Monday, July 30, 2012

Need Help Solving Coneflower Conundrum

Echinacea Big Sky 'Sunrise' takes center stage in a
mostly-echinacea bouquet.
If the month of July must be known for something in my garden, it would have to be coneflower, or Echinacea. At least it is in my bouquets. Each time I went to fill a vase, I found myself gravitating toward one or another of half a dozen or so cultivars. The true yellow variety, by the Saul brothers of Itsaul Plants, is an older cultivar, Big Sky 'Sunrise'.

Another extremely useful vase plant for July has been the Hypericum Hypearls series by Green Leaf. I have at least four different cultivars planted in moist, semi-shade that all have provided me with lovely foliage and berries to complement just about any flower I choose to cut for a vase.

Photo 1 of mystery Echinacea taken July 1
I've arrived upon a coneflower conundrum, however. It involves my inability to identify a lovely new Echinacea I received from whom I do not know. And I truly hate when that happens. The first photo fo the flower in question is pictured at right. It's a serious double--deep pink with a tuft of pink and then white petals toward the center. The other flower at the lower right in the photo is pale pink throughout save for the very center which is a deep green-brown color. They were both cut from the same plant, which I think might be 'Raspberry Truffle' from Plants Nouveau. The photo at right was taken July 1. 

Photo 2 of Mystery Echinacea taken July 20

The second photo is of the very same mystery coneflower which might be 'Raspberry Truffle'. This plant IS a cultivar, not a reverted species. I don't have any of the non-hybrid species in my garden.   The photo was taken on July 20. I wonder if the difference in color could be chalked up to temperature fluctuations, but first I'd really love to know which plant I'm enjoying so much.


Friday, July 27, 2012

I'm gonna be a Butterfly!

If you've never seen a butterfly larva just before going into the chrysalis stage, be sure to watch this eastern swallowtail caterpillar. He works somewhat halfheartedly for his meal and then senses the wind is about to pick up. He sets down his little feet like landing gear and stays very still in preparation for the gust that comes seconds later.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Coleus and Passion flower don't mind heat

From left: Salvia koyamae, Coleus 'Wasabi',
'Fishnet Stockings', and 'Marooned, with Agastache
'Golden Jubilee' and 'Clear Skies' passion flower on the fence.
If you planted Coleus, you're patting yourself on the back just about now. That's because blooms move very quickly through their stages when it's really, really hot. Except, of course, for many annuals. I made a combination in the new raised bed using Coleus ColorBlaze® Marooned, the latest from Proven Winners. PW sent me two of the plants to try, so I mixed them with another PW Coleus called 'Fishnet Stockings' and a Ball Floraplant variety called 'Wasabi'.

Now that's a tall tomato. Hard to tell from
the shot, but it's more than six feet tall.
Coleus bulks up tremendously by mid-summer, so I like to use it in the ground. No matter where I plant it, Coleus performs. I even put a couple of varieties in "No man's Land," a place I don't dare visit after the end of June for fear of falling down in the midst of the foliage and never being heard from again. I will probably venture over there in a month or so, as soon as I lay my hands on a scythe, or perhaps a sickle of some kind.

Anyway, it's possible I won't be growing anything in this spot next year, as the Coleus are surrounded on either side by a very aggressive shade-loving Salvia koyamae and the dreaded Agastache foeniculum.

Oh yeah, and did I mention the shading effect provided by the 6-foot + grafted tomato 'Japanese Trifele'? Growing plants with a preference (even a need) for sun requires special tools, including the tallest stakes you can get your hands on and lots of twine. My favorite stakes for tomatoes are 8-foot rebar (reinforced steel bars) that are slender enough to be easily driven into the ground yet flexible enough to move with the wind.
Passiflora 'Clear Skies' has a center whose color
is echoed in the Coleus ColorBlaze® Marooned.
One plant that doesn't seem to mind the heat, or the somewhat shady location on an eastward facing fence and shaded by the tall tomato plant, is Passiflora 'Clear Skies', a tropical passion flower vine I'm glad I planted. It's moving its way closer to the other tomato that I'm training on the fence, which is bordered on the other side by a vigorous clematis.

