30 November 2014

Tending To The Tender Snacks

Root crops and I just don't mix well. Carrots are one of the first creatures (they are supposed to be easy) that I tried growing, year after year, without much success. They ended up dry, splitting, deformed runts. After a few years of adding sand to my garden soil more appropriate for clay pottery than gardening, the results were no better.

Then, I discovered compost and organic material, and thought to try that to improve the soil density. Building upon last years's carrot success, I gave it another shot this year with the Tendersnax hybrid purchased a year or two ago. The results are truly amazing considering I ignored the carrots this year.

They suffered with a low germination rate, being seed that was two years old. And, they suffered through a few mini-droughts of my own doing, neglect, and the overgrowth of a white nicotiana jungle. After garden cleanup this fall, there they were; green and happy after the subfreezing temperatures last week. Two were split lengthwise, and a slug was chewing its way through a third for its Thanksgiving dinner, but most were in great shape. This was the first year I have had any hint of beasties bothering carrots, but then, I haven't had any carrots to speak of to bother.

These will make a great side dish in my annual holiday dinner in a few weeks. And I believe I found a good carrot compatible with my garden: Tendersnax.

03 November 2014

Last Gasp Before Winter

Most of the garden has fallen asleep before winter arrives, but some defiant plants refuse to give up. Acidanthera, members of the glad, family look as lush and healthy as a summer day. They continue to flower, albeit with fewer blooms than in summer.

The pineapple sage (Salvia elegans) is in its glory at this time. It waits until just before frost to throw out its red threads against its chartreuse foliage. This year the plant really took off after a severe winter that I thought would have killed it off like its neighbor the rosemary. Now, every day brings new branches tipped with new flower buds. I wonder what this would look like after one more frost-free month.


The tricolor ornamental peppers Garda did not grow as large as last year when it was in a pot on the raised deck. Even though this year in ground, it received a little more sun. I am thinking the rich soil in the pot gave the plants there a boost. These peppers are a favorite of mine with their circus colors. Fruit starts out a light cream color, then turns purple, then turns orange, then turns red. Yes, they are edible and incredibly hot.

Zinnias never give up. Even if all their leaves have turned crispy brown in the crisp autumn temperatures, they want to keep on blooming. The free zinnia seed mix curiously have only the red ones going strong. Pinks, purples, and yellows died out.

The Mexican Zinnias (Zinnia agustifolia) are very slow to start themselves, reseeding year after year -- the zinnia that keeps on giving. I got my money's worth when I got these several years ago. Once they get growing, there is no stopping. Throughout the summer they thrive on the heat, producing balls of oranges, yellows, and whites. And in the fall, they also seem to love the cooler weather as much as the late pollinators love them. I usually let them spring up wherever they want, especially along a walkways to soften the edge.

The overnight lows are flirting with freezing, but these friends are holding out until the end after their comrades gave up.

12 October 2014

Vacation In Quirky Cedar Key

A few days before the convention were spent on the gulf coast of Florida in the small, quaint, walkable, low-key town of Cedar Key. There are no stop lights, no chain restaurants, and no chain hotels in the town that is known as 'old Florida' (before the mouse arrived.)

I will spare the 'where is this place' theme from last year's trip because I doubt anyone but local residents would know the answer. As this is a gardening blog, I will try keeping to that subject with some photos I found interesting around town.


Tuesday was Burger Day at AdaBlue Cafe on the outskirts of town. The gardener's theme on the 'sign trailer' out front attracted me. AdaBlue Cafe was at the entrance of an RV park with a great view facing west over the water, and a deck out front with lots of plants. The outdoor deck was as non-pretentious as the town, with plants and a tree growing up through the middle.

The burgers were real, with locally grown tomatoes, strong onions, and sharp cheddar. While admiring the plants in the yard on the way out, the owners came out and chatted extensively about their collection -- very friendly people. Most plants I recognized as houseplants in Virginia.








The town seems to have integrated some 'art' with 'garden.' I walked by the old man in the tree a few times before noticing, and it was the light fixture that first caught my attention in the garden.


