Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Glorious Caladium

I’m not sure there is any plant dependent on foliage for beauty that can surpass the self-dramatization of caladium in the garden throughout the growing season.  In a previous garden, I paired
Caladium having green-veined white leaves with dusty miller (Jacobaea maritima) and variegated monkey grass (Liriope muscari ’Variegata) against a backdrop of variegated privet (Ligustrum sinense ‘Variegata’).  I loved the green and white palette and the vertical design, and the caladiums always seemed to leap forth with a joyful nodding to greet me.

Caladiums are grown as ornamental plants in large “fancy-leaved” and “lance-leaved” or "strap leaf" forms.  The more common of these is the “fancy-leaved” form with its heart-shaped white, pink, or red leaves, whose veins in contrasting colors add to the beauty of the leaves.  Common names for Caladium are elephant ear, Heart of Jesus and Angel Wings.  The epithet “elephant ear” is more likely associated with Alocasia or Colocasia, whose leaves are much larger and thus more emblematic of the name.  The true elephant ears (Colocasia) have wintered over in my garden during mild winters, but not my caladiums.  They are a tropical South American plant, zone ten (note details of caladium cultivation).  In zone 7, the tubers should be lifted before frost, cleaned of soil, and stored in a cool location.

My favorite formal display of caladiums this year is in the bed leading to the Hughes Pavillion at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens. There, one finds a thickly planted circle of a variety that is new to me: 'Frog in a Blender.' I bought tubers of this variety at the Dixon Garden Fair early this year and planted them in pots. When these beauties popped up and started unfurling, they didn't stop until they were more than three feet tall! Had Dale Skaggs' garden workers mislabeled Colocasia as Caladium?  Not so.  This new variety is not only as tall as some Colocasia, but produces many beautifully variegated leaves for a 
striking display.  While I have trouble imagining real frogs in a blender, I can see that the name refers to the combination of lime-green splotches against a dark green background.  That touch of red in the center of each leaf is hardly visible here and certainly not dramatic like the red veins in "Fantasy" at the bottom of the picture.  I prefer to think of the red as the frog’s eye.

How does one add the “Wow! Factor” to shaded gardens?  At the Memphis Botanic Garden, caladiums are an obvious choice to brighten shady nooks.  Along the pathway to the herb garden, for example, a patch of white caladiums with green veins sparkles in the shady area near the dry creek bed, and just   
over the bridge at the entrance to this garden, the smaller lance-leaved (or strap leaf) Caladium 'Desert Sunrise' seems to pop out of the dark shade beneath Colocasia 'Mojito' to welcome visitors.  "Desert Sunrise' is doing well in the shade here, but the strap leaf variety can tolerate more sun than the fancy-leaved variety. Near the entrance to the garden, beside the rectangular fountain, Caladium 'White Wonder' thrives with Croton variegatum and other sun-loving plants.


Caladiums brighten porches all over Midtown and will continue to do so until temperatures drop.  A fernery plant stand on my porch presents a mixture of ‘Frog in a Blender,’ ‘Fantasy,’ and ‘Candidum, Jr.’ all from the Dixon sale.  Rectangular concrete pots with red and pink caladiums invite visitors to neighboring porches.  Caladiums are also planted in some flowerbeds.  Patience is key to successful inground planting.  The gardener must wait until the ground warms; otherwise, the tubers may rot in the rains that come in early spring.  Also, the tubers take three to four weeks to emerge after the ground warms to about 70 degrees.  I learned both of these lessons the hard way.

Caladiums will bloom only if conditions are right.  One of my plants did bloom this summer, although the bloom (which looked like a stunted Calla lily bloom) was less spectacular than the foliage and lasted less than a week.  But who needs blossoms when the glorious foliage of caladiums lasts an entire season?

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

What's going well in your garden?

It's been said that our gardens are always the most beautiful in January because in that frigid, non-verdant month it is all in our heads: the seeds we plan to start early, the trimming we plan to do to get in a little more sun, the arm loads of harvest from our vegetable gardens, the woodland path we think of putting in and that all important focal point at its end. It will all be splendid! Weeds grow not in my dreams, and cucumber beetles are non existent. And if these problems arise THIS YEAR I know just the thing to eliminate them. I have my watering system all planned out and, of course, it all comes into color at the same ytime so that in my MIND, the hydrangeas of early summer contrast beautifully with the scarlet runner beans of late summer. The dreams of January! 

