Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Easy Arranger Give-Away

When the folks at Annabelle Noel sent me a package of Easy Arrangers, I knew I had to stage a give-away. And then I got busy and forgot.

So now, with the holiday season coming up, I'd like to invite you to comment on this post by November 10 to enter my drawing for a 5-inch Easy Arranger.

These great bouquet assistants make it easy to create upstanding arrangements with your own garden flowers or those you purchase at the florist. They come in several sizes and shapes, including a 4-inch square model for a square vase.

The wire is malleable enough to form easily around the opening of a vase, or even use it inside the opening. I was able to use a 4-inch diameter cachepot for a bunch of short-stemmed flowers, including the fairly soft-stemmed Calendula I'd started from seed.

The six-inch Easy Arranger was called into play and bent inward toward the center of the pot, giving the wire frame some stability. From there it was easy to add the flowers.

Flowers like pot marigold (Calendula) and floss flower (Ageratum) fill a small cachepot.
This July arrangement features the Easy Arranger and its detachable little green dangles.
In some of my arrangements, more is more, and when I gathered an abundance of blooms from lilies, Hydrangea, Veronica, Kniphofia and more, I clipped four green dangles from Easy Arranger onto the wire before adding the flowers.

By late August, even Maurice wanted to horn his way into one of my photos.
I was still creating arrangements in late August, now with flowers from Heuchera 'Autumn Bride', Zinnias and cockscomb (Celosia).

So here's what you will need to do to enter my drawing for a free Easy Arranger: Just click on "comment" below and let me know your experience when putting flowers in a vase, if the flowers are from your garden or from a florist, and what you like to put into your arrangement--flowers, foliage, etc. If you have a blog, include it in the comment.

I will choose one of your comments at random and announce the winner in a future blog and on my Facebook page.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Less Garden Space = More Garden Work

When you don't have as much sunlight to offer plants that crave lots of it, they exhibit characteristics that you can live with, like excess height as they reach toward the sun, and fewer blooms. Unfortunately, over time, they can also suffer damage. For example, in an exceedingly rainy year like the one we've just had, plants' roots might remain wet for too long, which leads to fungal disease.
'Elsa Sass'
The lowest spot in my garden rarely is host to standing water. And when it is, it's only for a day or less. Plants that grow in this space, which is approximately three feet wide and six feet long, include lawn, Ajuga, ornamental Oregano and Siberian iris. It also included the peony 'Elsa Sass'. One of the latest of my peonies to bloom, Elsa is a gorgeous white fragrant double that I knew should be moved.

So what was stopping me? Not enough space and too much work. In my garden I can't just plant things. First I have to make room. Add to that the recommendation (for very good reason) to avoid planting peony roots in spots where other peonies have grown, and another level of difficulty is thrown into the mix. 'Elsa Sass' was planted in fall of 2007. It didn't start blooming until 2009. By 2011 I knew it should be moved in order to perform better, but I put it off because finding a new spot for it would take some serious maneuvering. Digging. Moving. Finding an empty space was easier to do when I had a brand new plant. I told myself Elsa was doing okay for now.

During the height of peony bloom season, looking south toward the woods.
Peony season begins; facing the "girls' yard," fenced off for the dogs.
In my lifetime, I doubt I'll grow all the plants I'd like to. But, as the saying goes, I'll die trying. This attitude, which I'm sure many other gardeners share, leads to a crowded garden. There is no room for slackers, especially those that come up without a fight.

Because I purchased two new peonies and divided another, I'm once again yanking plants to make room. This year it's the Baptisia.

I planted the hybrid 'Purple Smoke' in spring 2008. If I had any truly sunny spots in my garden and the Baptisia were planted in one of them, it would by now be just over three feet in diameter. But since my garden has no such space, this Baptisia sprawls over a diameter of six feet, even though I've given it support.

Don't get me wrong, I really like this plant. It's a great peony companion, as shown in the photo with peonies and Allium. It's just that it is taking up some really valuable real estate and lounging over its neighbors, which are definitely failing to thrive in response.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' makes a great backdrop for any color of peonies.
So I've removed the supports and cut it back. But I'm not having much success digging it out in the traditional method using fork and shovel. I've left the Baptisia for last, after spending hours ridding a small area of Convallaria and Lysimachia clethroides. This pushy pair, AKA lily of the valley and gooseneck loosestrife, should never have been planted, and I can only take credit for adding the lily of the valley. The loosestrife was already there courtesy of the home's former owner. I've been trying to obliterate it for 14 years.  But that's a story for another time.

