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I am a 'down to earth' gardener with perpetually dirty fingernails. I own a whole wardrobe of well worn and comfortable gardening duds and I am a sucker for gardening gadgets galore! I love to blog about the gardening world, it's fads and trends and have personally killed most plants at least once. I am a gardening designer by profession but there is no rhyme or reason to my own garden. If I want a plant, I buy and stick it somewhere just because I 'need' it!
Gardening is my passion and I find it leads you to other interests, such as cooking, entertaining, decorating, and flower arranging. So, stay tuned!
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Summer is winding down, the nights are getting cooler, and I looked at my overflowing herb plants for inspiration. Preserving some of the garden bounty for the fall and winter is easy with culinary herbs. A quick project using fresh herbs that are pliable and fragrant, you can whip up a simple wreath that will dry in a week or two. Hanging conveniently in the kitchen, it is easy to break off a sprig to add zest to your cooking.
Basket and clippers in hand, I browsed through my gardens snipping off herbs that I often use in cooking, adding some globe amaranth Pink Zazzle, and Cockscomb to add a zing of color. Pink Zazzle Gomphrena has a straw like texture, so is easy to work into the wreath.
Using a performed wire wreath base to start ( I used a 14″ one), cut your herbs into short 6 inch lengths and lay the pieces into the base. I had lots of rosemary and lavender so used these as a fragrant base. Wind a continuous strand of florist wire around the base, keeping the short pieces firmly attached to the base. Use plenty of material as the herbs will shrink as they dry, leaving empty spaces.
Start bundling your herbs together using green florist pipe cleaners so you can easily attach them to the base.
Start attaching the bundles one at a time, moving around the wreath, overlapping one on top of another, hiding the pipe cleaner.
When you have covered the base thoroughly with herb bundles, I like to add some color. Here I used pink cockscomb and globe amaranth which dries nicely.
Letting the wreath dry flat ensures that the herbs won’t sag or droop down as it dries. This takes about 2-3 weeks and you are ready to hang. After about a week, the herbs were shrinking so much, that I decided to add bunches of fresh thyme to fill the gaps. So, don’t hesitate to use loads of herbs to thoroughly cover the wreath base when you first make it.
Flavor of the Year
It is official. According to Firmenich, a private Swiss conglomerate that has produced perfumes and flavors for over 100 years, honey is the flavor of the year for 2015. Recognized for its unique flavor and versatility, Firmenich believes that this should elevate honey flavor to “classic” status like vanilla and chocolate. I read this news the day that I extracted my honey and thought it appropriate when I was absolutely covered in it.
The Big Event
Honey extraction is a process that requires patience, time, and tolerance for bee stings. After babying the girls- feeding, monitoring, re-queening, splitting, and just plain worrying about them- now is the moment of truth. How much nectar did they deposit in the combs for me to rob from them? And “robbing” is the right term because the girls work hard at it. According to the National Honey board the average worker bee will produce 1 1/2 teaspoons of honey in her lifetime. And one hive has to fly 55,000 miles to produce one pound of honey! For more amazing honeybee facts, check out The National Honey Board.
This year was a banner year for me, over 120 pounds of honey from 2 1/2 hives. The “half hive” swarmed early in the spring, so wasn’t as strong as my other two, but there was still enough to harvest some honey. The two strongest were Nucs and that is the way to go for me from now on. Nucs are simply frames of honeycomb that a mated queen bee is already laying eggs, and brood is hatching. In contrast, a bee package that I order in the mail comes with a queen that hasn’t yet been introduced to the thousands of worker bees that accompany her in a “package”. Go to A Bee Nuc or Package to see the difference and advantages. Nucs hit the ground running, and packages need to build up.
It is always an anti-climax when we finally remove and extract – kind of like Christmas – lots of build up and anticipation, and then it is over quickly and we are mopping up the mess.
After removing the bees, see Robbing the Bees-A Honey of a Day to see how to do this tricky part, we are ready to spin out the honey. I never do this in the house as you will be bringing in unwanted guests (hanger-on bees), so set up an area in our garage. Wiping down everything with soapy water and laying down large plastic drop cloths and we are ready to go.
Using a heated knife to remove the wax coverings and a fork that looks like a hair pick, the cells are opened up so that the honey can be flung out.
