Wednesday, May 13, 2015

You're stranded on a deserted island...

Are there certain plants you've grown that you just wouldn't do without? In the realm of easy care and great looks throughout the summer, I've got several, but these jump to the front of my list.

Epimedium 'Bandit'
For those shaded spots beneath the trees, I would certainly want Epimedium, in this case 'Bandit' for its distinctive leaves and prolific flowers.

Shade should call attention to itself, and this can best be done with foliage. I love chartreuse and I love variegation, both of which seem to whisper, "Hey, you! Come on over here. I want to show you something up close."

Against a deep green yew, Chartreuse and variegated green and cream beg a closer look. 

The closer look: Brunnera 'Hadspen Cream' in foreground with Dicentra 'Gold Heart'.

Up close is where I'm drawn when I see colors like those on several cultivars of Geum in my garden. Examples of the Cocktail series by Intrinsic Perennials, includes 'Alabama Slammer', 'Tequila Sunrise', 'Mai Tai', and 'Cosmopolitan'. From a distance or at a glance, they all might look similar. But these plants are great at their job - brightening up the lower levels and rewarding close inspection with bright, watercolor blends on each tiny petal.
Geum 'Tequila Sunrise'
Their colors are so subtle and unique, and they blend so well to form a flower that is positively intoxicating. I'm guessing that's what the plants' developer and owner of Intrinsic Perennials, Brent Horvath was thinking, hence the series names.
Geum 'Cosmopolitan'
Geum 'Alabama Slammer'
Geum 'Mai Tai'
Full disclosure: Brent sent me samples to try, plus one called 'Banana Daquiri' to try in spring, 2012. They've come through three winters without a hitch. I killed 'Banana Daquiri' when I moved it too late in the fall, not allowing for its roots to become established before winter set in. Brent also is the author of The Plant Lover's Guide to Sedums. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Variety Makes A Spicy Container Garden

My well-laden cart at Sunrise Greenhouse
Although I haven't found a support group for people like me--those who lack the discipline to buy at least three of every plant I like--it is a syndrome with some great work-arounds. I come home from every plant buying foray with one of each plant I want, and if I want more of a particular variety I have to find it at the next garden center I visit.

And of course there will be other garden centers. We were the first customers at Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL. I'm really not certain of this, but the benches weren't fully loaded and I think we were the only people in there who weren't employees. The most unusual selection I made there was the pair of Gerbera jamesonii Mega Revolution Champagne. Despite their huge popularity, I've never grown them. Or if I did, they didn't do well. So we shall see...
I also picked up several begonias, a Ti plant, and 20-some other plants.

Three weeks later my planting buddy (who happens to be my next-door neighbor) and I drove up to Vite Greenhouses in Buchanan MI.

 I used the Sunvillea 'Rose Dwarf' as a component in a large container.

Thanks to my plant buddy, Lesley, I got the last of the Sunvillea™ 'Rose Dwarf'. Bougainvilleas. This is an extremely compact Bougainvillea that filled a hanging pot and was selling for $25. We were in line for the checkout and playing our game of guess the cart total. I'd already weighed in at $170; she at $150 when I saw the display of tropical bloomers. After determining I'd just spent nearly $200 on my SECOND big plant shopping trip, the $25 price tag seemed a bit steep.

I'd mentioned to Lesley earlier that it was Dave's and my 28th wedding anniversary. She bought it for us as an anniversary gift!

Vites also had a nice selection of Coleus, a plant that I use a lot in mixed containers. I select them based on flower colors that I combine them with to create a more cohesive container.

Can you say Coleus? Six plants of four varieties.
"I wish I'd brought a list of what I already have," I told Lesley several times as we trolled the aisles at Vites. It was like trying to put an outfit together without having at least one of the pieces with you.

I kept to the chartreuse shades, hoping they would go with the shade/part sun-loving plants I'd already bought from Sunrise.

I might have chosen differently if I'd had snapshots of the plants I was trying to coordinate, but I'll try to remember to do that next time.

