Sunday, August 31, 2008

End of August Garden Bounty

It's been a relatively lazy weekend around here, and fortunately I have one more day to savor before back to work, which --as you may have guessed-- has been pretty busy for me the past two weeks. I've got a brief respite before another wave hits me full force again. So, as a small personal reward, I basically allowed myself a relatively slackerly Saturday and Sunday (though I did get caught up with laundry, no small feat there).

Thus the leisurely tone for tonight's post ... since Fernymoss has to work tomorrow, we did a bit of grilling to honor the weekend's official wrap up of Summer (though we're still hoping for plenty more warm weather to come for at least a while). So, in that spirit, this will be a basic "look and see what I saw" tour around the back.

I'm sure no one noticed the first shot did they? 'Sun Showers' is back in bloom again, after a brief rest, and wow, it's as eye popping as always! I'm really not regretting having forked over the big bucks for this plant now ... it's been a steady and profuse bloomer most of the summer... how could anyone quibble with walking out back and seeing a few of these screaming Heeeyyyyy look at me! You know when you're looking at such a fiery flower and realize that the coolest color in the entire bloom is hot pink, you're dealing with truly over the top Hibiscus! We absolutely love it, and will be taking meticulous care of this and 'Erin Rachel' this winter... they both deserve the pampering....

This shot is just one of the several (at least) progeny of Punkinstein, who is still trying to conquer the entire garden, and we keep putting him back on the ground ... that is, until he sneaks out of bounds again. We haven't been able to inspect the total sprawl of this plant for pumpkins, but we're sure they're in there hiding somewhere... while he was shooting this one, Fernymoss also discovered a much smaller one set on not far away from this one, which is the largest we've yet found. We're getting excited about them hanging on all the rest of the season so we don't have to buy any this year, but again, time will tell....
Let's venture down into the corn patch ... here you can see one of the many Zinnias we have planted in various spots around the veggie garden, and more importantly, a few ears of corn nearly ready to be picked just behind it. I think that this Zinnia, one of the 'Cactus Bloom' varieties we had mixed in with what we planted, is a particularly pretty one, but then I'm slanted to the fire colors, so take that as you will. Anyway, this shot serves two purposes: to illustrate a bit more detail of the corn patch and also to show a bit of brightness amongst all that green....
Today was our first harvest of the corn, and we picked 6 ears, of which we kept 3 and gave 3 to our neighbor behind us ... but what she's really looking forward to is when we have more ripe tomatoes, uh huh! Well, so are we, so I'm hoping that some of the myriad green ones out there start ripening a bit more quickly, but then again, given the weirdness of this summer, we're lucky they're still growing so well! As long as we can keep the warmth up in September, I think we should be in luck, because I have photos that remind me that in past years, I've had a bumper crop of tomatoes into September, so again ... patience is still difficult at times....
Finally, here we have an arrangement of just what we brought in from the back garden today. We're a bit disappointed in the onions, because though most of the tops had died back, they just aren't very big, but they'll certainly get used all the same, and some chopped onion may well go into the burgers I am planning for tomorrow's grill fest (along with my usual, trusty companion, A-1 Sauce). Obviously, these are the 3 ears of corn we picked and consumed within about 2 hours ... as well as some of the tomatoes we got today. These need about one more day to ripen inside, and then BLTs are going to be on the menu, and I finally got the bread, bacon and lettuce today ... one of those summertime pleasures I've yet to experience this year, and we're both looking forward to it!

On tonight's menu: Marinated Pork Tenderloin (with El Rey hot sauce, A-1 and Dijon Mustard), along with sweet corn of course, and some sliced fresh tomatoes I picked a few days ago. Aside from the pork, everything else came from the garden .. finally! In years past, we would have had such a meal weeks earlier, but given that none of the veggies got planted until almost late June (Memorial Day in May is usually my cut off for planting), I think we're heading into a bit more of the feast part of the cycle. Except for those pathetic peppers of ours. We had a work meeting the other day, and I asked one of the women there (who has a huge veggie garden out in the country) how her peppers were doing. She replied (just like everyone else I've asked) that hers were the worst in years, and she wondered if she'd get any at all. I don't know what it has been (erratic weather? that's a good scapegoat) this year, but no one I know has had any success with them. Ours are starting to perk up a bit now that the worst of the blast furnace heat has abated a bit, but I have no expectations that we'll see anything significant. More likely, they'll get their second wind right before frost and put on tons of tiny, useless ones not worth harvesting. That is, unless we have some minor miracle combination of warmth, cool nights and frequent rains, I've just about written them off. Next year I may just elect to plant them all in pots and try that again (I used to have great success with that when I first lived here and had very limited space). How disappointing ... I used to be reputed for making the greatest fresh garden salsa, but again, this year, that's unlikely to happen, alas.

There are good garden years, bad garden years, and then there are the downright bafflingly odd ones, and this year seems to represent a good exemplar of the latter. But tonight, we dined well from the garden, so we give thanks for what the earth has given us so far, and look forward to more for at least a little while!

Photos taken August 31, 2008, Hibiscus and Veggie arrangement by IVG, Pumpkin, Corn and Zinnia shots by Fernymoss.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Castor 'Zanzibariensis'

Long time readers here will, I'm sure, immediately recognize one of our annual behemoths of the garden, Ricinus communis 'Zanzibariensis.' We plant a few Castors every year because we just love their lush tropical look and appreciate how easy they are and how quickly they grow! This particular one was planted from seed a little over a month ago and look at it (as of 8-16-08) now! At this point, it's surpassed Fernymoss' head (he's 6 ft tall), and with the regular feedings of fish emulsion he's been giving it, with a little luck and plenty of sun it should get pretty tall and perhaps even bloom before frost. (If you'd like to see just how big it got last year, click on the name in the labels below the post.)
The one we pampered and fed last year topped out at about 14 ft tall by October, bloomed, and put on tons of seeds, from which this one is growing (as well as the smaller one near it). Though we were really late getting these seeds in (sheesh, July!) this guy has been really happy keeping the new peonies (who are fading now) company in the NE corner of our backyard. And no matter where we have them in the yard, they are always eye catchers for passersby, who sometimes stop to ask what on earth it is, marveling that something so obviously tropical is growing in the middle of the city in summer! Of course, they're only an annual here and usually have been killed off around the time Halloween comes around, but if you look at my post from last Halloween, it hadn't yet had the killing frost and was a great spot to pose in my Halloween garb.
Ok, here's my usual disclaimer about these plants ... yes, they are the source of Castor Bean Oil (the dreaded bane of constipated kids everywhere when I was little). I'm not exactly clear how, during the oil extraction process, they go from being deadly toxic to just an oil used a purgative, so to speak. But for all practical purposes, anyone growing them should be aware that every part of this plant is extremely toxic, so if you have children or pets who are prone to munching on plants, it's probably not a good idea to have them around unless everyone understands just how toxic they are.

I recall a news story from a few months ago about a man in Las Vegas who tried to commit suicide by eating some seeds, and people investigating the case were flipping out about possible contamination to the room in the hotel where he made his attempt. I thought all that was a bit silly, because if you just practice common sense with them, the chances of experiencing such effects are very slim and in over 10 years of growing them, we've never had any problems. The seeds, however, are perhaps the most toxic part of the plant, so they should be stored well out of the reach of anyone or any pets who might find them and think they'd make a good snack. I read in one article that it only would take about 5-6 seeds to kill a human if they are chewed up and ingested ... so a word to the wise.

