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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Honesty of Annuals

Seed grown orange gomphrena (globe amaranth) lights up the Sunnyside Garden.

Shut the door and close the curtain. I have to confess. I used to be a plant snob.

Orange and white gomphrena filled a gap left by the gaura that rotted.

I was convinced the only plants worthy of my garden were perennials. I stuffed my pots with annuals but had excluded them from my garden beds.

Cheap pink caladiums mingle with the 'Great Expectations' hosta that has yet to live up to it's name.

I was tempted, seduced by the permanence of perennials. They promised to be there when I needed them but they lie. They'll say anything to get a gardener to take them home.

I love these caladiums so much, I'm going to lift the bulbs and overwinter them.

But I've come to appreciate the honesty of an annual. When the going gets rough, they fall down and die and don't pretend they won't. It's a brief affair with no commitment necessary.

Coleus and Swedish Ivy (plectranthus) filled a spot in my shade garden left by the expensive variegated columbine that died. Again.

But maybe this is a good thing. Every summer you can pick a new love and start all over.

Annual lysimachia and New Guinea impatiens

'Persian Carpet' zinnias in one of my pots. Zinnias also grow in the garden beds.

A view into part of the shade garden featuring several annuals used to fill in gaps left by lily-livered, no-good, lying, yeah, baby, you're the best perennials.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Hoe Down on the Sunnyside

"I want to persuade an awful lot of plants to caper and cavort in an ever-whirling fandango for as much of the year as possible."

English landscape designer James Alexander-Sinclair

 The rain garden is the sunniest part of my garden.

My garden is a summer garden.

 It's packed with plants that attract pollinators.

There is a bit of dancing in the spring and fall but the best tunes are always played in summer. 

Occasionally a slow, seductive song is played and I'm greeted with babies in the spring but most of the tunes are booty shakers.  

Pink coneflowers attract more pollinators than any other plant in the garden, 
including this bumblebee .

Everyone has a partner. 

The dance steps are salsas and flamenco with a bit of "Dance like no one's watching" 
thrown in for good measure.

The red tube shaped flowers look like lipstick but are actually a tough southeastern native called silene regia 'Prairie Fire'. They attract hummingbirds. The red/yellow heliopsis showed up last summer as a volunteer.

Fix your hair and throw on a cute dress, honey, because there's a party over there!

Hips sway, hands clap, and it's a damn fine time. 

If I do say so myself.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly

Don't think you're going to rest those feet for too long, love.

A long cold night awaits at the end of this gig and I've got dancing to do!

Tiny pollinator on rudbeckia hirta 'Denver Daisies' grown from seed.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Ugly Spot Solution

If every garden has its hell spot, then a few of mine could inspire Dante to add an extra layer to his depiction of Hades. I have killed a lot of plants in my own personal Inferno. The biggest problem with one of my spots is that it doesn't appear to be the mutant mix of a tornado, high powered laser, and giant blob of boring. As a matter of fact, it appears completely harmless until you make the mistake of creating a garden.

Only the truly deluded would attempt such a challenge. Having been defeated numerous times, I should have crawled into my corner and left that area bare but that is just not the way I'm wired. Stubborn determination gets me out of the bed in the morning and keeps me warm at night. I will not be conquered.

The back side of my house features a boring beige wall and a window that provides a beautiful view into the garden. Do not be fooled by these harmless agents of plant death. The window is tinted with a reflective coating that keeps my house cool in the summer but blasts UV light onto the patio that raises the temperature outside the window by 20 degrees. The boring beige wall sends them leaning toward the sun and becomes a plant smashing wind tunnel during storms. The result is a deep fried, twisty, shattered mess of botanical butchery with an extra scoop of blah. I have been trying to solve this problem for years and have finally succeeded. 

Several years ago in absolute desperation, I hung a thick green curtain on the outside of one of the kitchen windows to block the reflected heat. When the plants perked up and my in-laws were horrified, I knew I'd found the solution. I upgraded it the next year to a beige model I made with water proof sail cloth.

If you're thinking, "Oh Sweet Baby Ray, she did NOT hang a curtain on the outside of her window!" Why yes, I did and it worked just fine. My kitchen was cool and the plants were happy, although still getting bashed by the wind. But after three years of curtains, I needed a solution that would solve the additional problems of wind and boring beige blahness.

The colorful birdhouses help break up the vast expanse of boring beigeness and echo the upright form of the grass. The grass will grow to be about 3 ft tall. The grass under the red house was recently planted and was purchased slightly sizzled, knowing with extra attention it would bounce back.

Miscanthus 'Little Zebra' is a tough drought and heat resistant variegated grass with a natural vase shape.

Know Your Enemy

Instead of working against the wind, I needed to work with it. I decided to use dwarf miscanthus 'Little Zebra' grass in giant pots instead of all the other plants I'd tortured in this spot. The natural movement of ornamental grasses meant they'd flow with the wind, eliminating the mess of broken branches and stems that greeted me after every storm. 

I needed to use a plant with a thick, narrow leaf to reduce the surface area affected by the reflected heat. Instead of burning the leaves, the heat is absorbed by the multiple blades of grass and there's less surface area for the light to hit. The wider and thinner the leaf, the greater the damage. 

The doorknob birdhouses were made by Rebecca Nickols of Rebecca's Bird Gardens according to Audubon guidelines for small birds. Wrens nested in the red house this spring. The red and blue houses were made to order with my own doorknobs and back plates. 

