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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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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.
2. Ammi majus or Bishops Weed- An annual that looks like Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids. Instead of a flat umbel profile, the flower is dome-shaped, with beautiful frilly fern-like foliage. This plant also can seed in, but that’s quite all right. I can deal with it. I see this as a great filler and valuable addition in cut flower arrangements.
3. Celosia argentea ‘Sylphid’
What can I say about green flowers? I am a sucker for them every time. And when I spotted this Sylphid Plume Celosia, it was love at first sight. Graceful greenish-yellow feathery plumes sit on tall straight stems. The perfect color to set off vibrant colors in your garden or bouquet.
4. Flashpoint Lily
Flashpoint is a Orienpet Lily (cross between an Oriental and Trumpet) which is an explosion of color, red and cream outfacing blooms. I didn’t see these at Longwood, but love this combination so much, I am going to duplicate it in my garden. Similar to a ‘Stargazer’ lily but with a lot more substance and staying power. Fragrant too!
5. Dahlia ‘Pam Howden’
Dahlias are definitely my weakness. Big, blowsy, colorful blooms that arrange beautifully and draw pollinators. What’s not to like? Pam Howden, a ‘waterlily’ type, is one I spotted and will be planting next year. Loaded with blooms, I admired another dahlia, pictured below, Starfire.
6. Hibiscus ‘Fifth Dimension’
Hibiscus was definitely not on my radar when I went to Longwood, but this one practically jumped up and hit me – Fifth Dimension. Looking the flower up on-line, I discovered that when the bloom first starts to open, it is orange with a silvery contrasting center. As the day progresses, the orange changes to yellow. I caught this bloom in the yellow stage. Go to Longwood Gardens Blog to see a time-lapse video of the transformation, like a psychedelic experience!
7. Gomphrena ‘Fireworks’
I admit I have grown this one before and loved it. But after spotting it in the Longwood beds, I need to add this to my permanent list of annuals for yearly planting. Flowering all season long with straw textured globes, the ends of the petals are topped with yellow stars. I grow these from seed as I have never seen the transplants available in the spring.
8. Lisianthus or Eustoma
Commonly known as Prairie Gentian, Lisianthus plants are herbaceous annuals which have bluish-green, slightly succulent leaves and a large rose-like flowers growing on the long straight stems. Frequently seen as cut flowers at the florist, you can grow these in your garden if you can find the transplants in the spring as the seeds are very difficult and slow to germinate. Preferring cooler temperatures would limit this flower for me, but I would like to give it a try. Great as a long-lasting cut flower and I know this will be hard to find.
Do you want to have a pollinator garden but just don’t have the space for one? Plant a container instead, one that you could move around to sunny spots on your balcony or patio- like a movable feast!
Plant It and They Will Come
We all know how important it is to plant nectar rich plants to create pollinators pockets to provide stopping points for all our native bees and honeybees(non-natives), and other visiting pollinators. Go to Monarch Way Station to see how to set up a complete area if you have the room for a raised bed or garden space. If not, try potting up a variety of perennials and annuals which are known butterfly magnets. For lists of plants specific to your region, I find the best resource is Xerces at The Xerces Society.
For the first pictured container, I used:
Oregano ‘Kent Beauty’ -2
Anise Hyssop ‘Blue Fortune’-2
Anise Hyssop ‘Tango’-1
Yarrow ‘Red Velvet’-1
Butterfly bush ‘Miss Molly’-2
To pot up a container efficiently, simply set in your largest plants first, the tall Verbenas and Anise Hyssops, towards the back of the pot, and fill in with the small and medium ones. My spiller was the Oregano and the Trailing Zinnia which will cascade in a couple of weeks. Planting in a 15 inch container ensured that I could move it around without straining my back and I stuffed 21 plants into it.
To make this possible, I had to shake some of the root ball soil off to make it easier to shoehorn all those plants together. Don’t be afraid to shake the excess soil and even remove some of the roots from the root ball as the plant will quickly make new roots.
To see more plants to plant for pollinators, go to Plant These For the Bees and check out the best methods for planting, such as blocking.