Think of a large metal trash can with wire shelves inside that spin around and you have a honey extractor. An attached motor will turn the merry-go-round inside, flinging the honey deposited in the cells onto the side of the trash can, dripping down to the bottom where it will exit through a gate valve.
Honey pours out into a large clean food grade bucket that has a mesh paint sieve to filter out all bee parts and debris.
The wax cappings are very tasty and we dive right in and start snacking. Grabbing a dollop of warm fresh honey comb that is dripping with honey is luscious!
Once the honey is all extracted, I take the frames and set them up in front of the hives so the bees can wring every last drop of honey from them. The bees, once they discover the free honey, go crazy and buzz around the yard. I am sure not to have guests over when this happens as it can be quite unnerving if you are afraid of bees.
We set up the extractor and all the tools in front of the hives also so the bees can finish cleaning. I use the wax to make beeswax soap and candles. Go to Beeswax-Honeybee Gift to see how I process and use beeswax.
Filling up the buckets was exciting and we were surprised after weighing one to see that it contained 68 pounds of honey! We quickly filled another with the thick amber honey. Honey flavor and color depends on the terrior and pollens that bees collect, and has different “notes”, kind of like wine. This years honey is definitely darker in color than last years and has a wonderful flavor.
Giving the honey a few days to settle, I start bottling the honey when the weather is still warm, over 75 degrees. If honey gets too cold, it won’t flow properly into my jars.
Butterfly Bush, Buddleia davidii, has been widely bashed from garden writers, ecologists, and conservationists. Attacked from all sides by master gardeners and other garden professionals, I am sticking to my guns on the benefits and pleasures of planting it. “An invasive thug that only provides sugar-water”: That is the complaint that conservationists use to discourage you from planting this shrub.
As a preferred late summer nectar source and butterfly magnet, I enthusiastically promote it in my butterfly presentations for its many virtues. An important tool to draw butterflies, I also plant many natives next to it that can act as host plants.
One of the few flowering shrubs that deer will not touch, I use it all the time in my landscape designs as an easy to grow, beautiful, fragrant, disease free, flowering shrub. The only care required is a general whacking back of the whole shrub in the early spring to encourage bushiness and flower production. Over 100 varieties provide a wide palette of forms, sizes, and colors, to choose from. The dwarf varieties are especially valuable for small gardens and containers, like ‘Blue Chip’ and ‘Pink Chip’, growing only 4 feet tall.
Why do butterflies love this plant? Providing loads of sugar water , the nectar filled nectaries, are shallow which is important to accommodate the short-tongued butterfly. Butterflies can reach the copious nectar easily which has a high percentage of sucrose, an energy fuel. Attractive to moths, bees, and other insects, this plant is valuable to all kinds of wildlife, not just butterflies.
Native to Japan and China, butterflies don’t care where their source of nectar hails from. In my post Butterfly Watching, I noted that butterflies have taste receptors on their feet to locate food and if their foot’s receptor and the molecule match, the butterfly eats. So, the plant’s origin is irrelevant and is an attractive food source. As humans, we eat many non-native plants, why can’t a butterfly do the same?
Invasive thug or non-native adaptive? There are several ways of looking at this plant. I know that it invades into mostly disturbed areas where lots of aliens/invasives have already taken over and is known as an invasive in over 25 states. But still, it is providing an important late summer source, when it is sorely needed. The other short-coming that ecologists claim is that butterfly bush only provides nectar, not acting as a host plant for the caterpillar to reproduce, but that is also true of other native plants.
Butterfly Bush seeds do not ripen until dry weather during the following spring. Worried by the potential for invasiveness? Then you can dead head it before the seeds ripen in the spring or cut the whole bush back which will eliminate the spread of seeds into adjacent habitat. Colonizing disturbed ground sites such as railway lines, quarries, roadsides and waste ground, butterfly bush can form dense stands of shrubs that butterflies flock to. What’s not to like!? Here is the position of the UK’s Butterfly Conservation on their website:
“Buddleia provides an important nectar source for adult butterflies, moths and other insects in townscapes and the countryside. This has become increasingly relevant because wildflowers have become so depleted following habitat loss and the general lack of nectar sources in the countryside. It also brings enjoyment to many people, both because of its heavy-scented and beautiful blooms but also because of the butterflies and other insects it attracts. It therefore plays a role, alongside other non-native garden plants, in helping to maintain or restore the link between people and native UK wildlife such as butterflies. In gardens, Buddleia is often pruned annually thus removing seed-heads and reducing the potential for seeding.
