses growing in the vicinity of your plantings. It is critical to recognize that rose rosette disease is systemic, meaning that the virus will be present throughout the entire plant even though symptoms may be seen only on just a few canes or stems. For this reason, pruning out symptomatic growth will not cure the plant or rid it of RRD.
Plants showing symptoms must be removed completely, and it is recommended that the rose plants growing adjacent to an infected plant also be removed and destroyed. Plants to be removed should be bagged or covered before digging them out of the garden. Bagging the plants will help to ensure that any mites present will not be inadvertently transferred to nearby healthy plants.
Keep in mind that root systems will contain the RRD virus, so all root fragments should be removed to prevent resprouting of infected plants. The infected plants can be burned, or should remain bagged for curbside garbage collection. This material should not be composted or added to municipal organic waste collection systems, as the RRD virus may not be destroyed in the composting process.
The mite that vectors the rose rosette disease virus is difficult to detect, making chemical control or prevention very challenging and impractical. While there are a few pesticides that could have some impact on the mite populations, chemical control of mites to prevent the spread of rose rosette disease has not be widely successful and is not as effective as early disease detection and cultural control.
Research is underway to develop better management options for rose rosette disease. Additionally, rose companies and universities are undertaking research in an effort to create roses that are naturally resistant to both the eriophyid mite vector, as well as to the rose rosette virus itself.
Rose rosette disease is a reason for concern, but not a reason to stop growing roses. Purchase new roses from a reliable grower or retailer, closely inspect new rose plants, space plants correctly in the garden, and scout often for RRD symptoms. With due diligence, rose enthusiasts can still enjoy growing their favorite plants.
A version of this article appeared in a May/June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Dawn Dailey O’Brien, James W. Armine Jr., and Mary Ann Hansen.
“Where there is tea, there is hope.”
- Arthur Wing Pinero
Small spaces can be well used for herbs.
Except for water, tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world. Tea is a refreshing beverage that contains no sodium, fat, carbonation or sugar. It is virtually calorie-free and has been shown to have a wide variety of health benefits, including reducing some forms of heart disease and cancers.
The herbs used to brew teas are some of the easiest plants to grow, making a healing tea garden easy, fun and functional. Moreover, a healing tea garden can be as simple as a few containers on a patio or windowsill since herbs don’t require much room or tending.
Lavender hyssop is used here to attract pollinators, necessary for herbs to grow well.
This garden features lemon balm, mint, monarda, roses, fennel, pineapple sage, lavender hyssop, strawberry and chamomile. With the exception of lavender hyssop, which was used for color and pollinator attraction, all of these herbs and plants can be used to create teas for healing purposes.
Naturopathic doctors use herbs routinely in their practice for a variety of uses. For example, chamomile can be used for aiding sleep and can calm fussy infants. Add fennel to a tea and it aids finicky digestive issues. Teas made with lemon balm can calm anxiety and has been shown to be effective as an anti-viral action.
Mint is a popular herb but can be invasive, so make sure you plant in a container to avoid it taking over other parts of your garden. There are many varieties of mint – orange, chocolate, mint julep, mojito and of course, peppermint. This garden featured peppermint. A mint tea can awaken the senses and provide a sharper focus to tasks making it a perfect after lunch beverage for work or home.
A healing garden can also be a beautiful garden full of color! Bee balm (Monarda spp.) is often useful in addressing bladder infections. Bee balm is also a beautiful plant and one that pollinators seek. Like monarda, roses are colorful accents to any garden and rose hip tea can be a cooling relief for hives and are rich in Vitamin C.
Try adding unique herbs to your garden such as pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) for color and interesting foliage and blooms. It also adds a dash of flavor to a tea you make yourself.
Featured in this garden are Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri) and Bearss Lime (Citrus latifolia ‘Bearss’). Though not herbs, nor hardy to Zone 6, they make a nice addition to a patio herbal tea garden. When the cold weather arrives, you will want to move these plants indoors, so best keep them near the garden in a container that is easily transported indoors for winter storage.
The Healing Tea Garden features recyclable tumbled glass mulch that adds color and interest
Top Left: Chamomile soothes anxiety and is easy to grow. .
Top Right: Fennell is a natural carminative and aids digestion.
Bottom Left: Rose hip tea is high in vitamin C and can be effective for hives.
Bottom Right: Teas made from mint can increase focus and ease tension.
To make a tea, use 1 tablespoon per one cup of hot water if you are using fresh leaves. You can dry the leaves of herbs on paper toweling before using. Try 1 teaspoon of dry herbs per 1 cup of water or more if you like more flavor.
Tea Fact Sheet, Tea Association of the U.S.A, teause.com
Our Healing Roots, LLC, Naturpoathic Medicine. Katrina Bogdon, ND, FABNO, ourhealingroots.net
A version of this article appeared in a March 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Maurie Traylor.
Shy, the Green Anole is seldom seen on the ground.
Here’s a “green” solution to ridding your home and garden of insects. It’s free, all natural and entertaining to watch. Don’t call the exterminator or reach for that can of toxic insecticide. Instead, encourage and protect Florida’s lizards!
The Anole (uh-nole-lee) is a resident in gardens and yards throughout Florida. These small lizards are leaders in the “Eat-a-Bug Brigade!” Don’t let their relatively small size fool you--they devour tons of insects—even those much larger than the anole, itself. Anoles are great creatures to have in your garden.
Like all lizards, anoles have moveable eyelids and external earholes. Adults shed their skin about once a month—with the old skin coming off in bits and pieces. They have good eyesight and seem to hear well.
An anole will only eat live prey. It’s the movement of the insect that attracts the lizard.
In South Florida, there are a number of lizard immigrants that are becoming more common. While they, too, devour insects, there is concern that these non-native species will compete with or actually prey upon our native anoles. At this time, none of these newcomers seem able to survive the colder winters of Central and North Florida.
There are two types of anoles you will likely find in your garden. Green anoles move slowly amid the leaves of trees and palms, waiting for an unwary insect. Brown anoles are often seen clinging face down from vertical surfaces and staring intently at the ground below—waiting patiently for a savory insect to come into view. Both are true acrobats—capable of performing daring leaps and somersaults in order to capture an insect in mid-flight.
• Anolis carolinensis, our only native anole, is called “green” anole or “Zandolic” in Creole. It is found as far north as the Carolinas and south throughout the Greater Antilles. Some people erroneously call it a “chameleon.” While it has the ability to change color from green to brown or gray (depending on light, mood and temperature), it is not a true chameleon. Shy and solitary, it is rarely found on the ground.
•Anolis sagrei or “brown” or Cuban anole is originally from Cuba and the Bahamas. It is now considered a naturalized species and found throughout the state. Very lively and active, this lizard can be seen just about anywhere. These gregarious creatures love to socialize in groups and hunt on driveways and sidewalks during late afternoons or early evenings. Males can be as long as 8 or 9-inches, with females generally smaller. Females have a cream-colored stripe down their backs.
In captivity, anoles can live as long as eight years; but in the wild, they only live to 18 months. Like most lizards, anoles have autotomic tails that come off easily when grabbed and continue to wiggle distracting the predator and giving the lizard a chance to escape. The tail eventually grows back. Snakes and birds are the anole’s main predators and many are killed by cars, mowers, dogs and cats.
Brown Anoles like to cling, face-down, on vertical surfaces and stare at the ground below. This is a male.
Brown anoles like to hunt a few feet from their “safe zones” of bushes and plant beds. Before mowing, walk around the plant beds. This is often enough to scare them back to their safe zones. If you see groups socializing on sidewalks, move slowly along the street-side of the side walk. That should give them time to get to safety.
Male anoles vigorously defend their territories. This is generally accompanied by a series of lizard “push-ups” and head bobs, while displaying their colorful throat fan called a dewlap. Most of the time, opposing males will back off. However, males sometimes will engage in combat—either over territory or a female—and this can lead to death of the loser. The dewlap is also displayed during courtship.
Anoles breed from March to November and a female will lay single eggs every two weeks. These hard, white miniature versions of a chicken egg can be found in the soil or even in window screen tracks and tree crevices. Should you disturb them, simply leave them where you found them and cover them back up. Eggs will hatch in 4 to 8 weeks. The young are miniature replicas of the adults and begin to hunt immediately.
Anoles can’t survive in your house, in part because they need an accessible source of water. They can’t climb slippery surfaces and can get trapped in sinks, pans, buckets and even your pet’s water bowl. Should anoles come into your house, be humane and gently show them the way out.
Outdoors, anoles rely on moisture from the rain and dew. During dry periods sprinkle leaves and bushes with a hose to allow thirsty anoles to lick up water drops on the leaves. Don’t spray lizards directly as a blast of water from a hose can kill them.
These lizards sleep at night. If you take a flashlight and go outside an hour or so after sunset, you can usually see them stretched out with their eyes closed on the lower branches of shrubs.
Florida doesn’t have a native nocturnal lizard. The lizards you may see on your walls at night are geckoes. Geckoes are so abundant in buildings in South Florida, that they are called “House Lizards.” Geckoes are especially fond of palmetto bugs and other night-flying insects. Unlike anoles, geckoes have suction cups on their feet, and have no problem running across ceilings or over slippery surfaces. They can live quite well indoors. Geckoes hide during the day—preferring to quietly snooze behind picture frames or some other dark, out-of-the-way place. Like the anole, geckoes are completely harmless—unless you happen to be an insect!
Two of the more common types of geckoes are the Mediterranean Gecko, and the Indo-Pacific Gecko--the only species of house gecko with smooth skin and a yellow/orange belly. Both species are extremely vocal. The Mediterranean gecko has a high-pitched, squeaky call that sounds like a bird chirping; the Indo-Pacific gecko emits a series of squeaks and barks.
Go to wildflorida.com for more information about Florida’s native and exotic lizards and other wildlife.
A version of this article appeared in Florida Gardening Volume 20, Number 2.
Photography courtesy of Karinluise Calasant, and Shane Darby.
This long-time gardener needed to have a garden equal in beauty and ease of care. Here is how she turned a standard patio into a cozy garden oasis.
Left: Seasonal color and texture are integral parts of any garden planting, as is appropriate lighting. Small solar lanterns, which are placed among the tall grasses, ensure adequate lighting year round.
Right: Planters placed in clusters along the wall are filled with annuals and scented herbs. Using planters allows Shirley to “rearrange the garden” to suit her, or the plant’s, needs.
Gardening and downsizing: two words that are rarely, if ever, used in the same sentence. However, Shirley Gibson has taken the transition from a large splendid home with formal cutting, floral and vegetable gardens, groomed orchards with planned fields filled with native plantings, to a smaller villa style “Visiting Garden.” A senior residential community, where homes have limited space for gardens and patios, was where she graciously invited me to interview her.
Succulents in a container look like a mini landscape.
At 94 years of age, Mrs. Gibson is a member of the Garden Club of America, a retired horticultural judge emeritus, and presently is an active member and past president of a local garden club in her town. She still finds the time to work almost daily in her garden. Being socially active as well as having a deep working knowledge of gardening plays a large part in the influence of her choices of plants. Most of her plantings are chosen for their aesthetic qualities. “Sometimes,” Mrs. Gibson told me with a twinkle in her very bright blue eye, “I put them in just because I like them.”
In light of Shirley’s busy lifestyle, she desired a garden equal in beauty and ease of care. Tucked away in a senior living development, Mrs. Gibson took her rather standard patio and made it into a small and cozy garden oasis, which is equally inspiring and inviting. Achieving this level of garden quality may seem as though it might take a great deal of planning; however, anyone with basic plant interest and knowledge could achieve a similarly styled successful garden.
Left: Growing against a warm western-facing brick wall, Mrs. Gibson’s ‘Roma’ and cherry tomatoes produce in abundance and safety away from ground pests and foraging animals.
Right: Nasturtium and parsley spill from this raised planter.
She decided that having a raised-bed garden would reduce her hours of bending over while working in her garden. She also uses planters for smaller plants, such as herbs, which could be moved around throughout the season to the best parts of the garden where growth production would be at its peak. The final result was a smaller container garden where planters burst with fragrant herbs and heirloom tomatoes filled with freshness and flavor. Plants tumble over each other in a waterfall of color over the raised-bed edges while pole beans twine upward toward the clear deep blue sky. Chard grows in deep, lush mounds scattered about the garden. All of this is within arm’s reach and all of it is grown with little daily care and maintenance.
Shirley was quick to remind me that gardening should be pleasurable and relaxing as well as a reflection of who you are.
Left: Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis) is an easy-care perennial with personality.
Right: Established pink Knock Out roses planted at the bases of white pine trees provide a dense privacy screen as well as weather and wind protection for the garden. Wave petunias and sweet potato vine set in large planters, with their brilliant contrasting leaves, bring the visitor’s eyes up towards the modern art sculpture.
A version of this article appeared in Ohio Gardener Volume 5, Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Tammy Weiss and Martha Marsh.
Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help. Gardening is an instrument of grace.
– May Sarton
Creating space for grace is truly the dream of every gardener, even if the gardener never verbalizes such a goal. With every vigorous day of digging, building, designing, and planting, the intrinsic goal of the gardener is to have a spot of earth that is beautiful with an element of functionality whether it be a beauty for beauty’s sake or beauty combined with utility as in an edible landscape, or both.
But what interests and captivates most who appreciate a lovely little area is the feeling, the Ah! Effect … the, “Oh, I wish I could sit there and enjoy a cup of tea” feeling. It is what makes all the backbreaking work worthwhile.
Few quiet moments exist without intentional effort, and the ability to slip away to a special place in the garden to relax, or even snooze a bit, is one of the greatest joys of being a gardener.
Meet the hammock. Hammocks and gardens make a great pair, like peanut butter and jelly, they need each other; hammocks and gardens invite any visitor to sit and reflect, to pause for a deep breath, to say, “Yes, join me for a moment; rest, relax, and just be still.”
Even a picture of a hammock in a lovely setting invites the viewer to long for that place, that snippet of quiet – where grace and peace take over our brain, help fulfill our desire for stillness, and we say when we view the photo, I want to be there, or I want a garden with a hammock.
There are FOUR C’s to a relaxing hammock area:
Create a space where the shade is abundant. Hammocks can be hung between mature trees providing a blanket of shade, or a garden can host a freestanding hammock among emerging trees, or two poles could be installed and with vines planted alongside. Look for an idyllic corner; be like a bird making a nest. Look for the right location and then make that spot an intended destination with a path bordered by leafy ferns and white flowers.
Choose Calm. When choosing plants for a hammock garden, one must tailor the site while factoring in critical requirements like sunlight, water, climate, and soil type. Research plants that are known for their peaceful properties, or select a theme of all white flowers. Try edging your private retreat with large white-blooming shrubs. Delicate fragrances enhance a special hideaway and foster peace.
Plants like sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) make great conversation pieces in the garden. Medieval culture believed this plant calmed nerves and ensured satisfying sleep. With its green whorls of fragrant leaves and little white springtime flowers, it is a good plant for the deep shade and humusy soil at the base of a tree.
Black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) is an elegant addition to any shade garden. Many gardeners, who use natural remedies for aging, swear that drying the herb and sewing it in pillow sachets ensures a good night’s sleep, improves disposition, and keeps the body cool.
Add Curiosity. There is nothing like being surprised by beauty and art in a garden. Lie in the hammock and look up. Maybe climb the trees anchoring the hammock and wire artistic garden art, like a butterfly or bird. Whimsy evokes play, which reminds us life should have an element of humor to it. Hide surprises of small garden art that will delight the visitor. It is like you have let them in on a little secret: don’t take life or yourself too seriously. By adding curiosity, you have added humor, which releases endorphins, another great stress buster.
Think comfort. Lying in a hammock should be relaxing – not dangerous from hanging it too high, or too low. Use strong straps that are designed for hanging a hammock. Much like shopping for an easy chair, think about how you like to rest. A lot of space is a good thing. Once you have your lemonade and have gathered your reading material, you want to be able to spread out and feel like you are on your island. Some folks love the ENO brand, and carry them with them and hook up to trees in public parks or college campuses. The breathable, quick-drying nylon is easy to compress and pack. They are very sturdy made of new high technology nylon and weather extremely well.
Many choose a traditional cotton rope, or a thick cotton fabric –the choices can be endless, but choose comfort over looks. After all the plants in the garden capture the beauty of our world and the hammock provides the spot to stop and smell the roses, the herbs, and the fresh air while suspending us in a moment of grace.
Advice on how to have success growing second and third crops
after harvesting your spring vegetables
Make sure to irrigate your heat-stressed crops.
There is nothing I like more than being out in my vegetable garden in late March and April, working my soil in anticipation of a bountiful harvest. Temperatures at that time are usually splendid and I have no problem enjoying one of my favorite pastimes. As I fast-forward several months into the summer, my enthusiasm begins to wane as 90-degree days and high humidity begin to plague me. Not only do I have a problem staying active in such unbearable temperatures, but my plants always seem to be suffering as well. While many gardeners throw in the towel during the hottest part of summer and recline back in their air-conditioned homes, there is still an opportunity and possibility to extend your harvest season all the way until the cooler months of fall.
When talking about hot-temperature gardening, we need to examine what is happening to our plants. Just like you and I perspire more frequently during hot temperatures, plants also sweat in a way by transpiring. As plants move precious water and minerals through their systems, they transpire the moisture through their leaves more frequently as the temperature escalates. This makes it even more critical to keep a careful eye on your vegetable irrigation as we hit temperatures above 85 F. It only takes a day or two of drought or poor water management and you can potentially lose the crop. Pay particular attention to raised-bed gardens; they will dry out more quickly than conventional planting.
Because of the high temperatures, evaporation of the moisture from the soil will be more extreme. For this reason, irrigation should be delivered through soaker hoses or a drip system rather than overhead watering. It is also recommended to irrigate between 9 p.m. up until 9 a.m. During this time period you will experience less evaporation and allow the foliage to dry off. This will lead to fewer instances of disease.
