Saturday, June 30, 2012

Go ahead - Cut some flowers for yourself!

Don't be afraid to cut some blooms to enjoy indoors, especially when it's so hot and humid you can't stand to spend much time outdoors. The bouquet at left consists of fragrant flowers, including annual sweet pea (Lathyrus odoratus), Clematis recta, Oso Easy(tm) 'Peachy Cream' rose, and a single gardenia.
I couldn't resist pairing sweet peas in a jelly jar with a Westie statue. Stems of sweet peas tend to be short, so jelly jars make perfect vases.
It's a great Hydrangea year, so I've been cutting plenty. Among the longest-lasting in a vase is Hydrangea Let's Dance (tm) 'Starlight' (blue lacecap). The other lacecap is one that I don't have the name of, but it's blooming its head off this season. The mophead is Endless Summer (tm). I love yellow with blue, so I picked a stem of Oriental-Trumpet hybrid 'Yelloween', and added Astilbe and Echinacea to fill the vase.
Alstromeria 'Inca Ice' is taking a bloom break for now, but is getting ready with another flush of flowers. It makes a great cut flower, especially with Astrantia, fennel leaf and Oso Easy (tm) 'Peach Cream' rose.  
One of the best reasons (or excuses if you feel guilty for cutting a big vase for yourself) to create an arrangement in a vase is to see if you can create vignettes that might look good in the garden together. When I combined the OT Lilium 'Yelloween' with Echinacea 'Solar Flare', I noticed the yellow of the lily brought out the tiny yellow flowers around the edge of the dark cone of the Echinacea.
I also noticed how fragrant the Chinese Astilbe is. Echinacea 'Solar Flare' is also fragrant, but its scent is somewhat overpowered by the lily and Astilbe.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

These Hydrangeas Are Not Sissies!

Hydrangea m. Cityline 'Mars'
Hydrangea macrophylla Cityline 'Mars' is tender in the winter, but a definite trooper in the sweltering heat of a Midwest summer. The Cityline series, introduced by Color Choice Plants, is touted for its compact nature. It also could be sold as a plant that swaggers instead of swelters. Throughout each of the days over 85 we've had this season (and there certainly have been a few), Cityline 'Mars' has stood straight and perky, without a droop or a swoon. Its neighbors--'Gertrude Glahn', 'Teller Red', and 'Endless Summer'-- become poster plants for the big wilt in the heat of the day and don't recover until near nightfall.
I received Cityline 'Mars' from Spring Meadow Nursery as a trial plant last year and immediately cut it back to a height of about one foot. It received the benefit of the Zone Up, another trial from Gardeners Supply. This padded tarp with grommets isn't offered any longer as far as I can find, and I can't really say for sure if it's a loss. It looked like just the ticket when I snugged it around 'Mars' for the winter. But as it turned out to be the winter that never was, I can't say for sure if it worked. I'll try it again next season and see if this tender bigleaf hydrangea blooms as well as it has this year.

Another heat-tolerant Hydrangea macrophylla hybrid from the Color Choice line is 'Let's Dance Starlight', a lacecap that blooms on both old and new wood. I'm pretty sure it's blooming on last year's wood, as it's next to a non-remontant variety called 'Schenkenberg' that is blooming for the first time in at least four years. 
Hydrangea m. 'Let's Dance Starlight', a reblooming lacecap
I received 'Let's Dance Starlight' as a trial plant a couple of years ago and gave it a premier location at the edge of the woods behind our house. Although I don't remember amending the soil with aluminum sulphate, I must have, as its flowers are a serious blue without a tinge of pink. 
Here's a cool thing about 'Let's Dance Starlight': it doesn't wilt as much as other macrophyllas (except for 'Mars', of course. Its leaves are not as thick and substantive as those on Cityline 'Mars', but they certainly don't wilt right along with the flowers as most of the other bigleaf hydrangeas do.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Foxes in the Garden

My neighbors have been telling me of their presence for weeks, but until today, I hadn't seen them. I was enjoying my foray through the garden with coffee in hand when out of the woods and onto the wooden path to the garden trotted a red fox. She didn't see me on the patio and I stood very still. She was so comfortable that she just sat down and took in her surroundings. I was reaching for my I-phone to snap a photo when she noticed the movement and fled back into the woods.

