Take a Chance on Marginally Hardy or Short-lived Plants

Although I've been in denial, this year I've come to the realization that pretty much my entire backyard can be labeled "partial sun." Because of the denial thing, I've purchased dozens of plants whose cultural requirements include sun. They also claim to be hardy to zones warmer than the one in which I live.

So how did they do? Here are just three that I grew (or have seen flower) for the first time in 2014.

Alstroemeria 'Inca Husky' has been blooming since I planted it in a  south-facing raised bed. 'Inca Husky' was bred by Konst Alstroemeria as a "micro," topping out around 10 inches in height. Considering its placement in a partly-shaded section of the garden, it pretty much stayed that height all summer. I love to bring flowers inside for a vase, and Alstroemeria are known for their long vase life, but I had to use a really short vase for this little beauty.

I would give this plant an A-grade for its bloom activity and hope to find more in the Inca series next year. The company, which originated in Nieuwveen, Holland, seems to be working on expanding its availability in the U.S. with growers on both coasts. On my next visit to Sunshine Greenhouse in Grant Park, IL, where I purchased 'Inca Husky', I'll look for more in the series, hopefully a variety that grows just a bit taller. Will 'Inca Husky' make it through the winter? I hope so. But its performance has given it a status in my garden that encourages me to try again if it doesn't.

I love poppies of all kinds, and I'd love to have more of a variety called 'Bolero'. This luscious grape-colored variety should be kept away from its orange relations, at least in my garden. When you put a delicately-hued flower with one with a jarring vibrance, neither wins out.

'Bolero' is a hardy Oriental poppy that remained under three feet tall, despite its less-than-fully-sunny location. I'd planted this variety in spring of 2013, and it grew like crazy that year, its rosette of leaves bulking up and not going dormant as Orientals usually do. This year it didn't offer up too many flowers, but I have high hopes for next year. 

In a partially-shaded garden Papaver orientale are not long-lived. If I get two years of blooms from 'Bolero', I'll be very happy.

Eucomis autumnalis
I purchased three bulbs of Eucomis autumnalis from Brent and Becky's Bulbs. and planted them in a container with Gomphrena 'Pink Zazzle' and Pennisetum 'Fireworks'. 

Of all thee Eucomis I planted in pots, this species by far surpassed them all. It started to bloom in late June, still looked great a month later, and I finally cut off the flower spikes in early August. 

Two of the other Eucomis I planted bloomed, but nowhere near as prolifically.

Eucomis is rated hardy to Zone 7, so I am leaving them all in their pots and keeping them in my garage for the winter. I'll let you know how they fare.

My garden is my laboratory. Each year I try dozens of new plants, many that aren't necessarily hardy in my planting zone. I go willingly into each experiment with my eyes open, but knowing your zone, what it means, and how to read a plant's tag are vital for a gardener's success. 

A lot has been written about Alstroemeria and its hardiness, with claims of winter survival in Zone 5. Cautious growers can get certain varieties through the winter in Zones 5 and 6, depending on several factors, including:
  • Drainage - the soil shouldn't allow any puddling or standing water at the crown or anywhere the roots are growing, whether the plant is growing or dormant.
  • Winter temps and snow cover - some winters are just plain harsh and involve a crap shoot combination of wind, temperature, plant location and snow cover. If it all goes right, plants stand less of a chance of going belly up.
  • Health of the plant - hedge your bets by growing plants as healthily as possible during the summer months. If they go into winter in good condition and with a healthy root system, they can withstand winter with a fighting chance of making it through.
All of the same holds true with some Eucomis, although I'm still going to bring mine into the garage.

Easy Arranger Give-Away

When the folks at Annabelle Noel sent me a package of Easy Arrangers, I knew I had to stage a give-away. And then I got busy and forgot.

So now, with the holiday season coming up, I'd like to invite you to comment on this post by November 10 to enter my drawing for a 5-inch Easy Arranger.

These great bouquet assistants make it easy to create upstanding arrangements with your own garden flowers or those you purchase at the florist. They come in several sizes and shapes, including a 4-inch square model for a square vase.

The wire is malleable enough to form easily around the opening of a vase, or even use it inside the opening. I was able to use a 4-inch diameter cachepot for a bunch of short-stemmed flowers, including the fairly soft-stemmed Calendula I'd started from seed.