As happens so often in my garden, it's time when the tough take over where the tender leave off (or fail to tread, whichever you prefer.) I'm feeding them all equally with a combination time release fertilizer and a weekly dose of water soluble general purpose plant food.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

It Rained!!!

It Rained!!! A Lot!!! We lost power when it was time for bed and regained it just when I was trying to figure out how to take a shower (we have a well--no power, no water.) and go into work.

I went out to take some photos, realized there is not much in bloom, but rain droplets are gorgeous, don't you think? I am patting myself on the back right now because I had the foresight to tie up the tomatoes. (Yay!)

Grafted 'Japanese Trifele' tomato

It's been a pretty good year for Hypericum,
stretching a bit in the part shade, but providing
gorgeous berries nonetheless.
I madly snapped while listening to the foreign sounds of nearby thunder. I swear I could hear giggling. Plants were happy. Birds were happy, and I imagine even the worms would be coming up toward the surface soon to revel in the moisture.
A long-awaited rainstorm is a gardener's equivalent to a blizzard for a grade schooler. I was plotting all sorts of things in the garden. There was once again hope instead of endless hose wrestling.

If it weren't for my camera's dislike for moisture, I'd probably still be out there. It's just amazing how much better every single plant looks after having a night of rain.

I'm not sure where the cat spent the night, but his friend Mr. Mousie stayed dry and enjoyed watching the rain from his post on the back patio.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Deterrent Blasts Delinquent Deer

Did you read about the woman from LaVale, Maryland, who contracted rabies after an encounter with a deer? Strange, to say the least, and an incident that made me think of a recent visit by a hungry deer. I was filling the birdbath in the back of my yard when the young deer just popped out of the woods. Despite the drought, the woods behind my house is thick, so things tend to just pop out of them. The photo shown here was taken more than a month ago, but it's probably the same deer, now in the hungry teen stage of life. Anyway, the strange part is that she just stood there looking at me and didn't seem at all concerned that I was flailing my arms and yelling. She finally scampered off, but it pushed me into a little pro activity.

I figured these deer are pretty thirsty by now. The one I saw was probably hoping for a drink at the birdbath. And that's fine. I wouldn't mind seeing Bambi saunter up for a sip or two now and then. But would she stop there? I think not. Just a little to the left of the birdbath are some really healthy tomato plants. Both 'Legend' and 'Japanese Trifele' are grafted plants that have grown to amazing size since planting.


I reached for the big gun in my anti-deer arsenal. It's called the Scarecrow, sent to me by Contech to try out in my garden. This "motion-activated" animal deterrent is easy to set up without dowsing yourself to the skin (which of course I didn't do with the first one I got years ago) and should be just the ticket to keep marauding ruminants from munching on my tomatoes.

The Scarecrow reminds me of Heckle and Jeckle
They HAVE been eating the phlox, however. I wondered why everyone else was talking about their Phlox and I hadn't seen any sign of mine. They'd all been "deer-pinched," a delicate operation made possible using only the lips. (Pretty amazing when you think about it.) Imagine how good the tomatoes would taste to a deer on a hot day.

Putting the Scarecrow together was easy, and putting the facial decals on was kind of fun. I can't help but think about those crazy Talking Magpies when I look at it, though.

So far, the tomatoes haven't been munched and the birds are too small to set off the high-pressure blast from the Scarecrow. I'll let you know if I see the deer playing in the sprinkler while they're eating tomato sandwiches. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hydrangeas Call for Tough-Love

The many shades of 'Gertrude Glahn' all on one plant.