Everywhere you look in suburbia, there is at least some space devoted to the ubiquitous lawn. The main focus of U.S. gardening is the lawn which ironically was inspired by British landscape gardening. Still, mown grass dominates public and private spaces but is a water hog, is laden with chemicals, and pollutes the air with engine driven lawn mowers and weed eaters.
To add to this love affair with lawns, many localities still have “lawn ordinances”, which effectively make any other form of front garden illegal, and prosecution for growing anything else is common.
Progressive gardeners often wage a war against lawns and the public perception that lawn is the only way to go is slowly changing. There is even a campaign website: lawnreform.org. On this website are great pictures of a variety of sedges that are suitable for lawns.
“Kerb-appeal” – a desire to appeal to future buyers or to show off the home is an American way of life and we are creatures of habit when it comes to our landscapes. Americans want “low maintenance and evergreen” which translates to boring, cookie cutter landscapes with no connection to the architecture of the house.
On the other end of the spectrum, English gardeners express themselves through gardening and if you travel through an English neighborhood, each landscape is different. The pictures below came from a tiny village called Blockley in the Cotswolds where each house had their own personally unique gardens, with very little or no lawn.
More and more people are ripping out parts, or their entire lawn and replacing with plants that require less water and care, most notably less cutting. In more arid parts of the country, there are incentives to replace lawns with alternatives like gravel or water sipping plantings.
With our constant rain this summer in the mid-Atlantic region, we are cutting our lawn at least every 4-5 days which requires a lot of time and produces a copious amounts of dirty exhaust and burns fossil fuel. Not to mention that a lawn is a sterile “desert” with poor underlying soil with little to no biological action of microbial life and earth worms that make a soil healthy.
But there are alternatives like creeping thyme for sunny locations and moss for shady moist locations. If you really want grass, you can plant a sedge that hardly ever needs cutting. Pennsylvania Sedge or Carex pensylvanica doesn’t look as neat and tidy as a fescue but it rarely needs cutting. It does need sun to grow in thick like the above picture.
Moss wouldn’t work in low moisture climates but is an alternative in shady locations. Designers and designers who are looking for sustainable, shade loving options, either as a lawn replacement or a sculptural backdrop as accents, have discovered moss.
To start your own moss garden you need to first remove any existing plants, especially grass and weeds. Apply a pre-emergent like Preen to discourage germination of any existing seeds. Smooth out the soil, which can be loam or clay, but not too sandy. Any dips or undulations in the soil will be visible once the moss starts growing. Sandy soils won’t hold the moisture needed for good moss growth. Moss is a great soil stabilizer but must be mature to channel water for runoff.
Bulbs and primroses growing up through moss
Preparing really smooth soil speeds up rhizome (underground stems) attachment and encourages faster branching so be sure to remove any debris, sticks stones, and leaves.
I was always under the impression that moss grows in only acidic soil, in ranges below 7 which is neutral on the Ph scale. But doing my research on moss culture, they aren’t really particular about Ph because the rhizomes do not feed on the soil. Plant any companion plants before you introduce the moss, smoothing the soil after planting.
You can scrape up patches of moss from the woods or other parts of your property and place them on top of your smooth soil. Scratch the surface very slightly before laying the patches down so that they will adhere and press the patches firmly into the soil, preferably by stepping on them. Contact is crucial between the bottom of the patch and the top of the soil for the moss to start growing. The transplanted mosses need some time for the moss to acclimate and become established while the moss adjusts to new sunlight, water, and substrate.
Water, Water, Water
Mist the moss thoroughly every day, making sure to saturate until the moss starts to grow. This might be 6 weeks or more. You can taper off slightly as the moss starts to fill in but your moss will go dormant when it dries out. The higher the temperature, the more water required to keep the moss verdant. If you remove leaves by raking or blowing, it is a good idea to pin the moss down with soil staples, or fern pins, or use a netting to keep the moss in place.
Established moss is naturally weed resistant but juvenile moss may have patches of soil and still be thin. Controlling weeds with hand removal is important until the moss is spongy and thick. A daily misting helps greatly in getting your moss established.
Yep, the name needs a makeover, but Echibeckia for me is a winner. I love the look and late summer bloom time, and if it survives my zone 6b winter, I want more! I picked up this new cross at Home Depot which surprises me with new cultivars that I can’t resist. There are so many new varieties of perennials that it is hard to keep up with the deluge!
