Monday, August 30, 2010

Salivating over Salvias

Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain' and honey bee

Who doesn't love Salvias? They are low-maintenance, tough, reliable and lovely. There are so many varieties that you can probably find one that's perfect for almost any garden situation. I grew up in Nebraska, and for the most part, the only Salvia you ever saw were the bright (somewhat gaudy) red ones that were treated as annuals (I don't think any of the perennial salvias are hardy in that part of NE). Add to this the fact that their habit was a bit gawky...the stems were always bare for the first 5-6" above the ground, then a big clump of foliage and some papery red flowers...I was less than impressed. Then, around my senior year in High School, I discovered the blue version 'Victoria Blue' (I think that's the name) and was in love...finally a plant as easy to grow as the red Salvia had been, but in a color I actually WANTED in the garden!

Flash forward 15 or so years (gulp, has it really been that long) and now I'm in fabulous zone 8 and can grow practically anything my little heart desires (although as a recent post over at Danger Garden reminded dreams of a border of Echium remains, well, a dream). In any case, Salvias I could only gaze at wistfully in gardening magazines years ago are now all open to me!

Black & Blue Trio SalviaDiscolor
Right: Salvia Guaranitica 'Black and Blue' Left: Salvia discolor

Right before I moved out to Oregon, 'Black and Blue' Salvias were just starting to appear in Nebraska nurseries, albeit as very expensive and very not-hardy annuals. I just couldn't bear the idea of a $20 annual that I'd fall in love with and be forced to buy every year, or be subjected to pining over it every time I saw it around town. In Portland, however, it's pretty much hardy (if you can keep it from rotting in the ground during our very damp winters). It grows to about 4' tall and equally as wide. The striking beauty of the flowers is really impossible to capture in photos. The true-blue petals (a rarity in nature) emerge from jet-black calyces. The effect is electric in the garden, especially when planted en masse or in combination with yellow or orange. I don't have a perfect record of bringing them through the winter, but I'll never be without them...they are one plant I wouldn't hesitate to replace if it croaked.
Next on the list is a new Salvia to me, Salvia discolor. I got this plant from Joy Creek Nursery (located in Scappoose, OR). Named for the coloring of its leaves (silvery underneath bright green on top), it's not technically hardy for us here, but I'm taking a chance on it. It would be worth growing just for the leaves, but the flowers add and extra bit of flair. The petals are darkest purple, and unless you REALLy look closely at them, they appear jet-black for the most part...add to that the contrast between the black petals and the pistachio-green calyces and you've got a winner in my book.

Salvia Guaranitica 'Purple Majesty'

Here we have 'Purple Majesty', which for all intents and purposes, is a purple version of Salvia 'Black and Blue'. I saw these this spring on High Country Garden's website and knew I had to have them. They are really similar to 'Black and Blue', maybe a little bit bigger, and the blooms are the most perfect shade of purple you've ever seen. Seriously, they are sumptous, powers of hyperbole cannot begin to describe them :-) The flowers are a little sparse right now, but there's still a month of summer left, and if I can get them through the winter, I'm positive they will be stupendous next year.

SunsetCombo-focus on Purple Rain
Salvia verticilatta 'Purple Rain' shown to it's best advantage at dusk
We end the same as we started, with Salvia verticillata 'Purple Rain'. I remember seeing this on an old episode of Victory Garden back when I was still living in Nebraska. I remember being totally smitten with it. It's flowers are just so very romantic, so very cottagey. They are a lovely dusky purple...very subtle, and wonderful paired with almost EVERY other color. I have them sandwiched between Echinacea, Rudbeckia, Pennisetum and Persicaria. They look good with everything and are just so floriferous and hardy. I got mine just a month or so ago at a Lowes nearby. They were in the clearance rack (having just finished their initial flush of bloom) and were marked down to 50% off! I spotted them as we drove through the parking lot (we were there for some tile for the kitchen backsplash...BORING) and made a bee-line to them. I gave them a quick inspection and realized they were perfectly just need to dead-head them and they'd be good as new. I didn't have anywhere to put them at the moment, but grabbed 3 of them anyway. I popped them in the ground, dead-headed them and they were already in full bloom 2 weeks 'em! I have them positioned in a way that I think shows them at their best...backlit by the setting highlights all the fuzzy little hairs on them and they positively GLOW!

