Thursday, June 25, 2015

Try Some New Plants in the Garden

As long as some plants make me wait to give me
what I'd long hoped for, very few disappoint me.

Take the Godetia, or Clarkia, a Pacific Northwest wildflower with silken petals in bright, no-nonsense shades. I fell in love with its photo many years ago, but chalked it up as an impossibility because of its love for cool temperatures and disdain for humidity.

But if I've learned anything over the years, it is that I can grow it. Just not long-term. Or with resulting bouquets filled with its beauty.

The Godetia I started from seed in March didn't start blooming until three months later. And by then, it had already started to get hot. And humid. It soldiered on in both container and in ground, neither overshadowing the other, but neither thriving either. Godetia as a cut flower is lovely, but it tends to close up at night. It's a good thing to know, especially if you plan for a bouquet to look a certain way, but worth it for its wildflower demeanor.

My favorite thing about gardening is trying new plants. I've been growing tropical Passiflora for the past few years, and this year I have one called 'Lambiekins' from Easy to Grow Bulbs in California. I know, who could resist a name like that?

'Lambiekins' has huge flowers that take awhile before they open. I noticed the buds several days ago, and yesterday I spotted this little marvel from the other side of the garden. I didn't give it the sniff test, but it's supposed to also be fragrant.

I didn't start much from seed this season. Nothing much to show for it, anyway, except for some chewed up Amaranth 'Molten Fire'. I've combined the Amaranth with Phormium 'Lancer's Terracotta', Calibrachoa SUPERBELLS 'Holy Moly!' and Sedum 'Lemon Coral'. None of my mixed containers have really taken off yet. They've either been too cold or too wet, and neither is good for their nutrient uptake.

I really had a hard time finding Phormium, or New Zealand flax, a wonderful container plant with stripes of varying colors that go with lots of plants grown for their blooms. I ordered two cultivars from Sequim Rare Plants, located in Washington.  I can't wait to see what this grows into, as the Phormium is a strong grower that can top out at 4 feet, as can the Amaranth.



Poppies have appeared, but that's about it, as they also have suffered from the weather. By the time the Godetia is ready to cut down or rip out, I'm hoping things will be a little drier.






Monday, June 22, 2015

Gardening Challenges Come in Many Forms

Is it between seasons for you? It is for me--the largest flowers blooming right now are the Asiatic lilies and Eremurus, but it shouldn't be long before the Echinacea, hybrid Lilium, and even Monarda start to bloom.

Outstanding in 2014; dead in 2015. 
We've had a roller coaster summer so far, and it just officially started yesterday. I've been seeing stem damage at the base of peonies that haven't had a chance to dry out in nearly a month. Plants are forfeiting a branch or stem here and there because their roots don't have enough air to breathe. I lost my Echinacea 'Sombrero Salsa Red', which put on an outstanding and very long show last season. The funny thing is, the Echinacea right next to it (probably 18" away) is doing fine.

Earwigs are smaller than normal but just as plentiful, and it's been impossible to plant in the ground. In a pinch though, I dig a hole twice as large as I need and fill it half way with dry topsoil or even potting mix to lighten it up a little.

One of my new irises bloomed. It's a spuria iris called 'Highline Coral', and it seems for now to be more of a tan. But any perennial in its first year isn't likely to do what it's capable of. It's certainly different from any other iris I've grown.

The extra moisture seems to be keeping some plants from reaching dormancy, including Dicentra 'Gold Heart', which is usually about gone by now.

The Epimedium, Heuchera and Heucherella are loving the humidity so far, and I love the way they look together.

Epimedium 'Domino' has new leaves with lots of splotching. It goes really well with Heuchera and Heucherella.
In spite of all the rain we've had with more on the way, some plants are doing just fine. Some, like the Echinacea, will just succumb to the extremes. It's all a part of this practice we call gardening. Some plants you fall in love with while others give you nightmares. Some plants fascinate us and then fade away. The most constant thing about my garden is change. And they're not all by my choice.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ewww! What's eating my Lilies!!??

I hate earwigs. But what I hate more than earwigs are borers. Maybe it's because they work in total darkness, boring a tunnel through the stem of a plant, for some time unnoticed while the unsuspecting gardener anticipates the bloom of say, a lily.

Signs of said borer are subtle. Until you notice the frass. The frass is the digested middle of the stem of whatever plant the borer has chosen as its home. And did I mention that borers like to eat? Why, they're wormy looking munching machines!
Two things (that I can tell) are going on here, including signs of a borer (frass) and an earwig. This is Lilium  'Eyeliner', an Asiatic that had been damaged by the roofers who threw a plastic tarp over it (hence the necrotic leaves).

Here is the hole where the borer entered the lily stem.

I get a perverse pleasure in finding the hole on the stem and cutting, cutting, cutting upward through the borer's path until I find it. And then cutting the borer. In half. Or better yet, lopping off its head, a feat meaner than you'd think. 

Here is a recommendation from Missouri Botanical Garden, an organic method that requires vigilance and persistence.


Borers typically work their way upward first toward the flower. I've just cut stems off above the hole where they entered and then seek it out by cutting upward until I find the little bugger. At least, this way, I've stopped one. 