An “echibeckia” is a cross between two compatible genera (genuses) – the coneflower (Echinacea) and the black-eyed susan/gloriosa daisy (Rudbeckia). So think- coneflower/black-eyed susan cross makes a totally new flower. These two varieties are favorites of a lot of gardeners, so you could predict crossing these would produce a winner.
Summerina is the first three-variety series of this new cross, coming in an orange-with-yellow bicolor, a yellow-with-orange bicolor, and burnt orange. So, Echibeckias combine the look and fast growth of black-eyed susans (Rudbeckia) with the hardiness and disease resistance of coneflowers (Echinacea). Combining these two staples of the garden was a slam dunk! Both tough plants on their own, but Pennsylvania is the northern limit for hardiness at -10 degrees being the drop dead winter temperature to survive. I will report back next year on how they do!
African Blue Basil
Everyone knows and loves the wonderful basil plant and its many uses, notably pesto. Pungent pesto made from fresh basil is a wonderful accompaniment to pasta, bread, and just about any other food that you can find to slather it on. But African Blue Basil amps up the flavor switch a notch. It has a “licoricey” or almost a camphor or anise flavor that is hard to describe. The added benefit for me is that African Blue is not susceptible to Basil Downy Mildew which is running rampant throughout the United States.
African blue basil (Ocimum kilimandscharicum x basilicum ‘Dark Opal’) is an accidental hybrid between an East African basil that is native to Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda that is valued for its exquisite scent, and a garden variety basil called ‘Dark Opal’, known for it eggplant purple coloration. It is a hybrid so it can only be grown from cuttings, not seed.
That is why African Blue has plum undertones and speckles, and has its unique aromatic taste. And contrary to what some people believe, it is very edible, in fact quite delicious as pesto.
African Blue Basil is a very decorative plant and would fit right in with the craze of edible landscaping; you can eat it – plus it is beautiful! Every part of the plant is edible-stems, flowers, and leaves. Covered with blooms all summer long, the slender flower spikes of violet buds open to lavender flowers.
A regimen of nipping the flowering stalks off a basil plant is normal for any other varieties but not African Blue. You want those flowers for garnishes so this is a strictly “leave it alone” plant. The 1- to 2 1/2-inch long leaves are a slightly grayed green hue with amethyst spattering on their undersides. The plant grows up to 2 feet tall and is much bushier than regular basil varieties. One rooted cutting will supply you with plenty of pesto and edible flowers all season long. Throw the edible flowers into salads for a flavor sensation. Go to my post on Eat Your Flowers! for more ideas.
Plant African Blue Basil transplants in spring when all danger of frost is gone in a sunny spot and step back and let nature take its course. It will do well in a container and behaves well with other plants. Like all basils, it likes hot, hot sun and good drainage.
Pinching off the tips of basil stems makes the plant branch out laterally. Since this basil is a sterile hybrid, you can only purchase plants, not seeds. When you bring home your young plant, pinch out its center stem to start this process. I naturally harvest it all season long for pesto and salads so the plant gets very bushy and lush. Don’t be afraid to pinch it to avoid floppiness later.
African Blue Pesto Recipe
Place in your food processor: 1/4 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup water, 1/4 cup raw pine nuts, 3 cloves of garlic, chopped coarsely, and 2 cups of basil leaves, stems and flowers, chopped coarsely and packed lightly into the measure. Blend well, stirring large bits back into the mixture and reblending as needed. Transfer the mixture into a bowl and stir in 3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Add a sprinkling of grated black pepper. And sit back and enjoy this concoction on your pasta! You can keep this in the fridge with a layer of olive oil on top for a couple of weeks or freeze it. I freeze it in ice-cube containers for ease of removing throughout the winter.
Basil Downy Mildew
The latest malady to hit ornamental and food plants is Basil Downy Mildew, which has appeared in the last couple of years and is sweeping through the country like wildfire. It starts with leaf yellowing, which looks like a nutritional deficiency and then spots appear and can make the entire plant unusable. Under the right weather conditions (wet, warm weather), basil downy mildew can spread rapidly and result in complete loss of all your basil plants. Although Peronospora belbahrii, the pathogen that causes basil downy mildew, cannot survive our mid-Atlantic winters, it can be reintroduced on infected seed or transplants or by windblown spores.
