Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Surprise in the July garden--Naked Ladies!

One of the truly surprising things in the summer garden is the belladonna lily (Amaryllis belladonna). It is commonly called "Surprise Lily" because of its tendency to shoot up a bloom stalk and bloom seemingly overnight. One day it's completely invisible and the next day it is in bloom. (That is only a very slight exaggeration.) It is also called by many other names, including Naked Lady, Magic Lily, August Lily, and many more.

I noticed one of our belladonnas peeking up through the ground on Sunday. On Monday it looked like this:

And today it looked like this:

They multiple like crazy and before long you'll have this:

I suppose it is called Naked Lady because it does not put up foliage until after its bloom stalk dies down. The foliage in the picture above belongs to irises.

Keep any eye out for Naked Ladies as you are out and about in the next few weeks!

Monday, July 27, 2015

'Jubilation' Gardenia

This spring I wanted to plant one of the smaller types of gardenia by our patio. There are a number of cultivars of these smaller gardenias that are purported to be hardy in zone 7. 'Kleim's Hardy' has a bloom that looks more like a daisy than a gardenia (a single row of petals), but I like the more traditional gardenia look of the double bloom.  So I narrowed my choices (among the ones I found available) to 'Frostproof' and 'Jubilation'. I was unfamiliar with 'Jubilation' but when I researched it, I found a lot of positive comments from other gardeners, so I decided to try it. But when I went back to the nursery to purchase it, I found it was sold out.

I had nearly given up hope of finding one when I discovered two 'Jubliation' mixed in among other varieties of gardenias at Lowes. I happily bought them both and put one in a bed near the patio and the second in a pot on the patio.

Both have grown and look healthy. And they have had blooms continuously since I bought them in the spring.

Here's the bloom. It has the typical gardenia look and fragrance.

Soon I want to find a place in the garden for the one I planted in a pot. I like it in its pot on the patio, but I don't want to risk its freezing in winter, which it almost surely would. Winter hardiness is a major issue for gardenias in our area--many gardeners completely lost their gardenias planted in the garden in recent winters and those that survived had a lot of winter dieback. Growing a gardenia (or any other plant) in a pot significantly diminishes its winter hardiness. I've read that growing a plant outdoors in a pot over the winter cuts back one or two zones from its winter hardiness rating. So this zone 7 plant becomes a zone 8 or 9 plant when left in a pot and would not be expected to survive our winters. 

My experience with 'Jubilation' has been too brief to warrant a positive recommendation, but, so far, I'm a fan. However, the biggest test is yet to come: winter survival. Check with me next spring.

Monday, July 20, 2015


Many of you have had hummingbirds in your gardens since spring, but until this week, I've only seen them once or twice in my garden.  I put out the hummingbird feeder some time ago and waited. Weeks went by and I found myself changing the sugar water but having no visitors. Jack suggested that it might be because I have the feeder hanging from a hook that has a hummingbird figure on it and that the figure might be scaring away the real birds. I hadn't considered that possibility, but it made sense, given that hummingbirds are quite territorial. But this morning I saw a hummingbird at the feeder, so I hurried inside to make a fresh batch of sugar water. 

I understand from various sources on the internet that, if left out too long, sugar water will grow mold and bacteria that are harmful to the birds. What I discovered recently is that this can happen really quickly in hot weather like we are having now. I'm embarrassed to say that my hummingbird feeder, which had probably been rinsed out and refilled about a week ago, had visible signs of mold. I found a brush and made a solution of bleach water to clean it. I used a toothpick to clean the little tubes inside the "bloom" where the hummingbirds feed. Then I rinsed it multiple times to rid it of all traces of the bleach. The entire process took quite a long time. 

Most sources that I read recommended changing the water daily if the temperature is above 90 degrees. This article suggests that small feeders are better since the sugar water should be changed often anyway. It also says several small feeders will attract more birds than will a single, larger one with multiple perches. I wish I had read this before I bought that big new feeder this spring!

