Wednesday, August 30, 2006
Well, all that pondering led me to do a big old "D'OH!" when it occurred to me that there are many largely under-appreciated plants we put in the garden, just for purposes of adding texture to the overall design. Of course, there are the usual architectural or purely textural plants one might consider .... such as ornamental grasses (Miscanthus "Porcupine Grass" and Festuca Glauca "Blue Fescue" come to mind immediately), but there are a host of other ornamentals that deserve the spotlight for their valuable contributions to the perennial garden. So let's take a look at three tonight, each with its own particular virtues which recommend them to the well-rounded (well, at least we like to think so!) perennial border.
First up is Flowering Kale, a member of the Brassica or cabbage family of plants. Though we haven't planted these often in the past few years, they are wonderful examples who really excel in the late summer months right up until frost. They blend their familiar shade of cabbage-y grey with delicate shades of purple throughout to introduce a most welcome cooler hue into the garden when other plants have bloomed and gone ... and as the weather cools down with the arrival of fall, they truly spring into intense color which lasts as long as temperatures stay above freezing. Once frost arrives, they may linger a bit longer, ramping up their colors briefly before they melt into a rather unattractive pile of goo. The one pictured here is a new one we found this year called Red Peacock, and if the picture on the stake is accurate, we can still expect an intense flush of scarlet to appear in the center of the plant later this fall.
Though Kale is generally just considered an ornamental garden plant, it is indeed edible, as are most (if not all) of the Brassicas (which of course include all the cabbages, broccolis and brussel sprouts). But as a specimen plant, it definitely deserves a place of honor in the garden, somewhere it can shine before all is said and done when the freezes come in late fall. They are easy to grow, don't seem to have any obvious pests and require little attention other than being placed in a very sunny spot, watered occasionally and left to their own designs. You can also see, in the background of this shot, some of the Celosia sports (more forthcoming, I promise!) as well as the chartreuse version of Sweet Potato Vine (Ipomoea battata), which has really come into its own the last few weeks.
The second picture is Silver Mound, a member of the Artemisia (Wormwood) family. I can't begin to praise this humble --and rather common-- textural perennial enough. As if any garden didn't deserve several specimens of Artemisia species, this one is the absolute must have in my opinion. It has a wonderful mounding growth habit that makes it perfect for filling in tough spots in the garden (such as at the base of the boulders in the front garden here). It also just plain feels delightful to the touch ... with its light and feathery grey-green foliage ... and it has a very pleasant herby fragrance to it as well, as do most of the Artemisias. (Yes, that's the family of plants who give us Artemisia absinthium, producer of the forbidden ingredient of Absinthe, that extracted substance known as Thujol.) Silver Mound, despite its common origins is an excellent choice for sunny spots with poorish soil, because it thrives on neglect for the most part and is quite happy to stake out its spot, adding yet another cooler hue to the summer garden ....
And finally, we have one of my favorite discoveries of the last ten years or so, Sea Holly (Eryngium maritimum). I couldn't write this post without including at least one shot of this most unusual of plants ... something that deserves more exposure in the perennial garden! Though it looks rather spiny and prickly, it is anything but painful to touch ... in fact, the bracts composing the blooms of this plant are really rather pleasant to the touch. If you look closely at this shot, you'll see a bumblebee hard at work ... and that's one of the more interesting aspects of Sea Holly, namely that it attracts a host of beneficial bees and wasps with its thistle-like blooms. These are the kinds of insects you want in your garden, as they prey on more destructive pests who would like to lay waste to your vegetables and other flowers. And the ethereal hazy gun-metal blue of the blooms at their maturity brings a unique hue to the garden in mid-summer (this picture was taken in July). They're tough plants that self-seed generously (we always have plenty to give away come spring), grow well in any sunny spot (though sometimes they need a bit of staking when they bloom profligately, as ours did this year). Given a prominent spot toward the front of the border, they always prompt questions as to what they are, and most people tend to assume it's some sort of thistle run amok, though that could hardly be further from the truth .... At some point I plan on highlighting this beauty in more detail, but for now, I had to include it in this grouping of plants that qualify as worthy textural garden elements.