Plants such as okra may love the hot, humid environment, but you will need to keep a close eye on water loving plants such as corn, cucumbers, and squash.
Another way to survive the dog days of summer and produce a healthy crop is to continue staggered new plantings of vegetables every few weeks up through the middle of summer. This gives you fresh, healthy crops while you continue to harvest from your older and possibly exhausted plants.
As a crop fizzles out in the garden, it is important to remove it and perhaps add it to your compost pile. Leaving expired plants in the garden can lead to the introduction of diseases and invasion of possible insects.
Planting new seeds or transplants during the hot temperatures of summer is a bit more challenging. You will need to nurse them along for the first week or two, supplying adequate irrigation. You may even want to consider using some type of screen or shade material to provide them relief in the hot afternoons for a couple of weeks as they acclimate to their new hostile environment.
Spraying for disease, weeds, and insects as season wears on.
You have probably noticed an increase in disease and insect activity in the heat of the summer. While 90 percent of the bugs you see may be beneficial, the bad guys are more likely to show up during the hot months. This is when you need to be scouting your garden frequently for any signs of an outbreak. While I don’t normally recommend preventive insect sprays, you may need to apply a product if you spot existing insect damage. I begin by applying some type of organic insecticide that is more environmentally friendly, but still effective. I prefer to spray insecticide applications late in the day, when there is less chance of hitting beneficial pollinators that are in the garden. Pollinators tend to fly early in the morning on sunny days, so you should avoid spraying at that time.
Insect pressure on tomatoes and other veggies.
Tomatoes are perhaps some of the most difficult to keep alive late in the season because they are so susceptible to problems. In order to extend the life of your current tomato plants, plan on pruning them frequently. I like to eliminate most of the lower branches so that none of the foliage touches the ground. I also pinch out the suckers between the main branches and eliminate some of the non-bearing structure to allow more air and sunlight to penetrate the plants. Just take care not to over prune your tomatoes because the actual fruits benefit from the shade provided by the foliage.
In late summer, mulch is a gardener’s best friend. I use various types of mulch throughout the garden season to help me keep weeds at bay and hold moisture in the soil. Newspaper laid three layers thick can be excellent mulch around your plants. After laying it down, I immediately wet it to keep it in place. I then cover it with an organic mulch of some type of straw or bark to hold it in place and provide an extra layer of protection. Weeds do not mind the heat or humidity at all, and tend to grow rapid during the summer. You might consider using a combination of mulch and hand pulling or tilling to keep them under control. Weeds are always easier to remove when they are young. The drip irrigation we mentioned earlier will also help in your weed management. Drip irrigation applies the water directly to the target plant, and does not water all of the areas between rows like overhead watering does. Remember that overhead watering is watering your plants, but also giving your weeds an energizing drink.
Remember to keep an eye on the fertility needs of your summer garden. While the initial phosphorous and potassium that you applied earlier in the season may still be available, the nitrogen is most likely long exhausted. Continually bearing plants such as tomatoes, squash, peppers, and okra will need additional nitrogen every two or three weeks throughout the growing season. Target the application close to the plants but not right next to the stem. Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly 6-8 inches away from the base of the plant. It makes good sense to irrigate soon after applying the fertility so that the plant may begin to absorb it quickly. Care should be taken when using liquid fertilizers – do not apply too much nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen formulations can be difficult to calibrate and apply correctly. I recommend using them at half the labeled rate. Remember that the amount of time you spray each plant can double or even triple the rate of application.
Harvesting on time keeps plants producing a fresh crop every few weeks.
One final piece of advice is to harvest your garden frequently. Summer vegetables can develop rapidly. If left on the vine too long, that can signal the plant to shut down, because it has accomplished its goal of reproducing seed. By harvesting frequently, we accomplish three things. We trigger the plant into continuing to reproduce; we harvest a vegetable that is more tender and tasty; and by harvesting a young vegetable, we help prevent insect invaders that hone in on older, maturing fruit.
I am a cool weather kind of guy, and I don’t particularly enjoy hot, humid weather. However, my appetite is stronger than my desire to stay cool. I love the taste of fresh vegetables, and I want them all season long. You too can enjoy an extended summer harvest if you can bear a bit of the nasty temperatures and do a few of the preventive measures in this article. And the bonus is that you get to eat the delicious harvest in the comfort of your air-conditioned home.
A version of this article appeared in a June 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Bob Westerfield.
This brood frame shows a pattern of eggs, larvae, pupae, capped brood and baby bees emerging from their cells.
You can try this at home! Growing bee-friendly plants is one way to help increase the bee population. Another way is to actually raise bees.
For Denise Johnston, it started at the county fair. As a child, she’d make a “beeline” to the hive observation frame in the agriculture building, where she would become mesmerized by the bees’ activity. Then, about ten years ago, she met Bob Engle, the man behind the hives, at an antique tractor show.
He asked if she was interested in a class he was teaching. Johnston signed on to a series of five 3-hour classes detailing how to start your own hives. After attending all 15 hours, she ordered her first batch of bees. Now Johnston is secretary/treasurer/newsletter editor of the Northwest Indiana Beekeepers Association, sells her own honey and teaches classes. (nwibeekeepers.com)
“When I joined, we had about 20 people at the first session and ended up with five who completed the entire class,” Johnston says. “Now we have 70 people sign up, and it usually dwindles down to around 20.”
The NWIBA now boasts 190 members, and Johnston credits the increased interest to an awareness of colony collapse disorder, disappearing bee disease and the importance of pollinators. Her first recommendation for bee newbies: get involved with a local club.
Beekeeping associations are treasure troves of knowledge and great networking resources. It’s an ancient art after all, and many members have been keeping honeybees for decades. Beekeepers love to share.
Providing bees for cold climate beekeepers is big business. Before capture, the bees have already been pollinating California almonds, Georgia pecans or Florida cucumbers. Bee suppliers package them up with a queen and a can of food. “A 3-pound package of bees with a queen cost around $110 last year,” Johnston says. “They used to cost $8.”
Other changes to beekeeping can be found in the mechanics of the process, but the product hasn’t changed a bit.
Jim Crawford uses the smoker to calm the bees before he opens the hive.
You’ve never smelled honey until you’ve been to a clover hive that has just been harvested. On a clear sunny day in early October, Jim Crawford had just finished harvesting nearly 100 pounds of honey.
For someone new to beekeeping, Crawford moves with deliberate confidence. It’s a good manner to adopt when surrounded by hundreds of flying insects with stingers. After pulling out the honey-laden frames, he quickly stashes them in his truck. “You don’t want to leave honey out this time of year,” he explains. “It will attract all kinds of bees and even yellow jackets.”
The bees are possessive of their honey in the fall. They need to have enough to live on through the winter months. It’s Crawford’s second year, and he’s been successful due in large part to his mentor George Manning who has kept bees for 65 years.
Jim inspects the brood box to ensure that the queen is laying eggs in a good pattern. The brood box is where the queen lays her eggs and the new bees are hatched and raised. “You should see a nice cluster in the middle of the frame – eggs, larvae, pupae and capped brood (the final stages of the developing bee before it hatches),” Crawford explains. “Normally, if you look close you will actually see the new bees emerging from the cells.”
After harvesting what will turn out to be nearly 100 pounds of honey, Crawford inspects the hives. The brood frame, where baby bees mature, is a mix of eggs, larvae, pupae, capped brood and baby bees emerging from their cells. The frame contains cells with honey for feeding the baby bees and the worker bees. It is only when the brood frames become full of brood and stored honey that the worker bees begin storing excess honey in the upper “honey super” boxes.
Crawford makes use of a screen called a queen excluder to prevent the queen from laying eggs in the portion of the hive where the honey is stored. “The screen has openings large enough for the worker bees to pass through and store honey but too small for the queen,” he says. “You don’t want the queen laying eggs where you will be harvesting honey.”
Hives themselves range in materials and prices. Crawford has two hives – one he purchased, assembled and painted for around $400 and another that he had to assemble and paint himself for $350. He’s glad he had to put it together as it gave him insight into how a hive is built.
Timing the honey harvest helps assure that the bees aren’t overly aggravated. “It should be at least 50 F but ideally 70 F and sunny,” Crawford says. “You want the bees to be out foraging, and when it’s cloudy, cool, and wet, they’ll stay in the hive and get kind of grumpy if you try to take the honey while they’re inside.”
Crawford recommends a spot with maximum sun exposure and minimum north and west wind exposure. Honeybees don’t migrate but stay in the hives through the winter, eat lots of honey and generate heat by clustering and beating their wings.
For buying bees, Crawford recommends contacting a local certified apiary in order to start off with healthy bees.
Jim shows an empty foundation frame (at right) that the bees will build up with honey comb, and (at left) a frame filled with honey that he will process.
A Little Background
According to Purdue University Extension Service, all honeybees belong to the genus Apis and bees in this genus are the only species to store large amounts of honey and exhibit a perennial life cycle. Honeybees represent only a small fraction of the roughly 20,000 known species of bees. Some other types of related bees produce and store honey, but only members of the genus Apis, are true honeybees.
The western honeybee (Apis mellifera) is native to Europe and has since been raised all over the globe. It is the primary honeybee of western civilization, while the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana) is the counterpoint in eastern civilization.
Among the commonly recognized species of Apis, only A. cerana and A. mellifera are kept commercially by man.
What’s in a Starter Kit?
It is recommended to join a local bee organization or find a mentor to offer support and guidance. Attend a meeting or two before investing in a starter kit that includes the basics, including the following:
• Brood chamber or hive body, which is a large box containing eight to 10 removable frames that the bees cover with a wax honeycomb. Each individual cell in the honeycomb is occupied by new bees or filled with honey for the bees’ consumption.
The smoker is used to keep the bees calm during hive inspections.
• Honey supers are additional boxes, usually shorter in depth than the hive body, that are used to store surplus honey that the beekeeper will harvest. The supers also have moveable frames for honeycomb.
• Frames, usually made of pine, hold a beeswax-coated foundation on a molded plastic raised cell sheet to help the bees start drawing the cells.
• Hive tool for opening hives that might be sealed by the bees with a product called propolis, which they manufacture from tree gums, saps and resins.
• Smoker – a metal container with bellows, plus smoker fuel.
• Bee veil is worn to protect the face and neck from stings.
• Gloves are worn to improve grip and protect from stings.
A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume 22 number 2.
Photography courtesy of Jean Starr and Dadant & Sons, Inc.
A mass planting of the native cultivar Invincibelle Spirit II is stunning in sun or part shade.
This season, you’ll feel extra good about your purchase of the new Invincibelle Spirit II Hydrangea for your garden or to give as a gift. That’s because $1 of every plant sold is donated to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. More than $730,000 has been raised from the sale of its predecessor.
Invincibelle Spirit II is a notable improvement over the original Invincibelle Spirit. It is a much stronger grower, with sturdier stems, darker green foliage and brighter blooms. Rich pink flowers are produced on new growth from mid-summer until frost, maturing to an attractive shade of green. The dried blooms are lovely in long lasting bouquets. This selection of our native Hydrangea arborescens grows and blooms best in full sun, but will also grow in part shade at the expense of fewer flowers.
Common Name: Smooth hydrangea
Botanical Name: Invincibelle Spirit II (Hydrangea arborescens ‘NCHA2’)
Type of Plant: Shrub
Hardiness Zone: 3-9
Bloom Time: Mid-summer to frost
When to Prune: Pruning back old stems to 6-12 inches in late winter or early spring will not remove flower buds.
Height: 3-4 feet; Spread: 3-5 feet
Exposure: Full sun to part shade
Watering: Average to moist; not drought tolerant
Soil: Adapts to most well-drained soil types; pH does not affect flower color.
When to Fertilize: Apply a controlled release fertilizer in spring, if desired.
A version of this article appeared in Michigan Gardening Magazine Volume 4 number 1.
Photography courtesy of Proven Winners/ColorChoice.
The owner of a small-town shop gave the writer a cutting from a large Hoya that vined throughout the store.
If you have a plant you would like to share with someone or just make more of, now is a good time to take cuttings. In spring, the longer days and increased sunlight awaken our houseplants from their winter slumber. They push new growth, making it the optimal time to take cuttings.
I was in a small town store a couple of years ago and was impressed with the enormous hoya (H. pubicalyx) trailing everywhere through the store. I asked for a cutting (always ask before taking a cutting) and was gifted with one. After I got home, I cut it into smaller pieces, and planted each one.
This process isn’t complicated or expensive. I use empty deli containers to start cuttings and the appropriate soil for the specific type of plant. If the plant being propagated is not a succulent, humidity is a large factor. Close the lid on the deli container or cover with a plastic bag. The humidity helps keep the cutting well hydrated while waiting for new roots to grow.
For succulents, such as the hoya pictured, I used a quick-draining soil formulated for succulents. Dampen the soil before placing the cuttings. I used bent wire to pin the cuttings to the soil. Paper clips work well for this, too. The cuttings must have contact with the soil to be able to grow new roots. Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Wet soil will rot the plants.
This process isn’t something that happens overnight. It may take weeks or months to see growth from the cutting. The plants have roots when you see new growth. At this time, you can transplant the cuttings to their own containers.
Here are step-by-step instructions on how to take cuttings. Although the example is a hoya, the method works for several other houseplants.
Hoya cutting that will be used to grow new roots.
With a sharp knife or clippers, cut the larger piece into several smaller ones, making sure each one has at least one or two leaves.
Here’s an ideal cutting, with two leaves and stems.
Use paper clips or wire to anchor cuttings in the damp soil. Cuttings need to be in good contact with the soil to develop roots.
The cuttings are pinned to the moistened soil, which is in a deli container, complete with lid. Succulent cuttings do not need high humidity to take root, but other houseplants do, and the container lid can be closed to provide the right environment.
Seven months later the cuttings are growing new shoots.
The cuttings were taken two years ago and they are now ready to be rooted into an 8-10 inch container.
The plant is now happily growing three years later in its own container. Other houseplants may not take years to develop for transplanting.
Eventually, the hoya cutting will trail and display a waxy pinkish-white, fragrant flower.
A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Lisa Eldred Steinkopf.
Along with the increased interest in sustainable living and gardening, composting is also regaining popularity. It’s a great way to manage organic matter while creating a valuable resource at the same time. There are many different methods of composting but the key elements they share are the organic materials that go in them: water, oxygen, and the microorganisms that actually do the decomposing.
My favorite type of composting is the three-bin method. This system works well if you have the room and generates a lot of organic matter. With this system, you will have different piles in various stages of “ripeness”: fresh organic matter in one bin; then moved to the second bin when the first is full and the compost is ready to turn; then repeat, turning compost into the third bin, where it finishes.
You can make your own three-bin composting unit out of many different materials. Old pallets wired together are the least expensive, but wire and wood, wood slats, or even cinder blocks can be used to construct the unit. If using the wire and wood or the wooden slats, you will need some basic carpentry skills and tools. Each bin should be roughly 3 feet tall, wide, and deep. I am partial to those that allow air to easily circulate around the pile. All that oxygen keeps the microorganisms in the soil happy and working hard to break down your organic matter.
The first bin is where the fresh organic matter is placed. Place “green” materials like grass clippings or other fresh plant waste with “brown” materials like dried leaves, wood chips, or shredded branches. Green material tends to be high in nitrogen; brown material contains more carbon. If green waste is limited, you can add nitrogen-containing fertilizer to bring the carbon and nitrogen ratio closer to 30/1. If using kitchen scraps, dig a hole in the center of the pile and bury to comply with many city nuisance ordinances (you would hate for a neighbor to complain). A thin layer of garden soil should be applied to introduce the microorganisms that do the composting. Be sure to keep the pile moist. An easy way to tell if your pile has enough moisture is to squeeze a few handfuls of materials. Everything should feel damp, like a wrung-out sponge. If it doesn’t, it’s time to add water. Turn your pile while adding water so everything gets moist. If more than a drop or two of water comes out when squeezed, then your pile is too wet and turning is in order so you can balance moisture and air levels, optimizing conditions for decomposition.
As the pile starts to shrink, you will know that it’s decomposing. It is a good idea to check the temperature of the compost from time to time, ideally with a compost thermometer. Once the temperature starts to drop, it is time to turn. Make sure that the outside, and undigested stuff, gets put into the center. After the middle has reached 140-150 F, turn the pile from the original bin into the adjacent center bin.
Once the second pile is filled, allow this to further decompose, again watching the value decrease. Follow the same steps and transfer to the third bin. While this last bin will still go through some decomposition, it is ready to use at any time the need arises. I find this type of composting super easy to set up and easy to “work.”
A version of this article appeared Carolina Gardener Volume 28 Number 1.
Photography courtesy of Arina P Habich/Shutterstock.com, Cindy Shapton, and Tim Matthews.
These tough, living mulches fill awkward spaces, fight off weeds and offer a lovely grass alternative.
Let’s face it. The term “ground covers” doesn’t inspire a great deal of passion. For generations, ground covers have been regarded as plants for covering exposed soil in places where poor soil conditions, deep shade or steep slopes make it hard, or even impossible, to grow grass. But today, many gardeners recognize ground covers not only for their utility but their striking beauty as well.
Ideally, filling the spaces between plants with more plants instead of mulch provides color and textural contrast, increases habitat and food for beneficial insects and wildlife, beautifies the landscape, gives you ornamental foliage and various growth habits that are particularly attractive during the active growing season and – not surprisingly – might even provide winter interest to boot. If chosen correctly, a yard with established ground covers is a visual treat.
Over the course of my gardening days I have tried a variety of low-growing plants with varying results. I’ve fallen in love with some and have developed some rather nasty thoughts about others.
Here are my favorites, all hardy perennials. They include lovely bloomers, must-haves that are a bit aggressive but not invasive and a few fanciful ground huggers.
At the top of my list is an old-time favorite with versatile modern day use, Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis). Evergreen and self-sustaining once established, it always looks good, and deer and rabbits avoid it. While long, sweeping beds of nothing but Japanese spurge can be monotonous; a well-manicured river swirling around trees, shrubs, large hostas or ferns is a sight to behold.