I did not stay at the RV park, but rented a condo in town. The welcoming attendant at the front desk was an animal, who's attitude at first 'gave me paws.'


A garden wall was adorned with tiles in, what else, a seaside theme. The overflowing red trumpet vine turns out to be in the fern family and used as a ground cover. Russelia equisetifolia or Red Firecraker Fern is a tropical native to Mexico.


Two concrete heads are better than one, in the front yard of a home. Are these meant to be small bird baths or drinking wells for the geckos?

What I believe are agaves sit quietly near the entry of a local hotel. Most all sidewalks along the historic main street are covered, so these must be watered, and are not in full sun.

There were a few very large cycads with cones around town. Cycads originated millions of years ago during the time of the dinosaurs. They fascinate me because their biology is nothing like other plants.

I did find some time to spend on the water. The bottle nose dolphins did not visit me in my kayak. They did, however, swim along side us during a power boat tour of the outer islands.

27 September 2014

My Three Garden Tips

We all pick up secrets along our garden journey. I have a few that I will call tips since I picked them up from somewhere in the past, but they are no longer secrets since being published here. I wish I could take credit for thinking of them, but will take credit for passing them on.

Tame Your Buddleia
Everywhere I look, I see Buddleia growing wild and free, out of control. I wanted to keep my buddleia tamed. First, I cut it down to within a foot (30 cm) of the ground for the winter. When it begins its spring growth, I will pinch every shoot after two pairs of leaves. Two shoots will develop from the last leaf to three more times. The result is a well-behaved, manicured bush with a neat habit.

The plant blooms are smaller, and blooms later than most near mid to late summer, but this more closely corresponds to the time butterflies and pollinators are out. Deadheading the spent blooms encourages more branching, too.

Micro Watering
Sometimes, I need to water tomato plants in hot weather without wetting the leaves and encouraging fungus. My veggies require more frequent watering than ornamentals, and when mixing vegetables with ornamentals in the same bed, I need to separate watering rituals. The plastic milk jugs with three pin holes poked in the bottom do the trick.

They are filled with water and placed on the ground next to the thirsty plant and left for a while. Water takes about a half hour to drip out slowly from the holes, soaking into the ground instead of running off, does not wet the plant leaves, and does not water surrounding plants. It only takes a few minutes of my time to water. Two jugs per tomato plant is sufficient, so when empty, the jugs are refilled for another plant.

Dust To Dust
The powders that are used for insecticides and fungicides are difficult to apply with the squirt containers, or with no containers at all. Filling an old sock with the powder works well as a duster. I shake the filled sock above the plant, and the powder is broken into fine particles, never coming out in clumps and never all at once.

Each sock is labeled with the contents, such as COP for copper fungicide, and EARTH for diatomaceous earth -- the two powders I use. Of course, the resulting fine dust particles only settle on the upper leaves, so I welcome a tip for getting it on the undersides.

It has been a long time since the last post due to work and vacation, and catching up on work after the vacation.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, dahlia, acidanthera, cosmos, aster, zinnia
  • Harvested: 6 bell peppers, many tomatoes
  • Planted: bush green beans 9/7

23 August 2014

Long Day At Longwood

This gardener of over a decade has never been to Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, or to the other nearby gardener ports of call. Longwood Gardens was on the list of staycation day trips assigned to any weekend with nothing else planned.

The battle plan was to attack on Saturday in August. The weather was to be glorious. The route was arranged, camera batteries charged, and walking clothes readied. Then it rained Friday evening and the meteorologists changed their tune to Saturday showers. Dark overcast skies ready to burst open greeted Saturday morning so the trip was off.

After plans were cancelled, the sun then came out, and rain on the radar map evaporated. I flew into the car and peeled out at the last minute, calculating an arrival time before lunch.

The woods were the first stop. Towering mature trees filtered light down to open glades with peaceful water.

The property was owned by the Pierce family as a farm, with the owners planting specimen tress on a section of the grounds through the 1800s. It was called Pierce's Park, but the Pierce family wanted to sell the property, and a lumber company had a deal to buy the property partly because of the great trees.