But it is now the hot middle of summer and reality has set in for us all. So I ask, "What is going well in your garden?" 

In my garden there are three C's that are bringing me joy; three C's that actually exceeded my expectations. 

The first is COLEUS. The seeds I planted back in February thrived under the grow light in my garage and I had enough to share with a friend.
These bursts of color in the cool shade are most rewarding.
The second C stands for CUCUMBERS. For two years now I have ordered from Park Seed the seeds of a most deliciously sweet cucumber called Diva.  And while They are a slender 6 to 8 inches when picked, they produce abundantly. There is a family debate about whether or not to dress them with Apple Cider Vinegar.
The C that brings me the most joy, however is the CHAPEL GARDEN. Blessed with two family weddings this fall I dedicated one raised bed to a chapel-looking bird house I found on the man's discard... A rock path, some zinnias, marigolds and volunteer sunflowers complimented the rosemary and thyme that were already in place. It takes a bit of pruning to make sure the little chapel does not get lost in the foliage; maybe I should have cut back the zinnias before their first bloom. But they are reasonably cooperative and resemble exotic trees surrounding the chapel path.

There are plenty of disappointments in my garden this year; that is part of it, right? So I'll choose today to ask myself, "What is going well in my garden?" 
What is going well in yours?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Year of the Mimosa Weed

Although weeds plague our lawn and garden every year, it seems that each year a particular weed takes center stage. One year it was wild violets. The next year it was purslane. A few years ago, we had elm seedlings sprouting everywhere. This year the villain in our yard is a plant we call mimosa weed (Phyllanthus urinaria) because its foliage looks similar to the familiar mimosa tree.

This is a nasty fellow. It invades lawns and flower beds indiscriminately and it is sneaky. It germinates later than most weeds, so late that our spring application of pre-emergent herbicide was not effective to prevent it in our lawn. It also develops seeds as a very small plant and they hide on the undersides of the leaves. So while you are thinking you have time to weed before that critical reseeding time, it is already developing seeds. It has a strong stem and large taproot, so it is not so easy to pull up. Roundup is effective on it but I try to avoid using Roundup when I can, both because it can cause damage to nearby plants and because I'm not convinced that it is not a dangerous chemical (even though there is no scientific evidence to support this idea).

Jack and I have put in a lot of hours pulling up mimosa weed this summer, and I'm determined to get ahead of it next year. Our main problem spots this year were a bed that was not well-mulched and areas of the lawn where the grass was thin. We've been working to get the lawn in better shape this summer because dense, healthy turf is the best deterrent for all weeds in the lawn. Also, next year, we may change our pre-emergent for the lawn to one that is more effective in controlling this particular weed.

If your garden has been plagued by this particular weed, you might find this factsheet useful for more suggestions about how to control it, including a complete discussion of the various chemical controls available.

Wonder which weed I'll be complaining about next year . . . . 

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Repotting my Orchid

Several weeks ago I wrote about how my mother's orchid was nearing the end of its bloom and I was considering whether I should repot it. The first bloom spike had already turned brown and was ready to be cut off, but it appeared that new buds might be developing on the second bloom shoot.  I was undecided about whether I should allow the last few blooms to develop or cut the shoot back to allow the plant to regain its strength. As it turned out, the second shoot simply lacked the energy to continue, and it, too, turned brown. In the end, there was no decision to be made. I cut off both bloom spikes as close to the plant stem as possible and proceeded with the repotting.

When I bought this orchid, it was potted in this clear plastic pot, which was then placed in a decorative outer ceramic container. I always removed the clear container to water the plant and allowed the water to drain out before returning it to the ceramic container. As I mentioned in my previous post, most orchids that don't survive suffer from overwatering. With most houseplants, it's easy to stick your finger in the soil to determine if water is needed but that's not so easy with a bark planting media. I like these lightweight plastic containers because after you've watered a few times, it's easy to judge whether the plant needs water by the weight of the container. Fully moistened bark makes for a lot heavier container than one that has dried out. The other good thing about this type of container is that it allows you to inspect the roots from time to time. Mushy roots are another sign of overwatering.