Side planter with forks as helpers for the Lobelia and Alyssum.
I found some annuals available in flat sizes, so I picked up a mix of Snapdragons, Lobelia, Celosia, Coleus and alyssum. I planned to fill my PamelaCrawford  side planter this year after letting it sit idle last season. The side planting holes need the smaller-sized rootballs that plants grown in flats offer.

I used Lobelia, Coleus and alyssum, jamming in a few plastic forks to hold them in place and keep them from literally being washed out in a heavy rain.

My love of container gardening fits in with my penchant for purchasing just one of everything. Repetition is a good thing in design, but I have much more fun trying something new every year.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Analita's Surprise - A Reliable Garden Tulip

The tulip called 'Analita' takes center stage in this bouquet.
If you pay attention, chances are a pattern will emerge in your garden. My garden is home to more dual-colored flowers than single shades. The adorable tulip 'Analita' isn't a tall an elegant flower, but it has the whole perkiness thing nailed down.

Early morning, or when it's raining like it is now, 'Analita's flower petals are held close, like she's got a secret that might be revealed with enough coaxing. In closed petal format, she's as much red as white, but in a subtle way, the red applied like an afterthought or a careless smudge of lipstick.

'Analita' is even more exciting when the sun comes out and her petals reveal their other side.
'Analita' fades to a pale pink with age.
'Analita's perky nature is uncovered with the sun's arrival, her secret exposed as creamy white petals splashed by vivid vermillion and centered by a generous dollop of egg-yolk yellow.

Analita is in the Fosteriana class of tulips, and was registered by a hybridizer from the Netherlands in 1952.

I am happy I chose to plant 50 bulbs of this variety, which I'd purchased from John Scheepers Bulbs in fall of 2012. They've been returning ever since they first bloomed in spring of 2013. If the flowers of 'Analita' aren't munched down by rabbits or deer, you'll get to see them transition with age, as if the red color bled into the white portion of the petal.

For a tulip with an individualistic simplicity that will come back at the same strength each year, give 'Analita' a try. She's been on the market for more than 60 years for a reason, after all.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Containers seldom need to be weeded

I had to talk myself down more than once yesterday as I looked around my garden and saw how much needed to be done. Weeds mocked me as they cuddled up next to my real plants. These were the true desperado types--not content with just cropping up in the middle or at the edges of a bed--these weeds menaced my Marshallia, threatened my peonies, and made hostages of the Heuchera.

The "out there" of my weedy garden in mid-March.
Skeletons of annuals, lilies and other unfaltering types whose strength was an advantage in summer still stood in a variety of upright poses, now a blight on the fresh green growth that cowered beneath them.
A month later, and there are still skeletons, now less obvious by virtue of the emergence of foliage and bulbs.
So what's my incentive for cleaning up my garden? (We all work for something, whether it's personal satisfaction, money or health care.) More plants, of course! As lazy as I am, I'd never put a shiny new plant in the middle of a patch of ground ivy.

Lewisia 'Sunset Strain' consists of a variety of colors.

Which brings me to a new self-realization: I grow plants in an ever-increasing number of pots in order to avoid dealing with the weeds in the ground.

Wow! Sometimes over-analyzing brings on some shocking revelations! Now I know why I've been able to ignore the weeds in my garden with only a modicum of guilt. I've got so many pots to care for on my patio, so there are fewer reasons to go "out there" into the depths of the garden.

There are other reasons to grow plants in pots. I buy at least one Lewisia cotyledon each spring, and this year am growing the 'Sunset Strain'.  I plant it in a pot now, no longer willing to see it melt before my eyes when the heat and humidity come to stay. Thanks to my neighbor Lesley, I went on my first plant buying foray early in the season and was able to find a plant that hadn't yet started to bloom.

The orangy buds of Lewisia 'Sunset Strain' open pinky-peach.
According to American Beauties Native Plants, the seed strain of this North American native was developed at Inshriach Alpine Nursery in the Highlands of Scotland. 

A different species of this plant, Lewisia rediviva, was found by Meriwether Lewis on one of his expeditions through the highlands of Montana. Named for Lewis, the Bitterroot plant was given state flower status in 1895 by Montana residents. Lewisia is native to Oregon and California and is nicknamed bitterroot for the mountain range of the same name. 

