Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Garden RIP 2008

Well, the inevitable happened Monday night ... after the dramatic passage of the phenomenal cold front on Sunday (and all that brought with it), we had a killing frost. I did look out this morning to see how the remaining toad lilies had fared, and believe it or not, they don't look too unhappy just yet, so we may get some more (abbreviated) bloom time from them yet, as they usually don't give up the ghost until the first hard freeze because they are planted so close to the house. But as for the other tender perennials and annuals more out in the open, they have pretty much said farewell for the year. Officially, according to the Weather Underground (my favorite weather site), it dipped down to 28 F/-2 C last night, thus putting the brakes on much more color for the remainder of the year.

Right in time for Halloween! Although I took these two shots a week ago, you can already see the evidence of just how much things have been winding down around here, as the spooky season barrels toward us ... Fernymoss had already placed several tombstones around the garden in anticipation of Halloween, though ironically, he had to bring them all in on Sunday, lest they blow away with the wicked winds we had on Sunday ... yep, those winds that put an end to our aged maple out back. We're going to replace them today and add some more bones to the display, but this should give you an idea of what goes on in the garden right before Halloween. This shot was taken in the front boulder bed, and the following is a view up the small path to the house in the Woodland Garden.

Here you can see that our magnificent Ostrich Plume ferns have already packed it in for the season and gone brown, though one of our courageous Hellebores (to the left) is still looking quite perky, as are the hollies (see the berries?) and the ivy covering the side of the house. It remains to be seen how much green we'll have in the next few weeks, but I'll try to document the descent into winter deliquescence as it proceeds, as depressing as it may be.... I do think there will be some surprising remainders of color to show off, but they may come from odd sources, because even as I surveyed the wrath of last night's frost today, there are still some bright spots to be seen!

UPDATE ON THE WIND STORM DAMAGE: I've been talking to our insurance company the last couple of days and it looks like they are going to pay for the removal of the tree debris as well as replacement of the section of the chain link fence that was destroyed in Sunday's storm. At least that was somewhat of a relief, because honestly, I've been stressing out way too much about this particular event. In fact, I also seem to have picked up yet another(!) intestinal bug that has made me miserable for the last two days ... fortunately tonight, it seems to be on its way out (so to speak), so I'm feeling a bit better than yesterday. Hearing that the insurance will cover most (if not all) of the clean up and repair from this incident did go a considerable way to putting me more at ease. Now if we can just get the rest of our Halloween decorating done (which should have happened Sunday!), we both can rest a little easier as this week marches on....

And, of course, we are Hoping that we can sleep a whole lot easier come Tuesday night next week. If things go as we all hope they will, it won't be so bad seeing Winter take hold and put the garden to rest for the next several months until Spring....

PS: I'll get back to answering comments from the last few days tonight, and I appreciate very much the kind words of concern and encouragement everyone has been sending! They've made the stress of a very stressful situation much more bearable! So thank you, one and all!

Monday, October 27, 2008

A Wild and Spooky Sunday!

After all the stress and busy times last week, we were both really looking forward to a busy, but relaxing weekend of Halloween preparations for the big day at the end of this week ... well, at least Saturday was productive for me! I spent the day doing laundry and cleaning furiously in the house, and got a lot more of the Halloween decorations unpacked, and by evening, I was good and worn out, but satisfied with my efforts. Fernymoss and I had a lot planned for Sunday ... we were going to clean the carpet, do a bit of grocery shopping and more decorating on the porch and in the house ... Until the Great Cold Front of October 26, 2008 moved in with a vengeance, with its 45 mph sustained winds with gusts up to 60 mph! This morning, Fernymoss got up a bit earlier than I did and went off to rent the Rug Doctor, but in the time he was gone and returned, we had lost power due to an exploding transformer down a half block away....

Once he got home, he noticed that the neighbors two doors down had gathered in their driveway and were all looking at something over this way ... Deb, our neighbor shouted at him: "Did you see what happened?" So he went over to see what she was talking about, and quickly put the picture together: our ancient huge Maple in the back yard had blown into several sections and basically crushed part of the house next door to us. Now, you have to understand, this (rental) house has a bit of a history on our block, and not a good one. In our 10 years here we've seen a procession of all sorts of 'dodgy' types live there, much to our, and the other neighbors' chagrin. Fortunately, the most recent renters moved out earlier in October, so no one was presently living in the house, because if they had, there would have certainly been some injuries.

In this photo, you can see some of the damage the parts of the upper tree caused ... basically, part crushed the roof of the kitchen (lower level) while the other took off part of the second floor roof, and one huge section actually crashed through the roof about 5 ft into an upstairs bedroom. According to our neighbor two doors down, the impact literally rattled their house, though I heard nor felt anything (because I was sleeping on the far north side of our house. Again, it was really fortunate that no one was in there, because it could have caused some serious injuries to say the least. And, as you can see, there's a lot of branches and tree debris taking up the back yard....
This photo shows what it looks like in our back yard, just behind our ramshackle shed (which we wouldn't have minded it taking out, because it's insured!) and the section of our chain link fence another section of the tree top crushed. As you can see, these weren't just branches, these were major sections of the upper tree that blew down! We have no idea just how old our maple was, but it was very old, because it was huge and shaded most of our back yard ... but no more! It's a goner now, because as you can see in the next photo, there's not a lot left of what was the upper tree. So, today I'll be having to contact both our insurance and start checking out tree removal services to take care of what's left. I'm not looking forward to that...!
Here's what remains, and I called this photo RIP Maple, because it's looking really ragged and spooky, just in time for Halloween. It's really sad, actually, because we have really enjoyed this maple (well, aside from the myriads of spinners in the spring, but that problem is taken care of now), and though we'll have much more sun next year, we'll miss this old friend. While Fernymoss was out taking these pictures (you can actually get a glimpse of me hunting down the last pumpkins in the back garden), the landlord of the property next door came by to inspect the damage, and he was making noises about calling his insurance and just demolishing the place, rather than trying to renovate. We really hope that's the case, because as I mentioned, this house has a "history," and it's not a pretty one. Almost everyone who has lived there since we've been here has suffered from the bad karma of this place, and we and the other neighbors would just like to see the place gone. At least we can be sure that no one (human, at least) will be living there for quite some time! And that's a relief, because we were dreading just who would be the next victims to succumb to the bad vibes this place has in spades....
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, we and everyone else on the block had no power due to that transformer explosion, so we decided to go out, survey damage around other parts of the city, do a bit of shopping and get some Popeye's chicken for dinner, simply because we couldn't do much else around the house! So off we went to Big Lots to explore what they had in stock currently ... we cleaned up on a bunch of canned goods (they had some real steals on Campbell's soups!) and other items, one of which happened to be a nice, fuzzy and cushy dog bed that I picked up for Queen Pepa, which you can see her proudly showing off and enjoying in this last shot. Once I made it clear to her that it was her bed, she quickly took possession of it and I think she's going to like it a lot. She's showing her age more recently (after all, she is 14) and though she used to always sleep on my side of the bed, it's harder for her to jump up there these days, so I'm going to put this in the bedroom so she has a cozy and comfy spot to sleep close to her humans. It was the least I could do for her as the colder months are now upon us. And it will serve her well.