Hydrangea m. 'Schenkenberg' does well
in serious shade along with hostas.
It's a good news-bad news kind of thing. Gardeners who don't consistently have blooms on their Hydrangea macrophyllas shouldn't have much to complain about this year. These temperamental beauties have dazzled us with a bounty of bodacious bloomery to a level I cannot recall in my lifetime. But there's a flip side to all of that flowering. Hydrangeas are pretty tough once they start to bloom, but they need lots of water. Especially when it's really, really hot.
If your Hydrangeas go into a mighty wilt in the hottest part of the day (Which, these days, means between 9 am and 6 pm.), just try not to look at them. Give them a good soaking twice a week when temps are in the '90s. Don't water in the middle of the day if you can help it.
Individual flowers of Hydrangea 'Gertrude Glahn' are
nearly twice the size of those on 'Endless Summer'
When 'Endless Summer' came on the scene, and we in Zone 5 and colder figured out how to grow them, it was tempting to imagine there was no need for another variety. Luckily lots of other re-bloomers came on the market, including both lacecaps and mopheads. But the Hydrangea breakthroughs have served to pique my interest. I already knew how much larger the flowers are on H. 'Gertrude Glahn', and have provided it with extra protection that's resulted in between one and six blooms in a good year. This year, Gertrude's sporting more than a dozen awesome heads of pink, purple and blue-toned flowers. They're large and have pinked edges, giving them an added ruffly look.

Hydrangea s. 'Blue Bird'
In my garden, the term "threatened" has an entirely different meaning than usual.  These are plants that haven't lived up to my expectations. I threaten them for a season and sometimes more. The next step is to dig them up and fling them into the woods to become compost.
While some indeed turn into compost, others rally, appearing in subsequent years like the pimply-faced, braces-clad teen who shows up at the 10 year reunion looking like 1000 bucks. When I try to get them back into the garden confines, I realize they're entirely unapproachable, usually owing to the fact that they're draped in poison ivy or flanked by six-foot thistles.

Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Bird'
I've been watching a wonderful Cinderella story unfold this season with Hydrangea serrata 'Blue Bird'. It was several years ago when I pitched it into the woods (Which used to be closer to the garden until I expanded the garden further.) where it was ignored by me and munched by deer. It received no water or fertilizer until last year when I built a garden bed next to it and didn't feel like moving it. 

Which goes to show you: sometimes you have to resort to serious manipulation tactics in order to achieve success. I can pretend I went through all of this to get 'Blue Bird' to bloom, but we all know better. Surprises--good ones, that is--are hard to come by in the real world. You can wait for a desirable plant to pop up out of nowhere in your garden. Or you can can give the surprise Genie a nudge by moving things around, mixing it up from year to year, and sometimes even threatening banishment to the woods.

To see what else is blooming in the world of bloggers, be sure you visit other gardens in the Garden Bloggers Bloom Day connection!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Immerse Yourself in Lavender

Lavender Hill Farm is one of those places where you can immerse yourself in the world of a lavender farm with just a short visit. Devote an hour, and the scent of lavender won't be the only thing you'll come away with. What also rubs off on visitors is the feel that attaches itself to your mood for several hours after you've left.
I got to make two visits to the Niles, Michigan farm for a story I'm working on for Chicagoland Gardening Magazine. Lavender Hill Farm owner Martha Wilczynsk is always busy with the distilling, caring for the sheep or harvesting and cutting stems. (And those were just the things she did while we were there.) But she and store overseer Dee never make you feel hurried.

There is no other way to explain it than it's a lavender kind of life. It's one you can experience for awhile but keep remnants of for longer than if you'd gone most other places that are just an hour's drive.

Lavender Hill Farm is in Niles, MI - an hour from lots of places, and worth the trip if you'd like to pick your own lavender, purchase lavender sachets, soaps, oils, culinary buds, and much, much more.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Keepin' Your Garden Cool 101

It's easy to fall in love with a sprinkler this summer. It's been dry. And it's been hot. So I'm extremely excited to have been given a sample of the new Rainforest Sprinkler from Contech, Inc. What I like about this sprinkler is that it isn't heavy-handed. It takes its name seriously and refrains from squirting, blasting or beating my plants into submission. I've tried other sprinklers. But the Rainforest has just one moving part, it's lightweight, and comes in different configurations with stakes and a tripod for larger coverage. We just use a tall pipe we hammer into the ground for ultimate reach.