Buddleia is not important as a caterpillar food-plant and cannot replace naturally occurring wildflowers, which are crucial to provide a variety of nectar through the year as well as being food-plants for caterpillars. Buddleia can cause serious problems on some important conservation sites, especially brownfield sites. It needs to be controlled in these and other semi-natural sites to allow natural vegetation to develop. The cost of control can sometimes be considerable.
In reaching a position on Buddleia it is important to weigh up the undoubted benefits it brings in garden situations against the possible risks to wildlife habitats. It is also important to recognise that Buddleia is already naturalised and well established across much of the UK.
In view of its value as a nectar source, BC will continue to recommend its planting in gardens alongside other butterfly-friendly non-native plants, but will avoid giving it undue prominence and will give advice on its management and control.
A sea change is going on with some conservationists, that we are dealing with a changed world and there is no way to go back to an idealized world of stable co-habitating species. From the beginning of time, species have moved around, finding new territories, and creating new ecological niches. Invasive species, like it or not, are part of nature. Serving an ecological purpose, whether it aligns with our idea of what it should look like, isn’t relevant to nature.
And according to the Royal Horticultural Society:
• Research reveals a mixture of native and non-native ornamental plants may provide the best resources for pollinating insects in gardens
• Native plants are not always the first choice for pollinators visiting gardens
• Non-native plants can prolong the flowering season providing an additional food source.
So, armed with this knowledge, you make the decision.
One of the most beautiful flowers, both in flower and seed pod, as well as great importance to wildlife, has been relegated to the roadside for years and virtually ignored. Asclepias syriaca, or common milkweed, is struggling and harder to find because wild areas are disappearing and roadsides are regularly mown. “Familiarity breeds contempt” is a common saying and one that I would apply to this plant. Only when something becomes scarce do we appreciate it, and I can see that happening with milkweed. But there is a sea change coming down the pike and people are being urged to plant this “weed”.
Acknowledged as a primary source for survival of many insects, notably the Monarch, people are waking up to its integral role in supporting other wildlife. See my post Monarch Waystation on the many reasons to plant milkweed for Monarch survival.
Milkweed is the only plant on which monarch butterflies will lay their eggs, and it is the only food source for monarch caterpillars
It grows in colonies that expand in size every year; each individual in a colony is one side shoot of a large plant and are genetically identical or a clone; one large branching underground rhizome connects the entire colony
Surprisingly, the flowers are extremely fragrant and you can smell a colony long before you see it
Although one shoot may have between 300 to 500 flowers that make up the umbels, only a few of these develop into pods
Vegetative and flower growth is rapid, but the pod development is very slow and held on the plant for many weeks
All pods are held vertically to the plant and hold many seeds; germination of these seeds is very sparse; milkweed more likely expands by underground rhizomes than from seed
The nectar is very high in sugar content, 3% sucrose, and the supply is constantly being renewed over the life of the flower; the flowers produce much more concentrated nectar than the many insects that feed on it could ever remove
Milkweed teems with insect life, providing food and microhabitat to hundreds of insect varieties
At least 10 species of insects feed exclusively on milkweeds, notably the Monarch butterfly caterpillar
The adult Monarch lays its eggs on the leaves of common milkweed, the larvae live on its leaves and milky sap, and the adult Monarchs drink from the flower nectar, although adults will drink from other flowers
The latex milky sap from the milkweed is extremely toxic to other wildlife and is concentrated in the tissues of the Monarch which protects it against predators
The adult Monarch migrates south. East of the Mississippi, they fly as far as 4,800 meters to over winter in Mexico, often to the same tree location
This relationship between the milkweed plant and the monarch butterfly makes the pairing a symbiosis, where they become one entity instead of two separate organisms. Most importantly, without the presence of the milkweed plant, monarchs would go extinct.
Other Varieties of Milkweed
Asclepias tuberosa, orange-flowered Milkweed below is probably my all time favorite for drawing insects and pollinators to the garden early in the season, around June for me in the mid-Atlantic. A long-lasting cut flower, I scatter it through my borders to brighten up early summer plantings. It comes in an all yellow version called “Hellow Yellow”.