The six-inch Easy Arranger was called into play and bent inward toward the center of the pot, giving the wire frame some stability. From there it was easy to add the flowers.

Flowers like pot marigold (Calendula) and floss flower (Ageratum) fill a small cachepot.
This July arrangement features the Easy Arranger and its detachable little green dangles.
In some of my arrangements, more is more, and when I gathered an abundance of blooms from lilies, Hydrangea, Veronica, Kniphofia and more, I clipped four green dangles from Easy Arranger onto the wire before adding the flowers.

By late August, even Maurice wanted to horn his way into one of my photos.
I was still creating arrangements in late August, now with flowers from Heuchera 'Autumn Bride', Zinnias and cockscomb (Celosia).

So here's what you will need to do to enter my drawing for a free Easy Arranger: Just click on "comment" below and let me know your experience when putting flowers in a vase, if the flowers are from your garden or from a florist, and what you like to put into your arrangement--flowers, foliage, etc. If you have a blog, include it in the comment.

I will choose one of your comments at random and announce the winner in a future blog and on my Facebook page.

Less Garden Space = More Garden Work

When you don't have as much sunlight to offer plants that crave lots of it, they exhibit characteristics that you can live with, like excess height as they reach toward the sun, and fewer blooms. Unfortunately, over time, they can also suffer damage. For example, in an exceedingly rainy year like the one we've just had, plants' roots might remain wet for too long, which leads to fungal disease.
'Elsa Sass'
The lowest spot in my garden rarely is host to standing water. And when it is, it's only for a day or less. Plants that grow in this space, which is approximately three feet wide and six feet long, include lawn, Ajuga, ornamental Oregano and Siberian iris. It also included the peony 'Elsa Sass'. One of the latest of my peonies to bloom, Elsa is a gorgeous white fragrant double that I knew should be moved.

So what was stopping me? Not enough space and too much work. In my garden I can't just plant things. First I have to make room. Add to that the recommendation (for very good reason) to avoid planting peony roots in spots where other peonies have grown, and another level of difficulty is thrown into the mix. 'Elsa Sass' was planted in fall of 2007. It didn't start blooming until 2009. By 2011 I knew it should be moved in order to perform better, but I put it off because finding a new spot for it would take some serious maneuvering. Digging. Moving. Finding an empty space was easier to do when I had a brand new plant. I told myself Elsa was doing okay for now.

During the height of peony bloom season, looking south toward the woods.
Peony season begins; facing the "girls' yard," fenced off for the dogs.
In my lifetime, I doubt I'll grow all the plants I'd like to. But, as the saying goes, I'll die trying. This attitude, which I'm sure many other gardeners share, leads to a crowded garden. There is no room for slackers, especially those that come up without a fight.

Because I purchased two new peonies and divided another, I'm once again yanking plants to make room. This year it's the Baptisia.

I planted the hybrid 'Purple Smoke' in spring 2008. If I had any truly sunny spots in my garden and the Baptisia were planted in one of them, it would by now be just over three feet in diameter. But since my garden has no such space, this Baptisia sprawls over a diameter of six feet, even though I've given it support.

Don't get me wrong, I really like this plant. It's a great peony companion, as shown in the photo with peonies and Allium. It's just that it is taking up some really valuable real estate and lounging over its neighbors, which are definitely failing to thrive in response.

Baptisia 'Purple Smoke' makes a great backdrop for any color of peonies.
So I've removed the supports and cut it back. But I'm not having much success digging it out in the traditional method using fork and shovel. I've left the Baptisia for last, after spending hours ridding a small area of Convallaria and Lysimachia clethroides. This pushy pair, AKA lily of the valley and gooseneck loosestrife, should never have been planted, and I can only take credit for adding the lily of the valley. The loosestrife was already there courtesy of the home's former owner. I've been trying to obliterate it for 14 years.  But that's a story for another time.

I think I will probably leave it until spring. For now, I'll attempt to sever its roots, which I've found several feet away from the plant, evidence of its ability to thrive just about anywhere. I've read that it can be successfully divided, but with a root system like this, I'm not certain I can. For now, I'll be resting up and lifting extra weight at the gym to prepare.