When we finally got home, after seeing lots of trees and branches down all around the city, the power was finally back on (after about 6 hours or so), and we did a little happy dance, knowing that we would have not only power, but heat after this crazy day. This is going to be the swan song for the garden tonight, as temperatures are expected to go down into the low 20's tonight. So, we got all the houseplants in (now we have to figure out where they will all go!), cut the final zinnia and calendula flowers to bring inside, and are prepared to say goodbye to this year's garden. After this crazy weekend, I'm not that disconsolate about it ... and even though we had to bring most of the tombstones in for the night due to the wind, but we'll get them back in place before the big day to come.... Thursday night is the big 'Beggars' Night' here in the city, and we're already prepared with plenty of treats and toys to hand out, and we just have to finish the porch decorations and lights, which you'll see here as the week progresses. And Friday night, we'll be holding our annual Halloween Bash, which will top off the week for us in spooky form! So keep an eye out for what's to come this week ... I'll do my best to chronicle it as it happens.

A few final remarks about that Nightmare Before Christmas DVD we got recently ... we watched some of the extras the other night, and they are well worth the rental/purchase of the new Deluxe Edition. The real stand outs are Frankenweenie (Burton's film school thesis film), a wonderful tale of a boy deprived of his dog, who he brings back to life, much to the consternation of the neighbors (with big references to James Whale's original Frankenstein). It's a true dog lover's tail wagger and heart warmer of a short film, in short, a true delight to be seen and savored time and time again. As well as an early short Vincent, which is an imaginative (if a bit primitive) demonstration of the Burtonian filmic vision, narrated by none other than the inimitable Vincent Price (one of my all time favorites). I enthusiastically recommend the whole 2 disc set for Burton afficionados who want some inspiring and goregeous Halloween entertainment!

Ok, after this eventful day, I'm exhausted ... I'll have more later this week, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bless You, Madelyn Dunham!

As regular readers know, from time to time I can't help but let the reality of the current presidential campaign intrude upon my usual garden musings, and after yesterday's post, it should be abundantly clear who we're voting for later this week. For the first time in my adult (voting) life, I will be enthusiastically voting FOR a presidential candidate who has truly inspired us and millions of other very real Americans who dearly love their country and desperately want to see it set back on a saner course after the rape, pillage and plunder of our democracy, constitution and economy after the past eight illegitimate years of the current administration. Little more needs to be said about that, and my intention is not to launch an angry polemic ... rather, I prefer to laud a very special woman, who along with her husband instilled the young Barack Obama with his fundamental values and helped him become the remarkable man he is today.

No doubt you've already heard the news announced last night that Barack Obama is taking Thursday and Friday off the campaign trail to fly to Hawaii to the bedside of his last remaining immediate family member (other than his sister Maya), his grandmother Madelyn Dunham, who according to some accounts is dangerously ill as a result of falling and breaking her hip recently. To say that "Toot" (as Barack calls her) played a crucial formative role in his upbringing is a grossly reductive formulation of the richness and unconditional love she and her husband Stanley brought to Barack's life, and is a characterization best left to Senator Obama himself (as he has previously detailed in his books). I won't even attempt to go there, and my intention is more to express my deepest admiration for this exemplary woman, who with her husband helped to bring us the most inspiring presidential candidate since my hazy recollections of the days of John F. Kennedy (I was 5 when he was assassinated).

Just look at the young couple in the photo above ... young Stanley and Madelyn Dunham (ca. 1940's, though I'm not sure when it was taken), the grandparents of Barack Obama. Look at them very closely, especially Stanley. When I first saw this photo today I was stunned by the unmistakable resemblance Barack bears to his young grandfather ... there's no question about his heritage, and just take a closer look at Madelyn's wonderfully
genuine smile ... these are good people, you can see it in their mere presence. And you can see it in Barack Obama's presence today, for he is truly their legacy, indeed gift, to the American people, no matter what the flailing right wing screech monkeys of the McCain campaign try to fling at him. (And we all know what monkeys like to fling best, don't we?) This humble couple from Kansas, who by happenstance ended up in Hawaii, took on the task of raising young Barack during the years their daughter was abroad studying, apparently never considered their grandson as "Other" (the meme so desperately propagated by those less accepting and tolerant) despite the times they lived in. By all accounts, he was just their "Barry" whom they cherished and nurtured as he grew up. And it's only fitting that Barack now must take the time he needs to spend what time he may have left with his beloved grandmother "Toot" despite the pressures of the final days of his historic campaign.

Anyone who dares to criticize or cynically dismiss this move on his part to pay tribute and express his love to his grandmother is indeed a heartless, soullless person. Unfortunately, in this, George W. Bush's America, there are a lot of those types out there screeching in derision. Enough. It's time to take our country back before we truly dissolve into eventual mindless mob rule, the likes of which Sarah Palin and John McCain have so gleefully encouraged the past few weeks. We're a much better people than this, and Barack Obama can lead us back to a saner world, provided we give him the chance to actualize the concepts of hard work, fairness and devotion to a common purpose and greater good that his grandparents instilled in him.

Two weeks from today, we will hopefully cross an historic threshold by electing this man who can restore our faith in that common purpose and begin to heal the wounds of this divided nation so cynically inflicted by the liar who claimed to be "a uniter, not a divider" who cheated and bullied his way into the White House, thanks to a stolen election and complicit cooperation by certain corrupt members of the Supreme Court. Hope may spring eternal, as some long ago phrasemaker put it, but I fear that if we don't seize this opportunity, America as we grew up to know, love and cherish it, may be lost forever to the minions of hate, fear and cynical self-interest.

We're an infinitely better people than that, I desperately hope. But I've lived long enough to see plenty of ideals dashed and harsh realities bitterly replace them. I want so much to see those hopes and ideals revived before I die.

So let us all, despite any partisan leanings, send our best thoughts and prayers toward Madelyn Dunham, in the hope that she may see her beloved grandson Barack fulfill the great truly American values she worked so hard to instill in him and sacrificed to give him a better chance in life than she was able to achieve for herself (despite her own success as becoming the first female bank Vice President in Hawaii). Her selfless devotion to family is truly an inspiration to us all. Or at least it should be, in a better America. I sincerely hope that we are up to the challenge of bringing that America back to stay.

