Color Can Be So Subjective

So on Monday I ranted a bit about why I find succulents–and in particular, Gold Sword yuccas (although this could be true for any yucca; it just seems that all we grow here now are the “Gold Sword” variety) completely out of place in Connecticut.

While I’m ranting, let’s take on color, shall we?

And please remember, what I like (or don’t like) doesn’t matter. I’m just posting to get folks thinking about their own ideas about color.

I remember back when I first started gardening with perennials. I think I did what most people do–I chose softer colors of blues, pinks, whites and purples. It’s easy to do. There are lots of plants in that color family and many of them bloom over a long season.

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I still have whole gardens like that. My “hydrangea hedge” is primarily blue and pink–because let’s face it, hydrangeas don’t come in really shocking colors (at least not the ones that do well in my climate, anyway!)

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But as I have gotten older I find that I like colors that are a little brighter.
I will often choose colors that are near opposites on the color wheel like yellows and purples. I also love reds and purples together.

Do not, however, ask me to put red and yellow together unless orange is also part of the combination. The red/yellow thing just reminds me too much of McDonald’s.

Habitat Garden in full bloom

In fact, while you’ll find quite a lot of yellow in my garden, I am quite particular about what I will mix it with. I only like it with certain shades of blue or purple–hydrangeas are fine, coneflowers are fine but you’ll never see me mixing it with rhododendrons, for example.

But, as I said, these are my “rules” not anyone else’s. What drives you crazy in the garden?

Happy Memorial Day!

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Memorial Day is usually all about the planting of my vegetable garden–something I do to honor and remember my Dad, who was a World War II veteran. But this year, that garden is still contaminated with pesticides, I fear, so I’ve had to plant flowers.

So here is that look, above.

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And here is my “vegetable” garden, instead. It’s going to have to suffice.

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At work, we plant a vegetable garden as well. It’s a little unusual because there we garden with a woodchuck (aka, a groundhog, or a whistle pig, or whatever you might call them in your part of the country.

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Interestingly enough, usually he/it/they leaves the tomatoes and peppers alone–as well as my herbs that I plant to try to protect all that (and for the pollinators, of course!)

This year, something nibbled one of the tomatoes. I think it was a rabbit. We are too “urban” to have deer, and quite frankly the nibbling was too delicate for a deer.

Whatever it was, it didn’t care for the tomato leaves. It just left them there, and didn’t try any of the others. Whew!

So I end my post with a huge than you to all who served. You are not forgotten.

Planting a Pollinator Garden

On Friday I talked about the Million Pollinator Challenge and I linked to the site. Today I am going to get more specific about one aspect of that challenge, planting your garden.

You may already have a garden that is a habitat garden of sorts. Or you may have a garden full of native plants. You may have one that you have designed to attract butterflies or bees or birds–or perhaps all three. These may already be pollinator gardens.

 

To decide, go to resources about planting your garden.

If you’ve ever done any sort of habitat garden, it’s very similar to that. Pollinators need exactly what any other “wildlife” needs: food (i.e., nectar), shelter, cover (in this case, it would be protection from wind, because they are sensitive to wind) and places to raise their young (so in the case of butterflies, you know that that means caterpillars and tolerating chewing damage–and not cleaning up the garden in the fall and cleaning it up very late in the spring, say). A nice sunny site is also desirable because in the case of butterflies, for example, many can’t fly until the temperature reaches 70 degrees.

A couple of other things–common sense to me but not always to everyone. If you read my “intro” at the top tab of this blog you’ll see that I became an organic gardener because when I moved to my property (24 seasons ago now,) there were no butterflies. A little bit of research told me that butterflies were highly susceptible to pesticides, so we went organic.  Within 2 years, we had 27 different kinds of butterflies and moths–a success story if ever there was one! So it is critical to avoid pesticides to every extent possible. That clover and those violets in your lawn are actually butterfly nectar food sources. And bees love them too!

Finally–and I talked about this when I talked about “don’t try to “get the garden done in a weekend!” It’s critical to have something in bloom for the longest time possible. At my house, it starts with snowdrops–or maybe hellebores–and it goes through to goldenrod and asters in late fall. Try your best to keep something in bloom during all the months of your growing season.