It seems like every basil I plant gets the infection soon after planting, but the African Blue one remains immune for me. I love using Basil in cooking and this really upsets me as there is no known cure, other than applications of fungicides which are know to be damaging to bee populations. Even fungicides are not effective when the weather is wet and warm like it has been all spring and summer.
Ok, Plant Geeks of the world listen up. Have you heard of the plant genus Gomphrena, or Globe Amaranth? Yes, it is mostly a boring run of the mill plant that has the advantage of drying well. I think that is why most people like to plant it, for its quality of lasting long into the winter in dried flower arrangements – certainly not for its garden bedding characteristics. In Hawaii, they use the flowers in leis because of its lasting qualities.
Globe Amaranth is easy to grow, tolerates drought and has long-lasting flowers held on the plant for months on end. Pink Zazzle Gomphrena has burst on the scene with a blast and not only did the flowers get a makeover, the foliage is quite beautiful with a downy coating of fur on the leaves, like a soft blanket of lambs wool.
Pink Zazzle will get about 12 inches tall on a well branched plant and bloom prolifically with “knock your socks off” hot pink blooms up to 3 inches across. It prefers hot sun and dry conditions. I noticed this when I first bought it and kept the plant inside. I watered the plant to keep it moist, but when the plant started to droop and looked like there was rot in the stem, I stopped watering it and it perked up. Grown indoors as a pot plant or outdoors in the garden or container, I am planting Zazzle outside in the hot sun and heat. The flowers literally last for weeks, almost drying in place on the plant.
The price point of the plant will be higher than a marigold and most likely treated in the nursery as a premium annual. I planted these out last year in containers and in the ground, and though they are slow in getting going, they eventually form a nice mounding plant covered in these “strawflower” type of flowers.
According to the Proven Winners website http://www.provenwinners.com/plants/gomphrena/pink-zazzle-globe-amaranth-gomphrena-hybrid, the flowers will attract hummingbirds and butterflies and is hardy to zone 8. Growing only a foot high and wide, Pink Zazzle is perfect placed in front of a flower border.
There is a movement afoot to buy your flowers from local sources, instead of getting that canned arrangement sent out from FTC with the same old chemical laden flowers. Sarah Nixon of ‘My Luscious Backyard‘ made a compelling demonstration that you can grow your own flowers and foliage to make your one of a kind floral arrangements with very little space and time. Plus, create a thriving business out of it.
As a flower gardener, I always have arrangements sitting on my kitchen counter with all my cuts from my garden stuck into a vase. Visiting with Sarah Nixon and learning about her ingenious scheme of using other small neighboring plots to grow different varieties of plants that she couldn’t fit into her small plot, was inspiring.
More and more at farmer’s markets, I see not only locally cut flowers, but for the many who feel inadequate at making a composed arrangement, take-home arrangements.
Just like the slow food movement, the slow flower movement has picked up steam because consumers want to buy from local sustainable farms. At least 80% of the cut flower market comes into the U.S. according to Wikipedia, from distant parts of the globe, but the shift is moving more and more to cut flower growers in the U.S.
With my recent visit to Toronto with the Garden Bloggers Fling, I checked out Sarah Nixon’s operation and her jam-packed small garden in the city of Toronto. She farms her small plot along with cultivating numerous neighboring plots (with the homeowner’s permission!), to provide her burgeoning florist business with a constant in-season supply of floral cuts and treasures.
Locally Sarah delivers many floral designs arranged simply and beautifully in vases, both vintage and recycled. In addition to selling her cut flowers to area florists and creating arrangements for weddings and other events, Sarah has a thriving business that started with just a few jars of flowers at a farmers market.
Growing all of her own transplants from seed, corms, bulbs, and cuttings, using small portable greenhouses, and cold frames, Sarah can grow things that aren’t readily available at the local nurseries.
Dahlia tubers are laid on top of soil to root in early in the season and then she will take these and her other transplants and plant them out in “divets” in the garden. The “divets” make sure that when it rains that the water pools around the plant and goes right to the roots. Planting out the transplants intensively and staking them as they grow, Sarah can pack a lot in a small space.
