Saturday, October 5, 2013

Small Victories, Minor Mysteries, and Risks of Questionable Size

Small Victories

Sometimes the heart just wants what it wants.  My garden is full of purchases made with logic and reason but occasionally gut burning desire takes over and I come home from the nursery with a plant or three purchased on a whim. This approach usually works well with annuals, but perennials? Not so much.

I've lost count of how many times I've killed centranthus, commonly known as Jupiter's Beard or red valerian. A lover of hot, fast draining spots, it grows wild in the rocky soil of California. Visits home would fuel my desire to stuff my garden with its glaucas leaves and coral pink flowers, despite my abundance of clumpy clay soil. Driven by the conviction that I could manipulate my garden to grow what I wanted as opposed to what it wanted, I amended the soil, plopped in the plants, and waited. They died, a slow taunting death that reminded me I was not in control.



But a trip to England this summer and a picture of a massive patch of Jupiter's Beard growing in a friends Virginia garden rekindled my desire to try again. Outside of London, I whizzed past chunks of centranthus growing in rocky outcrops along the side of road embankments as I sat folded into the back of a friends 2 1/2 person Peugeot. While I should have been admiring the English countryside, all I could think of was the audacity of those damn plants to grow in a rock pile but die in my wonderfully amended soil. If they wanted a rock pile, I'd give them a rock pile.


The large flower heads are made up of lots of tiny tubular flowers, making Jupiter's Beard attractive to pollinators.


I moved this heavy urn from the top step to the bottom without killing myself. The urn is surrounded by plants waiting to be planted as part of my fall redesign. I'm waiting for rain so I can work the soil and an end to the government shutdown, which has furloughed my husband, so I can buy compost.

Except I didn't have a rock pile so I made one. I moved a mostly miserable 'Karley Rose' pennisetum out of this urn to a sunnier spot, stuffed the depleted soil with 10 cups of pea gravel, and planted a single centrathus. It grew. It flowered. I'm happy.


At last!

Minor Mysteries 

I've decided I'm not much of a vegetable gardener. With the exception of tomatoes, I choose my vegetables based on how much I enjoy eating them and the attractiveness of their foliage. I grew 'Sweet Chocolate' peppers in a pot surrounded by annuals and perennials, and imagined the purple-brown peppers as sweet accents to my garden design. Except I didn't grow a single purpleish brown pepper. What grew instead were red, heart shaped peppers that tasted like a pimento and don't match anything from the website where I purchased the seeds. But I've decided that's just fine. They're tasty. They're mysterious. I'm happy.


Mystery peppers


Risks of Questionable Size

I am a calculated risk taker. Gamble away hard earned money on dice or cards? Oh, sweet Mother of God, no way. Start a garden club and invite total strangers to your house? Sure, no problem. So when I decided to move a 'Major Wheeler' honeysuckle out of a pot - because honeysuckle doesn't want to grow in a pot - and into the soil at the base of a massive trumpet creeper, it seemed like a good idea. I still think it's a good idea.

This is what my trumpet creeper looks like today. I'll prune out any weird branches this winter. My neighbors and I love this vine. It gives us both privacy, flowers, and hummingbirds.


Ignore the mess at the bottom of the photo. I transplanted some sunshine starved blue mist flower seedlings into the spot in front of the honeysuckle vine. Despite their drama, they're doing just fine. I pruned the honeysuckle severely to remove any side branches and it's putting out new growth. I may prune a few more of  its branches to keep it from becoming a beast.


'Major Wheeler' honeysuckle
The variegated 'Harlequin' honeysuckle  pictured to the left was moved to a shadier spot.

 

This picture of the trumpet creeper was taken in early June. The rain garden has been extended significantly and the surrounding beds enlarged. I am in the process of redesigning most of this bed. By the end of summer, the bed was seriously cramped, a few plants had died from all the rain in June and July, and several plants needed either more shade or more sun.

The trumpet creeper loses its leaves at the first hint of cool weather, leaving a Medusa shaped mess hulking over my fence. The honeysuckle, in theory and after regular pruning, will grow through its branches and continue to provide interest and privacy until winter hits. I'm hoping the smaller flared flowers of  'Major Wheeler' will contrast pleasantly with the the trumpet creeper. It's transplanted. It's growing. I'm happy.


62 comments:

  1. once I saw your flower, I think valerian, Cornwall, growing thru drystone walls.

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    1. Its common name is also red valerian. I can only imagine how beautiful it would be growing through a stone wall.

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  2. I can't decide which advice poster I need. Both, probably! I must dash...I have a wisteria,entangled with a Petrea to sort...

