Friday, February 24, 2012

Garden Karma: Flaming Tomato Bombs and Parsley Seeds

When I was a kid my neighbors had a huge vegetable patch that ran the length their backyard. Aside from tomatoes, I'm not sure what they grew. My brother and I would peek through the fence slats as the woman watered and weeded, her tomato plants climbing six foot support frames, heavy fruit hanging from their branches like giant rubies. But we didn't like our neighbors and, therefore, didn't like their tomatoes.

Constantly deployed or on lengthy remote assignments, our father was rarely home, leaving our exhausted mom, who worked part time while going to school full time, to care for us alone. We should have understood or at least have been on our best behavior, but we weren't. Bored, creative, and unsupervised to the point of becoming slightly feral, we took to fending for ourselves. In an attempt to reign in our free time, we were given chores and my brother was asked to babysit me. He was 10 and I was five or six. Despite being ensconced in the relative safety of a military base, asking my brother to supervise me was like giving an arsonist keys to a match factory. We began to create our own fun by inventing games like Knife Fight, Food Fight (green bean aren't as worthy a projectile as wads of peanut butter), and Road Flare. Road Flare resulted in a couch fire while Knife Fight gave my brother a permanent scar. But our favorite game was Flaming Tomato Bombs.

When we tired of chasing each other with sharp objects or swinging from shower curtain rods, we blew things up. Our favorite target was our neighbors tomato patch. Layers of Kleenex would be wrapped around a cotton ball, tied with string, and soaked in my mom's cheap perfume. We'd run into the backyard, set them on fire, and launch them over the fence. The massive explosions we dreamed about never happened, but the nauseating odor of scorched tomatoes and perfume would fill the air. The woman would burst from her house while we ran for ours. Once inside, we laughed til we nearly peed our pants, and made plans to do it again. 

A few phone calls later, our dad came home, our mom changed her schedule, and the party was over. Our dad was assigned to a new base and much to our neighbors relief, we quickly moved. I wonder sometimes how much good I have to create in my garden to erase the torture we inflicted on our neighbors. If I met them now, I'd apologize.

I'm sowing curly parsley seeds this weekend to help nourish the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars that are born in my garden. They always germinate but I wonder sometimes if they didn't if a Flaming Tomato Bomb would be to blame. 


Parsley is one of the main food sources for swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. They're usually found in curly parsley but I had a few in my Italian flat leaf parsley last year.. Soak the seeds overnight in warm water and scatter them across the soil,  barely covering them with loose potting soil. They need a short period of cool, moist weather to germinate so spring is perfect.


Parsley has a long taproot that looks like a parsnip. They need dryish, well draining soil, and grow very well in deep pots. I'll be planting parsley in these pots as well as a few smaller ones. They love full sun but can take a bit of bright afternoon shade. Thin your seedlings since they don't like to be too crowded.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Tough Plants for an Easy Garden

I recently read an article that described a plant I've grown for years as obscure, unappreciated, and hard to find. Purchased locally and added to my garden years ago, stachys hummelo has been a stalwart performer since I plopped it into the ground. While I wasn't sure I agreed with the author, the article made me wonder what else I grow that could be considered unusual or obscure. Considering my unwillingness to pay big bucks for plants, the list is probably rather short. Listed below are plants I love that I often don't see in other gardens. I hyper linked their names to the nurseries where I bought them.


I completely redesigned the bed my stachys hummelo grows in. But they were so happy, I left them alone.



Bowman's Root with blue amsonia and epimediums


After the Bowman's root is done blooming, I cut it back by half to thicken it up.

Native to the east coast, Bowman's Root thrives in dry partial shade, and grows to 3 feet tall. White starry flowers open in late spring, while the serrated foliage makes an excellent background for summer bloomers. It's one of the toughest and easiest to grow plants in my garden. It doesn't attract wildlife, but it does attract me, and sometimes that's good enough.


Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)


Silene regia with trumpet lilies and heliopsis


Silene regia is a beautiful, easy plant to grow. With a native range from Florida to Illinois, it's adapted well to my zone 7A northern Virginia garden. The first year after planting, it spent all summer shaded by neighboring perennials and didn't do much. But after a bit of rearranging to give it more light, it took off. It's a true hummingbird magnet, which is why I planted it. They grow 3 to 4 ft tall.

Persian Cornflower (Centaurea dealbata) Purchased locally


I love the feathery flowers.


Part of this bed was also redesigned and the cornflowers were moved to a sunnier spot. This picture was taken in late spring before the crepe myrtle had leafed out completely.

My first introduction to Persian Cornflower was outside a grocery store in upstate NY. Sold in small square pots for $4 a piece, I designed and filled my front garden based on their weekly offerings. It sails through my hot, humid summers as effortlessly as it survived long, snowy winters. It likes moist, well draining soil, which seems like such an oxymoronic requirement. Very few places in my garden meet those standards but regardless of where I plant it, it grows.