Having given that disclaimer, they make great architectural specimens in the sunny garden, and their only drawback is having to saw them down after it has died from a freeze. We usually just clean up the dead leaves and leave it in the ground over the winter and saw it down in the spring when it has started to decompose a bit. We also plant another variety, 'Carmencita Rose,' which is a "dwarf" variety that only reaches about 8 ft tall (lol). This year we just popped a few seeds in a huge pot out front and are growing them that way this year, just so they get big enough to draw attention, since we didn't get them in early enough to really place them strategically. 'Carmencita' is a really stunning shade of bronzy red that positively glows in the sun, and is definitely a variety worth trying if you want to try your hand at growing these tropical giants.

Monday, August 25, 2008

... Meet Some of the Garden Help ...

The Mantises have definitely arrived (or emerged from hiding) in the garden now, and we couldn't be more delighted! After yesterday's discovery out front, we were thrilled to find two more --bigger-- ones hanging out on some of that weedy Heliopsis I ranted about back in July (it's not ex-ter-min-ated by a long shot). These were destined to be pulled at some point, but now that these guys have apparently taken up residence, we may reconsider that. For some reason, this year these 'Yellow Rogues' (as we call them) have been afflicted seriously by aphids (you can see them all up and down the stems), and we suspect that's exactly what drew the Mantises. Honestly, for a Mantis they must seem like an all you can eat Tapas bar or some Happy Hour spread somewhere. Hey guys, knock yourselves out and grow fast and prosper! Nobody wants aphids around (though they don't seem to bother our other plants), and if they're tasty to a Mantis, so be it and good riddance to the aphids!
Don't ask me what this weed is, but we have it everywhere, and when we clear an area, this is one of the first things to go (and this one went shortly after this shot was taken). The only reason to include this was to showcase that flashy little leaf hopper we saw earlier this summer on one of the 'Sun Showers' Hibiscus flowers. All we know is that it is some kind of leaf hopper, but when you see him up close he's really quite the snazzy dazzler, and to me he looks a lot like the Neon Tetra of the insect world, only he doesn't need an aquarium! There's no end to what we find insect wise in the gardens, but at least this one seems to do no harm, and is quite pretty we think.
video
Guess who's been playing with the video again? I'm really loving the video capabilities of the S700, the more I experiment, and I caught this little 16 second snippet of a bumblebee working a Cat Mint bloom in front of our old decrepit excuse for a garden shed. I was staking out the Praying Mantises nearby, but thought it would be fun to catch a bee at work, so here he is. I also took two short videos of the Mantises, but I'm going to have to edit them somewhat to get them reduced in size and duration, so I won't post them just yet. As for my video capabilities, they're still in their infancy, and I'm just starting to get the hang of focusing properly and using the zoom, so one day I hope, I can get some really great footage of things around the garden. My next targets will be the Goldfinches who are starting to come around for the Annual Coneflower Seed Feast and the various butterflies we've been seeing in abundance lately, so stay tuned for more to come.

Still photos by Fernymoss and video by IVG, all taken August 24, 2008.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sunday Report From the Weedorium

Well folks, you knew this was coming eventually didn't you? One of the Gargoyles has landed in the Primrose Bed next to the steps of the entrance to the house. This is the bed I weeded, planted and mulched in yesterday, and it's looking pretty good at the moment, and this little guy certainly does add some long awaited whimsy and a bit of implied menace to those who approach ... but ultimately, he's pretty friendly. He ought to be, surrounded by such outstanding plants as the Variegated Solomon's Seal I just planted yesterday and the delectable 'Gilt Edge' Toad Lily I discussed previously.

This Coleus, 'Peter's Wonder' is really what I'd really like to point out here. This was a new variety we had never seen before this year, and I think it's obvious why this one just screamed Buy Me! As Coleus go, this one has it all ... rich colors (even the stems!) and deep veining over ruffled leaves ... what more could you ask of a Coleus? I think 'Peter's Wonder' even goes one step further, in that this is one of the few Coleus I've ever grown that didn't require regular pinching to keep it from blooming (which, if allowed usually sends the plant into decline as it puts on seeds). It's been a relatively slow but steady grower over the course of the summer, but it still has time to put on some size, before fall when we will either take cuttings or just dig the entire plant, pot it up and bring it inside, because this variety is a real keeper, I think!

Here Queen Pepa (Approximately) is again showing off just how good her supervisory skills are, not to mention how good she is about sticking around when we allow her (this is a special moment for her) to come out when we are working in the front boulder beds, something she was able to enjoy both yesterday and today... She was a happy pup.

This shot also shows a bit more context of where all the various plants are placed with reference to our Gargoyle friend. Have you ever seen such happy and lush Primroses in Late Summer? I'm continually amazed by how tough and profuse they have become in just three short years, but I must admit that I pamper this bed and these flowers more than I do any others around the place, because I want continued success with these specimens. Three years ago I started with 6 spindly and wispy plants I got from Springhill Nursery, and now they have more than doubled in number to about 13 or 14! What's more, they've grown into a nice tight mound all their own (and seem intent on increasing it over time) and stay so lush all through the summer. They may be "just" the garden variety mix of hardy Primrose (Primula polyanthus), but as you saw in spring, they have a nice range of colors represented. This is very close to what I've always dreamed of for a Primrose planting, though my ideal one would be much larger and have more purples and blues in it ... but for now, I'm just thrilled these continue to thrive.

Here we snapped a shot just to show that Purple Sweet Potato Vine seedling Fernymoss discovered yesterday ... and today, he also noticed that in the pot where we have Carmencita Castors planted this year, that they are popping up in various places! We didn't find any satisfactory purple ones to buy this year, so we just skipped them (regretfully), but thanks to these little guys, we're still going to have some for the rest of the season, and they too may eventually come inside if we can find enough sunny windowsills for them! We never dreamed that even though the parent bloomed frequently last year, that we'd ever see the offspring! And, to the left foreground (not in terribly clear focus, alas) you can see one of the purple ornamental pepper seedlings he also discovered yesterday. We are definitely going to pot up a few of these and try to overwinter one, just to see how it does.
This is one tenacious Giant Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphlitica) that, amazingly enough was one of the first plants we set out in the far away Spring of 1999, the first gardening year here at Casa IVG. The space where it was originally planted was, ironically enough, near the front of the existing bed that was here when we moved in (in 1998), but now has been forced to the near back by the expansion of the Coneflowers over the years. This poor guy is in dire need of moving to a sunnier, more hospitable position where he doesn't have to do battle with the spearmint and other weedy things that grow rampantly when we don't get this part of the bed weeded regularly (and this year, face it, nothing got weeded regularly with this season we've had!). There might still be one other on the Woodland side that also struggles under the shadow of the Angelica, Ostrich Plume Ferns and Holly, but I've not seen it this year, and have just figured they'd petered out. I'll have to give it a look and if it's still there, it would make an excellent companion for this one in a different location.

So, from the title, you should have deduced by now that we undertook more major weeding in the boulder beds out front, and I went on the warpath against the rogue Zebrina Mallows, and much to the bumblees' chagrin, there are now dozens who have disappeared, especially those who were shadowing out my poor Disco Belle Hibiscus, who I hope recovers enough to resume blooming with the others soon. Between yesterday and today, we filled up 3 big city compost bags, and could have filled more, but alas, we ran out of bags. I'll collect some seed from the remaining ones to sow in the back with the other bigger hollyhocks, but one thing's for sure ... next Spring I'm going to be ruthless about pulling new seedlings! Of course we'll leave some so they can have their area, but honestly, they ran so rampant this year, they became a major embarrassment, that we've yet to mitigate completely. We made huge progress today, and though I was really perturbing the poor bumblebees, I only got buzzed a couple of times in a pretty friendly way, all things considered! I just kept telling them, hey, there's plenty to go around elsewhere, so if you lose a few (well, quite a few) here, we've amply provided for you elsewhere. I think they understood, and nobody got stung. Happy ending, so to speak....