The bench beckons for a rest in the woods. But, there is an entire botanical garden to explore.

Pierre duPont, industrialist head of the duPont Compny, was an amateur gardener as most in his famous family. He was appalled that the lumber company was planning to harvest the trees in Pierce's Park, so he purchased the lumber company, then obtained the property and made it his summer home.

The water tower at the edge of the woods.

Pierre duPont laid out and planted gardens on the property, built a spectacular conservatory greenhouse, collected more specimens, built an outdoor theater, and installed grand fountains. He entertained, sponsored theater performances, and kept the park open to the public.

This is the new meadow, still filling in, reminding me of an Andrew Wyeth painting.

The property was set up in a well-funded Longwood Foundation for the preservation of the gardens and for improvement of horticulture. After his death in 1954, the foundation undertook expansion and education. Today, Longwood Gardens and the estate cover 1,077 acres (4.2 km2) and employ over 1000. The newest addition is the 86 acre (0.3 km2) meadow garden demonstrating ecological design with wetlands and open native habitat.

One of the trial gardens - this one of dahlias and daylily cultivars being tried (in the background.)

The main conservatory greenhouse.

I always admire little design details that are unexpected and delight the senses.

The 'white' garden in one of the 'green'houses.

One inside the orchid house. I was impressed by the shape and color. No name.

I like the color combination of the ground plantings.

Yellow and one of those plantings.

One of many in the water pond garden outside the greenhouses. The fact that this was Egyptian reminded me of a reference in the movie The Ten Commandments.

The white garden with dusty miller, nicotiana, oak leaf hydrangea, lily, cleome, lisianthus.

Yellow garden (and the orange garden peeking behind) with lily, canna, rudbeckia, lisianthus, dahlia, hibiscus.

Very happy oak leaf hydrangea, not only in specimen size, but in flower size.

I was not a big fan of coleus, but am coming around to liking them, and this one helps a lot. No name.

This trip was a shot of ambition in an otherwise dull month where gardening chores are not fun but chores. Other destinations near Longwood Gardens that I must include on the bucket list are Winterthur and Nemours Mansion and Gardens , Alfred duPont's pad.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, zinnia, echinacea, cleome, marigold, mini glad, rudbeckia, hydrangea, nicotiana
  • Harvested: many peppers & tomatoes, 1 zucchini

15 August 2014

August 2014 Bloom Day

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day
What's blooming in the garden on the 15th of the month

Rather than the same ol' same ol' let's present some of the newer items rearing their heads this year. I will throw in a few items that have not been here a while, too. I even put the photos on the X-Large setting for this posting. Today it's about the pictures -- not the story.

The Irish Eyes are smiling. This rudbeckia "Irish Eyes" with the green centers was planted from seed twice in the past two years, but this was the first year anything survived and bloomed. They are growing but blooming sparsely. Let's see if they stick around for next year.

Yes, these are the actual colors. Seed for these mini zinnias were almost tossed out. They were free from the winter seed swap and found in my goodie bag, but I am not fond of mixed colors of anything. I threw the seeds down, and these min-zins popped up. Maybe it's time to reevaluate mixed colors -- I kind of like them.



Aren't you glad? These mini glad corms, (note "mini") were picked up at the winter seed swap, too. The bag was labeled 'orange mini-glads.' I never heard of mini glads. Well, the first one bloomed at 6-inches in height (15 cm), but does it look orange? I am waiting on the others.
The blue never stops ... as long as you deadhead. Bachelor buttons were grown once in the past, but they gave out when the summer heat turned on. These were an experiment to see if they could be kept going into summer. The answer is "Yes," but it is increasingly difficult to deadhead because of the number of blooms.

I grew these last year in a less hospitable spot. This year, they are thriving in a new location. This cultivar known as "Pinca," has squared off type petals which forced me to break open the wallet. The petals start out pastel yellow, turn deep pink, and than fade to very light pink.

And for the first time in its 8-year history, the unknown daylily is reblooming here in August. Is this a weird summer (to go with the weird winter) or what?

Go ahead and visit other garden bloggers' bloom days at the blog May Dreams Gardens.

