29 December 2010

Holiday Plants On The Door

The first Nandina (Nandina domestica) was picked up from a neighbor at a plant swap, but died in the winter (the plant, not the neighbor.) Next year, not wanting to be known as a failure, I picked up another and planted. This one survived and this summer produced two small clusters of berries for the first time. The berries started out white and gradually ripened to red in early December.

After years of using holly for holiday decoration, I was anxious to try out the Nandina berries. Holly berries always seem fall off their display onto the floor, roll around to a place you cannot find them, and eventually get squashed. I have not seen Nandina used at Christmas, so was expecting problems.

The two clusters were placed on the front door wreath which ended up more staid and less exuberant this year. The outdoor location exposed the berries to the cold, potentially preserving them longer; and any berries falling off would most likely end up outdoors and not inside on oak floors.

Three weeks later, I am happy to report that the all berries are still together. Other than slightly shrinking a bit, the berries retained their color and attachment. For holiday color, they have the added benefit of numbers over holly berries which are not so numerous.

The other wreath material consists of Fraser fir branches and "pigmy" pine cones. These were picked up decades ago in my upstate New York hometown and brushed with 'White Out' for the snow effect.

Nandina is a poisonous plant, but birds are not affected by the berries. It is also considered a non-native invasive. As a result of underground runners, I now have two new plants waiting for the next plant swap.

14 November 2010

Blooming After The Frost

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

The frost came on Tuesday morning of this week. There was no warning - the temperature forecast was for lows above freezing, but upon waking in the morning, there was frost on the grass and on the cars. This was not heavy, and plants near the house and in the backyard with a bit of tree cover were not harmed. Still, it was time to continue with the fall cleanup.

There are a few hardy souls still blooming and loving the cool weather. Rudbeckia with its large blossoms makes great cut flowers for indoors at this time, and punctuates the barren side yard where annuals have left.

Nicotiana is now on its third blooming cycle (or is it fourth) in the back. The plants are now enormous with leaves large enough to resemble real tobacco. I would not be surprised to find them there come spring if we have a mild winter. This has happened in the past.

The Coconut Lime echinacea, I am happy to report, has bloomed consistently throughout the summer after being deadheaded. The foliage is none too pretty in late fall, but new blooms still appear, albeit smaller. The plant ends up shorter than its native parent, at only about 1-foot tall (30 cm), but the blooms extend above the plant well.

Last, and certainly enjoying the coolness as always, is the calendula. This roughneck will stay blooming into December. Frost doesn't affect it, although a hard freeze will. As with the nicotiana, the plants will sometimes overwinter and fully bloom in early spring. Otherwise, new spring seedlings germinate and begin to bloom in later spring.

Overall the fall has been mild and dry, but not hot. The cool temperatures are coming gradually.

25 October 2010

Just A Cheap Throw Away Plant

It was a cold and snowy December when I purchased an average size, over-fertilized holiday poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) for $4.99 at a local discount store. It lived for two months, providing some indoor color past the holidays into the winter. After it began to lose its lower leaves in February, it was placed inside the east-facing french doors. Most experts consider this as a throw away after the holidays, but it was still alive and my conscience would not let me toss out a living plant.

In April, I began to place the plant outdoors during days along with the spring seedlings that were hardening off. I remembered seeing a hedge of blooming poinsettias years ago while in Hawaii, and wondered if it would grow outdoors here in Virginia, even through I never heard of treating the plant as an outdoor annual.

In May, I decided to try getting another season's enjoyment (and of course more than my money's worth) out of a throw-away plant, and planted it in the south facing side yard garden. I was up for a challenge.

It liked its new location, and thrived through the first half of summer. Then, the castor plants took off and overshadowed the poor poinsettia, stopping its growth. But, it continued to enjoy the hot humid summer, although in shade. Now with the castor bean plants taken out by a strong wind weeks ago, the poinsettia is again prominent.

