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