Saturday, September 30, 2006

Barnsley Baby

How to deal with grief? That question has been on my mind quite often, lately. For one, because flowers are the way in which people often express they're sorry.

And, also because I'm the recipient of people's gestures, right now.

If I'm at a loss for words, imagine how they must feel.

But, there are some people who've done things so insightful and unexpected that it turned me into that proverbial wet noodle. Such is the case with the Barnsley Babies. Three breathtaking Tree Mallows donated to a new garden in memory of my Mom.

Barnsley is a flowering powerhouse, standing 3 feet high at maturity, crowded with white petals surrounding a bright, rosy center. Heat-tolerant, drought-tolerant and a lover of poor soil, these free-flowering beauties proudly border the garden entrance. A miniature version of her beloved hollyhocks.

I have no good answers on how to deal with a friend who is hurting. Perhaps it's as simple as forcing her back into the garden, to take her mind off the pain.

* Lavetera x clementii 'Barnsley Baby' USDA zones 5-9

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bearded Iris: Do's and Mostly Don'ts

You're doing a fabulous job. You're just doing it all wrong.

Such was the response when I asked why the Iris won't bloom. Top three crimes I've commit against my Bearded Iris:
  • Watered too often
  • Fertilized too much
  • Planted too deep
I love to meddle but Iris are drought-tolerant, easy-going bloomers who prefer I leave them alone. Plant on slopes for good drainage. (Wet soil causes the rhizome* to rot.) Expose rhizome tops to feel the warmth of the sun. Place roots deeper into the soil.

Go easy on the nitrogen. If you do fertilize, distribute near (not on) the plant, as that can burn the rhizome.

No mulch, unless they are new transplants. Pine needles work well, since they keep ground warm and do not retain water.

Some Bearded Iris varieties rebloom. These 3 should make a loud statement in spring and hopefully again in the fall: Orange Harvest, Stellar Lights, Gypsy Caravan.

* Treat reblooming Iris differently. A 10-10-10 fertilizer about two weeks after spring blooms, along with light watering, encourages second flowering in late summer/fall.

** A rhizome is an underground stem that sends out roots and shoots. For best blooms, Iris must be divided every 3-4 years. Right photo demostrates how rhizome should be divided for replanting.

*** Love Iris? So does Schreiners, the Iris experts. Click here to get their free Iris catalog. Fill your garden with sizzling new colors.

If you're a patient gardener, plant them 18 inches apart. Or, plant close together for a beautiful show the very first year. Divide the rhizomes and plant new Iris beds every 3 years. Younger Iris tend to be the most prolific bloomers.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Expert Advice on Native Plants

This expert advice is not coming from me. I know just enough to be dangerous. But, I do know when it's worth the effort to drive to Salt Lake, for a native plant lecture. David Salman, owner of High Country Gardens, was the speaker, last night. I was as giddy as my daughter used to be when she heard Blink-182 was coming to town.

He's not asked for an endorsement but David gets brownie points because he talked to us, in person, about what's right for the landscape.

Mountain gardening is not difficult, though you can prevent a lot of heartache if you know what grows. Soils are light on nutrients, drying winds take their toll. Unpredictable weather weeds out wimpy perennials in quick order.

Native plants are adapted to harsh conditions, providing unique textures, colors and beauty. They require less water, very little fertilizer, create a lovely habitat for birds and other wildlife.

This threesome (small photos) is one of his recommended plantings, late-spring blooming perennials:
  1. Scutellaria x 'Violet Cloud; (Hybrid Skullcap)
  2. Hymenoxys acaulis (Sundancer Daisy)
  3. Salvia greggii 'Furman's Red' (Texas Sage)
* His lecture covered 14 groupings of plants, including ornamental grasses, shrubs and cold hardy cacti. Write to me if you would like more info.

Click here to visit High Country Gardens. Tell him I sent you! (Maybe he'll hire me :-)

Support local growers like Susie. Click here to visit Blue Sky Perennials for native plants and landscaping advice.

* Top photo: Dame's Rocket (often confused with Garden Phlox) is a popular wildflower in Utah, though it did not originate here. Seeds are eaten by birds, facilitating the spread of this showy flower throughout Europe, US and beyond. (Hesperis matrinalis)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

To sleep, perchance to dream...

According to the latest medical journals, I have Circadian Rhythm Disorder. I think I'll use this term from now on - it sounds a lot sexier than saying I'm tired.

Since returning home 10 days ago, I've done nothing but sleep - 12, 14 hours a day, sometimes longer. And, I'm not opposed to a nap on Sunday afternoons. So, friends are worried.