I was expecting the plant to be gone by now, done in by shade or frost, but with abnormally warm temperatures this fall, the plant is still going. In fact, the new leaves are small and light green (with slight red tinge) in color, and red veining is appearing in the older leaves. Could the plant be getting ready to bloom because of the shorter days? Could I set it in a pot and bring it indoors if it blooms again? If the fall frost stays at bay, Virginia may soon see red poinsettias like Hawaii.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil amended with peat and humus
  • Full sun
  • No major pests or disease
  • Small amount of fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, canna, nasturtium, mexican zinnia, salvia, zinnia, rudbeckia, calendula

17 October 2010

More From Dallas

Fall has been on the warm side, with no killing frost yet as we head into the last weeks of October. This year I am getting a jump start on the fall cleanup, busy pulling out dead material, planting and moving newcomers, and preparing beds for spring. In past years, I was known to be outside in December doing this, rather than preparing for the holidays.

So without much new to show at the moment, a few more photos of items I found interesting at the Dallas Arboretum are posted. Pictured above are rain lilies (Zephyranthes candida) growing along some of the paths. Below are some of those paths prepared for halloween and the fall season.

Being used to gazebos with a Victorian or Colonial style, a northerner found the southwestern style with its clay tile roof very different and appropriate for Dallas.

The Pride of Barbados (Caesalpinia pulcherrima) was identified after I got back home and sent the photo to the arboretum for help.

How many people would stick something in the middle of this place, making you concentrate on the something? Instead, the space is the focus. A contemplative space.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, canna, nasturtium, mexican zinnia, zinnia, rudbeckia, calendula, aster
  • Harvested: 1 Anaheim pepper

03 October 2010

Discoveries at Dallas Arboretum

While in Dallas Texas last month for a convention, I took a side trip to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. After a bicycle rental and 9+ mile (14 km) ride around nearby White Rock Lake, I spent a hot afternoon strolling through the later summer gardens. Here are some of the things I found interesting.

Tucked into the corners of the paths were Cat's Whiskers (Orthosiphon stamineus). Although they can grow up to two feet high (60 cm), these were found only half that. Unfortunately, these are not a zone 7 plant, but maybe they can be considered an annual here.

Crape myrtles do not easily grow into monster trees in my town. The arboretum's crape myrtle allee was impressive for the size of the shrubs, probably due to the weather, age, and lack of heavy snowfall.

The formal allee lead to the playful frog sculpture fountain.

There were several trial gardens. Have you ever seen so many sweet potato vines in so many colors? There are eight varieties in this shot alone.

This was a trial garden for potted plants. With growing interest in small space and container gardening, I am glad someone recognizes that these tests are important. Notice the castor bean plant that refuses to conform to its neighbors.

Another plant that caught my eye was the Golden Shrimp plant (Pachystachys lutea). Another one that does not grow in zone 7, but maybe I can try by treating it as an annual.

Looks like the potato vines sprouted pumpkins in time for Halloween at the cottage's 'cottage' garden.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, canna, mexican zinnia, aster, acidanthera, rudbeckia
  • Harvested: 2 Anaheim pepper, 2 tomato

22 September 2010

Duh…That's A Datura

Two years ago, a friend was proud and excited about her "Angel Trumpet" (Datura metel) blooming with a heavenly fragrance at night. My research indicates a nickname as Devil's Trumpet. It is known for containing toxic hallucinogens, and has a long history of use for causing delirious states and death. It was well known as an essential ingredient of love potions and witches' brews.

I read that Datura has the interesting property of being able to change size of plant, size of leaf, and size of flowers, all depending on location. The same species, when growing in a half-shady damp location can develop into a magnificent flowering bush half as tall as a person, but when growing in a very dry location will only grow into a thin little plant just higher than your ankles, with tiny flowers and a few miniature leaves.

My friend gave me some of its seeds to start my own plant indoors last spring. They were planted along with the other spring seeds. After three weeks, nothing was growing in the Datura pots, so I reused them to start some additional pepper plants.

Once sprouted, I gave away some of these pepper seedlings at the plant swap, to my Dad, and to my landscape architect friends. Dad started asking what variety they were. He said they were growing but not producing any peppers. I attributed this to his upstate New York climate.

Then, my landscape architect friends started. They were not happy. Three of the seedlings turned out not to be bell peppers - but looked like Datura. These plants were taking over their vegetable garden, and were going to see some serious violence unless I wanted them for transplant. I dug up a 3-foot high (1 m) plant ("come and get them yourself"), transplanted, and after three weeks of transplant shock, enjoyed a month of the summer blooms.