If you live in northwest Indiana or the Chicago area, check out Sunrise Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL, which is where I am able to find a wide array of plants, including bitterroot, at great prices.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Falling in Love with Bacho Shears

Bacho Long Handled Shears at rest
It isn't often that I fall in love with a gardening implement. But as I used the Bacho Long Handled Lawn Shears, I was grinning like a fool. I'd discovered the shears in an A. M. Leonard catalog, they looked to be the tool I'd been looking for. I contacted the manufacturer and asked if they could send me a pair. They shipped me the shears at no cost so I could try them out and tell you about them.

As a gardener, I know the need for positioning oneself in a variety of poses in order to get the job done. From awkward twisted reaching to hope-for-the-best blind pruning, gardening claims its own special muscle groups.

Many of us gardeners have reached a point in our lives when we certainly won't balk at using one or two assistive devices. I have a pair of Fiskars ergonomic hand pruners that really take the stress off my arthritic hands. Although they don't seem to stay sharp as long as my old Felco 2's, they're great for light pruning of Clematis, and doing lots of deadheading.

But the tool I'm in love with this spring is the Bacho Long Handled Lawn Shears Model P74 with horizontal action. When I first picked them up they felt kind of heavy, and it took some muscle to use them. But it wasn't my hand muscles! It was my arm muscles, and in a movement similar to a machine at the health club called a pec deck.

The Bacho shears up close as they easily slice through Epimedium stems.
Once I started comparing the effort required at the health club with the effort required by the Bacho Shears, the shears became much easier to use.

I headed over to the Epimedium, where last year's leaf stems niggled at my sensibilities. They would detract from the newly-formed flowers that would be up in a couple of weeks, and I really didn't want to crawl around the ground to clip the 4-inch tall offenders. It all worked perfectly together--the timing of the flower emergence, the sharpness of the Bacho blades, and the ease of clipping the slender stems.

The Bacho shears are great for ornamental grasses.
The Bacho was great for snipping off last season's Hellebore leaves, Hosta flower stems, and a host of other perennials. The shears worked on ornamental grasses, as I've shown in this photo of my lovely assistant as he demonstrates.

I had just about given up on ever finding a tool like this one and was looking around for a scythe, but imagined myself slicing off one of my toes with such a medieval object.

I'm really glad I still get catalogs in the mail. Otherwise I would never have stumbled across this wonderful implement. It's come in very handy this spring especially, as I didn't do any clean-up at all in the fall.

And who wouldn't love the fact that the Bacho Long Handled Lawn Shears are also a great, light weight work-out tool!

So would I recommend the Bacho Long Handled Lawn Shears Model P74 with horizontal action?
Not only can I recommend it, I give it an enthusiastic pec's up!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Springtime is about Promise

Early stems of Lilium 'Eyeliner' emerge from the leaf litter.
Color is pushing up from the ground, which is covered in leaves and other debris left from last November. Mostly oak leaves, the litter is compacted from the snow and must be teased off gently and at the right time so as not to damage the future stems of peonies and lilies. Sure, this could have been done in November, but who really wants to spend another day in the garden when white and brown are the next shades on nature's color pallet?

Heuchera 'Plum Pudding' shows it's alive by its color.

The Heuchera planted last spring in my garden have taken a beating, but are still drawing breath, so to speak. Although lacking leaf, their crowns show promise, and will soon sport leaves.

A wide divergence in emerging peonies shows the diversity of this group. The type I find most interesting is shown by the Intersectionals. A cross between a tree and an herbaceous peony, these sprout from stems above the ground and roots below the ground.

I have two Intersectional peonies--'Al's Choice' planted in 2007, and 'Yellow Doodle Dandy', planted in 2009.

'Al's Choice' has spread out to an above-ground crown about 18" in diameter. One of its roots has even emerged from the ground, and to cover it up would mean covering some of the stem buds. I'd like to divide it this fall and find new homes for the three or four plants it should create.

The many buds of Intersectional peony 'Al's Choice' turn deep pink and begin to swell.

