Coordinate Coneflower Companions with Care

Echinacea 'Butterfly Kisses' with California poppy 'Wrinkled Rose'
Echinacea 'Butterfly Kisses' with
ornamental oregano.
Despite sprinkling several packets of Park Seed's Eschscholzia 'Wrinkled Rose' in a variety of places in early spring, I only had sprouting among the Origanum 'Kent Beauty'.  This spot, right off the patio, is where I'd also decided to plant Echinacea 'Butterfly Kisses', sent to me as a trial from Walters Gardens. This compact coneflower hasn't quit blooming since I planted it. At no more than 12" tall, it looks great amidst the oregano and the poppies.

Echinacea 'Solar Flare' with phlox and rose.
Just as long-lasting in the bloom department has been Echinacea 'Solar Flare', a fragrant beauty that reaches around 2 1/2 feet tall. Nearby, it's accented by Phlox 'Sandringham' and a polyantha rose called 'Marie Pavie'. Later in the season, 'Solar Flare' will be accented by Aster cordifolius 'Little Carlow', its long-lasting buds looking nearly as good as its late blossoms.

Coneflowers can withstand drought once they're established. They can even bloom in less than ideal sun conditions. But I've discovered that coneflowers really don't like being crowded. I no longer have 'Green Envy' because it was overtaken by a peony on one side and a rose on the other. It had been in the same spot for three years, and in its fourth season, slipped into oblivion without a fight.

Bouquet with 'Green Envy' (top) and 'Southern Belle'.
I also noticed that, out of the three plants of 'Butterfly Kisses', the one nearest the California poppy doesn't sport as many blooms as those with more genteel neighbors.

If you fall in love with a coneflower variety, buy it in as large a container as you can find. Give it plenty of elbow room, especially in its first season, and make sure the soil is fairly rich but well-drained. It seems that, even though Echinacea grows wild in American prairies, it likes a fertile soil in a garden environment.
I planted three new Echinaceas that had arrived in small pots and discovered their dislike for thin soils. My definition of a "thin" soil is one that is very well-drained but has no organic matter. The soil has become thin in my seriously raised bed, which is the one that's at least two feet above ground in the midst of a brick patio. My husband built it five years ago and put in some great soil and amendments, but over the years the plants have apparently sucked the life out of it.

Echinacea 'Southern Belle'
Even though I've added a bag or two of manure as a topdressing each year, the soil's fertility, especially at the southernmost and most exposed portion, has petered out.

Anyway, the one coneflower I planted in that bed has been struggling all summer long while the other two, planted in other places in the garden, are doing just fine.

Echinacea 'Southern Belle'
Other coneflowers I've planted this year are plodding along, apparently storing up their energy to bloom next year. And that's okay. That's how Echinacea 'Southern Belle' became established. This variety, the first double coneflower in my garden, grows tall and somewhat lanky, but I love the look of its blooms.

New or Not, the Best Plants Win Out

Tropaeolum 'Duckalicious'
I went in search of new plants, and I found some. But what was really valuable for me in visiting the plant trials and display beds at C. Raker and Sons was the huge number and variety of gorgeous and healthy plants that were new to me. And depending on how they fared in the trials, these plants will continue to be available to the consumer. It's a good idea to keep some of these beauties on your radar for next year, and this short list will certainly be on mine. With a name like Tropaeolum 'Duckalicious', how could I resist? Upon closer inspection of this Nasturtium, I saw that the flowers were shaped like little duck's feet. It makes a good hanging basket plant all by itself, or can be added as a trailer to a large combo planter.
I'm always looking for plants that are attractive to hummingbirds, in hopes that some day I will be able to catch the elusive visitors on film. They're also fun to watch. It seems ironic that the plants that often attract these tiny and delicate birds are monsters. But in a good way, if you know this ahead of time. Lophospermum 'Compact Rose' and 'Compact White' from Suntory make great hanging baskets if grown as the only plant in the pot. But they seem to hold up really well to heat and humidity, as I witnessed in south central Michigan, where C. Raker's trial grounds are located.
Lophospermum -Compact Rose'

Cuphea llavea 'Sriracha Rose'
Lophospermum 'Compact Rose'

Another good plant for hummingbirds that doesn't get so large is Cuphea, or bat face flower. I love the colors on 'Sriracha Rose', a new variety from Goldsmith.

