Sunday, June 30, 2013

Annual Discovery

Every summer I grow a new annual that I want to learn about. Of course, I still grow the old favorites: Nicotiana sylvestris, sweet alyssum, the dahlias that survived the winter, the rich purple Moses-in-the-Boat, and assorted salvias.

Last year I grew Shoo-fly - Nicandra physalodes - from saved seeds given by a friend. What a delicious plant!

The plant itself can grow to about five feet tall and is quite bushy; the flowers are a true pale blue and exquisite. 

Shoo-fly is a relative of the tomato so the same conditions apply - warm soil, sunny, well-drained soil. Here it is growing near a seven-foot Nicotiana sylvestris that helps keep aphids off my roses. This particular flowering tobacco is candy to aphids but it has sticky leaves and they can't leave once landing. So sad.

The fresh blue flowers of Shoo-fly are welcome in the moist heat of Virginia in July. It's easy to grow from seed, flowering beautifully all summer. The seed pods are attractive and dry on the plant so you can save them for another year. Old wive's say it repels flies but the science is not clear.

You could create a seasonal hedge with this plant. It's well branched and held itself up beautifully for me. Wayne Winterrowd recommended staking it in his great book Annuals and Tender Plants for North American Gardens, a book that has been a great reference for me.

This year's annual is a tall big-petaled marigold...will see how it does and let you know.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Lush Life in June

It's a beautiful time for our native hydrangeas.  Many folks are familiar with the 'Annabelle' hydrangea, a variety of Hydrangea arborescens. Big and bold flowers have such a lush, romantic look in the summer garden, especially when planted in a mass.

This is a dwarf version, called 'Ryan Gainey' after the Atlanta plantsman, and the flowers are quite a bit smaller than Annabelle. 

 Another form of H. arborescens var. radiata is a hard-to-find variety in this part of Virginia. I was able to get one in North Carolina a few years ago and was encouraged to plant it in the shade. Though only a few years old in this usually dry east side of the west mountain of the Shenandoah Valley, this wet spring has encouraged a beautiful set of blooms. Last night, a fat bumblebee was doing the macarena on the center, scampering madly all over the fuzzy flowers. The big outside petals are sterile.

The oak leaf hydrangea - Hydrangea quercifolia - is the most architecturally interesting, growing broadly and tall rather than in a big fat clump. There are many varieties of this beautiful native in the marketplace, but for me Snowflake is the most exquisite. Exfoliating bark makes this interesting even in winter.
They are all white blooming, a lovely respite for your part-shade garden.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Blue in the Garden

It is very warm and will take us all a few days to acclimate to the scorching temps but this is summer in the mid-Atlantic - though we were coaxed into thinking that the long, cool, wet spring would go on and on.

Watering in the morning is a must. Plants must get a good drink before it gets too hot, especially those in all of my tomatoes.  The heirloom varieties I grow aren't as resistant to common tomato diseases that attack those grown in soil. The potting mix/leaf compost combo I use to grow them in helps them resist catching the diseases in the first place. At least I think it does. The tomato plants don't seem to be as prolific as those I've grown in soil, but I have so many plants, it works out.

The bachelor buttons are blooming madly and as I watered this morning, the mockingbird was going through his entire musical catalog of bird calls - declaring his territory to all in the neighborhood. It was lovely.

Will collect seed from the bachelor buttons soon for next year - deep blue in the garden is so easy on the eyes. Especially on a hot day.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My mistake on the previous photo - hope this will be clearer.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer Babies

Wanted to catch this phase of the praying mantis development...they are almost adorable! Didn't see the second one at the time, even tinier...but both hunting.

While mantises (?)  eat everything, including the native bees, they are good at keeping plant-eating insects at reduced levels. And they are very amusing to watch as they turn their heads to watch you.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Keeping up with the News

Trying to get ahead of, or even catch up with, the weeds, I put down lots of newspaper to smother them and prevent their seeds from germinating. In the early stages of this process I often use pots of plants to hold down the papers until I can cover them with Kate's pine needles or David's leaf mulch. Sadly, this created an speed bump for my annual visitor.

While waiting for me to move several big pots of roses from the intended pathway, an eastern box turtle read about the latest weather event. This turtle visits each year to see what the border garden will offer - the earthworm that was dislodged when I moved the rose pots had little time to consider options. 

Don't have mayapple fruit for this critter to munch on but I guess there is some attraction - maybe it's the weeds!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


This is a small stand of Penstemon digitalis, a nice native that has a pretty foxglove look but is tougher and more reliable. I grew these from seed and am so pleased that one year later they are full of flowers, tall,  and elegant.

In the evening light, the fat bumblebee gathers pollen to take to his/her home. What a treat.

Monday, June 10, 2013

You Don't Need to Do it All

You don’t need to do it all.

You might have heard that the monarch butterflies are in trouble. According to recent books and articles, the only sustaining food source for monarch caterpillars - milkweed - shrank 58% in the Midwest as agriculture adopted genetically-modified (GMO) crops that tolerate mass spraying of herbicides across millions of acres.

As a result, from 1999-2010, monarch egg production dropped by 81% in the Midwest. Monarchs migrate hundreds of miles to sites in the Midwest where there is no longer any milkweed at all. It’s happening here too.

In addition, millions of acres of weed-free lawns eliminate areas for milkweed to grow. Where milkweed does grow and begin to flower in medians along highways and attract monarchs to lay eggs, the overly tidy highway department mowers and herbicide sprayers descend destroying any accidental habitat for creatures others than us. We know what it does to monarchs – the rest of the damage to pollinators is largely unknown.

The monarch evolved to be able to digest milkweed, a plant that defends itself with a toxic sap, over eons. We know that eating other kinds of plants cannot make up the absence of milkweed because the caterpillars simply cannot eat other stuff.

Butterfly bush is a favorite for many home gardens but not one butterfly will lay its eggs on the bush since no caterpillars (on their way to become butterflies) can eat the leaves. It’s value is limited to being a nectar source for adults.

The only chance for monarch survival is the home gardener. Planting and growing (and perhaps tolerating) common milkweed (Asclepias syriacus), swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata), and perennial butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in multiples, creating a good-sized patch the butterflies can find in the huge mass of inhospitable landscape and lawn, will help. I even plant the tropical milkweed in a big pot so I can watch them closely – just remember to cut it down in late October so they will migrate south before cold weather.

If you are successful, they will eat the leaves of the plant. It might look a little tatty and that’s good. You can watch your success in helping them! Might even interest your kids.

Local groups like The Nature Generation and Loudoun Wildlife, as well as the national organizations Wild Ones and Xerxes Society, are working hard to help save the monarch as are many others. Take a moment to learn about the monarch migration and preferred hosts, about growing useful nectar plants for the adults, and how you can take a small step to have a big impact. And while you are at it, tell your friends so they can help too. (