'Al's Choice' brightens up the garden.
The better-known herbaceous peonies are showing their " dear rosy snouts," an apt term coined by gardening legend Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932), saying sh couldn't wait to see them as they poked through the earth.

'Roselette's Child', an herbaceous hybrid peony was planted in my garden in 2012, so this will be its third year, which is when most herbaceous peonies finally show what they can do.

Although 'Roselette's Child' bloomed last season, I'm really looking forward to seeing its flowers again.

'Roselette's Child' is described as having peachy-orange-yellow petals, and should be sheltered from harsh sun in order to maintain its color. I've planted mine in a location where it gets sun until late in the afternoon.

The delicate beauty of 'Roselette's Child' is a welcome sight in May.
I also have 'Roselette', a peony introduced by A. P. Saunders in 1950. 'Roselette's Child' was introduced in 1967, 14 years after Saunders' death. In his later years, Saunders worked with a wide array of peony species sent to him from all over the world. In order to inject some yellow into herbaceous peonies, he used a species called mlokosewitschii, a pale yellow herbaceous peony native to the Caucasus Mountains. More correctly this is actually a subspcies of the species daurica, and is listed as Paeonia daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii. The mloko peony (a shortening of the name by Saunders) is also referred to as "Molly the Witch."

I've tried growing the actual species of Molly the Witch, but she didn't do well. Luckily, Saunders' hybrids live on and are fairly easy to find. Not all peonies have a petal-packed shape. Some, like 'Roselette's Child' possess a simple beauty that is welcome in a garden otherwise crowded with such attention-commanding plants.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cure for Over-gardening: The Right-size Flower Garden

It's like getting old - we deny it's happening despite all the signs. It's an inevitable period that we ignore as handily as we ignore muscle aches after our first day in the garden after a long winter.

We've lived a life filling up at a giant buffet of plants and opportunities. But now one plateful is all we have room for.  For want of a better word, let's call it "over-gardening."

To some degree, it happens to all of us. It happened to Kerry Ann Mendez, whose new book, The Right-size Flower Garden, offers some great tips for downsizing.

I love that Mendez coins the mantra: "Plants are not children or pets." In other words, you can't be overly sentimental about plants if you intend to lighten your overloaded weeding/pruning/planting schedule.

The Right-size Flower Garden isn't an encyclopedia of plants for a low-maintenance garden. It's a hand-holding workbook that encourages over-gardeners to prune, pluck and otherwise eliminate the most likely culprits that enslave us.

Mendez recommends planting flowering shrubs and conifers in place of sweeping drifts of mixed perennials. She's quick to say she still uses perennials, but a lot fewer of them, choosing instead plants like oakleaf Hydrangea, reblooming lilac and tree peony.

To many, the scariest chapter in the book is "The Elimination Round: You be the Judge." Not only does Mendez address which gardens will remain intact, but she pulls no punches when it comes to winnowing out the individual slackers. It's all part of the goal of "reducing maintenance and plant expenses by at least 50 percent without compromising beauty or property value."

If you're an over-gardener like I am, you will have numerous gardens or sections that can do with some scrutiny. I like that Mendez starts with the view from inside. After all what good is a beautiful garden if you have to traipse over hill and dale to appreciate it?

Juniper 'Mother Lode' with Chamaecyparis 'Split Rock' in my garden.
Mendez addresses sloping ground, which is easiest to maintain by those with good balance and flexibility. She offers suggestions for covering rough terrain, including low-growing Sedum, creeping Phlox and creeping Juniper. She gives a thumbs-up to Juniperus 'Mother Lode', and I heartily concur, having installed it in my own garden seven years ago.

The author recommends switching out plants that overwhelm their neighbors, but she also suggests replacing older cultivars with improvements, using Hemerocallis 'Stella D'Oro' as an excellent example of swapping out for one of the newer varieties like 'Going Bananas'.

Sections on shrubs that should be pruned severely, perennials that don't need deadheading, groundcovers and three-season shrubs make this a great go-to reference, not just for over-gardeners, but for new gardeners who don't want to make the same mistakes as their over-loaded neighbors.