Growing 6-12 inches in height, pachysandra grows in nearly any well-drained soil, is fairly drought tolerant and spreads quickly to form a thick mat of glossy, coarsely toothed leaves. Small clusters of bottlebrush-shaped white flowers appear in early spring. Compact ‘Green Carpet’ and ‘Green Sheen’ have shinier leaves; ‘Variegata’ exhibits white edges, but all three are slower spreaders than the species.
Not every plant needs to be a show-off to be useful. Take gingers (Asarum spp.) for instance. Both North American wild ginger (A. canadense) and European wild ginger (A. europaeum) will go about their business of carpeting bare soil in damp spots without any coddling. I grow them primarily for their kidney-shaped leaves, since their brown jug-shaped flowers are hidden under the leaves.
Wild ginger, a dapper ground cover that blankets the earth with enthusiasm, has large, (up to 5-inch) wide leaves and a thick sturdy rootstock that forms a dense network of plants in any woodland setting. For me, the one priceless feature of this deciduous plant is that once established, it can fend off garlic mustard, an invasive thug with which I am in constant battle.
Ornamental European ginger, on the other hand, is the captivating heart-throb of the family. The handsome leaves are a shiny rich green; some varieties have exquisite texture while others are adorned with striking silvery patterns. The plants are susceptible to few pests, are quite drought tolerant once established and remain fresh all season long.
For the front of the border, the deceptively delicate dwarf astilbe (Astilbe chinensis ‘Pumila’) forms a compact mound of elegant, lacy leaves topped with wispy, stiffly upright, lavender-rose flower plumes. One of the last astilbes to bloom, it does best in moist soil but is one of the least likely astilbes to fry in hot, dry weather. It is also deer and rabbit resistant. One of the last astilbes to bloom, it does best in moist soil but is one of the least likely astilbes to fry in hot, dry weather.
The sweet-scented, bell-shaped white flowers of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) can pack a powerful punch despite their diminutive size. Though completely comfortable in deep shade and easily grown under almost any condition, lily-of-the-valley prefers rich loamy soil and ample moisture.
Yes, it’s important to know that it can be invasive. And sited in full sun with no additional moisture, it can look bedraggled during the dog days of summer. But place it correctly, contain its spread with barriers, and you will be rewarded with one of spring’s most captivating ground covers.
As likeable as the common lily-of-the-valley may be, there are less aggressive but charming cultivars that will add additional sparkle and dimension to your garden. Worth seeking out are ‘Albomarginata’ with white-edged leaves, ‘Albostriata’ with cream striping or ‘Aureovariegata’ with yellow. But for me, the less invasive ‘Rosea’ spreading slowly in front of blooming azaleas can totally upstage them, especially when you realize that its flowers are pink.
For some of the cutest ground covers, try hens-and-chicks (Sempervivum cvs.) and stonecrop (Sedum spp). With succulent rosettes available in a painter’s palette of colors or covered with cobweb-like hairs and in a variety of sizes, it’s no wonder that hens-and-chicks are the ubiquitous choice for any gardener with a hot, free-draining spot of soil to fill.
Plants spread when the large rosette in the center (hen) produces offsets at the end of runners (chicks). Baby chicks can be plucked off and planted separately where they will quickly root and produce their own colonies.
Three exceptionally gorgeous sedums, part of the SunSparkler series that tolerates cold as well as heat, are ‘Lime Zinger’ (with bright lime-green leaves edged in cherry-red and pink blossoms), ‘Dazzleberry’ (with unusual smoky-blue foliage and giant raspberry-red flowerheads) and ‘Cherry Tart’ (with small, rounded cerise-red toned leaves and deep pink blooms). Butterfly magnets when in bloom, these deer-resistant plants are just under 6 inches high but quickly fill in an area up to 18 inches wide.
Sunsparkler sedum 'Lime Zinger'
SunSparkler sedum 'Dazzleberry'
If you want a colorful, low-maintenance, long-blooming ground-hugging mat of rounded leaves, look no further than blue star creeper (Isotoma fluviatilis). Compact, 3-inch tall deciduous clumps spread carpets of sky-blue flowers between stepping-stones or bare ground. A deciduous plant that tolerates rather heavy foot traffic, it needs well-drained moist soil.
Blue star creeper
Thyme (Thymus spp.) plants are an immense family, known as much for their culinary properties as ornamental ones. The low-growing, spreading thymes are fabulous ground covers in spots where plants receive only light foot traffic. (Many are incredibly difficult to tell apart without the benefit of a label.) Planted in well draining soil, the 2-inch tall creeping thyme (T. praecox) forms wonderfully thick mats of dark green leaves bearing rounded carpets of pale to dark lavender flowers in summer. Other T. praecox cultivars bloom in white and shades of rosy pink.
Just remember, a flourishing ground cover planting depends not only on careful selection of plant material, but also on proper cultural practices. Selecting the right plant for the right place is the most important step in achieving success.
A version of this article appeared in print in Chicagoland Gardening January/February 2016.
Photography courtesy of Betty Earl, SunSparkler sedums, and Stepables.
Ask any gardener what grows really well in your garden, and you may get an answer you don’t want to hear: POISON IVY. Unfortunately, it thrives in just about any environment.
Poison ivy manages to grow anywhere – on islands, marshy areas, and forests. Sand, good soil, or among acidic pine needles, poison ivy grows. Worst of all it grows in sun or shade, climbing up, over and around most everything.
Gardening books hardly ever mention poison ivy, not even as a warning to be aware when walking or weeding. No one wants to admit it is everywhere. Poison ivy popping up in a private garden is like, well, – mum’s the word.
Poison ivy is contagious by touching leaves or stems, petting an animal in contact with it, and from smoke where brush with poison ivy in it is being burned. If I inadvertently pull some up, I go inside and wash my hands and arms thoroughly with Soft Scrub.
The above information just makes one itch. Many of us are highly allergic to poison ivy. Horrible itchy welts form with relief varying from Vitamin E and over the counter products to ammonia and ice cubes. If I get bad enough I call my doctor for a prescription of some sort. It is one that keeps me awake, yet does give some relief in two days.
To add insult to itch a new study has come out stating that poison ivy is thriving with global warming and harmful emissions.
Your mother was right when she told you, “Three leaves let it be.” Excellent advice.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Issue 2.
Photography courtesy of Gretchen F. Coyle.
Compact vegetable varieties produce a gourmet harvest in a small space.
With garden space and spare time at a premium for most families, gone are the huge backyard plots that once yielded all the vegetables a family could eat. After a move to the city in 2012, my own vegetable garden shrunk from a half acre in the country to a few raised beds. Nonetheless, I’m amazed at the large and varied harvest from my new, much smaller space these last two years.
‘On Deck Hybrid’ is billed as the first sweet corn variety developed especially for container gardening.
Success for me and other small-space gardeners is due in part to plant breeders, who have developed compact veggies to replace some of the space hogs of the past. Many of these new varieties are ideal candidates not only for small beds, but also for containers, which means you can grow a decent harvest even if you have no ground at all.
Take ‘Fairy Tale’, ‘Hansel’ and ‘Gretel’ eggplants, for example. All three of these petite, award-winning varieties produce prolific harvests on compact plants.
A host of small-fruited tomatoes such as ‘Tumbling Tom’ and ‘Red Robin’ make it possible to harvest your fill, even if your only growing space is a few hanging baskets or other small containers.
Sweet baby carrots like round ‘Atlas’ or short and stubby ‘Caracas Hybrid’ are a gourmet treat, perfect for growing in the shallow soil of a container.
Winter squash, a notorious spreader, is now possible to grow in a small garden bed, thanks to space-saving varieties, such as ‘Bush Delicato’ and ‘Early Butternut’.
There are several techniques that also help make today’s small-space gardens successful. Intensive planting works wonders. With no need to save wide rows between crops for the rototiller, you can bunch vegetable plants close together not only to reap a bigger harvest, but also crowd out weeds and conserve moisture. Instead of a single row of green beans, for example, I now plant four rows of seeds only 6 or 8 inches apart to completely fill the 4-foot width of one of my raised beds.
Rich, fertile soil is important when you’re gardening intensively, but fortunately it’s a lot easier to tend to soil building when space is limited. I was always short of homemade compost for my large country garden, but now I have a ready supply for my new raised beds and pots from one large outdoor compost bin, plus an indoor worm factory.
‘Mascotte’ bean produces plentiful, long-slender beans on compact plants.
Containers and Raised Beds
When growing vegetables in containers, I have the best luck with a mix of one-third compost and two-thirds quality potting soil. For the raised beds, we had a load of timber soil delivered. Water collected in a rain barrel attached to a downspout, fortified with regular additions of a liquid organic fertilizer, helps keep my plants healthy and productive.
Growing my veggies in raised beds and pots has solved what would otherwise have been a major problem: the walnut trees that ring my new back yard. Tomatoes and their relatives are particularly sensitive to the juglone that is produced by walnut roots. By growing these crops in soil that doesn’t come into contact with the trees’ roots, I avoid the possibility that my tomato plants will succumb to walnut wilt.
‘Astia’ zucchini is a non-rambling bush variety with glossy-green fruits.
Frequent Sowing and Good Companions
Companion planting and successive sowing keep all available space producing throughout the season. Radishes and broccoli raab are so quick to grow they don’t even need a space of their own. Just sow a few seeds of these cool-weather crops around slower growing summer crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, and they’ll be gone before the later crops need more space.
Leaf lettuce thrives in the partial shade of taller crops. When early crops, such as spinach and peas, languish in summer’s heat, rip out the spent plants and put in new crops, such as green beans and carrots, in the emptied space.
As autumn approaches, plant a second round of cool-season crops like lettuce, turnips and spinach to take the place of frost-sensitive tomatoes, peppers and eggplants.
‘Fanfare’ cucumber produces big fruits on a semi-dwarf plant.
Plants on the Up and Up
Vertical gardening is another good way to make the most of what garden space you have. Use trellises for crops such as peas, pole beans, cucumbers, melons and winter squash or let them climb a chain-link fence. Cage or stake tomatoes not only to save space, but also produce better fruits than possible from plants that are allowed to sprawl on the ground.
In tending my own small plot, I’ve discovered something else: I’m no longer distracted by quantity and can concentrate on quality. No more zucchinis that slip my notice until they’re as big as baseball bats, for example, and no more broccoli ruined by yellow flowers sprouting in the middle of the green heads.
‘Super Bush’ tomato is known for its high yields of heavy fruits with rich tomato flavor.
Best Space-Saving Varieties
Here’s a sampling of vegetables you can grow in a small plot or even in a container.
‘On Deck Hybrid’ sweet corn grows only 4 or 5 feet tall. Unlike most varieties, which require a large number of plants to achieve full ears, ‘On Deck Hybrid’ was bred for better cross-pollination when planted in relatively small quantities. W. Atlee Burpee & Co. recommends planting nine seeds in a 2-foot-wide container. Expect to harvest two to three ears per stalk. ‘Mascotte’ bean is a 2014 All-America Selection winner, which produces plentiful, long, slender pods on compact plants. The root system makes this variety ideal for growing in a container or window box, or for packing a lot of bush bean plants into a small garden bed. ‘Astia’ zucchiniis a French bush variety with non-rambling, compact vines. The harvest of glossy-green fruits begins early and keeps coming. ‘Fanfare’ cucumber produces 8- to 9-inch fruits on semi-dwarf plants. Grow them in a container on a trellis and you’ll be rewarded with a long season of fresh cucumbers in a very small space. This disease-resistant variety is a past All-America Selection. ‘Super Bush’ tomato produces high yields of heavy fruits that have a rich tomato flavor. The compact plants grow only 30-36 inches tall.
The harvest from a single sweetpotato plant completely fills a 24-inch pot with tuberous roots.
A version of this article appeared in a March/April 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Jan RiggenBach, Renee’s Garden, W. Atlee Burpee & Co., and All-America Selections.
Here in the 21st century the idea of ecological or “green” gardening is nothing new. As gardeners we have a unique connection to ecology that leads many of us to desire to garden in ways that don’t harm the environment. Most of us approach using chemicals with at least some level of apprehension and concern about both environmental and human health. Scientific research is increasingly confirming suspicions that horticultural and agricultural chemicals are contributing to a wide array of concerns such as cancer, pollinator decline, and poor water quality. Still, much confusion remains about what going green in the garden entails and how practical it is, especially as we age and become less physically able.
The good news is that the biggest challenge in going green is a mental one. Going green won’t necessarily require you to do much differently physically, but it will require you to challenge some of your assumptions about gardening. The following is a list of six things you can do this year to make your garden healthier and more ecofriendly.
We can learn a lot by observing how natural ecosystems contain a wide variety of plants providing different roles and functions.
Most natural landscapes include a plethora of plant species interacting and filling different niches that support wildlife, like pollinators and birds, and environmental functionality, like fertile soils and clean water. The more plant species, especially native, that we bring into our gardens the more potential we have for a healthy ecosystem. Start by taking an inventory of the number and types of plant species you have and then make a list of beneficial plants you could add.
Take Back Your Lawn
The elephant in the room when it comes to a lack of plant diversity in most gardens is the lawn. Our obsession with golf course-like expanses comes with many ecological consequences. Poor water quality, toxic chemical exposure, air pollution, species decline, noise pollution, and habitat loss can all be attributed to the modern lawn. Take stock of how much you actually use your lawn, how it contributes to the design of your garden, and how much you spend to maintain it, and then consider ways to reduce your lawn and replace it with native grasses, flowers, and other beneficial plants. A lawn is essentially an artificially maintained pioneer or newly established ecosystem.
By bringing together many native and useful plants we can mimic natural systems and create beautiful gardens.
Native plants provide beauty, habitat, food, and ecological functionality in the landscape. By observing your local native plants you can begin to see the types of ecosystems you have in your area and the ways in which you can replicate them in your garden. Take an inventory of the origins of the plants you have. You may be surprised to find that you have few plants native to your region. Most states and regions have a native plant society or group that can help you learn about your native plants and the benefits they provide. Many nurseries are offering increasingly more native plants.
These days, organic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are readily available and provide good non-toxic alternatives. Use of organic products will increase the health of both you and your plants, and increase the long-term fertility of your gardens.
Raised beds like these can make gardening more accessible for those with limited mobility.
Grow Your Own
The ecological costs of our industrial-scale agricultural systems are numerous. By growing some of your own food you can help mitigate this situation and assure yourself that you are getting the freshest, tastiest, and healthiest food possible. As we grow older and/or have more limited mobility, it can be challenging to continue to grow food. One of the biggest challenges is being able to work on the ground. Using raised beds or taller containers can help alleviate this problem and make your plants more accessible.
Composting is an easy way to make your gardening more sustainable and reduce waste.
Every day good compostable material is dumped into landfills. You can reduce your need for fertilizers and mulch and reduce your contribution to your community’s waste stream by composting your food scraps. You don’t need a fancy bin or to invest much money into the process. A simple well-built pile only requires a small space in a shady part of your property. For urban dwellers or those with limited mobility, a worm bin can provide a good alternative to make use of your compostable materials.
The environmental legacy of our gardening and landscaping can be one of restoration, protection, and health or one of species extinction, toxic chemical pollutants, and illness. It is up to each of us as gardeners, landscapers, and consumers to decide what kind of legacy we will leave. These six simple steps are a good way to make your garden more ecologically friendly and with some little personal tweaks it can be something you can sustain for a lifetime.
A version of this article appeared in a March 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Adam Sarmiento.
In my opinion, ornamental flowering crabapples are the No.1, small-scale ornamental trees for us here in the Midwest. There is no other tree that gives us so much beauty and interest throughout every season. Ornamental flowering crabapples adorn our gardens with fluffy clouds of white, pink or red flowers in spring, a variety of interesting forms from upright columns and full rounded trees to graceful weepers in summer, rich yellow, gold and orange fall color and brilliant yellow, orange or red jewel-like fruit in fall and winter.
‘Red Peacock’ is one of the very best of crabapples for its excellent disease resistance, which should be the first thing that anyone looks for in a good cultivar. It is resistant to the big five crabapple diseases: Apple scab, cedar-apple rust, fire blight, frog-eye leaf spot and powdery mildew.
Beyond that, it has beautiful white flowers and shiny, small, orange-red fruit that lasts all fall and winter and then in spring. Migrating birds, especially cedar waxwings, eat the trees clean, as they make their way back north. The form of the plant is quite nice, growing somewhat upright, when young. It spreads a bit with age, and exhibits a nice semi-weeping habit at maturity. A fully mature tree at 25 to 30 years will reach about 20-25 feet tall and about 20 feet wide, so it fits quite nicely into residential landscapes.
Flower Color: Coral-pink buds open to soft pink, then white ruffled flowers, 1 to 1 ¼ inch in diameter
Blooming Period: Early to mid-May
Fruit: Orange-red to red pomes, maturing in mid-October, 5/16 to 3/8 inch diameter
Leaves: Dark green, lance-shaped leaf turns yellow to gold in October. Excellent disease resistance.
Type: Small-scale ornamental, deciduous tree
Size: 20-25 feet tall by 20 feet wide
Exposure: Full sun
When to Plant: Bare-root in March or April; balled and burlap March through May, and again in October; or container from April through October
How to Plant: When planting container or bare-root stock, tease apart and spread out main roots and prune any circling roots. With balled and burlapped stock, remove at least top half of wire basket and burlap. With all, pay close attention to depth of planting. The root collar should be level or 1-2 inches above finished grade.
Soil: Best in average well-drained soils. Very drought-tolerant once established.
Watering: First growing season, slow soak with a tricking hose or low flow sprinkler to give about 1 inch per week, until plants are well established. In second and third seasons, water during drought.
When to Prune: Upon planting, prune only broken or diseased branches. Then, structurally prune after one season in the ground. Do major pruning during the dormant season and touch-up water sprouts and root suckers during the summer, as needed.