Another milkweed which is a conversation piece oddity is Asclepias physocarpa, or Hairy Balls. Forming puffy seed balls two to three inches in diameter, the orbs are covered with hairs and are quite bizarre looking. Perfect for flower arranging, the cut branches are quite expensive to buy from a florist, but easy to grow. A favored host of the Monarch butterfly, I always try to grow this plant for the odd looking pods.
Tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica, is commonly seen growing in Florida and has bright red-orange and yellow flowers and is also a great nectar source. The leaves are narrower and the plant produces many more seed pods than the common milkweed.
Hypertufa (n.): An artificial and lightweight stone that gardeners can create from a recipe and mold into plant containers, troughs and any other shape.
If you mention hypertufa to a non-gardener, you would probably get a blank look. But in the gardening world, it is very trendy and a sign of a serious gardener is the number of hypertufas scattered in their garden.
Perfect for planting miniatures and alpine plants, hypertufa troughs fit into any size garden, large or small. A man-made imitation of light weight tufa rock, hypertufa is a mixture of 3 things: perlite, peat moss, and portland cement. Some fiberglass fibers used for strengthening is a good idea but not essential.
Purchasing a ready-made one is always an option but pricey. A medium 15″ trough could set you back around $75, whereas the materials for constructing several will be around $30. And the fun involved is something that pulls people together for a hypertufa party, complete with wine and lots of food.
Any Excuse for a Party!
Hypertufa partying takes some planning and preparation but is worth it once everything starts to happen. Mise en place- the cooking phrase, having everything in place, is paramount here. You don’t want to be running around gathering supplies while everyone is waiting. I tell my guests that I will provide all the materials for making if they bring a mold on a piece of plywood, a face mask, and rubber gloves. Molds are simply a tupperware bowl without a lip, an old styrofoam ice chest, cat litter container, or a sturdy box.
Blue Tarps– I use a couple of blue throw away tarps to lay on the ground which makes cleanup a breeze
Face Masks and Gloves– Face masks are essential to keep you from breathing portland cement dust which is toxic; Rubber gloves keep your hands clean
Mixing Tub– I use an old cement mixing tub, but any wide mouthed plastic container will do
Mixing Tools– Use a shovel or sturdy garden trowel
Old Trash Bags– Using plastic between the container and the hypertufa mix when packed into the mold makes the unmolding process easy
Plywood Pieces– The pieces when wet are heavy and hard to transport without a study board underneath it
Portland Cement-one 96 pound bag which costs around $15; this will make lots of troughs, at least 12 good sized ones
Peat moss– 3.8 cubic feet bag will cost around $16
Perlite-one 4 cubic bag costs around $14
Mesh Fibers– These cement fiberglass fibers are a strengthening agent for the hypertufa, available at cement suppliers or on line, a 1 pound bag at $7
You can get the perlite and the peat moss in smaller sizes if you just want to make a couple of troughs, but the Portland Cement only comes in the monster size.
Using a small bucket for measuring, use 3 parts portland cement to 2 parts each of the perlite and peat moss and mix these thoroughly into a mixing tub, breaking up lumps. Add the fibers at this point, if you are using them. I find if you add the fiberglass fibers your hypertufa is more resistant to cracking in the long run.
Enlist everyone at this stage in mixing and squeezing the lumps to make a uniform mix. Next have your hose handy and start adding water in increments, mixing after each addition until the mixture will hold in a clump in your hand. It resembles wet cottage cheese at this point.
Testing the mixture
Molding – The Fun Begins!
Molding and forming the trough is the fun part. Everyone brought their mold staged on a sturdy piece of plywood so that they can transport it home easily. We covered the molds with a piece of old trash bag which greatly simplifies the removal of the mold from the hypertufa. After donning their gloves, people dove into the tub and grabbed handfuls of the mixture and start covering their mold with a two-inch layer of hypertufa mixture. It is important to have good coverage so that the walls are sturdy and won’t cave in. I had dowels ready for people to insert through the bottom of the troughs for drainage holes.