Sorry for the over-long, rambling post...but if you think this is should meet me in person ;-)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

One of the Ladies Needed a Freshening-Up

Geranium 'Ann Folkard' in late July...a bad case of rust

Well, it's that time of the season...Mid-August hits and some of the plants are looking a little stressed and tired. I gave up trying to keep the 'Lime Frost' Columbine green, it has disappeared completely (hopefully it's just dormant, not dead...time will tell). Many plants that were lush, full and green a month ago are now looking a bit scraggly. One of the worst offenders has been Geranium 'Ann Folkard'. For the first part of the season, it was growing rapidly in every direction and looked great, lovely foliage and a constant show of magenta flowers. Right after our first blast of heat in July, however, it started to get more and more stressed. New leaves were tiny and few and far between. I finally had to admit that they needed to be cut back, even if it meant untangling their wandering stems from other plants. Perennial Geraniums often need to be cut to the ground after their first flush of blooms, as their foliage then becomes a ratty mess. Apparently, 'Ann' is one of those. Here it is below, with a new crop of nice, fresh foliage!

'Ann Folkard' after being cut back, now growing a new crown of foliage

To contrast, Geranium 'Rozanne' has been growing and flowering since before 'Ann' and shows absolutely no signs of slowing down or decline. I'll see what next season brings, but if the same thing holds true, I may move 'Ann' to some slightly less-conspicuous spots in the garden and replace them with 'Rozanne'.

Rozanne-fresh as a daisy
Geranium 'Rozanne', fuller, not sprawling, and constant blooms

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ladybugs to the Rescue!

Coccinella septempunctata

For a month or so now, I've noticed a huge amount of aphids covering my 'Powis Castle' Artemisia, see pic below, they covered every stem and if you touched the stem, they all moved in was really creepy! I had intended on buying some ladybugs to get rid of them...but they didn't seem to be harming the plant at has lost none of its vigor, and honestly, I kinda figured that eventually the local ladybug population would find them and take care of them.

My poor Artemesia provides a home for some aphids

Well, I waited and waited, but no ladybugs showed up and the aphids kept multiplying. Then, today as I was watering, I noticed their numbers seemed to have lessened. Sure enough, there among the herd of aphids was a ladybug larva! Eat up, little bug!

I was reading up about them on Wikipedia and to attract them and provide an environment that encourages them, you can grow plants that provide early sources of pollen (and food for their prey). These can include mustard greens, white or crimson clovers and early legumes. Later on, they like bronze fennel, dill, coriander, caraway, angelica, tansy, yarrow, of the wild carrot family. They are also fond of coreopsis, cosmos (especially the white ones), dandelions and scented geraniums.

Attack Ladybug!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Telling Time with Sedums

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'

How do I know when fall is approaching. Do I look at the calendar...nope. I know there is a technical first and last day of each season, but they seldom correspond to what we experience in the great outdoors. Animals too are somewhat unreliable. My dad would often tell me that seeing a lot of one animal or none of another meant summer was going to be late, or winter would be extra nasty...but it seldom held any truth. So how do I know fall is approaching...I look at my Sedum. Once I see that first blush of color, I know I'll soon be bidding adieu to summer.

It's especially useful this year, because if you walked down our streets any time in the last few weeks, you might think it was the first week of October. Hot, dry weather along with strong winds have caused trees to drop a lot of leaves prematurely this year. There are already mounds of oak and birch leaves all around the neighborhood...which causes a bit of sensory conflict. It's 96° out, but it looks like Autumn...hmmm.

