Thursday, August 31, 2006

Transplanting Peonies

Sho Yu - the Chinese name for Peony also means beautiful. Thank them for hybridizing Peonies, a native of Siberia.

Yes, that's correct, Siberia. Toss out everything you've ever assumed about Peonies. They're not nearly as tender and fussy as you think. At least, I hope not...

I'm deep into Plan B for this Labor Day weekend. As is almost always the case, Plan A would have been loads more fun, camping high in the Grand Tetons.

Plan B has me in South Dakota, transplanting some very old ladies. I'm on a mission to save Mom's beloved Peonies.

Peonies grow most of their roots in the fall so that's the best time to transplant.

These gals are old (35 years!) and large, so I'll divide them into smaller clumps, creating several new plants. This should inspire vigorous growth and, hopefully, produce lots of fragrant flowers next year. I'll dig holes twice as big as the rootballs and give them lots of room to stretch their legs - three or four feet apart.

Peonies don't need much fertilizer. One feeding in the spring gets them off to a strong start.

Tip: Cut back their foliage (2 inches from ground) after the first hard frost. A peony's leaves produce food stored in the roots over winter. Stored food supports healthy growth the following spring.

PS: Peonies don't need ants. Ants need peonies. The flower buds secrete a sweet substance - like candy to little ants.

* In most cases I never space flowers as far apart as I'm told (the closer together, the less weeding for this lazy gardener...) But, Peonies are different. They hate crowding. For best flowering give them 3-4 feet of personal space. Dutch Gardens has an amazing selection of fragrant double-flowered Peonies.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Kit Cat Reunion

Do cats live forever? I think this one does. I've got a sorely-neglected English Garden at a rental property in town. I was madly pulling weeds over there, when I felt the familiar brush of my old friend's fur.

Cleo and I were good buddies 5 years ago when I lived at this duplex. She still stops by to say hello whenever she spots me in the yard.

Turn an old cat into a playful kitty by planting a little Catmint. It's more mellow than catnip, quite beautiful in your garden, irresistible to kitty cats. They love to rub against it and sometimes nibble on the minty, lemon-scented flowers.

Catmint is an English Garden classic, covered with long spikes of blue/violet blooms for most of the summer. I like to pair mine with Rose Queen (pink) Salvia for bright contrast.

If you have outdoor kitties, plant a little catmint. It's the perfect place for an afternoon nap. (Not for you, for the cats. :-)

* Nepeta Six Hills Giant Catmint (USDA zones 5-9) will reach 3 feet high, with a 4-foot bushy spread of beautiful flowers. Available from Monrovia.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Heirloom Tomato Appetizer Recipe

Just because I managed to lose all of my own veggies this year, (Memorial Day frost) doesn't mean I have to go without.

Early morning at the local Farmer's Market is a colorful, bustling, fun-filled affair. This week, I came home with more luscious tomatoes than I really need.

So, now it's time to get creative in the kitchen. Here's a tasty recipe I just discovered.

It's so delicious, it easily doubles as dinner.

Heirloom Tomato Broiled Appetizer

You'll need a loaf of crusty bread (garlic or rosemary are great choices,) olive oil, shredded Parmesan cheese, thinly sliced proscuitto, and one fresh-picked, vine-ripened tomato.*
  • Fire up the broiler
  • Cut the bread in half-inch thick, sandwich-type slices
  • Brush with olive oil
  • Add thinly-sliced proscuitto
  • Add thinly-sliced tomato*
  • Cover with shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Broil for 5-10 minutes, until bread is toasty and cheese is melted and bubbly.

* Please don't wreck this fabulous recipe by using a crummy, store-bought tomato. :-)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Growing Plumeria

Rachel wrote in looking for tips on growing Plumeria. I'm thrilled to meet a fellow Utahn who loves Plumeria as much as I do!

Plumeria is surprisingly easy to grow. They love the hot sun. Need a little extra water and must be stored in your garage during our cold Utah winters.

Plumeria grows from seed but it takes forever - 4 years, at least - to first flowers. The fastest way is to start with a cutting. If you've been to Hawaii, you've probably seen these small canes for sale in tourist shops. They don't look like much but they root very easily. Just stick them in a pot, in a sunny window, or outdoors in summer. Water every 3 days or so. They typically bloom the following year. (A rooting hormone gets them off to a quick start.)

