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Hydrangeas Range From Vigorous to Lethargic

Hydrangea 'Let's Dance Big Easy'
My Hydrangeas this season are a mixed bag of successes and failures.'Endless Summer' has finally formed some dime-sized flower buds, while 'Let's Dance Big Easy' makes no apologies for sporting the biggest bloom in the border. The plant is no larger than it was last year. It still has two blooms. But each is sized somewhere between a mushball and a bowling ball.

Both specimens of Hydrangea 'Rhapsody Blue', planted last spring, don't care that they've only got three or four stems--they're going all out to keep my love of their mophead flowers going strong.

I didn't lose one of the dozen or so Hydrangea macrophyllas in the ground when the flakes started flying last December. But it certainly wasn't a banner year. None of the non-remontant (I know, that's a lot of negatives) Hydrangeas bloomed, and even some of those that have consistently bloomed on new wood have been shy with their flowers.
'Let's Dance Starlight' bloom in 2013.

Proven Winners Color Choice Reblooming (ability to bloom on this year's new growth) Hydrangea macrophyllas that I was given to try (along with the year they were planted) include:
  • 'Let's Dance Rhapsody Blue' (2013)
  • 'Let's Dance Big Easy' (2012)
  • Let's Dance Starlight' (2008)
Hydrangea in too much heat and sun.
Surprisingly, the one that's been in the ground the longest among these three varieties provided the least impressive show. 'Let's Dance Starlight' was a stunning bloomer in 2013. This year, although it's healthy, had two flowers, with no sign of anything coming along on the tips of its stems.

Hydrangea 'Everlasting Revolution' in sunny spot (2013).
'Endless Summer' has been in the same spot since 2003, when I received the plant to try. It's had its ups and downs (mostly ups once it was established), but this year I hadn't seen a sign of flower buds until just today. In a glass-half-full way of looking at things, that's fine. The spot where it's planted will have some much-needed color in mid- to late-September.

One thing I've found with Hydrangeas is that you'll never have a happy plant if you keep moving it around. It takes at least two seasons to settle in and act like it should. For the most part, anyway.  I planted Hydrangea Everlasting Revolution in August, 2011 after being given one to try by Plants Nouveau. The next spring, I moved it. I moved it again in 2013, and it bloomed although it was getting so much sun it looked terrible on hot sunny days.

Hydrangea 'Everlasting Revolution' this year.
So in the fall of 2013, I moved 'Everlasting Revolution' for the third time--to a place where it is somewhat overwhelmed by other plants, and  definitely doesn't get an overabundance of sun.

I have to say that this plant doesn't know when to say when. It seems to thrive no matter how it's treated. As you can see from the photo, each flower head starts out with small, tightly formed florets that expand and fade as they age.

This spring, I was thrilled to receive some of the other Everlasting Hydrangeas, including 'Everlasting Ocean', 'Everlasting Amethyst', 'Everlasting Coral', and 'Everlasting Revolution'.

I didn't really expect any of them to bloom, as they were quite small when they arrived. But one variety that has been wowing me is 'Everlasting Ocean'. I planted two of them in different spots in the garden--one in high shade with good light and a short period of direct sun, the other in a spot that has been overgrown by an exuberant Clematis.

Surprisingly, the one that was covered up by clematis has the most flowers--four to be exact. But the one in high shade is easier to get to with my camera, so here are three sequential photos starting on July 11. This sequence gives you an idea of how its color changes over nearly five weeks.
'Everlasting Ocean' July 11
'Everlasting Ocean' July 31
Hydrangea 'Everlasting Ocean' August 11.

Dashing Dahlias

There's no doubt about it - I'll be growing more Dahlias next year.

An overview of Hamilton Dahlia Farm in Hamilton, Michigan
My three dahlias are not in a hurry to bloom, so I sought out other spots to see dahlias. First I visited Hamilton Dahlia Farm in southwestern Michigan. Here are a few of my favorites:
'Ferncliff Copper'
Much more than copper, this dahlia sports a concentration of magenta at its center that is lightly brushed on each petal. 'Ferncliff Copper' was developed by D. Jack of Ferncliff Gardens in British Columbia, and introduced in 1990. It's labeled a small, bronze-colored full double by the American Dahlia Society Classification and Handbook of Dahlias.

'Formby Crest'
George Harding of Tasmania is responsible for the breeding of many dahlia cultivars with the name "Formby" in their title, including 'Formby Crest', a miniature formal decorative ball dahlia.
'Mary Lou'
 'Mary Lou' is a large, yellow semi-cactus form dahlia that reaches about 4 feet tall.  
'Peaches N Cream'
'Peaches N Cream' is a miniature formal decorative bi-color that has won some prestigious awards. I'm not surprised.

'Vasio Meggos' is a large formal decorative lavender dahlia with huge flowers.
'Camano Buz' is a miniature formal decorative orange dahlia introduced in 2002 by Dick Ambrose of Camano Dahlias in Washington.            

