Grow Grafted Veggies

Two seasons ago, I discovered grafted tomatoes. I grew 'Japanese Trifele', a dark-hued beauty with a subtle smoky flavor that was actually developed in Russia, and an early-ripening determinate variety called 'Legend'. I won't be going back to the non-grafted varieties.

Tomato 'Pineapple'
The thing about grafted tomatoes is that, whatever you decide to grow -- heirloom or modern varieties -- you'll get more yield. But wait. There's more! The variety that performs the root duty (called the rootstock) on the plant is super disease-resistant, providing additional support from disease for the disease-prone heirloom varieties. Learn more about grafting on SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables' site.

In 2013 I grew a grafted 'Pineapple' and a double-grafted plant with 'Sungold' and 'Sweet Million'. Even my father in-law, The Tomato Don of Merrillville, was impressed with the size of the fruit I harvested. The flavor of these tomatoes is enhanced with an extra sweetness, almost melon-like with enough acidity to let you know you're eating a tomato.

'Pineapple' tomato so far this season.
Earlier this month I got to meet two of the people behind the tomato grafting movement at the Cultivate '14 trade show and convention in Columbus, OH. Alice Doyle, of Log House Plants, and John Bagnasco of Garden Life now Garden America are two of the three people who collaborated, along with Tim Wada of Plug Connection, to form SuperNaturals Grafted Vegetables, LLC, North America’s largest producer of grafted vegetables for home gardens

'Wonder Bell' pepper
John and Alice told me about the challenges of grafting. If the graft plant is larger in diameter than the producing plant, it's nearly impossible to make the graft, so, as they explained, timing is everything. John was happy to hear of my success with 'Pineapple', as that variety can be a slacker in the production department. 

I'm growing 'Pineapple' again this year, grafted again, naturally. It's currently over six feet tall and has about a dozen fruits on it, many of which are nearing the size of a softball. Also this season, I'm growing a grafted sweet pepper called 'Wonder Bell' that J. W. Jung Seed Company sent me to try. The last time I tried to grow sweet peppers, I think I got two or three puny fruits. Veggies haven't been a priority for me, but I've really started to enjoy having responsibility for my own edibles. As for the sweet pepper, they're so large already it's tempting to pick a couple. But I'm going to wait til they get bright red and then roast them.

Long-lasting Garden Performers

An unequivocal thumbs up to Kniphofia 'Elvira'.
Some plants take a few years before they become garden stars. It's most often true with perennials, and it's definitely true for Kniphofia 'Elvira'. I was given one plant to try in my garden by Blooms of Bressingham in the spring of 2012. It was a small plant and I wasn't expecting much. But it bloomed that first summer. Its blooms doubled in 2013, and this year, that one small plant grew large enough to produce at least 10 flower spikes!

You might think that number isn't particularly large, so let me explain. 'Elvira' isn't in a sunny, really well-drained spot that it culturally prefers. And she certainly isn't planted with nothing else around. In my garden? Seriously?

Kniphofia 'Elvira' is surrounded by a plant sample of Geranium 'Azure Rush', also from Blooms of Bressingham. 'Azure Rush' is a very vigorous plant. It's related to 'Rozanne' after all, a plant that can scramble over and through anything in its path.
One bloom of Geranium 'Azure Rush' with Veronica and Echinacea.
Another thing I like about 'Elvira' is its relatively unobtrusive foliage. Unlike the larger varieties of Kniphofia, her leaves are under a foot long with the shiny, sherbet-colored flowers hovering well above them.

While not officially designated a rebloomer, 'Elvira' provides color for two to three weeks, this year beginning in late June.

Eucomis autumnalis
In the annual department, I've planted a few Eucomis or pineapple lilies, two of which have been blooming for awhile. These unusual plants can be hardy to Zone 7, so in some places, they're perennials. I purchased three bulbs of Eucomis autumnnalis from Brent & Becky's Bulbs and combined them with Pennisetum x advena 'Cherry Sparkler' and Gomphrena 'Razzle Dazzle'.

If you're looking for longevity, Eucomis is a great choice. When they first emerged, I wanted to pinch their chubby little buds packed like corn niblets along the flower stem. As the stems grew longer, the buds unfurled into crisp, white lily-like flowers.

Part of a pink and pale vignette, this pot contains Eucomis autumnalis.