Return of the Mantises ...

As I mentioned in passing a few days ago, we'd been catching glimpses of mantises in the garden, but today while he was weeding, Fernymoss discovered just what we've been waiting to see and managed to spend some up close and personal time with him and these photos give a good representation of the encounter (the shots of him scurrying off weren't the greatest, so I left them out). Here, he's clearly spotted Fernymoss and seems to be saying 'Hello there ... what are you doing in my territory?' Since we love having these guys around, we give them plenty of respect and space when we encounter them, and so far we have cohabited peacefully (and gratefully on our part).
I suppose one could debate the utility of having Praying Mantises in the garden, because they are voracious predator insects and will catch and eat anything they can feasibly ingest, and as such, they might also be preying upon some other beneficial insects. But overall, we're convinced that their presence is beneficial and most warmly welcomed in our garden, and we're glad they're here! Here, our little friend appears to be returning to what he was doing, but still keeping an eye on that huge creature pointing some strange object at him and moving menacingly too close ... let's keep an eye on this situation.
Finally, he has warmed up a bit to the situation and returns briefly to his business, before being hounded even further by Fernymoss, who took probably another 10 shots of him, before he really rejected posing and took off for other parts of the front bed. I'm sure, though, that we'll see more of him and his family around as we move into the late Summer and Fall season, when they were most predominant last year. And of course, all quality Mantis sightings and photo shoots will be appearing here!

Friday night, we finally caught up with a series I've been recording that the Logo network has just begun airing, Sordid Lives: The Series, and it appears to be every bit as promising as the 2000 film version of a play by Del Shores (that originated in Los Angeles), which chronicled the indeed sordid lives of a bizarre extended terminally trashy, family, friends, and enemies in a small Texas town. Yes, it's pretty high camp, but it's done so lovingly by those involved, it's hard to not be drawn into the absurd dramas of these people's lives... Like many of our favorites, it's not for everyone, but for those whose tastes venture into the realm of John Waters-esque trash comedies, this could really fit the bill. The movie version features the likes of Delta Burke, Beau Bridges, Bonnie Bedelia, Olivia Newton John (also in the series ... she must really need the work), as well as lesser known, but equally eccentric characters who make it all come together so hilariously. If that sounds up your alley, check out the links (Logo has extended clips of the series you can watch) and take a look. Very lightweight, but funny stuff they're doing.

Here's a quote by 'Brother Boy' from the original movie:

Brother Boy: Well I did it. I walked all the way down that hall with one less piece of female attire... that is, if you consider a wig attire.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Saturday in the Weedorium ....

This first shot is a close up of a Tricyrtis formosana Toad Lily called 'Gilt Edge,' (so graciously IDed for me by Mr. McGregor's Daughter). I have been really pleased with how well this Toad Lily has done since I plated last year ... it has increased at least threefold from the original plant I put in, and today I discovered one of its ruses to increase the colony ... it is putting out two thick, long runners at the base which should grab hold and potentially give us even more plant next year, definitely an exciting development given just how pretty this variety is. In this photo to its left, you can spot something that looks very similar... the variegated Solomon's Seal I just planted. I thought it would be fun to put both shade plants close to each other since they almost seem to mimic each other, though one will bloom for us in the Spring and the other Late Summer ... what you do you think of the combination? Too much of a good thing or a potentially pleasing combination?

We've been so lucky the past two weekends, in that we've had tolerable, cooler weather, so we're still tackling the various stations of the Weedorium (yep, I made that one up) in the garden. It's grueling work as always, though we made a few fun discoveries (such as a Praying Mantis and some volunteer sweet potato vine!) while we furiously pulled or dug up weed after weed.

I took the small primrose bed by the steps, which was badly in need of a thorough weeding, while Fernymoss worked the other side of the steps in the main front boulder bed. On my side of the steps, I just concentrated on clearing all the crabgrass and various weeds (including some renegade morning glories) away from the Primroses, Salvia nemorosa, Toad Lilies, Lavender, and the other plants in this bed. Once that job was finally done, I planted 2 Silver Mound Artemisias (they'd been waiting in pots and a bit worse for wear) and a variegated Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum) that one of Fernymoss' co-workers gave him a while back (it too had been waiting more than patiently in its pot).

Fernymoss had by far the more exciting experience, especially since he discovered (and photographed) one of the elusive Mantises we've seen lurking around the garden. He also uncovered a spot where lo and behold, he found a couple of Purple Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea battata) seedlings that are about 5 inches tall! They're not far from a big pot where we had them growing last year, and since they bloomed frequently (which most don't do), they must have left some seed behind. We've never known them to do this before, but are delighted with the find, and it's going to be fed tomorrow, just to see how big it can get before frost gets it. Not far from these welcome volunteers, he also found a good number of a purple ornamental pepper we had growing in the area last year. We thought it would probably seed, since it did fruit heavily, but up until now we've not seen them. Like the volunteer Celosias, they just took their time showing up!

Now I know some may be thinking that seeing a Petunia in a garden is a pretty prosaic sight, but in ours, it's somewhat of an occasion, since this is the first year ever we've planted them. This year, we both finally resolved our Petunia Issues (which I discussed a few months back here) and we're glad to have them. Our intention was to provide another food source for Hummingbirds and Butterflies, and now we're very pleased with how good they look planted among the Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflorum). We both were quite taken with this veiny purple one that looks like it's spent much of its time revving up to take off during the last month or two of summer. We haven't seen the hummingbirds visiting yet, but oddly, they still are coming around to work the Monarda from time to time. I also saw a sure sign of Fall's approach ... a pair of Goldfinches who were interested in feeding on the Purple Coneflower seeds, but we were too close for comfort and they took off. I'm sure they'll be back, because they visit faithfully every year and we leave them throughout the winter to provide them (and other birds) a quick snack if they need it.
Here's another variety of Petunia that caught our eye, also planted among Moss Rose and the unidentified Artemisia I talked about earlier in the spring, and to the left in back, you can see a Kniphofia still struggling in a less than optimal spot. I put this one in about 3 years ago and it has yet to bloom because it tends to get swallowed up by the Artemisia, but it's been putting on some size this year, and I may just move it in the Spring (or yet this fall) and put it with its fellow 'Poker Plants' in the back of the Hibiscus bed where they are flourishing. This is one plant I really wish would rebloom, but alas its show is brief and doesn't happen more than once a Summer. Pity, because its blooms are truly a unique event (which I unfortunately didn't capture this year).
Here we have our newest member of the Celosia family, 'Caracas,' which I talked about a bit in a post from last week ... In the comments to that post, Gail asked if she should prune it a bit to encourage more branching, and I strongly counseled against doing that, which a close look at this photo should explain why. Ours is already over 4 feet tall and it's branching at practically every node all along the central stem, where you can see new blooms developing. I love just about everything about this plant, from its electric pinkish red stems and bronzy foliage to the truly whimsical poker shaped blooms abounding from it. More ...many ... please! We'll be collecting these seeds when they set on and want to make sure it stakes out territory not only here, but in other sunny spaces in the various beds as well. We'll see what we get come fall, but if we have enough to share I may be able to pass some along to other interested gardeners.
Finally! The oft attempted, yet more often failed, effort to get a sharp close up of one of the blooms has succeeded! Now this is one bizarre bloom that reminds me at once of a fantastical caterpillar and some sort of floral fuzzy tongue reaching out to tickle observers who just get a little too close.... No matter what, we think the backdrop of the Porcupine grass and its proximity to Finger Rock really show this newcomer off to his best advantage in the front border. Folks, if you spot this variety next Spring, give it a try... we're just loving it!