Sarah tends to the plants all summer, staking, weeding, and watering, and cuts the flowers as they bloom for her arrangements that she composes and delivers to her subscribers to their door or workplace. The bouquet subscriptions can start at $45 plus delivery for a beautifully composed arrangement with cuts that you just don’t see in a regular florist arrangement. For homeowners who donate space for growing, Sarah gives them a discount.
Sarah’s Pointers for a freshly composed arrangement
As a former designer myself, I picked up some valuable advice during Sarah’s demo.
Condition your cuts by gathering early in morning and placing them in a squeaky clean bucket that has fresh water amended with floral preservatives (follow the directions for best results!)
Let stems remain in that solution for at least several hours to properly hydrate
For twiggy branches, slit the cut ends with pruners so that the water is more easily absorbed
Avoid using floral foam which can clog up cut ends and is a non-sustainable petroleum product; instead add twiggy branches first which will act like a nest to place premium blooms into
Remove all foliage that will be under water; this can lead to bacterial contamination which shortens the life of the arrangement
Enjoy your floral arrangement in a cool spot and add water to make sure all cut ends are under water
Drum roll please!……..It is National Pollinator Week starting today and you need to start counting those bees. Go to my post Pollinator Week to see the drill, but it is real simple. Name the flower, and then do a quick count, say five minutes each flower of any pollinators that visit. Bees are of course the poster child for this campaign, but remember bees are only one part of the equation.
Count butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, flies- basically anything that visits the flower by wings or just crawling. Do as many or as few counts as you have time for this week and click on Great Sunflower Project, and if you haven’t already registered, set up an account and input your results. This project collects data from ordinary gardeners all over the country to track pollinator numbers so that scientists can have a better understanding of the health of our populations in North America. Consolidation of all this data gives scientists hard numbers when they determine the best strategies in tackling this problem.
Citizen Science at its best!
Bee One in a Million
To take this effort even further, you can join the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge which is a nationwide call to action to preserve and create gardens and landscapes that help to revive and sustain the health of all pollinators.
Aiming to move millions of people outdoors to create nectar rich gardens, this initiative fosters a connection between pollinators and the food that we eat. The goal is to get people out in the great outdoors and start planting flowering plants. You notice that I say “flowering plants” and not just “flowers”? Flowering trees and shrubs are just as important as perennial and annual flowers. And if you can plant native ones, all the better. Go to Plant These For the Bees to see the best strategies on attracting pollinators in the garden. And check out Monarch Way Station if you are interested in Monarchs in particular.
My Sunflowers and Zinnias here in the mid-Atlantic aren’t quite blooming yet, but I do have lots of other flowers that are popping out that I can start my count on. Happy counting!
I love it when I see an old-fashioned shrub, one that has not been tinkered with by hydridizers, at an established property in all it’s glory. These shrubs require a lot of space, at least 10′ x 10′ or more to grow unfettered and spread out in all their glory.
Nowadays, everyone wants a dwarf shrub to fit into a 3′ x 3′ space, stay that way for many years, and require little or no maintenance. Oh, and have lots of beautiful flowers-preferably pink! Deutzias have been around a long time with cascading flowers that waterfall off the shrub in late spring that can cover the plant. Native to Asia and Central America, Deutzia is an easy to grow deciduous shrub in sun or part shade that is used as a ground cover or a specimen plant. A lot of people are familiar with ‘Nikko’ which won The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society Gold Medal Award, 1989. Great cascading over low walls, Nikko can spread 5 feet wide in ten years but remain only 18″ tall.
As a landscape designer, I am guilty of looking for cultivars of the old-fashioned shrubs like Deutzias in a smaller package. Chardonnay Pearls with its golden foliage and the new Yuki Cherry Blossom with pink flowers fit the bill for me and my clients.
Yuki Cherry Blossom is a pink Deutzia shrub in a small package ready to fit into a small landscape or container. With soft pink flowers covering the plant in spring, it is a great little plant to use in borders along with other flowering perennials.
Chardonnay Pearls by Proven Winners is a beautiful Deutzia with chartreuse foliage which does great in partial shade and does well on hillsides. The arching branches root in at the tip and are great for stabilizing hillsides. The golden foliage brightens up shady locations.
A double-flowered Deutzia