Salvia is a great hummingbird plant, and this year I fell in love with 'Wendy's Wish'. But there are many Salvias in the land, and you can't have too many. Hort Couture's Salvia 'Delft Blue' is a subtle eye-catcher. I know, it's an oxymoronic description, but I can't think of a better way to describe it. It's not easy for a flower to stand out in a sea of color. I was scanning five acres that contained thousands and thousands of flowers in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

Still life of Salvia 'Mannequin Delft Blue' could be entitled "Sunny Caribbean with Frosty Whitecaps."
Salvia 'Delft Blue'
At first I walked right by it. But then I did one of those stop-in-your-tracks-head-whips, just to make sure it was that cool. And I think cool is the operative word with 'Delft Blue'. If it were a still life, it would be titled "Sunny Caribbean with Frosty Whitecaps." 
Salvia f. 'Strata'
I remember one of the first hybrids of Salvia farinacea: 'Victoria', introduced some time in the early 1990s. It became the industry standard and worked so well as a vertical accent with everything from Rudbeckia and Marigolds, to Petunias and Verbena. Someone introduced a white one and it never seemed to catch on. In 1996, Salvia farinacea 'Strata', which combined blue and white, garnered the All America Selections award as the first bi-color. I'd have to see the two plants side by side to see the difference.

Hidden flowers are the most rewarding

Some flowers get lost in the exuberance of a late summer garden. But the extra effort required to seek them out makes viewing them all the sweeter. Use those gardener's knee pads if you have, to and get close to the little things. In the language of flowers, Alyssum signifies "worth beyond beauty." It makes sense, as this diminutive plant seldom is mentioned without its label, "sweet."

Fragrance on the down low ...
The non-digitally-enhanced blue of 'Thumbelina Leigh'
Plants that haven't realized their full potential may send up a blossom or two, just to remind you they're there. My little Lavender 'Thumbelina Leigh' mustered up a couple of flower stems, so the least I could do is snap its photo.
All three of the varieties I purchased this year are English lavenders, or Lavandula angustifolia. 'Thumbelina Leigh' is known for its compact size (up to 12") and tendency to rebloom. English lavenders are often deeper in color than the hybrid lavenders.

Buried in the biggest container I own at the base of the vigorous Colocasia 'Mojito' and Salvia 'Wendy's Wish' is one plant that lights up the edge like a beacon. Pelargonium (also known as geranium) 'Wilhelm Langguth' would be hard to ignore in normal circumstances. But this plant is an absolute treat whether it's tucked into a pot with giants that cry out for attention or settled into a pot alone with a plain green accent. I chose 'Wilhelm Langguth' for its foliage and didn't expect much from it where flowers are concerned. But this geranium is certainly one you don't see in every planting scheme.

Pelargonium 'Wilhelm Langguth'

I chose a tiny plant with big promise for a mixed hanging planter. Porphyrocoma pholiana 'Maracas' is more easily called Brazilian fireworks. As my husband said as I stumbled clumsily through its name, "You might as well call it 'anna-banna-fo-fanna.'"

I'll have to practice up with its botanical name, but perhaps I'll have it down by the time it completes its bloom sequence.
Porphyrocoma pholiana 'Maracas'
The bloom is fun to watch as it evolves. It started out deep red and has been morphing into deep raspberry as it sprouts bright periwinkle blue horn-like protuberances and extends upward from its perch at the central junction of its silver-streaked leaves.

When I combined the coral-colored Reiger begonia, Euphorbia 'Diamond Frost', Acalypha hispida (chenille plant) and Porphyrocoma, the only blooms were on the begonia. Maybe I'm being too anal about the color mix, but as they start to bloom I'm not liking the combination. There is not much I can do about it at this point. I'm really glad, though, that I have blossoms to look forward to in planters I've been nurturing all summer.

Pachystachys lutea
Another tropical that has taken its sweet time to bloom is Pachystachys lutea, a plant I fell in love with in Jamaica 20 years ago. I tried to grow it several years ago without success, and I think I failed because I'd underestimated its need for plant food, especially if it's planted in a pot. This plant also likes it hot. This is another flower that expands and changes as it grows. Its common name is lollipop flower, and it consists of a stack of bracts expanding and then sprouting white florets that resemble that of a Salvia. I can't wait!