But, this is nothing new. I make up sleep every once in awhile, though doctors say that's not possible. There are times when I sleep like a baby and other times when I just can't sleep at all.

And, so it's been, since April. My 3 a.m. ritual is to wander the house, stare out the window and play a lot of computer games. A dose of Ambien that could knock an elephant to his knees has little effect on me when I'm feeling restless.

Did you know that 80 million North Americans suffer from sleep disorders? And, that sleeping pills do nothing to remedy this problem?

If my blog entries haven't put you sleep, perhaps these plants can. When brewed as tea, all 3 promote peaceful slumber.
  • German Chamomile – (Matricaria recutita)
  • Lemon Balm – (Melissa officinalis)
  • Passionflower - (Passiflora incarnata)
* Hamlet was way more messed up than me. I know what's wrong. And, it's nothing a good night's sleep can't cure...

** Photos: Chamomile (daisies) and Lemon Balm (green foliage) grow easily in a zone 5 garden. Pamper Passion Flower (top photo) in a container - zone 10 Hawaiian beauty.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Grape Hyacinth

They call them little jewels of the garden. Muscari Grape Hyacinth blooms in early spring, with a rich, blue carpet of intense color. Their nickname came about because the small flowers look like upside-down grapes.

They're tiny bulbs. This morning, I planted 150 of them around the base of my D'Anjou Pear Tree. That sounds like a lot of work, but they're so small, (about the size of a nickel) it's really quite easy. For these 150 bulbs, I dug a broad, shallow hole, six inches deep and about 4 feet in diameter. Set bulbs in the hole and sprinkle loose dirt back over them. I like to mix in a few Miniature Daffodil bulbs (Narcissus) for bright color contrast. Narcissus also naturalizes, keeping pace with the Hyacinth spread.

Originating on the stony slopes of the Mediterranean, Grape Hyacinths are tough, tiny plants, perfect for rock gardens. After a spring rain, the air is filled with a lovely, musk fragrance (hence the name Muscari.)

And, they naturalize beautifully. In a couple of years, this little drift of brilliant blue should triple in size. Bonus: deer and rodent resistant.

* Muscari armeniacum (Grape Hyacinth,) USDA zones 4-8, grow to approximately six inches in height with lush foliage. Full sun to partial shade. They are such easy growers, I'd suggest buying them from a discount outlet vs. paying premium price from specialty nurseries.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

And Baby Makes 10

The news reported a shocking discovery! The second graders they interviewed didn't know where milk comes from!

Why would they?

These kids are from New York. To be fair, she should have also asked little monsters in Des Moines where the Bronx Zoo is located. My point is... if it's not part of your everyday world, you can be stumped on an answer that's bleeding obvious.

Now, it's your turn. Where do perennials come from?

If you answered Lowes, Home Depot or the local nursery you're 100% right and also dead wrong, so it's back to the second grade for you.

Perennials, of course, come from seeds. Most gardeners (me included,) pull nursery-grown perennials out of black pots, stick 'em in the ground and hope for the best. Nurturing a plant to produce offspring adds an exciting dimension to weekend chores.

In the fall, it's off with their heads.
Cut back most plants* and toss them into a bare section of the garden. Dead flower heads are filled with thousands of tiny seeds.
Over winter, they join forces with Mother Nature and start lots of little babies, come spring.*

These new seedlings are typically bigger, stronger and longer blooming than the parent plant you picked up off the sale table. That's because they were raised in soil, from birth, and they're not root bound.

Daisies, Poppies, Flax, Blanket Flower, Bachelor Buttons, Columbine, Catmint... there are hundreds of easy-growing perennials who will happily start from seed, given half a chance.

Mad Science: Columbines are great fun because they cross-breed easily, creating new colors you've never seen before.

Plants grown from seed are like brownies made from scratch. Better by far, though it's just not done anymore. Buck the system. Give it a try.

Of note, some cultivated hybrid plants are designed for maximum flower power and, because of that, don't set seed. Create an experimental seed garden to discover which of your plants will reproduce.

* Transplant seedlings to the garden spot of your choice when the time is right.
** The 10 catmint bushes flourishing in my garden were all born from one $4.00 perennial. (Now that's what I call a screamin' deal.)
*** Check plant instructions. Some perennials do better with a spring haircut vs. fall. In my garden, I leave Salvia, Agastache and Lavender alone until early spring.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Species (Naturalizing) Daffodils

When it comes to things I wish I'd thought of first, the term Design on a Dime* often tops the list. I have a fabulous track record of killing every expensive plant I buy. (Though, the cheap ones do very well.) So, I prowl the discount stores for a screaming deal. Besides, there are much better ways to spend my money - on a plane ticket, for instance, to get the heck out of here once in awhile. Perky yellow Daffodils, gleaming in the late winter sun, boost my spirits while masking the dull, brown beginnings of things to come.