Thanks to Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic for her inspired and truly touching post today that set me on this path tonight. I literally wept as I read her post about the Dunhams, and it's a must read.

And if you still haven't seen Barack Obama's electrifying acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in August, please take the time now to see for yourself the new direction he wants to take this country in ... far away from the darkness and despair of the past eight years.

I'll step down from my soapbox now. Even humble gardeners such as myself have to express other passions from time to time. Thanks for reading, and don't forget to vote! If you can go early (as we lucky folks in Iowa can do until November 3), by all means do so. It looks to be crowded out there on November 4th.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fall Change Is In the Air....

Well folks, at this point, I think I've just about navigated to the end of denial river, and am beginning to bargain reluctantly with Fall, trying my best to enjoy the unique pleasures it does afford the melancholy gardener at this time of year. After all, we have enjoyed a fairly decent harvest of garden goodness from the tomatoes, corn, onions, leeks to the inadvertently planted pumpkins. As you can see, preparations for the grand Halloween season have begun (thanks to Fernymoss for picking up the slack while I was sick this past weekend) with the arrival of the Punkin Dude! Even though he's usually a harbinger of colder times to come, so far this year we've avoided a hard frost, though it's just a matter of time before it happens and all the remaining color in this part of the garden will be a mere memory until next year.... Still, we'll enjoy it until the bitter end, and I'd just like to point out a few flowers that can provide you with some late fall firepower until that moment comes.
I know I've sung the praises of Calendula officinalis previously, and here's yet another reason why I value this humble 'Pot Marigold' so highly ... just check out those fresh, cheery yellow and orange flowers blooming late into October! Just think ... this particular patch of Calendula has been blooming since June! What more could one ask of an easy self-seeding annual ... over five months of bloom time? If you want more, then you're a more demanding gardener than I am! They've been putting on seeds for a few months now, and though that usually means the end of most annuals, these lovelies just keep on blooming! And only a very hard frost will kill them and stop their show....
Here's a nice close up of an appropriately colored (for the season) Calendula cascading over the edge of one of the front boulders near the steps approaching our house. I'll repeat (ad nauseum) just one more time that I haven't replanted these Calendulas for about five years, and just scatter their seed after frost to ensure their reappearance next spring. If you're interested in growing these no fuss beauties, now (or very soon) is the time to plant them, once the ground has cooled (generally after a killing frost) and they're unlikely to germinate until the ground warms up next spring. Your only other option is to get them out very early in the spring, when, honestly, few gardeners are thinking about digging around in the dirt while it's still cold and lifeless (at least I don't care much for that activity). Sow them liberally where you want them to grow, perhaps raking up the dirt a bit just to cover them and let them winter in place, where they'll pop up in early spring and start to bloom in late May to early June through frost. As Ina Garten would say, How easy is that? Then just either let them fall in place after frost or break up the seedheads and fling them around an area where you'd like them to colonize and your work is done!
On a quick visit today, I saw that Gail is still enjoying her Celosia 'Caracas' down in Nashville, and I suspect that ours will succumb to the cold before hers, but now is a great time to be gathering seed, as the color recedes from the blooms (I'd better get busy doing this myself soon!). But they also provide some great colorful fall accents when everything else is looking pretty ratty, worn out and drab in the garden, and I've noticed that as the weather has inevitably cooled lately, the foliage is taking on an even deeper shade of red, changing along with the leaves on the trees as the season progresses, until they are soon snuffed out by a killing frost and their seeds will go dormant until early summer next year when we'll hopefully have many more popping up in this area....
This is a wider view of the area where 'Caracas' was planted near our stand of 'Porcupine Grass' (Miscanthus sinensis), and as you can see, both have been beaten down a bit by some of the heavy rains and windy storms we've had over the past few weeks. Normally, my inclination would be to stake up the Celosia a bit, but at this point in the season, we tend to just let Nature take her course and let things fall where they may ... besides, Halloween is nearly here and it just seems to add to the generalized spookiness the front garden takes on for the holiday, with its scattered bones and tombstones....
As I wandered around to the Woodland Garden after work today (when I took these photos in the late afternoon), I saw that the Daturas are still hanging in there and blooming away, so I had to pause and get a few shots ... Fernymoss remarked --for a reason that escapes me-- that this one was very 'Georgia O'Keefe.' Ok, I'll go against the grain here (bring out the pitchforks and torches) and say that I've never quite "gotten" the whole enthusiasm for her work. Yes, she did some pretty paintings of flowers, but honestly, her paintings usually just leave me cold. It's not that I don't like women painters (au contraire!), but give me some Remedios Varo or Frida Kahlo any day, because I find their work infinitely more fascinating than O'Keefe's. But I digress ... this is a lovely Datura bloom, isn't it?
Ah yes, the ever present, now weed status Zebrina Mallow, which became quite the pest in the corner boulder bed this year ... despite my aggressive hacking away at it a few months ago, I did allow a few well behaved plants remain (they are really pretty after all), and as you can see here, the cooler weather also has its effect on the late season blooms ... they become darker, bordering more on the magenta hue than their pure purple and white of the warmer months, and what's more, they often bloom past the 'bitter end' of a hard frost and only a hard freeze finally sends them packing for the year, after they've dropped their multitudes of seeds. But as you all know, I'm a really mallow kind of guy, so it's difficult for me to try to eradicate them completely, but then again, check back with me next spring as I labor plucking out all the unwanted ones....
Finally, believe it or not, the Castor ricinus 'Carmencita Rose' plants we grew in a big pot this year are actually setting on some seeds! Though these plants haven't reached full size (7-8 ft) because we grew them in a container, they have been blooming profusely lately, and we may just be able to collect some viable seed to save (are you interested, Marnie?) for next year. These seed pods are very strange, as you can see, and they remind me of some kind of sea anemone or sea cucumber, or one of those weird denizens of the deep. Of all the Castors one can grow, this is by far my favorite (although Zanzibariensis comes close), due to its striking architectural look and the brilliant bronzy foliage that positively glows in the late afternoon sun (of which we are sorely lacking these days). It's well worth planting as a specimen plant in the garden where you have an area you want to accent a striking plant (in full sun) that you won't see in just any garden. Then again, we kind of pride ourselves on being 'not just any garden,' for better or worse!