Reynard the Fox, an old character from
which the fable "Chanticleerand the Fox"
was taken.
I wasn't totally surprised. Along with the neighbors' reports, we'd heard them but didn't know it at the time. I told a co-worker we were awakened by a sound that made me imagine a giant pterodactyl swooping down over the house. It could be a fox, she said. I looked at her skeptically but she suggested I Google "fox sounds" so I did. Here is what I found:
It sounded just like this: Red fox distress sound
While I don't know what caused the distress, it wasn't linked to the mating season, as that occurs in winter. According to The fox website, an Austrailian site, this is the time of year when the babies are likely still in the den, with both parents feeding them. 
Fox in my garden, courtesy of Photoshop and a
Wikipedia image. This is where it was sitting.
Scale shows the fox a bit larger than it was.

The best site I've found on foxes is on Wikipedia, which explains that red foxes have few predators in this area, with adult cats often seen as competition rather than prey. Which brings me to Maurice. Maurice is a neutered male cat weighing around 10 lbs. (We know this because we took him to the vet.) He's been coming around for a year and my husband started feeding him. Although we're careful to bring the food dish inside at night, it's done a lot to attract raccoons, and as I now know, foxes.

I remember way back when that it was pretty awesome to see deer in the yard. Now it's a call to action that includes spraying stinky stuff and staying awake nights trying to figure out how to keep them out of the garden. Hopefully it won't become the same with foxes. Their main diet consists of rodents, rabbits and raspberries. Although I have seen all of these in the past month, now that I thnik about it, I haven't seen any lately.

I haven't seen tomatoes, peppers and beans on their list of favorite foods, but that could just be a matter of time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Ob-La-Di? Really?

      Something small has been living between the raised bed connected to the house and the walls of the house. I’ve heard the telltale scratch-scrambling sounds for the past three years. And until whatever it is peeks its head through the wall in the sunroom and looks at me, my personal “handy-when-he-has-to” husband chooses to ignore it. And until today our three dogs also turned blind eyes to the sound.

But then today, I noticed Poppy the Jack Russell-Yorkie mix vibrating as she stood on the coffee table turned pooch perch near the wall in our sunroom. Suddenly she yipped and threw herself against the window trying to get at the chipmunk on the other side. I had a confirmed ID.
       Chipmunks can chew the wires inside the walls, causing shorts and fires, I told my husband.
      “No they don’t,” he said.
      Okay, so I haven’t found conclusive information from a valid source that tells me this, but what the heck are they doing in our walls, anyway?
      Just as visions of a rodent-induced house fire are playing in my head, my spouse walks into the house singing “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da life goes on brah,” the incredibly jolly-for-no-reason ditty written by the Beatles.
     Meanwhile, Poppy and her canine crew are on high alert. Between Poppy flinging herself against the window and Maurice waiting at the chipmunk’s front stoop, I’m expecting some serious carnage. Maurice is the cat that found us last year around this time and has been coming for breakfast and dinner ever since. And for the record, I wasn’t the one who started feeding him. However I will take credit for the decrease in the chipmunk population since the cat showed up.
      My husband tells me he put a layer of heavy plastic covered with a layer of Styrofoam and then a layer of tar on the house wall before completing the raised bed. “He can’t get through that,” he claimed.
      But when the chipmunk last emerged just outside the sunroom window, I swear he had black tarry lips and bits of white foam in his fur. And I heard him sing in his high-pitched chipmunk voice, “And if you want some fun take ob-la-di-bla-da.”
     
     

Friday, June 15, 2012

A Plethora of Poppies

There is nothing like a Poppy. Delicate, whispy, ethereal even. Shirley poppies or Papaver rhoeas are annuals that are so easy to grow. Start the seed early enough and you'll have dazzlingly-delicate flowers to cut for vases or just appreciate through your window.
I grew two varieties of Shirley poppy this season, both from Renee's Garden: 'Angel's Choir' and 'Falling in Love'. Colors have ranged from dusky rose to peach and pink and several picotee and reverse picotee. I love poppy season because you get such a variety of colors and sometimes forms, with extra petals on some of them.
They open wide during the sunny daytime and partially close in the evening or if it's cloudy. I scattered seed so liberally and (some would say) sloppily that I have poppies coming up among the flagstones, in the middle of paths, and wherever the tiny seed landed back in March when I sprinkled the seed around.
Shirley poppies will reseed, but from my experience, you won't get the variety of color as you would from fresh seed. It's well worth purchasing and remembering to sow them in early spring. I'll have poppies from now until mid to late July if I keep them deadheaded. Keeping them deadheaded translates for me into cutting for vases. Contrary to rumors, poppy stems don't have to be boiled, burned or blessed in order to last for a couple of days in a vase. I'm going to be mixing them with sweet peas, which also are still blooming because of my penchant for bouquets.