Anyway, I remember first planting 'Autumn Joy' while growing up in Nebraska...probably in High School. My mom HATED them...she disliked that they were green all summer and before blooming 'just look like broccoli'. I tried to explain why I liked they changed with the seasons and how handsome I thought even their final, rusty brown color was. There was no convincing her, alas, and I cannot describe her horror at realizing I had been propagating them, sticking stems in the ground all around the garden to create more and more plants! MWAHAHAHAHA! That may be my favorite thing about Sedum...just stick a piece in the ground and you will have more and more plants...there is something so exciting about propagating your own plants...knowing you are saving money! Plus, they are pretty :-)


Monday, August 16, 2010

One Sunburst Meets Another

BlackEyedSusanSunrise (1)
Rudbeckia fulgida ‘Goldsturm’

It seems that a lot of people are 'over' Black-Eyed Susans. True, they are everywhere, in every public garden, in the flower beds of every company's parking lot, and I know a lot of people who are tired of them, but I still love them dearly! Native to North American, you have to love the simple, cheerful blooms on this tough and trouble-free perennial. I really like to use as many North American natives as I can, not so much out of any moral principal as much as I just like to honor the naturally-occurring beauty of native plants. That being said, I have no compunctions about growing an exotic species, as long as it can survive in our climate :-) Anyway, Black-Eyed Susans, as an almost literal representation of the sun, really embody "summer" to me, and they arrive at a time when my garden is transitioning into warmer colors. The pinks and blues are still around, but are now augmented by the fiery tones of the Crocosmia, Helenium, Black-Eyed Susan and Knautia. As a side not, it seems like a lot of bloggers are already waxing poetic about summers passing and the onset of autumn. Isn't that jumping the gun a little, everyone? It seems that August and September are typically our warmest months (to be fair, summer doesn't really start for us until the first part of July here in Portland). Cheers everyone!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Rhubarb that doesn't go in a pie?

rheum palmatum tanguticum

If I can't put it in a pie, at least the name is a mouthful!

I grew up in rural Nebraska, where it seems pretty much every house comes with a patch of rhubarb. It usually is super-attractive, but it's size (especially when blooming) is still pretty impressive. Of course, most people don't grow it for its ornamental qualities, but for the tart, delicious stalks. I still have memories of gathering the stalks (not the leaves, they are poisonous...we got warned every year by grandma). Then they went to the kitchen to make their way into numerous delicious dishes. My favorite, strawberry-rhubarb pie. It combines all the best flavors of early summer, the sweetness of the strawberries compliments the tart bite of the rhubarb...and possibly a pound of sugar :-). Of course, it's best with some fresh home-made vanilla ice cream. Anyway, I first saw an ornamental rhubarb on tv (probably Victory Garden) when I was in high school. Suddenly, it awakened in me a fascination with the plants. How impressive is it, to grow so large so quickly. Even the garden variety puts out impressive growth in a single season, particularly if allowed to bloom, with stalks as tall as a person. I saw this variety at the spring Hardy Plant Society sale this year and knew I had to have it. It's supposed to have new foliage in a nice dark purplish-red color. Strangely, none of it's leaves have been anything but green until they start to die...then they do turn a vibrant shade of red. I'm wondering what the fall color will be like....hmmmm.
Here it is about a month after it emerged, at the time, the older leaves would turn bright red and die as new ones emerged. Most of the leaves pretty much hugged the ground at this time.

Here it is a little later in the season, at this point, it started getting a little taller, leaves didn't splay out as much, but the lower leaves still continue to die, although with the warmer weather, they don't get the spectacular coloring that the did earlier in the season.

Here it is today, new leaves continue to form as it's growth continues. I don't expect a flowering stalk this year, I just want it to grow and store enough energy that it is bigger and better next year and for many more to come!

I really like the bold leaves and texture this plant gives to this part of the garden, which is filled with alot of medium-sized leaves. I'm seeing now that until the amsonia below it fills in, I should really put some sort of ground-cover under and around it to cover the mulch. I planted some black-leaved sweet potatoes, but they are slow to get going...any suggestions?