It's not for the squeamish. Wait a minute! I'm squeamish - especially about really gross things like a slimy caterpillar that bores through my lilies.

But we do what we must do. And I get a pair of the sharpest shears I can find and snip, snip, snip. Until I find it. It's no prize, that's for sure. Not in the winning sense. But snipping this larvae to smithereens is satisfying to the vengeance-driven gardener.

While searching for more information for this blog, I found a column I'd written for the Times of Northwest Indiana in July, 2010.

So you might think I'd learned my lesson about borers and lilies. One of the best ways to prevent this pest is to keep the garden relatively weed-free. And one of the climates borers love is wet--which is what we have in my region right now. Everything's squishy, from the soil to the stems of plants that have taken in as much moisture as they can. 

The prize: This borer will bore no more.
I haven't found any scientific papers on the subject, but I imagine the "skin" of plant parts becomes vulnerable and soft, like our own skin would after soaking in water. As I'd found for my previous column, borers have been around for awhile. According to Penn State's stalk borer fact sheet, in 1927, the USDA reported the insect as one of the top ten most destructive insects.

By the way, the link in the column from Purdue can be found here. While insects and their feeding methods don't change much over the decades, the dissemination of information certainly does.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Plants from Around the World Celebrate Garden Blogger's Bloom Day

I'd nearly forgotten Garden Bloggers Bloom Day, when gardeners from all over the world write about what is going on in their gardens.

Here in my corner of the world between Gary and LaPorte, Indiana, it's been really, really rainy. I discovered a big, fat toad hiding out under the eves to get out of the rain this evening. Although the data's not in, I think we probably received close to 2 inches in the past 12 hours.
Clematis 'Blue Angel'

So not only is the ground really soggy, any blossom less substantial than plastic is going through its life cycle in fast forward. I have had to take photos between rain showers.

Two legs of the pergola are festooned with pale blue Clematis. One is 'Blue Angel', a vigorous grower with pale ice-blue flowers. Meanwhile, in the backyard, the yellow Eremurus are beginning to open from the bottom up. This year I bought the variety called 'Cleopatra', which is a yummy coral shade. The bee in this shot must be enjoying its pollen, too.

Eremurus 'Cleopatra'

Pseudata 'Phantom Island'
In the same bed as the Eremurus is a brand-new addition--a pseudata iris, which is created by
crossing Iris pseudacorus with a Japanese iris (I. ensata). According to Ensata Gardens, which is where I purchased it, the pseudatas are ultra-hardy, possibly even to Zone 3. I wasn't expecting it to bloom in its first year, (I planted it last fall.) but it was a pleasant surprise to see it. It's even held up to the drenching.

I've started a new love affair with Pelargonium, especially those with unusually-colored leaves or flowers with a different shape. 'Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star' has chartreuse foliage and adorable bright pink and white flowers.

The plants that prefer it on the dry side are mostly quite the troopers, carrying on with no signs of fungal issues. And with the lack of sunlight, they're putting out a surprising number of flowers. Not a lot, but a surprising number, which in the case of the Pelargonium is two so far.

Pelargonium 'Peppermint Star'
Bonnie Lassie 'Emma'
A couple of little cutie violas came to me from Blooms of Bressingham to trial in my garden. In spite of it all, both are sending out blooms. Both offer flowers that dwarf the foliage, and stand up on stems that are said to also be perfect for trailing in a hanging basket.

I will keep my eye on both 'Emma' and 'Laura' as the season progresses, and watch for them to reappear next spring. The Bonnie Lassie series, which consists of four cultivars, was bred in Scotland, and claim a USDA Zone hardiness of 5-8.

Salvia Cathedral Sky Blue has achieved its bloom status finally, and it's a beauty. This annual Salvia is compact and bloomilicious - a term that to me means covered in blossoms.

It's just the right shade of blue to mix with just about any other color in your garden, and at just 18" tall, it doesn't overpower its neighbors. The Cathedral Series from Green Fuse Botanicals comes in other blue shades as well, with a cultivar called 'Shining Sea' their newest introduction.
Salvia Cathedral 'Sky Blue'
Salvia Cathedral 'Shining Sea'








I decided to leave Lewisia in a clay pot this season, and it's a good thing I did with all of this rain. Lewisia is native to western North America and is plenty hardy, but it requires excellent drainage. The plant I purchased this year is part of the Sunset series, which was developed in Scotland.

I've always loved these little guys and have killed several by planting them in regular garden soil, overwatering them, and scorching their tough little leaves.

I've grown it in pots before, last year combined with Lavender and sedum, but as the season wore on the Lewisia got tired of fighting for space with its more aggressive potmates, and disappeared altogether. So this year, I've given it its own pot with a mixture of light potting soil, Turface, and some fine bark mix commonly used for orchids. So far, so good.