When to Fertilize: Manure or compost tea in spring if soils are impoverished. No fertilizer is recommended for average or fertile soils.
In Your Landscape: ‘Red Peacock’ flowering crabapple is the perfect tree to anchor a sunny space in your garden. Crabapples are great plants for insect pollinators, a good source of food for small mammals and more than 20 species of birds use them for their fruit, flowers and sap, as well as to nest in. Apparently they love crabapples as much as I do!?
For me, it all started with an unwanted pine tree. After the tree was cut down and the stump dug out, I was left with a fair-sized hole in the ground. Solution? Build a garden pond! Constructing your own garden pond is not difficult, but certain aspects of the job must be done precisely. Here are some guidelines that will help you avoid common mistakes and create the garden pond of your dreams.
First, take stock of the materials already in your landscape design. Do you have mostly natural stonework and gently curving paths? Or do you prefer masonry and straight lines? The final design of your pond should work with the rest of your landscape, or it will look out of place.
Second, consider the location with great care. Most aquatic and bog plants require full sun. Your pond should receive at least six, and preferably eight, hours of daily sunshine. It should be situated in a low-lying location. A pond at the summit of a hill looks completely out of place.
Third, decide if you want a water-circulation system, i.e., fountain, waterfall, filtration, etc. If so, the planning and design become far more complex. In my case, the pond has none of these features.
Most people start a garden pond with too many fish and too few plants, and expect it to remain limpid and unsullied all season long. For an unfiltered pond without water circulation, keep the focus on the plants. They are responsible for taking up nutrients that would otherwise feed algae and bacterial growth. My pond is about 1,500 gallons and is home to two large goldfish, Yin and Yang, year round. In summer, I add a dozen or so small tropical fish from the aquarium shop. The little fish feed on mosquito larvae and help keep the pond insect-free during the heat of summer, then die off with the arrival of winter freezes.
Step 1: It is crucial that the top edge of the pond be level around the entire circumference. Any small deviation will show up when the pond is filled. Installing a row of cinder blocks makes leveling easier than if attempted with soil alone.
Step2: Once the top rim is installed and dead level all around, terraces are constructed to support planting containers later. The pond should be at least 2 feet deep at its deepest point.
Step 3: Once the terraces are completed, with their supporting walls of dry-laid cinder block, the soil used to backfill is firmly compacted. It may be necessary to add more soil in some areas to completely fill the terraces. Low areas will forever trap debris
Step 4: Make sure the rubber liner you purchase is large enough, and allow for at least 1-2 feet of overlap at the top edge. Install underlayment fabric first, then the liner, filling with water to ensure a tight fit. This is best done on a warm, sunny day, when the liner will be more flexible.
Step5: When the pond is full and has settled for a few days, trim the liner and install copingstones around the upper edge. Complete any contouring of the surrounding area at this point, and the pond and its environs are ready for plants.
Step 6: Enjoy! By late spring the plants are thriving and the pond reflects a perfect blue sky.
A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of John Tullock.
‘Perpetua’ blueberry is a delicious way to add four-season interest to your garden.
Gardening in 2016 should be inspirational and eclectic and fun! What better plant to add to your garden than one that exhibits four seasons of interest and produces fruit for your cereal bowl! No more boring gardens stuffed with static plants that are not earning their keep – plant a new blueberry to spice it up.
‘Perpetua’ – introduced by Fall Creek Farm & Nursery – is a double-cropping blueberry, meaning that it flowers and produces fruit two times a year – once in spring at the traditional time and again in fall when canning the fruits of the garden and jam making is underway. Berries are small and sweet and produced on 4-5-foot branches, which is the perfect height for easy picking of the harvest. As with all plants in the Ericaceae (heath) family, acidic, well-drained but moist organic-rich soils are best. Full sun is required for best flowering and fruit production. To add to the ornamental charm of this plant, new growth is bright yellow with red stems in winter. Leaves are dark green, curly and shiny in summer and turn to red in autumn. Look for this new introduction and others in the BrazelBerries® series this spring in your local garden center retailer.
Common Name: Perpetua blueberry
Botanical Name:Vaccinium corymbosum ‘Perpetua’
Blooming Period: Two seasons of bloom –spring and late summer
Type: Deciduous shrub
Size: 4-5 feet in height with upright vase shape
Exposure: Full sun
Hardiness Zone: 4-8
When to Plant: Plant in spring or fall
Soil: Acidic soils
Watering: Requires well-drained soil with even amounts of moisture to produce best fruit.
When to Fertilize: Fertilize with acidic fertilizer, such as those formulated for azaleas/Rhododendron.
In Your Landscape: Add to the vegetable garden or shrub border as a fruiting plant with four season of interest.
A version of this article appeared in print in Carolina Gardener Volume 28 Issue 2.
Photography courtesy of Fall Creek Farm & Nursery, Inc./Brazelberries.
‘Blue Glow’ agave shows off its colors when backlit by the sun.
If you’re a fan of plants that provide beautiful structure all year long, you will love ‘Blue Glow’ agave. This is a fairly diminutive agave hybrid, growing into a neat, 2-foot-wide rosette that doesn’t pup (grow baby plants around the mother plant). The bluish green leaves are edged with red, with an inner rib of yellow that glows when backlit by the sun. The leaves have barely detectable spines with a small, sharp terminal point.
This tough plant looks best when used as a focal point in a container or when grouped with two more ‘Blue Glow’ agaves in the ground. It will complement just about any garden style. In my informal garden, ‘Blue Glow’ emerged unscathed from January’s polar vortex!
‘Blue Glow’ makes a nice focal point in a container.
Common Name: ‘Blue Glow’ agave
Botanical Name: Agave ‘Blue Glow’, a hybrid of A. ocahui x A. attenuata
Zone(s): 8-11; most sources say it is winter hardy to 20-25 F.
Color: Bluish green with red margins and a hint of yellow
Blooming Period: Will bloom once every 15 years or so, dying after blooming but leaving rosettes nearby.
Mature Size: 24 inches wide by 18 inches tall
Exposure: Full sun to part shade; I recommend morning sun.
When to Plant: In containers anytime, outdoors in spring
How to Plant: Space 18-24 inches apart or singly in a container.
Soil: Very well drained; amend clay soil with grit or gravel.
Watering: Very drought tolerant but appreciates some water in our hot summers.
When to Fertilize: Not really necessary, but diluted fish emulsion in the summer is appreciated.
In Your Landscape: Use ‘Blue Glow’ as a focal point or grouped with other architectural plants.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Issue 1.
Photography courtesy of Jean McWeeney.
Ants are good guys in the garden, but bad guys in the house. Learn more about these colony-dwelling insects.
Whether it is a lone ant wandering the countertop or a column on a mission, an ant invasion can be unnerving. Landscaping with organic mulches, movement away from broadcast applications of lawn insecticides and recent mild winters seem to have increased the encounters with these unwelcome visitors.
Although ants seldom cause serious damage to home lawns, black field ants may construct unsightly soil mounds.
Ants are Number One
Even though ants primarily live outdoors, they are now the number one indoor pest, displacing cockroaches. Ants are social insects living in colonies usually located near house foundations, and in yards and gardens. When ant workers forage for food for the colony, they often enter houses becoming a nuisance by contaminating food. They are also conspicuous when winged individuals, called swarmers, leave the nest to mate and start new colonies.
Ants invade homes in search of food, moisture and shelter. They are attracted to all foods, especially sweets and grease. Not all food sources are inside, as some ants satisfy their needs by feeding on the sweet honeydew secreted by aphids, scale, mealy bugs and other insects on landscape trees and shrubs.
Common Ants in the Midwest
Several kinds of ants commonly occur in and around homes ranging from the small pavement ant and odorous house ants, to the much larger black field and carpenter ants.
Ant workers, like these odorous house ants, lay down chemical trails as they forage that help direct others to discovered sources of food and water.
The pavement ant is noted for its nest of mounded soil found in pavement cracks, along curb edges and driveways. Pavement ants may forage in the home throughout the year, feeding on most types of food. In winter, nests may be found inside near a heat source, even crawling through ductwork voids.
Odorous house ants can be easily identified because they give off a coconut-like odor when crushed. They nest in mulch, firewood, beneath stones, patio blocks and even in flower pots. Outdoors they especially feed on honeydew secreted by aphids and other insects. Heavy mulch adjacent to foundations has been associated with increased problems with odorous house ants.
Black field ants and carpenter ants are the largest ants found in the Midwest. Black field ants are primarily found in lawns, where they push up large soil mounds, causing unsightly areas and dulling mower blades. Carpenter ants, as the name implies, excavate wood softened by moisture or rot. Unlike termites, they do not eat wood, but remove it to make their nest, sometimes causing structural damage. Piles of sawdust can be telltale signs of a carpenter ant infestation. Correction of high-moisture conditions such as leaking roofs, loose chimney flashing and rotting window sills should be the first step in carpenter ant management. After replacing infested or damaged wood, make a perimeter insecticide spray to protect the home from re-invasion. Since carpenter ants may nest in stumps and firewood, provide a 50-foot buffer for these from the house. Carpenter ants are often accused of killing trees, but likely they have taken advantage of nesting in already rotting wood killed from other causes.
Household Ant Management
A multi-faceted approach is needed for satisfactory ant management. In most cases, ant identification is not needed. The first step is to eliminate sources of food and water attractive to ants. Keep kitchen counters and floors clean and food sealed. Look for other food sources such as garbage “juice” associated with trash cans, and spilled pet food. Dripping faucets and pipes with condensation can be important water sources for invading ants.
Liquid ant bait is commonly the most effective treatment for colony control, but the ant “storming” phase must be tolerated for a few days, especially if the bait is used indoors.
Spraying the foraging ants that you see may bring temporary relief, but it often fails to provide long-term, effective control. The workers you see are just a small portion of the overall colony. It is important to eliminate the entire colony for satisfactory control. The most effective approach is to use a bait. Liquid baits seem to be the most appealing to ants. Baits contain only a small amount of insecticide. The ants feed on the bait and take it back to the colony where the slow-acting toxin is shared with the rest of the colony. Place bait directly on the ant trails away from children and pets, and replenish it often. Avoid any perimeter sprays near baits, as these sprays may deter ants from visiting.
Once bait foraging activity subsides, try to determine where the ants might be entering the home. Apply a protective “barrier” around your home by spraying an insecticide up and around the foundation, especially targeting entry points like utility lines and pipes. These sprays will also control other occasional invaders like spiders and cockroaches. Be sure to control honeydew-producing insects on ornamental trees and shrubs.
On an everyday basis, ants go unnoticed while they live outdoors. However, when they invade our humble abodes, they are no longer out of sight, but are a call for action. Don’t panic and take the action!
Is It a Winged Termite Or an Ant?
There are several kinds of ants that may live in and around homes. For most of their lives, both ants and termites are wingless, but they can certainly be confused when their winged stages swarm to start new colonies. Ants can be easily distinguished from termites by several traits, but a hand lens might be needed:
• Ant bodies are hour-glass-shaped (pinched at the waist); termites have thick bodies.
• Ants have elbowed antennae; termites have straight, bead-like antennae.
• Ant wings are clear or brownish; termite wings are milky-white or grayish and longer than the body.
• Although ants are a nuisance, they are far less damaging than termites.
A version of this article appeared in an March/April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Douglas Spilker, Gary Graness, and Reiner Pospischil.
Fire ants. Just hearing the words will make most Southern gardeners anxiously check their shoes and the ground where they are standing. These non-native stinging ants are established in portions of 12 southeastern states, and six of these states – Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina – have fire ants from border to border.
A large fire ant mound can contain more than 200,000 workers. That’s a lot of potential stings!
Fire ants prefer treeless grassy areas such as pastures, roadsides, parks and lawns, and densities can reach 50 to 200 mounds per acre in areas where they are not controlled. Fire ant mounds are unsightly, but it is their stings that make them so notorious. Unlike honeybees, fire ants do not have barbs on their stingers, and this means they can sting more than once. A single fire ant sting is painful, but unsuspecting gardeners sometimes sustain dozens or even hundreds of stings as a result of unknowingly stepping in a fire ant mound. The raised white pustules that result usually persist for about a week.
Fire ants reproduce by swarming. Winged male and female fire ants emerge from mounds, fly hundreds of feet into the air, find one another and mate. During this time wind currents can carry these airborne ants several miles. Mated females fall to the ground, shed their wings, and attempt to start a new colony. It takes several months for such a colony to grow large enough to be visible above the grass. Swarming can occur any time of the year, but is most common during warmer months.
The granule of fire ant bait this worker is carrying contains a slow-acting ingredient that does not kill immediately, giving her time to carry the bait back to the mound and share it with other ants.
These brief notes on fire ant biology help answer two of the most common questions about fire ant control. Why do they keep coming back? Because even if you kill every fire ant in the yard, newly mated queens are constantly dropping out of the sky to start new colonies. Why is it that when I kill one mound two or three more pop up to take its place? Because for every large mound you can see, there may be a dozen or more young colonies that are not yet large enough to be seen. Eliminate the foraging competition from the large mound and these small colonies grow faster. This is why attempting to control fire ants by only treating mounds you can see usually produces less than satisfactory results. It’s a lot like playing whack-a-mole.
So what’s the key to successful fire ant control? One of the most effective ways to control fire ants is to hit them with a one-two punch. Use granular fire ant baits as the foundation of your fire ant control program and keep a can of one of the dry fire ant mound treatment products on hand to spot-treat mounds that survive the bait treatments. When used properly, baits will give around 80 to 90 percent control, leaving a lot fewer mounds to spot treat than if you rely on mound treatments alone.
A small, hand-held spreader is the best tool for spreading granular fire ant baits. Application rates are low; you will probably need to use one of the lowest settings.
Granular fire ant baits contain slow-acting insecticides or insect growth regulators that disrupt development of the immature fire ants, active ingredients such as hydramethylnon, methoprene, pyriproxyfen, spinosad or indoxacarb. The key to using baits successfully is to spread them over the entire yard, rather than sprinkling them on top of individual mounds. Application rates are low, only around 1-1.5 pounds per acre, which is only a fraction of an ounce per 1,000 square feet. Foraging worker ants will collect the granules, carry them back to the mound, and feed them to the immature ants. Ultimately, the bait will be spread to all the ants in the colony. It can take two to six weeks to begin seeing control from a fire ant bait treatment, but the end results are devastating to fire ants. The other key to using baits successfully is to apply them preventively about three times per year: spring, summer and fall. Don’t wait until you start seeing more fire ant mounds in your yard to apply that next bait treatment. Remember big fire ant mounds start with a single queen and a few workers, and these young colonies are not readily visible. One of the reasons baits work so well is that they kill the small colonies that are just getting started, as well as the larger colonies.
Dry mound treatments contain active ingredients like acephate, beta-cyfluthrin or deltamethrin. Products containing acephate smell really bad, but they are more effective and work faster than the less odorous products. These treatments are applied directly to the mound; just sprinkle the specified amount evenly over the top of the mound and walk away. Depending on which product you use, it takes a couple of days to a week or so for the mound to die out. For mounds that need to be controlled immediately use a liquid drench containing an active ingredient like carbaryl or permethrin. Dilute in water as indicated on the label and pour the drench over the mound. Liquid drenches kill quickly, but are more messy and time-consuming than dry mound treatments. The key to success with drenches is to use enough liquid to thoroughly soak the mound, about 1-2 gallons.
Your local county extension office can provide more information on fire ants and how to control them, including more detailed information on how to use liquid mound drenches and other effective control methods not discussed here. Fire ants are persistent pests and gardeners must be equally persistent to achieve and maintain acceptable control. But if you learn to use fire ant baits properly and supplement them with individual mound treatments, then yes, you can control fire ants.
Knock Out Fire Ants with a One-Two Punch
1. Use a hand-held spreader to spread granular fire ant bait over your yard three times per year. Use the holidays: Easter, Independence Day, and Labor Day to remind you it is time to apply fire ant bait.
2. Keep a can of one of the dry fire ant mound treatments handy to spot treat mounds that escape the bait treatments.
A version of this article appeared in an April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Azaleas with variegated or boldly striped flowers like the Glenn Dale azalea ‘Cinderella’ should be planted in locations where people can admire their intricate patterns up close.
Azaleas are more than a harbinger of spring. All across the Southeast, masses of red, white, pink and purple azaleas boldly proclaim that the season has arrived. Many people think azaleas come in just four colors, and some may even criticize their use as commonplace. Discriminating gardeners know better. This article cannot possibly discuss everything about azaleas, but it may foster an appreciation for their amazing diversity while providing some practical advice.
All azaleas are really rhododendrons, and fall into two general categories: evergreen or deciduous. Evergreen azaleas are very common in American gardens but they are not native plants. They all originated in western Asia, primarily Japan and China. North America is home to 17 native azalea species and they are all deciduous shrubs. Surprisingly, most are native to the Southeast! Admired in Europe since the 1800s, they have been woefully underrepresented in our gardens.
In the author’s garden, a 40-year old planting of cream and yellow deciduous azalea hybrids grow tall behind the lower growing white evergreen Glenn Dale azalea ‘Glacier’.
Many azaleas bloom so profusely that the foliage can be completely obscured. That does pose some special landscaping problems. With well over 6,000 named cultivars, designers are often unfamiliar with new varieties but must select colors that will harmonize with other landscape features. Brilliant azaleas attract attention but they can be overpowering at times. They can clash with other colors but liberal use of white can help alleviate design problems. Delicate pastel shades are more forgiving. Azaleas transplant easily, so mistakes are easily corrected with a shovel.
In large landscape plantings, masses of the same azalea variety give the best effect when viewed from a distance. When mature, those plants will grow together creating a single mass appropriate to the scale. Patchworks of mixed colors can be effective in small alcoves.
Subtle flower features like stripes, blotches, multicolored sports, or blossoms with contrasting borders are best appreciated up close. Double and ruffled azaleas or those with unusual flower forms like ‘Koromo Shikibu’ and ‘Wagner’s White Spider’ with their strap-like petals deserve that same close admiration.
