30 August 2013

They Look Like The Catalog!

Every year, we try out new recruits for our gardens. In 2013, catalog items that caught my eye and caught my wallet were listed in a February post [2013.02.16], and I am happy to report that we have a few rookies worth writing about.

The three year old seeds for veteran Canary Bird Zinnias from Baker Creek were planted again. Being yellow, they were placed in the front garden near the pink cleome to keep away from the yellow rudbekia in the side yard. They responded well again where the soil is luscious and sun is plentiful. In fact, a few popped up in other areas of the yard from last year's plants seed deadheading.

To keep the gardens from being monochromatic, the new pink Pinca zinnias were planted on the side yard with rudbeckia, with sloping terrain, where soil is still improving, and where sun is diminishing due to an ever expanding neighbor's tree. The beginning blooms are incredibly delicious, and one can get up close to them at side yard walkway. The pink color looks great next to my first year lavender Russian sage (not intentional, but I will take credit.)

To date, height is a short 24-inches (60 cm). Being in a mostly sunny area (as opposed to full sun) probably slowed their bloom time since the yellow Canary Birds in the front have been blooming for weeks. What stood out in the catalog photo was the ragged square-edged appearance of the petals. Happily, the 4-inch (10 cm) bloom matches the seed company's photo and description.

I have shied away from marigolds in recent years, just tiring of them. A photo of Tiger Eyes at Park Seed reminded me that they haven't been here for years. There were not many seeds in the packet that came, so only six plants were started with the remainder saved for next year. They are now at their peak, loving the slightly cool summer weather we have.

The marigolds have been religiously deadheaded, and have responded. They are my border guards, hugging the border edges here and there around the front yard garden. Compact, full, no pests, and lots of consistent intense-colored flowers make this one look happy. Sometimes marigolds can become large and gnarly, and tip over, but these have remained strong. The dark green luxurious looking foliage is an added bonus.

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: mexican zinnia, zinnia, marigold, cosmos,
    rudbeckia, echinacea, sage, goldenrod, buddleia,
  • Harvested: 2 pepper, 4 tomatoes, 2 zucchini

25 August 2013

Vegetable Medley

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times ... for vegetables this year. As previously reported, the 2013 onions were the best ever. But, sorry to report, the 2013 tomatoes are the worst ever. I blame it on the weather - never the gardener.

Four tomato varieties were planted this year. The 'improved' Supersweet 100 cherry tomatoes were mostly unimproved. They attracted my usual 'blights and mites.' The only hope for these tomatoes is to plant early, grow quickly, and harvest as much as you can before the blights and mites set in. You gotta admit, the little buggers are sweet.

Fourth Of July tomato seeds were sent as a mistake by Burpee. They did not produce by the 4th, but at the end of July, along with the other tomato varieties. The smallish Black Velvet tomatoes were small and extremely rare as hardly any fruit set. The flavor was not too impressive. Finally, the Beefy Boy tomatoes could have used a few trips to the gym this year. Still, for the small sizes harvested, all tasted better than the supermarket varieties.

I haven't grown carrots in a long time due to the failed attempts forcing them into heavy clay soil. The soil is improved in the vegetable garden, so why not try again? And why not try Tendersnax? The best carrot ever pulled out of my garden had warts on it. Possible carrot problems include maggots, rust flies, nematodes, nothing causing warts. I see some discussion on heavy soil that might produce this condition and in extreme cases, additional legs. Some warts were cleaned off for the photo shoot.

First time growing zucchini for me this year produced these baseball bats. Sliced up, seasoned with oil, garlic, oregano, salt, and grilled. That took care of one fourth of one. Black Beauty is the name, and I find it is an heirloom variety. I see pickled zucchini in my future.

Mama don't let your cucumbers grow up … when you are on vacation. You get overstuffed pregnant blimps like this. Picklebush pickling cukes on bush plants were grown. The skins make them not so good for eating raw like regular cucumbers. And not being experienced with them and their coloring, I had a difficult time determining when they were ready for picking.

18 August 2013

Annual Annuus Report

If you read A Leafy Indulgence often (does anyone?), you know I try different dwarf sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) and peppers every year and report on them. This year the sunflower honor goes to Little Dorrit, although not much by choice.