Carnations, Pinks, or Gilliflowers All Smell as Sweet

This scentless peony is enhanced by the fragrance of Dianthus.
What's the point of growing a carnation if it isn’t fragrant? I’m just sayin’… There is something to be said for the deeply-colored annual varieties, planted on their color and form merit. But if you haven't tried an old-fashioned "gilliflower," you're missing out on one of the best scents you can lay your nose on.

Alfred H. Hyatt writes in his 1901 book, From a Middlesex Garden
“Here pinks with spices in their throats nod by the bitter marigold…”
Dianthus 'Qeeen of Sheba'
I believe it is its spiciness that gives Dianthus a leg up on the other flowers. Often described as clove-scented, it us more like clove with perhaps a hint of pure sweetness, if that could be considered a fragrance.
Its complex scent and simple flower shape have assured its place in today's gardens. After all, the varieties still offered as the most heavenly scented have been around since the 16th century. But they seem to have fallen out of favor since the first half of the 20th century. 
In her 1932 book, The Fragrant Path, Louise Beebe Wilder writes, “Their modest beauty makes for informality, their fragrance reaches the heart, as well as the nose.”

I can’t wait to see the first bloom on ‘Mrs. Sinkins’, which Wilder calls
 “a fat and sweet-smelling dame … so beruffled that she more often than not manages to burst her ‘impalement,’ thus quite losing countenance.”

But ‘Mrs. Sinkins’ has narry a bud. Luckily, ‘Queen of Sheba’, another older variety (and here, I’m talking the 16th century), has opened one flower that is much more fragrant than its size would indicate. Both of these Dianthus varieties were purchased from Goodwin Creek Gardens just this spring and were too small to bloom when I planted them in my Earth Box along with three varieties of Lavender.
A slightly closer look at the unknown, yet vigorous and fragrant Dianthus in my garden.

Most Dianthus are short-lived in my garden, but I'll never be without them. There is one that I've been growing in the same spot for at least eight years. Some of those years it's flush with blooms while in others it's riddled with dead spots. I wish I could remember its name. My brother-in-law tells me he has the same one and that we'd purchased them at the same time from a nursery in Michigan.

Do you recognize this Dianthus?
It could be one described on The Fragrant Path’s website: A spontaneous hybrid which occurred in the garden between D. barbatus probably var. Harlequin and D. superbus, it is not entirely fixed but favors the former in appearance while retaining much of the latter’s scent.

Unusual Sightings in the Garden

Saturday morning I noticed a black swallowtail butterfly clinging to a weed in the middle of the driveway. Butterflies pretty much know what they're doing so I left it there, assuming it was doing some butterfly thing. Six hours later my husband came from the front yard to the back holding it in his hands. "It was on a weed in the driveway," he said.
Male black swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) with deformed wing.
It turns out that one of the male butterfly's wings had not formed properly and so it couldn't fly. Dave tried setting it on a phlox where it immediately started feeding but then fell off. Whether this little guy damaged its wing by falling as his wings were drying or it was injured from disease is something we'll never know. As far as we could tell, it lived for a little more than 24 hours, as it disappeared from the bed we'd placed it in by the following day.
Flower bud on Franklinia alatamaha
I've been lax about caring for my garden lately. It happens every year around this time when few perennials are bursting into bloom. The section I see every evening before dark is aglow with Phlox 'David's Lavender', which I've been deadheading to keep it neat. And that's how I spotted them--buds on the Franklinia tree. I'm not bragging, but feel incredibly lucky that I'll see blooms on this tree, as it's pretty rare that anyone can keep this tree alive, let alone bloom. I'll keep you posted.

Welcome to my Garden, Fashion Police!

I might go to the garden center in
this outfit.
Do you pay attention to what you wear in the garden? If you're like me, you have your go-to gardening togs that you probably wouldn't go to the store in even if it's an emergency run for fertilizer. Well, perhaps I'd take a run to the garden center in the cooler weather, as I'm mostly covered up.

It's another story in the hot weather, as my goal is to keep as cool as possible and damn the fashion police. Sweating can be a nuisance, especially when you'd prefer not to share your hand dirt with your face. In the really hot months, I'd taken to wearing a bandana of sorts around my head to catch the perspiration before it reached my glasses. I'd purchased a straw hat that turned out to be too big on me, which made it easier to wear over the bandana.
The most comfortable pants for hot weather are linen, and luckily I have a pair that had a previous run-in with some bleach. The most breathable linen tends to stretch out of shape--not a good thing for career-wear, but perfect for gardening.

