27 June 2008

The Infinite Cosmos

The Cosmos. Infinite. Who knew that when the 'Sunny Red' cosmos (cosmos sulphreus) were planted from seed over ten years ago, this annual would effortlessly seed itself into infinity and still maintain its fiery red color. Each spring brings a hundred offspring, taking over a front bed that has now become their own and giving new meaning to the word overpopulation. They are given away. They are pulled up and tossed out. And throughout the summer, they grow into their own 4 foot high (1.2 m) shrub. Bumble bees love them almost as much as the neighbors.

I never considered the cosmos a jewel in the garden, but they have drawn more compliments than any other flowering plant. I believe it is their height, easily seen along the front sidewalk and creating a small enclosure on one side, and their numerous red and yellow blossoms that neighbors find appealing. Flowers held above the foliage also help them get noticed.

They start out with lush fern-like leaves and small red flowers containing yellow centers. After a few weeks, the flowers become more numerous. A few more weeks, and the flowers start to become smaller. At this time, it becomes impossible to keep up with beheading the spent dead blossoms and seeds start to form. In the fall, the leaves begin to slowly turn duller green and eventually brown, and fewer and smaller flowers appear. Cutting them back at this time will produce a short burst of fresh new greenery and flowers, but this doesn't last long.

They seldom stray from their bright red color. Once in a while, a hint of yellow or light orange shows up, but the red is fairly consistent. Stems are sturdy and support each other, especially when they are crowded. They are mentioned as cut flowers, but be warned that petals begin falling off after three days. They are not house-broken and love to drop pollen, too.

For The Record:
  • Well-drained soil
  • Full sun
  • Light granular organic fertilizer in spring
  • Color & number of flowers get ooo's & aah's

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: calendula, purple & silver salvia, nicotiana, monarda, cosmos,
    daylillies, hostas, liatris
  • Tomatoes - golf ball size

22 June 2008

Noose Neck, Loose Life

Of course, when you want a plant to spread, it will not. Some neighbors had an unidentified low-growing ground cover lurking in the shadows of their backyard. It was only described as 'easily spreadable'. Sounds like butter. It had no pests, it got no sun, it received no care, and it grew in clay soil. It required an annual aggressive extraction to keep the spreading in check, since its underground runners were marathon winners.

After some research, they discovered it was gooesneck loosestrife (lysimachia clethroides). Their sleuthing was very impressive, as this is not a common plant found in may places. Yet the bizzare multi-syllable name was impossible to remember. Noose neck moose life? Loose leaf goose mite? Loosey-goosey light? Yes, goose strife exists on Google.

The landscape architect friends also warned me of its evil spreading ways. Internet sites claim that its cousin the purple loosestrife is an invasive noxious weed wrecking havoc across the country. With a bit of apprehension, the neighbors offered up some cuttings (actually some handfuls yanked out of the ground) for the black hole under my tree where nothing grows. The 1-foot high (30 cm) loosestrife was planted last year, and provided some light green in a dark corner of the yard. Although preferring moist conditions, it is happily growing and blooming this summer, but with no spreading. Could there please be a little spreading?

For The Record:
  • Heavy dry, clay soil
  • Shade, some afternoon sun
  • No fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: calendula, salvias, nicotiana, monarda, cosmos, coneflower, asiatic liliy, daylily, first tomato blooms

15 June 2008

Bloom Free or Die

Three Monarda or bee balm plants were purchased from a catalog mail order supplier about two years ago. Last year, their first, they bloomed in early summer, but after blooming, two immediately died off. Not wanting the third to disappear, it was spoiled and cared for throughout the summer like an only-child.

First, a slight mildew appeared in the summer. After heavy summer thunderstorms knocked over most of the stalks, a plant support was purchased. When trying to upright them, the stalks easily broke since they were not pliable. At the end of summer, there were no stalks, no flowers, and only a small pile of sprouts.

Either bloom or end up on the compost heap. This year, the plant came back well and is proudly blooming and standing tall. With stalks about 3 feet high (1 m), this variety does not have the petals splayed out of a center, but instead resembles a pincushion or ball. It is obediently utilizing the metal support grid purchased last year, new stalks are growing out of the base, and the universe is once again in balance.