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    1. I mentally refer to both embarrassingly often. Good luck with that wisteria! That vine eats buildings here in the US.

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  3. Wait, honeysuckle doesn't like to grow in a pot? Now you tell me, after I moved my surprise red trumpet honeysuckle (not what I thought I bought) into a big pot on the deck, to climb the railing. This is not going to work?

    I always love your resourcefulness, and stuffing 10 cups of gravel into an urn for your Jupiter's Beard seems to have done the trick. Good move! The rain garden and bed look great, even though you say it is all redesigned and expanded now.

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    1. I think your honeysuckle will be fine. I had two vines in one pot, which was half the problem. Once I pulled out the Harlequin and pruned the Major, it perked up. Actually, it was perky the whole time, it just wasn't flowering much and I wondered if it was stressed. Plus, it had been in the pot for a few years and needed more space. I like the old rain garden but love the new one more.

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  4. You struggle to grow Centranthus - I struggle to control it. I like it too but do wish it wouldn't plop itself everywhere and root so firmly that it's almost impossible to remove once established. I think I should adopt your motto about mistakes since I commit myself to a new one with almost every visit to the nursery.

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    1. It's really uncommon here because of our clay soil. I only know of one nursery that sells it. I used to think it was the humidity that was killing it but it was all drainage issues. I hope it survives the winter in that urn.

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  5. Your post makes me smile, especially that last photo about mistakes. I have thriving Jupiter's Beard, also called Meet Me By the Gate here, it sends up little plants all over. When I tried to buy a plant many years ago a garden store employee told me disdainfully "we do not sell them they are weeds." Ouch! Eventually I bought a plant or two but I felt hurt for the plant and what she said. A weed indeed. Not.

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    1. CA weeds are prized here! That employee had a rotten attitude. One mans trash is another mans treasure. I've spent a lot of money trying to grow that weed. :o)

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  6. My husband has not been able to grow Jupiter's Beard which he remember from his childhood in the Bay Area where it grew everywhere. I'm not so fond of it, however. A little too floppy and rangy looking for me. But he should get to have at least one plant that he likes, so I'll tell him about your success with the pea gravel!

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    1. Some plants are just floppers. In Sacramento we had such thick clay soil, we couldn't grow it either but I remember it well from the Bay area, the foothills and El Dorado hills. I really love it. It makes me so happy to see it in my garden.

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  7. Oh, that’s what gardening is about, isn’t it? Trial and error, finding out what works, pushing boundaries! I have bought two palms and several oleanders this autumn, I am determined to grow them outdoors in containers but I know that’s a big push if we get another winter like last year. Won’t stop me from trying though! Loved your red, heart shaped peppers, just beautiful :-)

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    1. I have a PhD from the University of Trial and Error. :o) I think the peppers are cute, too. I like happy surprises like that.

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  8. Okay, I'm seriously jealous of your rain garden. And for your ability to grow Jupiter's Beard. I too have lusted after it but thought it could never work. Maybe I will steal your idea and just throw some gravel into a pot. Who knew?

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    1. Do it! I used the little pea gravel and just mixed into the soil. I also put a ring of gravel around the crown of the plant to keep the water/humidity from rotting it. It seems to be working so far. The rain garden is much bigger now, with a big curve in it. If you go to my September post The Artful Muse you can see a little bit of the extended bed as well as the big curve. I really love it. :)

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  9. I agree with Sarah. Every time you do a post about, show a picture of, or mention your rain garden, my face turns green with envy. I honestly need a rain garden on the side of my house, but I guess I have to plan it first so I can convince my hubby that it's a good idea. ;-) I want to do it myself, but having help would be so much nicer! I'm with you on that last poster.

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    1. I'm about 65% done with the rain garden redesign and have a post about it planned. Just go out and start digging. That's what I do. Rain gardens help recharge our aquifers and are excellent water filters. If you want to make a riverbed, put the rocks where the water naturally flows and build out from there. The river bed comes straight off our swale that was draining water down the side of our house and into a storm drain. When I extended the riverbed, I followed the natural course of water flow so that it would flow straight into the new curve. It works really well. You can see the new curve in my September post The Artful Muse. I'm hoping to have the whole project done in the next week or so.

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  10. How about that. Here Centranthus ruber is an aggressive thug. Climate is all, most of the time.

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  11. Well Tammy your visit to England showed you how to treat plants with contempt. Stick them in rocks and see how they like it. If they manage to survive all we throw at them then they deserve to keep their place on earth. I have to say that this philosophy also works with husbands.

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    1. Your comment made me laugh out loud! I think your well drained soil and constant rainfall are the magic we lack. But I gave them the pile of rocks they wanted and they're thriving. Maybe I should try that with my husband, too. Regardless of what he asks for or needs, he'll get a rock and be told to like it or lump it. The results could either be hysterical or disastrous.