I'm particularly fond of Species Daffodils because they naturalize, or multiply, over time. One bulb becomes two, then four and eventually my one-time investment in bulbs delivers a garden overrun with yellow flowers in early Spring.

Bonus for mountain gardeners: Critters hate the taste of Daffodil bulbs. Moose and deer aren't thrilled about the flowers.

Daffodils don't like rich soil. Putting fertilizer in the planting hole will hurt, not help, the blooms. If you're a real fanatic, you can lighten heavy clay soils with a little sand worked into the bed. (I'm too lazy.)

Squish 'em together. They look better in clumps vs. rows. Think about planting them under deciduous trees. Daffies need sun but they generally bloom long before the trees leaf out. Water until the snow flies. Bulbs put down roots as soon as they're planted. In bud and bloom, they require lots of moisture but Mother Nature generally pitches in with those proverbial April showers.

Species Daffodils and some of the older varieties multiply quickly:
  • King Alfred Daffodils have stems reaching 20 inches, and flowers with a span of four inches or more.
  • Dutch Master is an improved King Alfred, bred to multiply quickly in the landscape. 14" solid yellow flowers.
  • Daffodil Carlton is prized for the speed and ease with which it grows and multiplies. 14-18" yellow flowers.
* 'Design on a Dime' was coined by the clever folks at Home and Garden TV.
** I was shocked to discover that Walmart is selling King Alfreds this year. I'm giving them a try, though I suspect it's a cheaper hybrid version.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Save the Monarchs!

My Aunt Jan raises Monarch Butterflies. Not in a cage, or anything cruel. Basically, she seeds the wild areas of her land with Milkweed, providing the perfect habitat for little caterpillers.

Monarch Butterflies are easily the most recognized and beloved butterfly in the nation - so it might sadden you to know that these little darlings are being threatened.

A recent Discover Magazine article predicted they wouldn't be around much longer thanks to modern agriculture, industrial and residential land use destroying habitats along their migratory routes.

Every fall, millions of Monarchs from the western U.S. and Canada, migrate to the eucalyptus, monterey pine, and cypress groves of California. (Eastern state Monarchs migrate to Mexico.)

It's an epic journey for such a delicate little creature and this is where you come in.

In spring, they return, mating, breeding, and feeding all along the migratory route.

Because of their short lifespan,* butterflies that reach Canada are often a third generation removed from those that left California.

We can bring them back to plentiful numbers by growing milkweed - a plant critical to the lifecycle of the Monarchs.

Female monarchs can only lay their eggs on milkweed plants. If there is no milkweed, the gals cannot reproduce. Do them a favor and grow at least one milkweed plant in your yard.

Here are 3 good ones to try:

Common Milkweed - (A. syriaca) grows 5 feet tall, with fragrant lavender flowers. Spreads rapidly by rhizomes, so it requires a bit of work to keep it in check.

Butterfly Milkweed - (A. tuberosa) is an Eastern and Southwestern native. Grows to 3 feet with showy orange, red, or yellow flowers. Prefers dry soil.

Showy Milkweed - (A. speciosa) is a tamer, western native. Grows to 4 feet with light pink flowers. Tolerates dry soil.

Do a little shopping at The Milkweed Cafe. Monarchs everywhere will thank you.

Grow a butterfly garden.

* The typical life span for a summer adult is 3-5 weeks. A migrating monarch, from the last generation in summer, can live to the ripe old age of eight months.

I, for one, would hate to see the summer when these beautiful creatures no longer grace our gardens. Let's all pitch in to save the Monarchs.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fall Tulip Bulbs - Tips and Tricks

This picture is proof positive I've been a lover of flowers since the dawn of the new age (my new age, that is.) I took it a lifetime ago, while I was wandering aimlessly around Ireland, wondering why my husband was leaving me, of all people.

Cool, crisp autumn days have me in the mood to plant some Tulips. This most cheerful reminder of Spring can be timed for a long, blooming show if you plant a combination of early, mid-spring and late-blooming varieties.

The larger the bulb, the larger the flower.
But, look at these photos. I don't have $1,000 to invest in bulbs and the big ones are quite expensive. I'm opting for the cheaper Target varieties to save money. It's true the tulip flowers will be smaller, but a large drift of color is easily affordable.