As those who know me can attest, for the most part I'm all about the flowers, but even the most bloom-obsessed among us do need to step back at times and contemplate the quiet beauty that less "flashy" plants can offer us in the overall scheme of the garden ... precisely why I ended up at this point tonight in my garden musings ... yes, there's more flash to come, but at this point in the waning summer days, I felt compelled to give these guys a shout out of their own.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Here's the thing: we like to pride ourselves on providing habitat for various sorts of birds, insects and critters in our garden, in the hopes of giving something back to nature as we attempt to make our little urban corner wilder, at least in terms of the flora. And we try not to neglect the fauna, in fact, we aim to give them something back as well, so that our mere city corner can regress to a small microcosm of what the state once was when the native flowers and grasses held sway ....
So, it was with immense delight that we recently discovered that a pair of Goldfinches (the Iowa state bird, by the way!) have taken to feeding in our front garden in the early evenings! Even though certain flowers such as Echinacea purpurea and Monarda don't look so attractive once they've finished blooming, we allow them to complete their cycles so that they not only reproduce, but also provide food for the birds. One year we actually allowed a thistle to bloom in the front just to provide food for the goldfinches ... well, yes the goldfinches came around but we spent the following spring digging up innumerable thistles and cursing their prickly selves. Well, the thistles are gone (though they are lovely, we have to admit ... we're just not willing to have them taking over again), and the goldfinches are working the coneflowers to their hearts' content.
These are some pictures I took last week, and though they're not up to the close up quality that I prefer (Olivia has made me such a snob! Gotta love her!), they are as close as I could get at this point. So ... I've decided to go out after work when they seem to come by and just let them get used to me so I can get even closer and perhaps get some better pictures. These are of the female, who appears to be less shy than the male, since she let me get the closest to her and is actually looking straight at me in a couple of the shots. These three shots show her feeding on the echinacea seeds, as well as perching on a branch of a Castor ... I hope you can appreciate these as much as I do, given that I took about 40 shots that night and just a few actually caught her in the act.
We also have some late summer hummingbirds coming around now too ... we saw them perching on the clothesline in the back yard on Friday, and, given that the Bee Balm is producing a bit of a late summer re-bloom, they are coming around in front ... they also seem to really like the "Black and Blue Salvia" we have out there, which makes total sense, given its trumpet like blooms, though even if they are blue, do attract the hummingbirds. I'll know that I've really arrived as a garden photographer when I can get a successful picture of a hummingbird ... it hasn't happened yet, so don't go holding any breaths or tapping toes at this point. If it happens, you'll be the first to see it here, but given their skittish nature, I'm not confident that will happen just yet ... Olivia will probably be the first one to do that, and I'll be first in line to clap, scream and otherwise applaud when she pulls that one off!
Sunday, August 27, 2006
Sphinx moths are positively drawn to deep throated night blooming flowers who offer an ample feast of nectar for these industrious beauties, so supplying them with numerous specimens of Four O'clocks, Moonflowers and other nectar laden flowers is almost sure to draw them to your garden in the early evening hours just before dusk and later ....
We did a little research tonight on these magnificent little guys (well, they're not that little, they are usually about 2.5 - 3.0 inches long with a similar wingspan) and here's what we found out:
Their natural habitat ranges from southern Canada (yes, Olivia, you must have them somewhere!) to Central America and from the Atlantic to Pacific oceans. Basically, just about anywhere in the U.S.
The larval stage is often called a green "Horned worm" which can sometimes be found on tomatoes, upon which they apparently are known to feast. Other food for the caterpillars includes common portulaca (aka: purslane), chickweed and other leafy green plants commonly found in most gardens and yards.