After everyone had thoroughly coated their mold and smoothed the bottom and sides, we took a break and admired everyone’s creations. At that point, the troughs are ready for curing. Curing simply means that the cement has to dry slowly to avoid any cracks forming. To do this, simply mist the container once a day and cover the trough with a piece of plastic to hold in the moisture. You can’t rush this step and it will take a couple of weeks to fully harden and cure.
After waiting impatiently for about a month, you can turn the hypertufa over and remove the mold. At that time, you can fill it with soil and plant with succulents or miniature plants. Your completed trough will last for years outside and will eventually grow moss to make it look like an antique planter.
Butterflies are flying everywhere in my yard, swooping, basking, and fluttering like graceful ballerinas in a ballet. Observing the butterflies visiting my flowers and trying to catch them with my camera is difficult at times, so I did some research about their habits to make it more likely to capture them in the lens of my camera.
Cold blooded creatures, butterflies remind me of snakes and lizards who seek out the heat of the sun for warmth, and that is exactly where you will find them. When the sun comes out, butterflies magically appear. Living for a fleeting 2 to 4 weeks, butterflies are interested in doing only two things-eating and reproducing.
Here are some factoids that will help you observe and understand butterfly behaviors and hopefully catch a good picture! Or just to enjoy their swooping antics.
Butterflies love the sun and need heat from the sun to warm their bodies, so you will see fewer butterflies on a cloudy day.
Watch where you stand when observing butterflies so you don’t cast a shadow that could scare them off.
Butterflies fly more often at 9:30 to 12 in the morning and 2 to 3:30 in the afternoon, and like a light breeze.
Butterflies are slower in their movements in cooler temperatures so you probably could catch them ‘basking’ in the sun at lower temperatures. Butterflies need an ideal body temperature of about 85ºF to fly. Since they’re cold-blooded animals, they can’t regulate their own body temperatures. If the air temperature falls below 55ºF, butterflies remain immobile, unable to flee from predators or feed. When air temperatures range between 82º-100ºF, butterflies can fly with ease. Cooler days require a butterfly to warm up its flight muscles, either be shivering or basking in the sun. And even sun-loving butterflies can get overheated when temperatures soar above 100ºF, and may seek shade to cool down.
Butterflies don’t have any chewing mouth parts, but eat by sipping nectar, through their proboscis. The proboscis is found curled neatly on the lower side of the head when not eating. When a butterfly eats, the proboscis extends like a straw which they insert deep into the flower to suck up the nectar, a behavior called ‘nectaring’. When eating they will circle around a flower for seconds at a time, making sure to drain all the nectar.
Some butterflies don’t have access to flowers, such as rainforest understories, and will instead eat the liquids from fermenting fruit found on the forest floor.
Male butterflies can be found puddling, sipping at the moisture in puddles or wet soil. They are also benefiting from the salts dissolved in the water which increases a male butterfly’s fertility.
Butterflies lay their eggs on the specific host plants and are very particular in finding the perfect plant to do this. For a great list of host plants with pictures of butterflies, go to Dallas Butterflies. This includes butterflies in my region of the mid-Atlantic as well as other areas of the United States. I am always looking at my host plants to see if I can find eggs or caterpillars. A plant stripped of leaves is a good sign of caterpillars.
Butterfly wings are transparent. Formed of layers of chitin, a protein that makes up the insect’s exoskeleton, thousands of tiny scales cover the wings which reflect light in different colors. Moths and butterflies are the only insects to have scales.
Butterflies taste with their feet. Taste receptors on a butterfly’s feet find its host plant and locate food. A female butterfly lands on different plants, drumming the leaves with her feet to make the plant release its juices. Spines on the back of her legs have chemo-receptors that detect the right match of plant chemicals. When she identifies the right plant after visiting at least several choices, she lays her eggs.
Adult butterflies can only feed on liquids, usually nectar. Modified mouthparts enable them to drink, but they can’t chew solids
Within about 10-12 feet, butterfly eyesight is quite good. Anything beyond that distance gets a little blurry to a butterfly. Butterflies rely on their eyesight for vital tasks, like finding mates of the same species, and finding flowers on which to feed. In addition to seeing some of the colors we can see, butterflies can see a range of ultraviolet colors invisible to the human eye. The butterflies themselves may have ultraviolet markings on their wings to help them identify one another and locate potential mates.
