Friday, April 29, 2016

Anyone Recognize this Iris?

This morning while walking around the garden, I came across an iris I had never seen before. I can't figure out where this iris came from or what kind it is. It does not look like any of our other irises, and it is not located with other irises in our garden. It just appeared, all by itself, in an area that we don't mow, about 10 feet away from a bed of yellow swamp irises. Anybody know what kind of iris this might be? Could it be an offspring from the swamp irises, crossed with some other kind of iris in our garden?

I'm a novice at growing irises and would appreciate any thoughts you might have.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Blooming Today

The weather forecast is for storms today, and rain tends to ruin tender blossoms. So I walked around the yard and snapped a few pictures of newly-blooming plants before the rain has a chance to ruin the blossoms.

Our 'Mr. Lincoln' rose is outdoing himself this year. (In fact, all our roses are, and this is a mystery to me. I would have thought that this very wet spring would have meant blighted blossoms and a lot of black spot, but that has not been the case, at least not so far.)

An unidentified, but beautiful pink rose that we inherited when we bought our house is also having a banner spring. I wish I knew the cultivar name for this rose. It is planted in a less-than-ideal site very close to the house, but it is a reliable repeat-bloomer and has reasonably good resistance to black spot and other rose problems.

Jack's grandmother's peony started blooming overnight. Rain can really ruin peony blooms, so I'm hoping this storm will be kind. 

These swamp irises have been blooming for over a week, and every day there seems to be a few more blooms. (I don't know how that purple dutch iris, barely visible in the center of the group, joined the party.)

And speaking of irises, our bearded ones have just begun to bloom. This one, which started blooming a few days ago, is one of my favorites.

This stroll around the garden motivated me to snip a few blooms to take to my mom when I visit her today. A few flowers in a mason jar--such a lovely thing!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Christmas in April: New Gardening Tools

While gardening last year in the Germantown community garden, I was introduced to the Japanese gardening knife, sometimes called a soil knife or hori-hori knife. It was love at first sight.  It is a combination knife-planter-weeder that fits comfortably in your hand. I purchased one last fall and it has become my favorite gardening tool, so I decided to buy one to leave at my brother's house, where he and I share a vegetable garden.

These knives are not readily available in stores, so I looked online for a place to order one and came across something I had to have: a knife and pruner carried in a compact sheath. For me, these are the two tools I use for most gardening tasks. They are the tools I wish I had when walking around the garden and having the sheath means no more returns to the garage to get a tool I need and no more searching around the garden for where I left it. So I ordered this combo for myself and decided to dedicate the old knife for use at the vegetable garden.

But . . . while looking for the knife, I came across two other really useful-looking tools. I have physical issues that prevent me from doing gardening work on my knees, so I'm always looking for ways to spare my back and extend my reach. Jack and I have been doing a lot of weeding lately, so I shopped for a weeding tool. This company had a good assortment of tools, and I selected one with an extra long handle that would allow me to sit on a gardening stool to weed. 

Of course, once I found these two nifty things, I thought I should look to see what other treasures I could find. I came across a gadget for delivering herbicide in a very precise way.  (In my last post, I talked about needing such a gadget to apply Roundup to a Mexican petunia that has sent runners into hard-to-treat areas.) Also, we are continually finding sprigs of vinca and Boston Ivy coming up in places they shouldn't be and we need something to treat them without harming adjacent plants. As an added bonus, this tool can be used standing up!

The device I bought is hanging in the middle in this picture. It is basically a sturdy plastic tube that can be filled with herbicide. The tip of it has a spongy applicator that releases herbicide when you press down on it. Jack is always on the lookout for dandelions and other weeds in the yard. I can envision him using this tool rather than stooping down to dig out a weed.

I ordered the tools on Tuesday of last week and eagerly anticipated their arrival. When I saw the package at the door at few days later, I felt like a kid on Christmas morning. Ah, the joy of new gardening tools. I think my new motto is "right tool, right place."

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Mexican Petunia: Wrong Plant, Wrong Place

Several years ago, I bought a plant called Mexican petunia. There are several plants called Mexican petunia; I believe that the plant I have is Ruellia brittoniana. It is a tall, bushy plant that puts up many upright stems with pretty, petunia-like blooms in mid-to-late summer. While this plant has proven to be invasive further south, I have not found it to be a re-seeder. It may be the cultivar I have is sterile or that it blooms so late that the seeds do not have time to mature. 
Ruellia brittoniana
Although this plant has a lot to recommend it (easy to grow and attractive to people and pollinators), it can be a garden thug, spreading around by underground shoots.  I planted the original plant in a bed bordered by a concrete patio and it has not only spread in that bed, but it is also trying to escape to the neighboring bed by exploiting the space between the house and the patio.

