28 May 2017

Blue Collar

This is the first year the penstemon is blooming with any kind of presence. Say hello to Rocky Mountain Blue -- and I am proud to say that I started this perennial from seed in 2015. Again, this was one of the seeds I obtained from the annual February seed exchange that I have been attending but will skip in the future.

I took loving care of the beadtongue (who thought up that name) and placed it in a prime spot that was regularly mulched, and was in full sun. During the first summer, the 5 plants stayed healthy and vigorous, although no flowers appeared. No pests appeared on them, either.

Last year, the five plants produced one flower spike -- a very electric blue. The slight shades of purple around the edges of the more mature petals gave it an iridescent appearance in the sun. But only one flower spike? The blooms also are clustered along one side of the stalk.

I researched my western U.S. native to find that it prefers western conditions. This means rather dry, sandy,well-drained soils without a lot of rich organic material. Sort of a tough, blue collar kinda of plant. I have it in mulch in rather rich soils. That is probably why the leaves were so healthy I thought.

I stopped fertilizing, and let it be. This year, about 20 spikes showed up on what now looks like one plant clump. It certainly does not look like the full dense photos in the garden catalogs. Time to divide already? Most blooms are gone now, but a few remain in time for me to finally get a new post up. One note: after the stalks are finished blooming, they tend to fall over.

The plant has an interesting history. It first appeared in the 1700s in publications, and was named pentstemon from "pent" and "stamen" for the unusual 5th stamen. Penstemon, native to North America and Asia, became very popular in Europe where many hybrids were bred. Sounds very similar to the history of the sunflower -- another North American native -- that was taken to Europe, hybridized, and made its way back to North American gardens. The name of this one, Rock Mountain, suggests it is a cultivar developed here.

I think this may be a candidate for the hell strip garden - dry, rather poor soils, and in need of blooms at this time before the coneflowers and rudbeckia. Do you think it would grow there?

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with & plenty of mulch and organic amendments
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease


Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: nasturtium, phlox, poppies, rose, kniphophia, nicotiana,
    coreopsis, peony, geranium, marigold
  • Harvested: cilantro

18 April 2017

Now That You Mention It

I recently read that the Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a legume like beans and peas -- it manufactures it own nitrogen, adding it to the soil. Well, it actually uses its nitrogen-producing bacteria in the root zone that provide a beneficial relationship with the plants.

This is my second redbud. I wrote about my first one, a Chinese Redbud [posted 02.05.2014]. It grew from seed I received from the National Arboretum -- all volunteers received some. After fifteen years, never becoming large or blooming, it bit the dust.

The second was a single shoot seedling about a foot tall (30 cm) that I purchased from a local botanical garden plant sale from a local "native plant" group. I thought the Eastern US redbud would grow better than the non-native, and it did. After two years, it was 7 feet tall (2 m), but still produced no blooms in spring. After a 17 year wait, a redbud is finally blooming in my yard. Although flowers are found on old wood and are sparse, being such a young tree, any blooms are welcome after the long wait.

Beans, peas, lentils, clover, and peanuts are what come to mind when we talk of legumes. I just learned that the redbud goes on that list. But now that you mention it, redbuds do have some common characteristics of well-know legumes. Look are the leaves. The heart-shape looks very much like those of a bean plant. Look at the flowers closely. Don't the shapes look like blooms from peas, beans, or sweet peas? And the native redbud produces seed pods not unlike those of a string bean or pea.

For The Record:
  • Damp heavy clay soil with several years of rganic amendments -
    bottom of a slope
  • Light shade understory with partial sun
  • No fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease yet


Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: woodland phlox, ajuga, anemone, azalea, spirea, dogwood,
    virburnum, columbine, redbud

17 March 2017

Sugar and Ice

The late spring storm produced 2 inches (5 cm) of sleet and ice that accumulated into a heavy frozen sugary coating. Then the freezing rain solidified everything. The hyacinth showed the most damage by changing strange colors. The white blooms showed yellow, and the blue began showing purple (much like we do when we get too cold).





10 February 2017

Dreaming of Summer

It's the middle of February and Virginia was teased with two sunny days at 71 degrees (21 C). The next day brought snow showers and cold winter winds. Reviewing photos, I came across last year's Memorial Day (May 29) hike in the Catoctin Mountains outside Thurmont, Maryland.

The falls are within the Cunningham Falls State Park. I took the 'difficult' trail to the falls from the parking lot. No kidding! Several sections were as vertical as the falls themselves.
It was rumored that this was the spot along the trail that was home to a hibernating furry animal over the winter. Most said a bear. Looks quite cozy.
The trail continued back to the parking lot -- but this leg was an "easy" hike through the woods.
A closeup of the bark of a fast-growing Loblolly Pine (Pinus taeda), native to the southeastern US. The bark is normal to look like it was charred in a fire.
Who would have thought there was a lake on top of a mountain? It was a small reservoir. I couldn't help but take a paddle since they were available, but these strange kayaks let in water. My shorts got wet on the seat. Many stares from hikers on the next hike.
Smack next door (right across the road) is the Cotoctin Mountain Park, a National Park. Why is there a state park adjacent to a national park? Who knows. But there was free admission on Memorial Day. The green canopy tinted the light an incredible color -- nice to look at in February.
The area was the premier spot for alcohol production during Prohibition. The Blue Blazes Still was home to the largest illegal commercial production in the state. The remote, well-hidden location, close to the corn ingredients and wood for fuel, and sympathetic locals financially benefiting all contributed to its success.