Lots of hungry predators are happy to make a meal of a butterfly. Some butterflies fold their wings to blend into the background using camouflage, rendering themselves all but invisible to predators. Others try the opposite strategy, wearing vibrant colors and patterns that boldly announce their presence. Brightly colored insects often pack a toxic punch if eaten, so predators learn to avoid them.
Plant nectar rich flowers for a steady parade of colorful butterflies to visit your garden. Go to Plant These For the Bees for ideas on plant choices which work with all pollinators. Tithonia, or Mexican Sunflower, Zinnias, and Lilies are my all time favorites for butterfly attraction and watching.
With a Perennial Plant Association conference under my belt this past week, touring “wow” gardens, and cruising the trade show aisles filled to overflowing with new perennial introductions, you would think that I have ‘perennial fatigue’. It sounds like a new disease doesn’t it? But I have the perennial bug bad. And my list of must-haves just ballooned like an Peony on steroids! Here are some perennials that I will be looking for at the nearest garden center or big box stores. The big box stores sometimes get the new intros before my wholesale nursery starts to carry them, so I will be on the hunt. Go to Plant Lust- 8 Must Haves to see some other plant acquisitions on my list.
The variegated foliage of Heliopsis helianthoides ‘Sunstruck” was an attribute that jumped out at me right away. The flower is pretty too and I think for the size of the plant (a gallon), there were plenty of them. Ultimately growing 14 to 16 inches tall with a similar spread, this is a selection of our native wildflower, False Sunflower. Forming a medium tall mound of silver and green variegated leaves with branching heads of sunny flowers in mid to late season, this should be attractive to native pollinators. Foliage beauty is very important to me since a perennial will only flower for a limited amount of time and this one has it in spades.
Echinacea ‘Pink Poodle’
Yes, I know, another Coneflower! I have Coneflower overload but this ‘Pink ‘Poodle’ was a standout in a perennial border that I visited. Introduced in 2009, but overlooked by me, the double-flowered plant features very full and fluffy-looking flowers packed with bright pink petals, resembling a dahlia. The plant habit is well-branched, strong and bushy. It is excellent for cutting, but I suspect that it won’t be as attractive to butterflies as the single flowered ones. If you are familiar with ‘Razzmatazz’, which looks very similar, this is a much better plant.
Helenium ‘Red Jewel’
I am always on the hunt for red flowers. Red attracts hummers and butterflies, and it goes with everything. This Helenium ‘Red Jewel’ attracted my attention on an estate property along a country lane mixed with other herbaceous perennials. Petal skirts of garnet red surround the brown center and look like tiny ballerinas dancing through the foliage. Tall at 4 feet and yes, it probably needs to be staked unless you have other shrubs or perennials around supporting it, the flowers attract butterflies. Requiring full sun, with a good amount of room, I imagine planting this at the back of a border and enjoying the late season color.
If you have never grown an Agastache or Anise Hyssop, go right to the nursery and pick one up. Deer resistance, longevity of bloom, attraction to pollinators, ease of growth, and fabulous scent, are just some of the attributes of this great plant. This is one of my top plants for attracting pollinators. Go to Plant These For the Bees for other good selections. Overwintering an Agastache has been a challenge for me. They sometimes make it and sometimes not, and of course drainage is always implicated when a plant fails. Only ‘Blue Fortune’ Agastache has been reliable for me, and the other varieties I treat more as annuals. But the Kudos series is purportedly hardier and also mildew resistant which can be a problem.
‘Kudos’ are shorter than other Anise Hyssops, clocking in at 17-20″ tall. So, more compact, fuller flowers, and the blooms come in an array of colors-gold, ambrosia, coral, mandarin, silver blue, and yellow. What’s not to like? I have the gold one in the ground and am very interested to see if it survives my winter here in zone 6b. The claims of hardiness are zones 5 through 9.
It is late July and August and that means plump juicy blackberries are ready and waiting. I am looking for ways to use them as I pick about a quart a day and we can’t eat them fast enough. I will freeze some but I love to use them fresh and they are classified as a “superfood”, full of antioxidants and other good stuff. I use them as a garnish for green salads, a topping for yogurt and granola, pies, jam, and cobblers.