Plumeria is a tropical plant and will die if exposed to temperatures colder than 40 degrees (F). They can overwinter, without water or sunlight, in your garage. (They look terrible, like they're dead, but they come back beautifully the following summer.) I maintain mine as a container plant so I can move them back and forth.

Tip: A high phosphate fertilizer (5-32-5) keeps them blooming most of the summer.

* Click here to visit the Maui Plumeria Gardens.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Chokecherry Jam Recipe

Chokecherry Jam was a breakfast tradition at our house. It defined Sunday mornings for as long as I could remember. After a few dozen phone calls, I managed to track down this most precious recipe from childhood.

Once I retrieved it, though, I felt kind of foolish. There's nothing to it. Have you ever gone back to a childhood haunt and noticed how everything is smaller than you remembered it?

Well, I guess this recipe is kind of like that. Bigger than life for sentimental reasons and nothing more.

Chokecherries blossom in May and ripen throughout the summer. The time for picking chokecherries is... right.. about... NOW.

Picking your own? Look for big, plump berries, dark purple or black. Toss in some light red and green ones, too. They add extra flavor.

The Legendary O'Fahey Family

Remember to stir, stir, stir. Cherries and sugar can get pretty sticky and may burn to the sides of your pot.
  • Add 1 cup of water to every four cups of cherries.
  • Simmer over low heat until fruit is very tender.
  • Use a large spoon to press the chokecherry pulp through a sieve. (Three cups of pulp make about 3 half pints of jam.)
  • Add an equal amount of sugar to match the amount of chokecherry pulp.
  • Put sugar/chokecherry mixture back on the stove and cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Cook to a temperature of 9° (F) higher than the boiling point of water. *According to Aunt Lillian, this temperature check will deliver a rich flavor and thick consistency.
  • Pour into hot, sterile jam jars to approximately 3/4 full.
  • Seal and process in a boiling water bath for about 15 minutes.
  • Give the jam 24 hours to slowly cool.
* Are you a newbie at making jam? Click here. These guys can fill in the blanks.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tonight's Menu: Quaking Aspens

Look who came for dinner at my friend's house last night!

Young saplings - especially Quaking Aspen Trees - are to moose as chocolate cake is to you or me (irresistible!) Steve, Sandy and I all planted new, young trees this year. Maybe that's why we're getting visitors.

At 6 foot tall and over a thousand pounds it's hard to tell a moose to shoo. But why would you want to? They're magnificent.

Bring a moose to the office. Click here.

* Fact: A Bull Moose, in his prime, can defend himself against an entire pack of timberwolves, but the only time a Moose will hurt you is when you're acting like an idiot. Moose have only one predator - hunters. If you're one of those kind of people don't come around here. We love these big, sweet guys. You're much more likely to get shot during hunting season than they are.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Bad Dog Takes a Walk

When my daughter left for college, I had to get used to living alone for the first time ever. It wasn't pretty. All of a sudden, the only person I had to talk to was myself. It didn't take long until I'd grown very weary of me.

So, I landed on the brilliant idea of owning a dog. It was a dumb decision from the get-go and he's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But, over the last two years, we've found a way to co-exist.

This morning, Bad Dog woke me at dawn. In spite of my initial reaction, this turned out to be one of those delicious Mondays where I ignored my garden chores and made up a lame excuse to wiggle out of work. We devoted the entire afternoon to goofing off.

A half mile bike ride, from home, delivers us to the beginning of the Round Valley Trail and from there we take a shortcut to McLeod Creek.

It starts out with a stroll through a lush, green meadow filled with wildflowers. I recognize Globe Mallow, Dame's Rocket, Indian Paintbrush and Wild Geraniums. Did you know that honey bees are responsible for the pollination of over 80% of America's wildflowers? I didn't either. What would we do without Google?

The next order of business is to bark at the horses. That's always fun - especially when the owner runs out to yell at me.

We finish our day with an icy cold dip in the creek. My job is to observe... and to run when he climbs out of the water and starts shaking himself off. McLeod Creek is fed from melted mountain snows. Even in August it quickly freezes your toes.