When I cruised through the catalogs last year, I did not stop on dwarf sunflower pages. A lot of the varieties I saw were those I had planted before. Then I forgot about dwarf sunflowers until it was too late to order from a catalog. While at a local nursery, a rather expensive one (are there really any inexpensive ones?) I picked up (yes, it was purchased) a packet of Little Dorrit. There was nothing little about them.

First, I find during writing this post that Little Dorrit was a serial novel by Charles Dickens about debtors prisons, reversal of fortune, and newfound wealth. Not so with the sunflowers.

The Stats
They were planted in the usual sunny spot along the front walk to the house. They ended up taller than most dwarf sunflowers of my past experience at 4-feet in height (120 cm) when they were upright. The flowers were a whopping 11-inches in diameter (30 cm). This puts the blooms at a normal sunflower size. So, the plant height was dwarf, but not the flowers.

Each stalk produced one bloom - no multiples on this one. They grew fast, flowered, and were done. When the flowers reached their full size, they bent downward, preventing anyone from visually enjoying them. The flowers were balanced atop a large central seed head, with small petals arranged around it. The head of seeds will definitely end up feeding the cardinals, but did not make a great visual impression. Unfortunately, you must take my word - the photo was taken after Little Dorrit bloomed.

I found that some dwarfs will produce multiple blooms, and some do not. The ones with the most attractive blooms and larger petals tend to have the smaller seed heads, while the others are for the birds. Here is a quick trip through the varieties tried and written about in past years.
Burpee Big Blush
Multi-bloom, attractive bloom
Great blooms, multi stem

Inconsistent height, bloom
Sunny Smile
Truly dwarf, good bloom

Large seed head

For The Record:
  • Well drained soil with organic amendments
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Leaves ravaged by grasshopper or slugs

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, echinacea, mexican zinnia, zinnias, lavender, rudbeckia, phlox, cleome, nicotiana
  • Harvested: 1 pepper, 6 cucumbers, 1 zucchini

07 August 2013

Sundown Goes Down

Several years ago, new echinacea varieties were the rage. Every garden catalog seemed to tout their company's latest propagations. I didn't buy an iPhone or iPad when they were first introduced to the world, but I was sucked into buying two new echinacea.

I consider the purple coneflower a gold standard for its toughness and its ability to grow. My clump has been divided numerous times. Coconut Lime was the first new variety that I reviewed [posted 2012.07.05]. All I can say is that I got my money's worth: reliable, interesting, pest resistant, and pretty much everblooming though the summer (better than the native purple coneflower.) Its new bred sibling is, however, is another story.

The second new echinacea was a salmon-orange number named Sundown and one of the five 'Big Sky' varieties. It came out roaring during its first spring, and then flamed out. The entire plant just gave up in the heat of summer. The second year was better, coming on strong again in the spring, only to just as strongly poop out by summer. It did stay alive and above ground. Last year, I noticed fewer blooms, but its leaves again stayed around until disappearing in the fall. They curled, turning a nice lovely brown before doing so. Flowers are listed as fragrant? Ha, right - in another world.

Not many blooms appeared this year, and most had inconsistent petal arrangement. I deadheaded, hoping for a repeat bloom. Leaves are turing a rust copper color today, maybe like a sundown on Mars. Always 30-inches high (75 cm), Sundown has never grown beyond its original size. These photos were taken in a previous year and this spring. Notice the lower leaves on the lower picture.

The location in a new bed with still-improving soil can be partly to blame for the performance and research indicates it needs more regular watering than the native. Further reading on garden forums paints a different picture than the catalogs. With their high expectations for the Big Sky series after reading the hype, other gardeners leave a trail of comments such as very disappointing, mutant, grew next to Chernobyl (my favorite), dud, Big Sky Coneflowers Suck, inferior, deformed, and stunted.

My advice: if you see Sundown for sale, run away.

For The Record:
  • Moderate heavy clay soil with ongoing amendments
  • Full sun
  • Small amount of fertilizer
  • Poor performer not lasting past spring
  • No pests

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: cosmos, all zinnias, phlox, marigolds, sunflowers, echinacea, nicotiana, buddleia, rudbeckia
  • Harvested: 2 peppers, 2 tomatoes, 8 cucumbers