Itsaul Plants sent me a sampling of Kniphofia from their Echo series to see how well they do in my Zone 6a garden. Most haven't stopped blooming since I planted them about a month ago. Echo Mango is probably my favorite so far, as it seems to be sending out the most flowers, but it's early yet, and I'm thinking that as summer comes on in earnest, they'll put on a bigger show. For now, though, they all are healthy and adorable, reaching just under 24 inches. Their listed height is around four feet, but like most perennials, don't achieve that in their first year.

And that is just one of the cool things about gardening. My garden's plants are characters in my own little soap opera. I can't wait to see what happens next.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is the Soap Opera Digest of the gardening world. It happens on the 15th of each month and was conceived by Carol of May Dreams Gardens.

It's a virtual place to tune in to what's going on in colorful little pockets in your own zone or on the other side of the world. As they say in the TV world, Tune in!

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rain, Rain. More Rain Rain

This container is filled with plants that prefer or tolerate partial shade.
My rain gauge sprung a leak so I don't know how much we've actually gotten in my own personal gardfen over the past month. The bottom of the wren house has warped and is threatening to separate from the rest of it. I'm able to grow shade-loving plants in full sun, and I'm pretty sure some of the bulbs I planted are drowning.
Mama wren isn't concerned as the bottom of the house begins to warp.


According to the Weather Underground, we 6.97 inches of rain between May 1 and today, June 13, with more than 2.5 inches in the past 13 days. The total precipitation for the same period last year was 5.6". In 2013, we had 6.3", and in 2012, just 3.2". (sometimes I just love statistics, just for the sheer hell of it.)

A few things I should keep in mind when the moisture as if it will never go away:

  • Potted plants have had many of their nutrients washed out and will need more.
  • The shade-loving plants in pots will have to be moved to a shady location.
  • I'll be sure to have some good topsoil on hand for places that might actually have washed out.

This container is a mixture of both sun and shade-loving plants. They're all doing fine in a spot that gets three hours of sun each day. I'm especially concerned about my Ti plant getting burned when the weather turns hot and dry.

I've fed all of my containers with Osmocote, a slow-release fertilizer that is heat activated. As soon as the soil dries out in my containers, I'll be giving them a dose of water-soluble fertilizer like Monty's Plant Food.

As I walk outside today and feel like someone's hurled a bucket of hot water on me, I have to remember that last night we enjoyed sitting on the patio in fleece jackets. As they say, "It's not the heat. It's the humidity!"

I should know better than to think that my plant purchase period has ended just because the ideal planting time is waning just a little bit more each day. How could I have missed these beauties the last time I was at Johnson's Farm Stand in Hobart, IN?

I have to watch myself so I don't always choose plants with multicolored leaves or flowers. Putting them together in one pot can have a somewhat nauseating effect. But as soon as I saw the silver/purple/pink leaves of Begonia Jurassic 'Silver Swirl', I knew I'd find a place for it. But wait! What is that little Begonia with double flowers in the palest of pink edged with a darker peach picotee on jagged petal edges? I found only two pots of Begonia 'Janny Fringed' and snatched up both of them. To balance the bi-color combo, I added an Artemisia called 'Parfum D'Ethiopia', a variety that is fragrant and should have foliage all the way down on the stem. 


I tend to pick plants for a mixed container by the color and texture of each plant. I've found that, like me, plants also dance on the edge of constraints. I err on the side of too little sun, which becomes obvious when the flowers aren't as amenable. And that's what's so cool about container gardening. You can always move, twirl or shade them as long as you can move them!




Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The last of the full-petaled peonies


It's all over but the deadheading. After an 11 month-long anticipatory period, the peonies are pretty much finished.

Aside from building individual tents, there was nothing to be done to save them; most were in their full blown prime. I picked as many as I could, appreciating them up close in full-to-the-brim vases.

You can't make big bodacious bouquets of peonies unless you have several mature and healthy plants. Lucky for me, I have a few dozen, only two of which are less than two seasons old. I might pick a flower from a young plant, but I'll do it as soon as it begins to open, and will cut a stem of only a few inches. The reason is that new plants need as much green as they can get to build up their root system through photosynthesis. Many new plants might send up as few as two stems their first year, and you certainly don't want to remove either of them.


One of my favorites for cutting is of an unknown variety that was here when we moved in. It's a huge soft pink double. Another of my favorites is the old-fashioned variety called 'Chestine Gowdy'. In the photo above, 'Chestine Gowdy' is the one in the center - pale pink with deeper pink flecks.
The deep pink is 'Dayton', the pale flowers 'Chestine Gowdy' and 'The Fawn', and the red is a somewhat late 'Red Charm'.


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Mid-season Peonies

It's a beautiful day in my garden neighborhood, and I'll be heading out soon, but wanted to report on which peonies are in bloom.
'Dayton' is one of my favorites--lightly fragrant and bright with serrated edges. 
'Yellow Doodle Dandy' is an intersectional that blooms on top of the plant and stands up straight.
'Judith Eileen' goes through some gorgeous stages of bloom, lasting two or even three days depending on weather.
'Lorelei' has great color but is not having a great year, with flowers very small and sparse. I'll give her soil amendments.
I'm pretty sure this is 'Raspberry Sundae'
And finally, I didn't see it until I downloaded the photos, but I call this "Love on a Peony."