Apparently, the Datura seeds took more than three weeks to start growing. After I lost any hope of their germination, they sprouted at the same time as the peppers that were later planted in the same pots. Pepper and Datura seedlings it ends up look alike.

This past year, I started the Datura seeds saved from last summer's plant, and true, they took almost a month to germinate. I kept two plants, and both are now blooming, although they are not as tall and robust as last year. This is probably due to the late start the seedlings got this spring due to my vacation at normal indoor planting time.

Note: the Gold Standard hosta and spiderwort have started blooming again! Is this a screwy year or what!

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil
  • Full sun
  • Mystery pests making small holes in leaves
  • Small amount of fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, canna, nasturtium, mexican zinnia, salvia, zinnia, rudbeckia, calendula,
    hosta, spiderwort, sunflowers, calendula, aster
  • Harvested: 3 tomatoes

07 September 2010

Critters' Annual Labor Day Picnic

Like last year, I spent Labor Day weekend laboring in the gardens, preparing them for fall. This year as last, weather was perfect for working outdoors clearing out dying vegetables past their prime, cutting back flowers fried by the summer, coaxing remaining plants into a few more weeks of bloom, and transplanting to fulfill the grand master plan. (Really, there is no master plan.) Also like years past, a few critters stopped in for their own Labor Day picnic.

The praying mantis arrived in the early morning and waited for a meal to happen by on the foundation wall. Bumblebees preferred to dine at the sunflowers and cosmos at the picnic, delaying my maintenance work on the cosmos to the evening.

Butterflies prefer zinnias. Your highness the monarch arrived and joined several yellow swallowtails and one black swallowtail chowing down. One yellow swallowtail looked like its wings had been chow.

A summer cicada tried his trapeze act on my deck cable railing. Newcomers noshed on the Mexican Zinnias. Several of these brown butterflies (or moths?) never before seen had six eyeballs tattooed onto its wings. An internet search revealed it as a Junonia coenia or common buckeye. You can't hide from the internet!

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, canna, nasturtium, mexican zinnia, zinnia, sunflower, rose, rudbeckia, spiderwort, cleome, salvia
  • Harvested: 2 peppers, 2 tomatoes, 1 cucumber
  • Planted: lettuce, spinach, radish

02 September 2010

Late Recommended

Every year, dwarf sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are planted in the front display garden along the walk to the front door. This is one of the sunniest spots on the property, the soil is fine, and sunflowers have always been happy here. And, every year I try out a new dwarf sunflower, evaluating them in this blog. Since they are planted in the same spot with the same conditions, the comparison is 'apples to apples'.

This year's guinea pig is 'Waooh.' I don't know how to pronounce this one - (one syllable, two syllables, accent on the first or second?) First, they were planted late. I was sowing them on the Fourth of July weekend this year, after spending weeks on other parts of the yard. Wouldn't ya know - they are a late bloomer to begin with, so planting them late did not help.

Second, it was a hot summer, and watering was saved for those plants that really cried out for it. The sunflowers did not, so hot dry conditions might have contributed even more to their late blooming.

I am happy to report that this is one variety I can recommend. The plants are compact and erect; and flowers and plants are uniform in size. The one stalk plants are 3-feet tall (1 m), form many side shoots holding 5-8 side flowers, comparable to the main 6-inch bloom (15 cm). This photo represents all seven plants, yet shows over 30 blooms on them.

Sunflowers turn out to have the same history as rudbeckia, listed in the previous post. They are native to North America, were grown by native Americans, exported to Europe by explorers, cultivated in Europe (Russia for their oil), then found their way back to US and Canada.

Previous Dwarf Sunflower Evaluation

For The Record:
  • Average soil
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of organic fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, canna, nasturtium, mexican zinnia, red/yellow cosmos, salvia, cleome, zinnia,
    green coneflower, rudbeckia, sunflower
  • Harvested: 1 tomato
  • Pulled out cucumber plants

25 August 2010

Small Black Eyes

Seeds were obtained from Jim, a participant in the fall plant swap brunch last year. I wanted Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) in the garden for a long time, given their exuberant displays in late summer through fall, when other stars in the garden fade. I was glad to have the chance to finally grow them.