The Monarda plant has some interesting history and uses such as tea for native Americans, floral potpourri, salad garnish, and herb for meats.

For The Record:
  • Medium soil
  • Full sun
  • Humus manure and peat added to soil
  • Bone meal added in the fall

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: Iceland poppy, calendula, purple salvia, geranium, nicotiana, monarda, daisy, coneflower

08 June 2008

Colors and Memory Fading

The garden is now beginning to show its summer color. The extremely oppressive heat of the past two days and bountiful rains of May have forced a lot of plants to get with the program. Lollipop lilies are now blooming, but appear to be different this year. The intense pink color of the petals merges to creamy yellow close to the centers, but memory seems to be void of the yellow color in them. Maybe they would be better looking without so much yellow, so the mind remembers them as such. Or, could changing growing conditions every year produce variations in the color? The pink looks lighter this year, too.

These Asiatic lilies are sturdy and the 3 foot high (1 m) stalks do not require supports, thank heaven. The three bulbs were purchased about three years ago, and during their first growing season, were small and produced few flowers. This year, being well established, they happily delivered about ten buds per stem. The only complaint is that they are not multiplying, so maybe this plant was a devious introduction, specially bred for retail supply company sales.

A search of internet suppliers shows them to be abundant. This makes my initial selection three years ago slightly disappointing, although not because of their performance or visual display. There is a bit of suppressed desire to be different; to want the rare, unique, hard to find plants, as if the 'common' ones makes a garden 'common.'

For The Record:
  • Growing in medium soil, enriched with peat and organic material
  • Full sun, some shade
  • Very little organic granular fertilizer
  • Intense color and large blossoms get ooo's and ah's

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: poppies, calendula, purple salvia, geranium, nicotiana, lilies

06 June 2008

Poppies Pooped Out

Two years ago I joined the National Home Gardening Club and received a packet of poppy seeds. (The packet showed a bunch of red flowers.) They were planted in the fall, and springtime brought only two plants - one with pink flowers and one with red. Seeds were saved from both and planted in fall again, and this year produced - voila - only one plant with red blossoms. Did these seeds ever hear the phrase 'field of poppies?' Maybe they do better if planted in the spring.

This one is a Shirley Poppy, (papever rhoaes). From one base stem, the plant produces dozens of branching stems each with a hairy flower bud. Flowers are carmine red with four petals, two tend to turn up and two turn down after hot sun hits them. As with the peony poppies, the blossoms do not last long. The branching stems are falling all over like a giant spider, selfishly hogging too much space in the bed for one plant. This poppy would probably look better if it had several of its friends together in one group.

For The Record:
  • Growing in somewhat heavy soil, full sun
  • Light liquid fertilizer
  • Very low germination rate with fall planting
  • Non-compact, branching habit

01 June 2008

Woodsy Stinker

The Ligustrum shrub (ligustrum japonicum) or evergreen privet is now in full bloom. There were four found around the property when purchased, and all were relocated to one area. After recently being trimmed and trained into small multi-trunk trees, they are now about 10 feet tall (3 m). Since they are located just outside windows, the smell of the late-spring flowers has filtered throughout the house. The very strong odor is not objectionable, but not pleasant either. One person identified it as 'woodsy.'

Research indicates that many types of Ligustrum are invasive, but none of the fallen berries have ever produced plants in this yard. Birds do not touch the black berries in the fall or winter, but will take them in the spring. Early one spring, a commotion was heard in the shrubs. After investigation, 16 robins were found in the shrubs, fighting over the berries. Maybe this is why they never fell and grew here with robins picking them off like M&M's. I thought Robins were ethnic - into the bugs and grubs type of food - not seeds.

The flowers last about a week or two, and eventually turn an unattractive brown before dropping. This, along with the tendency of some leaves to die and drop throughout the summer does not make them a favorite in the garden. They are kept around for their form and rich, lush, deep evergreen leaves. Maybe they would make great greens at Christmas?

For The Record:
  • Growing in heavy clay soil, full sun
  • No fertilizer
  • Drops dead blooms and leaves in summer
  • Have not found to be invasive

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: poppies, calendula, purple salvia, geranium,
    nicotiana, foxglove
  • Tomatoes staked
  • Lifted alliums to relocate in the fall