Don't Mind the Chill - Plant Some Cool Flowers

Buy Cool Flowers from St. Lynn's Press.
Of course to me, all flowers are cool. But this Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques is about growing great flowers, especially for cutting, when the temperatures are chilly.

If you thought your garden was pretty much over for all but the freezing, author Lisa Mason Ziegler guides us through some really great options. As a Midwest gardener in denial, I've always wanted to grow sweet peas, Godetia and Delphinium. But in the Midwest, we typically have a very short spring.

Ziegler shows how to prepare our soil now for planting in early spring. It makes a lot of sense to do it this way, because who knows what the weather will be like when we're ready to plant? In my world, it's usually too wet and the soil is either soggy or compacted from snow and rain.

With step by step instructions accompanied by photos, Ziegler shows how to dig a three-feet wide planting rows after removing this year's annual plants, roots and all. And she explains the use and benefits of a floating row cover, a lightweight fabric that can give from four to eight degrees of protection from cold, and protect from marauding birds and deer while allowing light through.

Larkspur 'Giant Imperial' makes a great cut flower.
 Cool Flowers is a little book packed with ideas and instructions on how to get started early to avoid what I call "instant summer syndrome," when hot weather muscles past spring and knocks the breath out of some of the best flowers for cutting. A few of the flowers Ziegler lists as candidates for planting either in early spring or fall include Lisianthus (Eustoma),  sweet peas (Lathyrus) and white lace flower (Orlaya grandiflora) all of which I plan to try for next year.

Lisa Mason Ziegler grows cut flowers for a living, so it makes sense to have as big a variety of healthy flowers as possible, as early as possible. She tells us about how to support plants that need it, how to feed organically, keep weeds down, and take advantage of microclimates.

Calendula is one of the flowers Ziegler covers in her book.
I've been growing flowers that happen to work well in a vase, but I find myself moving more toward flowers just made for cutting. Ziegler covers nearly all of the flowers with which we've had previous relationships. For me, those relationships never worked because of a lack of the flowers' ability to commit to the summer.

Ziegler explains how plants that typically shrivel up when the weather gets hot can last much longer if they've been planted in the right spot and have had time to establish a good root system. It makes a lot of sense.

Now that I know Ziegler's secret to success, perhaps I can find uses for all of those seeds I've purchased over the years but, for fear of failure, never started.

Rain Chain Makes a Great Water Feature

Water from a hose running through the chain.
Our house is and has been gutter-challenged since we moved in nearly 15 years ago. I won't go into the whole history, but what is important to note is that our lot has a lot of mature trees. In fact, if you flew over our house in mid-summer, it would be mostly obscured from view save patches of roof and portions of my flower garden.

Our house's former owners didn't believe in gutters because they'd have to be cleaned out so often. I don't recall exactly how I talked my husband into installing gutters on the front of the house, but there, we have them. Except that the gutter on the northeast corner of the house just ends. No downspout, no end cap - rain just pours like a concentrated waterfall into the landscape.

The landscape of which I speak is draped with four layers of English ivy with accents of thistle, Virginia creeper and poison ivy for contrast. Except for the English ivy, which some well-meaning doofus planted as a ground cover, the combination is nature's own medley. And it doesn't seem to mind the intensity of the stream whenever it rains.
Just hanging without a gutter.

It was the perfect spot for a rain chain. Which is why I said yes when a representative from Rain Chains Direct asked if I would like to try one of their rain chains. I chose the Aged Square Cups design for its contemporary lines that would go with our ranch style home. When the chain arrived, it seemed big and clunky, but once it was set up on the house, I knew it would look great.

After getting the ladder out of the garage and setting it up on the surprisingly-not-eroded ground beneath the endless gutter, my husband was eventually shamed into climbing it and installing the chain. Because rain was not in the forecast, I also got him to aim the hose at the gutter and let 'er rip.

I was really surprised how quickly the "rain" ran through the cups. Although I'd for some reason imagined it would make a sound, it didn't. But I found it fascinating to watch.

So if and when I move the chain or buy another one, I will definitely put it in a location where I can watch it when it's really raining.

Whether you're looking to divert rain water, put some pizazz into a faulty or functioning gutter, or add an inexpensive water feature to your garden, you might want to look into Rain Chain Direct's selection.

Rain Chain Direct makes its chains from solid copper that will eventually develop a subtle patina. Now I can't wait for some rain!