I plan to visit Bonneyville Mill County Park in Bristol, IN where there is reportedly a display bed of new dahlias that have been grown from seed to be tested for the American Dahlia Society. I haven't been able to find much information on the garden, so I will hopefully be able to scout it for anyone else in northern Indiana who might want to see dahlias. I'll report back soon.

Colorful Combos: You Can Grow That!

A gorgeous plant is even more stunning with a great partnership. Try some of these, or create your own.

Hypericum with a backdrop of Hydrangea

Hybrid Lilium with Monarda

Zinnias with Celosia
A container holding Pachystachys lutea, or lollipop plant with Coleus 'Cleo' and Cyperus papyrus 'Little Tut'

Celebrate the Joys and Benefits of Gardening


Try Anything New Lately?

If someone asked me why I garden, my answer today would be, "to try lots of things I've never grown before!" I don't buy perennials in threes or fives. I buy one; two if they're small. Every year I grow dozens of new plants-- tropicals, shrubs, annuals, bulbs and perennials. 

I started Anoda as an afterthought. I'd ordered seed of one named 'Snow Cup' from Select Seeds. I started just a few from the packet. By late March I'd realized that perhaps I over-ordered, so I was running out of room for seedlings. The tiny Anoda seedlings ended up in the special cell packs I ordered for starting sweet peas, and sat neglected under a peony in the raised bed until my husband asked if I was punishing them for some reason.

It was already mid-June when I got them into the ground. I had to admire their tough constitution, surviving as they did with a dash of water whenever they looked wilted, or I remembered. Three plants of the four made it. Two are struggling beneath larger plants and poke their heads out once in awhile, one is cavorting with a neighboring Salvia, and one I yanked out because it looked just like a weed.

Anoda cristata has been called a weed and worse. According to the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United State, this American native is terrorizing several states, most of which are in the southwestern U.S. No wonder it sat patiently in its pitiful cell packs until I was ready to plant it.

I've grown flowering tobacco before for its wonderful jasmine-like scent. I finally got around to planting the variety called Cranberry Isle, which I ordered from Select Seeds.

Nicotiana 'Cranberry Isle'
I am really thrilled with this mix. I had grown Nicotiana alata, a pure white form similar in stature and habit to Cranberry Isle.

Even the white-flowered plants in the 'Cranberry Isle' Nicotiana mix seem to have more substance.
 But the colors in this heirloom variety make the 4-footer look good even in the middle of the day when it tends to droop like a swooning southern belle.
You'd almost think a flower this color would smell like grape Kool-aid.
It's hard to imagine these statuesque beauties emerging from such tiny seed. But that's part of the fun of growing something new.

Grow Grafted Veggies

Two seasons ago, I discovered grafted tomatoes. I grew 'Japanese Trifele', a dark-hued beauty with a subtle smoky flavor that was actually developed in Russia, and an early-ripening determinate variety called 'Legend'. I won't be going back to the non-grafted varieties.

Tomato 'Pineapple'
The thing about grafted tomatoes is that, whatever you decide to grow -- heirloom or modern varieties -- you'll get more yield. But wait. There's more! The variety that performs the root duty (called the rootstock) on the plant is super disease-resistant, providing additional support from disease for the disease-prone heirloom varieties. Learn more about grafting on SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables' site.

In 2013 I grew a grafted 'Pineapple' and a double-grafted plant with 'Sungold' and 'Sweet Million'. Even my father in-law, The Tomato Don of Merrillville, was impressed with the size of the fruit I harvested. The flavor of these tomatoes is enhanced with an extra sweetness, almost melon-like with enough acidity to let you know you're eating a tomato.

'Pineapple' tomato so far this season.
Earlier this month I got to meet two of the people behind the tomato grafting movement at the Cultivate '14 trade show and convention in Columbus, OH. Alice Doyle, of Log House Plants, and John Bagnasco of Garden Life now Garden America are two of the three people who collaborated, along with Tim Wada of Plug Connection, to form SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables, LLC, North America’s largest producer of grafted vegetables for home gardens

'Wonder Bell' pepper
John and Alice told me about the challenges of grafting. If the graft plant is larger in diameter than the producing plant, it's nearly impossible to make the graft, so, as they explained, timing is everything. John was happy to hear of my success with 'Pineapple', as that variety can be a slacker in the production department. 

I'm growing 'Pineapple' again this year, grafted again, naturally. It's currently over six feet tall and has about a dozen fruits on it, many of which are nearing the size of a softball. Also this season, I'm growing a grafted sweet pepper called 'Wonder Bell' that J. W. Jung Seed Company sent me to try. The last time I tried to grow sweet peppers, I think I got two or three puny fruits. Veggies haven't been a priority for me, but I've really started to enjoy having responsibility for my own edibles. As for the sweet pepper, they're so large already it's tempting to pick a couple. But I'm going to wait til they get bright red and then roast them.

Long-lasting Garden Performers

An unequivocal thumbs up to Kniphofia 'Elvira'.
Some plants take a few years before they become garden stars. It's most often true with perennials, and it's definitely true for Kniphofia 'Elvira'. I was given one plant to try in my garden by Blooms of Bressingham in the spring of 2012. It was a small plant and I wasn't expecting much. But it bloomed that first summer. Its blooms doubled in 2013, and this year, that one small plant grew large enough to produce at least 10 flower spikes!