  • Place in the ground pointed end up.
  • Planting bulbs deeper in the ground helps them stand tall with no drooping.
  • Tulip bulbs have an onion-like, papery skin that is almost always damaged. No worries. The broken 'skin' actually promotes faster rooting, when planted.
  • Place bulbs between groups of later-blooming perennials (such as poppies, iris, and catmint.) As perennials grow tall, they will camouflage dying tulip leaves.
  • Give bulbs a nutrient boost with low nitrogen fertilizer (screened cow manure is great and very inexpensive.)
  • After flowering, remove faded blooms so plants put energy into strengthening the bulb, not producing seeds.
  • Leave foliage in place - that helps bulbs send energy/food to roots for stronger flowering next spring.
Ever wonder why they do so poorly as cut flowers?
Tulips need sunlight to bloom and root energy, too. On average, cut tulips will only survive about 3-4 days. Cut 'em at bud stage to extend their life in the vase.

* Visit Powerscourt Gardens to see where I fell in love with tulips. (Top photo)
** If your husband is leaving you - do what I did! Go here!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Windowsill Gardening

Recent scares over e coli in spinach have inspired me to keep a garden growing all winter long. It's easier than it sounds.
  • Choose a sunny window.
  • Select a narrow container, approximately 6-8 inches deep.
  • Purchase seed packets, now, when they are plentiful (and on sale!)
Windowsill Salad Greens
With a little TLC you can harvest fresh greens every 6-8 weeks. Spinach, in particular, thrives in cool temperatures and does well in a sunny window. Bib Lettuce and Asian Greens are also great choices. Harvest tender leaves when they reach 6 to 8 inches in height. Most plants will send up new shoots to give you a second or third cutting. Tip for salad lovers: Stagger plantings in two or three containers for a constant supply of fresh greens.

Soil Requirements
Indoor veggies thrive in an equal 4-way combo of potting soil, vermiculite, peat, and perlite. Don't use garden soil. It can harbor diseases and insects that are difficult to control indoors.

* Water every other day. Frequent watering depletes nutrients. Compensate with a dose of organic fertilizer every two weeks.

Pea Lovers: Kelvedon Wonder and Pea Twinkle will grow in a warm, sunny window. Consider a hanging window basket vs. staking.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Death to Creepy Crawlies

Almost overnight, my house is buzzing with tiny black fruit flies. And, that's a good thing because Betty prefers her dinner while it's still wiggling.

The Venus Flytrap is one of the easiest carnivorous plants to grow. Just give her high humidity, full sunlight, and poor, acidic soil. An ant, fly or spider, every once in awhile, doesn't hurt. Never worry about over watering. She can live under water for months.

Betty is a good terrarium plant. An old fish bowl works great, too. Venus Flytraps have trigger hairs on their leaves. When something touches the hairs, they snap shut trapping the victim inside. (If she doesn't like what she's caught, she'll 'spit' it back out.)

It takes Betty 5 - 10 days to gobble a bug. You can fool her into eating a dead insect. Gently place the bug between her leaves and rub it against the trigger hairs. (An eyebrow tweaser makes a good 'spoon' for feeding Betty.)

But, why go to all that trouble?
Just be a lousy housekeeper like me. One luscious peach left on the kitchen counter a day too long should attract enough little flies to make her jump for joy.

Explore the dark side of gardening. Click here to visit the Little Shop of Horrors.

* Don't whatever you do feed her hamburger! (Gives her indigestion.) Don't feed anybody hamburger. Nobody knows for sure what goes into that stuff...

PS: She's probably not dead. Betty goes dormant in November for several months. Rejoins the living, come spring.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Siberian Tomatoes

Last month, I wrote a piece on growing vegetables in high altitudes. I forgot one really important bit of advice.

Watch the weather report!

We were pretty excited to wake up to this wintery wonderland. It means ski season is just around the corner. But, my tomato plants don't share in the joy.

Only time will tell if they weathered this well but they do have a leg up on their weaker, hybridized cousins.

These tried and tested cold hardy Tomato varieties just might weather the storm:

Siberian Patio
Small tomatoes on stout, compact plants that require no staking. Shakes off a surprise 30-degree night and keeps going strong. 55 days.

Moscow Bush
Tasty little tomatoes on compact plants - perfect for container gardening. Short growth cycle: 58 days.

Simply delightful, medium-sized tomatoes on small, bushy plants. Yummy salads in 62 short days.

Debarao is a type of hat in Siberia, where these tomatoes originate. (If they can thrive there, they would have to love it here!) A favorite sauce tomato. 72 days.

Click here to meet the cold-hardy seed experts at the Good Seed Company.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Black Beauties

There's a movie coming out, The Black Dahlia, which makes me wonder for the bazillionth time why we're all so captivated by murder and mayhem. (And why it's twice as exciting when the victim is good looking.)