Bush Honeysuckle  (Diervilla lonicera) 
I purchased my diervilla from Prairie Moon but they're sold out so I linked this to Bluestone Perennials.




This summer will only be the second summer I've had bush honeysuckle in the garden, but I'm already in love with it. It takes dry shade, clay soil, and is tough as nails. In late spring pale yellow honeysuckle shaped flowers bloom at the end of the branches, nourishing butterflies and hummingbirds alike. Diervilla lonicera is native from Georigia through the northeast and mid-Atlantic and grows to 3 ft tall.

Georgia Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla rivularis)


Diervilla rivularis is just like diervilla lonicera, except it's a lot bigger. Mine is still just a stick, but it's a tough little stick that was covered in dark green foliage all summer. Both types of diervilla develop fall color.

What plants do you grow in your garden that I might not have heard of? I'd love to know!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Solving the Dahlia Dilemma

I recently wrote a post describing a few plants from last summer's garden as either hits, misses, or maybe's. The hits grew effortlessly while the misses either died or drove me crazy. But the real frustration lie with the maybe's. They hadn't died or harbored leaf sucking insects, but had managed to frustrate me all summer with their odd growth or slack stems. The dahlias were the worst offenders.

Planted in a deep pot with the promise of perfect fall flowers, they sprouted lush foliage that was quickly devoured by slugs and thick green stems that were felled by borers before finally collapsing in a storm onto a pot of Louisiana iris. But the plant continued to grow and sideways upside down flowers bloomed last fall. They were beautiful even if the plant was a total mess. In my typical decisive fashion, I decided not to grow them this summer with the caveat that if I missed them, I'd try them again. But if I didn't, I wouldn't.

But the more I scrolled through the pictures of their flowers, the more I began to miss them. I rarely see them in local markets and cut flowers here are always overpriced. Hadn't they grown easily? Plus, my slugs are cheap drunks easily sated by a sippy cup of screw top beer. Thoughts of fall dahlias began to seep through my work days, soaking my overflowing, exhausted brain with puddles of optimism. Maybe I'd give it one more try.

But maybe I wouldn't. I over analyzed and argued with myself all week until finally listening to the one voice that shouted louder than the rest: "Holy crap! Just stick the damn things in a pot, tie 'em to a stake, water in some nematodes, and buy a pack of cheap beer. Yeah, they might suck, but they also might not. They might be awesome! Geez!" So I ordered a dahlia. I'm excited already!


Wynne's Dahlias is a family owned business in Washington state that specializes in giant dahlias. Honeycomb is advertised as having "really strong stems" and deep golden bronze flowers. To order a dahlia you print out an order form and mail them a check. Very old school!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Hits, Misses, and Maybe's: Notes to Self

Have you ever bought a plant because you couldn't remember if you'd killed it before or found your self making the same mistake - because it didn't seem like a mistake - as you made last summer? Tired of getting trapped in the Swirling Hate Spiral of Stupid Plant Mistakes I began to write down what I should and should not do in my garden. At the end of the day, after remembering multiple passwords, a zillion work related things, kid things, dog things, house things I sometimes think my head's going to explode. My notes are my data backup. Even if I slide into bed an exhausted pile of goo, a second garden brain is waiting for me on my computer.



Notes to Self 2011


HITS 

Whatever you did with these plants, do it again. Do NOT ever remove them from their existing spots. They aren't broken so do not fix them!

Kalimeris integrifoila 'Daisy Mae' and Kalimeris incisa 'Blue Star'

Kalimeris is the white daisy type flower in the middle of the picture.



Kalimeris has proven itself to be one of the toughest plants in my garden. Even when I had it planted in too much shade, it refused to die. I planted it in two different slightly dry spots with bright afternoon shade and it thrived, rewarding me with white and blue daisy-like flowers all summer. It rarely needed extra water and benefited from an early summer cut-back. 

Dwarf Nepeta




I found this little white nepeta on the sale table and thought I'd give it a try. It was one of the earliest bloomers in my spring garden and survived all summer with no supplemental water. It only grows to about 8 inches high and forms a small, tidy mound. It grows in full sun in dry, well drained soil.

Silene 'Rolly's Favorite'  


This picture shows the silene and nepeta blooming at the same time. The silene should be taller and fuller this year since it's had more time to establish itself. By the end of last summer I had a few silene seedlings that helped fill out this grouping.

This was another sale table special. I hadn't had much luck with other silene but these were so cheap I figured I could afford the gamble. They bloomed at the same time as the dwarf nepeta, which was a wonderful surprise. They also grew in full sun in dry, well drained soil. They looked a little rough over the summer since they didn't receive much extra water, but any time it rained they perked right up. I wrapped a soaker hose around them this fall and am hoping they'll be  a bit greener this summer. They're such a tough plant, I might add more to the garden this spring.