Yes, there are more Toad Lilies to come, but I'm still behind a bit in posting of late, but there will be more soon!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Blanket Excuse

Once again, I offer my apologies for yet another unplanned hiatus from keeping up with the blog here at Casa IVG. Aside from a busy work schedule (what's new there?), late last week I succumbed yet again to one of the travelling bugs making their way through the area, and quite frankly, I'm fed up with spending about every other weekend sick with one thing or another! This one actually started hitting me on Thursday afternoon, you know, that odd feeling of 'I must be coming down with something' that vague and undefined sense that something is going awry somewhere in the body ... and by Friday morning it had hit me full force: slight fever, sneezing, coughing, chillls and aches. So I took a sick day from work and basically spent almost the entire day sleeping and feeling miserable in bed ... until I had to get up and move around a bit, in this case, downstairs to my comfy recliner, wrapped in my flannels, robe and plush fuzzy blanket. I watched a bit of TV before falling back to sleep for several hours, which is pretty much how I spent the entire weekend.

Finally Sunday night, I started to feel a bit better and actually had an appetite for more than juice and toast --well if you count grilled cheese sandwiches as real food-- and though I was a bit worn out today, whatever this latest thing was, it seems to have pretty much taken leave for this round, so I hope I'm back in the thick of things here at the blog again!

Things are gearing up quickly around here for the big Halloween festivities, and Fernymoss, bless his heart, worked like a demon yesterday putting up the first decorations outside in the garden, building the corn teepee and installing our seasonal friend the Punkin Dude out front with some of the pumpkins. Now that I'm feeling better, I'm going to have to get busy and pitch in on getting the rest together this week and next, when we'll be throwing our annual Halloween Monster Bash on the big night of the 31st.

Add to all that, we both have to find a time to take an hour or so out sometime this week to go vote (early voting has been underway here since late September) so we can spare ourselves the inevitable lines that will occur on November 4. Though voting at our precinct usually goes pretty quickly under normal circumstances, I somehow suspect that it will be crowded and busy this year and will soon overwhelm the tiny room used in the nearby Presbyterian Church just up the street. Besides, this year Iowa is making early voting so easy (not to mention giving everyone plenty of advance notice), that there's really no excuse for not doing one's civic duty....

Oh, and a quick update on that new version of The Nightmare Before Christmas I mentioned last week ... I had ordered it as a birthday gift for Fernymoss, and I did manage to rouse myself sufficiently to watch it Friday night, one small consolation to an otherwise miserable day. It is by far the most sparkling and colorful version I've ever seen of the film (short of the original theatrical release), and if the only one you have seen is the sad VHS version, you really should treat yourself to this remastered DVD. The sound (if you have a home theatre system) is crisp, clear and wonderful, and both of us were amazed at the level of detail the remastered images reveal ... we both swore that we saw things we'd never seen before in the VHS version. Besides, it's a perfect way to ring in the holiday season ... whichever one you prefer! And it will have you singing for days afterwards ... what more could you ask for this time of year?

Oh yeah, I took this photo as I worked one day last week, when Pepa made a mound of the blankets on the futon couch in my office (they were once nicely folded, but no more) and spend the afternoon snoozing away in her nest. Little did I know (at the time) that in a few short days I'd be wrapped up in my own cocoon sweating and chilling the bug away myself ... maybe she was foreshadowing where I'd end up at the end of the week?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Archival Bloom Day Memories ....

A lot of the garden bloggers whose sites I visit regularly observe a "Bloom Day" on the 15th of each month, but slacker I am, I rarely think of it and usually miss the mark. Well, thanks to Gail at Clay and Limestone, who graciously and gently reminded me that it was upcoming today, I decided I should get with it this time. The problem is that right now we're in a rainy cool weather pattern with lots of clouds, so I don't have (m)any current photos of what is going on in the garden! So as I was working today I got an idea ... I have my old computer networked with my newer one and it functions basically as a storage file server for me now, and I have its screen saver set to cycle through the older photos I have archived on it, so... as they flashed by as I worked today they gave me an idea. Why not revisit some memories of seasons past for this post? So ... all the photos you see in this post are from 2006 (and may or may not have been posted previously here) ... the common thread they share is that (except for the Castor blooms) these are flowers we didn't have this year for one reason or another ... some failed after their first season or two, others have disappeared, and some we just haven't planted for the past two years. It was tough making an ad hoc selection to use, though I did try to pick examples from throughout the 2006 growing season, so I hope you'll like this little trip down the floral memory lane....

The first shot is a wonderful 'Parrot Feather' tulip we planted years ago in the first bulb bed, but alas, like many of the fancier tulips, they just don't stick around for that long (these probably lasted about 5 years, then disappeared), but while they do, they certainly are striking! Readers may remember me bemoaning the great Tulip Massacre earlier this spring due to the harsh weather we had last year that carried over to this year, thus depriving us of most of our several hundred tulips, and this was another of the casualties. I'd love to see it return, but at this point, I just don't think that's going to happen, so enjoy it in its past prime ... a memory of what once was.

Ah, Foxglove! We've tried since we started our garden to get Foxglove established, but we've just not had much success in making it happy, though it did do quite well in May, 2006, then disappeared and hasn't returned. This year we thought of sowing seed in bulk to see if we could get it going again, but in the usual Spring rush of planting, it just didn't happen, alas. One of these days we'll find a spot it likes where it will return faithfully for us every year, but until that point, we'll have to content ourselves with the one year they actually performed for us!
Ok, the only reason we haven't had this lovely Convolvulus tricolor the past couple of years is purely due to sloth ... this is one of those annuals that needs to get planted as early as possible in the season to do well, and again due to Spring Manic Panic Planting, we just didn't get around to it! But such a lovely flower really does deserve the attention it needs early on, because if you get the seeds in at the right time, it's a very reliable and profuse bloomer all summer long right up until frost. It's often referred to as 'Bush Morning Glory' because of its mounding growth habit and its Morning Glory type flowers (it's in the same large family of the Convolvulaceae, which includes not only Morning Glories, Cardinal Climber and the plant in the following photos, but also the dreaded bindweed as well).
Mina Lobata, known as 'Spanish Flag' is a spectacular bloomer as well, but like Convolvulus tricolor, the seeds need be planted by mid-May in our area in order for them to have enough time to reach their blooming stage, but wow, once they reach it, they really go to town. This photo was taken on October 1, 2006 as it was at its bloom zenith when it covered one entire end of the old jungle gym we inherited (it's part of the present veggie garden). This is one of those heirloom type vines that we haven't seen much around area gardens, but I'm sure it does have its fans out there somewhere. Its most striking feature is how the flowers start out a pale cream color, morph into yellow, then orange and finish a brilliant red over the course of several weeks. If you've never planted this, but are a fan of vining plants, put this one on your list for next year ... just make sure you get it planted outside after the threat of frost has passed, and you'll be in for a gorgeous surprise in mid to late summer and early fall!
Isn't this plant straight out of oddball land? It's one of the flowering Kales called 'Purple Peacock' which we would have gladly planted over the past two years, but alas, we've been unable to find this variety at the garden centers where we shop. Believe me, we both scour the places looking for it, but for some reason it just hasn't been available since the first year we planted it. Flowering Kales are great annuals because they really take off late in the season, provide a lot of color and interest, surviving even a few freezes before they give up the ghost and basically melt away with winter's arrival. If you ever spot this, snap a few up and plant them in a sunny spot and they will reward you richly! (Again, I took this shot on October 1, 2006.)
Unless you've grown this last plant, I'd bet you have idea what this strange flower is! These are the flowers of Castor ricinus 'Carmencita Rose' a cousin of the Zanzibariensis variety I posted previously here. (I should really do an update on it because our specimen this year is about 10 ft tall at present!) Once the blooms have been pollinated they produce equally odd very spiny seed pods that contain about 4-5 seeds each. Once you grow this plant successfully one year, just let the pods dry on the plant (they're ready about frost), put on some gloves and crack them open to remove the seeds and you'll have more than you need to plant the next year. (When stored properly, seeds remain viable for up to three years, so you can save them or share with other Castor fans.) We have several small ones we planted in a big pot out front this year (we got them in late ... July!) and though they are now blooming, they probably won't have enough time to produce seed, but we have plenty saved to plant again next year, so no worries there!

