23 September 2009

Purple Passion

While in Atlanta last fall, I was impressed by the 7-feet (2 m) tall, purple-leaf plants growing in the corner of the botanical garden outdoor cafe. A sign indicated they were Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus). Once back home, I described them to my landscape architect friends who told me they never grow 7-feet tall in this climate, unless they overwinter in a greenhouse, a most likely scenario.

This year, I bought one and have been impressed by its growth over the summer. Although not getting to the height of the Atlanta plants, the Strobilanthes dyerianus produced its intense iridescent purple leaves. This tropical beauty from southeast Asia loves a dark, hot, humid environment. They were very popular in the Victorian era, but are new to most gardeners now.

My 3-feet (1 m) high plant loves its digs. It was planted on the north side of a fence, in an area where moss grows because of the dampness, and our hot humid Washington summers are famous. Online research indicates it can be rooted easily from cuttings, and can be kept as a houseplant. The plan is to take a few snips soon and grow more during winter for next year. They will compliment the taller castor bean plants with their tinge of maroon/purple in the leaves.

For The Record:
  • Somewhat clay soil with organics added
  • Full shade
  • No fertilizer
  • Mulched to retain soil moisture

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: zinnia, nicotiana, asters, nasturtiums (again), cosmos, acidanthera, canna
  • Harvested: 2 peppers

03 September 2009

It's A Jungle, Finally

The deck that took a lifetime is finally done, well, with the latest construction still needing a good coat of wood finish. The actual deck off the back of the house was completed last fall along with some of the platform steps at the side yard. These platforms create a more gentle, relaxed way to descend the slope than a straight run stair does. A few additional platform steps not in the original plan were added this week to finish off the path.

The side yard hillside was nothing but clay around the platform steps. This spring, soil was amended with peat, sand, gypsum, and organic materials. Several plants were planted with a "Get something planted to fill up the space" Plan. Transplants, volunteers, seedlings, and plants from the plant swap were added, along with a tomato plant or two. In horror, I watched each heavy rain wash more things down the hill. I spent the spring and summer tending to the plants, getting them rooted and established. Now, the side yard has grown into what I envisioned, so I could attend to the "last steps" construction project.

The biggest surprise were the Castor Bean (ricinus communis) [11.9.2008] plants now at 8-feet tall (2.5m) and still growing. They loved this new location and filled in beyond expectations to form a full mini jungle. They create a living visual barrier that cuts down the view into the back yard from the front, providing privacy and framing the entrance to the back yard.

Other residents of the side yard:
  • Mexican Zinnias
  • Geranium
  • Nasturtiums
  • Spiderwort
  • Canna
  • Nicotianna
  • Cosmos
  • Coreopsis
  • Amaranthus
  • Bunny Tails
Along with creeping oregano, the zinnias spill over onto the platforms to create the informal semi-wild look. Check out the cool deck lights made by Kichler, and the cable rail that allows views to the back yard. Regular wood railings would be too bulky and block the view.

For The Record:
  • Heavy clay soil
  • Gypsum, humus, sand, peat soil amendments
  • Full sun

Garden Calendar:
  • Blooming: nicotiana, cosmos, canna, castor, basil, cleome, zinnia, calendula
  • Harvested: 1 pepper, 2 tomatoes, 2 cucumber