As for the rest of the Weedorium, we didn't get to those profligate Zebrina Mallows due to lack of time (we were invited out for dinner tonight) and the fact that there were a few too many bees working over there for comfort when we were at work. We're going to head over there for at least a while tomorrow, but the veggie garden is also overrun with all sorts of nastiness. Though I inspected it today and discovered that we have quite a few ears of corn developing (at least 20-30 or so!) and tons of tomatoes set on and gradually beginning to ripen. I picked one to add to the three I recently got from behind the house, so they're finally getting their act together.

Such is the state of the garden on this cool August night, as we skate inevitably toward Labor Day.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lights Out At The Carpetbagger Report

This was kind of a sad day for me because my favorite political blog, The Carpetbagger Report, helmed so brilliantly by none other than Steve Benen, cleared the floor and turned off the lights with today's final Mini-Report and open thread. I've been reading Steve's musings and analysis on politics there for over four years now, and he had created a real community over those five years the blog was up. It was one of those rare blogs where not only were Steve's posts incisive, extremely well written and witty, but the commenter community that developed there was comprised of mostly very intelligent, civil and articulate commenters, who had very few spats amongst them, (though I got zinged a few times around Iowa Caucus time), but compared to other blogs, these folks were (and still are!) a great group of people. Steve's writing and analysis got me there, and once I was hooked, the commenters generally kept me coming back first thing every day. Thus, Steve Benen became my go-to guy on politics very quickly. Of course I read other blogs and have a lot of respect for some of the bloggers, but Steve has always stood out as the one to beat in my book.

This is starting to sound like a lament for a lost blog, but that's really not the point of this post. The reason Steve closed down TCR is that he's moved up in the world! He will be replacing Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly's blog, Political Animal, starting tomorrow August 28. Though I'm not crazy about WM's format for the blog (it's difficult for me to read with all the clutter on the page), I'll be following my favorite blogger there, because a day without reading Steve Benen's work is a day when I know I am going to be sadly uninformed on the issues that matter most to me in politics. So, that's the imperative: follow this man wherever he goes to write.

I've had him linked in my political blog section of the sidebar since the inception of Urban Oasis, and his closing down TCR made me venture into the template to change his linkage. I have no idea if anyone who ever read here used it to check out TCR, but I hope some did, and were pleased with what they found there. I've updated it now, and while I was at it, I reorganized the garden blog links a bit and added a couple of new ones I've been reading lately.

One of these days, I need to do a major overhaul on the template and overall look of this blog, but I'm still HTML challenged and fear messing the whole thing up, but it's going to happen eventually, perhaps this fall or winter when there's less going on in the garden and I can devote more time to the new look.

And I guess this is as good a time as any to let you in on a little project I have going on the side ... Fernymoss and I will be putting together an Urban Oasis 2009 calendar, but it's still in its gestational phase. We pretty much have the flowers for the months mapped out (though we haven't yet chosen the photos), but also want to include gardening tips, when/where to plant and other info, as well as significant or fun dates to commemorate on a calendar. We haven't got the logistics of printing it worked out yet, but we did inherit a very nice HP photo quality printer a while back (one of the fancy ones), so we hope we can print the initial run on it, but I haven't gotten the printer up and running and talking with the network yet, so that's going to take a while.

So ... if readers (regular or otherwise) would like to make suggestions as to things they think would be cool to include or point out any particular photos you think would be good to use, I'm certainly open to hearing what you have to say! I'd also like to say that we came up with this idea not with the intention of making money, but rather as a way to create a personal Christmas gift for friends and relatives, that's all. As this project progresses, I'll fill you in on the details if the interest is there, but I figured that now I have software capable of producing such a project, I should take advantage of it, and this was the first idea ...

Just a little green, like the color when then spring is born, there will be crocuses to bring to school tomorrow .... -- Joni Mitchell

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Kopper King Gives An Encore

Given yesterday's enthusiastic reception for the Kopper King, he's graciously granted us another brief audience ... I took these shots on August 16, late in the afternoon when he was starting to close up shop for the day, so that accounts for some of the petal ruffles, though others just never fully opened during the day because they were crowded together so closely. In this first shot, you can see how densely the buds pack themselves together, and on truly lucky days you can get 3-4 blooms all open at the same time on one stalk of the plant.

And, to address a point that Annie in Austin brought up in the previous post's comments, somehow I neglected to mention how big Kopper King actually grows! I can't recall (in his 7-8 years here) that he has ever gotten any bigger than 4 ft, which is right about where he is this year as well. As perennial hibiscus go, he's got a very neat growing habit, compared to say, a 'Lord Baltimore' or 'Blue River' who can get pretty tall and ungainly at times, which puts them at significant risk for damage from wind. There's nothing quite as discouraging as seeing a 5-6 ft tall stalk loaded with buds and blooms toppled after a violent thunderstorm. Often, such stalks can be saved if
carefully re-staked immediately, but sometimes they just snap, and that it's for that part of the plant for the year.
I was also trying in these shots to capture the fantastic veining in the foliage as well, since that's the feature that most attracted me to it when I got this plant. This shot also shows that he has sustained some minor foliage damage, most likely during one of those thunderstorms we had last week when we got the first hail of the summer (that did a number on the pumpkin leaves). Fortunately we haven't had much in the way of insects bothering this plant (unlike poor Shady Gardener does this year), which might be due in part to the Praying Mantises that have taken up residence in the garden. We haven't been able to get close to any this year, but we have had fleeting glimpses of them around the back yard, so are keeping an eye out for them so we can capture them (with the camera of course)! If you're interested in seeing some up close and personal, click on the Praying Mantis label below to see last year's posts on them.
As for this third shot, I wasn't sure that I'd manage to get the textural look I was aiming for, but I was pleased with how this turned out. I even knew at the time I took this what I'd call it (I rarely give photos a title other than a descriptive one): Shybiscus. Usually the blooms have their inner bits proudly displayed to the world, but not this discreet bloom, thus the name.... This shot also demonstrates the depth of the red and veining these flowers have ... they're truly among the deepest reds I think you can find in a perennial hibiscus, though I suspect the Fleming Brothers have also developed other varieties with this color trait. I can see that I need to spend more time on the Fleming Flowers website, though I know full well I'll be way too tempted to pull out the credit card and go crazy snapping things up. And worse yet, I'll have Fernymoss wagging his finger at me asking the usual question: And where do you think you are going put this one? I do have an answer where next year's acquisition is going though ... in the spot where I yanked all that Coreopsis out last weekend. It doesn't have to be filled this year, and some of the Coreopsis is likely to reappear anyway, at which point I can either transplant it or yank it out. So I'll just use that site as a 'wish list' for now, then order for spring delivery, so I don't make too many spur of the moment plant purchases, something I'm well known for doing when it comes to plants!
Last weekend, when we were doing some end of the day weeding out front, I just had to get a few more shots of this new variety of Celosia called 'Caracas.' It was a new discovery for us this year, and since we got it at a end of season discount, we had to give it a try. When we got them, they were already about 2 ft tall, and have since grown to between 3 and 4 ft at present. It's obviously a cultivar of the Plumosa type Celosias, with a bit of the bronzy red foliage that you find in other varieties such as 'New Look,' though the latter never reach this height. We used to always plant the big Argentea cristata or 'Cockscomb' form, those old fashiony types with the huge "brain clusters" of flower heads, but the past few years we've been too occupied to get them planted in time. I'm thinking now that we could really save a lot of money on annuals if we just started them indoors under lighting, so maybe this winter we'll actually get motivated enough to set that up and avoid having to buy them.