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  12. I have the red valerian too, but it does not grow how it ought to, our place is too wet and we don't have rockeries. I think you should plant the things which are suitable for the climate you live in. I know I also always try exotic plants, but we learn with trial and error. The trumpet creeper for instance flourish in your garden, here they only flower in hot summers.
    Wish you happy gardening, we are all struggling around in our gardens.

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    1. My garden is full of plants that like Virginia but I occasionally like to try a few that just don't know what they're missing. Happy gardening to you, too!

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  13. It's always surprising the way some plants grow with almost no care. I'm sure you'll be a success one way or another. Love the vines.
    Cher Sunray Gardens

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    1. I'm a sucker for vines. I like their opportunistic nature. Plus, vining plants always seem to have interesting flowers. Honeysuckle is tough. I think it will do well in its new spot.

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  14. I love that Einstein quote - it's why I've given up on the gaura and Iris cristata!
    I just moved some Jupiter's Beard to the front, where I kept accidentally running over it with the mower, to the side. One seems to have survived, the other has not. But I'm inspired to try the pot with pea gravel approach in any case. I'm glad yours is finally growing for you! I also just ordered a Major Wheeler and am hoping for the same spring-through-frost beauty.

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    1. It took me a while to learn how to make gaura happy. I've killed a few but think I've found the right combo of moisture and drainage to keep them happy. I think the Major is going to love her new spot. I've never grown iris cristata.The only iris I grow are a Louisiana iris called Red Velvet Elvis purchased solely for his name and Siberian iris. Oh yeah, and a variegated iris. Ok, never mind about not growing iris. :o)

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  15. I also tried to grow red valerian in my previous garden (where the soil was very rich) without any success. But here it selfseeds. If it is any help, it grows between the stones on a path. Under the stones there is only subsoil, a yellow clay. The spot actually gets very wet from fall to spring but is very sunny and dries up in summer. So I suppose Rev Valerian can put up with wet conditions as long as it is dry in the growing season. I also have a Major Wheeler but it sulks. It has not died but has not grown in 2 years. I think it does not like the fact that its feet are wet from fall to spring.

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    1. Your Major Wheeler might like some gravel mixed into its soil to help it drain. A happy honeysuckle is a fast grower. That's how I knew I needed to move the Major. She was barely blooming and tired of sharing a pot with Harlequin. It's interesting how many people say valerian is almost a weed for them. It's a challenge to grow here but the pot seems to be working well.

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  16. Your resourcefulness in creating a rock pile is impressive, as is that trumpet creeper, which really is a massive piece of art. Einstein's saying could well apply to the U.S. Congress.

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    1. I agree! Your line about the fat squirrels was really perfect. Not only are the DC squirrels fatter than other squirrels, they're sneakier and more brazen. If you don't offer them a nut, they'll just come around from the back to check our your goods for themselves and try to score a treat. Just like politicians!

      The trumpet creeper vine is wonderful in the winter, especially in the snow, when it's sculpted vines are really on display. I'm pretty proud of my pruning job. Right now it needs a bit of a trim.

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  17. Your post made me laugh out loud which is a great way to start any day. (Notice how I didn't use lol? I'm a language outlaw...) Loved the signs, I could put both up in my garden. It has taken me far too long to quit babying some plants. Some things you can almost run over with a lawn mower and they come back practically waggling a middle finger at you--"try and stop me now sucker." Even with my seedlings in the greenhouse, I'm getting better at tough love. I start them all warm and cozy on a heated mat, then gradually move them closer and closer to the south-facing door...then one fine day--I kick them out to make their way. Give 'em a rock pile--I love it!

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    1. I love language outlaws. My students have to write in complete sentences in my class, which horrifies them. :o) I've learned to be pretty tough, too. I have very few plants that I baby and only because moving them to a moister spot would be impossible.

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  18. Ever since I saw a photo of valerian in some British garden book (with photos to die for) I have had a hankering for it. Then I read all the negatives about it and never took the plunge. Shame on me.

    I am looking at the size of my 3 year old honeysuckle and the photos of your Major Wheeler...am I in trouble?

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    1. What does your honeysuckle look like? I planted a 'Mint Crisp' honeysuckle in mid-summer onto my arbor after the bunnies ate through my cypress vines. It's now 5 ft tall. When I compared its growth to the Major, who barely bloomed and had no fragrance, I knew I needed to move it. But I'm in a totally different climate than you. Honeysuckle here can be invasive if not kept in check.