My theory about why hummingbirds are so late coming to our garden is that they are awaiting the bloom of the cardinal flower, which should be any day now. Although they do visit the black and blue salvia outside my kitchen window, they seem to have a strong preference for cardinal flowers. It seems to make sense to me that the actual nectar of either flower would be better for them than sugar water.

I have to admit that I have been neglectful of my hummingbird feeder. I had not realized how often it needed to be cleaned or how much labor is involved in cleaning it. So I'll keep sugar water in the feeder until our cardinal flowers make their appearance, then I'll take the feeder down. I'm afraid I'm not vigilant enough to keep the sugar water fresh, and I certainly don't want to harm the little birds I'm trying to help.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Try This: Ground Cherries

My midtown son's neighbor has a frontyard garden and generously shares his bounty with his neighbors.  A recent share was a container of ground cherries - Physalis pruinosa.

Oh. My. Goodness!

This is a small, orangy fruit with a sweet-tart taste.  Some folks compare the taste to pineapple.  All I know is that the few that my son shared with me were gone in about 5 seconds.  Now I'm dreaming about them.

As you can see from the photo, the fruit is enclosed in a papery husk, much like tomatillos (Physalis philadelphica.)  You may be reminded of Chinese lantern, which is Physalis alkekengi.  All of these are members of the nightshade family (Solanaceae.)

Ground cherries are grown the same as tomatoes.  Start seeds indoors (heating mats seem to work best according to the comments I read) and transplant small plants as soon as danger of frost is over. Then just sit back and let the plant do its thing.  The seeds are available at many providers including Rare Seeds,  Seed Savers Exchange, and Territorial Seed.

For more detailed information - and a yummy recipe - click here.

This plant is definitely on my list for next year.  What's on your list?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

How often should I water?

For the past few years, I've helped out at a local nursery during the spring rush. Toward the end of spring when our spring rains suddenly give way to drought, I remind customers to keep the plants they are purchasing adequately-watered until they are established. Inevitably they ask, "How often should I water it?" That is a perfectly reasonable question to which no one wants to hear the answer, "It depends." But it really does depend on:
  • The condition of the plant, especially the development of its root system
  • Whether the plant prefers a moist or dry environment
  • How the planting area is prepared
  • How well the soil retains moisture
  • Whether mulch is provided and how much
  • How much sun/shade the planting area receives
  • How much sun/shade the plant would like to have
  • How much moisture Mother Nature provides
  • How much heat and wind Mother Nature provides
  • And so on.
Even though these plants have had a little time to establish their root system by the this time of year, they still have to be watched closely especially during these hot, dry days we've had lately. Give them extra care for their first year.

Watering newly-planted, pot-grown plants in the summer can be even more challenging. We know that summer is not the best time to plant but sometimes circumstances demand it (for instance, you may have found a few things you couldn't resist at the plant sale at Summer Celebration).

I always thought it was hard on the plant to be planted in the summer, but after reading an article by nurseryman Don Shor of Redwood Barn Nursery in Davis, California, I'm wondering if it maybe it's just harder on the gardener. He makes a compelling argument that there are advantages to summer planting when plants are given the proper care, including appropriate watering.  Click here to read his tips on watering summer-planted nursery purchases. Mr. Shor's nursery is in the Sacramento valley, but the general advice seems to be applicable in our area as well.

Watering can be pretty tricky, even after plants have become established.  Click here for a more general article on watering a variety of garden situations, including watering lawns.

And a final caveat about summer planting: this discussion applies only to pot-grown plants that have an intact root system. Thinking of transplanting something? Very, very risky this time of year! I can't think of a single plant (with the exception of dividing irises) that would do well transplanting this time of year. Unless you have no other choice, wait for cooler weather.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Memphis Horticultural Society

As we continue to explore the different garden societies in the Memphis and surrounding area, today's post introduces the Memphis Horticultural Society. Tom Rieman, the current president, was kind enough to give us an overview of MHS.

