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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Supposed To's and Other Myths

I once had a bizarre conversation with someone about the Easter pancake requirement. I was asked if I had eaten pancakes for dinner on a certain day close to the Christian holiday of Easter. Completely confused, I asked about the religious significance of eating pancakes for dinner. "I don't know but you're supposed to do it. We ate pancakes." I continued to gently probe her about the history of pancake eating. She finally responded, "That's just what you do." My reply of  "So you do something every year without knowing why you do it?" went unappreciated. It was as strange to me to blindly follow convention as it was for her to challenge it.

I often find the same 'supposed to' mind set in gardening. But I just don't think there are as many 'supposed to's' in life or gardening as we think there are.

Aside from giving these Japanese hollies some soil acidifier to help counteract the alkalinity of the  concrete, I completely neglect them. The blue 'President' clematis, however, is a bit pampered. (Spring 2012)

You are supposed to use evergreens when landscaping your front yard.

Who made up this rule? While evergreens do give you winter interest and a beautiful canvas for snow, if you're lucky enough to get any, it's your yard. Do what you want. I have a row of evergreen Japanese hollies next to my front walkway that were planted by the builder nine years ago. Tough as steel, they are never given supplemental water and thrive in a small sliver of soil between the front porch and walkway. But I didn't keep them there because I was supposed to. I kept them because they look good and never died. The rest of my front yard plantings are flowers and deciduous shrubs.

I'm growing roses mixed in with perennials! What is wrong with me?? (Spring 2012)

Westerland climbing rose is super cold hardy and very disease resistant.

Roses should be grown in isolated beds with other roses.

Roses lined up like soldiers look weird. I know that's just my opinion, but it's such a pervasive design approach that it's come to be considered an absolute rule. I had someone comment this summer that I wasn't 'supposed to' grow my roses mixed in with other plants. But my garden follows my rules and my roses grow happily amongst perennials.

My monarda patch is full of conflicting colors. I picked my monarda based on how tough and disease resistant they are. I don't care if they clash. Neither do the hummingbirds. (Summer 2012)

I look forward to these geum every spring. With their bright colors and ruffled petals, they remind me of Spanish flamenco dancers. (Spring 2012)

Colors aren't supposed to clash.

As guidelines go, this is a good one. But what I consider cheerful, might be migraine inducing to you. I love pink and orange together and have plans for a big pot of perennials that will include orange coneflowers, purple liatris, and red silene. It's a party in a pot! Chose your color combinations based on what makes you happy and emotionally satisfied. It doesn't matter if no one else likes it. It's not their garden.

I never know where tradescantia will pop up around my garden. Since it's a self-seeder, it usually just shows up in groups of one or two, although sometimes it brings a crowd. (Summer 2012)

My potted perennials often contain just a few of each variety. (Late spring 2012)

Always plant in groups of 3, 5, or 7

Unless you find a plant you love on the sale table and they only have one or two. I have a friend who purposefully adds plants in ones and twos just to add a sense of chaos to her beds. She doesn't want a super neat garden and throws in plants just because she loves them, regardless of the overall scheme. The result? A colorful jumble of a garden that is happiness personified. However, when trying to attract pollinators large plantings work better than smaller ones.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sunday Company

Around this time each year, I start looking for monarch caterpillars and worry when I can't find them. Chunks of orange milkweed are scattered across my garden beds and a stand of slightly bent and twisted swamp milkweed, headed for a moister, sunnier spot next weekend, grows near several other pollinator attracting plants. The swamp milkweed looked pathetic and had been ignored by the monarchs. I couldn't say I blamed them. But tucked away in the orange milkweed, several future monarchs munched.

Asclepias tuberosa, commonly known as orange milkweed, is an outrageously tough plant. Growing to about 2 ft, it grows in dry soil and can even tolerate high, bright shade but prefers full sun. I let mine self seed.

This picture is too bright, but the milkweed grows near a blue Monch aster, which also attracts pollinators. I found 6 caterpillars, including one that was preparing to form a chrysalis.

I call this bed near my river birch the Founding Flowers garden because many of the plants I used to fill it were part of my original garden design. They were moved to this bed last fall after struggling in the dry shade of my ever increasing ash/oak tree canopy. Two rue plants grow near the variegated iris. Rue is one of the larval foods for swallowtail butterflies.

I found 10 swallowtail caterpillars of various stages chomping away on the rue. I've seen big, pricey pots of it at the garden center, but the best way to buy it is to purchase a smaller pot from the herb section. They are perennial and very cold hardy. I cut them back in late winter and again after they bloom in the spring. They have yellow flowers and beautiful bluish foliage.

All of the coneflowers in this bed were seedlings I found around the garden. This one decided the show wasn't over and is blooming again.

Swallowtail butterflies will lay eggs on parsley, rue, fennel, and all plants in the carrot family. I had planned on pulling up my purple carrots to make a carrot cake this weekend, but when I saw all the caterpillars in the rue, I decided to leave them alone. I might still find caterpillars in them. 