So there you have it for October Bloom Day 2008! Thanks again Gail, for nudging me out of my slackitude, and though these flowers represent mere memories now from 2006, it was fun combing the archives to put this post together! I hope you enjoyed this post, and even if you're a long time reader, I'm sure you won't mind being reminded of some of the past glory days from our humble garden here at Casa IVG! I promise I'll get more Toad Lilies up before the end of the week if the weather cooperates and we have less rain and more sun for the rest of the week! So, until then ... that's all folks!

Note on these photos: taken over the course of April to October, 2006 using my old faithful camera, my trusty Fuji Finepix 2250. Of course they don't compare to the quality of my new Fuji S700, but they are still pretty darned good shots I think!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Early Halloween Greetings From Her Highness Devil Dog Pepa

As a comedian from my childhood Flip Wilson used to say back in the days of Laugh In, "The Devil Made Me Do It!," so in anticipation of the upcoming holiday, Queen Pepa (approximately) reminded me that she wanted to make one more appearance here as her alter ego 'Devil Dog' just to reinforce how cute she is when she gets dressed up. So, here she is from Halloween 2006 showing off what a fetching bitch she can be when she puts on the horns and cape to greet Trick or Treaters. I'm sure she's happy to retire this particular costume in favor of her much more comfy fleecy skeleton hoodie, but I've always loved how devilishly cute she is when she puts on the horns and cape, and, believe it or not, there was a time (well in the past now) when she really did live up to being a Devil Dog! But for anyone who has ever owned a Terrier, that should come as no surprise, because in their younger years (when she acquired this, her first Halloween costume) they can really live up to the reputation!

As you can see here, she really rules the roost at Casa IVG, and will continue to do so as long as she's with us, which I hope will be for a good, long time to come!

Monday, October 13, 2008

This Is Halloween!

Ok, I know that a while back when I posted the video of "Mr. Misting Skull" I swore that we weren't going to buy any more Halloween decorations this year, due to the overabundance of cool stuff we already have. Well, as you can see in this photo, this weekend we both fell off the wagon with a resounding thud! It all started Friday after work, when we drove out for our yearly visit to Nobbies to see their incredible selection of Halloween merchandise. Talk about two grown kids in an eye candy shop ... Fernymoss spotted the Demon first and just had to have it, while I wandered around a bit and fell in love with this incredibly realistic (but way big) Toad, who seems to be asking "Where are my lilies?" These two new acquisitions will be joining Grizelda the Witch in the annual porch display, along with one of the misting skulls and various other props we put on the table from which she casts her spells enchanting the trick or treaters every year....

Today we had some items to get at Target so off we went, and of course we couldn't resist checking out what Halloween items they had, but weren't that jazzed up about it because the past few years we've thought they've been fairly lackluster (other than some nice gargoyles) in their selection. Not this year! We were bowled over by the abundance of very cool items they have to offer, and really had to try to temper our enthusiasm to drop some serious cash on some of them ... so I sprang for this really cool resin tombstone (it's heavy!) and Fernymoss just had to get this big gargoyle for our ever expanding collection, and both finds should serve us well for years to come ... we also got this enormous black ceramic skull that we're going to put the treats in (better than the cheesy plastic cauldrons we've used in the past ... those will be for the toys this year). Actually, I was the one who dropped some very serious cash for the candy and treats we will be handing out ... I didn't total it all up but it was at least $50-60 for all that stuff. Yes, we like to treat our beggars well, and they remember us ... the house where you not only get candy, chips and stuff, but toys too! Last year several parents from the neighborhood said their kids always want to come to our place first for the spooky decorations as well as the abundant goodies!

We're definitely getting into the mood to decorate and dress up, and even Queen SkelePepa got into the act, as you can see in this second shot. Last year I got her this rather nice fleecy jacket/costume that she actually seems to enjoy wearing, unlike the Devil Dog and Bumblebee outfits she's worn in the past. She looks pretty impressive in the dark, as the skeleton on her back glows in the dark, and though it has a hoodie, it doesn't quite fit her head, so we just roll it back to expose the spiderweb design on the inside. Last winter when it was really cold (and we had no heat for a while when our furnace died) she wore this for extended periods and it seemed to keep her nice and toasty, though tonight she only sported it for a few hours because it was still pretty warm (in the mid 70's well into the later evening hours), but she definitely was enjoying the spirit of the holiday!
As long time readers already know, there are two times of the year we really go overboard decorating: Halloween and Christmas, so as each approaches, you'll be seeing more posts devoted to the art of skillful kitsch ... after all, what's a garden blogger to do when everything is pretty much dead or dormant outside, but you still want to post regularly? So ... in the spirit of the season I'll conclude by plugging one of our all time seasonal favorites, Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. If you still haven't seen this, you really owe it to yourself to indulge in this frightfully innovative and entertaining little film! To say it's a quite unusual musical is a gross understatement, but now that Disney has finally released a cleaned up, remastered new edition (after way too many years of neglect), there's no better time than now to experience it once again --or for the first time! (Click on the image below for details from Amazon.)
If you've seen Nightmare before, you likely recognized that the title of this post refers to one of the more rousing songs in the film that always has me singing along ... but perhaps you might not have known that this song has also been performed by none other than Marilyn Manson! Yep, that one. By no means should anyone infer that I'm a Manson fan (I'm not that familiar with his stuff), but he does a fantastic version of this song, which you can see here, complete with most of the original imagery from the film itself. Don't let the performer put you off, because he delivers a quite competent and entertaining version in this short video! Come on, I know you want to click the link....