Yellow Columbine


Yellow columbine and kalimeris





I think this columbine is the southeastern native, but I'm not sure. It started blooming in May and didn't stop until October. Yep, that's right. OCTOBER! It was one of the best surprises of the summer. It grows at the very edge of my patio in bright shade under a dogwood tree. The sharper the drainage, the longer the columbine bloom. 

MISSES

Quit buying the plant you keep killing! The verbena are smuggling spider mites into the garden and the wine cups aren't "mingling" with the veronica, thyme, or any of the other hapless victims you've planted near them. They are planning a hostile takeover. 


Antennaria dioica 'Rubra' 


What an ugly mess!!




I usually just refer to this as "the plant I keep killing". Supposedly it loves total neglect, dry soil, and hot sun. However, it died when ignored, fussed over, or even treated with dismissive tolerance. I think it hates me and I'm tired of killing it. However, its function as a larval host food for Virginia Lady butterflies keeps me bringing me back. But this year will be different. It can die at someone else's house.




Wine cups (Callirhoe involucrata)


 Wine cups in early spring before spreading three feet





They definitely have the coolest roots I've ever seen!


I should have this plant listed under the hits because it is impossible to kill. If there is ever a zombie apocalypse. it will be the only thing left living on Earth. Unless the zombies are vegetarians - then it's done for. Wine cups are the perfect plant if you have a steep, dry slope or retaining wall in full sun. They go dormant when the summer weather becomes too harsh and magically sprout back to life when it rains. I, of course, do not have a steep slope or retaining wall but was lured in by their tales of hardiness in the face of adversity. With nothing to cascade over, they spread horizontally in my garden, suffocating everything in their path. Drifts of dwarf veronica nearly met their end thanks to the frenzied sprawl of my wine cups.

 

Annual verbena 




If you look closely you can see the spider damage on the leaves. This happens every summer.


I hate putting verbena on the Do Not Buy list, but every year after bringing home pots of it, I end up with spider mite infestations. I'm convinced the spider mites are arriving as an unexpected bonus in my pots of verbena. Once established, I've found it almost impossible to eradicate the mites. This year I'm not buying any annual verbena to see if the mite infestation develops anyway.


MAYBE'S

These plants are on probation. They were underwhelming but had enough redeeming qualities that I might grow them again. But I might not. Perhaps it's just a case of the wrong plant in the wrong spot...


Dahlia


Beautiful flowers...


pain in the butt plant

I've decided that I'd like to skip growing dahlias and jump straight to just enjoying them as cut flowers. Wooed by gorgeous dahlia photos on other blogs, I finally bought a few tubers and and potted them up. Between the slugs, corn borers, leaf miners and summer storms that sent them crashing onto a pot of Louisiana iris, I'm not sure they were worth the hassle.

Gaillardia


A newly planted 'Lemons and Oranges' gaillardia

I've read in several places that gaillardia are among the easiest plants to grow. That may be true, but there's a big difference between simply having a pulse and looking happy and healthy. After solving a previous summers drainage problem, my gaillardia decided they wanted to grow in partial shade in well fertilized soil. I expected the drainage demands, but shade? Seriously? Maybe it was a stress response to the damage done by the spider mites and leaf miners, but the plants in the shade improved while the ones in the sun didn't. My 'Lemons and Oranges' gaillardia self-seeded and seedlings are already sprouting in last years pots. I'm giving them one more chance.

Tradescantia


I wish they looked this good all summer!

When it grew in the shade, it flopped. When it grew in a moist, sunny spot, it developed rust. However, I have seedlings popping up everywhere and the flowers are so pretty I want to figure out how to make this plant happy for longer than just a few weeks. Frustration....

Zinnia marylandica


I grew two pots of orange and red zinnia marylandica from seed last summer only to have the butterflies completely ignore them. I liked their smaller size but I'm growing the larger ones this summer while I decide if I prefer the Double Fire and Double Cherry varieties to the old fashioned variety, despite their inability to attract pollinators.


Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense)


They spent all summer leaning towards the sun and didn't get much taller than 12 inches. They're supposed to be three feet tall!

I added tick trefoil to the shady Bed of Death and Misery, hoping it was tough enough to overcome the odds stacked against it. To my surprise, it grew although it didn't thrive and spent all summer looking like an alpine skier about to launch itself off a ski jump. I moved it to a patch of bright shade this fall and within a few days it was upright and happy. Fingers crossed that it's beautiful and lush this summer.

Carrots


This Parisian Market carrot is so ugly it's funny!

I grew multiple pots of carrots this summer only to succeed in growing the ugliest carrots I've ever seen. They looked like they were sprouting little brains. My purple carrots actually grew large enough that I was able to shred them for a carrot cake so I'm trying them again. But even the ugly carrots had beautiful foliage that was full of swallowtail caterpillars so all was not lost.