When I slipped the roots out of the pot, I was pleased to see that the roots, for the most part, looked healthy. I gently teased the bark away from the roots, being careful not to break the roots, which can be quite fragile. Any roots that looked completely dead, I cut off. Be careful with this process because some roots appear to be dead at the top but have a healthy lower part. Notice the white root that begins on the right side of plant and curves down toward the left side. It looks dead near the top of the plant and is split and lifeless looking  as you trace it downward. But the section below the split is very healthy. So be sure to inspect the full length of a root before deciding it is dead. Sometimes, just the tip will be alive.

Here's what the plant looked like after I removed the remaining potting media and trimmed roots that I was sure were totally dead. The roots on the outside of the plant were the healthiest. They were plump and green or white. There were fewer roots toward the center of the plant and they did not look as healthy. They did not seem totally dead, but they were tan and not as plump as the outer roots.

The picture below helps explain the reason why these interior roots were on their way to rotting. It shows the potting media that came out of the plastic pot after I dislodged the media from the roots. It's hard to believe that all this came out of that small pot. The smaller pile on the left is the bark, and the larger pile on the right is spaghnum moss. Because all I could see in the pot was bark, I assumed, incorrectly, that the planting media was totally bark. But it turned out that the bark was on the top and sides, and the center of the plant was tightly packed moss, which tends to stay moist for a very long time. I think this explains the less healthy interior roots, which had too much moisture and not enough oxygen.

I checked with the American Orchid Society (AOS) website before deciding which planting media to use for repotting. The AOS site said:
A fresh, fast-draining, but water-retentive medium is essential to the healthy root system necessary for good growth. Whether a bark-based mix (which drains well, is forgiving of watering errors but breaks down rather quickly), a peat-based mix (which retains moisture well but requires more careful watering and frequent re-potting) or some inorganic, basically hydroponic method, orchids have been grown successfully in a variety of media.

When I went to shop for potting media at my local store, my choices were reduced to bark and moss, and I choose bark. Given that the interior roots seemed to need more air and less water, I repotted using bark totally, rather than a combination of bark and moss.  Making this change will mean that I will have to be careful not to underwater. The bark/moss mix in the original pot was a little more forgiving of somewhat infrequent watering.

I also repotted directly in a pot made especially for orchids, one that has holes in the sides of the pot to improve air circulation. Since this type of orchid grows in nature by attaching itself to the bark of trees, this seemed to me to be the best I could do to mimic natural growing conditions. The challenge for me will be to develop a watering schedule that works. Since this ceramic pot is heavy, it is harder to gauge the added weight of the moist potting media.

After getting the plant repotted, I mixed up a liquid fertilizer that I had on hand at half-strength and watered/fertilized the plant well. I have to admit that I have never fertilized this plant so orchids must be pretty forgiving with fertilization, too. Many sites recommend fertilizing "weakly, weekly" or at full strength once a month. I intend to use the weekly schedule through the summer and fall while the plant is renewing its energy for its next bloom cycle, which, hopefully, will begin late fall or early winter.

Phalaenopsis orchids are widely available and well worth the cost. The next time they catch your eye in the grocery or big box store, you might want to give them a try. Look for one that has a lot of buds (as oppose to fully open blooms) on the bloom stalk and fat, healthy-looking roots. It will give you weeks, perhaps months, of enjoyment from the current bloom. Use this AOS guide as a reminder of how to care for it. The first time you get a re-bloom, you'll be hooked!

Friday, June 23, 2017

R&R David Austin English Roses

Out of their catalog I bought three rose bushes from David Austin English Roses this year. This was my second purchase from them and I have been really pleased with the performance of both roses.  English Roses are relatively new group roses coming to prominence in the 1970's. They originated from crosses made between certain Old Roses and Modern Hybrid Teas and Floribundas. The roses combine the fragrance of Old Roses (something my wife and I enjoy) with the color range and repeat-flowering of a Modern Roses.
English Roses come in a wide variety of types. There are roses for small gardens, highly fragrant roses, roses for hedges, climbers and ramblers. The English Roses have proven to be resistance to disease which is important considering the way rose rosette virus has attacked the Knockout varieties. The catalog is over 100 pages and offers about 200 varieties. The David Austin English Roses run 25 to 30 dollars each plus shipping and handling. There is a discount for purchasing three of the same rose.
The roses come as bare root plants, so it is important to soak them in a bucket of water for 12 hours in order to rehydrate them. English Roses are heavy feeders and require fertilizing about every thirty days. The roses also require regular watering which so far this year has not been much of a problem. So far this year,  I have had to put the sprinklers out just once. Of course this could, and probably will, change as we get into July, August and September.
Young Lycidas