Little unknown Eucomis from the supermarket.
Now, a month later, the flower stems have stretched to about 20 inches, perfect for the pot size, and even for cutting if I wanted. I will bring the pot in for the winter, keeping it in the crawl space where it hopefully won't freeze. I had success with another Eucomis--one I'd purchased on sale at a supermarket after it had finished blooming. It's a tiny little thing bearing ruby red flower buds that open white along the six-inch stems.

One thing I'm glad I did when I planted the bulbs was to use potting soil mixed with orchid bark and Growstone Soil Aerator. With all the rain we've had, my Eucomis would have rotted if I hadn't added the extra drainage. I mixed it with Fox Farm Ocean Forest Potting Soil, creating the best-textured mix I've ever used. Even with all the rain, the water soluble fertilizers and extensive root growth, the top of the soil looks good, not dry and crumbly as is often the case with other soils.

Poppies!! You Just Can't Have Too Many

Eschscholzia californica 'Wrinkled Rose'.
I've got bread poppies, California poppies and Shirley poppies in my garden. While some are self-sown, most are newly grown from seed very early in spring.

California poppies, or Eschscholzia californica, are native to and are the state flower of California. The variety I grew this year is called 'Wrinkled Rose', a hybrid that is long-blooming and gorgeously pleated and colored.

This Papaver somniferum is self-sown from previous years.
The botanical name for bread poppy, which is also known as the opium poppy is Papaver somniferum. It's easy to remember which species it belongs to by imagining the scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and her entourage fell asleep in a field of poppies.

The species name of this poppy, somniferum is from the Latin somnus meaning "sleep" and fero meaning "to bring," and refers to the coma-inducing properties of the plant's extracts.

You can also harvest the seeds from Papaver somniferum to use in baking. This is the flower from which poppy seeds are harvested.

Papaver somniferum with double flowers.
According to the Food Lover's Companion, it takes about 900,000 poppy seeds to equal a pound. Another little-known fact about poppy seeds is their high oil content, which makes them prone to going rancid. For this reason, they should be stored, airtight, in the fridge for up to six months.

Seeds of the opium poppy do not contain appreciable levels of the alkaloids found in opium resin. And according to Christopher Grey-Wilson in his book, Poppies: A Guide to the Poppy Family in the Wild and in Cultivation, the seeds are also used for cooking oil, paint, soap, and to make food for livestock.

This year, although I don't recall planting them, I have some double-flowered bread poppies. These little beauties hold up quite well unless it rains.

 Last year I planted a variety called 'Lauren's Grape', and it seems to have reseeded. The flower is aptly named, as it's the shade of ripe grapes, only a tad brighter.

I hope to have the patience to harvest seeds from some of the pods. I usually wait until they're dried and then pop them open and sprinkle them around to assure their presence in my garden next season.

One of the most varied poppies in my garden is Papaver rhoeas, also known as corn poppy or Shirley poppy.

Two of my favorite Shirley poppy mixes are Angel's Choir (from Thompson & Morgan), and 'Falling in Love'.

Papaver rhoeas in a variety of colors
While I don't know which flowers are from which mix, I get a great group of flowers in a huge variety of colors and color combinations.

I just love them all, for their crinkled petals as they begin to open, the picotee edges that provides a special highlight to an already beautiful flower, and their delicate demeanor. You can cut them as they first open and they'll brighten the indoors in a vase for at least two days. And that actually goes for all of them.

July is for Lilies

While not necessarily my favorite month because of the mosquitoes and the humidity, 
July is certainly colorful. I'm going to let my flowers do the talking for this month's 

Lilium 'Yelloween' is a Oriental-Trumpet hybrid originally bred for the cut flower trade. It's grown 6 feet tall in my garden this year.
Lilium 'Silver Angel' is an upright trumpet lily that is fragrant.

Lilium 'Orania' continues to be one of my favorites. It's an OT (Oriental-Trumpet mix) that is very vigorous.
'Sweetheart' is an OT with a wonderful fragrance.
Introduced in 1964, Lilium 'Red Velvet' is an Asiatic with downward facing flowers the shade of the famous cake from the same era. It's red as red can be, but without a jot of fragrance. A fair trade-off.
Another OT, 'Porcelain Doll' has a heavy substance and a light fragrance.
One of my favorite OTs 'Conca d'Or' is vigorous, fragrant, sturdy and beautiful. And it's lovely with Liatris.
To see what's blooming in other garden bloggers gardens, check out May Dreams Gardens for 
Carol's monthly Garden Blogger's Bloom Day.