And, then we turn around and head for home. This is my favorite part of the journey because he's so exhausted he walks quietly by my side all the way back to the trailhead. "He's an angel... He's gorgeous..." Other hikers are filled with compliments for my well-behaved dog.

If they only knew....

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Joe Pye Weed

Who would purchase a perennial with the word 'weed' in the name? Isn't that just asking for trouble?

Me, that's who. I'm always lookin' for a get rich quick scheme and Joe Pye Weed is considered, by some, to be an aphrodisiac. I figure all I need is an Ebay account, a clever copywriter and few gullible bidders. Bam! I've created a new love potion! (I won't be remembering any of the little people once I auction off my seeds.)

Joe Pye Weed has no business in my xeric garden - it's a very thirsty plant. Well, actually it's more of a tree than a plant. Laden with fuzzy pink flowers on a 6-foot purple stem.

Now that it's blooming, I recognize it - a big lummox of a 'weed' that grows wild along the hiking trails in Minnesota. No doubt because of those 10,000 lakes.

Turns out Old Joe was a Native American who used this wildflower as a natural cure for typhoid. Ebay bidders might not find this plant appealing, but the birds and the butterflies sure do.

*Eupatorium maculatum (Spotted Joe-Pye Weed,) USDA zones 3-10, is a wildflower that colonizes near creeks and stream beds. Blooms from July to September in moist conditions.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Rugosa Roses

A rose by any other name will never make it into my garden. Roses are the most beloved flower on the planet but some varieties are so high maintenance they're hardly worth the effort. Breeders work endlessly to improve a rose's flowering capabilites. In doing so, they weaken their natural resistance.

That's why I'm a fan of Rugosa roses.

Rugosa Roses are the most hardy, disease-resistant roses you can buy. They're also the most tolerant of poor soil conditions.

Roses love a soil pH of 6.0-6.5. My soil is in the 7.8-8.1 range, which means it's short on the goodies - phosphorus, iron, copper, zinc, boron and manganese. Amendments like compost, soil pep and peat moss do the trick. And, no matter where you live, fertilizer is essential. (It's hard work to flower all summer long!)

Roses have deep, deep roots so it's important to drench them vs. frequent light watering. If you have one of those black, plastic pots - the kind nurseries grow perennials in, you're in luck. Dig a hole and sink that black pot into the soil next to your rose bush. Fill the pot with water and voila! You've got a drip irrigation system! The water heads straight down to the roots, where it will do the most good.

* Rugosa roses come in a variety of colors. They're low maintenance and strong, long bloomers in tough conditions.
** Roses love heavy clay soils. Add lots of organic matter to keep surface roots moist and wet.
*** Click here to visit Wayside Gardens Rugosa Roses.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Ornamental Grasses

It's always nice when someone stops to praise your garden. This year, I've been getting lots of compliments on the ornamental grasses.

I live on a popular bike route - one of those deceiving, gradual uphills. By the time cyclists get to my house, they'll come up with any excuse to stop peddling and chat.

While they catch their breath, they rave about the lush, lovely grasses down by the road and oh, are they hard to grow and how did you get them to be so healthy?

The thing is... I don't have any ornamental grasses. Those are called weeds. So, I thank them sincerely and make a quick exit before they start asking the hard questions. Someday that spot will be a pretty garden. Until then, I'll keep up the charade by letting clumps of them grow tall and weed-wacking the rest. I figure... what the tourists don't know, can't hurt 'em....

* There are dozens of varieties of ornamental grasses that provide great texture to garden designs. Nature Hills has a terrific selection for most zones.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Queen For A Day

It's a bit of a balancing act... traipsing around my garden in the early morning, scissors in one hand and coffee in the other. If I frightened the neighbors when I was just in my jammies, imagine how they feel when they see the crazy lady with the garden shears!

Salvias will bloom for a good 8 weeks, if they are promptly deadheaded. These beauties are forever getting a haircut.

Nurseries sell more tender salvias than they do tough ones and that's why some gardeners are suspicious about the zone claims. I've had tremendous luck with the Queens.

In fact, Blue Queen and Rose Queen Salvias* grow so easily I direct-sow them by seed and have over 30 of these intensely colored, bushy perennials speckling the yard. They're not fussy about soil, flourish in the blazing sun, surprisingly drought-tolerant. (Even I can't kill 'em!)