I think I will probably leave it until spring. For now, I'll attempt to sever its roots, which I've found several feet away from the plant, evidence of its ability to thrive just about anywhere. I've read that it can be successfully divided, but with a root system like this, I'm not certain I can. For now, I'll be resting up and lifting extra weight at the gym to prepare.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Don't Mind the Chill - Plant Some Cool Flowers

Buy Cool Flowers from St. Lynn's Press.
Of course to me, all flowers are cool. But this Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques is about growing great flowers, especially for cutting, when the temperatures are chilly.

If you thought your garden was pretty much over for all but the freezing, author Lisa Mason Ziegler guides us through some really great options. As a Midwest gardener in denial, I've always wanted to grow sweet peas, Godetia and Delphinium. But in the Midwest, we typically have a very short spring.

Ziegler shows how to prepare our soil now for planting in early spring. It makes a lot of sense to do it this way, because who knows what the weather will be like when we're ready to plant? In my world, it's usually too wet and the soil is either soggy or compacted from snow and rain.

With step by step instructions accompanied by photos, Ziegler shows how to dig a three-feet wide planting rows after removing this year's annual plants, roots and all. And she explains the use and benefits of a floating row cover, a lightweight fabric that can give from four to eight degrees of protection from cold, and protect from marauding birds and deer while allowing light through.

Larkspur 'Giant Imperial' makes a great cut flower.
 Cool Flowers is a little book packed with ideas and instructions on how to get started early to avoid what I call "instant summer syndrome," when hot weather muscles past spring and knocks the breath out of some of the best flowers for cutting. A few of the flowers Ziegler lists as candidates for planting either in early spring or fall include Lisianthus (Eustoma),  sweet peas (Lathyrus) and white lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora) all of which I plan to try for next year.

Lisa Mason Ziegler grows cut flowers for a living, so it makes sense to have as big a variety of healthy flowers as possible, as early as possible. She tells us about how to support plants that need it, how to feed organically, keep weeds down, and take advantage of microclimates.

Calendula is one of the flowers Ziegler covers in her book.
I've been growing flowers that happen to work well in a vase, but I find myself moving more toward flowers just made for cutting. Ziegler covers nearly all of the flowers with which we've had previous relationships. For me, those relationships never worked because of a lack of the flowers' ability to commit to the summer.

Ziegler explains how plants that typically shrivel up when the weather gets hot can last much longer if they've been planted in the right spot and have had time to establish a good root system. It makes a lot of sense.

Now that I know Ziegler's secret to success, perhaps I can find uses for all of those seeds I've purchased over the years but, for fear of failure, never started.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Rain Chain Makes a Great Water Feature

Water from a hose running through the chain.
Our house is and has been gutter-challenged since we moved in nearly 15 years ago. I won't go into the whole history, but what is important to note is that our lot has a lot of mature trees. In fact, if you flew over our house in mid-summer, it would be mostly obscured from view save patches of roof and portions of my flower garden.

Our house's former owners didn't believe in gutters because they'd have to be cleaned out so often. I don't recall exactly how I talked my husband into installing gutters on the front of the house, but there, we have them. Except that the gutter on the northeast corner of the house just ends. No downspout, no end cap - rain just pours like a concentrated waterfall into the landscape.

The landscape of which I speak is draped with four layers of English ivy with accents of thistle, Virginia creeper and poison ivy for contrast. Except for the English ivy, which some well-meaning doofus planted as a ground cover, the combination is nature's own medley. And it doesn't seem to mind the intensity of the stream whenever it rains.
Just hanging without a gutter.

It was the perfect spot for a rain chain. Which is why I said yes when a representative from Rain Chains Direct asked if I would like to try one of their rain chains. I chose the Aged Square Cups design for its contemporary lines that would go with our ranch style home. When the chain arrived, it seemed big and clunky, but once it was set up on the house, I knew it would look great.

