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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.



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.

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



Even Mighty 'Mato Can Come Down With Fungus

I loved the flavor, size and yield of the grafted tomato 'Pineapple' last year, so I planted another this spring. I prepared the soil in an area never before used for tomatoes (or potatoes or peppers), planted it and it grew like crazy.
August 2

By early August, fruits were reaching the size they had the previous year. They grew two or three to a stem but that didn't have any effect on their size. They were ripening a little at a time and I harvested a couple tomatoes that were bigger than my fist but smaller than a softball.

August 12
I admit to being a somewhat sloppy, after-the-fact staker, managing to add supports as the plant grows. I'd started out with two tomato spiral supports like these from Gardeners Supply.

It wasn't long before the plant outpaced the spirals. I added a really big stake. I turned my back to go inside, and the vigorous vine outpaced the 7-foot tall support.

"This is getting ridiculous," I muttered to myself. "Any higher and I'll need a ladder."

Picturing how unwieldy that would be, I decided to just let the vine bend gently toward the ground at the top of the stake so I could at least reach the fruit.

August 16 - propped up after the storm
But then came the storms. I should have known my methods wouldn't be enough. Four inches of rain in a 24-hour period has a way of softening up the soil. It was August 12 when the stakes leaned severely toward the ground and threatened to go horizontal on me.

I was able to prop the whole thing back up. It seemed the only damage done was at the soil level where the roots had become exposed.

In a pathetic attempt to cover the roots, I threw some compost over the ground. It rained some more.

Grafted vegetables must be planted with the graft above the soil line. Otherwise, the scion (the top part) will lose out to the rootstock. I staked the plant when I first planted it to offer support to the graft as it grew.

August 27 - Exposed roots
The photo of the base of the tomato shows the small stake I used when it was just a little plant. It also shows the roots of the rootstock exposed from a combination of plant movement and way too much rain.

Over the next 10 days, the warm temperatures ripened some of the tomatoes while others grew to good size. The leaves weren't looking that great and I removed them as they became really dried up and brown. The loss of leaves didn't seem to have that much effect on the fruit production.

August 27 - the day my tomato died
Tomato RIP: August 27
But when I looked out my window into the garden on August 27, I saw my tomato 'Pineapple' had given up. Toward the top of the plant, the leaves were around 70 percent brown and 100 percent curled. The roots of the plant were once again exposed, and by the end of the day, even the newest growth was completely wilted.

The disease triangle had finally completed itself. The triangle refers to the three factors that all must be in place before a plant can be affected. Those three factors are the pathogen (the disease), the host (the plant), and the environment. In this case, the pathogen was of a fungal nature, which is a guess because of the amount of moisture in the soil and the air. Which leads to the environment. Extremely wet weather is the perfect environment for fungal diseases. While I'm not certain, my guess is late blight, explained here by Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service. I'll accept some blame for the environmental side of the triangle. I should have had the stake in place before the multiple deluges.

But woe is me and woe are my plans for freezing excess tomatoes. I harvested what I could and put them in paper bags to ripen. Most did. If I find out the exact pathogen that cause my tomato to bite the dust, I'll post it here. Meanwhile, I'm wondering if anyone else had grafted tomatoes succumb to fungal disease this summer. I'd like you to officially join me in wallowing in self-pity.


The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias

 Order from Amazon.com.
Until I received a copy of The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias by Andy Vernon, I never knew there were so many varieties of this plant.

I love that the first chapter of Vernon's book is devoted to using Dahlias in the garden. It's one thing growing a plant that demands attention -- and Dahlias are certainly in this category -- but integrating it into an established garden requires a bit of thought and staging.

The Inn on Mackinac offers a small Dahlia display.
DESIGNING WITH FLAMBOYANT FLOWERS

This section of The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias offers lots of suggestions for Dahlia companions -- plants that don't steal their thunder but complement their colors and forms. Vernon's photos offer up some inspiration, but if you live in the Midwest, you might consider going with some of his other recommendations that aren't pictured at Great Dixter, a garden in Sussex.
Unknown pink Dahlia with Sedum and a small yellow daisy.

Last year around this same time, I visited Mackinac Island, and snapped some photos of Dahlias cavorting with annuals and perennials in front of the Inn on Mackinac.  Whoever does the gardening around this historic home turned inn.