Many azaleas are fragrant, and perfect for intimate garden spaces. Every garden should have at least one ‘My Mary’, a very fragrant yellow native azalea hybrid.
For many of us, no man-made garden can possibly compare to the beauty of our native azaleas as they occur in the wild. Early plant explorers considered them among the most impressive flowering plants yet known. Many of us agree, and make annual pilgrimages to the southern Appalachians to witness spectacles like the flowering of yellow, orange and red flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum), or the multi-colored native azalea stand on the top of Gregory Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
In June, the native flame azaleas (Rhododendron calendulaceum) erupt into bloom along the Appalachian Trail in the Roan Highlands of North Carolina and Tennessee. Nature’s garden is beyond compare.
One rare red native species, R. prunifolium, flowers in July and August. Wild populations in Providence Canyon, Ga., seem unfazed by 100 F temperatures and it is the signature plant of Callaway Gardens. Not all native species are heat tolerant, but the “Maid in the Shade” series from Transplant Nursery and the Aromi hybrids make excellent alternatives.
Flowers only last a few weeks, so always consider a plant’s merits the rest of the year. Some azaleas may have dull foliage but others have very attractive leaves. The glossy, rounded leaves of ‘Glacier’ are legendary, but there are many standouts. Some azaleas have variegated foliage, and the leaves of others may turn dark burgundy during the winter, like a new introduction from Germany called ‘Maraschino’. Some leaves can be small, reminiscent of boxwood, but ‘Segai’ has long, narrow leaves that almost look like blades of grass.
With deciduous azaleas, leaf characteristics vary and many turn brilliant colors in the fall. Planting them among evergreens can disguise their bare winter branches.
This slow growing Satsuki azalea in the U.S. National Arboretum bonsai collection has been in training for over 30 years. The Japanese cultivar, ‘Kyoraku’, has small white flowers bordered in pink.
Large-growing varieties are perfect for screening, creating garden rooms, or providing a backdrop for wildflowers or perennials. The purple ‘Formosa’ and pale pink ‘George Lindley Taber’ are favorites in the South but may have difficulty in colder climates. Many Glenn Dale azaleas are hardier, like the bright pink ‘Dream’ that can easily reach 10 feet high and spread 25 feet across. Dwarf varieties like ‘Kazan’, ‘Sandra’s Dwarf White’, and slow-growing Satsuki azaleas make wonderful rock garden companions or bonsai subjects.
Azalea flowers can range from ½ to 5 inches across depending upon the cultivar. Members of the American Rhododendron Society in the Southeast Region selected a huge, pale lavender-pink developed by Dr. Sandra McDonald called ‘Venus’ Baby’ as their “2015 Azalea of the Year.” Rare cultivars and new releases are often hard to find unless one frequents plant society sales or specialty nurseries.
Re-blooming azaleas are very popular. Buddy Lee developed the Encore azaleas by crossing a Taiwanese species, R. oldhamii, with other azaleas. He has now introduced 29 hybrids, and recently released a double, dark red called Autumn Fire (‘Roblex’).
Planting an azalea in the right location is important, but requirements may differ depending upon the variety. In general, evergreen azaleas do best with dappled to high open shade. Plants can take more sun but the flowers do not last well. Salmon, coral, and orange red flowers are especially prone to sun damage. Evergreen azaleas grown in strong sun do become prone to an insect pest called lace bug. This small insect lives underneath the leaves and sucks out the chlorophyll leaving tiny white dots on the leaf surface. There are sprays to control lace bug, but they also kill beneficial insects that eat those pests.
Unusual flower forms deserve close scrutiny, like ‘Wagner’s White Spider’ (left) with its strap-like petals, or the fully double, ivory colored blossoms of ‘Secret Wish’ (right) that look almost like rose buds unfurling.
Deciduous azaleas require more sunlight than evergreen azaleas, at least three to four hours of direct sun daily to bloom well. In shade, they often survive but grow slowly and rarely bloom.
Azaleas prefer a moist, well-drained, acidic soil rich in organic matter. In heavy soils, consider planting in raised beds. When planting a container plant, break up the root ball to encourage roots to start growing into the surrounding soil. It helps the plant become established. Azaleas are very shallow rooted, so always set the plant at the same level or even slightly higher than the existing soil. Azaleas should be mulched well to maintain soil moisture.
Be careful with fertilizer since the amount azaleas can utilize depends upon light intensity. The stronger the sun, the more fertilizer a plant might need. It is better to apply two weak applications spaced far apart than risk burning delicate roots with excessive fertilizer. Fertilize after blooming, but avoid late summer or fall applications because plants don’t become dormant which can cause winter damage.
Heavy pruning should be done in late winter while plants are still dormant. Don’t remove more than one-third of the branches at a time since it can weaken the plant. General pruning to shape plants is done in the spring and early summer, but avoid pruning after mid-July since azaleas will be forming flower buds. Also avoid fall pruning since it encourages late season growth vulnerable to winter damage.
Try growing some unusual azaleas varieties this year, and find a place for a few native azaleas, too.
Mass plantings of ‘Formosa’ growing near the water’s edge at the Norfolk Botanical Garden provide a strong visual effect in proper scale to the vista.
With so many thousands of named azalea varieties, finding sources for new and rare plants is not always easy. The famous Glenn Dale azaleas were released by Ben Morrison, the first Director of the U.S. National Arboretum, starting in 1941. He eventually introduced 454 cultivars that he selected from the nearly 75,000 seedlings he raised in his breeding project. Nurseries were bewildered with so many choices, and some excellent varieties had very limited distribution. Morrison planted an additional 800 unnamed cultivars at the National Arboretum that he never introduced. They were also excellent selections, and some are arguably better than named forms. When the Arboretum considered removing them in 2011, public outrage saved the original plantings.
White dogwoods complement unnamed Glenn Dale azaleas on Mount Hamilton at the U.S. National Arboretum. Public outcry saved these azaleas from destruction in 2011 when there was talk of removing the original plantings.
The best sources for rare azaleas are specialty nurseries and plant society contacts. A list of commercial azalea sources can be found on the Azalea Society of America website. Many local chapters have public plant sales, but the rarest plants are usually offered at plant society conventions.
Azalea Society of America (ASA):
American Rhododendron Society (ARS): www.rhododendron.org
Little Gem Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora)
- Video Transcript, Voiceover by Peter Gallagher, Ph.D.
Little Gem Magnolia, a cultivar of Magnolia grandiflora, is a great option for those more restricted spaces or smaller landscapes, where the traditional Southern Magnolia would be far too large. This cultivar normally reaches a height of only 15 to 20 feet with a spread of 10 to 15 feet. As such, this can fit quite nicely somewhat closer to the home or as part of a border planting along a fence or property line.
Little Gem is fairly tolerant of a wide range of soils, but does prefer a slightly acid, organic soil with a moderate soil moisture. It works well in semi-shaded to mostly sunny sites and is hardy through USDA zones 7-9. With a minimum of 0o Fahrenheit ]. The flowers are large, creamy white, and quite fragrant. Foliage is evergreen, leathery, and deep green on the upper surface with a golden brown pubescence on the underside.
'Gertrude Jekyll' is one of the first roses to start flowering in late spring. Glowing pink blooms are strongly scented, with the quintessential English rose fragrance. It grows to 5 feet tall by 3 1/2 feet wide, or 8-10 feet as a climber. It is hardy in USDA Zone 4.
Plant roses earlier this spring – plus, bring back the historic fragrance and romance of the old roses. Try mail-order bare-root English roses this season.
If you have had your fill of reliable, plain Jane, but popular shrub roses, allow me to introduce you to the English garden rose (Rosa hybrids). Once you’ve seen an English rose, you will easily recognize it.
Can you say exquisitely frilly? Can you say divinely fragrant? Can you say disease resistant? Can you say beautiful for fresh-flower arrangements? How about romantic roses with lots and lots of petals? Yes, those attributes all describe the English garden rose.
English roses can be grown as a standard or a tree form. ‘Winchester Cathedral’, an old rose heirloom, develops a buff center and has an almond and honey scent.
Personally, I’m really not a rose person. In fact, I generally shun thorny plants altogether. But, I do have a little, coral pink shrub rose called Lady Elsie Mae (Rosa ‘ANGelsie’) and a couple of Amber Flower Carpet roses. I had a red Knock Out (R. ‘Radrazz’), but I tore it out last year, mainly because I was tired of it.
Despite not being a rose person, I totally get why they are so popular, and I appreciate them, especially the reblooming shrub roses — they are low maintenance and somewhat disease resistant.
Last spring, I was sent a boxful of bare-root David Austin roses (davidaustinroses.com) to trial. There were more roses than I could plant in my small, mostly shady landscape, so I kept a few and donated others to Master Gardeners in the Midwest to try.
Why buy bare-root roses? Usually the selection is much greater. Most are purchased through online retailers, and are shipped at just the right time for planting. Bare-root roses (as well as other types) are grown on their own rootstock, or they are grafted onto a stronger rootstock. A rose with a bulge or joint atop the root stock is grafted. A rose growing on its own stock does not have the bulge.
“When planting, the fat joint where the stem meets the roots should be positioned at soil surface in warmer areas, or 2-3 inches below surface in Zones colder than USDA Zone 6,” said Michael Marriott, technical manager rosarian for David Austin Roses. For those who choose roses labeled “own root,” which are recommended for colder climates, position the juncture of the main stem and roots at ground level.
English rose 'Darcey Bussell' boasts fully double, deep crimson flowers with a fruity fragrance. A strong, reliable performer, it averages 3-4 feet tall and wide, making it a good candidate for growing in a summer container.
“I was reminded of too much spacing yesterday on the BBC’s ‘Gardeners’ World’ program, when somebody was showing off their roses and they were all planted much too far apart,” Marriott said. “How can people think that acres of bare soil are attractive? Especially, when it can so easily be filled with beautiful roses. And, of course, exposing the soil is the worst thing you can do to the health of the soil and so health of the roses. The most important (things) are careful selection of varieties and good soil preparation.”
‘Golden Celebration’ is a fragrant rose that gets about 4½ feet tall and wide. Hardy in USDA Zone 5.
When it comes to pruning, Marriott said we need not be too concerned about whether we cut at three leaflets or five leaflets. Just cut it back in spring, just as new growth begins, he said.
While American roses are bred for their low maintenance and reliability, English roses are bred for their beauty. Roses with 40 or more petals are classified as “very full” by the American Rose Society (rose.org), and nearly all English roses seem to have at least that many, but usually in the 60 to 100 petal range. The petal count is what gives the English roses that extra frilly look.
It helps to have a degree in English lit or history to know who the roses are named after. There’s ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, ‘Jude the Obscure’, ‘A Shropshire Lad’, ‘Charles Darwin’, ‘Lady Emma Hamilton’, ‘Thomas a’ Becket’ and ‘Princess Anne’ to name a few. ‘Gertrude Jekyll’ is named for the famous garden designer and ‘Munstead Wood’ is named for her garden in Surry.
Will bare-root roses work for you? You won’t know until you try. Like a lot of woody plants, it may take a couple of years for the roses to become established and provide the flower power you want, said Linda Kimmel, district director of the Illinois-Indiana Rose Society. “The newer ones are more disease resistant. I think they follow the rule of ‘first year sleeper, second year creeper, third year leaper.’”
'The Generous Gardener' climber is a repeat-flowering rose; it also can be grown as a large, rounded shrub with arching stems. It gets about 5 feet tall.
At 4 feet tall and wide, the fragrant, repeat-blooming ‘Grace’ rose works well in a large container. Hardy in USDA Zone 5.
How to Use Roses in the Landscape
• As a hedge or to line a path. Be sure to leave plenty of room between pathways and passersby. Think of the heavenly fragrance of a rose hedge around the patio or deck, or in an area you pass on the way to the mailbox or the garage.
• As an anchor or specimen in a mixed border, with perennials and flowering shrubs.
• As a bed of roses or rose border. Select roses in the same color palette, such as pinks or reds, planted in groupings.
• In a summer container, especially roses that stay in the 4-foot-tall range or shorter. The rose can be the only plant in the pot, or it can have annuals or vines to flow over the edges.
• As a climber. Many shrub roses can be grown against a fence or trellis, even if the plant is not labeled as a climber.
'Charlotte' has upward-facing flowers with an open cup shape and a soft yellow hue, which mixes easily with other colors in the garden. It has a strong, tea rose fragrance. Hardy to USDA Zone 4, it grows to 4 feet tall by 3 feet wide.
Here, the fully-open fragrant flowers of 'The Generous Gardener' are set off beautifully by less mature buds and semi-open flowers. As the more advanced flowers fade, remove them to enjoy the still-maturing flowers.
Tips from Michael Marriott for Cutting Roses for the Vase
•Use sharp, clean snips, and cut the flowers early in the day when they are fully hydrated. Cut flowers that still have tight centers, but with outer petals opened. Select the longest, strongest stems.
•When in the garden, place cut roses immediately in a clean container filled with cool water.
•Once indoors, put the stems under water and snip off another inch.
•Remove lower leaves.
•Add enough cool water to nearly fill a clean vase. Arrange the stems so they are in the water.
Michael Marriott, technical manager rosarian at David Austin Roses, recommends planting the shrubs 2-3 feet apart to give the illusion of one large shrub.
•Add a flower preservative to the water, which Marriott says keeps bacteria growth at bay, improves water flow and helps flowers open and last longer.
•Place the vase in a cool place out of direct sunlight for the longest show.
•Replace the water every day or so to keep it fresh.
•Every few days, lift the flowers from the vase to snip off an inch or so from the stems so they can continue to take up water.
A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of davidaustinroses.com
Lasagna gardening is a no-dig, no-spray way to start a garden
- Perhaps you should plant to try one this spring.
The first time someone called my office to ask about lasagna gardens, I was certain that they were trying to pull a fast one on me. I’d seen all the April Fools articles about marshmallow bushes and spaghetti trees, and I thought this was another gag. Turns out, though, this is a seriously neat way to start a new garden area without needing to dig up the existing sod or spraying herbicides to kill it.
Lasagna gardening is also known as “sheet composting,” “sheet mulching,” or “no-dig garden beds.” This uncomplicated and easy gardening method is appropriate for everyone (including people who may be physically limited or unable to dig traditional garden beds). It’s also a good way to convert grassy areas to gardens without using herbicides or tillers. The sod is left in place, where it gets converted into soil organic matter. The process can be done at any time and at any scale, even piecemeal as materials are available.
There are several benefits of lasagna gardening over composting. First, you don’t need to buy or build bins, although some gardeners do use lumber or bricks to make a short raised bed and prevent the layers from spilling out. Also, there is no turning or aerating of the pile needed. Earthworms will work their way up through the wet cardboard and materials, and will aerate the bed for you.
Lasagna gardens, over time, create a high-quality soil without any of the drawbacks of tilling the garden. Tilling the soil can bring weed seeds to the surface, increasing your weed problems. If you are gardening on a slope, soil erosion is a concern. Over-tilling (often done with mini-tillers between the rows as a weed-control chore) can break down soil structure, and affect the levels of beneficial bacteria, fungi and earthworms.
The lasagna garden is built up from layers of brown and green organic matter.
Where and When to Start
Lasagna gardens are normally built several months before it’s time to plant to give the materials time to decompose. However, for those of you who want to build one and plant this spring, I’ll include a tip to do that successfully toward the end of this article.
Start by planning where you want to place this garden. A lasagna garden is not the most attractive thing you’ll see in your landscape, so most gardeners tend to hide these in corners. Be sure, however, that the site is conducive to whatever you’re growing (full sun for vegetables for example). Avoid installing the bed over tree roots, septic fields or other utilities.
The bed should be no wider than 4 feet. This way, you can reach the center from either side for planting or harvesting. The lasagna garden will be extremely loose and fluffy, and any walking on it will compress the material and decrease its usefulness.
The first layer of the lasagna garden should be corrugated cardboard. Large boxes from refrigerators or other appliances are ideal, but even smaller pieces can be used if they are overlapped. This layer blocks light from reaching the soil, preventing weed seedlings from penetrating. It also serves as a carbon source. If you can’t get cardboard, use six to 10 sheets of newspaper, being sure to overlap the edges by 4 to 6 inches.
The cardboard needs to be moistened before laying it down; however, hosing down a sheet of cardboard rarely works well, as the water just runs off. Experienced gardeners tell me that filling a barrel or even a wheelbarrow with water and letting the cardboard soak in there will allow the water to penetrate.
Green organic matter can include garden waste, such as these chopped sweetpotato vines.
Next, place a layer of nitrogen-rich “green” yard waste, like grass clippings or fresh vegetable peelings. Compost or rotted manure can also be used. On top of this add a layer of carbon-rich “brown” material, such as dry leaves, sawdust, or straw; you can even use shredded paper, if you have access to large amounts of it. Each layer should be about 3 to 4 inches thick. Continue alternating layers until the bed is as tall as you desire (usually between 18 and 36 inches thick). Be sure to moisten down each layer with your garden hose to encourage decomposition.
Collect roughly twice as much brown organic matter as green organic matter.
When the bed is as high as you want, cover it with burlap, bark chips or sheets of plastic. This will keep the heat in, allowing decomposition to work faster. It also helps prevent the ingredients from blowing around the yard. Even with the covering, lasagna gardening is considered a “cold” decomposition process. The seed-killing temperatures we seek in compost piles (130 to 160 F) won’t be reached in sheet composting. This means you need to be extra careful not to include weeds that have gone to seed when adding to your green layers.
Another item to avoid is any meat scraps, bones, grease or other animal products. As with standard compost piles, these materials draw rats and other vermin, and can become rancid and produce foul odors.
Normally, it would take about six months for this material to decompose well enough to plant in. For gardeners who wish to plant into the lasagna garden immediately, they can add a 2- to 3-inch layer of topsoil mixed with compost as the uppermost layer. Again, since we’re not going to build up high temperatures as we would with a larger compost pile, there should be little risk to young seedlings.