Anyway, Gail also discovered this one as well and has it in her garden, so she's the only other gardener I know who has this particular variety. I'm definitely going to collect and sow seeds from this one this fall, because it looks like it's going to be a real performer for the rest of the season. I've at times mentioned on this blog that Celosia is particularly susceptible to "sporting" and producing odd mutants, so I'm curious if this one will cross with others in our garden and produce something different next year. You never know with Celosia volunteers, and I've found a few recently that are part 'New Look' and who knows what else. They're not blooming just yet, but I'll be curious to see what those look like.

If you've never grown Celosia, it's worth a try, if for no other reason than they bloom right up till frost, snort at heat, dry and humidity (once established, of course), and bring great splashes of colors to the garden when everything else is tending to look a bit past spent. And if you're really lucky, they may cross and give you some real oddballs in the garden the next year! One word of caution: when buying Celosia from garden centers, make sure you don't mistakenly buy the 'Jewel Box Mix' varieties, because they are dwarf cultivars that barely reach 5 inches high! I did that one year, and cursed myself all summer for that mistake as they got swallowed up by their bigger neighbors. The ones often called the 'Castle' varieties get taller and produce a lot more flowers as well ... and they come in a nice array of colors from pink to yellow and brilliant reds (my favorites). Under optimal conditions we've had those get over a foot tall and loaded with bloom spikes bursting with color. They're well worth a spot in your sunny garden, and make great front of the border annuals ... oh, and bees love them! Need I say more?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

An Audience With the King

Here's the Hibiscus that several regular visitors have been waiting for ... His Legendary Highness, Kopper King! This unique and gorgeous hybrid variety was developed by the well-known Fleming Brothers from Lincoln, NE ... I'm not sure if they're still alive, but their legacy continues and they have a wonderful site with even more of the beauties they developed over the years, but to my mind, even though they are remarkably lovely hybrids, none of them begin to surpass the sheer uniqueness of Kopper KIng! When I first saw it (probably about 7-8 years ago) I just had to buy it if for no other reason than because of its foliage, which is unlike any other perennial Hibiscus I have seen. And when it bloomed the second year, the flowers were every bit as impressive as the foliage, with their intense deep red veining and 'eye,' and shades of pink radiating out from the flower's eye.
I should probably note that this year these first few flowers have been strangely lacking in the pink that's one of the distinctive features of this cultivar. I find that a bit odd, but maybe successive flowers will take on more pink as they bloom throughout his relatively limited bloom period. Some Hibiscus (such as 'Blue River,' 'Lord Baltimore,' and the 'Disco Belle' cultivars) will bloom for at least two months in our garden, and last year 'Blue River' stopped in late August, took a couple of weeks off and then bloomed non-stop through October until we had a killing frost. Not so with Kopper King, because when he's spent, he's done and packing it in for the rest of the season. The bonus, though, is that you still have that fantastic foliage remaining, which turns colors in the fall before the freeze ... the bronzy red deepens in the autumn sun, rewarding you once again by its foliage. To my knowledge (and I'm not an expert, just a fanatic), no other perennial hibiscus can offer such year round appeal.
The first shot above was the only fully open flower when I took these late Saturday afternoon (16 August), after the weeding frenzy we went on that afternoon. Anyway, I was hoping to catch the waning western sun coming through the petals ... maybe next time sometime soon! The second shot (above) was already starting to pack it in for the night, only to drop off a day or so later ... such is the longevity of a Hibiscus bloom ... so impressive, yet so ephemeral that they have to pummel you with quantity to make up for their brevity on the scene. Yet another reason why I'm such a fan(atic) about Hibiscus, whether they be perennial or tropical, because they both give a gardener a colorful, reliable and so rewarding a show while they're in their prime during the summer months. You want a late July-August bloomer in the garden? Hibiscus moscheutos cultivars are for you!

Oh yeah, and the shots above and below showcase a Ladybug I happened to see on this flower at the time. She eventually took off, but these last two give us a good look at her going about her business. I don't often catch them at work on our flowers, but when I do, they always give me such a warm and fuzzy that I'm glad they're around taking care of critters we don't even know who invade the garden spaces....
I'll plan on working more Kopper King into the mix as it progresses through his bloom cycle, so you haven't seen the last of him (unless I receive complaints in the comments, lol). There's a lot of other stuff going on in the garden now (the Voodoo Lily is up!) to take up the slack, so variety will likely be the theme here for a while. I can't believe it's already August! We should have corn and tomatoes soon, even though they got started later than we would have liked, but then June was a truly aberrant month this year with all the rain!

Consider this post a condolence of sorts to Shady Gardener and Gail, who are currently experiencing problems growing this particular plant ... While Shady has something devouring the foliage (Japanese Beetles or a Caterpillar?), Gail's plant apparently wants more sun for it to bloom for her ... I guess we were fortunate to plant ours where it is, even if it was a rather 'ad hoc' decision at the time. I think that was about the time we were buying the house way back in 2000. Sometimes it's hard for me to grapple with the fact that we have been here since 1998 come September. As regular visitors will know, ours is a work in progress, and we have had our successes and failures over the years, but for the most part, we like to think we're on the way to building a durable perennial and annual garden that works for us ... it's just going to take a few more years....

Monday, August 18, 2008

Belated Bloom Day ... August, 2008

Ok, some of my favorite garden bloggers faithfully observe a "Bloom Day" each month to showcase what's going on in their gardens. Dolt that I am, I never seem to know when it is until I read their posts! So forgive me a few days' tardiness (and my natural tendency to generally be late to the proverbial party!), and I hope you enjoy this belated contribution.

This post is organized as a sort of an ad hoc garden tour, startng from my front door, down along the edges of the front boulder bed, through the Woodland Garden, the small herb bed behind the house, and on back to the hibiscus bed in the parking. This first shot is a volunteer Celosia that I noticed a month or so ago nestled between the rocks by the steps that lead up to the entry of the house. When it first appeared, I wondered if it would be a mutant (one of those weird "Pineapple" ones like we've had the past couple of years. Click on the label "Sports" down below to see what I'm talking about.), but as it turns out, it's pretty much faithful to the original plant we set out years ago. Funny ... I wonder if, after mutating a few years, such sports start reverting back to their original forms after a period of time? Something to research more about in my many moments of free time, LOL. Anyway, I'm glad it popped up where it did and think it's quite pretty!

