Thursday, July 31, 2008

Objects are Larger Than They Appear

It's a long story but we had to have our deck powerwashed and restained. It was a job that needed to be done...badly, but it was incredibly ill-timed. However, circumstances were such that we decided to have it done last week which necessitated moving all 27 of my pots into the house, down our fifteen front steps and into the garage. It also meant that when the deck was finished, they would all have to be brought out from the garage, up the aforementioned fifteen steps, into the house and back out onto the deck. I was crossing my fingers that the contractors doing the job were of the punctual sort.

Shown here is my wonderful hulk of a husband (face obscured by foliage) wrestling with just one of my plants. This is Lespedeza, a shrub that is perennial to zone 4. I've had it in the same pot for 4 years which I'm thinking now is a mistake because it is huge. I didn't realize it was such a behemoth until it was brought out of the open air and into the house. But I love this plant although it has been said that it is horribly aggressive and invasive. I can certainly see why it would be a challenge to contain it if it was part of a landscape. But that's the beauty of gardening in pots because plants are, by definition, contained. This one will have to be divided prior to next year's growing season. That's going to be a job.

It's not in bloom now, but will be later in August so stay tuned for those pictures. That's another reason I like it so much. It starts showing off right about the time that many of my other plants have nearly called it quits.

Monday, July 28, 2008

All in Good Time

I had serious doubts when this plant first showed up. I ordered it from White Flower Farm via the Internet. When it arrived, it looked completely stressed out from the journey (see below). It took a little time for it to get adjusted and now I am loving it.

This is Xanthasoma Aurea "Lime Ginger". It is in the elephant ear family, a group of tropicals that come in a variety of colors. I'm partial to this chartreuse. It thrives in part shade and loves rich soil but there's only so much effort I'm willing to put into that. I don't like divas so if it can't live in the same conditions as my other plants then it won't earn a return engagement in my garden.

I've heard it performs well in a water garden if you're into that sort of thing. I avoid any accumulation of water because in our Virginia climate it will breed a vicious swarm of mosquitoes in five seconds flat.

So if you need some ideas for a bold, dramatic foliage plant that likes a shadier spot, definitely add this to your list. Now that I know how spectacular it is, I might just make room for two next year.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Bee Season

The bumblebees are out in droves (or should I say drones) in my garden. It's pretty much the height of bee season and these guys have been working nonstop. It is my understanding that certain species are in decline for a variety of reasons including habitat destruction, climate change and pesticide damage. I do everything I can to welcome them to my little space by planting a variety of flowers that might be of interest to them. My most popular plantings appear to be the penstemon (shown above) and agastache. I also see several hovering daily around the zinnia (photos below) and gaura.

The most astonishing thing to me about bumblebees is that they can fly at all. It's clear that they are not the most aerodynamically constructed creatures in nature but I guess they don't know that and they just buzz along, minding their own business and collecting pollen. Which leads me to my next point, they do mind their own business--they are not out to attack you, in fact, they are not, by nature, aggressive. They will not go on the defensive unless threatened so if you have one hovering around you, best not to start flailing your arms around. Instead, allow them the chance to smell that you are not a flower and they will go along their merry way. I'm out in my garden watering every day and my bumblebees fly all around me and I've not yet had an incident. I just let them be. (I can never resist a pun).

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Daisy Lovers Unite!

I rediscovered this flower after several years of not growing it. It's called Osteospermum but is also known as African Daisy, Cape Daisy or sometimes the very fitting Blue-eyed Daisy. It comes in many different colors: creams, pinks, yellows, oranges and purples. They are mostly sold as annuals at the nursery. Easy to care for, they like a warm, sunny spot and it's important that the soil in the container not be allowed to dry out completely so be sure to water steadily and consistently. Also, they do like regular fertilizer but by now you know my position on that issue so mine are lucky to get a dose of fertilizer twice in a season. Another reason to use a time-release fertilizer when you first plant.

My osteospermum is planted in a container with dracena, scaevola, cuphea and zinnias. All seem to be living in harmony.