Our pollinators need–and deserve our help. With some of these tips, we can not only help them but grow some beautiful gardens as well!

My Love/Hate Affair With “Mums”

mum close-up

Just one thing to get out of the way before I begin. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see that I’ve tagged this post both “annual” and “perennial.” That’s because most of the mums (and let’s just call them that, shall we? In my brief career in retail gardening, they went from chrysanthemum to leucanthemum to dendranthemum  back to chrysanthemum. Thankfully, “mum” was always correct.) sold in my part of the country will not over-winter unless they are planted in the ground very early–and by early, I mean July.

Since most folks don’t even want to think about mums that early, even if you can get them (and yes, you can get them in July–I have done it and they have over-wintered and I’ve had them for 8 seasons now, even through the last 2 brutal winters–that’s how I know it can be done!), most of us in New England treat these plants as just more fall blooming annuals–sort of like the pansies, cabbages and kale that are sold this time of year.

There are a couple of perennial true chrysanthemums, but they come in colors like pale pink, not the fall colors most of us associate with mums so most folks don’t plant them for obvious reasons. They are also very late bloomers in my part of the country–they are just coming into bloom in the last week of October/first week of November so it is often a race to see whether they will flower or get hit with an untimely storm that will kill them. Again, not optimal. Or, they get buried in leaves. Also not ideal.

As you might imagine, I don’t use mums much at my house. They might fill a void–as the one that I planted in July 8 years ago did! It took the place of another annual that had “up and died” in the middle of the summer. Finding good looking annuals in mid-July can be a challenge and the place where it was going doesn’t have a lot of soil–certainly nothing suitable for many perennials (although I’ve since filled in with heuchera that are doing nicely.) So a 4″ mum fit the bill. I left it to over-winter, since I’d planted it so early. And 8 years later, it’s still growing and flowering. Who knew?

Last year I found a lovely pot of 3 mums planted together that I indulged in. This year I filled a planter of worm-ravaged petunias with mums. That’s about as many mums as you’ll ever find on my property. If I’m going to bring something in, I prefer it to be asters, so there will be some nectar for my pollinators. I’ve never seen a thing on the mums.

As for the love/hate thing? Well, every year when the mums come out, I hate it. They remind me of fall and fall of course, while it is a lovely season by itself, means the end of outdoor gardening and the coming of winter. That never makes me happy!

But recently I’ve read a couple of different articles singing the praises of mums. One was in the Washington Post (which still has 2 garden writers while most papers have done away with garden writing altogether so kudos to them!) and the other was in Flower magazine.  I’ve included links in case you’re interested. The photos in the Post article are amazing!

 

Who Planted This?

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Whenever I drive around and see stands of this plant by the roadside, I always wish I could stop the car and get photos. This is one of my all-time favorite plants. Never mind that most people consider it a noxious weed that grows in roadside ditches. I find it just beautiful, with its huge stalks of yellow flowers that open slowly over a period of weeks.

You can see that this was probably bird planted. It’s in a little weedy area that’s a bit of a no-man’s land on the edge of my wildlife garden and my neighbor’s lawn. I try to weed out the truly bad stuff that appears there–ragweed and the invasives–but I can see in the photo that there’s some bittersweet (for a change) sneaking up in there. I’ll have to try to whack it back.  Getting it all out is near impossible.

Ditto for the Virginia Creeper in the area. I don’t even try because that’s a great bird plant. I just try to keep it from running amok through the garden.

This plant is a verbascum, although don’t ask me variety. There’s a second coming up right behind it which makes me sure it was bird-planted. I learned in Colorado that the call it Miner’s Tallow because they would use the stalks for “candles.” And we think mining is a tough occupation today!

Herbalists will boil and strain the leaves (which are felty) and use them for coughs and bronchitis.  And I’ve heard tell that campers will improvise and use the leaves as toilet tissue. Talk about tough! Whew!

I believe I will just enjoy the flowers in the garden and by the roadside, thank you very much!