We harvested the first two fully orange pumpkins (and the third and biggest is starting to change color) from the garden this weekend, the cornstalks have been cut down and will soon be part of the front garden Halloween display, so look for those coming soon. Oh, and I still have a few more Toad Lily photos to post, so no, the fat lady hasn't sung yet! Stay tuned....

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Tricyrtis Hirta 'Amethystina'

As this week's parade of Toad Lilies continues, I thought I'd follow up 'Raspberry Mousse' with one of its neighbors, 'Amethystina.' Both of these plants originally came with that Park Seed order I mentioned in the previous post, and like 'Mousse,' it was in pretty pathetic condition when it got planted in the fall (along with the bulbs). This one has grown a bit faster than 'Mousse' did, but I'd say that both have really lept into their own territory this year. 'Amethystina' seems a bit stingier with its number of blooms compared to 'Mousse,' but each one has its own particular unique look and charm. It's easy to see how it got its name when you take a look at those developing buds in the right foreground ... in addition to confirming its definite hirta species, they also hint heavily at what's coming with respect to the eventual flower ... this is purple at its richest! (Well, I am biased in that direction.)
I'm quite fond of this particular cultivar for the subtle range and variations of color that it displays ... from deep pink to fuschia and purple ... 'Amethystina' does share the one constant feature (at least for those we grow) of Tricyrtis, the inner ring of yellow dotted with blotches of the principal color. Look back on all of the specimens I have posted recently and you'll see that this is the one thing that links them all to the same basic species. Aside from that, the various Tricyrtis cultivars vary wildly in color....

But there's another aspect of Tricyrtis common to all varieties, which is their brazen exhibitionist tendencies. Yes, I'm venturing into PetAL pR0n territory here by broaching the subject, but honestly, these flowers really lay it all out on display with regard to the purely sexual function of all flowers. Tricyrtis is unabashedly up front about why its flowers are there ... they are meant to further the species even more, and if the show comes in the form of a beautiful bloom, so much the better. They just don't make you look for it by hiding all the inner parts among profuse petals, no ... they just let it all hang out for all to see! I think it's a bit of a pity after all, because as far as I know, all the varieties we have planted are hybrids, thus sterile, and any seed they might happen to produce most likely would not germinate (or be true to the parent if it did). All that work at getting gussied up for the big party ... yet unable to really carry through on consummating the act to produce more progeny ... I would bet they know how altered animals must feel about that particular issue.

But happily for the gardeners who fancy them, they do propagate naturally by offsets from the base of the plant, and when happy, will colonize freely where they are planted, thus increasing in size and scope over the years. A while back I mentioned how our 'Gilt Edge' (a Formosana variety) has been happily sending out new plants by offshoots in just a scant year since it was planted. Of all our Tricyrtis, it seems to be the most aggressive about colonizing ... though how one could quibble with a Toad Lily becoming an aggressive spreader is far beyond my comprehension. I'm just tickled purple!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tricyrtis Hirta 'Raspberry Mousse'

This entry from the pantheon of Toad Lilies currently in bloom turned out to be a bit of a surprise, though it took a few years! I got this particular plant (and our 'Amethystina') from Park Seeds about 5 years ago in one of our bulb orders, and honestly when the plants arrived, they were so light starved, tiny and pathetic we didn't really think they had much of a chance of survival because they were fall planted. In fact, the first couple of years, we were convinced they had died off and just gave up on them, vowing that any future Tricyrtis would be spring planted. But a couple of years ago, we found them again, still pretty small, but alive! We had a few blooms sporadically before this year, where amazingly, they just shot out of the ground and reached about 2 feet or so and now are positively covered with blooms. They make a wonderful addition to the other Tricyrtis in the area, and despite the obviously 'studied' make up of this hybrid, I do think they are quite striking in the depth of color they exhibit. Of course, with me being a fan of most things purple, I'm delighted this one finally decided to take off for us ... so let's look at this series of shots that show them in their natural element.
Here you can get a better view and impression of what a mature bloom stalk looks like ... this one is just loaded with blooms all along the stalk, which makes for an impressive sight when just discovering this bit of 'Raspberry Mousse' among the neighboring Leatherwood ferns. We think they look perfectly at home in this context, and I'm pretty certain that the ferns help give them a bit of shade in the hottest part of summer and also help keep the moisture levels up in this particular area. (Just for orientation, they are planted among the ferns, Trilliums and Arisaema very near the house in the Woodland Garden.) Apparently this is Toad Lily Shangri La for the four specimens we have planted there, because all of them are blooming spectacularly this year ... so I guess we chose right the first time and found the magic spot, and if we had a bit more space, I'd like to put in a few more, but things are getting a bit crowded at this point.

That's one reason I've been trying out 'Gilt Edge' in a different spot by the front steps where it is positively thriving in its second year here. I've been scoping out a few other shady spots near the house where I could plant future Tricyrtis finds, and have some in mind should I find a must have specimen next spring. I'm sure Fernymoss would be thinking something along the lines of Ok, first it was hibiscus, now it's toad lilies! and he'll give me the perfunctory Where's it going to go? reaction. Such is the dilemma of the gardener hopelessly enchanted by the wily Tricyrtis ways ... at least I can always retort, Well, you're the one who originally wanted to plant these! But I'm actually much more pragmatic and this year I didn't buy a single Toad Lily ... I'm holding out for some of the more exotic ones, so until that happens, that conversation probably won't take place.

Finally, here we have a wider shot that gets most of this bloom stalk into the frame ... so you can see just how densely packed these blooms can get over time, and providing a bit more context should help you visualize how they look in the larger scheme of the ferns and other plants nearby. I'm not sure how well this might approximate their native climes in Asia (from whence they came), but for our Woodland Garden purposes, this planting works just fine for us! Splashes of purple amongst the ferns and violets always look especially attractive when everything else is winding down for the season in early Fall, so we look forward to the show every year around this time. I guess I could put it this way ... the Toad Lilies are a bit like the fabled 'Fat Lady' because when they're done blooming, Winter is just around the corner, but while the song lasts, we certainly enjoy every moment of it!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Calendar Update


Fernymoss and I spent a good deal of time Saturday night putting together rough drafts of each month of 2009 ... we have most of the photos chosen at this point, though there will still be a few that we'll have to take between now and November, when we hope to have this finished. Fernymoss has been combing various resources for fun factoids to include, as well as the Moon Phases and Planting Signs, so there should be plenty of tidbits still to include. So far, we're liking how it's looking, though we may eventually have to modify our original format for the final product depending on how we choose to have these reproduced.