Plant It Up
To plant into the bed, make a planting hole by pulling the layers apart with your hands. Set the plant in the hole, pull the materials back around the roots, and water thoroughly. If you want to plant seeds, spread fine compost or damp peat moss where the seeds are to go. Set the seeds on the surface and sift more fine material to cover them.
Spinach and radish plants thrive in a lasagna garden.
Over the course of the gardening season, the bed will shrink in height as the various materials decompose. This is expected, and is not a big problem. In the fall, rebuild the bed with alternating layers of “greens” and “browns,” and let it decompose over the winter. Be aware, though, that as the various layers break down, there will be temporary deficiencies of mineral nutrients, so be prepared to side-dress your crops with garden fertilizer several times during the season.
Many gardeners will stockpile the raw “ingredients” of their lasagna garden during the off-season, so they don’t have to scramble for it when they’re ready to build the next section. Cardboard can be unfolded and stored flat in a garage or shed. Newspaper can be stacked and tied into neat, easily handled bundles. Dried leaves can be shredded with a lawnmower and stored in yard bags. During the winter, vegetable peelings and other kitchen scraps can be stored in airtight containers outside where it can freeze, but not be accessible to raccoons, rats and other vermin.
I hope you try lasagna gardening this year. Drop us a line and tell us how it worked!
A version of this article appeared in print in Indiana Gardening Volume VI Issue 2.
Photography by Patrick Byers.
Kerry Heafner profiles the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica). Watch as he tells us all about this underused fruit tree that makes an excellent (and delicious) addition to the landscape.
Plant Profile: Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
- Video Transcript, Plant Profile by Kerry Heafner.
Home orchards are becoming more and more popular and as folks look for plants that not only produce fruit. They're also looking for plants that are attractive in the landscape.
Loquats are native of Asia, they’re also called Japanese plum but their in the Rose family like plums, pears, and apples, and a lot of other popular fruit. And as you can see from these specimens they can get quite tall of 20 or 30 feet even, or you can keep them pruned down to a moderate height.
Loquats have large leathery leaves that look almost old timey or heirloom like and they’re evergreen so you'll have attractive foliage year round.
Now Loquats are unique among fruit trees here in North America anyway because they flower in the wintertime. Fruit production will occur in late winter or early spring and if the winters are mild enough so pollinators can get to the flowers, when fruit production starts you'll see ripening that will transition from these green little oval shaped fruit, all the way up to these plump yellowish orange fruits that have been described as having taste that range from peach like or banana like or a combination of the two. Either way they're delicious and try them and see for yourself.
Loquat is a perfect example of a plant that can be used for fruit production but also fits into just about any landscape. In this formal situation this specimen is being grown more or less in an espalier type pattern. It's been pruned to fit up against this brick wall and even though it's a little shady here for good fruit production (which you would want full sun for), it fits right in with its large leathery foliage, with other types of shrubs used in a formal situation. Like these sasanqua camellias that line the wall going down the street.
Any well-stocked garden center will have loquat trees available, but if you can find someone with a fully mature tree that's produced fruit and the fruit has produced seeds, then you can propagate some. The fruit have one to several seeds that are about the size of coffee beans and this can be germinated right away and with seeds you get new combinations, maybe even a new variety.
Fully mature loquat trees will set a fruit crop, drop the fruit, and therefore drop the seeds. And when that happens, if we’re lucky, sometimes seedlings will germinate under this mother plant and we can take those seedlings and transplant them elsewhere.
Here are a few seedlings from this large specimen tree. Here's the seedling that's already two or three feet tall and then we have some smaller specimens right here in the ivy and even one out here in this ajuga. When they're this size you can transplant them into your home landscape.
Now here’s a seedling we just found under this large tree and the seed is still attached and there's a root system but it's not huge and this is the perfect size for transplanting into your home orchard or landscape. The roots won’t sustain a lot of damage and the stem is still sturdy enough that you can move the plant around.
So we’re just going to transplant this seedling into some prepared potting mix. I’m going to give the roots plenty of room to grow. And we’ll probably leave it in this pot for the first year and it will be ready to go into the landscape the second year.
So for something unique in your home orchard or landscape try loquats. For State-by-State Gardening, I'm Kerry Heafner.
“Wow, that centerpiece looks good enough to be in a magazine. I wish I could put together something half that beautiful. I usually just plop some hydrangeas in a vase – pretty, but totally unimaginative.” That's what I said to my friend and talented designer, Trace, last spring. It was late February, when buds are swollen on bare branches and hyacinth flowers are only a promise, and I loved how the centerpiece celebrated that feeling of anticipation. Trace replied, “Thanks. It’s not that hard; I could teach you.” Thus began my yearlong training, learning how to create impressive centerpieces and tablescapes for every season.
My first lesson began immediately as Trace discussed this spring-themed centerpiece. “I got the idea when I saw those spectacular lichen- and moss-encrusted logs on the side of the road. The different heights add a sense of movement and excitement to the centerpiece. Place the items casually, as you would see them outside, and continue the outdoor theme by using rustic place mats and simple napkins and dishes.” Most of the items came from outside his door. The hyacinth bulbs and the peat pots were the only purchased items for a total cost of just $10. The first version of this centerpiece included old bird nests collected from a fencerow, but when a bunch of baby spiders started crawling out, the nests were quickly replaced with twine balls.
Recreate your own: Start by arranging interesting logs cut to various lengths. Add young bulbs and peat pots full of spring blossoms. Trace used hyacinth bulbs and Bradford pear flowers, but daffodils and cherry would work equally well. Use what you have. Tuck small branches, pinecones and moss along the edges.
In mid-May, Trace fashioned this stunning centerpiece using flowers cut from my garden. He gave me some pointers while he worked. “Look at what you group together in the garden. If they complement each other there, they’ll look good in a vase. And play with the form of your vase; here I chose an antique cement urn to contrast with the relaxed arrangement of the flowers. I also like how it looks on this concrete table. You can’t go wrong when you match materials; wood on wood, glass on glass … it always works.”
Early summer arrangement
Recreate your own: Soak floral foam in water overnight and center it in the container. Casually arrange branches of native mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia). Cut the lavender blooms of false indigo (Baptisia spp.) slightly longer and add them to the bouquet.
This centerpiece was amazing, and the pictures do not do it justice. However, when I try this on my own, I’ll do it on a much smaller scale, because it was the most time-consuming project of the year. Trace wanted to mimic a country roadside in the fall when the wildflowers make you want to pull the car over and take a walk. We each spent several hours cutting long stems of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), Liatris and asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae); then Trace spent another hour adjusting the lengths and arranging.
Fall wildflower centerpiece
Recreate your own: Laws and ordinances regarding picking roadside flowers vary from state to state, and we’re not suggesting illegal activity, but if you live in an area that allows it, cut what you see. Be a good gardener, however, and don’t weaken a plant by over-cutting. Use an informal container such as this dough bowl, which is lined with plastic wrap and aluminum foil to protect it from the floral foam. Cover the foam with the shortest plants, the asters and grasses, and then add the longer stems of liatris and goldenrod. The trick is to use the same color combinations and height variations, and ideally the same plants that you would see on a ride in the country.
By fall, I knew a lot more about centerpieces, and Trace thought it was time I learned how a centerpiece for a dinner party differs from other centerpieces. He charged tuition for this class – a big pot of chili. “It’s important to keep the arrangement low. There’s nothing worse than having to play peek-a-boo around a tall centerpiece when you want to talk to someone across the table. Keep it narrow so guests don’t feel crowded, and make sure the food is the only fragrant thing on the table. Don’t let anything compete with the centerpiece; it needs to look good with everything else on the table: the dishes, the napkins, the china, the linens … everything.” He used four different, yet similar, china patterns, and when he ran out of placemats, he fashioned his own using grapevine left over from the centerpiece. It was a relaxed gathering and the centerpiece matched the mood.
Fall formal centerpiece
Recreate your own: A crowd of pumpkins with unique textures and colors serves as the backbone of this centerpiece. Varieties such as ‘Rouge Vif d’Etampes’, ‘Galeuse d’Eysines’, the bluish gray ‘Jarrahdale’, or ‘Musquee de Provence’ are good candidates. Or use interesting squash such as ‘Fairy’, ‘Sweet Dumpling’, ‘Turban’ or ‘Potimarron’. Wind dried grapevines around the pumpkins; add red berries, groundsel tree flowers (Baccharis halimifolia) and Eleagnus foliage.
For this, the easiest of the centerpieces, Trace combined logs and branches into a minimalist piece of art, and then transitioned it for Christmas with a few simple additions. He says, “This is the most versatile of the arrangements we’ve done. An attention-grabber inside or out, I use arrangements like this by an entryway or as a fireplace accent.”
Arrangement for winter into holidays
Recreate your own: Hunt for interesting logs and branches then arrange them to suit the space. Absolutely anything, from a large glass vase to an old galvanized bucket, works as a container. Alternatively, you can skip the container completely and just tie the bundle with a natural twine or a strip of burlap.
At Christmas, the everything-must-work-together rule was expanded from just the tabletop to all the decorations. Repeated elements tie things together, but too much repetition is boring. Trace knows how to walk the fine line between the two. He started with a large Noble fir tree where glass ornaments mingle with more natural elements. I recognized the large twine balls from February’s centerpiece. They looked great on the tree, as did the grapevine from the fall centerpiece.
Magnolia leaves and Noble fir branches cut from the bottom of the tree are components of most of Trace’s decorations, but to varying degrees. The three outdoor centerpieces used Noble fir, Loropetalum and cedar, but they were mostly magnolia.
On the dining room table, it was just the opposite, mainly Noble fir with a bit of magnolia mixed in. And whereas outside, the foliage took center stage, naturally shed antlers were the unique focal point in the dining room centerpiece. My favorite Christmas decoration was the little fir tree topped with dried blooms of Hydrangea paniculata. Did you notice those peat pots tucked in the branches? They’re left over from the February centerpiece.
We asked our editor for an extension under the pretense that a New Year’s Eve centerpiece would be a great way to end the article. Actually, we just wanted an excuse for another party. It was a small gathering of good friends, and Trace’s centerpiece was bright and shiny to celebrate the New Year, and yet relaxed and simple to match the mood. I thought the lesson here might be that sometimes it’s OK to break the rules and use an even number of objects, but when I asked Trace about it, he replied, “Well, actually I spray painted five bottles. The last one was drying on the porch when I jumped in the shower. Then I got busy and totally forgot about it.” So the real lessons are start early and don’t worry if things aren’t perfect.
New Year's Eve centerpiece
Recreate your own: Look outside for interesting twigs, branches, roots or other items, and spray paint them metallic silver. If you don’t have mercury glass votives and vases, do what Trace did and make your own. Work outside if possible; you don’t want that smell lingering when guests arrive. Collect glass items and spray the interiors with mirror paint. While they are still wet, squirt with water and either dry upside down or lightly wipe. Use the same technique for the outside of the wine bottles. Arrange small bouquets of white roses and tulips in your hand, re-cut the stems and add the twigs. Create a dense arrangement by grouping things tightly.
I’m sad that my year of training with the master is over. Researching an article has never been so much fun. Hmmm … maybe next year Trace can teach me something else.
• Repeating elements from your centerpiece, create small, coordinating arrangements in bathrooms or tucked into bookshelves.
• Let fallen petals lie.
• Don’t skimp when you are cutting. It usually takes more than you think.
• Press beautiful leaves and use a paint pen to make unique place cards.
• Tie fresh rosemary around napkins to serve as a natural napkin ring.
• Just as you should always plant in odd numbers – 3, 5, 7 – always use odd numbers of elements.
A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography by Peggy Hill and Monica Hill.
- Video Transcript, Demonsration by Kerry Heafner.
Crape Myrtles have been fixtures in the landscapes of homes in the United States since at least the 1700s. And more and more we’re seeing crape myrtle show up in the landscapes of urban settings as well and it stands to reason. They're hardy durable trees, they stand up to heat and humidity well and they tolerate a lot of air pollution and have relatively few pest compared to a lot of other ornamental trees. But they are trees and they do get tall and eventually, especially in an urban setting they start to interfere with the power lines, just like this one is doing right here.
This pruning technique leads to something we call crape murder. These plans have been cut off at about head high leaving the wounds open to all types of fungal and insect pest. So the question is how should a crape myrtle be pruned correctly? Today we're gonna look at how to correctly prune crape myrtles.
So crape myrtles are being used more and more in urban landscapes and what we see here is a line of them along this busy highway for beautification purposes. And they do need to be pruned, so let’s walk up here and watch some of our local master gardeners prune these crape myrtles.
So one of the first things we want to look for when we’re pruning on the inside, is any branches that are rubbing, and those will be the first ones pruned out typically. That’s just going to create problems later on as the tree grows and ages. So remove one of the two branches that are rubbing together and that will help open up the inside of the trunks.
What Jennifer is doing now is just trimming off any of these smaller limbs that the tree will put energy to in the spring time. But we’re more interested in the tree growing up right and out in forming a nice canopy. So a lot of these little limbs on the inside are going to get taken out.
You want to keep in mind the four D’s of pruning. Diseased, damaged, decay, and dead, and those are the branches you're going to cut out first.
This is last year's fruit and seed crop, and if we look at these capsules that are just about all of them are completely open. We might still find some of last year’s seeds. Well they’re not going to service the purpose for this year so we want to remove these off of the tree. With an older crape Myrtle like this specimen, we're gonna start with removing the suckers from around the base of it because they won't do anything but zap energy from the main trunks that we want to grow into the tree.
Now some of the final cuts you want to make on a more mature crate Myrtle are going to happen at the top. Maybe take about the first 6 or 8 inches off of the very top and you're good to go.
So now you have some basic tips for how to prune crape myrtles correctly and not committing crape murder. For State By State Gardening, I'm Kerry Heafner.
Two Dozen Cut Flowers You Must Grow in 2016 by Jean Starr
Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’, Heuchera ‘Autumn Bride’, Hypericum inodorum and variegated Phlox spp. cool off the hot shades of Zinnia spp. The Easy Arranger wire frame makes it easy to shape the bouquet in a wide-mouthed vase.
Grow the best flowers for stunning indoor arrangements
No matter what size your garden, you can have a bouquet in the making if you plant a few key plants. From long-lasting coral bell leaves to daffodils or hellebores, it’s likely you’re already growing some of the best flowers for a stunning indoor arrangement.
Sizeable bouquets benefit from a focal point of large flowers — think Hydrangea spp., Dahlia spp., Paeonia spp. and Lilium spp. As extravagant as these show-offs tend to be, they’re often improved by some smaller flowers and greenery. In addition to the big, show-off flowers, tuck a few of these into your garden for great backdrops in a vase.
Allium carinatum ssp. pulchellum adds life to this bouquet of ornamental oregano, echinacea, lilies, larkspur, hydrangea, bell flowers (Campanulas spp.) and Hypericum spp. The Easy Arranger fitted over the opening of the vase keeps the stems straight.
Some plants most gardeners already have can contribute extra charm to a fresh bouquet. The variegated Phlox ‘Nora Leigh’ should be grown more for its foliage than its flowers; the leaves of Heuchera last for nearly a week in a vase. Bread poppies (Papaver somniferum) can be easily started from seed; the double forms mimic peonies in July. One of the easiest-to-grow American native perennials looks great in a vase: Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia grandiflora). Barbara’s buttons will grow well in partial shade, and their pale pink flowers provide dots of color in any arrangement.
This allium blooms in July on 18-inch stems, making it a great addition to bouquets.
Vase Shapes and Aids for Arrangements
One of the most useful vase shapes has a semi-narrow body with a wider opening. These provide support for stems, allowing them to curve at the top of the arrangement. The wire supports by Easy Arranger (easyarranger.com) are great to use with a variety of vase shapes and sizes, or look for small grouped vases like the Pooley 2 (chive.com/collections/pooley-2). And whether they’re called frogs or forms, aids to design can be found at specialty sites or created inexpensively with clear Scotch tape or chicken wire.
Try these this season
Once only available to florists, gardeners now can grow Hypericum inodorum like this ‘Mystical Beauty’ in their own gardens.
Like peonies in July, double-flowered bread poppies mix with Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia grandiflora), larkspur and roses.
1. Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’
2. Allium spp.
3. Asters (Symphyotrichum spp.)
4. Astilbe spp.
5. Astrantia spp.
6. Campanula spp.
7. Celosia spp.
8. Cosmos spp.
9. Dahlia spp.
10. Dill (Anethum graveolens)
11. Echinacea spp.
12. Eucomis spp.
13. Euphorbia spp.
14. Heuchera spp.
15. Hypericum inodorum - First Editions series
16. Hydrangea spp.
17. Kniphofia spp.
18. Larkspur (Delphinium consolida)
19. Lilies (Lilium spp.)
20. Marshallia spp.
21. Peonies (Paeonia spp.)
22. Phlox spp.
23. Poppies (Papaver spp.)
24. Zinnias spp.
A version of this article appeared in a January/February 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography by Jean Starr, Bailey Nurseries, and First Editions.
‘Small and boldly patterned hybrids like ‘Amazonica’ and ‘Polly’ are only suitable for Zones 10-11.
They may also be grown as houseplants.
Emerging from the garden like a blast of blaring trumpets with its huge leaves held aloft in celebration, you could hardly call the Alocasia a mere “elephant ear.” Sure, their leaves do resemble those of the related Colocasia and Xanthosomagenera, but an alocasia is more dramatic and architectural in every way; with thick trunklike stems that allow it to grow ever higher, a bold silhouette that commands attention and leaf veins so strong and prominent that they resemble the vaulted ceilings of Renaissance cathedrals.
Sitting beneath enormous backlit leaves, you may feel as if you’re inside a cathedral.