Nepeta and variegated iris

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Everything That's Right

I am convinced our lives are better than we realize. I quit watching the news years ago when I just couldn't absorb anymore mayhem and read my news via a random assortment of websites/newspapers. But some days I'm amazed at how many small things all go right instead of wrong. Perhaps, I'm just easy to please but that's ok. Joy shouldn't be hard to find.

A close friend gave me these teensy hosta this spring with the comment that they were rare, or maybe just unusual. She wasn't sure. I gladly took them, plopped them in a pot, and let them be. Needing almost total shade, I didn't expect much and hoped they wouldn't die.

I spend each day in an overly bright, Arctic-aired, windowless classroom. This afternoon I eagerly traded artificial lighting and the bang of lockers for a sapphire sky and mild weather. Once home I made my usual trek through the kitchen and straight out to the garden. Surprised last week to see a flower bud on one of the plants, I was shocked by what greeted me today.

A purple and white flower larger than the petals stood stiffly erect, a tiny surprise from an unexpected gift.

I hope these eventually fill this pot.

Everything that was right today:
The invention of Swiffer Wet Jet to clean up my elderly dogs bladder blowout.
Homemade oatmeal cookie and a cup of tea
Gorgeous weather
50% off coupon to my favorite garden center
Blooming hostas

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Sunday Ramble

I don't know about you, but I'm ready for autumn. With my son off to Army boot camp and my daughter busy with her senior year in high school,  I'm itchy for change. With no large projects in sight ( I love projects!), I'm happy to welcome the season by enjoying the changes in my garden. 

No name toad lilies from a friend thrive in the moist soil near the Big Daddy rain barrel.

This clump started out as just a few small seedlings.

White mist flower (eupatorium)

Dwarf solidago and coneflower seed heads

'Rotkugel' oregano and dwarf solidago

I have no idea what kind of insects these are but they were all over the solidago flowers.

I think they were trying to make baby mystery bugs so I felt a little weird taking their pictures...

Variegated sedum and aster ericoides grow in very dry shade.The sedum flowers are a very soft pink.

Northern sea oats and variegated Solomon's Seal grow behind the aster and variegated sedum.

This was the first year I'd ever grown ornamental grasses and I really love them, especially these cool seed heads. I saw a dwarf variety of sea oats called French Tickler at the garden center today. Perhaps I should plant a few over by the baby-making mystery bugs.  

My 'Autumn Joy' sedum is a bit mildewy and I don't know why. Do you? Even the flower heads are smaller than usual.

Heart leafed aster (aster divarcatus) and blue creeeping plumbago grow under my Rose of Sharon. Teensy minature hosta grow in the butterfly pot. They were also a gift from a friend.

Empty swallowtail butterfly chrysalis hangs from a coneflower stem. 

'Starman' geraniums bloom in the fall. They like moist, rich soil and partial shade.

My pots of sweet potatoes are packed with potatoes! The pots are so full I can find potatoes almost bursting through the soil. Once we get our first frost, I'm going to harvest them.

I planted this 'Graham Thomas' climbing rose this spring and it's grown almost 4 feet this summer. Thanks to the cooler weather, it's set a few buds and will bloom a few more times before winter.

Blue and pink Wood's asters

'Sheffield Pink' mums and 'Purple Dome' asters will start blooming soon.

This blue mist flower grows in a bit of shade and needed to be cut back to make it bushier. I didn't realize this until it was too late, so it's a bit floppy. Live and learn. It's still pretty! :o)

Obedient plants (phytostegia) are a Virginia native that grows in my front garden. The bees love them!

Lespedeza 'Spring Grove' looks like the cultivar Gibralter but is shorter.

This is a really weird spot near my driveway. When it snows we pile our snow in front of the rain barrel, where the lespedeza is growing. I wanted to plant something there that would be tough but could be cut back in the fall so the snow didn't crush it. I planted this as a tiny stick last fall and not only did it not snow, but we had the warmest winter on record. The lantana are just pretty fillers until the lespedeza grows large enough to fill the spot. It will grow to about 4 feet tall.

New plants for the garden. Hello, Rozanne!

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Worm Poo Wonder

In a dark corner of my basement stands a multi-tiered worm bin that churns out worm compost 24 hours a day. Stoked on a never ending supply of coffee grounds and produce scraps, as well as the occasional stale cracker, my worms live a simple life - eat, sleep, poop, have sex. It's not a bad life, honestly. I have a few single, constipated friends I think are jealous.

However, every summer a few seeds seem to escape the indiscriminate palate of the worms and end up germinating instead of turning into compost. Last year two different types of tomatoes grew amongst the flowers, courtesy of my worms. This year the bounty is bigger. I'm growing cantaloupe in the front yard!

When I discovered this vine, I decided to let it grow just to see what would happen. I thought this area received too much afternoon shade for anything to grow.

Two large cantaloupe are growing! The vines aren't ready to release from the fruit, so they're still on the vine. I've never grown cantaloupe before. Each melon weighs about 3 lbs or so.

The vines are full of flowers but I doubt any more melons will develop since our temperatures have started to cool.