We're currently considering two basic options: 1) either we just print them out on nice paper with our HP photo printer or 2) we do the basic mockup and have it printed commercially. Of course, the unit price is a concern, so we want to investigate our options to see which will allow us to produce these at the most reasonable price. I've researched online options for printing these commercially with several companies, and honestly, for the 50 or so copies we want to do, the price is a bit daunting (around $12 per unit seems to be the going rate). But before we make a final decision, we are planning on getting some bids locally for what we want, and then compare that to what it would cost to just make them all ourselves (thus, a truly home made product ... which also has its charms!).

So ... as we sort all that out over the next couple months, I'll just give you a teaser of what one month currently looks like in what we got accomplished over the weekend. As always, please feel free to add your comments or suggestions on how we could improve the basic layout. I can say that there will be more photos than just the 12 months, as we plan to include a few other pages about our garden and some other information (references to good books, references and the like). The nice thing is that with all the footwork we're doing now, we should be able to produce a yearly edition with minimal effort once we get all the kinks worked out. SmartDraw is turning out to be really worth the money it cost to get going ... because we were able to spend a few hours and bang out most of the calendar by plugging in the inital data we want to include. There will be more as this progresses, but here's an example to give you an initial view.

And again, I'm completely open to suggestions for favorite photos or subjects readers would like to see included, and don't worry, Gail, Kopper King will make an appearance somewhere, and right now I'm thinking it might be on the front cover.... Oh, and yes, the dogs will appear somewhere as well ... perhaps on an inner page or even one of the months ... we're not sure yet about the final choices so that's still subject to change. Anyway, enjoy this small preview and let me know about other possible subjects!


The One That Started It All...

As I've been hinting recently in posts and comments, our Toad Lilies (Tricyrtis sp.) are really taking over the early Fall show in the Woodland Garden ... In fact, this season I've been an incessant cheerleader for these beautiful --indeed magical-- Fall surprises. While most gardeners rely on Chrysanthemums and Asters to bring on the show during the cooler days of Fall, we've been relying more and more (over the past 8 or so years) on the humble Toad Lilies. These simple and unassuming delights don't attract much attention (other than from the cognoscenti) during most of the spring/summer season, but when everything else starts looking really ratty around late September into October, they burst into bloom, and until a heavy frost shuts them down for the year, they just keep up the show until the bitter end.

We can't think of a better shade plant that really pays off for the patience one needs to get it established. We originally started with this variety (I know it's a T. Hirta, but we never knew the variety because the stake in the pot simply stated: Toad Lily, Perennial) and if anyone can positively ID it, please let me know in the comments! I have always suspected that it must be one of the more common varieties given how we acquired this one (it was the only one offered at that particular nursery), but no matter the precise name, it's definitely been a real garden trooper, that just keeps getting bigger and more floriferous every year. (This year it has topped 4 feet in height, with about a 2 foot spread.)

I have to confess that when we first bought this plant (it was all of 2-3 inches tall at the time), I knew absolutely nothing about Toad Lilies, and given its plain aspect, I had no idea what to eventually expect from it ... I just went along with Fernymoss' enthusiasm at finding a specimen, and relied on his "Don't worry, they're really cool!" advice to get it and put it in our (then nascent) shade garden we call the Woodland Garden. It didn't bloom the first year (not unusual for small Tricyrtis plants just getting established), but from the second year on it has been a real performer for us. This particular variety is one I'd definitely recommend to the novice Tricyrtis gardener, because as long as its needs for partial to deep shade and a consistenly moist growing situation are met, I'd say it's practically foolproof! Just plant it in a good spot and be patient, and you'll be rewarded many times over as it increases and colonizes the area over the ensuing years. Oddly enough, of all the Toad Lilies we have in this area, this is always the last to start blooming (and usually the last to die back). Its companions 'Raspberry Mousse,' 'Amethystina,' and the unknown white variety (coming soon here), were ahead of the game and started blooming a few weeks previously to this one. So, at this point we currently have four lovely varieties blooming their hearts out, and it's great to be able to just look out the dining room windows and see such beauties just outside....

Over the course of the next week, I'll be posting examples of our other Toad Lilies, just to show off the amazing variations in color and flower structure this species offers, and if you're anything like most gardeners who suddenly discover success with them, you'll soon be hooked and wanting more and more to tuck into shady spots in the garden. One of the very best resources in Garden Blogland has to be IABoy's collection currently on display over at An Iowa Garden. Of all the gardeners whose blogs I've come to know over the past year or so, he has by far the best Tricyrtis collection and all the requisite wisdom behind it ... if you're not familiar with his blog, it's time to pay him a visit for his marvelous Tricyrtis and all the other amazing shade plants he has in his garden. You'll be happy you did! (And for those already in the know, I suspect you'll back me up on this praise!)

On another tangent, we've been working our way through the first season of Pushing Daisies on DVD, and just finished it on Friday night. I have to give Annie in Austin a big shout out for guiding me in the direction of this positively magical and engaging new series. Thanks, Annie! I'm usually really resistant to getting hooked on new TV series (I've never seen Lost, 24, Grey's Anatomy and the like), but this one is more than worthy of our time and attention (and I haven't given such praise since Six Feet Under premiered in 2001), with its imaginative premise and stunning visual style (at times reminiscent of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie). We haven't watched the Season 2 premiere yet (though I recorded it on the DVR), but are looking forward to taking it in tomorrow night, and I expect equally wonderful results ... I certainly hope that this series has a long and productive arc, because everything up to now certainly points in that direction! If you're not already familiar with the series, give it a shot and see what you think ... you may or may not agree with my effusive praise, but for those who appreciate a series that's way off the beaten track of the usual network reality shows, lawyers and doctors typically offered, it's a wonderful reward for the time spent watching. (BTW, it's on ABC on Wednesday nights at 7:00 p.m. CDT (8:00 EDT) if you need that particular nudge....)

Friday, October 03, 2008

Alas, Not Your Typical Monarch ...