Another product I've called into use quite a bit this summer is the TubTrug. I have several sizes and they've been great for collecting weeds and spent flowers on deadheading forays. But we've developed an alternative relationship with these colorful vessels for keeping cool as we relax on our patio.

TubTrug doubles as foot chiller.
Some people can't imagine sitting down without the remote in their hand while others can't drive, walk, or socialize without their smartphone. Try this: While taking it easy in your garden, pick up a Ray Padula Series R Nozzle. The on-off lever is so simple and easy to turn off and on, and the variety of spray patterns leaves no need unfulfilled! I can even sit on the patio with my feet in the TubTrug(tm) and water a pot that's 50 feet away! Really! Ok, maybe it's not that accurate, but it's the old lady's equivalent to playing in the sprinkler. And there is nothing wrong with that on a day with temps in the upper 90s. 

On these hot summer days, don't forget the birds. You'll see a lot more action in your birdbath if you keep the water fresh and somewhat cool. When I'm home in the middle of the day I'll put a grocery bag full of ice in their bath. By evening it will have attained the optimal temperature.

Creating Garden Combos - You Can Grow That!

So you fall in love with a plant at a garden center, online or in a magazine. It arrives on your doorstep and, if you're like me, try to find a place to put it in your garden. You'll determine the best spot for its light, soil and moisture requirements, make sure it can defend itself against bullies if necessary, tuck it in and hope for the best.
But there is just one more consideration, possibly the most challenging. That consideration is its "playmates." After gardening for decades, I still fail at more in-ground combination attempts than I succeed at. I only have so much room and energy. At least that's my excuse. So when I stumble upon a working group, I snap its photo.

Cleome 'Seniorita Blanca' with Geranium 'Rozanne'
and Echinacea 'Magnus'.
Some plants fit into an existing scheme than others. I'm really enjoying Proven Winners trial plant Cleome 'Seniorita Blanca', a compact and very floriforous "spider plant." Although not yet on the market, it certainly will be a great addition to anyone's garden next year when it's readily available at garden centers. Proven Winners sent me three plants to test, and I planted them in the ground near the Monarda with some Echinacea 'Magnus'. Just three plants make quite an impact in just a short time.

Crocosmia 'Lucifer' with Amsonia
Quite by chance, another combination was created. I love Amsonia hubrechtii three seasons of the year. With its subtle blue spring flowers and bright gold foliage in the fall, it has quite a bit to offer. But let's not forget the summer, when it stands just three feet tall and lends an airy quality to its bolder neighbors. A good neighbor for its vertical nature is Crocosmia, and in this case 'Lucifer'.

Things tend to get tall this time of the year, especially in a sun-challenged garden like mine. I neglected to cut back Monarda 'Raspberry Wine' in mid-May, so it stands about five feet tall on the east side of my house. And, just as I pretend to have planned it, Asiatic lily 'White Tycoon' keeps it company.

Lilium 'White Tycoon' with Monarda 'Raspberry Wine'
And, just because we can't have flowers all the time, it's not a bad idea to hedge your bets with some foliage plants. Or at least plants with good-looking foliage. The Heuchera at the center of this vignette is either 'Christa' or 'Caramel', both of which I've planted and both of which were hybridized by Frenchman Thierry Delabroye. I'm sorry I've lost track, but will scrounge around for the tags I try to bury by the plants when I think about it. Anyway, to its left is the Mukdenia, a slow-grower but rewarding plant, and just above is Heuchera 'Sashay', from Terra Nova Nurseries. At lower right is Acanthus spinosus, or spiny bear's breech.

Heuchera with Acanthus spinosus and Mukdenia 'Crimson Fans'
I've snapped lots of combos over the years - some better than others - and I'll share them now and again just so...