27 July 2008

Bombed Bumblebees

Sunflowers are one of the plants that I had little interest in. Not any more. While visiting a garden at dusk four years ago, the sunflowers growing around the vegetables contained motionless bumblebees on the seed clusters. The gardener concluded that the bees were probably intoxicated on the pollen. One could pet the fuzzy gluttonous critters who moved just enough to acknowledge the touch without being able to fly away.

Over that past four years, I found that the world of sunflowers was more than tall and yellow - so many different sizes, colors, shapes, textures for the garden. Dwarf varieties are best suited for the garden here, although there is a cautious aspiration to try a tall variety next year.

The newest sunflower smiling these days is Sunny Smile (helianthus annuus). Two new dwarf varieties were planted this spring, and Sunny Smile was first to win the race to bloom. Over the past few years, the dwarf 'Sunspot' was planted, and comparing the two, Sunny Smile's 18-inch height (50 cm) is a little shorter, and its petals better proportioned to its central seed cluster. Sunspot grew normal-sized blossoms (normal for tall varieties) with oversized centers containing lots of seeds for the birds. On the downside, all varieties tend to attract night-loving, leaf-eating pests; probably slugs.

It's funny that these new flowers are always facing east, and do not follow the sun throughout the day. Sun in this location comes from the south and west. This is not a complaint since the east is toward the house, where they can be admired from inside. Bumblebees have not tried my garden for Happy Hour.

For The Record:
  • Medium drained organic soil
  • Full sun
  • Little granular organic fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: silver salvia, nicotiana, cosmos, sunflowers, canna, zinnias, liatris, dragon flower, crocosmia, castor
  • Harvested: 1 tomato

20 July 2008

New Blood

A year ago, crocosmia Emily McKenzie bulbs were ordered and planted, but were ripped up and thrown out in act of frustration after blooming. Emily was a dud that didn't earn her keep. It was sad to throw out a plant. The story is conveyed in an older post. This year, Crocosmia Lucifer was purchased from a local nursery and planted in mid spring. There were actually two plants in the pot. How often does that happen when purchasing the last one? After just three months, one plant is rewarding the garden with two stems of red flowers.

The plants and flowers are larger than the crocosmia plant of last year, and the deep red color cannot be accurately shown in a photo. It is a rich, pure, blood red. The flowers are not large or numerous, but command attention because of their color - especially when contrasted with the white dragonflowers nearby. The sturdy flower stems are arching about 24 inches (60 cm) above the ground, with a row of 1-inch (3 cm) flowers on each. Both are doing well in the humid mid-summer heat. Based on information about crocosmia, I have high expectations for this plant in years to come.

For The Record:
  • Medium drained soil
  • Full sun
  • No fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: purple & silver salvia, nicotiana, monarda, cosmos, sunflowers, zinnias, loosestrife,
   crocosmia, phlox, dragon flower, coneflower, hosta

09 July 2008

Drunken Nicotiana

About five years ago, the landscape architect friends volunteered some white nicotiana plants they started from seed early in the season. It was a variety called Only The Lonely (Nicotiana sylvestris). Unique and appreciated, this nicotiana attracted the rare (to Virginia) sphinx moth to their garden. The plants grew to about 5 feet tall (1.5 m) and the long drooping white flowers looked sad, or... lonely I guess. And they could never stand up on their own. The following year, the bed sprouted numerous seedlings from the previous year's seed drop, starting an annual tradition.

Now, like a few other annuals, the white nicotiana are anticipated year after year with their fragrant nocturnal flowers that give some delight to the oppressively hot summer nights in Virginia. The plants that result, however, are not true Only The Lonely. These descendants produce flowers with a normal nicotiana shape and size, not the elongated tubular shape of the hybrid. They do, however, inherit most the hybrid's height and eventually topple over, too. Trimming fallen stalks after the seed pods begin forming causes new uprights and new flowers in a week or two.

These respond well to fertilizer and water - too well. Abundant nicotiana growing to 6 feet (1.8 m) seem to hasten the need for support, and overwhelm everything around, so I don't encourage super-sizing. In the past, they were left to fall and ramble along the ground, appearing somewhat natural. This year I tried disciplining them into a plant support ring, but the support wasn't tall enough and today they are up to their old habit. Next year, more discipline.

For The Record:
  • Medium to heavy soil with clay
  • Full sun, some shade
  • No fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, daylily, liatris, calendula, hosta, zinnia, coneflower, nicotiana, phlox
  • First bell peppers form
  • First full size tomatoes