I highly doubt allowing a compost germinated cantaloupe to grow between the dwarf abelia is conventional landscaping advice, but I don't mind. Plus, it gives my neighbors something to talk about. I haven't done a single thing to the melons to help them grow. This area does stay a bit moist so I never needed to water.  

Monday, September 3, 2012

Summer Superlatives

Summer is officially over at the Casa. My tomato plant is starting to look a little weird, the fall bloomers have popped out a few flowers, and my classroom is ready for the preteen onslaught waiting for me on Tuesday. I thought I'd celebrate the end of the season with a list of superlatives - plants that were exceptionally fabulous or truly hideous.

Plant Most Likely to Survive a Zombie Apocalypse

The next time I collapse into a recliner to watch Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland, I'm going to bring this pot of hens and chicks with me. If you need a plant that requires absolutely zero care, hens and chicks are for you. Since zombies are horrible at remembering to water plants, despite the number of brains they've eaten, sempervivums are destined to rule the world.

Best Bloomers

If you have a sunny spot and want more butterflies, add some coneflowers this fall. While they love compost and water during dry spells, they'll bloom from late spring til frost with only a small amount of care.

'Monch's' aster is a blooming machine.It starts in mid-summer and keeps up with the fall blooming asters all through autumn. Orange milkweed, heavy with ripe seeds pods, grows through the lounging asters.

My heliopsis has also bloomed since spring. It likes moist, well draining soil and full sun. Cut it back once in early summer to thicken it up and then just sit back and watch the show. I often find butterflies using the wide flowers as basking spots. Tall annual milkweed grows in the foreground.

My Rose of Sharon bloomed twice this year. I just took these pictures on Sunday. It occasionally blesses me with a few extra flowers after the main show in June, but this year is putting on an encore performance. Lucky me!!

Best Mess

Do you see that innocent little tomato plant sticking up between the petunias in the left side of the picture?

It's growing out of a crack in the patio pavers. Don't let its precarious location fool you. 

It's now growing through the agastache, across the sign, and around the rose.

When this little grape tomato sprout thrust its head between the agastache and Abraham Darby rose in my container garden, I wondered how long its roots would survive the rotten soil under my patio pavers. I needn't have worried. Not only is it thriving, it's launched a full scale attack on its neighbors, scrambling across their branches and vining its way from pot to pot. The tomatoes are tangy and I swear they taste a bit like fish emulsion but I don't care. Any vegetable capable of growing between patio pavers, only to thrive and fruit, can do as it damn well pleases.

Happiest Surprise

My rain garden has been a fabulous addition to the garden. It works extremely well at keeping the water in my garden to replenish ground water supplies. I often find butterflies using the wet rocks as mineral licks after a storm. I'd tried for several years to create butterfly puddling stations around my garden only to find a rancid, sandy mess a week later. But a rain garden full of cheap pond rocks works perfectly!

Last year two Peggy Martin roses were accidentally delivered to me via a computer error in a new ordering system installed by an online nursery I had ordered from. My little mystery roses have grown about 6 feet this summer and even bloomed a bit this spring.

I'll prune them in late winter and train them to the fence.

The Peggy Martin rose is also known as The Rose That Survived Hurricane Katrina and is available at Chamblees.

I had given this pipevine up for dead earlier this summer. Covered with brown, sunburned leaves it looked wretched and I was irritated it wasn't thriving. I cut it back, gave it a big dose of John and Bob's Penetrate, a truly magical solution that breaks up clay soil, along with a couple of gallons of my epsom salt/seaweed solution, and it decided to grow.

I'm hoping to it will cover the front of my porch and attract pipevine swallowtails. This little Daddy Long Legs enjoys the shade of its big leaves.

Best Bad Idea

I've reached the point with these containers that I no longer cringe when I see them. It's actually all I can do not to burst out laughing. They look like a giant green octopus. If only a team of Garden Interventionists had grabbed me and stopped me from torturing these stephandra, I could have a sweet pot of impatiens on my porch. I thought the stephandra crispa, a gorgeous shade loving ground cover, would find botanical bliss in the pots on my mostly shady porch. A low arching shrub that roots where it touches, the stephandra wouldn't be able to root into my concrete patio, thus spilling from their pots in a cascade of mini maple leaf foliage. Desperate for more water and soil, if these shrubs had fingers and anything sharp, I'd be a goner.

Best Pollinator Attractor

Not only do coneflowers bloom all summer, they attract boatloads of butterflies and other pollinators.

 Swallowtail butterfly on the coneflowers. 

The number one pollinator magnet in my garden, next to the Rose of Sharon, is the 'Blue Fortune' agastache. It also blooms from early summer to fall and likes more moisture and compost than most agastaches.

Best Bang for Your Buck

I love zinnias! These were knocked sideways by a severe storm this summer but continued to grow. They just did it sideways. This picture was taken prior to the storm. Pollinators love the nectar, finches love the seed, and because they're easy to grow you can cultivate a large patch for just a few dollars. Zinnias are tough plants but they like extra water and a bit of fertilizer. Be sure to give them full sun and cut them back to keep them bushy.