How (not) To Water Plants

Baskets of plants and the Enkianthus in May.
All told the summer has been pretty good albeit hotter than an Equatorial greenhouse. African bulbs mostly bloomed due to the lengthy spurts of heat, and the Colocasias zoomed into hugeness where they remain for now until the frost deflates their oversized leaves.

Each year is a learning experience, and my goal is to never repeat what's past. Not because the present year was so horrible, just because I always make different plans for the one coming up. I'll continue with the bulbs, but will plant more flowers for cutting next season, including Zinnias.

The beautiful white tuberous begonia.
I was unwittingly thrust into a trial setting this summer--one that tested some of my plants' responses to being watered by softened water. For four months. Here's how it happened:

In late April, when Dave went to connect the hose to the spigot in front of the house, it broke off in his hand. Our house rests on top of a crawl space, which I've heard isn't that bad as crawl spaces go because it's at least partially floored in cement. Dave had just spent some time down there to repair a leaky pipe. He had to because we had no water.
The Mednilla myriantha was looking perky
in early July. 

"I was just down there," he said as he led a hose from the spigot in the garage, under the garage door to the outside. The hose, a bright blue one, was saved from crushing by his clever positioning of a length of wood to prop up the garage door. The blue hose snaked along the front porch steps to the little patio beneath the pergola in the front of the house. "This is just temporary."

I won't go into the number of unfinished projects that fall under the "this is just temporary" category, but the list is a long one. Anyway, fast forward to hot and dry in late July, when we made liberal use of any hose we could lay our hands on to water everything from pots to in-ground plantings.

The Pseuderanthemum laxiflorum 'Amethyst Stars' did well.
Then one day, Dave tells me there must be something wrong with the water softener. "I've added six bags of salt in a week," he carped. "Can you call the guy out?"

We rent our water softener to assure the heavy mineral content in the water from our well doesn't destroy our pipes and appliances. The pellets we use are made up of 99.8% pure salt. I got around to calling the technician around mid-August. He pressed some buttons on the unit and announced, "You've been using as much water as a family of seven."

I was flabbergasted, as there are just the two of us, which I told him. He pressed more buttons and showed me the past month's usage, which was around 20,000 gallons. He spied the hose snaking into the garage and ending at the spigot near the water softener. "Where is that hose going," he asked.

"It's for watering the plants," I told him.

He told me to watch the dial on the softener as he walked outside and turned on the nozzle. The penny dropped when I saw the gauge registering usage. The spigot we thought was not connected to the softener IS connected to the softener. We were watering our garden during the hottest, driest days of summer with 99.8 percent saltwater. I had been mixing plant food with it to water the numerous pots in the front, and overhead watering everything from the Metasequoia and weeping Katsura to the Hydrangeas, peonies and much, much more.
The Enkianthus in late September.

It's hard to tell yet if these sprinklings will have any long term effect on the plants in the ground. But the bottom line on some of the containers is more apparent. The most obvious symptoms I noticed was a general "failure to thrive."

The Enkianthus doesn't like heat, and the briny water didn't help it any. The Begonias seemed to take it hard, especially compared with those in the backyard that were watered with unsoftened water.
Begonias watered with softened water were chlorotic and none too pretty.

Begonias watered with unsoftened water were in better condition in general.
The thing with using softened water in your garden is that the salt is absorbed by the soil. It eventually can leach out through rainfall, but it has been shown to compact soil, especially those consisting mainly of clay. It also prevents plants' roots from taking up needed nutrients. I'm hoping for the best and am watching the many plants treated with softened water. Time will tell. In the meantime, I guess I'll have to call a plumber.

Living and Lively Sculptures Grace Atlanta Botanical Garden

The Atlanta Botanical Garden is hosting a display of works by Seattle artist Dale Chihuly through October 30, and the double-wow vignette you shouldn't miss involves several of the glass pieces placed near a permanent live sculpture. The sculpture, brought to life with plants, is called the "Earth Goddess." It was created by Mosaiculture International for a two-year exhibit (from 2012-14) called Imaginary Worlds at the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
The Earth Goddess is highlighted by glass works by artist Dale Chihuly.
Trumpet Flower Arbor
"In winter, the Earth Goddess is stripped of the annuals covering her, and she is covered in blue and white lights to become the Ice Goddess in our holiday light show," said Danny Flanders, Public Relations & Marketing Manager for Atlantic Botanical Garden. "Then the next spring, she is covered again with the planting medium and replanted with annuals."