Bookshelf: Container Gardening Books

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Leafy Greens

Today, I'll be brief: here's another Before and After installment (see below for "Before"). You may recall the foliage only container that I planted which included Coleus "Fishnet Stockings". The sweet potato vine in this container continues to grow out of control so I trim it from time to time. The thyme that I planted never got much bigger but I think that's because I positioned it in such a way that it was overshadowed by the other plants and never got much light. But all in all, I'm pretty happy with the way this arrangement turned out. I think it's fun to plant a foliage only container every year because it presents the challenge of coming up with creative ideas without using flowers. Let me know what you think by commenting below.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fertile Ground

With each watering of a container, nutrients in the soil get washed away so it's important to add fertilizer. One way to save yourself a lot of trouble is to use time-release fertilizer pellets when you first pot the plants. There are different types but the one I use is Osomocote. I mix it into the upper layer of potting soil and then plant my flowers. Some brands of potting soil already contain it but I still add extra for good measure.

However, even greater benefits await if, from time to time, a water soluble fertilizer is applied. Even though I know I should fertilize several times during the growing season (some say every two weeks), I actually only get around to it a couple of times in the summer.

If you go to the nursery or gardening section of your local big box store, you'll see all kinds of specialty fertilizers. The reason is because the percentages of the basic components, nitrogen, phosphate and potash are specific to the intended plant. Well, I can't buy one for my roses, one for my Japanese maple, one for my bell pepper plants, etc. What I need and what is most economical is a one-size-fits most product. So I buy the basic all purpose Miracle Gro water soluble fertilizer. I use one tablespoon per gallon of water and mix it into my watering can. It can be a lengthy process since I have about 30 pots which explains why I don't do it very often.

A few things to remember:

1) It's best not to fertilize during the hottest part of the day.

2) Don't apply to dry soil. Moisten the soil a bit first, then apply.

3) Keep fertilizer away from leaves. The salt in the granules will draw the water out from the leaves making them look burnt.

4) If you don't want to fuss with the granules, it also comes in a liquid version that can be added to the water.
5) Your plants will appreciate your efforts and will reward you accordingly.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


I like a low maintenance garden which is why I always try to choose plants that require little investment but yield huge returns. Zinnias are one such plant--they really pack a wallop. Once they start blooming, they never stop until the cold finally gets to them. I buy a lot of them each season because they are pretty inexpensive and you'd only have to plant a couple more things in a pot to make the arrangement complete.

In the container shown below, I have planted the following: Dracena (spike) (1); Osteospermum (1); Zinnia Profusion White (2); Zinnia Profusion Orange (2); Purple Scaevola (1); Cuphea (2).

Zinnias do benefit from plenty of water but if you walk out one hot day and see them wilted, do not despair because they are as forgiving as they are prolific. Just give the pot a good dousing of water and if you have to, cut off any stems that did not survive the neglect. They will bounce back and continue to bloom happily for the rest of the season.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Most Unwelcome Guest

It seems to be critter week in my garden which is not all that unusual for this time of year. I have found pests to be less of a problem since I started container gardening but I'm not entirely home free. Shown here is a Japanese Beetle (click for closeup but prepare to be repulsed) and in reference to my previous post, it is most definitely a foe. In past years, they've been greater in number and have devoured my sweet potato vine. This year they are attacking my Graham Thomas Rose.

Because I avoid all chemicals and toxins in the garden, I'm not left with a whole lot of alternatives to eradicate these evil insects. The most powerful thing I use is Safer Insecticidal Soap and frankly, I've found it does nothing to deter them. I'm sure there's stronger stuff out there that will do the trick, I'm just not willing to use it. It's also been suggested to me that I use beetle traps but that is an idea that just grosses me out beyond words. Plus, it's my understanding that they attract more beetles than they actually trap which would seem to only exacerbate my problem rather than mitigate it.