Don't forget to buy poppy seeds for next spring. And don't forget to enjoy all of the Blogger's Bloom Day Posts!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Clematis Directs Attention Upward


Clematis 'Blue Angel'
When you run out of space on a horizontal plane, it's time to think vertical. In a garden, vertical means vines. Stick them in wherever there is room--disguise a gutter or grow them up the legs of a pergola. Clematis 'Blue Angel' took three years to nearly cover one of the pergola posts on the east side of the house. It's not as full as I'd like, but it's one of my favorites for its sky blue color, long bloom-time and big blossoms.
Clematis 'Carnaby'
Clematis 'Carnaby' is an example of success with more shade than is optimum. Okay, so it doesn't bloom prolifically, but staged to the northeast of a redbud, it's not expected. On the other side of the trellis is Clematis recta purpurea, a pretty vine with an ugly name. It's the early summer version of sweet autumn clematis only less likely to reseed every place it's not wanted.
'Polish Spirit' isn't a big-flowered clematis, and its flowers have just four tepals (the actual structure that passes as petals in Clematis.)
Clematis 'Avant Garde'
Clematis 'Avant Garde' should be appreciated up close. Its flowers aren't very large, you see, but they are interesting. With the central pouf of petals surrounded by reddish tepals, it's an eye-catching little number that hasn't grown to a size that will stop you dead in your tracks but it will make you look twice. It's been working hard to disguise a pergola pillar plus gutter. It's taking awhile to get going but in another year or so, I'm expecting it to really fill in.
Clematis 'Avant Garde'


Clematis 'Rooguchi'
Clematis 'Rooguchi' isn't a climbing vine, but give it something to lean on and it will certainly do its best to impersonate one. Tucked into a corner bordered by a wooden fence and a tall metal trellis, 'Rooguchi' supports itself with a little help from a cadre of Oriental and Asiatic lilies. It's a long-blooming plant with attractive seedheads that decorate the plant along with the flowers. 'Rooguchi' is available through one of my favorite mail-order sources, Digging Dog Nursery.
Clematis 'Betty Corning' has had several years to become established at the southernmost pergola post. It's not a very tall plant for me, making it perfect for decorating a post, whether it ends in a pergola or not. In the six years I've had it growing on the east side of the house, planted next to a sidewalk, it hasn't grown more than eight feet tall, but it's very bushy. Its flowers always make me smile, probably because they look like happy little dancers that flit around in mid-air.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Grow Gardenias in a Pot

Our gardenia, 'Miami Supreme', is finally forming buds after another leafless winter. A cultivar of Gardenia jasminoides, this plant has been with us for at least 20 years. A general overview about this tropical plant can be found at University of Hawaii Cooperative Extension Service site. About five years ago, I purchased a single-flowered variety whose cultivar name wasn't given, and it seems so far to stay smaller in a pot, blooming at just under three feet tall.

The single variety blooms earlier than 'Miami Supreme', and although not as fragrant, even after a day or so, the older flowers still look pretty, fading to a pale yellow.

If you'd like to try a gardenia in a pot, now is the time to buy them. Check to see if it needs to be repotted, but if not, grow it until it becomes potbound before upgrading to a pot that is about 2-3 inches larger in diameter than the pot it came in. Use a really well-drained potting mix and add a timed-release fertilizer created for pot use. You'll also want to stock up on water-soluble acid fertilizer of the type used for Rhododendrons, using it at half-strength every other time you water.
Gardenia 'Miami Supreme'
Gardenia 'Miami Supreme' came home with us when we drove down to Florida to visit the in-laws some time in the early 1990s. We also purchased two Hibiscus, two bougainvillea, a natal plum and an Oleander.
Along with the gardenia, we have the bougainvilleas, both of which refuse to bloom, but that's another story. I'd like to try one of the newer varieties of bougainvillea that bloom at a smaller size and more prolifically than ours (which admittedly isn't saying much).

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sweet peas and Scented Stock Provide Great Fragrance


Lemonade? A wine cooler? If you're looking for refreshment in the 90-degree heat, try a vase of sweet peas!
Sweet peas
These delicate beauties don't often fare well in the Midwest, but I planted some in late March and now am very glad I did. I'd have to do some digging to see which varieties I planted, but I'm pretty sure there were only two. The flowers in the photo are all coming on like crazy in part because of the steady weather with highs barely reaching 80 during the day and night temperatures between 50 and 60 degrees.
This weekend, the blast furnace returns, so I'll be keeping them well-watered, and pat myself on the back for planting them in a location where they are sheltered from the afternoon sun.