Two years ago, I was in luck - a neighbor had them growing throughout her back yard and offered me the chance to dig up as many as I could carry. Then, in less than a month, her house went up for sale and she moved away. Yes, I thought of helping myself after she moved and before the new owners arrived, but did not want to give the new owners the idea that we were a neighborhood of plant thieves.

In November, I quickly grabbed Jim's Rudbeckia seeds. I was told the plants seed themselves every fall and come up in the spring on their own, so I should just scatter the seeds around the ground. I was hoping these were not going to be the drooping petal, normal size, large-center-eye type my transient neighbor had, but beggars cannot be choosy.

Welcome springtime. Never having grown these before and being unfamiliar with the plant and its leaves, I almost pulled the seedlings out as weeds. Now, they are loudly announcing their presence in the side yard. I am happy to report that we have the 5-inch (10 cm), large-bloom, small black-eyed variety!

This is another American native plant, and is the state flower of Maryland, (with its state flag having the same black and yellow colors.) The name comes from Olaus Rudbeck, who was a professor of botany at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and a teacher of Carl Linnaeus (Father of Taxonomy).
"Rudbeckias were grown in English gardens many years before they were accepted by Americans as worthy garden plants. British plant collector John Tradescant was given roots of the wildflower by French settlers in the New World. The plant was shared with others and was soon popular in English gardens. By the mid-1800's, the rudbeckia had found its way back to America.
For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil with gypsum & organic amendments
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Pest: small holes in leaves beginning

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, canna, nasturtium, mexican zinnia, rudbeckia, zinnia, cosmos, cleome, rose, salvia (again), calendula
  • Harvested: 1 pepper, 2 tomatoes, 10 cucumbers (done)

15 August 2010

August 2010 Bloom Day

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

Here are some newer blooms that have not yet been posted on the blog this year. The castor plants are in full "bloom" with the seed pods now forming. The new white cleome was planted from seed this year, but never grew more than a foot tall (30 cm). Cosmos 'Bright Lights' are also new, but are topping out around 4 feet (1.2 m)! The miniature rose was a New Year's Open House gift two years ago, and a consistent performer. The Rudbeckia was planted last fall after receiving the seed from the fall plant swap. What a successful surprise.

The hollyhocks are not very tall, after planted from seed this spring. Being a biennial, they are not supposed to bloom until next year, but do they know that? I would expect the blossoms to be more hollyhock-like next year.

As usual, you can find other garden bloggers' August bloom days at the blog May Dreams Gardens.

Castor Plant (Ricinus communis)

Hollyhock (Malva sylvestris)


Cleome (Cleome hassleriana 'Sparkler White')

Rose (Rosa)

Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus 'Bright Lights')

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, mexican zinnia, petunia, red cosmos, nicotiana, calendula, phlox, cleome, salvia, rudbeckia
  • Harvested: 6 cucumbers, 6 tomatoes

04 August 2010

Impressive Spring Tryout

Each year I allow in a few new plants for a tryout, giving rookies a chance to make the team. They come from the plant swap, from local garden centers, from online nurseries, and from seed companies. If they impress the coach, they are invited back for future seasons.

One of the impressive rookies this year was the Ornamental Millet 'Jester' (Pennisetum glaucum). As with anything ordered online or through a catalog, the pictures and description looked incredible. But, we all know how a little Photoshop and a few writers from the J Peterman catalog can make a plant seem. The Jester height and color sounded exciting.

The millet seeds were started indoors in late spring with a good germination rate. They flopped over in the pots, causing concern about planting and hardening off. After planting outside, the chartreuse leaves resembled nothing in the catalog descriptions, but after a month, the burgundy colors began to come out in newer leaves.

The millet put out its 12-inch long (30 cm) seed heads this summer after reaching 6-feet (1.8 m) in one month. Each of the 7 plants has 2-4 stalks, nicely filling in its bed. It is growing in an area recently reclaimed from years of ivy, so the soil is still a bit on the clay side, and no disease or pest have bothered it. Now that the seed heads have formed, each plant is beginning to send out new shoots from the base.