This small display was rebuilt from spare parts found in the park.

"On July 31, 1929, Deputy Sheriff Clyde L. Hauver was fatally wounded in a raid on the Blue Blazes Still. It was a large commercial 'steamer' still operation. More than 25,000 gallons of mash were found in 13 vats of 2,000 gallon capacity each. Police eventually tracked down several suspects, and some moonshiners were convicted in connection with the murder after several days of conflicting testimony. Tales of a double-crossing informant, a love triangle, arson, and other rumors spread throughout central Maryland."

23 January 2017

Solomon's Gold

This is the second autumn for the Solomon's Seal, polygonatum. I believe there is only one variegated leaf type, P. odoratum var. pluriflorum, and I got it. I write about it because of the color. I did not remember this intense yellow color last fall.
This is a native of Europe and Asia, but pluriforum is native to East Asia and China. My Solomon was picked up on the cheap at an annual spring plant sale held by a local church. It is growing happily in its mostly light shade and is very well behaved. I was blessed with blossoms last spring and this past spring, although I notice no fragrance with them.

The white margins on the leaves are even more unique when paired with the yellow leaves. I am thinking the autumn color might vary year to year just as it does for deciduous trees.

I always make this mistake: plant on top of others already planted. Last summer I noticed some acanthus leaves poking through around the soil level of the Solomons Seal. That acanthus planted years before apparently did not die. This summer the acanthus came back. I need to extract it from the Solomon Seal and plant it in a more appropriate sunnier spot. Unfortunately there isn't one that is vacant.

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with organic amendments being added yearly
  • Fairly moist site at bottom of slope
  • Mostly light shade
  • No fertilizer
  • No serious pests/disease

15 January 2017

Bring Out Your Red

It started in October, a little later than normal this year. The 2016 poinsettia began its journey to red for 2017. The poinsettia holiday blooms are not really blooms but red leaves and flower bracts.

This one was purchased last Christmas and was not repotted.

The color change began a little late this year. It begins when the leaf petioles begin turning red. After seeing this, we expect the red coloring to continue moving up to the leaves to change them, but that's not how the process works.

After the petioles, the new leaves that are not yet fully grown begin changing. A little chartreuse at first, then a little light beige, then some red tinge begin to appear in them as they continue to mature.


At this time, I give it some regular low doses of nitrogen fertilizer. I want those leaves to grow big, since they will be the red 'petals'.

The light green leaves have matured. All new leaves the plant produces are now solid red. Over time, these mature into the poinsettia in time for the holiday.

The journey to red is not easy. It means coming home from work, fumbling in the dark to find the plant on the east window, taking it to the basement in the dark and putting it to bed until the next morning. Darkness for 12-14 hours is necessary in order for the poinsettia to bloom again.


Somewhat smallish blooms this winter are telling me to repot the plant for next year's holiday season.

30 December 2016

The Great White

The garden slugs of spring ate most of my multicolored carrots this year before I could. Most of the packet of orange, yellow, white, and purple carrot seeds were planted and the seedlings scarfed up by the garden beasties by late spring. I planted the remaining seeds and provided some protection. They were also mixed in with the 3-year old Nantes carrot seeds. Everything went into the ground in hopes of a fall crop.

Carrots were lifted before Thanksgiving and then again before Christmas to enjoy for dinners. Most ended up being orange, no purples, and a few whites. The whopper pictured here was taken out in early November.

This began taking over the small vegetable plot, growing almost 3-feet high (1 m) and flowering like Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota). I actually thought it was just that but was afraid to eat it, knowing that the look-alike Poison Hemlock is, well, poisonous. But I have had neither Queen Anne nor Poison Hemlock in the vegetable garden in 30 years.

The flavor was a bit spicy, having a peppery kick to it and not like carrots we are used to. I put this one into a Minestrone soup, and found it not to my liking.

There was only one other white carrot out of the bunch that was eventually harvested. It was not a carrot-zilla and did not flower. I diced it up for a beef stew where its wacky flavor could add to the recipe and could be drowned out a bit.

20 November 2016

Midget Marigold Mystery Solved

I often grow the dwarf French marigolds as infill border plants never growing more than 8 inches tall (20 cm). One of my favorites is "Tiger Eyes" with the red bottom petals and orange-yellow pom poms. But near the end of each growing season, the red color and the orange tint goes away. The blooms become uniformly yellow.

I thought it might be the cooler weather affecting the coloring as it does some plants. Or, it might be the shorter day length that was causing the change, much like a poinsettia depends on longer nights for its red blooms. I discovered the reason my marigold change color this year by accident.

It is neither the day length nor the temperature that causes the loss of red. The plant simply gets tired. This marigold seed blooms true to its parent. As summer progresses I deadhead the spent blooms, leaving them around the ground near the plant. Some of the seed heads sprouted and grew new plants. Since we had a long growing season this year, getting our first killing frost only last week, these volunteer spouts had enough time to bloom.

The blooms were as colorful as a day in spring, despite the cooler fall temperatures and the shorter days. While the older plants nearby were haggard and blooming uniformly yellow, the new plants were red, robust, and orange-yellow as they were planted in spring. This tells me that as the plant gets old, its bloom colors simply change, like we do.

There is nothing I can do other than to sow successive plantings throughout the summer, something that is not going to happen. We will accept the change as a natural pattern.