The main selling point of these plants is their size, and some can get downright massive. Alocasia odora and A. macrorrhizos are two of the largest species, reaching 6-8 feet tall. ‘Borneo Giant’ can even exceed 12 feet tall. Some cultivars and hybrids draw attention for reasons other than sheer size. If you don’t want to overwhelm your garden, ‘California’ has small wide leaves and a bushy habit, which make it useful as a ground cover or in small spaces. The leaves of ‘Tiny Dancers’ are so small that they appear almost comical. ‘Stingray’ is notable for its unusual stingray-shaped leaves, while the metallic black A. plumbea nigra stands out for its unusual coloration and sheen.
Alocasia have been favorites of tropical landscape architects the world over, from Bali’s Made Wijaya to Brazil’s Roberto Burle Marx and Florida’s own Raymond Jungles, and now they’ve hit the mainstream with new and exciting cultivars jutting out above the foliage at garden centers all over Florida. They are immensely useful as focal points, accents, container “thrillers,” or even temporary screens. Best of all, these plants captivate and stimulate the imagination.
Alocasia plants are especially suitable for capturing the look of tropical Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and Australia where they are naturally found, and when planted along with lady palms (Rhapis excelsa) and birds nest ferns (Asplenium nidus), they whisk you away to an exotic Balinese spa. They’re especially picturesque when grown at the edge of a pool or water feature, where the reflection of their leaves makes them seem twice as large.
Upright elephant ears have such large and dramatic leaves that they contrast well with the textures of most other plants. Combine with bushy natives like firebush (Hamelia patens) and wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa) to add a touch of the exotic. Or go all-out exotic by pairing it with Cordyline, gingers, bananas (Musa spp.), and bamboo.
‘California’ is also ideal as a large-scale ground cover in large landscapes, such as this one at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
For a “rainforest” look plant elephant ears with a variety of foliage plants such as moisture-loving palm trees like Everglades palm (Acoelorrhaphe wrightii) and needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix) and an assortment of ferns with different sizes and textures.
While only enjoyed as summer bulbs (rhizomes) up North, upright elephant ears can be grown right in the ground throughout Florida. You can either purchase the rhizomes as-is, or obtain some by dividing established plants. To grow the rhizomes, first plant them sideways in sphagnum moss or coir to prevent rot. Plant the rhizome in the ground after it has grown roots and leaves. While this method is rewarding and affordable, it’s much faster to purchase a plant in a 3-gallon container from the nursery.
In Zones 8 and 9, plant upright elephant ears from spring through summer. Growers in Zone 10 can plant them year round.
Water collects in the leaf axils, providing hydration for wildlife like this green anole.
This clump at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens is made even more spectacular by its placement at water’s edge.
Alocasia are very adaptable, but do best with mid-day shade and plenty of moisture. Choose a spot that stays naturally moist, such as in a low area of your property where water puddles after it rains. If you must grow it elsewhere, amend the planting site with compost and irrigate either by hand or with a soaker hose whenever the plant starts to suffer. Even if your plant is looking terrible during a dry spell, it will likely perk back up when rains resume. Plants grown in shade tolerate drought better than those grown in full sun.
With the exception of ‘Amazonica’ and others commonly grown as houseplants, elephant ears can grow throughout the state. While elephant ears are sensitive to frosts and freezes, they quickly rebound to their former stature within a few months, often returning from the stem.
Grow These Other Elephant Ears
These Alocasia relatives are also quite impressive and are also thankfully non-invasive.
Container Elephant ears are even more dramatic and imposing when planted along a path.
Colocasia gigantea ‘Thailand Giant’ – Reaching 9 feet tall with 5-foot-long leaves, this elephant ear is probably the biggest.
Colocasia ‘Black Ripple’ – This one has glossy black leaves and is quite resilient. Great for container combinations.
Xanthosoma aurea ‘Lime Zinger’ – Perfect for brightening up a partly shaded garden with its chartreuse foliage.
Xanthosoma violacea – The purple hue of this large elephant ear is a good fit for gardens with subdued palettes.
Elephant Ears to Avoid
Not all elephant ears are gentle giants. These monsters are categorized as invasive and should not be grown in Florida.
Colocasia esculenta – Commonly grown as a summer bedding plant up North. In peninsular Florida, however, it’s very invasive.
Xanthosoma sagittifolium – It’s also – you guessed it – invasive and should not be planted. Grow ‘Lime Zinger’ instead.
Alocasia ‘California’ is an ideal size for small gardens.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 21 Issue 2.
Photography by Steve Asbell.
Teeny Tiny: Creating a Garden in Miniature by Debbie Clark
Flagstones can instantly create patios, raised beds become hillsides, and flat river pebbles stand in for stepping stones.
Miniature gardens can be fairy gardens, gnome or elf gardens, railroad gardens or simply miniature tableaus. Space isn’t a limitation – but you might need to expand your imagination.
Have you ever wanted a beautiful garden with arbors, water features, furniture and unusual plants? Maybe that garden you dreamed of is not in your budget or you just don’t have the space or time. Why not make that dream come true in a miniature garden? A miniature garden can be planted in a container or in a garden bed. If you are planting in a container, you will need soil and an unusual container for your garden. For both container gardens and in-ground gardens, you will need small-leaved plants, rocks, miniature garden accessories and lots of imagination. Creating a miniature garden in a container can take less than an hour to create. Larger in-ground gardens can take a bit longer, or be an ongoing project, depending on the size. Here is how to create a miniature garden in three easy steps.
Step 1: Design Your Garden
Decide if your garden will be in sun, part shade or shade. Light conditions will determine what plants you can select and grow. If you are planting a garden directly in the ground, select your site and take the time to draw up a design. Since this garden will be bigger and in a permanent location, drawing your garden design on paper will make it easier to see the garden as a finished product. Use your imagination in designing. After you have selected a location and created your design, you can now prepare your bed for planting. If you are planting directly into the ground, amend the soil if needed before planting.
This beautiful miniature garden was constructed in a container. It is complete with a house, plantings and garden tools. This would be a fun project to do with children that would introduce them to gardening.
If you are planting this mini garden in a container, look for a container that is interesting and has good drainage. Containers could be old drawers, wood boxes, bowls, baskets or other items that can hold soil. Fill your container with a good commercial potting soil.
Step 2: Plant Your Garden
Many local nurseries and websites carry small plants for miniature gardens. They can be a little pricey to purchase, but you can find some interesting plants with great color, form and texture. You can also use small boxwood shrubs as trees. They can be pruned and shaped to show off their limbs and bark like a real full-size tree. Plants like miniature hostas, sedums, Irish moss (Sagina subulata), wooly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus), baby tears (Soleirolia soleirolii), creeping golden Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’) and small-leaved ground cover plants can all be used in miniature gardening. Plant your garden in a pleasing design like you would a full-size garden using plants in different sizes, shape, colors and textures. Moss can be added to the garden as a ground cover to age the garden and to cover exposed soil.
Step 3: Add Your Garden Accessories
Most large nursery stores carry miniature furniture, fences, houses, garden tools, arbors, birdhouses and other items or you can buy them online. Look around your house for items that can be repurposed for your miniature garden. When selecting accessories, be creative and always remember to work in scale to all the other elements of the garden. Arrange your garden accessories like rocks, fences, fountains, chairs, animals and fairies to form a pleasing and interesting space in your miniature garden.
The store-bought walls, castle and fountain create the hardscapes in this vignette, and dwarf plants stand in as shrubs and trees in a backdrop of pea gravel.
When the end of the growing season comes, remove all of your decorative accessories for winter storage. If you planted a container, move your container to a protected area for the winter.
Growing a miniature garden can be a fun way to garden, and the easy way to have that garden of your dreams.
This miniature railroad garden is located at the Taltree Arboretum and Gardens located in Valparaiso, Indiana.
Thyme, creeping Jenny, sedum, a bonsai tree and other small-leaved plants give the red chairs and wheelbarrow the proper scale.
A version of this article appeared in a Mar/Apr 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Debbie Clark.
‘Dusky’ eggplant is a reliable Florida summer vegetable.
In 1999, a student came from Sri Lanka to the Mid-Florida Research Center in Apopka to study the genetic relationships of Anthuriums. Mostly he spent hours alone in the laboratory testing DNA samples, but during lunchtime, people crowded around him in the break room. He cooked an eggplant recipe that was delicious. Everyone wanted a taste; everyone wanted the recipe; everyone wanted to go home and plant a garden full of eggplant to cook.
If you are an average American, you eat less than one pound of eggplant per year. Most likely, you visit an Italian-style restaurant and enjoy an order of Eggplant Parmesan. You think little about this vegetable beyond that one tasty meal.
On the other side of the world, political, religious and cultural influences favor vegetarian diets. Eggplant is a valuable food commodity in India, where it was first domesticated around 2500 BC.
Buddhist monks introduced eggplant into China around 600 AD. The Chinese called it “Malaysian melon” indicating that the plant had traveled west from India through Southeast Asia before moving north. Economic and agricultural factors in China secured eggplant’s crop value. Today China is the world’s largest producer of eggplant.
Food historian Frederick Simoons refers to an area of the globe between latitudes 20 and 30°N as the “spice belt” because the majority of the world’s spice crops are grown there. Eggplant thrives in these areas too, and it has married almost every spice signature it has met. Its sweet, mild flavor plays well in dishes in the Middle East and Mediterranean. Vegetarian eggplant doesn’t have to be bland; it can be made quite zesty.
‘Ichiban’ is a long, thin variety from Japan.
Florida also lies within these latitudes. Our climate is ideal for raising eggplant in a home garden. In southern Florida, without freezes, eggplant can be grown as a perennial. The ease of cultivation might be your first step to enjoying eggplant.
Variety selection is important. At Eastertime, “egg plants” appear at retail outlets. These are ornamental, potted plant, seasonal novelty eggplants loaded with small white or yellow fruit. They are cute but too bitter to be consumed. I have grown an edible white variety called “Gretel”, but as a traditionalist, I want purple. “Dusky”, “Black Beauty”, “Park’s Whopper Hybrid” and “Ichiban” have all performed well in my Zone 9 garden.
Eggplant is reliable. After all, it’s been cultivated for over 4,000 years now. I start seeds in a hobby greenhouse in February. I sow 8-10 seeds into one 4-inch pot filled with pre-moistened commercial potting mix. I cover the seeds lightly with the same mix and water with a sprinkler nozzle or watering can.
When the seedlings germinate and develop 4 leaves, I separate them, planting one singleton per four-inch pot. I can easily hold them even if they get quite large before transplant into the garden after all chance of freeze has passed in March. In the garden, space transplants 3 feet apart and 3 feet between rows. This may look wide in the beginning, but by May the plants will touch each other. As your plants become ever larger, you may want to stake unruly branches to keep new fruit off the ground. Eggplant skin scratches easily in the sand.
Fertilize initially with a liquid feeding (1 teaspoon 20-20-20 per gallon); after that, side dress with granular 6-8-8 about every 2 weeks. Be sure to wash any granular fertilizer off the leaves to avoid burning them. Eggplant needs full sun 6 to 8 hours per day minimum. Irrigate if rain is insufficient. Eggplant leaves will yellow and drop if subjected to drought. Watch for caterpillars; treat with Bt.
Eggplant thrives in the hottest part of summer. However, when temperatures are consistently above 95°F, eggplant will not bloom or produce fruit. Don’t pull the crop out. Keep up with irrigation and as soon as cool weather returns, flowering and fruiting resumes. Our eggplants produce reliably until late October when overnight temperatures fall into the 40’s. Production slows and our eight-month eggplant season ends.
Eggplant flowers are a beautiful lavender color.
Dayawansa Ranamukhaarachchi shared his Sweet and Sour Garlic Eggplant with everyone he met.
Your second step to enjoying more eggplant might be trying this easy recipe.
-Peel one large eggplant, slice into rounds and lightly fry in oil until brown.
-In a separate pan, combine these ingredients and heat until the sugar dissolves:
•½ cup white wine vinegar
•2 Tablespoons sugar
•2 cloves fresh chopped garlic
•½ teaspoon chili powder
•Salt and pepper to taste
-Add the eggplant to the sweet/ sour sauce and heat together thoroughly. Serve over rice.
A version of this article appeared in print in Florida Gardening Volume 20 Issue 1.
Photography courtesy of Debbie Clark.
There’s a special thrill that comes from saying “I grew it from seed.” Try it and see for yourself.
When I was a child, I spent many lovely, sunny hours in the garden of our neighbor Genevieve. It was a smallish yard, enclosed with a low picket fence, and made to feel private with great pools of annual flowers that bloomed all summer. There were clouds of tall yellow blossoms I recall, and red vining things that spilled over the fence. I remember being drawn to the low patches of pink and blue petunias that spread out over the sidewalk and perfumed the air on still afternoons.
Genevieve planted her flowers from seed each spring, sowing them directly into the prepared soil. This simple, inexpensive way of filling a garden with color seems lost today, but that needn’t be the case. Seeds are readily available, and even the busiest gardener can find time to directly sow a few packets.
Select a spot in your garden to create a bed. Try for a space that gets plenty of sun all day and is accessible with a garden hose. If you have mostly shade, just be careful to choose plants that prefer it. Make sure the space is large enough to accommodate the big splashes of vegetation that will make the effort worthwhile.
Prepare the soil by weeding thoroughly and raking to break up clumps and make it as smooth and finely textured as possible. Don’t work soil when it’s wet, especially if it’s clay-based. I like to prepare planting beds by sitting on the ground and taking my time breaking up the soil, crumbling it with my hands and working in some compost with a small hand rake.
You should not use any pre-emergent weed control products in these beds because they will prevent your seeds from germinating, too. After you have a smooth bed of prepared soil, select your seeds.
Choose seeds that are labeled for sale in the current year and check the package to see that you are not buying something that has a very long germination period. Seeds that take more than 10 to 14 days to germinate may not be the best choice for direct sowing.
Don’t buy too many kinds of plants. Try three to begin, and include plants with varying heights for an appealing display. A few flowers that do very well when direct-sown include larkspur, cosmos, annual vines, zinnia, daisies, poppies, four o’clocks, cleome, sweet peas and nigella.
There is no reason why you cannot plant perennials in situ as well as annuals. But do remember that perennials and biennials generally don’t bloom the first year.
Vegetable gardeners are better versed in planting from seed, but for those who are new to it, some garden plants are better off started under lights or purchased as transplants. Vegetables with taproots such as carrots, beets, radishes and parsnips do not transplant easily, so they are better off sown directly into the garden. The same is true of greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale.
Early-blooming flowers such as poppies and violas can be directly sown very early, in March, but most seeds should wait until the soil warms up and the danger of frost has passed. You may start peas and lettuce early too, in late March. I also like to plant lettuce and spinach in late September for a fall crop of greens.
When you bring your seeds home, examine them before planting. Those that are large and easy to handle, such as beans or nasturtiums, will be planted more deeply than the finer seeds. The smaller the seed, the more light it needs to germinate, so fine seeds should be scattered on the surface and barely scratched into the soil. Soak larger seeds for up to 24 hours in tepid water. This will ensure that they are fully infused with water and won’t dry out as easily. Soaking will also speed germination.
Tiny seeds can be soaked, too. They may then be mixed with sand to make them easier to broadcast over the soil. Many gardeners report that blanketing the bed with a thin layer of bagged seed-starting mix makes a better place for fine seeds to settle in and helps them hold moisture.
By starting your planting with a well-saturated bed and fully moist seeds, you will be able to get through brief periods of drying out without losing your planting. But you will still need to mist the soil daily with a gentle-spray hose wand.
Rain is very helpful, but a hard rain can cause the seeds to float or clump into furrows and low-lying soil pockets. If at all possible, listen to the weather forecast and try not to plant when heavy rains are expected within the next week. If this does happen, just thin the seedlings and try tamping the extras into the empty spots.
One of the joys of direct sowing is the bonus of having repeat plants in following years. Many flowers such as larkspur, four o’clocks, viola and poppies will self sow and come up year after year. I have a stand of blue larkspur that I planted 10 years ago and it still lines my walkway with a mist of blue flowers from May through June. The seeds fall at will and the volunteers move around a bit in the garden, but it is wonderful to find Johnny jump-ups and forget-me-nots popping up here and there among the vegetables and perennials … and the occasional sidewalk crack.
A version of this article appeared in Chicagoland Gardening Volume XX, Number 2.
Photos courtesy of Patsy Bell Hobson, Chuck Eirschele, and Bigstock-Pressmaster.
Who wouldn’t fall in love with star-shaped violet-blue, sweetly-scented flowers of ‘New Love’ clump-forming clematis
Check out these cool new plants for the new gardening season.
Although the frost-free date in your area is probably a couple of weeks off, there is no reason you can’t dream of spring — sun, warmer temperatures, birds chirping, digging in the soil and the smell of earth and rebirth. Of course you look forward to replanting favorites that perform well year after year. But you can’t help but ponder what “new” items you might want to incorporate into your landscape.
Some of the hottest new plant introductions debuted in this year’s New Varieties Showcase at the Farwest Trade Show in Portland, Ore., and they’ll be available soon through your local growers, landscapers, retailers and mail-order nurseries.
Tomato or potato? Have both with ‘Ketchup ‘n Fries’, a sweet cherry plant grafted onto a delicious white potato plant.
Let’s start with some incredible edibles. One of the Plant of Merit award winners was ‘Ketchup ‘n’ Fries’ (Solanum lycopersicum/Solanum tuberosum 'Ketchup 'n' Fries'), a cherry tomato grafted onto a white potato (no, I’m not joking). This crazy, cool duo has been featured on “Good Morning America” and “The Colbert Report.” On this plant you can pick tomatoes throughout the growing season, and then cut the plant off at the base. Wait a couple weeks to season and sweeten the potatoes, and then you can harvest those. You can grow this two-in-one plant in large containers or in the ground.
Purple Pixie grape (Vitis vinifera 'Pinot Meunier Purple'), also sold as Patio Pinot in the HGTV Home Plant Collection, is the first true dwarf grape in the world. It provides clusters of miniature grapes with a sweet, tart flavor. The fruit can be enjoyed fresh or as a garnish. It is best grown in a container, but it can also perform in the landscape. Hardy to USDA Zone 3.