Given that they take wing in mid-summer, we surmised that they must mate in the fall, lay their eggs, which then overwinter until the larvae emerge as caterpillars sometime in the spring. Though there are a lot of icky green worms that you can find on your tomatoes, if you find a largish green one with pronounced horns and two red spots on either side of the head, consider sparing it, as you may later be rewarded with the magical adults later in the summer. We don't seem to find them on our tomatoes, but given when they must be in the larval stage, I think they must feed on other things in our yard ... and it does make sense that you would be more likely to find these on your tomatoes in a more southern climate where they are planted much earlier than we do here in Zone 5.
When I was kid, I often mistook these wondrous moths for hummingbirds, and it's not an uncommon mistake, given how they hover over their food and take flight at the slightest disturbance. There is, however, a species called Clear Wing Hummingbird Moth which I recently saw HERE on FarFetched'sTales From Far Manor site. Thanks for reminding me of the magical beauty of these large moths, Far! I knew I'd eventually get around to posting about our Sphixies, but you got me digging for the materials and got me thinking about them again ... late summer pleasure that they are when they choose to visit and bring their magical drama to a garden near you ....
And for you MOTHRA fans out there, here's a fun link to her oeuvre.
If you're a diehard Mothra fan as I am, you'll find she has been quite the resiliant moth after all these years, despite her rattier look in the late 1960's, she's still a beauty in my eyes! Enjoy ....
Monday, August 21, 2006
First off , for you morning types, we have a couple of shots of Grandpa Ott Morning Glories (ipomoea sp.), a beautiful purple variety I really like. (P4 are you digging these??) Yet another example of how I love to work purple into the garden wherever I can ... and though C is disappointed that so far we have not seen any of the Heavenly Blues we usually plant, I've not given up hope that they will appear sometime soon on the fence. FM, this is an especially 'geezerly' variety, since they require little attention and the only way you can truly mess these up is by feeding them or planting them in too rich a soil. Rule #1 of growing morning glories is to never feed them! If you do, you will be delighted to see absolutely huge leaves, but absolutely no flowers! The same rule of thumb also goes for Cosmos and Nasturtiums ... the poorer the soil and more neglect you give them once they are established, the more they will bloom profligately for you! Notice the ethereal glow emanating from the centre of the second shot ... I was trying to play with the light when I took these and this one rewarded me with one of those Come into the light! type effects ... yeah, I'm easily amused when it comes to photos of our flowers.
Next up on the Sunday browse around the garden is a "Harlequin" Caterpillar ... we've seen a lot of these furry little guys coming around of late, and though we're not quite sure what they'll grow up into (and we suspect they will overwinter, since we're not accustomed to seeing caterpillars this late in the season), we have embraced them and hope they flourish in our garden. Why? Well if you're astute, you might notice that he's feeding on a particularly noxious vine known as "bindweed" around these parts ... it grows everywhere, particularly in the hottest, driest periods and will strangle almost anything in sight unless you can keep it at bay ... which, like many garden pests, is a crap shoot at best. Needless to say, we're delighted that these caterpillars have taken on the task of eating their way through the stuff, so no matter what they metamorphose into, we're glad to welcome them to our garden!
For those who are regular visitors to this site, our next luscious specimen should be no stranger ... another example of the Hibiscus sp. "Brilliantissima" that has made previous appearances here. There were five blooms open today, and given the sunny conditions we had (not to mention the absolutely perfect late summer weather!), I decided to try my hand at some more light catching experiments with this stalwart bloomer ... I ran these by Olivia and asked her for her favorite, so here it is ... make sure to enlarge the photo and revel in the decadent detail of the pollen and the anthers on this bloom ... Of all the photos I take of our flowers, I think I like shooting Hibiscus the best because they are so naturally photogenic, and just varying angles and the time of day of the photo, it seems one can capture the truly magical aspects of these transitory one day flowers ... Obviously, I'm irretrievably hooked on Hibiscus, but for sheer intensity of hue and exotic tropical appearance, I can think of few other flowers that can begin to rival them.