I'm not sure who is more attracted to the Queens... little girls in my neighborhood or the butterflies passing by.

*Salvia superba Blue Queen and Rose Queen, USDA zones 4-9, bloom mid-July through August with proper deadheading.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Lord Baltimore Hibiscus

Lately life has felt like a sweater unraveling. Feeble attempts at stopping this mess is just making the hole a little bigger. I have been sitting in front of my computer since before dawn, trying to get work done with little success. Each time I glance out the window, though, I'm greeted with a welcome distraction.

Lord Baltimore has decided to bloom. A large bud hanging heavy in the morning rain, has slowly unfolded over the course of the afternoon. This huge, 12-inch flower looks as if it were fashioned from crepe paper.

Hardy Hibiscus* are reliable bloomers in Zone 5, though they like to keep their feet wet. Plant them in a full sun spot where you're often reminded to give them extra water. Ruffled, crimson-red flowers are the size of that proverbial dinner plate. On a day like this (when I'm wishin' like crazy I could earn a living gardening,) they are absolutely worth the extra effort.

Tip: Three inches of bark mulch will help keep soil moist. Big bloomers like these appreciate a slow-release fertilizer. Fall is a wonderful time to plant Lord Baltimore. It uses the cool, moist temperatures of fall to put down roots and prepare for strong flowering next summer.

* Hardy Hibiscus (some varieties can handle zone 3 winters) will bloom from August til first frost with proper care. In areas with dry winters, water or shovel snow on them to keep consistently moist. The best prices I've found are at the Michigan Bulb Company.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sod Sofas

How fun is this !?!

Got a green thumb? Put it to the test! Outdoor living is all the rage but the cool stuff comes with a price tag that is out of this world. Why shell out $1,000 for designer patio furniture when a little dirt and grass seed is all you need?

If you've not discovered it yet, ReadyMade is a great magazine, filled with do-it-yourself, weekender projects that range from ridiculous to loads of fun.

Be the envy of your neighborhood with your very own sod sofa. Visit ReadyMade for step by step instructions.

A word of warning from the instructors: this is gonna get messy.

My 2 cents: Kentucky Bluegrass might make the softest 'cushions.'

Friday, August 11, 2006

Goldenrod Solidago

It seems to be the turning point, signaling summer is winding down. Bright, golden flowers bloom along the hiking trails, adjacent to my home. This wild variety will reach four feet high and flower through early autumn.

Sneezing a lot lately?
Goldenrod* kicks off the allergy season, big time.

Cultivated versions are more compact, well-behaved - great late-bloomers for your garden. Golden-yellow, feathery clusters of flowers hit their stride right when other perennials peter out.

Crushed flowers, of wild varieties, have a delicious, anise-scented aroma.
  • The Cherokees used it for fevers.
  • Herbalists brew it for tea.
  • Boyfriend buggin' ya? Cures flatulence, too.

Pair Goldenrod with late-blooming purple Asters for a bold, end-of-the-summer show.

*Goldenrod Solidago, USDA zones 5-9, is an August- September bloomer available in many varieties. Cultivated hybrids emit less pollen. Asters and Goldenrod are available from High Country Gardens.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Jane's Addiction

"I really love the 'staging' of my flowers throughout the season. And, I like to linger out there... pulling weeds, deadheading. I savor every new little bud. Plus, the butterflies and hummingbirds ... they really make my day."

Truth be told, if I'd known more people like Jane when I lived in Minnesota, I might not have moved. Gardeners have a special bond because we know the secrets of nurture and nature. It's fun to watch things grow.

Jane and I lived parallel lives, though we didn't know it until today. When she was ten, her folks gave her a little garden spot and encouraged her to get creative. At about the same time, 500 miles west, I was being sentenced to hard labor pulling weeds in my family's garden. I fell in love with flowers and she did, too. We've been playing in the mud ever since. (And, lucky for us, we both have daughters to help with the weeding!)

Tips and tricks from a Minnesota gardener:
Sprinkle Morning Glory seeds into backyard pots and let them flower however they please.

These dainty little climbers will re-seed but next year's crop is too leggy. Plant new Morning Glories every year for spectacular blooms.