Anyway, if you want to see Dahlias playing well with others, this a good place to start.

 As you can see from my tangent, The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias definitely drives inspiration. Besides looking back at last year's photos, the book had me looking online for more Dahlias I could add to my garden next year.
Unknown Dahlia with annual geranium and Cosmos.
There were plenty of named examples, each accompanied by gorgeous photos and descriptions of the flower type, height and spread, along with growing recommendations. For example, a variety called 'Classic Swanlake' is a peony type that grows just 3 feet tall and does well in a container. 

'Bumble Rumble' is an adorable  Collerette type that grows 42 inches tall and works well in containers. It, and several of the varieties listed in The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias, are available at several suppliers, including many of those I found listed at this great Dahlia resource called The Big List, compiled and kept up by the Colorado Dahlia Society.

So with all the online resources about Dahlias, why do we still need books? One reason is that books published by well-known horticultural publishers (one of which is Timber Press) have been vetted for accuracy. Another is that, with a well-organized book like The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias, you can find nearly all of what you need about the plant inside its covers. That includes how to design with, grow, propagate, store and choose Dahlias for your home garden. Add to that 200 varieties pictured in gorgeous color, plus a section on cutting and arranging for indoor decoration, and you have the perfect carry-around floral eye candy you can refer to any time.

I like to keep The Plant Lover's Guide to Dahlias on my dining table to page through while I eat. Although I am not sure where to find it, I'm sure there is a study that proves that looking at pretty things while eating aids digestion. And there are usually napkins handy in case you over-salivate.

August is a Garden Color Free for all

August can turn into a colorless month if you don't plan ahead. Most of my perennials have petered out. Sure, some are gearing up for another round in mid-September, but I'm not holding my breath for more Monarda or an additional flush of Liatris.



To help ease away from the raggedy remnants of once perky blooms, I've tucked Zinnias I started from seed among the bee balm. I've scattered among them a few spiky-flowered plants like Salvia elegans 'Golden Delicious', Salvia 'Mystic Spires' Blue, and Salvia 'Black and Blue'.

Salvia 'Mystic Spires' with waning bee balm.
Meanwhile, in the new cutting bed, the larkspur is flagging, but the Ageratum and 'Blue Monday' clary sage I grew from seed are still giving off that great blue aura that makes warm colors pop. 

It's hard for a garden to have too much blue, especially when that garden is host to lots of brightly-colored Zinnias.


My goal is to always have color and more color around the corner. In my back garden, that means I'm looking forward to asters and Dahlias. One Aster has been in bloom already for a couple of weeks. It's called 'Tiny Tot' and it's true to its name.

And then there are the Dahlias, one of which is already blooming, but the flowers are held within the plant's foliage, so I'm waiting to see how it will do once I pick those little guys for a tiny vase.

'Dahlia 'Little Beeswings' on the plant.
Dahlia 'Little Beeswings' in a tiny vase.
I couldn't resist the name or the cuteness of the flower. 'Little Beeswings' is an old variety. Introduced in 1909, it's also hard to find. Luckily I located it at Old House Gardens, a company that specializes in heirloom flowers.
The other two Dahlias are not blooming yet, but that just gives me something else to look forward to in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, on the shady side of the garden, things are still rotating through their bloom and growth cycles. I absolutely love the Bergenia ciliata, which I suppose you could call a "squeakless pigsqueak." You see, this Bergenia has tiny hairs, which is a departure from Bergenia cordifolia, a species with thick leaves you can make squeaky noises with. (Hence the name.) I like this plant because its leaves are so big and healthy-looking during a time when most of my plants are chewed up by some sort of bug or another.

It took a long time to become established, but Cyclamen purpurascens looks like it finally has taken hold. One thing that intrigued me about this particular Cyclamen was its origin in eastern Europe where my ancestors originated. According to the Cyclamen Society, it doesn't mind a little lime and is at home among tree roots and leaf litter. Although I planted two tubers in the spring of 2012, only this one survived, and appears and disappears seemingly at random, the flowers first and then the leaves. It obviously is happy beneath the boxwoods in heavy shade. I've cleared out the area surrounding it as it spreads, removing sweet woodruf (Galium odoratum) from around it.










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.