Now for the inevitable "Pink Corner." Though we've tried to eliminate these pink Morning Glories from the fence, we inevitably fail, and they continue to volunteer from a mix of seeds we planted years ago ... much to C's dismay, they return every year, though I've softened a bit in my attitude about them, since they do display a nice shade of red in the "star" area of the bloom, so if for no other reason than to make Olivia swoon in delight, I had to include an example.
And finally, one of my other favorites (ok, so I quit counting how many "favorites" I have!) is a fiery orange Nasturtium. In the past few years, I've slacked a bit on how many of these lovely edible blossoms I've planted, and every year I vow to plant them everywhere, but as gardens are wont to go, sometimes that just doesn't happen. This one has just recently begun to bloom, and I hope it will work its magic right up until frost, which if conditions are right, they usually do ... spilling out from where they are planted, crawling around sinuously, and perfuming the afternoon air with their subtle, yet spicy aroma. It's hard for me to leave them alone, because I love the flavor of them so much ... which is another reason to plant many of them in your garden (see #1 Rule cited above!) so you can have enough to enjoy their sheer beauty as well as pick them to grace your salads or just as a pretty garnish on a summer dish you may be serving. Nasturtiums have a slight peppery flavor to them, which for those so inclined to such tastes, cannot be rivaled. The entire plant is eminently edible, however, the leaves are much stronger, so if you're not especially fond of their slightly "hot" flavor, perhaps the blossoms are best enjoyed instead.
If you have Nasturtiums in your garden and have never eaten them, here's one way I love to enjoy them. A few years ago we had a bumper crop of both yellow and red Roma tomatoes, and I liked to make a salad with them by slicing them into thin rings, arranging them on a salad plate, then sprinkling a light chiffonnade of fresh basil and dressing them with balsamic vinegar, then topping the whole plate off with a few freshly picked Nasturtiums. Now that's a delicious way to begin a meal on a balmy summer evening, followed by grilled meat from the grill and some fresh sweet corn grilled along with the meat ... follow that with some fresh fruit or a peach sorbet, and you have one light, healthy meal that will instantly lodge itself in your mind as the quintessential summer repast. At least in my world, that conjures up images of a nearly perfect way to end the weekend! And when the romas are more plentiful in the next few weeks, and as the Nasturtiums bloom more proliferously, you can count on us doing exactly that.
Once again, sorry to be lax again in my postings, but given the hectic past few weeks around here, and the influx of more rain than we really wanted the past week or so, it's rewarding to see that despite the weeds, we are getting our floriferous rewards after all.
So as my hero Keith Olbermann would say, I'll end this entry by echoing ... Keep your knees loose. And good night, and good luck! Happy gardening, and enjoy the late summer bounty, my friends!
Friday, August 11, 2006
I mistakenly bought and planted the Jewel Box variety a few years ago, thinking it was a larger version, and it refuses to give up its spot in the garden. New Look is a relatively new, compact (12-14") variety with lovely red foliage that we always plant every year, just to make sure we have the real thing around in the garden.
With any luck, I'll get some better pics of these guys this weekend and elaborate on them a bit more at length. There are more wonders to be seen from the realm of Celosia, so just be patient and stop in again!
I guess I'm in a bit of a nostalgic and sentimental mood of late ... perhaps it's been the brilliant full moon, with its oddly autumnal hue of red that we've seen the past few nights, or my somewhat morose reflections on the occasion of my birthday a couple of weekends ago .... For whatever reason, I kept thinking about this photo that my sister found and gave me a few years ago ... this is me, at about age seven, I think, with Spike, my first dog. My parents had gotten me a beagle when I was about four, but Pixie (who I barely remember, other than she excelled at biting me) was quickly dispatched to "a farm where she would be happier," and though I cried at her leaving, my parents assured me it was for the best and that I would get another dog. Well, it took a few years, but then somehow my Dad heard about a litter of Fox Terrier puppies someone had in an adjacent small town, and one day we went there to see if we could find an appropriate puppy for me. Well, there was this one, a scrawny little guy with a half black, half white face who seemed rather calm compared to the other livelier puppies running around the yard ... my Dad and I instantly agreed that he was the one for me, and we took him home.