The Memphis Horticultural Society was founded in 1981 with the intent of being an umbrella organization for all things horticultural in Memphis.  The purpose of the society is the study of plants and the exchange of information among the members on the care, cultivation, and propagation of plants, their design in the garden, and their survival and protection in the natural environment. The society also serves as a source of information for and a link between the horticultural community and the media, the general public and future generations.

Meetings are the first Tuesday of each month at the Memphis Botanic Garden.  The meeting begins at 7:00 PM but it is preceded at 6:30 by a meet and greet social.  June and December meetings are members only meetings; however, the rest are open to the public.  Meetings consist of a brief business meeting followed by a speaker.

The public may attend a meeting for a $5 fee or choose to join.   Annual dues are:

$25 Senior membership (55+)
$30 Individual membership
$35 Family membership (2 people at the same mailing address)
$75 Corporate membership

The motto says it all:  Cultivate, Educate, Enjoy.

For more information, you can check out the website here.  

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The winner in today's garden is . . . .

Each day when we walk in the garden, we find something that surprises and, usually, delights.  Sometimes it's not so pleasant, like today when I discovered that a little green cutworm had nearly defoliated one of our smaller cardinal flowers (yikes--never had that happen before!). But usually it is something new that is blooming or a whiff of a fragrant flower.

The winner in the delightful surprise category today is Hosta 'Guacamole.'  I bent down to pull a weed and a wonderful fragrance greeted me. Here is the plant. 

'Guacamole' is a sport of 'Fragrant Bouquet,' another of my favorite hostas. But 'Guacamole' is in full glory today. I like the foliage but I'm also wild about the flowers. They are not only fragrant but beautiful--very large and snowy white.

With most hostas, I consider the bloom mostly a nuisance and cut back the flower scapes so that the energy can go to the plant, rather than flower production. But Guacamole's flowers are worth the investment. It's blooms are mostly clustered as mini-bouquets at the end of the scapes, not distributed along the length of a tall stalk, as is the case for many hostas. I would cut these scapes only to enjoy them in a vase.

If you have 'Guacamole' in your garden, go whiff for yourself!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer Celebration - July 9th

Are you finding that your calendar is open Thursday?  You should pack up and spend the day at the UT Research Center in Jackson, TN.

Every year, gardeners from all walks of life gather to hear speakers and expand their knowledge as well as doing some garden shopping.

Get detailed information here  You don't want to miss all the fun. 

If you want something closer to home, the Dixon and Botanic Garden both have some great programs lined up in July.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Evergreen dogwood 'Empress of China'

Last fall Jack and I planted the evergreen dogwood Cornus angustata 'Empress of China'. I was immediately smitten when I saw it at the Dabney Nursery and decided I had the perfect place for it (can't we always think of a "perfect" place when we really want the plant?). I hadn't known there was such a thing as an evergreen dogwood. Another customer told me she had planted one the previous year and it had dropped its leaves in winter. Nevertheless, I was not deterred. I figured the worse that could happen would be that I'd have a nice deciduous Asian dogwood.

But still I was REALLY hoping it  would be evergreen.  We need a tall evergreen plant on that side of the house since both we and the neighbors across the fence removed trees in that area last year. So I was delighted when it made it through the winter and dropped hardly a leaf!

When I bought it, it had a number of knobby little protrusions that I hoped were buds. In fact, they were. If you look closely, hidden amidst the foliage, you can see a few of the blooms that persisted throughout the month of June. The flower show was not spectacular (maybe a total of a dozen blooms), but I was thrilled to see any blooms the very first year. When it matures a bit, the Empress of China is suppose to be one of the most floriferous dogwoods available (see picture included in link at the end of this post). And its shiny, evergreen foliage is really beautiful.
Cornus angustata 'Empress of China'
One other thing I was extremely pleased about was the vigorous growth from this plant. Typically, my new plants adhere to the sleep-creep-leap rule, and it is the third year before I see any significant growth. But this gal really took off, with about 2 feet of new growth so far this first summer! I don't whether to attribute this rapid growth to the species, the health of the plant when I bought it, or just good luck. In any case, the Empress is promising to be a great addition to our garden.

Click on this link more information on the Empress.