My first purchase, three years ago,  was an Old Rose Hybrid Young Lycidas. The rose is very deep magenta with purple mixed in. Young Lycidas won Best Shrub in Portland's Best Rose Contest in 2013 and was awarded the top prize for at the Cocur Internaticional de Roses, Barcelona. So it's highly fragrant and it's named after my favorite poem Lycidas by John Milton. Unfortunately, it's too long to put in this blog, but I highly recommend reading it. I planted this by my deck in the backyard and it gets afternoon sun from 1PM to 5PM so it's performed reasonably well without full sun. It runs about 4 x 3 feet and has about 90 petals.

   The Poet's Wife was this year's purchase. The rose is light yellow  color with a great fragrance. It's produced flowers in abundance since May after planting it at the end of March. Supposedly, the fragrance gets stronger as it ages, we'll see. It's planted in my full sun bed in the front yard along with some lily bulbs I purchased from White Flower farms. I may have messed up by putting the bulbs in front of the roses, of course, the roses haven't yet reached their full size of 4 x 3.5 feet. The Poet's Wife's was introduced in 2015 so it hasn't had the opportunity to win any awards but I like it. It's yellow and I really love yellow flowers. It has about 77 petals.

The Poet's Wife

Below is a poem by George Eliot, the pen name of Mary Anne Evans. Her novel Middlemarch is 12th on the New York Times greatest novels of all time. It's really great.
Roses by George Eliot
You love the roses - so do I. I wish
The sky would rain down roses, as they rain
From off the shaken bush. Why will it not?
Then all the valley would be pink and white
And soft to tread on. They would fall as light
As feathers, smelling sweet; and it would be
Like sleeping and like waking, all at once!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A New Garden Room?

The idea of a garden divided into rooms is credited to the British garden designer Lawrence Johnson.  Gertrude Jekyll, the most influential garden designer of the early 20th century, popularized the concept in almost 400 gardens throughout England and the United States.  Jekyll believed that no garden could be beautiful in every season and therefore promoted the idea that gardens should be divided into "rooms" or separate enclosed spaces, decorated as
a back fence garden room
differently as the rooms in a house, so that there would always be a beautiful room to visit.  Box hedges, trees and shrubs, herbaceous borders or stone could provide "walls" enclosing these rooms, and different plants, colors, and themes could individualize them for visitors who moved from one room to another.

Garden lovers witnessed that the concept is alive and well in Memphis as they wandered through the garden rooms of Jane Carter (one featuring a purple bedstead and matching flowers), Anne Riordan (yes, a garden room for golf), or another of the tour hosts for the MAMG Through Our Garden Gates Tour in early June.  

This penchant for garden rooms got me to thinking.  We live in a time when people's possessions overflow into attics or basements or garages or even PODS.  In dogwalking throughout my Midtown
a more cared for look than most alleys
neighborhood, I have observed that sometimes horticultural activities escape the normal boundaries of front, side, and back yard, even into that area behind the back fence.  I'm wondering if the alley could be our new "garden room"?

Now, I admit that alleyways aren't actually "enclosed," and even more to the point, most are anything but garden spots.
a typical overgrown alley
Every kind of Memphis vine, weed, grass, scrub brush or stunted tree can be found there. Trumpet vine, Virginia creeper, and poison ivy flourish on the fences. Johnson grass reaches its peak heights. Frequently, rubbish accumulates and is covered by the brush. 

There are exceptions, however, to the typical alley, as the first two pictures above illustrate. One of my favorite alley gardens runs between Forrest and Galloway just west of the Memphis zoo.  Here, there are no weeds.  Flowers bloom in most seasons.  This narrow alley garden is planted and cared for perhaps because it is adjacent to a garage and the main entrance to the property, but I wouldn't bet that was the major reason.  Its attractiveness seems to be an outgrowth of the owner's love of plants. 

looking east to McLean
looking west

functional and attractive
I also enjoy several alleys where hydrangeas flourish.  I'm not sure these alleys would qualify for the Mid-South Hydrangea Tour, which took place this past Sunday, but they certainly brighten up a dogwalk. The first picture shows a garbage can tucked in among attractive foliage, and also sports some nice signage. The hydrangea scene below backs up to a wrought iron fence that adds to the attractiveness of this alley.  