Here we have a Calendula in bloom, about two steps away from the previously mentioned Celosia. I found this one especially attractive, so had to pause to snap a few shots of it as I continued down the walk in front. I know I'm always plugging these, but honestly, there's hardly an easier flower (ok, maybe Zinnias) to get established as a returning annual in the garden. Just keep them happy and watered in a sunny place their first year, pull off the seed heads, separate them and scatter them about, and you'll have more the following year, and successive years after ... They're edible, have great herbal properties (skin care) and so darn pretty, how could any lover of fire colors do without it?
Regular readers will recognize the frequent "Bee Butt" shots I post when I get a good one, and since I know that some of you are fans of them, I present the August, 2008 Bee Butt of the Month. I got several of this bee working on Zebrina Mallow flowers at the corner of the boulder bed, and thought this was the best one to share. It was unbelievable how many bees were working in this area, which, frankly, has gotten out of control this year, with so many Zebrina Mallows up everywhere, that we are going to have start controlling them more. I did pull a few tonight where they were shading out more important plants, but while we were weeding this evening, there were just too many buzzing around that we just didn't want to risk ticking them off, so we worked some in the Woodland Garden instead. And to think a few months ago (June) I was prematurely lamenting the disappearance of our wonderful Bumblebees! Though we may both inconvenience each other from time to time. I got loudly "Buzzed" by one when I was pulling the Zebrina Mallows, but it was only a friendly warning. Of course, I then backed off quickly....
I had to include a few examples of the various Zinnias I have planted among the veggies and herbs right behind the house, because they are just now starting to come into bloom in the various places we have them planted around the garden. I really like this happenstance combination of the red and orange, but as you probably know, I'm really big on the fire colors so I'm always delighted to have them wherever I can on whatever I can! These haven't reached their mature height yet, but I've noticed that around the neighborhood where people have Zinnias planted, they seem to be blooming at a much smaller height than usual. I'm not sure what's up with that, but given the downright bizarre Spring-Summer we've had this year, it could well be an effect of the weather....
Again, we're in pretty much the same spot, different flower ... I just really loved the how the orange came through in this shot, as well as the amount of detail the camera captured at the center of the flower. (Have I raved enough about how much I love the Fuji S700? LOL) I think that every gardener who uses annuals and has a sunny spot should have to answer this question affirmatively: Got Zinnias? Such a cheap investment to plant seeds and you get back so much from them when you pamper them just a bit as they get going, and from then on, heat, humidity and drought barely touch them! Darn near perfect if you ask me -- which of course you didn't, but just in case....
One more for the road, as it were ... I'm never quite sure whether to refer to this as some shade of pink or magenta, but whatever it is, this color inevitably shows up in the mixes I buy to plant every summer. And I'm delighted with it, because these are always real eye poppers in the garden, no matter its designation. There are other ones blooming elsewhere in the garden, and you'll likely see more in the coming weeks, so consider these three to be but a brief preview from this month....
Let's revisit the Torenia I was touting a while back as the perfect replacement for Impatiens ... I guess I slightly honked off some Impatiens fans a while back when I bad mouthed them as "old lady flowers" and these are what I recommended to replace them. These two plants have done quite well over the summer and have expanded their spread quite a bit since we first planted them. They're quite happy to share their space with the ivy we have planted as a ground cover in this area, as well as the omnipresent ground ivy (aka: Creeping whoever... Charlie, Jenny, who else?). Only when I uploaded this shot to the computer did I realize I had also caught a maple seedling ... which will be dispatched soon, post haste! You can also see (to the left) one of the Toad Lilies that is starting to bud out (I think it's 'Amethystina'), but all you can tell right now is that it will be some shade of purple. To the right is one of our Hellebores that has been doing pretty well this year, so we hope it will bloom next year ... I wonder what color it will be, as this one has yet to bloom for us....
I don't think anyone will have to guess too hard what this bud is ... In fact, a few regular readers (who shall remain namelss) are probably just salivating at this tempting sight ... the long awaited blooming of His Majesty the Kopper King! I'll be devoting an entire post to this personal favorite very soon (maybe even tomorrow, depending on how wiped out I am by work at that point). I've been hearing from Gail that hers refuses to bud out and we suspect that lack of sun is the culprit ... but Shady Gardener has it worse! Hers is being eaten alive by some sort of critter ... a voracious caterpillar we suspect, but in any case, I'd really be whining if mine suffered the same fate! Hang in there, Shady, and hopefully it will manage to bloom for you this year! If not, just repeat the age old Gardener's Mantra: Next year....

Well that's it from here for August Bloom day around here! There were a lot of other things I would have liked to include, but given the length of this post already, they'll have to show up later. Never fear though, I really milk the photos I get for all they're worth, so I hope no one feels slighted, hehe. I took all these shots on August 16 and 17, 2008, so they're an accurate reflection of how we were viewing things the past two days. I'll try to remember the right date for Bloom Day next month, but don't hold me to it!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Queen Pepa Demands Her Due Blog Time

This one is for Olivia, the blogmother of this humble effort that is Urban Oasis. Just a couple of photos showing off our favorite show off, her Royal Highness, Queen Pepa (Approximately). Here she is posing in a couple of places while we were out weeding today. I was taking a quick break when she decided to pose for me after I had weeded behind the house. The first shot is her looking in the back door when I went inside to get a city composting bag to put all the stuff I had weeded into ... she came in, got a drink of water and then accompanied me back out into the back yard to clean up. She was such a good gardening buddy today, and even though the back gate was open, she never strayed far from where I was weeding. I'd say she had a good day out back today, because she got to supervise what both of us were doing....
Here she is taking a posing break while I had a Coke in my chair out back before I tackled the Hibiscus bed. She was having a hard time keeping her eyes open in the late afternoon sun, and posed so perfectly that I had to get a few shots of her relaxing after a hard afternoon of playing supervisor. I guess I should note that we go back a long ways ... I first adopted Pepa on August 5, 1995, when my previous dog Coco was ailing with Mast Cell Cancer, and I thought she might perk Coco up a bit. Well, Coco died on September 13, 1995, but before she went, she definitely told Pepa a few things about what it took to be a great dog. It took a few years, and many destroyed objects (pillows, plants and LP records) before Pepa fulfilled her "great dog" status, but despite the history, she not only stepped in to fill those paws, but has gone far beyond that to reach "Queen" status. She's definitely earned it at this point, and at 14 years old, she has plenty of spirit to keep going for a few years, we hope! She's got a lot of "age frosting" now, but she still has tons of "piss and vinegar" (as my Dad would have said) keeping her going. Now that we're facing dealing with two geriatric dogs in the house, signs of mortality are weighing heavily on our minds. Rolly is approaching 17 years old and probably won't be around much longer, given his deafness and arthritic lameness, but we still cherish and love them both. I just hope that when he goes, Pepa isn't too forelorn that she can't deal with the loss, because the two of them have spent the last 11 years together, and they are a harmonious couple. I know that had I spent these past 11 years without Fernymoss, my life would have been much less rich, all things considered. I suspect that both Rolly and Pepa feel similarly. Pepa has been spending a lot of her time lately tending to Rolly, and seems to understand the trajectory, much to her credit. And I wonder what she knows that we don't yet.

Time will tell, I guess.......

Full Moon ...

It was a full moon tonight, so Fernymoss decided he'd take a stab at getting some photos, since it was so bright outside. We haven't played around much with taking night shots (except the fireworks and that thunderstorm video), and obviously we don't have the hang of it yet! So, I apologize for the quality in advance, but knowing it was full moon should have tipped me off about undertaking any major projects! But no ... I had to go and try to get my new wireless network card in my old XP computer connected to the rest of the computers in the house ... bad decision! I just quit out of frustration a little bit ago, vowing to go out and just get an ethernet cable to connect it tomorrow because I can't get it to connect to my network through the wireless card!