Wishing to avoid the "trucker tan," I choose a tank top of some kind, preferably long enough to avoid a gap that forms upon bending that could scare the neighbors or attract mosquitoes. Speaking of mosquitoes, I've acquired four units of the Off! Clip On Mosquito Repellent devices. Our mosquitoes are really bad, especially between the hours of dawn and 10 am and from 5 pm to sunset. During these times I wear two of the devices, one clipped to each pocket of my pants.

Muck Boots
Oh, and no matter what season it is, I (almost) always wear socks of some kind with Muck Boots. Even though this is the first season for these well-made shoes, I can tell they'll last more than a couple of years. They're comfy yet sturdy, and they don't weigh me down on hot days. And even with muck on them, they're kind of pretty. I've found they run pretty true to size, as I'd at first ordered a size larger than normal so I could wear wool socks with them in the winter, but I didn't need to, as they're kind of stretchy at the opening, and have plenty of room in the toe box.
These gardening pants are on sale at Duluth Trading Co.

This Panama hat is on sale for $9.99!
Thanks to a trial package from Duluth Trading Co., I've been testing a few items like the Panama hat, which is actually too nice for backyard gardening. I wear it when I visit other gardens, to the beach and anywhere I'd like to keep the sun off my hair and face.

Duluth Trading has designed some gardening pants, which are roomy enough to move in and breathable enough to work in on all but the steamiest of days. I like the gusseted crotch, the elastic at the bottom to help keep out the creepie crawlies, lots of pockets, and places for kneepads.

And if you haven't invested in a pair or two of SmartWool socks, you've gotta give them a try. Duluth Trading carries a nice selection of them, too.

August is for Fragrance

In my garden, August is for fragrance. An accident of timing? Perhaps. But I'll take credit for the honey scent of sweet alyssum, started from seed some time in May and by happenstance from last year's crop. If you have enough of it growing in a relatively small area, you can smell it as it rises with the heat of the day.

Sweet alyssum"Summer Romance"

If you grow sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritima) from seed, you will most likely have its seedlings the following year. I grew a variety by Renee's Garden Seeds called "Summer Romance" last year and have pale pink and white seedlings surrounding a little bed of thyme. I had some seed left this year and started it in a pot along with some Polianthes tuberosa and Agapanthus.

In July I look longingly at my Phlox plants, craving the scent that, in addition to peonies, reminds me of my Grandma Martha. She grew the self-seeded version, which smelled as sweet but were garden gifts instead of hybrids. I don't let mine go to seed; I don't have the room, really.
Three varieties ad their distinctive fragrance throughout the garden: 'Sandringham', 'David's Lavender' and 'Blushing Shortwood'.
Prince Charles at the Sandringham Flower Show

In all the years I've been growing a variety called 'Sandringham', it hasn't had a spec of mildew. This variety looks a lot like the old-fashioned 'Bright Eyes', and it might have been mislabeled when I bought it at a local nursery 20 years ago. I've come to learn that 'Sandringham' was likely named for a place and a garden show in Britain (see photo of Prince Charles scrutinizing what looks like phlox).

Phlox 'Sandringham' blooms in my August garden.
Phlox 'Blushing Shortwood'
Luckily for us and our noses, Phlox paniculata seems to be a plant whose scent can't be hybridized out of it. Just as fragrant as the old-fashioned 'Sandringham' is the fairly recent introduction 'Blushing Shortwood', an adorable bi-color that's hard to capture in a photo. Its flowers are white with smudges of pinkish-lavender. It grows to around three and a half feet in my garden and doesn't need to be staked.

I used to grow 'David' but now have 'David's Lavender', a stunner that goes nicely with anything purple, such as Clematis 'Rooguchi'.

Clematis 'Rooguchi'
And I'm not sure where I'd be without my orange jessamin, the common name for Murraya paniculata. Because of its generosity of bloom, my patio smells just like a citrus field. I can't say enough good things about this plant's ability to live indoors without many ill effects and then be acclimated to live outdoors in the summer.
Murraya paniculata in bud and flower.