A Trumpet Flower Arbor dangles from a circular metal structure built over a path to the Children's garden. It's the biggest departure from the artist's other works in the garden and was created in 1997.

I almost missed it, hidden in plain sight right above our heads. As much as Chihuly's art could possibly blend into the backdrop, I imagine Trumpet Flower Arbor is amazing when the sun is directly overhead.

Caramel and Red Fiori
One of my favorites, and an installation that refuses to be ignored, is Caramel and Red Fiori, consisting of upwardly undulating glass spikes. Each piece falls in a loose line among the garden beds surrounding the Great Lawn outside the conservatory.

Green Hornets and Water Drops
with Neomydium Reeds.
"Green Hornets and Water Drops" reminded me of Christmas ornaments, but the Neomydium Reeds just reminded me how great purple looks in a garden.

I'm sorry to say I didn't have much time to spend in the garden. It's only 30 acres--small by American public gardens' standards--but an hour and a half was definitely not enough.

I was ecstatic to stumble upon a dog made of grasses. The Shaggy Dog, which was part of the Imaginary Worlds exhibit, found a home in Atlanta when International Mosaiculture donated him to honor the garden's volunteers. According to Flanders, the volunteers planned to raise the necessary funds to "adopt" Shaggy because they'd grown so fond of him. I have too.

The Shaggy dog by Mosaiculture International.


A Hummingbird Haven: You Can Grow That!

Who doesn't like hummingbirds? I can't get enough of them, with their unmistakable cackling buzz startles me every time I hear it.

It's a sign they're closing in on a nearby plant. I like to make sure I have a regular hummer smorgasbord so that they'll put my garden on their flight path.

According to the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, hummingbirds are territorial. I actually knew that, and have seen two hummingbirds in my garden chasing each other around. But it's hard to consider something that weighs less than a nickel threatening.

Hummingbird love affair with Cuphea 'Vermillionaire.
The hummingbird "meat and potatoes" plant seems to be Cuphea 'Vermillionaire,' an unobtrusive tropical that asks for little in fertilizer or water. I actually wintered the plant over in the mudroom, which gets little light but seldom falls below 50 degrees F.

I have a plastic-coated metal panel as a support for my Monarda. Its horizontal wire has done double-duty as a perch for the hummingbirds. As I watched the two birds, I'd see one sitting on the wire near the Monarda while the other plied its favorite flowers for nectar.

The feeding bird must have kept his nemesis in view, because whenever the bird left his perch and headed for the flowers, a major set-to took place between the two aerialists.

Pentas is popular with hummingbirds, too.
I'm pretty sure I planted enough for everybody, but hummingbirds don't see it that way. It takes a lot of energy for these little guys to survive. They track nectar sources with even more determination than a sugar junkie prowls the cookie aisle at the supermarket.

I grow Pentas and Salvia, which seem to be special treats for the birds.
Agastache 'Blue Blazes' cavorts with Salvia 'Amistad'. 
Salvia 'Windwalker' is just getting started.
This year I added a few Agastaches, one of which hasn't stopped blooming since I planted it. Agastache 'Blue Blazes' looks great with Salvia 'Amistad', and the hummingbirds love it!

Salvia 'Windwalker' is new for me. I brought two plants home from Groovy Plants Ranch in Marengo, Ohio. 'Windwalker' is a cross between Salvia darcyi (Mexican sage) and S. microphylla (mountain sage). I planted them in May and they're just now ramping up for what I think will be a major bloom after flowering a little weakly through most of the summer. It is rated as hardy to Zone 5.

I've never used a hummingbird feeder. I guess I know myself well enough to realize I would be too lazy to clean it out every few days or even more often on really hot days. It's good to know hummingbirds don't turn up their cute little noses at actual plants in favor of plastic guides to sugar water.

So if you'd like to invite hummingbirds to your garden in a more natural and colorful way, know Salvia is easy and...