Black is a rare color in the garden. That's because it doesn't exist. Upon closer inspection, you can probably see that even the blackest flowers are actually deep plum, dark blue or burgundy.

I love black. It's exotic, mysterious... adds an other-worldly dimension to a regular garden.

The number of (nearly) black perennials and annuals gets better every year because passionate gardeners are always up for a challenge. Achieving the color black is the holy grail, when it comes to hybridizing flowers.

Black is so misunderstood. Black magic, black death, bad guys in black hats. Big deal. Black flowers look rich and velvety, filled with a unique personality all their own.

Just remember that it's the accent colors that makes black so striking. Think about white pearls on a black dress. (Plant white Veronica next to black Iris.)

Or, the way yellow and black taxi cabs catch your eye. That wasn't by accident, ya know. Yellow sets off black better than any other color. (How about yellow roses with black pincushion flowers?)

Try creating an art deco garden with pale, seafoam-colored curlicue sage, shell pink dianthus and black as night pansies.

Goth, punk, call it whatever you like. I call it beautiful. The point is... you don't need to plant pastels in order to show off a pretty garden.

The devil is in the details. Here are some easy ones to grow:

Bearded Iris 'Superstition' USDA zones 3 - 9
Black Iris (chrysographes) USDA zones 3 - 9
Clematis 'Romantika' USDA zones 4 - 9
Fritillaria (persica) USDA zones 6 - 8
Pincushion Flower (Scabiosa atropurpurea 'Ace of Spades') Annual

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Micromini Roses

Good things really do come in small packages. (If you don't believe me, make a visit to Tiffany's.)

Micromini Roses are one of my favorite little bloomers, standing a whole 7 inches tall, covered in pretty pink and apricot flowers all summer long.

Miniatures are true roses bred to small size, available in a rainbow of colors.

Microminis* are the smallest, about 6 to 12 inches, with perfect little flowers and tiny leaves, too. Plant them as a front border to your garden bed, or along a walkway so they don't get lost in the shuffle.

Minis have been around for 100 years, but they've never been very popular in the garden. Perhaps people think they're too delicate, given their small size. These little gals are pretty tough, winter hardy to zone 5 and very easy to grow.

Roses, of all varieties, do very well in high altitudes. The dry air of our high plains desert keeps roses healthy and free from pests. Mulch them, to keep the soil damp. You'll get the most flowers with regular watering, every 2-3 days

Click here to meet John Clements, a true aficionado of tiny roses.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"Lay Down Your Burdens"

Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
- Thomas A. Edison

Hard work hardly ever wears me out. It's the people. People and their problems have worn me paper thin, this year. And, though it's only been the usual suspects, they've had an impressive number of problems, of late.

I've got a big yard, 'cause I've got big plans. The water feature, the wildflower garden, the new deck, the new steps, none of it done. This summer, I intended to do so much, yet it seems I accomplished very little. The bane of the calendar and the clock, time is up on all fronts.

Gardening season is 'over.' As are many painful things. Oh, there are bulbs to plant, if we're willing. And, for people in kinder climates, a few last perennials, too. But, all of that feels less like gardening, now, and more like something for later on.

And, so I look to post Labor Day as a time for much-needed rest. I am tired beyond words. And, that has less to do with gardening and a whole lot to do with life. I wish people could last forever. I wish summer could, too.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Best Garden Shoes Ever

Recognize this place? You must be from the middle of nowhere, too.

By my estimation, I've put over 9,000 miles on my Lowa boots* since April. Now, don't get too excited, I wasn't walking. Mostly my foot was pressed against a gas pedal going back and forth, staying close to a family that is falling apart at the seams. I guess it's just our year for such things.

As I was unpacking my car last night, I noticed I'd left town in my garden shoes. Though I had a big suitcase of clothing, I only packed that one pair of shoes.

I've become a bit of an evangelist for Lowa Boots (they have shoes and sandals, too.) They're the most comfy things I've ever worn.

And, I'm a self-appointed expert because I've fallen prey to every sales pitch, in every catalog, when it comes to garden shoes. Problem is, they just don't cut it. These do. They have sole support so it doesn't hurt when I'm stomping a shovel into hard ground. But, the coolest thing of all is that my style has a self-cleaning tread so mud just falls right off.

I am happy to be home and happier still to have this day to play in my garden. But, I think I should create a roadside plaque to my recent travels: In loving memory of all those who died of BOREDOM, while driving across Wyoming.

* You can find Lowa Boots by clicking here. They're not made in China - which makes 'em even better.
PS: This photo was not taken in Wyoming. Where could it be...?