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  19. I sense Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained might be your mantra. I think the honeysuckle is going to work out fine. Why?
    1. because I like honeysuckle 2. because I have this mad scheme to plant the evergreen version into a sad and sorry looking hedge.

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    1. Absolutely!!! You've summed me right up. :o) I'd grow a honeysuckle through a sad and sorry hedge in a minute. It will add a little spice.

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  20. Why do we gardeners always want what we can't have, and disdain what we can have in abundance ? I could grow valerian, indeed I used to grow it, but I got rid of it all, because it grows like a weed in cracks of the pavement, on wasteground etc. I think I need to REALLY look at it through your eyes, and see that it has value, then grow it. I, on the other hand, have 1 pot full of Agapanthus which I really value and nurture . When we went to Madeira a few years ago, they employ people to scythe it down continually, as it grows like a weed along the verges !! Grass is always greener ... :-)

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    1. Agapanthus is a tender greenhouse plant here. I don't think it's hardy in my zone 7a. We tend to dismiss what comes so easily. I have so much Blue Mist flower that I don't think twice about ripping up and tossing the seedlings. But if it disappeared, I'd miss it. I'd grab some valerian and give a go again. Ya gotta love easy! Save your energy for that agapanthus.

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  21. Love your photos and your writing voice so much... Glad I stopped by.

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  22. I'm glad I'm not the only one to have discovered that spur-of-the-moment perennial purchases often end in tears. I'm glad you finally have your centrathus - but as others have said, I had to smile because for me it is a question of yanking it out of all the places where it is not welcome! beautiful colour and wonderful for pollinators, but only this morning I spotted yet another seedling of it in the wrong place. On a different topic, I tied to grow some purplish-brown peppers this year, but they all popped their clogs long before flowering. Not as bad a failure in the veg garden as my brassicas this year, but hey, I will carry on sowing and growing and failing and learning...

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    1. I think I'll just stick with the peppers from the farmers market. I prefer growing flowers!

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  23. I have red valerian growing in clay soil in part shade and sun in stone and bare soil...it just seeds itself all over...I will count myself lucky. Glad it is finally growing for you.

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    1. I Just hope it makes it through the winter in its urn. :o)

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  24. I am so glad you had success! And how cool that you were able to take a trip over seas this summer!!! You cracked me up when you talked about your focus being the Jupiters Beard rather than the country side...a true sign of a true gardener! That honeysuckle vine is so very cool! I just love it as the back drop to that bed which by the way is beautiful!!! And your philosophy with vegetable gardening is right on! I too have begun to weed out certain vegetables and just stick with my "what am I gonna eat for dinner" veggies. Happy week to you lady!!!

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    1. Tonight we had take out pizza for dinner but I just can't find a Dominoe's Pizza plant anywhere, so I think I'll just grow more flowers. :o)

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  25. Oh my god, I love that quote! I always get a good chuckle here. Jeannine

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    1. Thanks! If I quantified everything I've learned from all my mistakes, I'd have multiple PhD's. :o) I love that sign, too. It just says it all.

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  26. That's no small victory in my book.
    Tammy = 1
    Mother Nature = 0
    I may take a page out of your book too....thanks for this defiance post.
    BIG HUGE VICTORY!!!

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    1. I did feel like I was able to give Mother Nature her own butt-whuppin as payback for all the booty beatings she's given me. :o) See my urn of amazingness and weep, Mother Nature! I'd better watch out. I'll probably get hit by lightening tomorrow.

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  27. Congrats on the Centranthus. I don't have trumpet creeper but I do have several trumpet honeysuckles and they may be my favorite vinel. Here they will bloom in late spring/early summer and then again in fall.

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    1. I'm excited about the honeysuckles new location. I'm looking forward to training it through the trumpet creeper.

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  28. I love your last statement about learning from your mistakes! That is also my philosophy. Without formal training, it has been one of the main ways I have learned. I like your centranthus, and I admire your determination to succeed. And you finally did! Congratulations!

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  29. Tammy, as we say: it's better to learn from other people mistakes. I think the pepper you've grown is decorative and has spicy taste, isn't it? I never plant them because of the seeds may be another specie than on the picture. Glad you liked its taste!

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    1. Actually, the pepper has a slightly zesty taste but isn't spicy at all. I don't think I'll grow peppers again. I'd rather grow flowers and just buy my peppers at the market.

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  30. Wait, you went to England this summer?! I must read about your trip.

    I love the way your trumpet creeper looks. I'd never attempt to grow it in my garden because the wild ones grow so big here

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    1. I went to England for a week and wrote a post in July called Never Was Never an Option. I don't think I'd grow trumpet creeper anywhere south of the Chesapeake. It would just take over.

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