06 August 2014

Thomas Jefferson's Chinese Ixia

Belacamda Lily was Belamcanda chinensis until about a year ago. Then botanists started playing with the names of some plants due to newfound genetic knowledge, and presto. The name changed to Iris domestica. Could its leaves actually resemble the irs family?

The seeds hopped into my goodie bag at the annual Seed Swap in February 2012. Here we go again with another free plant from the seed swap or from a neighbor. During the first year, they were sown indoors and transplanted, producing one flower stalk that summer. The next year, (last summer) the plant came back half-heartedly, but did not bloom.

Seeds were also sent to Thomas Jefferson in 1807. He planted them in a Monticello flower garden, and referred to them as 'Chinese Ixia.' Today they are found naturalized around the grounds at Monticello.

This is not a lily but it is from China, central Asia, and India. It was used in some Chinese medicine, but analysis shows it to be mildly toxic. Recent tests on mice indicate a possible benefit in fighting prostate cancers - at least in mice.

My plant from last summer came around this year after surviving the harsh winter. I also planted a few seeds remaining from the 2012 seed swap batch. One germinated and survived without receiving much attention. The two healthy plants started blooming a week ago, so they bloom in their first year.

I was smart to place them right up front along the walk where they can be seen. Even though tall at 2-feet (60 cm) they can be lost visually if not in your face. The seed pods upon opening reveal seed clusters resembling blackberries, giving it the nickname 'blackberry lily.' My remaining seeds will be planted, along with any new seed from these plants, in hopes of creating a clump for next year.

For The Record:
  • Light clay soil with organic amendments
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • No disease although suspected iris borer attack

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, mexican zinnia, zinnia, cleome, sunflowers, phlox, rudbeckia, echinacea, hosta
  • Harvested: 12 peppers, 6 tomatoes

28 July 2014

Leisurely Blue

Balloon bud in the lower left
A friend offered a share of a balloon flower plant from her front garden. The balloon flower did not excite me much, but I needed filler material for the recently-created, clay-packed side yard garden along new platform steps to the back yard and deck.

Five years have passed, and the plant is finally beginning to spread a little. This year it sent up a short, second stalk. And, the flowers are more numerous, forming small clusters. The rude rudbeckia and brute baptisia have invaded the side yard garden, and are elbowing out the balloon flower and a few others that make this garden home.

Platycodon gradiflorus is a perennial, native to eastern Asia and Japan, and generally grows in climate zones 3-8 in the U.S. Flower buds resemble balloons, or paper lanterns if you are in Japan. It likes full sun and tolerates partial shade, where you will find mine. Cultivars are available in white and pink, and in dwarf sizes.

Context
Several sources state that because of its root system, it does not take kindly to being moved. If it is transplanted, it takes a year or two to recover. This is probably why my plant begin its first few years in its new home with only a few blossoms no larger than a quarter.

It is most likely stepped on when doing spring gardening chores, since it leisurely emerges after winter and is located in a perfect spot for a foot to balance on. I would like to move it, but after learning about the transplanting issues, may try to improve it in situ. I like it, but I need several more to form a clump to give it some presence among its neighbors.

The blue flowers are over 2 inches inches across (5 cm) and plants can grow up to 3-feet in height (1m). This five-year old is (maybe) 24-inches (60 cm). My friend's plant tends to take a bow, but in my garden it stays upright, probably depending on the surround rudbeckia and iris to maintain its posture.

Other facts surprised me. It supposed to rebloom if deadheaded, so I need to give this a try. Taller plants should be staked, and cutting stems back in May could help keep the plant shorter and therefore upright. They make good cut flowers, but with only one lonely stalk here, cutting would eliminate the plant in the garden! They are not invasive -- did you hear that rudbeckia?

For The Record:
  • Average clay soil on a sloping site
  • Partial sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Very slow growth / spreading
  • No serious pests/disease


Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, mexican zinnia, zinnia, rudbeckia, bellacamda, cleome, rose campion, sunflower, coneflower, phlox
  • Harvested: 14 tomatoes, 15 peppers, 16 onions