A few years ago, I started trying to keep my alley neat, or at least free of noxious and annoying weeds and debris.  One thing led to another.  I began to transplant extra stuff from my yard--Dutch iris, daffodils, and canna--between the monkeygrass, periwinkle and Virginia creeper that grew there uninvited. A holly showed up (I didn't plant it). A friend gave me some orange daylilies (ditch lilies) and they went to the alley. Replacing the old fence with a new one was an incentive to consider new plants, and last year I added several hostas. One of the hostas (a Lowe's purchase) turned out to love the alley. So I imagined a new life for the mophead hydrangeas languishing in the afternoon sun by my front porch, and transplanted them to the alley. 

I don't know whether the alley garden should be labelled a room rather than simply a border.  I have observed only a few that can accommodate a bench.  Maybe what I am calling the new alley room is simply a less exalted type of the French allee, the formal pathway between similar trees or shrubs inviting one to a distant feature. Yet, whatever the name, alley gardens offer a casual passerby what all of us strive for in our usual gardens: a pleasant design of color and texture, a sense of calm and peace, and an invitation to pause in our busy lives.  

I know that I will keep adding to my alley plant collection--new daffodil bulbs this fall and whatever else is in abundance.  I expect that I will be "decorating" my alley garden room for some time to come! Oh Gertrude Jekyll, what would you think of this?


Saturday, June 3, 2017

My Mother's Orchid: To Re-pot or Not

In February, I wrote about how the orchid I bought for my mother for Mother's Day last year had started to re-bloom.  This orchid is special to me because it was the last Mother's Day gift I'll ever be able to give to my mother, who died in October 2016. After last summer's blooms faded, I trimmed the bloom spike back to a node, hoping for a re-bloom but nothing happened until winter when buds appeared. By February, a few blooms had begun to open, and this is what it looked like on Mother's Day this year.

One thing I love about orchids is how long the blooms last. While a bouquet of cut flowers might last 2 weeks if you are lucky, the blooms of an orchid can last for months and months. Then (at least in the case of Phalaenopsis type of orchid), you can cut the bloom spike back to a node, and it sometimes produce a secondary (albeit smaller) bloom spike, as this one did. Purchasing an orchid is an inexpensive way to have beautiful flowers around for a very long time. I expect that the blooms on this plant, which began to have blooms in February, will continue to look good for several more weeks.

While I've grown orchids in the past and I know a little about how to care for them, I'm not an orchid expert by any means. I was guessing that the time to re-pot might be immediately following the finish of the bloom period, so I consulted the website of the American Orchid Society and several other places to plan my next steps. Since this orchid is special to me, I'd like to learn how to care for it properly and increase the chances that I'll have it around for as long as possible.

As I suspected, the best time to re-pot is usually just after the plant has finished flowering. For this species of orchid, that is usually in the summer. However, re-potting is not necessarily needed every year. According to the American Orchid Society, there are two important indications that the plant needs to be re-potted: (1) overcrowded roots inside the pot and large numbers outside the pot or (2) the potting medium has begun to break down. 

This orchid definitely has a few roots coming from the growing media that have escaped the pot and it also has a lot of "air" roots that have emerged from the upper stalk of the plant. Since Phalaenopsis are epiphytes, these air roots are normal, as this kind of orchid in nature would use these roots to attach itself to a tree or rock, where it gets its nutrition from rain and air. 

The roots that we are most concerned about being too crowded are the ones inside the pot. We need enough of the roots inside the pot to contact the moisture from the growing media and we don't won't them so crowded that they are not getting enough air. But orchid roots are prone to rot if the pot is too large, so I don't want to increase pot size unnecessarily. Until I remove this orchid from its pot, I'm not sure whether I will need to move it up to a slightly larger pot or simply put in new potting media. 

Most orchids are potted in a mixture that is either bark or peat-based. This one is potted in mostly bark, and the mix still looks pretty good so I might be able to wait a bit before I would need to re-pot based on the soil mixture. Again, it is hard to tell until I remove the orchid from its pot and examine it more closely.

So my plan is to wait until the current blooms finish, and then remove the plant from its pot so that I can inspect the roots. As you can see below, one of the bloom spikes has turned brown and is ready to be cut off. But when I took this picture today, I noticed that the spike that still has blooms on it is showing signs of putting out additional flowers.