Why do I want to do this, you might ask? Well, it's a long story! When I got my new computer last fall, I planned to get them all networked so we could share the internet connection, as well as do some file sharing between all the computers in the house. After consulting our "guru" BJ (a friend originally from here and now living in NYC), I learned that since Fernymoss is running Linux, that wasn't going to work for him, but I'd be able to swap back and forth between my two.

But yesterday we ran into a few kinks ... first of all, I had planned to swap the second hard drive in the XP box to my Vista computer, put in a wireless card as well, and expand my capabilities on this computer. Well, as it turned out, BJ couldn't swap the drives because the XP box uses an IDE controller and my new one only will accept the newer (next generation) SATA drives, so the huge 225 GB drive I wanted to swap has to stay put, and I have to get a SATA drive for the Vista box. But that can wait until Thanksgiving, when BJ will be back in town again from NYC. The second wrinkle was that given the compact architecture of my Vista machine, the PCI wireless card I had gotten was too big to fit the box! Another great idea nixed by circumstances of having such a new machine. No sweat, I thought, I'll just put the card in the XP box and go from there. Well, that's what I've been trying to get up and running tonight, and I wasted over three hours of time and increasing frustration on a fool's errand. Occasionally I can get the computer to show up in my network, but it can't access it, for some weird reason. So much for Linksys "Easy" installation and set up! I can see other networks in the area, but not mine, so I just gave up. Ethernet cable will be much simpler, and when I got the router all set up when I originally got it, I was able to hook up my computer and Fernymoss' Linux box with no hitches. So that's the next plan ... and then I have to figure out how to do file sharing between my two computers, which should be simpler, once they both realize they're on the same network. Basically I just want to use the old XP machine as a file server because it has most of my music on it, as well as all the photos dating back to when I first started my (now defunct) website and this blog.

I consider myself pretty computer savvy in most things, but making hardware cooperate hasn't been my forte, as tonight's adventure in frustration proved. Tomorrow's another day, and though I have to do "work work," I can't devote too much time to this, but the ethernet cable should take care of one problem, which is getting the XP box all updated, since it's been inactive since late September. All I want is an internet connection so it can download all the Windows and security updates, which will likely take a day or so! Then I can concentrate on getting the file sharing set up, so I can access that huge drive I have over there. Wish me luck, and if you have any salient tips to share, please let me know (please!).

As for the garden, well, it's August and until the last few days it has either been too hot or rainy for us to get much done out there, and in the interim, the weeds have been proliferating insanely! It's a mess out there! But we tackled it today for about three hours, working in different areas, pulling and digging weeds up to rescue our precious beauties. I worked on weeding my pathetic peppers (this is NOT a good year for peppers around here!) and the rest of the stuff behind the house ... the tomato (it had to be staked higher because it outgrew its "bush" status quickly) and the herbs as well. And once that was done, I took a break and tackled the out of control hibiscus bed in the parking (where Kopper King and Blue River reside), where the volunteer morning glories, bindweed and foxtail had overrun practically everything! I now hate morning glories, especially those horridly weedy pink ones we mistakenly planted years ago, and who refuse to go away. I filled up an entire wheelbarrow with the stuff I pulled (it took me about two hours!), but at least everything can breathe again. As for that Coreopsis I complained about earlier this summer, it was looking so crappy that I just pulled it up and threw it in with the other weeds! I've had it with that plant. I bet it will be back next year, when it will get the same treatment. If I plant it again, I'll make sure to get one of the more compact varieties, but I'm not in any big hurry. Take heart though, I had planned to do a "Bloom Day" post tonight and took plenty of various pictures for that, but it will have to wait a day or so, until work calms down a bit. Kopper King is blooming, and Blue River was having an off day today, and was heavily damaged by the recent hard rains and hail, but it's still hanging in there even though it had fallen over completely and needed much staking that is still not done. One huge section had been blown over and broken (but still blooming!) so I just severed it and we're going to try to root it to produce another plant ... more on that later.

Next project: the front boulder beds, because between the weeds and the overly enthusiastic Zebrina mallows, we have a lot of work to do out there ... Fernymoss made some progress, but after I finished the Hibiscus bed, I was wiped out and had to quit for the day. You already know what I tackled next, and that's a continuing saga that I hope a mere ethernet cable will resolve. Then comes networking the various printers I want to have up and running in my home office here. I expect that will be every bit as "fun" as what I put myself through tonight, lol! At least all these months, I've been saving paper and toner/ink cartridges, but that can't go on forever, so that's the next hurdle ... wish me luck! With any luck, after next Wednesday, I hope to have the blog back in its regular schedule, and apologies in advance for not keeping up with what I usually try to do ... though summer is waning now, alas, there's still a lot of prime growing time to chronicle for the next couple of months!

UPDATED: Sunday August 17, 2008 ...
Since I actually had to do some "work work" today for a few hours, I gave Fernymoss $20 and sent him off to Radio Shack for an ethernet cable. Once I powered up my old machine, plugged it into the router and my network immediately recognized it and established an internet connection for it. It all seems so decadent ... now two people could access the internet in this one small place I call my office! Who knows, that may well come in handy at some point ... And best of all, I looked up how to do file sharing with folders on the old machine, so now all my hundreds of discs of music are accessible from this computer, even imported into my media player library! After all that frustration, venting and general kvetching, I now pretty much have the file server I was wanting all the time. And when I can get a new SATA drive for this computer, I'll have probably close to a terabyte of storage space! Whoopee ... just what the avid photographer and music fan needs.

I'm a happy camper tonight!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tales of Yarrow: Performer or Pest?

We have several varieties of Achillea in various spots around the gardens, but the two predominant ones are Achillea millefolium, one (very large) clump of white, as well as several smaller stands of (my favorite) the red variety. We do still have some of the upright yellow Achillea filipendulina, or Fernleaf Yarrow in the back garden, but I'm trying to discourage it, ahem, make it go away because it has crowded out more valuable plants, always falls down (no more staking for me, I've got better things to do!), and just generally has become an annoyance more than a good member of the garden. So ... if I don't just pull it this fall, I won't be sad if it doesn't show up again next year. If it were up to me, I'd banish it to the "cornfield," so to speak....

However, the red and white do have their saving graces, even if they do have a tendency to want to take over their respective neighborhoods. The white variety is by far the most aggressive and if we don't divide our clump next year, we could be facing some serious loss of precious sunny garden space. Still, it has a lot going for it ... it requires virtually no attention, remains attractive through the hot months of summer and is really drought resistant. It attracts lots of bees and butterflies, and even has some herbal value ... I should be really in love with this plant, but curiously enough, I only tend to feel indifferent about it. Yes, it was a traded plant from several years ago, from a friend who gave us some really invasive stuff --some good, such as the phlox-- such as the Lysimachia I profiled back in (I think) July. I just find that it's a bit on the "weedy" side, and wish its red cousin would behave a bit more like it, because that's the one I'm really interested in seeing crawling out of odd spaces in the front boulder bed. It's starting to get there, but just not as quickly as the white has staked out its territory, so we'll just let it do its thing and advance slowly if that's what it wants. But should anyone passing by who mentions liking the white, I'll gladly send them home with a pot or two to get going in their gardens....

That was pretty long preamble to what I really wanted to do in this post, which was to throw out a general gardening query to readers: How many of you have plants/flowers in your garden that you sometimes wish you didn't ... whether they be invasive thugs, pretty rogues, or overly enthusiastic beauties? I've featured several of ours this summer, and I'm curious to hear what others' experiences have been like. So feel free to comment, rant away or generally share some of the more dubious "successes" that you have had in your garden.

