29 May 2012

Mastery Over The Radish

There's nothing like a crisp, crunchy, sweet, solid, mildly tangy radish. I looked forward to this every spring for the past ten years. But, a master gardener with landscape architect friends growing up with a gardening mom could not grow radishes. They were supposed to be easy. School children grew them. Master gardeners in my class either looked with pity on me or laughed when I told them of my inadequacy.

Every year my radishes (Raphanus sativus) sprouted. Every year they grew beautiful green foliage. End of story. As you can tell from the photos, this year was fulfillment. Break open the champagne and strike up the hallelujah chorus: it's time to celebrate! I was so excited to document the proof that I didn't even wash them before their photo shoot.

This is the only plant that I refused to give up on. I was going to grow radishes one way or another. I am not sure what did the trick this year, but here is my experience, failure by failure.
    After successive seasons sans radishes (in truth, I would eek out maybe two or three from the batch):
  • I tried a different variety, moving from Cherry Belle to Champion for the next two years. It was not a champ.
  • From there, I moved to Japanese white icicle radishes. The seed companies got richer.
  • I read that radishes bolted when the weather got hot. So, I planted early. Instead of 30 days, they took 60 days to mature (again in warm weather).
  • I tried slow release fertilizer next year.
  • I read that they should not be fertilized, so I left off all fertilizer and soil amendments.
  • I read they need more sun than my back garden might be providing, so I moved them to the side garden with lots of sun.
  • I read they can't have too much water, so I did not water them when the weather became dry.
  • This year, I tried them in the front cottage flower garden, and got radishes.

So, the front yard had the right stuff. And best of all, they contributed to the cottage garden. My 2012 radishes created a green leafy border while the zinnia and alyssum volunteers mature enough to take on their border duty. They join the spinach, pepper, onions, lettuce, and basil planted among the blooms. (The green nicotiana look so great because they overwintered. Anyone need a seedling or two?) Tidbits of information: written history shows the Greeks grew them, but no one is sure where they came from. They are planted as a companion crop because of their ability to attract flea beetles that go for the leaves (and not other plants) while not harming the crop below ground. Is there a plant that is your nemeses - everyone on the planet can grow except you? Update: The variety this year was Crimson Giant

For The Record:
  • Variety: Crimson Giant
  • Drained, fairly good loose soil
  • Full sun
  • No fertilizer
  • Some slug (or flea beetle) damage to foliage

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: Echinacea, nicotiana, coreopsis, peony poppy, geranium, cactus, asiatic lily
  • Harvested: 5 radish

23 May 2012

Dueling Red Hot Pokers

OK. Que up the music from Deliverance. The red hot pokers (Kniphofia uvaria) are playing out a duet yet sparring with each other. Here's their updated story.

They were planted from seed about four years ago after I saw them and thought they looked really cool and different. (I'm a sucker for those botanical attributes.) Three plants took and grew and bloomed in their second year. And grew. And grew. I wrote about their first bloom two years ago [posted 26.06.2010] and the reasons I fell out of love with them:
  • they bloom a very short time
  • they look like a tangled mess for half the year
  • they take up too much space

I moved them to a new location in the side yard last year. These things required no finesse during the transplanting, and this year, are blooming better than ever.

I found, however, that one of the plants is different from the other two normal ones, although they all have spread into a giant blob of leaves. The redneck plant has flower stalks that are taller than the others and with a greater diameter - about the size of a silver dollar (4 cm). The flowers are longer at about 9 inches (20 cm). The flowers are a different red-orange color with no discernible yellow in them, and the leaves are bigger and lighter green. They appear to be fighting with the two normals in the background, which are now spreading out with new shoots.

So in two years they have grown into yet another mess, only this time they are right along the walking steps to the back yard. I think that once again I must move these brutes to a new location (maybe to the neighbor's yard). They can't seem behave themselves.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil with gypsum & organic amendments
  • Full sun
  • No fertilizer
  • Leaves partially die back in winter
  • Needs lots of space
  • Short bloom time

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: salvia, calendula, nicotianas, coreopsis, cactus, eschscholzia

06 May 2012

California In Virginia

A month earlier than last year, the California Poppies (Eschscholzia californica) are blooming their pretty little butts off. These are the same that were planted from a free seed mixture last year and overwintered on the south side of the house in my protected micro climate. As reported earlier, these annuals can survive a winter if there is no severe ground freeze (as in last year's mild winter.)

There were yellow, orange, and creamy white last spring and grew about 6-inches tall (15 cm). The white ones disappeared this year, and the plants that overwintered are a bit taller at a foot (30 cm). There are also some interesting variations in the remaining oranges and yellows. Some yellows have an orange halo on the interiors. Some of the oranges have a deeper orange blush within the petals.

I like a plant that requires a second look. From a distance, my California Poppies are solid yellow and orange. Closer, the details in the color variations of petals are evident. Foliage is feathery blue-green. The seed pods are long tubular spikes, some evident in the photo.

They make a poor cut flower since they open in the sun, and close at night and on cloudy days. That's a bummer when trying to photograph them. Bright direct sunlight is too harsh and contrasty for plant photography.

I learned that these are native wildflowera to the Unites States, and have been introduced in Austrailia, Chilie, and Europe. In Chilie and the US, they can be behave like an invasive species.

They are drought-tolerant and do best in poor soil. That explains why they love my garden - in my clay without a lot of organic material. They like cool weather and disappeared during last year's summer.

For The Record:
  • Clay soil with good drainage on a slope
  • Full sun, south side of a brick house
  • No serious pests or disease

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: nicotiana, salvia, allium, calendula, bearded iris