We almost lost Spike within a week or so, as he hadn't had any shots yet, he was full of worms and then developed a very nasty case of distemper. My Dad took him to the vet and we got the de-worming pills he needed, but learned that he already had the distemper, which at the time, they could do nothing for, and it very often killed infected puppies. I was crushed, as I recall, because I was sure that the cute little guy who was my dog was going to die. But my Dad also had fallen in love with Spike and he told me we'd do whatever we could to work him through the distemper and that not all dogs died from it, but that he would be very sick for a while. We kept him in a wooden fruit crate lined with old blankets and throw rugs right next to the heat vent in the kitchen, fed him whatever he would eat and did our best to nurse him through the illness. About all I remember is that he was very listless, coughed constantly and had a runny nose and eyes ... but each day, it seemed (at least to me), he appeared to get a little better.
Eventually, after some time (I can't remember how long, but it seemed like weeks to me!), he recovered from the distemper and we had a feisty, active and very ornery puppy on our hands. I was delighted, because I had a best friend finally, and he was all mine. Spike was a typical terrier his first few years ... he enjoyed tearing things up, causing a lot of mischief, ran away from home at every chance he got, and even managed to father a litter or two of puppies of his own. But oddly enough, he never quite bonded with me, much to my chagrin. He adored my Dad and would do anything for him, while ignoring my pleas for attention, though he was never overtly mean to me ... he just favored my Dad, as can be typical with terriers. So, I accepted my lower position in his worldview and I still adored him, even if he was a bit indifferent to me ....
About two years later we were visiting my sister when she was living in my parents' home town when she brought home an adorable beagle-fox terrier mix puppy. As she was just recently married and living in an apartment, she found out that she just couldn't keep the new puppy while she lived there, so my parents very reluctantly agreed to keep her with us until she had a place where she could have her. (And of course that never happened!) Snoopy (as I would eventually name her) was the antithesis of Spike ... she adored me from the get go and bonded with me almost instantly. My earliest memory of her was falling asleep with her in the back seat of the car on the journey home and awaking to find that she had gotten sick and thrown up on the seat beside me as we slept. I didn't care. This dog was truly mine! Fortunately, Snoopy got along famously with Spike from the beginning and they made excellent companions for each other, though quite the opposites. Where Spike was dominant and somewhat overbearing, Snoopy was submissive, obedient and only wanted to please. Finally, I had the kind of dog who would play with me, sleep with me (though that was forbidden by my parents, I sneaked her into bed anyway), and obviously thought I was the greatest boy around. She never minded if I cried my eyes out holding her when someone had tormented me at school, and she truly seemed to understand me and feel for me during the whole of my miserable experience of living in and going to school in an intolerant little redneck town in rural Iowa. In short, she was my lifeline to love given freely, honestly and only as a dog can give it ... unconditionally.
I could write a book about these dogs, and maybe one day I should, but suffice to say, where my Dad had Spike, I had Snoopy, and this pair of dogs made living there a lot more tolerable. When I went away to college, Snoopy used to sneak up to my room every chance she got and my mom would find her sleeping on my bed, exactly where she used to when I disobeyed and sneaked her into my room at night. And when I came home from school on breaks, she would not let me out of her sight, and apparently (according to my mom) cried for days after I would leave. She eventually developed severe diabetes and had to be put to sleep while I was away at school. That was a very hard time for me, as it is for anyone who has lost a dog or pet they truly love. And apparently, Spike started declining and pining away for Snoopy after she was gone, and shortly after, he developed testicular cancer and had to be put to sleep as well ...and my parents never again had a dog in their house. My Dad buried both of them side by side under an old lilac bush in the back yard. And to be honest, as much as I loathed that town I grew up in and have visited only against my will in the intervening years, I would one day like to go back to that house and visit them back there ... that is, if the lilac itself still exists. I have no idea if it does, but that would be perhaps the only motivation for me to ever return there ....