So rather than continuing to fight this battle, I decided it was time to remove this plant. The runners it sends out are easily pulled up and re-planted (a definite warning sign), and, unfortunately, I had re-planted these runners to two other beds in this area, so I have a big battle on my hands. I considered three methods for removal: smothering with a layer of mulch, digging out the runners, or the use of a herbicide, such as Round-up. Digging out the roots is the preferred method, but every trace of root must be removed or the plant will re-sprout. 

The area I tackled yesterday was in a place that is hard to get to with a shovel and near a rosebush I don't want to inadvertently damage with herbicide. After unsuccessfully trying to remove the underground runners with a handtool, I decided to cover the area with thick, construction-grade plastic and hope that the combination of heat and lack of light will kill the plant. I'm not sure how long it should take for this to happen, and I'm guessing the plant will outlive my patience for having black plastic in my flower bed. So in a few weeks, you may be reading that I've taken up the plastic to find the Mexican petunia, alive and well. If that happens, applying Round-up with a paintbrush is my next move. Gardening is one big experiment.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Weed or Flower?

Last year, I grew obedient plant (Physostegia virginia) for the first time. It was given to me by a friend whose obedient plant re-seeded. This spring while weeding that flower bed, I discovered what I believed to be obedient plant seedlings that came up from last year's plant.

Jack will tell you that I have been known to carefully tend weed seedlings far into the spring until it became obvious that they were not flower seedlings. So I decided I would try to find a picture on the internet of what an obedient plant looks like early on. I came across a document on the Natural Resources Conservation site that was extremely useful. It is a seedling identification guide, and it has great information (including pictures) of a lot of the re-seeding plants that can be tricky until you get familiar with them. Check it out here and possibly save yourself from tending the weeds and pulling up your flowers.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

An Impulse Purchase

As much as I like to wander through the garden center, it is dangerous. I often come upon some beautiful, new plant that tempts me and I buy it. Usually I don't spend a significant amount of money on these impulse purchases so I look at them as harmless experiements. Yesterday's impulse buy was a little more costly.

Here's what happened. I went to the Tipton County Master Gardener's spring gardening event in Brighton, where I had a soil test done on one of our azalea beds. The test results showed that we needed to add elemental sulfur to make the soil more acidic. So, on my way home, I stopped at a garden center to buy the sulfur and, of course, I couldn't resist taking a stroll around the nursery. I spotted an evergreen clematis of a type I'd never seen before, and I thought I had the perfect place for it. (Knowing where I wanted to use it is a bit of an improvement for me since I've been known to impulse buy without a clue of where I might use the plant.)

I looked at the tag and saw that it was hardy in zone 7, and, even though it cost $50, I decided to buy it. We have an area near our garage entry where the gas and electrical meters create an eyesore and I've been looking for an attractive way to hide that messy area. Last year, I placed some lattice in front of it and planted several small clematises on the lattice. That works fairly well in the summer, but they go dormant in the fall so I thought this evergreen clematis would be perfect added to the mix. 

Here is a closeup of the plant, Clematis cartmanii 'Blaaval' (sold as 'Avalanche').  I like the bloom, the unusual leaf, and the fact that it grows somewhat smaller than the more familiar evergreen clematis, Clematis armandii. 

I was very pleased with my purchase until I got home and started researching this species. I tend to go to those gardening sites where actual gardeners report about their experiences with the plant, and I was appalled to find broad agreement that this is a very difficult plant to grow. I don't mind taking this kind of gamble with a $10 plant (after all, there's always a chance that I might luck into finding just the right conditions for it), but the odds of success seemed to be so low that I felt sure I was throwing away a $50 investment. I decided I would return it.

But then Jack came in and convinced me to take a shot at it. So I'm going to do some further research today about what I can do to prepare the planting site to give it maximum chance of success and how to give it optimal care over the summer, then I will plant it. And cross my fingers. Wish me luck . . . .

The moral to this story is this: the best time to research a plant is before you buy it.