Look for the new growth in these pictures. It appears that bloom spikes might be branching out here:

and here:

So while I'm waiting for the current blooms to fall, I'll keep my eye on what happens with this new growth. These blooms will not be as showy as the blooms on a new bloom spike that would emerge from the plant if I cut this existing spike completely off. So it looks like I might have a choice to make. I can either continue to enjoy a few blooms on this old bloom spike or I can cut the spike off at the base and let the plant direct all its energy toward a larger display in the early spring. I'll keep you updated on what happens. 

Advice/recommendations are welcomed.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

R&R The Ikea Effect

The end of "Spring Clean Up/Start Up" is almost over. Most flowerbeds have been weeded, newspaper put down and mulch (eight cubic yards so far) applied. Brown metal edging has been placed around five of the beds to prevent the mulch from washing away. Trees have been "limbed up" (there are few things as tiring to me as using a pole trimmer) and hauled to the front of the yard for pick up. More sticks and branches than I can count have been picked as well. (It seems as if I finish this just in time for the next storm to blow down more sticks and branches.) New roses (Rosa) from David Austin and bulbs (Lilium) from White Flower Farms have been received, planted and fed. Daffodils (Narcissus) and Summer Snowflake (Leucojeum) have been cut back and placed in the compost pile. Azaleas (Rhododendrun) have been cut back and other assorted shrubs trimmed and shaped. Crepe Myrtles (Lagerstroemia) have been inspected and treated (sort of, see last month's blog for details) for Crepe Myrtle Bark Scale. This is gardening; this is what all gardeners are doing this Spring and do every Spring. So, is this work or love or both?
Social scientists have described a phenomena know as "The Ikea Effect" Ikea, a Swedish retailer, is known for selling items that require "some assembly". What social scientist have discovered is that people place added, inordinate value on items that required some "sweat equity" from the customers. The customers feel that their piece of assembled furniture is on a par with that crafted by a professional. So, to apply "The Ikea Effect" to gardening: is what we do a labor of love or a love that's created by the labor? Do we love at first sight or learn to love? Just something to muse on before heading back to the garden.
Here are a couple of poems to think on. One by William Blake and one by Gary R. Ferris
Image result for william blake
William Blake

The Garden of Love

I went to the Garden of Love.
And saw what I never had seen:
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of the Chapel were shut,
And Thou shalt not, writ over the door;
So I turn'd to the Garden of Love,
That so many sweet flowers bore,

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tomb-stones where flowers should be:
And priests in black gowns, were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars, my joys & desires

Why Do We Labor

Why do we labor and work so hard?
Is it for riches that leave us scarred?
What makes us rise and begin each day?
When for courage and strength is what we pray.
We do things we hate so deep.
Murmur and complain until we are asleep.
What makes us choose the things that we hate?
Almost like sorrow has become our fate.
Why can't we choose the things that we love?
Things that bring joy and come from above.
Why do we labor for all that is vain?
Somebody tell me. This is insane.
Why do we labor for all that is vain?

Thursday, May 11, 2017

First Tomato and New Vegetable Containers

I think it was very early March when I noticed a tiny tomato plant that had self-sown in a flower bed. I had not planned to have a tomato plant in this flower bed, but I was in no hurry to plant the bed so I did not immediately take it out. This particular bed holds water and I've found that if I plant too early, the plants succumb to root rot. I have been trying for the past few years to add amendments to address this issue. This spring I added a mixture of good bagged garden soil, pine fines (aka soil conditioner), and our own homemade compost. 

It was a few weeks after I noticed this little tomato plant that we had that cold snap (the temperature was 26 degrees one night at our house), and I fully expected that this little plant would simply turn to mush. But apparently it must have had a strong will to live. Or maybe it lived because it was protected by growing so close to the house. In any case, it came through unscathed, and I plopped an old tomato cage over it while I decided what I wanted to do with it. 

Last week I decided it was time to plant summer annuals in this bed. I love annual vinca (also called Madagascar periwinkle), which prefers a sunny, fairly dry location. I debated about removing the tomato plant (which likes more moisture than the vinca), but, by this time, it had gotten quite large. It was too large to transplant to another location and too healthy-looking to yank it out and throw it on the compost pile. So I took the easy way out and postponed the decision once again. 

