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.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Clivia nobilis: You Can Grow That!

The description said it was more prone to rot than the more commonly available Clivia. And that it would bloom in two to three years. Neither scared me. I wanted color in the winter and I was willing to take a chance on failure to get it. My challenge was to keep my newly-acquired Clivia nobilis alive for two years with a long-term incentive, a prospect not common in most houseplants.

On October 30, after summering outdoors, the Clivia takes up a spot near a south-facing window. It was later moved to a bright location in the living room with no direct sun. 
I took the warning about excellent drainage to heart, planting the root and fan in a mixture of Turface, extra vermiculite and potting soil, with a sprinkling of orchid mix.
By Jan. 29 the bud became obvious.

February 8.
Eight months after planting it, the extreme reward arrived in a flower stalk. By late January, I knew I'd succeeded in at least nudging it into bloom - a year early at that!

Perhaps it was its summering outdoors that pushed it to maturity. Depending on the heat and impending rains, I moved the pot back and forth from under the shelter of the overhang on the patio to the shade of taller plants so it could catch a bit of rain if the soil was dry. I move all of my plants outdoors in summer; otherwise I'm afraid they'd die of neglect.

Feb. 19
Our summers' humidity and my garden's shady nooks made it perfect for this African native. My wonderfully-premature Clivia has been in bloom for a couple of weeks and I'm enjoying its color transition from yellow buds to orange.
Feb. 28
According to Grassy Knoll Plants, which is where I purchased this Clivia, the 3 year old plants are 2-3 years from blooming. 

March 4.
Check out Grassy Knoll Plants and you'll fall in love with all of the Passifloras and Proteas. They also have a good selection of unusual succulents. Watch for the daily special and sale prices and order early for the best selection. I was happy with the plants I received.

Whether I got lucky and gave the plant all it needed to zoom into bloom in nine months, or if I was sent a plant more mature than three years, I am happy to say Clivia nobilis can be left in a bright spot and pretty much ignored during early winter. Take a look at it once in awhile and bring it into a sunnier eastern exposure when you see a flower bud.

Color in March is a beautiful thing, especially when there is still a foot of snow on the ground.

Check out the website You Can Grow That! Celebrate the joys of gardening and give something new a try. Otherwise, you won't know if...

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Book Review: Pacific Northwest Garden Tour

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour is brimming with reasons to visit the gardens in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. It's enough to make anyone who has ever given a flower a second glance to throw caution to the wind, say tah tah to reason and hop a plane to Portland.

Donald Olson's new book, published by Timber Press, is good enough to make even the casual gardener add an arboretum or two to their itinerary.

In the Pacific Northwest, you couldn't throw a stone without hitting a rhodo or a rose or a moss-covered surface. Anyone seeing the region for the first time (or any time for that matter) can improve their trip with a little perspective to go along with their oohs and aahs. That perspective should be provided by Olson's book.

Magnolia wilsonii at Hoyt Arboretum, 2007.
He names Portland, OR, Seattle, WA and Vancouver and Vancouver Island in British Columbia the three great garden cities in the Pacific northwest. From just a handful of visits, I would have to agree. The three cities are tied together in the introduction, where Olson compresses the history and hits the highlights of how the area became the garden paradise it is known to be today.

For example, the Hoyt Arboretum was completed during the Depression era with labor from F.D. R.'s Works Progress Administration program. It was at the Hoyt Arboretum that I fell in love with Magnolias.

The Dog-friendly Garden at Oregon Garden in Silverton (2007)
I like that the book has a short rundown at the beginning of each entry--hours, admission, address and phone, etc. The book's format, in which each region is divided into areas makes the book even more accessible. Olson has created a round-up of public gardens, independent nurseries, sanctuaries, former estates and urban parks. You'll find a bit of history on each place, plus lots of behind the scenes tidbits.

One of the first gardens I toured in 2007 was Oregon Garden in Silverton. According to Olson, it opened in 2000 as an outdoor showplace for the Willamette Valley horticulture industry.

A patch of, at the time, unnamed Helenium at Joy Creek (2008).
Now, it is managed by a company that operates the Oregon Garden Resort, which features an on-site hotel. In 2007 when we visited, they were putting finishing touches on the resort buildings. We stayed there in 2013, and enjoyed it just as much as we had six years earlier, even though it never stopped raining for an entire day.

The Garden Writers Association held its annual conference in Portland, OR in 2008 and I visited a whole new set of gardens, including two mentioned in the Pacific Northwest Garden Tour--Cistus Nursery, and Joy Creek Nursery, both of which deserve a spot in any book for Oregon gardeners.
Astoria-Megler Bridge from our hotel room (2008).

Packing up plants (2008)
When I visited Joy Creek, I was enthralled with the healthy and vivid Heleniums. I didn't buy any but I did have them ship me a Clematis and a Kniphofia.

It was 2008 that we drove across the Astoria-Megler Bridge from Astoria into Washington for a day. Our trip was coming to an end, and I was looking forward to planting all of the goodies I received at the Garden Writers event.

Siberian iris 'So Van Gogh' at Mid-America Garden (2013).
Olson nails the back story of Sebright Gardens, and its affiliation with Mid-America Garden. Sebright is a nursery specializing in shade plants that also has gorgeously-landscaped display gardens. I remember as I meandered through Sebright's display beds wondering why the landscaped grounds seemed to suddenly shift to a display of row upon row of peonies and irises. I didn't know it until I saw Olson's book, but the Mid-America Garden, adjacent to Sebright, is devoted to irises, and is a great place to take a gander at the latest varieties.

The Pacific Northwest Garden Tour  is as vital an item to pack on a trip west as comfortable shoes, plenty of time and a camera. Its small size and tons of photos make it a great companion on the plane if you haven't already dog-eared its pages marking the places you want to see before you've even scheduled your vacation.