After getting the ladder out of the garage and setting it up on the surprisingly-not-eroded ground beneath the endless gutter, my husband was eventually shamed into climbing it and installing the chain. Because rain was not in the forecast, I also got him to aim the hose at the gutter and let 'er rip.

I was really surprised how quickly the "rain" ran through the cups. Although I'd for some reason imagined it would make a sound, it didn't. But I found it fascinating to watch.

So if and when I move the chain or buy another one, I will definitely put it in a location where I can watch it when it's really raining.

Whether you're looking to divert rain water, put some pizazz into a faulty or functioning gutter, or add an inexpensive water feature to your garden, you might want to look into Rain Chain Direct's selection.

Rain Chain Direct makes its chains from solid copper that will eventually develop a subtle patina. Now I can't wait for some rain!

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Grafted Wonder Bell Pepper is a Wonder

When the J.W. Jung Seed Company offered me a grafted sweet pepper plant to try in my garden, I didn't hesitate. I've been growing grafted tomatoes for the past four years with phenomenal success (except for this year when my grafted 'Pineapple' tomato took an early nose dive).

Four peppers were quite large by August 11.
The tiny plant of 'Wonder Bell' arrived in late May, the perfect time to plant. Jung also sent me a packet of 'Wonder Bell' seed, but it was too late to start for a fair comparison, so I grew just the grafted pepper. When I gave up on trying to grow non-grafted tomatoes, I'd also forgone growing sweet peppers. Habaneros did well, but I never had any luck with the larger bell type peppers, each plant producing no more than two or three small peppers of a size somewhere between a golf and a baseball.

Wonder Bell formed fruit fairly early, but I left all four of them on the plant so they could turn nice and red. They did, all around the same time.

Three of the four Wonder bell peppers in gorgeous technicolor on September 1.
Today I looked at the plant and it's growing three more peppers that will likely be smaller than the first batch, but still nearly big enough to stuff. Considering the extremely wet weather we've had from spring through late summer, the bell peppers did very well. To get four blocky, thick-walled, sweet red peppers in such a summer in my sun-challenged garden was nothing short of a miracle.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Passion Flower Blooms in Waves

I'd never tried growing passion vine in a pot before. But I had a large mushroom-shaped support, so I gave it a shot. The plant, Passiflora 'Thuraia', was pretty small when it came in the mail from Grassy Knoll Exotic Plants, and it looked lonely in the large pot. So, of course, I had to add something else. Something like some sweet peas and a couple of four o'clock plants. 'Thuraia' is a small-flowered hybrid that was recommended for pots or hanging baskets. Considering how the plant has completely obliterated the entire support, I'm glad I didn't put it in a hanging basket. It seemed to take forever to climb up the vertical supports, but I didn't have to tie it, just lead it and its long, curly tendrils toward the top.
I was excited to finally see flower buds, and ecstatic when the buds opened in early August.
Buds on the passion vine finally filled out in early August.

Even before its flowers open, 'Thuraia' is pretty.
'Thuraia's' first flush of blooms opened to reveal the signature cross in the center surrounded by banded filaments.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Garden Full of Life: You Can Grow That!

Think about it--what is it that really makes a garden come alive? In my garden, it's the lively little critters. Of course there are some unfriendly bugs like mosquitoes, Asian beetles, and grasshoppers. Some of these little beauties on this "You Can Grow That!" blog can eat lots of the pests, so they definitely serve a purpose.
Common Green Darner dragonfly
It takes a variety of plants to keep the garden lively. Zinnias for butterflies and hummingbirds, fennel or dill and milkweed for swallowtail and monarch butterflies, coneflowers for birds, and plenty of large-leaved plants for little tree frogs that will hang out and eat bugs.
Black swallowtail on Zinnia

Monarch butterfly on Ageratum
Monarch larva on Asclepias tuberosa
Think of how much variety we enjoy in our daily lives. There is an entire aisle devoted to breakfast food, right? So why would it be any different for birds, butterflies and frogs?!!? Give them choices, steer clear of toxic chemicals, and your garden will be both colorful and lively. How can you go wrong?
Young tree frog

Dragon or damsel fly

Yellow finch on nyjer feeder

Tiger swallowtail butterfly on Liatris