Usually I see evidence of the beetle before I see the insect itself. You'll know if your leaves look like the ones below. They eat away at the foliage between the leaf veins. Ultimately you are left with a leaf that looks like very delicate lace. Apparently, the folks in Kentucky have a wicked problem with Japanese Beetles because the University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture has done extensive research on them. I also found a good site at Ohio State University. Both say that the beetles are attracted to particular odors and get really active in direct sun. And they list plants and trees that are susceptible to damage by them.

In the end, I just let them be and live with the damage--it's not like they are munching on every single thing in my garden. The life cycle is 30-45 days and every year I expect them to show up in mid-June and disappear at the end of July. That's not to say that they don't leave a whole lot of destruction in their wake. But I cut off the damaged foliage (in the case of my sweet potato vines, I cut off a lot) and new, healthy growth reappears in short order.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Friend or Foe?

Every year I plant Italian parsley and every year one (or more) of these little guys makes an appearance (click on photo for closeup). The first time it happened, my initial response was not of disgust so much as it was curiosity of how this caterpillar discovered my garden because it's not exactly easily accessible. I've stopped wondering about that and have just decided that nature finds a way to do its thing. And I don't think they are so icky if I think about the character of Heimlich from "A Bug's Life", I mean, how cute was he?

But this caterpillar seems to have quite an affinity for my parsley, as do I. So I'm left with the decision to either relocate it or let it chomp away and just clip the stems around him when I need parsley for my pasta sauce. I always choose the latter and the picture at the end of the post is the reason why. This particular caterpillar comes back to visit me later in the summer in the form of the Black Swallowtail butterfly. It's the reason every year that I plant parsley (plenty of it) and Buddleia (also known as Butterfly Bush).

Friend or foe? You can decide for yourself but why not try planting enough parsley to go around?

Thursday, July 3, 2008


Sometimes the most well thought out plans can disappoint while the haphazard yield delightful results. I guess it has everything to do with expectations. So if I were to give any advice to novice gardeners (among whose ranks I count myself), it would be to not think so much.

When I go on my big plant shopping trips, I usually have with me a fairly detailed list. I don't want to end up buying plants for, say 25 pots, when I only have 20 to fill. Of course, once I get to the nursery, I have a tendency to become distracted despite my best efforts at discipline. So it often happens that I buy some plants for which I did not have a specific purpose. I might be drawn to a particular color or bloom and I pick it up thinking I'll figure out what to do with it later. This container was put together with some of those "impulse" plants--they were sort of left over but I thought they might go together well. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into color coordination although I did keep in mind the 'thriller, filler, spiller' concept. Furthermore, I dug up a creeping jenny from another pot and stuck it in this one.

Here's a list of the plants: 'Princess' Pennisetum (1); Greek Basil (1); St. John's Wort (1); Coleus 'Stained Glassworks Copper' (1) Calibrachoa 'Calli Sunrise' (3); Creeping Jenny (1). It didn't look like much on the day I planted it a few weeks ago, but now, I am actually pleasantly surprised. I love it when that happens.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

A Fistful of Herbs

This will be the first of many "before" and "after" features. As I mentioned in an earlier post, if you use a lot of herbs, it makes so much sense just to grow them yourself. It's a timesaver and most definitely a money saver. If you're mostly into Italian cuisine, just grow yourself a whole bunch of basil, parsley (I'm partial to Italian, also known as flat leaf, parsley) and oregano. Note: remember to plant oregano by itself--it's a greedy herb and likes to take over everything. If you like really savory foods, be sure to plant rosemary and sage. Of if you just want to marinate some chicken or other meat for the grill, just snip some herbs and toss them with some salt , pepper and olive oil in a zip top bag along with your meat of choice for a couple of hours. Simple and tasty beyond words. Plus, you'll smile at your own brilliance when you find yourself strolling right on by those expensive, wilting herbs in the supermarket secure in the knowledge that you have an endless supply in a pot right outside your door.

Remember the picture I posted about a month ago showing how I planned to arrange the herbs in my modified whiskey barrel? Here's that "before" picture and next to it is the "after". Oh happy day.