In essence, as they say on the big dog blogs, consider this an open thread!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

More Blue River ...

I'm only up to a 'drive by' post tonight for two reasons: 1) I've had a killer headache since this afternoon that refuses to give up, and 2) I needed to make the rounds to the other gardening blogs to catch up a bit, so now that that's done, I thought I'd share a couple more shots of 'Blue River,' currently in bloom. 'Kopper King' is still holding out on me, but I'm going to check tomorrow after work and maybe I'll have news on that front ...
The first shot gives a decent impression of what the whole flower looks like, though it's not the best one I've posted, and I hope to have better soon to share with fellow (and incipient) Mallow Maniacs. Another thing I really like about 'Blue River' is that depending on when you look at it during the day, it can take on a lot of different aspects ... from pristine white with a hint of yellow, to creamy white, to stark shadow play in the late afternoon, when this was taken (on August 5, 2008).

Now, what's wrong with that second shot? That is the result of that heavy rain and hail we got last week, and those holes you see in the petals are not insect damage, rather, this flower opened before the hail came in and obviously suffered from it. In previous years early on, I would have lamented and gnashed my teeth in sorrow, but you know what? 'Blue River' is such a reliable, prolific and long blooming Hibiscus, I don't worry anymore. Last year this plant took a 2 week break from blooming in September, came back again and bloomed right up until frost, when it still had unopened buds on it. Yes, it's unfortunate to see such a lovely flower damaged, but these days I just take it in stide, because 1) the damage is already done and I could not prevent it, and 2) since the flowers last only one day, I know there will be numerous others to replace it....

So there you have it for today ... posting may become a bit spotty this week due to work demands, but I'm going to try to keep up, but if I miss a day or two or three, I'll be back once things have eased up a bit at work....

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Hibiscus and Zinnias Have Arrived ...

Despite the cooler weather today, I didn't get much done outside, in part because I had tons of laundry to do (and hang out), and by the time that was done (around 6:00 pm!) I had run out of what little steam I started the day out with ... plus, my arthritis has been really bad of late (e.g. high humidity!) and is only starting to ease up a bit. With a little luck and cooler temperatures in store for this week, I'm hopeful I'll get at least some minor tasks (weeding is not minor, but oh well...) done after work, which is slated to be very busy this week as well, so I remain ever hopeful I'll find some time.

So again, excuse the hodge podge nature of this post ... I just wanted announce the arrival of bloom time for the Hibiscus and Zinnias, and provide a peek at what's currently coming into prime time. First off, you can see the backside of a 'Blue River' bloom, something we both find fascinating due to its structure and just plain cool look. 'Blue River' is one of my all time favorite Hibiscus due to its simplicity. Pure white with hints of the slightest bit of yellow in the center, and lines that seem so crisply drawn, that they alone add interest to this prolific bloomer. Currently I need to get it staked back up to display it properly, so be patient, that will happen in a day or so!
This is a 'Disco Belle' variety that I planted a few years ago ... unfortunately there wasn't a tag with the proper variety (it simply said "Hardy Hibiscus," lol), but it's definitely one of the 'Disco Belles.' What distinguishes them from the older varieties of Hibiscus moscheutos, is that they don't grow as tall as say, 'Lord Baltimore' or 'Blue River' hibiscus. They have a much bushier habit and this one never gets much bigger than 3-4 ft over the season, but is also a very prolific bloomer. I like the gradations of color in this variety because, aside from its brilliant red center, there's a lot of variation among the flowers with regard to the extent of the pink coloring. Like all hardy Hibiscus, this one requires very little attention other than an occasional watering during dry spells, and cutting back the dead growth in early spring before it emerges again.

As a general rule, I'm not a real fan of hybridized perennial varieties (look what they've done to the Coneflowers and Gaillardia species of late to see why!), but in this case, I really like how breeders have tinkered with the newer hybrids on the market now, such examples of 'Kopper King' (which isn't exactly new) 'Disco Belle' and 'Luna' hibiscus ... They've addressed a key problem with the older varieties who grow to impressive heights, but are so prone to being blown or beaten down by hard rains and high winds. These newer members of the family may not be as tall, but they fare much better in such weather with much less fussing to keep them staked up properly. (That's my only gripe with 'Blue River' which is why I want to get one of the smaller 'Blue River II' ones.) Anyway, you readers can look forward to much more of these beauties in the near future around here, as it's prime time Hibiscus now until probably October!

Mother Nature, who lives in Tennessee, mentioned in a comment to yesterday's post that her neighbor grows a 'Confederate Rose' hibiscus, which was a new one for me. At first I thought she was talking about the annual variety Hibiscus acetosella, 'Red Shield,' but apparently they are two very different species as the links above demonstrate. We wanted to try 'Red Shield' this year, but didn't get any seeds, so that will have to wait until next year, but it looks like a more than acceptable compromise for those who can't grow the perennial varieties (due to zonal incompatibilities), even if their flowers are not as big as the Moscheutos varieties.... We're looking forward to giving 'Red Shield' a try next year!
I used to be a bit of a flower snob with regard to Zinnias, that omnipresent annual so common in many gardens, but I soon changed my tune when I actually started using them around our garden spaces here, I quickly underwent a conversion and now we consider them as essentials. What's not to like about Zinnias? They're practically fail safe (as long as you water regularly after planting the seeds and during dry spells), they're easy, prolific bloomers who reward gardeners who cut them regularly, by producing bushier plants and even more blooms! Zinnias are the first annuals I always suggest to first time gardeners, because they provide pretty quick gratification in the hottest parts of the summer, when they are happiest and really in their prime. The only caveat I mention is that it's really not worth the effort to collect the seeds in fall and plant them the following season, because they rarely (if ever) come back true to what the parent plant was, mostly producing wan pink and white flowers that are much smaller than the parent. But if that's what you like, then collect to your heart's content ... snobs that we are, we just compost them after frost and buy new seed every spring because they're so cheap and give so much back for such little effort ... except for the initial phase of getting them well established. This particular one is one of the many we have planted on the perimeter of the back veggie garden, and you can see that in this shot, it's bordered by a wayward tomato plant and one of the corn stalks.
Another nice feature of Zinnias (which I've never quite understood) is that they attract butterflies by the droves! So if you're looking for a butterfly magnet, and don't already have these in your garden, give them a try, and you'll most likely be rewarded with many visitors. Combine them with other butterfly magnets and you'll have a sure fire show of flora color and fauna visitors including not only the butterflies but the bees as well. We like to keep ours busy in the garden and Zinnias give them a perfect work site to visit frequently. Not to mention that they make perfect cut flowers for inside as well, because they last a long time in the vase, and cutting them promotes even more prolific blooms ... what more could you ask of an inexpensive annual? If anyone has a good answer to that question, I'd like to hear about it!

I was saddened to see today that Isaac Hayes died. Though I don't own any of his work, I've always been really admiring of a lot of it, and always enjoyed seeing his performances when I managed to see them. His talent was genre changing and inventive, and ever evolving until now. Of course I loved his stint as 'Chef' on South Park, at which he was clearly at his peak of comedic and musical powers ... I was disappointed to find out he was a Scientologist --I'll readily admit a bias here-- but I never doubted this man's incredible talent. Isaac, we'll miss you ... too many good ones gone this year ... George Carlin ... and just yesterday Bernie Mac (who spookily enough, acted in the same film as did Hayes just recently).