The Brazelberries brand has added a new blueberry to their line called ‘Perpetua’ (Vaccinium corymbosum 'Perpetua'). It is a true double-cropping blueberry that bears a midsummer crop followed by a second crop in the fall. The berries are somewhat small, mild and sweet. The shrub is upright, vase-shaped and hardy to USDA Zone 4. It will reach 4-5 feet tall and wide, and as with all blueberries prefers acidic soil. The new canes are bright yellow and red in the winter providing color against the snow.
For the perennial lover and pollinator provider, consider Butterfly ‘Rainbow Marcella’ coneflower (Echinacea 'Rainbow Marcella'). Unlike other Echinacea spp., this beauty goes through a unique color transformation opening a bright tangerine-orange, and then changing to a deep mauve from the center outwards. Sturdy stems provide a mounded bushy habit reaching 18-24 inches tall and wide; it is hardy to USDA Zone 5. It will perform well in the mixed perennial border or as a focal point with long-lasting color in a mixed container.
Butterfly ‘Rainbow Marcella’ coneflower is like getting two echinacea for the price of one due to its unique color change; bright tangerine-orange blooms change to a deep mauve.
While Digiplexis Illumination ‘Apricot’ of the Southern Living Collection is only hardy to USDA Zone 8, it is a worthy container plant for northern gardens. It is undeniably a pollinator magnet as bees and hummingbirds will simply flock to it. It performs well in full sun to part shade. Digiplexis come in other colors, too, including ‘Flame’, ‘Berry Canary’ and ‘Raspberry’.
Brighten up a container or the landscape bed with the striking chartreuse with green edge foliage of ‘Eversheen’ carex.
If you’re after fine foliage, which provides consistent color all growing season while other plants go in and out of flower, then here are a couple of prime choices. First up is ‘Eversheen’ sedge grass (Carex EverColor 'Eversheen'). Part of the EverColor Series of Carex spp. from breeder Pat Fitzgerald of Ireland, ‘Eversheen’ provides a striking chartreuse foliage with a green edge. Reaching around 16 inches tall, this compact, mounding ornamental grass is ideal in mass plantings, the perennial border or in a mixed container.
Another fine foliage option is ‘Old Fashioned’ smoke bush (Cotinus coggygria ‘Old Fashioned'). But don’t let the name fool you; it’s not the Cotinus sp. your Grandma had. This more compact version boasts purple new growth that matures to a eucalyptus-like blue-green color. In autumn, the leaves turn a fluorescent mix of red, pink and orange that will knock your garden boots off. At approximately 6 feet tall and 5 feet wide, it is best used as a specimen in the landscape, but can also be trained into a small tree. An added benefit is that its airy blooms make a great cut flower. Oh, and did I mention it is deer resistant, too?
‘Old Fashioned’ cotinus is a perfect shrub choice for its deer-resistant foliage.
No matter what they say, you can always make room in the yard for another rose or hydrangea. From the breeder of Knock Out roses, Will Radler, comes Peach Lemonade rose (Rosa 'Radpastel'). It provides multiple colors as the blooms begin a pleasing lemon yellow then as they fade, turns to a blush pink. Because it can bloom from summer through fall, you’ll end up with both yellow and pink flowers at the same time. This carefree, disease-resistant rose is hardy to USDA Zone 3 and matures at 3 feet tall and wide.
This multi-colored rose starts out lemon yellow and fades to a blush pink; Peach Lemonade is sweet as the drink.
As gardeners we’re always looking for something to brighten up shady areas. That’s where Back in Black ‘Zebra’ hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla Back in Black 'Zebra') comes in. The bright white flowers contrast against the lush green foliage and black stems (yes, I said black). Each individual bloom on this mophead looks like it was edged with pinking shears. It flowers on both new and old wood reaching 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
A truly unique hydrangea, Inspire (Hydrangea macrophylla 'H21-3'), is a mophead but the individual flowers look like stars. The “stars” start as small flowers, and then turn into large, double flowers. It, too, blooms on both old and new wood, but it will get 5-6 feet tall and 3-4 feet wide.
For a ruffled flower look, then ‘Spike’ hydrangea (H. macrophylla 'Spike') is the one for you. The mophead blooms will vary in color depending on soil pH. Its size ranges from 4 feet tall to 3 feet wide.
Any of these hydrangeas are excellent in the landscape in mass plantings, in the shrub border, as a specimen or in larger mixed containers.
If you’re a better-than-average gardener, love tropicals, and don’t mind bringing them inside after the summer season has ended, then try either ‘Little Angel Blush’ brugmansia (Brugmansia × hybrida 'Little Angel Blush'), also an Award of Merit winner or ‘Little Angel Yellow’ brugmansia. Large, fragrant, trumpet-like flowers hang from this subtropical shrub and bloom all summer long with no breaks. These are beautiful in larger containers and can reach 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. Please note that all parts of a brugmansia plant are toxic, so this may not be a good choice for homes with pets or small children.
Oh, so many new plants to choose from, so little room in the landscape. It reminds me of a line from one of the “Indiana Jones” movies: “Choose wisely.”
The white flowers of Tuxedo weigela (Weigela × 'Velda') give a contrasting pop against its dark foliage.
Digiplexis, such as Illumination ‘Apricot’, while not hardy to our area, are a pollinator magnet for bees and hummingbirds. That makes them a worthwhile seasonal container plant.
Purple Pixie grape is the first true dwarf grapevine. Enjoy it in a container on your patio deck or in the landscape; it is USDA Zone 3 hardy.
A version of this article appeared in a Jan/Feb 2016 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
All Photos Courtesy of the Oregon Association of Nurserymen.
Establishing a lawn is a lot like entering a relationship with someone. You get out of it what you put into it. Fortunately, growing grass is a little less complicated. Here is some expert advice on starting a lawn from seed, patching up a bare spot, laying sod and one option that requires very little mowing.
Be sure to keep newly seeded grass evenly moist. This may mean watering for 10 or 15 minutes twice a day.
When talking lawns, I tell folks to scrimp on the kid’s shoes, but not on lawn seed. Since you’re about to invest considerable time and effort preparing a lawn for seeding, it is important you don’t fall short by purchasing poor quality seed.
Fortunately, there are seed companies out there that do for grass seed what Maytag does for washing machines, including offering a warranty.
When shopping for grass seed, one of the most important things to look for, besides the particular grass seed mixture, is germination date, according to Joseph Rivera, a lawn care expert for the Scotts Co.
“Always check the test date,” Rivera said. “Every year that passes after the initial test date, the germination rate goes down 5 percent.”
Cool Season Grasses
The best seed varieties for Upper Midwest lawns are the cool season grasses: Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) and fescue (Festuca ssp.). Perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) is often thrown in a mix because it establishes itself quickly. However, it will eventually die out after the other species have established themselves. Kentucky bluegrass grows well in sunny locations while the fescues grow best in shade.
Reputable seed suppliers, such as Scotts, Pennington and GreenView, sell blends to fit any growing situation. They also offer fertilizer blends with recommended rates and time of application, which are usually spring, summer and fall.
“Our seed is guaranteed to grow anywhere – cool season, warm season – and we offer a product guarantee. If a customer isn’t satisfied with the product they can send in the UPC for a refund,” says Rivera.
Before seeding your lawn have a soil test done. Check with your county cooperative extension agency (csrees.usda.gov/Extension) for where to have this done. A test will not only give you an indication of existing nutrients in the soil, but also the pH. The test results should provide specific recommendations for adding fertilizer and other nutrients.
“I would really recommend a soil test be done, to know where you’re at,” said Paul Hoffman, a 35-year veteran in the turf industry and product expert for Growth Products Ltd., which markets Simple Success brand of natural or organic fertilizers and amendments.
Establishing a Lawn
Despite what you may have heard, starting a new lawn isn’t that difficult. The first step is preparing the soil.
• Remove all large stones and any debris from the area to
• Work the ground with a rototiller when the soil is fairly
dry. Avoid tilling wet soil.
• Rake out any clumps of roots.
• Continue to work the ground until the clumps of soil are busted up pretty good.
• The top 6 inches should be sandy loam; that is, fairly dark, rich soil. If you’re in stubborn clay or even gravel, buy quality topsoil, free of clay, gravel and large quantities of sand, from
a local contractor.
• Finally, take a garden rake to level and smooth out the soil. Flip the rake tines facing up and drag it across the soil.
• Apply a fertilizer before you start seeding. A walk-behind rotating spreader works well. Use the same spreader to apply the seed to the recommended rate per square feet.
Water, Water, Water!
The best times to sow grass seed in the Upper Midwest are spring and early fall. The seed germination period is crucial and can only be accomplished successfully by keeping the seed moist until it begins to sprout. This means you should water the freshly seeded lawn two to three times a day, keeping the seed moist but not saturated, until the grass comes up, Rivera recommended.
After it has sufficiently sprouted, apply at least 1 inch of water twice a week. You can determine how much an inch of water is by placing a container, such as a tuna can, underneath a sprinkler to see how long it takes to fill to an inch. Try to keep the kids and pets off the newly established lawn until it is well established. Mow the new lawn when it’s about 4 inches tall. Remember to keep the lawn at 3 to 3 ½ inches tall.
Bill Carney developed the Proplugger 5-IN-1 tool as a way to transplant plugs of grass and to dig holes for bulb planting.
Repairing Bare Sport
Repairing bare spots in a lawn is similar to establishing a new one, only with less work. Simply work the ground to be seeded with a garden rake, scuffing up the soil. Apply the seed to the loose soil per the recommended rate and water as you would a newly sown lawn. Many companies sell encapsulated seed or blends that include a mixture of mulch. These help retain moisture, requiring less watering.
Another way to repair a bare spot in the lawn is with the Proplugger 5-IN-1 kit. This tool removes good turf, or plugs, from one area of a lawn to transplant to repair a bare spot in another area. Cool season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, have underground rhizomes that will fill in bare spots, so the plugs need be spaced only about 6 inches apart.
Sod is for those who look for instant gratification
and have a few extra bucks to spend. While establishing sod is a more expensive alternative to seeding, there are many advantages to sodding, according to Bob Hoffman, owner of B & B Hoffman Farms, Inc., in
Elk River, Minnesota.
“The true advantage is it instantly raises the value of your property,” said Hoffman. He pointed to other advantages, including the fact that you can start with a weed-free lawn, no worry about the kids bringing in dirt before a seeded lawn is established, and less chance of losing topsoil to erosion.
“I know of one guy who had to seed his lawn three times due to the seed and soil washing away with the rain,” Hoffman said.
Prepare the area to be sodded the same way you would for seeding, he said. He suggests corralling a few friends or neighbors over on a weekend to help lay the sod or hire a reputable landscaper to do it for you. Water it in initially and continue to water regularly up to about 10 days and then start to cut back. Water it well during dry spells. After about two weeks you can turn the kids loose on a thick carpet of grass!
No-mow lawn seed contains fescue grasses that grow well in shady areas.
Some people are opting out of high maintenance lawns, which require copious quantities of water, fertilizer and countless hours behind a lawn mower. No-mow lawns, which require little to no mowing, may be a good option for folks who want to give up the time-honored, but time-consuming, task of maintaining the perfect lawn. No-mow lawns are a particularly good option for cabin and cottage owners.
“It’s a really great solution in the right situation,” says Neil Diboll, president of Prairie Nursery, in Westfield, Wisconsin. The right situation, according to Diboll, is a well-drained soil with at least 4 inches of good topsoil. He says to avoid planting it in wet clay.
“A lot of people use it for their cottages in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan,” he said. “Man it’s great. It grows slowly and you don’t have to fertilize it.” Diboll said the last thing he wants to do when he has a weekend at his cottage is mow the lawn. Also, with a no-mow lawn, he doesn’t have to worry about fertilizer going into the lake where he fishes.
The mixture of six fescue grasses that make up no-mow seed is particularly suitable for the cool season climates of the Upper Midwest, and also shady areas. In fact, Diboll formulated this no-mow species in the 1990s after he witnessed the failure of buffalo grass (Bouteloua dactyloides). He recommends sowing it from late August to mid September in the Upper Midwest.
Prepare the seedbed for planting a no-mow lawn as for a regular lawn. It is critical that weeds be removed from the area to be seeded. Diboll says this can be done with an herbicide, by covering the seed bed with a tarp or a season of rototilling. “Make sure any existing vegetation is completely eliminated,” he cautioned.
No-mow blends are best seeded by using a walk-behind rotary spreader. Water for the first three weeks, after which time you can put the hose away for good.
Don’t sell the mower just yet. Some folks like to mow their no-mow lawn once a month throughout the season, while others will opt for a June mowing to clip off the seed heads and then one just before the snow flies, which is a good practice for any lawn where you want to prevent thatch build up.
Sod gives an instant lawn but requires about the same amount of prep work as sowing seed.
The Proplugger 5-IN-1 tool removes good turf, or plugs, from one area of a lawn to transplant to a bare spot in another area. Cool season grasses, such as Kentucky bluegrass, have underground rhizomes that will fill in bare spots.
(A version of this article appeared in March/April 2015 print edition of State-by-State Gardening )
Few plants give so much for so little attention. Native to South Africa, Lion's Ear (Leonotisleonurus) is an annual flower that produces a fall display of riotous orange, fuzzy tubular blooms on long velvety stems. In USDA zones 8a and warmer, it is grown as a tender perennial. It successfully overwinters indoors.
The flowers are in compact clusters arranged in whorls around the stem, and are a beacon of nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies. White and apricot flower forms exist, but may be difficult to locate in retail markets. Fertilizing is beneficial, but many plants do well without it.
Deer purportedly avoid it. It's also fairly drought tolerant to boot, making it suitable for xeriscaping. As it can grow at a good rate by root suckers, it's a perfect plant to share with your friends. But who would want to?
It's winter hardy on the Gulf Coast, but persistent hard freezes in the low 20s may kill it. Mulch if temperatures are unusually low, and it may survive. It blooms more densely if cut back in the early spring. In most areas, think of it as an annual set to burst into fiery bloom, and you'll wonder how you ever planted a garden without it.
Botanical Name: Leonotisleonurus
Size: Approximately 4-6 ft. tall x 4 ft. wide
Sun Exposure: Full sun, light shade.
Water Requirements: More in summer, can take drought once established.
Zones: Hardy to Zone 8a. Grown as annual in colder climates.
In early spring the weather is notoriously fickle. There are always a few halcyon days to beguile us, but March, seemingly on a whim, will invariably turn tempestuous. Gardeners, ever impatient for spring, often despair. In March, frustrated but experienced gardeners have learned to bide their time.
To alleviate the gardener's frustration and before the garden becomes labor intensive, may I suggest a walk in the woods? Early spring is the season for spring ephemerals, which are the loveliest most delicate wildflowers found in nature. These wildflowers, as the word ephemeral implies, are usually short-lived, but their beauty will abate your despair.
The spring ephemerals bloom on the forest floor in the leaf litter before the trees completely leaf out. In early spring, as the days lengthen, the sunlight can penetrate through the woods and warm the ground. A walk in the woods in search of these wildflowers is like going on a treasure hunt. But when you come upon these wildflowers, please resist the urge to dig. Wildflowers should never be dug from the wild unless it is a rescue mission. Take your camera and field guide along instead of your trowel.
My Favorite Spring Ephemerals:
Trillium/Little Sweet Betsy - Trillium cuneatum
Trilliums are among the best loved and most sought after wildflowers. One of the most common is Trillium cuneatum. This trillium has lovely mottled green leaves with purplish spots. The erect flowers are a deep maroon.
There are red trilliums, white trilliums, yellow trilliums and even twisted trilliums, and some are very rare indeed.
Virginia Bluebells - Mertensiavirginica
The common name for this wildflower is most descriptive. The clusters of blue flowers are indeed bellshaped, and the five yellow stamens hang down like little clappers. And they are truly blue; however, the buds are pink. Virginia bluebells are the epitome of the word ephemeral. This showy flower will completely disappear without a trace by summer's arrival.
Bloodroot - Sanguinariacanadensis
Whenever I am unduly impatient for spring, I go out and scratch around in the leaves like a towhee to see if the bloodroot is about to emerge. Bloodroot dares to bloom when spring is but a promise. This wildflower has pure white flowers with bright yellow centers, and they shine like stars in the brown woods. The heart-shaped leaves are attractive long after the flower is gone.
Woodland Phlox - Phlox divaricata
If you should venture out for a woodland walk in early spring, a lovely fragrance may waft your way. If so, it will probably be woodland phlox.
Woodland phlox is not only fragrant, but its periwinkle blue flowers are enchanting. This wildflower often colonizes to create a lavender blue carpet on the forest floor.
Dwarf Crested Iris - Iris cristata
Iris cristata, a native plant found growing on wooded slopes, is as beautiful as any commercially grown iris. And this is one wildflower that is not delicate. It is a tough plant and will multiply.
Jacob's Ladder - Polemoniumreptans
This wildflower has celestial blue flowers. The leaves are pinnately compound and do resemble a ladder, which makes for easy identification.
Hepatica/Liver Leaf - Hepatica americana
Peeping through the brown leaves, this charming wildflower was so named because its leaves reminded someone long ago of liver. Even the botanical name, Hepatica, is Latin for liver. Trust me - the name will not deter you from appreciating this enchanting wildflower.
There are many more early spring wildflowers that can be found growing naturally in the woods, and many of these wildflowers will fare very well in the woodland or rock garden at home. These wildflowers are perfect for shade gardens.
There are many spring ephemeral wildflowers that can be ordered from specialty catalogs, but these days, even the most familiar seed catalogs such as Park Seed and Wayside Gardens now sell some of these plants. Again, please purchase these plants from reliable sources - do not dig from the wild.
This spring, I sincerely hope that you will venture out in search of wildflowers. The hike will be invigorating, and once you have seen these spring ephemerals growing in their native habitat, you will become a wildflower devotee. Your passion for wildflowers will not be ephemeral.