I'll admit right up front here that this is not the kind of post I'd rather be writing about one of our Fall Monarch Denizens here in the garden at Casa IVG. Fernymoss discovered this unfortunate Monarch last weekend when he was out with the camera, taking shots of the pumpkins in the back garden. As most of you probably know, we virtually worship and put out all the welcome flowers we can to attract butterflies to our garden, so this was a very disconcerting find for both of us ... after watching a Monarch chrysalis develop over the past several weeks (and eventual departure of said Monarch), we could only wonder if this poor fellow might be the one we watched develop. Of course, there's no sure way of knowing, but that makes little difference given the obvious handicaps this unfortunate butterfly possesses. In this shot you can see that his fourth wing never developed properly, which probably explains why he was found resting in the grass, rather than higher up. In addition, he only has four legs, which is not immediately apparent in this shot.
At this point, Fernymoss had moved him up to one of the Zinnias in the back garden, not only to provide him with a bit of food, but also to get a better look at just how deformed that third wing really is ... it's quite sad, we thought, that this poor fellow is already likely behind his flock in migrating, and appears to have little chance of being able to perform the migration that he's hard wired to accomplish. Of course, in the greater scheme of Nature, I'm sure this sort of thing happens more often than we'd like to admit, but when one is made a personal witness to Nature in action, it's not always a pretty sight. I guess the whole thing that bothers me the most is that our populations of Monarchs are more and more endangered, from pesticides to genetically altered crops, to who knows what Frankensteinian perversions the Agribusiness industry has perpetrated on our once reliable insect populations. True, I could be exaggerating the import of finding this unfortunate Monarch in our garden, but with all the changes in climate we've experienced in the mere 10 years we've lived here, it's hard not to wonder about some of the causes of the odder occurrences we've seen in that time. If you've still not seen An Inconvenient Truth, this might be a good time to see what we're up against in the years to come....
Alas, this final shot clearly shows what our poor friend is up against ... a deformed third wing and lack of the requisite six legs... although he had a limited ability to fly, he did make a heroic effort to move from this flower eventually ... as to where he went and his subsequent fate, we know nothing. But the odds didn't look very good for him achieving his purpose ... again, the dispassionate voice in me says that this is Nature in action, but in this particular case, it's really hard not to take this one personally. We do our best to provide a good environment for the bees and butterflies, and when we see something like this (a first this year!), it does have a way of putting a damper on our garden ideals. I guess the long and the short of it is that I'd rather be reporting more positive news from the Fall garden here ...Take this post as you will ... diatribe or documentary ... I'm still not sure where I weigh in on that, but as I said at the outset, this is not the type of post I'd like to be writing abut our Fall butterfly denizens.

I prefer the happier, more productive times of mid-summer, obviously. I'm still struggling here to accept the definitive arrival of Fall. Yep, that's a big river, denial....

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

That Seedy Time of Year ...

Fall has fully descended upon us at this point, with crisp, generally clear days and even crisper nights, and normally, this means a severe lack of firepower in the garden (except for the Toad Lilies now gloriously in bloom ... more on them soon). Not so with our friendly volunteer Celsosia sports depicted in this first shot! Wow, orange, red and yellow all rolled into one place where they decided to grow this year ... I just couldn't resist posting this particular shot to demonstrate the sheer variety of their various incarnations this year. I'll refrain from my usual sales pitch (you've heard it before!), just to say that I am really glad these little guys come back for us every year ... though they may be slow to get going in mid-summer, by fall they're really into their true glory and add some sorely needed punches of color to the front boulder bed. Farewell Coneflowers and Hibiscus, buh bye Bee Balm, you've long since given up the ghost of blooming and are looking, well, pretty seedy, which ties nicely into what I'd like to discuss briefly here tonight ... seed collection.
This shot shows one of the yellow sports out front in full seed production mode ... and if you grow Celosia, you're probably aware of this stage, when they lose their brilliant colors and become rather non-descript while they put on the tiny promises of flowers to come in the following year. If you're interested in collecting (or merely broadcasting) seed, this is the time to pay close attention to them as they gradually take on that sort of dirty white and fluffy aspect, because they're producing literally hundreds (if not thousands) of tiny shiny black seeds in those puffy white little pods. At this point, the gardener has a couple of options: let them go at frost and do nothing other than pull the dead plants and shake them around the garden a bit, or if one decides to take the industrious route (which I often avoid, I must admit), and collect the seeds to either broadcast around sunny areas of the garden or save to sow in early spring the following year. In either case, some seeds are bound to get inadvertently broadcast in the garden because collection is imprecise to say the least. I usually put a plastic grocery bag over the seed heads when they are fully dried (usually after frost), and just shake the seeds out or just cut the stalk, hang it upside down with a bag around it. If you choose the latter method, make sure to keep them in a dry place and ensure that there is air circulation around the seed heads, because otherwise they may mold (I know this from experience). Personally, I prefer the 'shake into the bag' method once they are dried as they give up their seeds much more readily. Once collected, unless you plan to broadcast them in situ, store them as you would any other seeds, in a dry, dark place over winter and start them in the early spring either in starter pots or sown directly outside when the ground has started to warm up.
If you choose to broadcast seed around the garden, you should be aware that Celosia seeds need warmth to germinate and you won't see them emerge until late May, June or even July in cooler years (as this one was). We usually just take what we get when they come up on their own, but this year, we plan on being more aggressive about spreading seed around in various spots so we have a few everywhere. We also plan on starting some inside in pots, particularly the Cristata cultivar we've not grown in several years, as well as some of these marvelous 'Caracas' we discovered this year. I suspect that we'll have plenty of 'Caracas' coming up where they are this year, because due to the immense numbers of flower stalks, we won't be able to collect all of the seed produced. I'm just fine with that, because we won't have to go looking for this variety to buy in the spring! We'll have plenty of them, I suspect....
Think, for a moment, how these fascinating flowers really do their thing ... and 'Caracas' provides a great example ... what we perceive as 'the flower' is really just a bloom stalk with hundreds of densely packed individual flowers who each produce at least one seed. If you look closely at the enlarged version of this shot, you can even identify some of the "inner bits" extended to attract the bees and other pollinating insects. Note how seed production in these shots starts at the bottom of the stalk and then proceeds upwards ... that's how you can determine the maturity of a particular bloom stalk. Wait until the color is almost gone from the flowers and you can see the seeds in the opened "pods" and you're in business to collect!

Just a few other observations from around the garden ... the Calendulas are still going strong (they started blooming in May!), the Purple Morning Glories are blooming profusely, and in addition to the Celosias seen here, I planted some late Zinnias that are just now blooming away to provide a bit more color to the Fall garden ... add in the Moss Rose and other annuals, and we've got a few nice spots of stubborn summer color still hanging in there on the first day of October!

I should say that I've been a bit lazy on the Toad Lily spectacular to come, but we've got so many really good shots that we've not yet pored through them completely to choose the best ones. I do hope to get a post up on their current bloomfest by this weekend if not sooner ... posting may be sporadic due to work demands, but if I can put aside the time, I'll try to keep up with what I'd prefer to be my 'normal' schedule! Whether I can keep up remains to be seen ... but October's shaping up to be an exciting time around Casa IVG with Halloween coming and pumpkins ripening in the back garden ... the corn is now drying up rapidly and will soon be making its transition to the front Halloween display. Lots of change in the offing during the next month, so stay tuned....