You might think that number isn't particularly large, so let me explain. 'Elvira' isn't in a sunny, really well-drained spot that it culturally prefers. And she certainly isn't planted with nothing else around. In my garden? Seriously?

Kniphofia 'Elvira' is surrounded by a plant sample of Geranium 'Azure Rush', also from Blooms of Bressingham. 'Azure Rush' is a very vigorous plant. It's related to 'Rozanne' after all, a plant that can scramble over and through anything in its path.
One bloom of Geranium 'Azure Rush' with Veronica and Echinacea.
Another thing I like about 'Elvira' is its relatively unobtrusive foliage. Unlike the larger varieties of Kniphofia, the leaves are under a foot long with the flowers hovering well above them.

While not officially designated a rebloomer, 'Elvira' provides color for two to three weeks, this year beginning in late June.

Eucomis autumnalis
In the annual department, I've planted a few Eucomis or pineapple lilies, two of which have been blooming for awhile. These unusual plants can be hardy to Zone 7, so in some places, they're perennials. I purchased three bulbs of Eucomis autumnnalis from Brent & Becky's Bulbs and combined them with Pennisetum x advena 'Cherry Sparkler' and Gomphrena 'Razzle Dazzle'.

If you're looking for longevity, Eucomis is a great choice. The flower spikes appeared and gradually elongated from the center of the circle of long, broad leaves in mid-June. I loved watching as they began to sport waxy little niblets in a shade of greenish white. 

Part of a pink and pale vignette, this pot contains Eucomis autumnalis.

Little unknown Eucomis from the supermarket.
Now, a month later, the flower stems have stretched to about 20 inches, perfect for the pot size, and even for cutting if I wanted. I will bring the pot in for the winter, keeping it in the crawl space where it hopefully won't freeze. I had success with another Eucomis--one I'd purchased on sale at a supermarket after it had finished blooming. It's a tiny little thing bearing chubby red flower buds that open white along the stems that are only about six inches high.

One thing I'm glad I did when I planted the bulbs was to use potting soil mixed with orchid bark and Growstone Soil Aerator. With all the rain we've had, my Eucomis would have rotted if I hadn't added the extra drainage. I mixed it with Fox Farm Ocean Forest Potting Soil, creating the best-textured mix I've ever used. Even with all the rain, the water soluble fertilizers and extensive root growth, the top of the soil looks good, not dry and crumbly as is often the case with other soils.

Poppies!! You Just Can't Have Too Many

Eschscholzia californica 'Wrinkled Rose'.
I've got bread poppies, California poppies and Shirley poppies in my garden. While some are self-sown, most are newly grown from seed very early in spring.

California poppies, or Eschscholzia californica, are native to and are the state flower of California. The variety I grew this year is called 'Wrinkled Rose', a hybrid that is long-blooming and gorgeously pleated and colored.

This Papaver somniferum is self-sown from previous years.
The botanical name for bread poppy, which is also known as the opium poppy is Papaver somniferum. It's easy to remember which species it belongs to by imagining the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her entourage fell asleep in a field of poppies.

The species name of this poppy, somniferum is from the Latin somnus meaning "sleep" and fero meaning "to bring," and refers to the coma-inducing properties of the plant's extracts.

You can also harvest the seeds from Papaver somniferum to use in baking. This is the flower from which poppy seeds are harvested.

Papaver somniferum with double flowers.
According to the Food Lover's Companion, it takes about 900,000 poppy seeds to equal a pound. Another little-known fact about poppy seeds is their high oil content, which makes them prone to going rancid. For this reason, they should be stored, airtight, in the fridge for up to six months.

Seeds of the opium poppy do not contain appreciable levels of the alkaloids found in opium resin. And according to Christopher Grey-Wilson in his book, Poppies: A Guide to the Poppy Family in the Wild and in Cultivation, the seeds are also used for cooking oil, paint, soap, and to make food for livestock.

This year, although I don't recall planting them, I have some double-flowered bread poppies. These little beauties hold up quite well unless it rains.

 Last year I planted a variety called 'Lauren's Grape', and it seems to have reseeded. The flower is aptly named, as it's the shade of ripe grapes, only a tad brighter.

I hope to have the patience to harvest seeds from some of the pods. I usually wait until they're dried and then pop them open and sprinkle them around to assure their presence in my garden next season.

One of the most varied poppies in my garden is Papaver rhoeas, also known as corn poppy or Shirley poppy.

Two of my favorite Shirley poppy mixes are Angel's Choir (from Thompson & Morgan), and 'Falling in Love'.

Papaver rhoeas in a variety of colors
While I don't know which flowers are from which mix, I get a great group of flowers in a huge variety of colors and color combinations.

I just love them all, for their crinkled petals as they begin to open, the picotee edges that provides a special highlight to an already beautiful flower, and their delicate demeanor. You can cut them as they first open and they'll brighten the indoors in a vase for at least two days. And that actually goes for all of them.