Today, while watering the vinca, I noticed a tiny tomato fruit, and this sealed the deal. Even though I know that trouble awaits me as the tomato plant grows (crowding, watering, etc.), it will remain in my flowerbed. 

Although I can't be sure, I believe that it is a cherry tomato. Last year I had two cherry tomatoes in pots on the patio and I suspect that this is a seed from one of those. It's possible, though, that it could be a Roma or even a full-size tomato, as these seeds were probably in the compost I put in this bed. Whatever it is, I'm hoping for a winning tomato for the Great Tomato Contest on July 1. I planted tomatoes in my patio pots, but they were planted too late, I think, to produce ripe fruit by then. This may be the only entry I can come up with.

Speaking of patio tomatoes, I came across these nifty, self-watering vegetable planters on sale. Never able to resist a bargain, I bought two of them for the tomatoes I grow on the patio every year.  The planter is on rollers, which makes it easy to re-position the plant when it starts growing toward the sun. The bottom of the container is a water reservoir, and water is added through the tube that can be seen in the left corner of the container in this picture. Maintaining consistent moisture is important to prevent blossom-end rot in tomatoes. Keeping a regular pot consistently moist can be a challenge, especially when the plant gets large and the weather gets hot. I am really excited to see how well these planters work for our tomatoes. I have high hopes they will produce some excellent tomatoes! And did I mention they were on sale?

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Joys and Trials of Water Features

Doesn't everyone love water in the garden? When Jack and I moved here from Virginia, one of the things that attracted us to the house we bought was that it had a water feature. I have always admired water features in the garden but had little experience with them. Our townhouse in Virginia had a very small garden area so my options to include water were extremely limited. When I saw that the property we were considering here already had a water feature, I was delighted. But then reality set in . . .

Here is a picture taken when we first moved in. There were several things that did not appeal to us. For one thing, there was too much stone for our tastes. Black mulch had been used between the stones, but it was not suppressing the weeds so we knew it would take a lot of work to keep the weeds out. Also, neither Jack nor I liked the overgrown look of the plantings. In particular, there was some kind of water plant in the pool (a small portion of the pool area is just barely visible in the lower left corner) that had escaped its pot and over-run the pond. We had to drain the pond and take all the stones out to remove the roots.

Our water feature in 2011

So for the first few years, we set about removing some of the stones around the water feature, cleaning out the invasive plant in the pool, and getting rid of all the black mulch. Then we began to replace the plants in the surrounding area. We put in a red Japanese maple to spill over the waterfall and an assortment of ferns and hostas to soften the edges of the stones. The bright, grassy plant at the lower left side of the picture below is Japanese forest grass (Hachenechloa macra), one of my favorite plants for brightness and texture in a shady area.

We cleared out the taller plants along the stream (they blocked the view of the waterfall) and replaced them with low-growing, groundcover plants that would minimize weeding. Because this area receives partial sun, we were able to use plants like phlox subulata, candytuft, gardenia radicans, and spreading juniper. The very low-growing groundcover in the picture below is a mixture of ajuga and creeping charlie. Since both were already there, I decided to leave them both and see which one crowds the other out. So far, the creeping charlie is winning near the edges of the stream and the ajuga is winning in the drier areas.

Now that we have the plants surrounding the water feature pretty much done, I've been thinking more about plants to go into the water. The ecosystem of a pond is a very delicate and complicated thing. For whatever reason, the ecosystem of our pond has always been healthy. We have goldfish that seem to be healthy with no supplemental feeding and a lot of tadpoles in the water. Even so, I'd like to have some vegetation to provide a hiding place for the fish. (That fake heron in the picture above is sometimes joined by a real one, and a hawk frequently hangs out in our backyard). Also, the pond end of the water feature gets afternoon sun, so without some plants to provide shade, algae can become an issue when the weather gets hot. 

In the past, I've used water hyacinths to provide coverage in the pond end. We usually buy two plants in the spring and in a few weeks, they've covered half the pond. They multiply like rabbits! For the rest of the summer, we are throwing away about half of them every week to keep them from suffocating the fish. In places where they can survive the winter, they are considered invasive water plants that are dangerous to the environment. Supposedly, water hyacinths are annuals here, but with--dare I say it--global warming, that may change at any time. Looking for an alternative to water hyacinth, I was delighted when a master gardener friend shared some of the floating plants from his pond.