If you have never grown blackberries, this is one of the easiest and most satisfying berry to grow. I started with one “cane” or stem of a thornless blackberry variety some years ago and it can grow to be one ginormous mass of a plant unless you train it to a trellis. The tips of the canes will root in and produce more progeny to start more plants and you can end up with a field of blackberries.
For trellising, I found that cattle fence was the perfect candidate by being both sturdy and cheap. Trained canes out-produce untrained ones in spades. And because trained ones fan out on the fence, you can pick from both sides and reach your hand through the cattle fence if you spot one nestled on the opposite side. Three sturdy metal fence posts support the 10 foot piece of cattle fence. Tractor Supply is a great source for this type of fencing.
Planting foot high suckers in early spring alongside the cattle fence about every foot or so produced a wall of blackberries a couple of months later. These are quick off the mark berries! They took off running and covered the fence completely and flowered and set fruit. Planted in partial shade next to two pine stumps. The speed at which the canes produced surprised me. The only maintenance was a pine straw mulch and tying the canes to the fence. I didn’t bother to water or fertilize. Blueberries in contrast take at least 5 years to amount to anything and you have to acidify the soil, fertilize, etc. and pick them for hours. So, ease of maintenance of these vitamin packed blackberries converted me to a true believer.
Picking Is So Easy
Picking is a snap as they slip right off the cane, are easy to spot, and with trellising, the berries are at eye level. The berries fill a bowl up quickly and I just rinse them off before use. Other berries, such as strawberries, you have to crouch down and lift leaves to spot the berries, as well as capping the berry before eating- a lot more work!
Sorbet is one of my favorite hot weather desserts so I decided to try making it with my favorite berry. Blackberry Sorbet was delicious and it used two pounds of berries. Here is the recipe:
2 C water
2 1/2 C granulated sugar
2 Pounds of blackberries (about 8 cups)
4 T lime juice
4 T Creme de Cassis liquor (optional, this is a black currant liquor which added a nice zing)
Heat up the water and add sugar and stir until dissolved. Place saucepan in fridge to chill. Process the blackberries into a puree in a food processor. Add this puree to the chilled sugar syrup and then strain the entire mixture through a fine sieve to remove the seeds. You need to press the mixture through with a wooden spoon until you get as much liquid through the sieve as you can. You will end up with a slurry of seeds which you can discard in your compost or feed the chickens.
Add the lime juice and the cassis to the mixture and place the mixture in the fridge with plastic wrap on the top to chill for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight. Once thoroughly chilled, transfer the mixture to your ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer’s directions. It took about 30 minutes for the mixture to make sorbet in my ice cream maker. If you don’t have enough blackberries, you could halve this recipe. This recipe makes almost 8 cups of sorbet, enough for desserts for a week.
According to Urban Dictionary, Plant Lust is defined as an uncontrolled desire or craving for any member of the kingdom Plantae. Yes, I just added that to the Urban dictionary as it is a well known term to plant addicts and I fit right into this category. Plant lust or envy is a condition with no cure or treatment. A craving or appetite for unusual plants is a common condition in garden circles and you learn to live with it. See what is on my current list.
Kingdom Plantae Wish List
I have a running list of plant acquisitions in the Kingdom Plantae pegged on my bulletin board that I “must” have. Understand, that I don’t “need” any of these. I need more plants like my dog needs more toys! I compare it to clothes shopping when you are not looking for anything in particular, and then spot something so perfect that from that moment on, you can’t do without. When I visit different gardens and see something irresistible, I whip out my iphone, take a picture and look for the name tag. That happened recently when I visited Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and my plant envy list just got longer. Here are a few things that I will be looking for next year, either seeds or plants, anyway that I can get them!
1. Pennisetum villosum ‘Feathertop’– I am not a huge grass fan, but I definitely have some favorites that I use at many of my landscape jobs. Hakonechloa or Japanese Forest Grass, pictured below, is my absolute favorite grass for shade. But I am open to suggestions for new favorites.
So when I saw this Pennisetum ‘Feathertop’, I fell in love. Yes, it is an annual for me because it is hardy in zone 8 to 10. And yes, it looks like it could seed in after reading the reviews- meaning coming up everywhere. But with its pretty, white, bottlebrush plumes, perfect for cut flowers, these dramatic plumes contrast with all kinds of perennials – kind of how a pretty scarf can ramp up your outfit. This valuable attribute helped give Feathertop the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 2002.