Millet is a grass plant know for sustaining civilizations, like the other grasses corn, rice, and wheat. It is still an important agricultural food crop in many parts of the world. There are five classifications of millet: proso, foxtail, barnyard, browntop, and pearl. My ornamental is the pearl type, coming from Africa and India. Foxtail is the type grown for bird seed.

Several comments have run in the vein of, "do the birds love it?" No, the birds are unimpressed, whether because the seeds are not yet ready for eating, the plants remain undiscovered, or the birds are connoisseurs of seed and hybrids don't make the grade. Most gardeners are intrigued by my rookie millet for its color and height; a few of its relatives Jade Princess and Purple Majesty might be invited to a tryout next year to join the Jester.

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with gypsum & organic amendments
  • Average to light watering
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of organic fertilizer

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, mexican zinnia, nicotiana, cleome, zinnia, canna, cosmos, rudbeckia, phlox
  • Harvested: 1 pepper, 6 tomatoes, 6 cucumbers

22 July 2010

Society Blooms Continued

The late spring walk through the American Horticultural Society was most intriguing at the meadow. It was wild and natural, yet at the same time tidy and cultured. I felt like walking inside an impressionist painting. The meadow was also an attraction for wildlife - fox dens were found, birdhouses had no vacancies, and butterflies used it as a stopover hub.

Native golden coreopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) were found blooming. What I thought to be another coreopsis was actually the Prairie Coneflower (Ratibida columnifera), sparse but calling attention to itself with its vibrant red color among the green and with its unusual shape. The Coreopsis grandiflora, red version, also stood out.
Coreopsis grandiflora

Coreopsis tinctoria

Ratibida columnifera

Perfuming the air around the grounds were the old giant magnolia tree and the lilies. The lilies were not labeled.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, mexican zinnia, petunia, red cosmos, nicotiana,
    calendula, phlox, cleome, coneflower, salvia
  • Harvested: 3 cucumbers, 1 tomato (season's first)

17 July 2010

Horticultural Society

Last month, in the attempt to keep up the momentum of my local weekend stay-cations, I ventured down the road to the American Horticultural Society for the first time. It's one of those places in my backyard that I have never visited, although living here for 25 years. Located along the Potomac River, a few steps north of Mount Vernon, the AHS headquarters is housed in an old estate house on River Farm, one of George Washington's land holdings. The grounds are free for visitors to wander about through the gardens and meadow.

Several large centuries-old trees with wrinkled skin screen out the sun for the shade garden. They create a refuge from the southern heat and along with the house, lend a sense of quiet permanence to the property. Tourists were sparse on the day I visited.

Located among the hostas was a small structure, maybe a well cover, with a 'green' roof overflowing with plants. The same roof was found on a garden shed near the annuals garden. These appear to be nothing more than a 6-inch (20 cm) deep pan on top of a standard asphalt shingle roof - a container on the roof. I was intrigued by what type of maintenance these require, specifically the water needs. It is a shallow root zone on a hot roof after all. The photos seem to indicate the full-sun roof is not as lush as the shade roof. Maybe these roofs were tests, or maybe they were demonstrations.

More sustainable demonstrations were on display. Bamboo was used to support the top-heavy blooming oriental lilies. Notice the push mower in the shed? And the natural meadow, planted in 2008, has become the new "sustainable alternative to the traditional American lawn ... and a popular attraction for visitors." The next post will include plants in the spring gardens and meadow that I found interesting.

Interesting? Two months before, the meadow did not exist - it was purposely burned to the ground to maintain it. "Without some type of management–either mowing or burning–any meadow eventually reverts to woodland. Burning aids in controlling woody and herbaceous invasive species and can also invigorate older meadows by helping to recycle nutrients and reduce matted vegetation to allow better air circulation." If a meadow were to replace my front lawn, do I need to burn it every other year? :-)

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: pink cosmos, mexican zinnia, petunia, red cosmos, nicotiana,
    calendula, phlox, cleome, coneflower, salvia
  • Harvested: 2 cucumbers, dill