 

Why Are There Flowers in the Vegetable Garden?

The easiest and quickest answer to my post’s question is “why NOT flowers in the vegetable garden?” But of course there are lots of answers to this question.

When I first started my garden, I had just one sunny garden, so I just naturally grew all my sun loving flowers and my vegetables together. There didn’t seem to be anything strange about that–and I wasn’t growing castor beans, so it wasn’t really a problem.

Gradually, the flowers overtook that garden, so I moved the veggies up to a raised bed in a different part of the yard. But I didn’t omit the flowers. Why?

First of all, we need flowers if we want vegetables, if you remember my post from last Friday about some of my retail gardening customers who used a few too many pesticides and had no bees and therefore no vegetables. So flowers will lure in the bees and other pollinators to the garden and while they’re there bumbling around (sometimes literally) they’ll be happy to pollinate your vegetables for you as well so long as you’re not poisoning them into oblivion.

Next flowers can be beneficial in luring some not so nice insects away from your perfectly tasty crops. Aphids are a mild pest in my part of the country but in other parts of the country I know they’re a 12 month nuisance. There are plants that repel them and plants that attract them. In my garden, I have always found that nasturtiums were aphid magnets. I’ve not seen this listed anywhere but all I need to do is to plant them and the next thing I know they’re covered in aphids. It’s a shame too because I love to grow them for their edible qualities and I can rarely get them to last long enough.

Many herbs will repel aphids, particularly those one would expect like onions, garlic and chives. One that is a bit unexpected is feverfew, but be cautious about letting that self-sow or you’ll have it forever. I don’t mind–you might.

Water, Water Everywhere at the Connecticut Flower and Garden Show

Pondless waterfall

I have to confess, I was way more impressed with this little feature than the Spoiler was.  He couldn’t believe that I took quite so many photos as I did.   He of course didn’t realize it was a pondless waterfall, not just an ordinary fountain. As a water gardening expert and former retailer of Aquascapes products, I knew immediately what this was and how well done it was.

What I couldn’t quite believe, however, was how many other landscapes were displaying water features.  I know this vendor and he is a an Aquascapes retailer. We did business many times when I was in retail gardening. He’s quite good at what he does.

But it got me thinking about water features. How many folks actually have them. Even 10 years ago they were relatively rare and I suspect with the trend toward native plants and sustainability ponds are becoming endangered species. Most folks don’t realize they can be very eco-friendly.

In fact, this next landscape, which was so dramatically different from everything else in the landscape display area, endeavored to show just that: that native plants, including bog areas and rain gardens, can be lovely too.  It was different but it caught my eye and it was definitely lovely in its own way.

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The bog area in the garden is in the distance, at the upper right, with the Spoiler, the “crusty old New England native,” as I described him, leaning on a table waiting for me to finish taking photos.

Of course there were far more spectacular–and unrealistic–examples of the use of water too.

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This was the set most of the TV folks were doing their live shots from.  You can see the “waterfall” flowing from the dining table into the “pool” below.  Just out of sight in this shot are the stepping stone rocks that take you across to the garden area. In another portion of this landscape is a little sitting area with Adirondack chairs flanking a stone fireplace. It was lovely but again, not something you’ll find in the average backyard.

Still, most of these displays, like most home and lifestyle magazines, are aspirational rather than something someone is going to install “whole hog” in the backyard. They’re like living idea books.

And it was so wonderful to see all the plants, trees, and flowers in bloom, particularly after such a difficult cold, snowy couple of weeks.

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This 1936 Farmall tractor just had a trailer full of daffodils but it is still lovely.  And the wall that you see?  This is what’s below it.

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Because of course, no landscape is complete without a water feature!  Actually I thought this one was lovely with the little ferns tucked into the sides.

Finally, lest you think there was nothing for the house plant lovers (besides acres of house plants for sale, of course) there was this sweet display.

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It was this eye-catching display of orchids & succulents–something that would probably never work in real life but which looked great here. And yes, this display had a water feature too, as I recall, complete with a wagon wheel type contraption going around. It wasn’t to my liking so I didn’t even take a photo.