Nobody Doesn't Like Coneflowers

'Sombrero Salsa Red' is ripping into summer with a bevy of blooms and buds.
No one doesn't have coneflowers. Genetically Echinacea, specifically hybrids of the most colorful kind. We can find coneflowers with a pouf more like a over sprayed pompadour, those boasting more than one color, and varieties that display a certain insouciance by keeping their petals languorously at their sides. Some of the coneflower varieties show off their chutzpah via diameter, and some even have a fragrance.

This year I have a few that, in their second season, are zooming into bloom.

How's this for red? 'Sombrero Salsa Red' shows its reverse petal charm.
I've found that unless a plant is in at least a gallon sized pot, Echinacea requires a season to just hang out and get used to its  new digs before deigning to dazzle us with flowers.

Just three varieties are new to my garden this year. And I've lost one.

First, the new. For sheer near-true, bright red, 'Sombrero Salsa Red' is hard to beat. 

I actually planted Echinacea 'Supreme Flamingo' and 'Supreme Elegance' last season. They each offered up a few blooms, which was nice, but I knew this would be the season of the Supremes.
 'Supreme Elegance' at the beginning.

'Supreme Elegance' is aptly named. She's an understated beauty demurely waiting to be appreciated with the second glance. She knows that glance (and resulting appreciation) will come. And after all, aren't the best things worth waiting for?

'Supreme Elegance' begins to enter the pinnacle of her beauty.
This Echinacea grows into her elegance, expanding at the center and emitting a glow known only to virgin brides and babies. It's shade is fresh and flawless, flushed a pinky-rose like a child after a day at the beach.
Echinacea 'Supreme Flamingo' in my garden

Echinacea 'Supreme Flamingo' has a definite coral-pink thing going on. It's someplace in between shrimp and rose, but with enough saturation to stand out in a crowd. Flowers transition, a trait I love about the newer varieties, so that one plant has a lot of form to offer.

There are some new varieties of coneflower on the horizon. I got to see some of them at Cultivate '14 in Columbus Ohio earlier in the week. This trade show is where the plant growers, breeders and brokers gather with equipment designers and  manufacturers to show wholesalers, retailers, landscapers and writers like me what's new in the horticultural world.

It was great fun, and I'll soon be blogging about what I found, including Echinacea 'Supreme Flamingo' growing at Chadwick Arboretum.
Echinacea 'Supreme Flamingo' at Chadwick Arboretum.

Flowers for the Cutting Garden

'Blue Monday' Sage (upper left) and Ageratum (lower right).
Starting plants from seed takes commitment I'm not often ready for. But this year, thanks to my AeroGarden, I have had more success than failure. The Clary sage (Salvia sclarea) was the first thing I started, and it's really taken off.

I chose the Salvia sclarea for the plant's value as a cut flower. As the photo shows, it's as close to true, deep blue as a flower can be. And in the floral world, blue is the new black - it goes with everything. 

Another plant in the blue range is Ageratum 'Blue Horizon', its flowers a fluffy cluster of bright blue. And with its 30" height, it's also a good cut flower. I didn't start the Ageratum from seed; I found it at a local garden center along with some Larkspur Giant Imperial mix.

I absolutely love this Larkspur, which is a relative of Delphinium, a somewhat finicky perennial in our hot and humid summers. Next year, I am thinking of starting my own larkspur with seed from Swallowtail Garden Seeds.
What I'm calling my cutting garden includes larkspur, Ageratum, the clary sage, Campanula, some Echinacea and a Dahlia.
A regularly-pinched Amaranth 'Oeschberg' in a mixed planter.
Probably the biggest advantage of starting plants from seed is the varieties you can grow. For instance, I was surprised to find the cutting Ageratum and the larkspur in little cell packs at two separate garden centers. The larkspur is a mix; if I order seed, I can plant individual colors if I want.

Another plant I started from seed is a decorative or edible variety of Amaranth called 'Oeschberg'. Described as an upright form of Love Lies Bleeding, this variety is supposedly more compact. I love it in arrangements, especially with orange flowers.

The burgundy spikes of Amaranth 'Oeschberg' add something extra to this arrangement.