Pick sweet peas often to encourage continuing bloom. I've been cutting little vases of them every other day. They don't last really long in a vase, so every other day is perfect.

Stock with single flowers
A little late, but nonetheless ready to bloom, are the stock plants I started from seed. Like sweet peas, Matthiola incana prefers cool weather. I have just over a dozen plants, and they all seem to have single flowers, but they still have a nice carnation-like fragrance. They like to have good drainage and lots of sun, so I started them in flats and then moved many of them to my VegTrug in mid-April where they've been doing well. The rest are in my new south-facing raised bed next to the house.
Because Matthiola incana is considered a biennial, I'm optimistic about them possibly setting seed that will sprout and overwinter to bloom again next spring. Alternatively, stock can also be started for fall bloom. I might not have to worry about going to the trouble if my little plants scatter their own seeds around.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Fragrant Mignonette: You Can Grow That!

Imagine yourself in a cushioned lounge chair tilted almost, but not quite, all the way back. You're on a brick patio beneath the high shade of ancient oak trees. The breeze is strong enough to move the highest branches just enough so that shafts of sun play on the on the other side of your closed eyelids.
Small but mighty: Mignonette close-up with
Dianthus flowerin the background for scale.
The only sound is the gentle swoosh of the leaves as they brush against one another. The air is dry and warm. You inhale and think of raspberry Jell-O.
What? Wait a minute... raspberry Jell-O? Well maybe not exactly. There are other scents mixed with it that are harder to pinpoint. Perhaps you're eating the Jell-O beneath a fragrant honeysuckle. Or maybe you've just passed out in the midst of a raspberry patch.

Mignonette is like that only less prickly. The common name for this plant is French for "little darling," a moniker purportedly given to Reseda odorata by Empress Josephine. She grew the little plant from seed her husband, Emperor Napoleon, brought back from one of his forays into Egypt.

I've grown it before when I had more sun, and when the sun hit the flower, it brought out a scent like ripe raspberries. The fragrance has been described in many ways, from spicy to sweet, but Reseda odorata cannot be described as showy. First, its flowers are tiny and kind of brownish looking from a distance. Not that there is anything wrong with that. Once you've smelled this flower, you'll want it just about everywhere.
But be warned--it really doesn't like to be transplanted.
Although lots of seed packets say "resents transplanting," with Mignonette they mean it! This is especially true of seedlings that are more than an inch or two tall. I started seed around the first of April in my VegTrug. It just started to bloom a few days ago, meaning from seed to flower takes about two months. However, if you were to start seed now, it might go a little more quickly though I've not tested this theory. My plants are overgrown and leggy and I've given them a haircut to see if I can get them to re-bloom.




Friday, June 1, 2012

Finding Fragrance: Growing Scented Flowers

Don't you love it when a catalog or advertisement for a plant describes it as rare? It's fine if it really is--an albino Cardinal; a perennial that blooms for five months; a free lunch.
Okay, so the term is relative, but it loses its cachet when it's used to describe 90 percent of the plants in a catalog. A rare concept in plants is fragrance. It's hard to find roses with a rose scent these days, and I've seen people taking on an indignant look after sniffing a peony and not being rewarded with that sentimental peony scent.
Oso Easy 'Peachy Cream' rose
Today you have to do your homework to find fragrant plants. They're out there, though, and some have scents more elusive than others. I love the fragrance of Rosa Oso Easy 'Peachy Cream' from Proven Winners. While not overpoweringly-rosy, it's definitely there. This diminutive rose puts on a fantastic show even in my less than sunny location, however it gets taller than described because it's reaching for more sun.

Old-fashioned sweet peas can be
counted on for fragrance.
Because you never know when northwest Indiana will be struck with California weather, I try to plant sweet peas as early as I can in the spring. Who knew I could probably haveplanted them in late-January?
 
Since the sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus) began to open it's been cold and rainy, not the best circumstances for catching and enjoying a scent. But as soon as the flowers dry and the sun appears, I'll be inhaling their incomparable fragrance.
 
Meanwhile, I've come to subscribe to the belief that if a little is good, a lot is better. This goes only for scented plants, not their derivatives. I created a modern-day Tussie Mussie that consisted of Dianthus 'Heart's Desire', Lavender, Lobularia (sweet alyssum) and Reseda odorata (more on this plant in a later post). The combination still gives off a pleasing scent, but not as enchanting as when the sun hits the flowers on a dry windless afternoon.
 
From bottom left: Lobularia, lavender, Dianthus and Reseda odorata.