Know Yourself

I love functional art and decided to add to my collection of birdhouses by mounting these handmade houses on heavy poles stuck deep into the pots. The grasses were cut in half and planted  on each side of the support brace. This also allowed me to bird watch from my kitchen window. To satisfy my need for balance, I added two houses to the other side of the patio.

I placed the blue birdhouse tucked away from the steps by the window so I could bird watch from inside the house but no birds have moved in yet. The pot under the Art Deco house is full of seed-grown hollyhocks that haven't bloomed yet.

This was handmade from Colorado pine that had been damaged by pine beetles but was still usable.

The artist who made this house no longer has a website.

This incredible house is made from upcycled and repurposed materials by Ted Freeman of Roundhouse Works and also conforms to Audubon guidelines. Many birds have visited but it's sited too near to the house for it to be chosen for nesting. But it's so interesting, I wanted to be able to enjoy it up close. 

The bronze mailbox holds my small gardening tools.

My metal rooster is hiding behind the cosmos but you can't really blame him. After all, he is just a big chicken.

The view from the top step into the dogwood garden.

Part of  the shade garden

The hammock is a much loved summer spot.

The massive Rose of Sharon

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

So Seedy: The Seedling Update

This winter I decided to grow all my own sun-loving annuals. It sounds challenging but it wasn't. I bought grow lights, plopped seeds into large plastic drink cups, and kept them watered. It helped that I only grew plants that were easy to grow. Plants that needed a chill period were winter-sown. By growing my own plants, I was guaranteed my garden would be free of the pesticides that are routinely given to commercially grown plants. So, how'd I do? Just fine, thank you.

Pow Wow Wildberry coneflowers

These are dwarf coneflowers that bloom the first year from seed.  They needed to be cold stratified and were slow growers but are worth the patience.

Blue dwarf bush morning glories, curly parsley, and Denver daisies.

Like regular morning glories, these little guys only bloom in the morning but are cute trailing out of pots. They were very easy to grow. The winter sown parsley is grown for the swallowtail butterflies and the Denver daisies (rudbeckia hirta) are non-stop bloomers.

I love these! Known for heat and drought tolerance, they only reach about 18 inches in height.

Peggy's Delight zinnias

I grew these from old seed but they all germinated. These are a tall, cactus flowered zinnia in a variety of soft, sherbety colors. 

Their colors range from cream and pink to orange.

Poet's Tassel (Orange Tassel Flower)

I winter sowed these and only a single plant grew. Yep, just one. Next year I'll put them under grow lights. They have tall stems with tiny orange flowers, much loved by the pollinators.

This is a combination of Irish Eyes rudbeckia with seedlings of straight species rudbeckia.

Rudbeckia hirta doesn't need any help to grow so I've decided to stop helping it. I'll scatter seeds this fall where I want seedlings and be done with it.

 Gomphrena (Globe Amaranth)

There's been a bit of weirdness with the gomphrena this year. The pink looks almost white, the white is very vigorous, the purple less vigorous, and the orange is long and rangey, flopping about like a squid. The orange needs much more water than the others, so I moved it to a slightly moist spot.

Dahlias, Persian Carpet zinnias, and Moulin Rouge zinnias

The dahlias are non-stop bloomers as are the little Persian Carpet zinnias. I grew the red zinnias after squirrels ransacked a pot of giant Indian Summer rudbeckia. I cannot resist a plant named after the Moulin Rouge. Had they been named 'Dateless and in a Turtleneck' I'd have passed them by.

Persian Carpet zinnias

These don't have the color variation advertised but so what....

'Moulin Rouge' zinnias

Cosmic Orange cosmos and Sonata cosmos (upper right - not blooming)

Bees ignore the Sonata in favor of the orange flowers on the daily. The Cosmic Orange is a heavy, cheerful bloomer.

'Pacifica' vinca

I thought these would be blooming in a variety of hot colors but they're pink, pink, pink. That's ok because I like pink but I think I'll buy these next year since they don't attract pollinators, anyway.

'Blue Monday' salvia

I thought this would have spires of dark blue flowers but only the tips are blue so I feel a bit mislead. But they were insanely easy to grow and the bees love them.

The blue pot in the middle right is full of 'Blue Monday' salvia and 'Mammoth' verbena.

'Tuscany Lavender' verbena

This is a tough, pretty plant that needs very little attention or extra water. But it was hard to convince to grow so I'm not sure if I'll grow it again. 

Tithonia 'Goldfinger'

This dwarf variety is supposed to be 3-4 feet tall but mine is already 4.5 feet tall and I doubt it's done. I've staked it to keep it from snapping in the rain and love its huge, velvety leaves.

So what didn't grow?

The campanula were duds, the angelonia refused to germinate and the sweet peas were fried by a warm spring. My much loved ammi wasn't as vigorous as last year and was then crowded out by a massive knautia. 

What about everything else?

The centranthus grew well but waited til it warmed up to do much, leaving me convinced they'd wimped out. The hyssop grew like mad as did the linaria, another plant that needs zero help to grow. The hollyhocks haven't bloomed yet but are on their way. The 'Zahara Starlight' zinnias grew well but are boring.

The dahlias bloom in a variety of colors, which is fun. Never underestimate the power of a happy surprise.