I suppose it seems that this post has very little to do with gardening, other than you can see some of the flowers I used to help my Dad tend on the south side of my childhood home. You see, Dad was the one who planted the gardening bug in me ... every year he would order his vegetable and flower seeds from Gurney's in Yankton, ND, and they always had a one-cent Kids' Surprise Pack of seeds that he would order for me. It was a little packet of seeds that to receive rivaled Christmas in the wonder of what might eventually come from these (to my childhood view at least) miraculous little things that came in the brightly colored pack with the picture of a cartoon child with a trowel and watering can on the front.
My Dad tilled up a little bed for me by the steps at the back of the house and that was where I had my first garden. I would take my precious seeds, plant them carefully (with my Dad's guidance, since these packs often contained things such as corn or beans, as well as flower seeds), tend them diligently and marvel at the green shoots that would burst from the ground, much to my delight. That's how I remember planting my first flower seeds, things such as Four O'Clocks, Balsam, Zinnias and Marigolds. When they bloomed for me, I was ecstatic! For my young, inquisitive mind, these first attempts at gardening made me feel a real connection with the earth, something that I still feel to this day ... There's a lot to be said for tending the earth and making things grow from it. That's the precious lesson my Dad taught me with those packets of seeds. I owe my Dad for a lot of good things he taught me over the years, but the joy of gardening is definitely the most important one I keep close to my heart and cherish. Though he's been dead for 23 years now, I think he'd actually be proud of me now for carrying on the gardening tradition in our family.
And I must say that I often think of him when I'm planting seeds. And I've never forgotten those Kids' Packs of seeds from Gurney's. I've heard that that nursery doesn't exist anymore, but it always will in my heart. My Dad really cashed in big time on those one cent packs of seeds ....
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
In any case... that's all for now, but I'm working on getting the Celosia sports post worked out in my head and will have it up very soon... there's just one pesky one that I can't get a clear shot of (due to wind mostly) that I want to include, and that shot may come today, weather willing! Stay tuned....
Monday, August 07, 2006
I fully expect you will find room for Kopper King in your garden when you do the big re-design! Pictures don't begin to describe how beautiful these are ... and hardy and tough! Just like my dear friend in Ottawa who has coaxed the Pink outta me, LOL.
And then... there's Convolvulus "Blue Ensign" to think about for next year!
I know, the pics are reversed, but I'm sure you won't mind.... So, enjoy, and I'll be talking sports again very soon! And those who know me, know very well it won't be about NASCAR or anything like that!
Well, it's been a while (again!) since I've posted something here, so I thought I'd do a quick one before I head to bed and put up some pics I've had for a few days now ... not as exciting as Hibiscus or Sports, but for an Iowa gardener, this is what we live for! (Well, there's the sweet corn too, but that's just now hitting the streets in force.) This is the first tomato from the garden this year, and though the pics aren't exactly new --and the subject was eaten a while back-- it's a moment of excitement around here!!
This tomato appears to answer the ages old debate about whether it's better to plant big plants in the spring to get earlier tomatoes, or just take your chances with the little ones most of us plant. Well, this one is a new variety of Celebrity that I found this year... a "Bush variety" (I know... nasty name!) that supposedly only grows to about 24" but produces regular sized fruit. It was sizeable when I put it in, and true to form, it was the first to produce edible fruit! This was taken about a week and a half ago, and has long since been eaten (and it was good!), so due to my slackatude, only now is appearing here... I picked about 5 more yesterday from this and other vines, and they are awaiting BLTude coming very soon! (Probably today.)
You tomato growers know what this means ... can salsa days be far behind? Only my peppers know at this point, and they are not doing well this year due to the excessive heat. Hopefully I can muster up enough peppers to round out a batch at some point!