Another thing I'm experimenting with this year is growing in the stream a variety of plants not traditionally thought of as water plants. Impatiens, which I've grown in the stream bed in previous years, does great.

This year, I'm experiment with lobelia, as well. So far, it seems to be doing quite well. 

Notice that both the impatiens and the lobelia are simply wedged, barerooted, between rocks at the stream's edge. Not only does it look more natural without a pot, there is no risk of the soil escaping to muddy the water.

I'm also trying a few cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) directly in the stream. These are plants that typically grow near streams so I'm pretty sure this will work. Because these plants can get fairly tall, I placed several in a mesh planting bag hoping it will provide enough support to keep them from falling over. As the plants get taller and fuller, I don't think the bag (which is placed behind a large stone that serves as a bridge) will be noticeable.

Having a water feature this large is not without work, but I'm hoping that as Jack and I learn more about how to manage it efficiently, we'll find more joy and fewer trials. Already it is more than worth the effort we put into it to be able to watch the birds that bathe in the stream and to listen to the frogs whose babies swim in the pond and laugh at the cat who sits on the edge watching the fish swim just out of her reach. There is something very soothing about water . . . .

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

R&R Me and Yew and Me and a Dilemma

Yew (Taxus)
I am half way through weeding and mulching my 14 flowerbeds. While working on a bed I call "The Island of Unwanted Plants" (a bed mostly populated with shrubs I've pulled out of customers landscapes) I pulled out seedlings from my three Yews (Taxus). The seedlings were about the same size as the three I transplanted some 16 years ago when my wife brought them back from her parents house in Bush, Louisiana. Now the Yews are 8-15 feet tall, the shortest one having survived my accidentally mowing over it a couple times. It's always good to see a plant thrive in your landscape and it's especially nice when there is a connection to your past. As our ancestors immigrated to this strange new world I'm sure they brought plants from their homeland mainly to remind them of their former life. Coming from the Coastal South to the Mid South meant a lot of familiar plants just wouldn't work as well here as there so the Yews doing well has been nice. That's the good news.
Now for my dilemma: my Crepe Myrtles (Lagerstroemia) have Crepe Myrtle Bark Scale (CMBS). Fortunately, the infestation is not widespread, yet. In order to stop/control the spread of CMBS I took a sponge and a bucket of water and washed off as much as I could reach with my 8 foot ladder. I did this to three Crepe Myrtles and I was surprised at how quickly the water turned dirty. The need to frequently change the water made this a laborious process. So for a different three Crepe Myrtles I put on my neoprene gloves and " massaged" the bark, rubbing off the scale. This went a lot quicker though I must have looked like a nut to anyone passing by-talk about your tree hugger. My goal is to see how well each method controls CMBS. I'll be checking every few days to see if CMBS returns and if so how quickly; as that great Zen philosopher, Yogi Berra, once noted "you can observe a lot by watching".
My dilemma is what happens if this "hands on" approach doesn't work and I am left with the option to use a neonictinoid chemical to systemically removed the CMBS. Neonictinoids, chemicals such as imidiacloprid, have been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder in bees. These chemicals are indiscriminate pesticides and degrade very slowly. So the dilemma is how do you choose between  crepe myrtles and bees; to save one could harm the other. I try to be a good steward of the environment but I am not a 100% organic gardener. The potential loss of pollinators is a cause of real concern and I try to practice Integrated Pest Management, impacting the environment as little as possible, but where to draw the line.
Another example of this is the overuse of nitrogen fertilizer. With the Mississippi River draining over half the land mass of the continental United States the runoff of excess nitrogen has caused a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico that is basically 80 miles by 80 miles just south of the mouth of the river. In addition, excess nitrogen causes algae blooms that periodically have killed off aquatic life off coastal Florida. Anyone with the answer, please let me know.

Since it's still Spring I'll finish with two short Emily Dickinson

A little Madness in the Spring

Image result for emily dickinsonA little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the king
But God be with the Crown-
Who ponders this tremendous scene-
This whole Experiment of Green-
As if it were his own!

I cannot meet Spring unmoved

I cannot meet Spring unmoved-
I feel the old desire-
A Hurry with a lingering, mixed,
A Warrant to be fair

A Competition in my sense
With something hid in Her-
An as she vanishes, Remorse
I saw no more of Her.