Asiatic Lilies* are a popular choice for zone 4 gardens. Choose a combination of early, mid-season, and late-blooming cultivars, for bright color from June through September.

After a long, cold Minnesota winter, it's hard to remember what you planted where. Northern Gardening offers a FREE downloadable garden journal so you can keep track of all your flowering friends.

* Buy the best Asiatic Lilies from Jackson & Perkins. A packet of annual Morning Glory seeds will set you back a whole dollar, available at Target.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Power of Italian Roast

Eight out of ten of us start the day with a steaming cup of hot coffee. I start my day in a complete fog. Lucky for me the coffee maker is an auto-start contraption. I consider that a premiere achievement of modern man.

My Azaleas love their morning coffee as much as I do. Azaleas need acidic soil and that doesn't exist here in Utah. But, I got a hot tip about making my soil more acidic by using leftover coffee grounds.*

Coffee grounds slowly release nitrogen into the soil as they degrade. They’re slightly acidic, a blessing for Azaleas and other acid-loving plants. The grounds also provide a generous amount of phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, and copper. Check with Dr. Science about the groovy details. As Stephen Colbert would say, "All you need to know is..." --- coffee grounds green up plants, improve soil conditions, and encourage rapid growth.

I may have over done it. Each morning I sprinkle Italian Roast over the Azalea bush and it’s doing okay. Right next to it, though, is a honeysuckle vine that’s hit 12 feet and still climbing! (I guess that's what they mean by 'rapid growth.')

I’m lazy. I sprinkle them on top. Best way is to till coffee grounds into the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.

* Starbucks gives away coffee grounds for free. Strawberries love ‘em, Hydrangeas go nuts. Evergreens perk up quite nicely. They’re also great at combating ant problems.

Q & A: "Black Moon" wrote to me about ‘rust’ on hollyhocks. Rust disease is found nearly everywhere hollyhocks are grown, though I’ve never experienced it and this is why: Hollyhocks are hellacious re-seeders and I don't want them coming up everywhere. So, I cut down all my hollies, right after they bloom and toss the remains.

Rust disease is a fungus that overwinters in plant debris, forming new, infectious spores on hollies every year.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tall Boys

I was shocked, I tell you! Shocked! To discover there are people in this great nation of ours who have never heard of Tall Boys.

For those of you who are socially challenged, Tall Boys are 16 oz. beers best enjoyed ice cold after a strenuous workout... such as walking to the convenience store to buy one!

Tall boys in my garden are bright, yellow sunflowers, stretching their necks to the sky. There are hundreds of varieties of sunflowers. If you really want to show off to the neighbors, plant Russian Giants.*

They tower up to 15 feet high, with big, yellow faces the size of a dinner plate. And, they just love the hot, hot sun. Watching 'em bake out there puts me in the mood for a cold one.

* Plant annual sunflowers by seed. They grow so fast it's not worth paying for the potted plants. Thompson & Morgan gives you free sunflower seeds with any plant order!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Little, Bitty Hummers

They weigh less than a penny, fly 50 mph and are smaller than your thumb.

IF I owned the camera of my dreams, I'd show you Calliope Hummingbirds, flitting around this honeysuckle vine. All photos, so far, are just a blur.

In Western gardens, you can time their arrival. They follow the blooming of columbines and lilacs. But, they'll hang around all summer if you offer them the right kind of plants.

Hummingbirds can't smell. Their favorites are big nectar producers with red, orange and pink, tubular flowers. They also love mosquitoes and gnats - so it's to everyone's benefit to invite hummers into the yard.

Ever wonder why hummingbirds ignore your garden and gather near the feeder? Cultivated hybrid plants produce very little nectar, compared to native plants.

Here's what's growing in my hummingbird garden:*
  • Bee Balm
  • Columbine
  • Coral Honeysuckle
  • Hummingbird Mint
  • Lupine
  • Penstemon
Mixing hummingbird nectar is easy: 1 part white sugar with 4 parts water. Boil, cool, then serve it in a red-colored feeder. Change it every 3-4 days.

PS: They can fly backwards!

* Each of these hearty Western perennials is USDA zone 5 (or colder.) Check out Spring Hill Nursery for plant combinations to attract little hummers. Visit the Hummingbird Society for more cool ideas!