I'll leave you with this shot of a neighborhood cat venturing into the jungle, to sleep under the parasol-like leaves of the rhubarb...his fave spot.


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Year Later...from nothing to, well, something!


Well, it's hard to believe that just over a year ago we moved into our first house! The above photos show the house just before we moved in in May or early June of 2009 and then just a few days ago, in Late July 2010.

I believe we got our keys in the middle of June and after a harried few weeks of cleaning, demo and painting, moved into what resembled a labyrinthine maze of cardboard boxes more than anything else. I believe I started breaking ground on the garden around the 4th of July in 2009. It may have been the hardest I have ever worked at any garden in my whole life. The house sits on a tiny lot (50x50, instead of the typical 50x100) with very little actual yard space. The lawn on the east and north side of the house measure around 6.5' deep by approx. 30' wide...that's it! The backyard is postage-sized. I'm guessing 15 x 10...and that's taking into account the various nooks and crannies. I considered dealing with the backyard first, as it was completely desolate after being torn up to remove an old, leaking oil tank (we switched to natural gas). The removal company replaced the old, tainted soil with what they told us was nice, clean soil. It may have been clean, but soil it was not...try sand. I decided I wasn't quite up to the challenge of moving and enriching sand quite at that thought I'd begin my gardening foray at this new house by tearing up the lawn by the front entrance. My goal all along has been to remove every last bit of lawn and replace it with gardens, including the parking strips at some point in time. Well, the house sits on a fairly steep slope and this being July, the ground under the lawn was, well, very solid!

JulyCombo copy
As you can see above, this is the tiniest little space in the world! I love that recently, Google maps updated the aerial shots to show just after we moved in and I started the garden. you can see the little wedge-shaped bed! This tiny little spot was the result of 2 solid days of me digging, turning over the ground and then cutting off the grass with a spade and beating the loose soild out of the grass roots. I developed an awesome case of carpal tunnel from all this repetitve activity. Later, as I did more and more of the garden, I would discover a much better way of removing the turf and tilling the soil. I now use gravity as my friend, but first digging a line with a regular shovel, then using a flat shovel to skim just under the roots of the grass, moving in segments to separate the grass from the soil. Then, I cut it again with the spade and roll the turf up, like sod in reverse. I can now remove a 32' segment (4' deep x 8' wide) in just under an hour. I think at first I didn't really have a plan or overall design for the garden, I was just so excited to have a garden again that I went around the nursery, grabbing plants I've always wanted to grow and plants I've grown in previous gardens and had been missing. Needless to say, this resulted in a somewhat haphazard look, one which I've been refining since then :-)


In the first pic above, you can see the garden later that same year, in September of 2009 as the garden had started to fill in. I had already moved a few things around as I continued to get a feel for the different light conditions around the garden. I have also added a few more plants here, extending the garden by about 8-10' or so. The next 2 photos are from this spring. One thing I've learned is that I MUST plant more spring bulbs, the garden is pretty sad and barren in February and March. I've already decided on a few tulip mixes from High Country Gardens (the Plum Pudding and Pretty in Pink collections) as well as transplanting some of the bearded irises from around the back of the house. In addition, I'm going to plant a lot more of the drumstick alliums around existing plants. Over the past year, I've planned, designed, planted, and re-designed various parts of the garden. It's still a work in progress, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

Front Garden

Monday, August 9, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?


If you guessed "the top half of the stem with the flowers" you are correct! Yeah, I was walking around the garden yesterday morning in my PJ's (as per usual) and suddenly noticed something different about my 'Raspberry Wine' Monarda. Someone had torn the flowering stem off the front of the plant, leaving a nice little hole and also breaking a few smaller stems around it. Who does something like that? I know this is just a hazard of gardening in your front yard, with most of the plants right within arm's reach...but c'mon people! I think I may hide on the front porch tonight with some ninja throwing stars to assault any passers-by who look shifty. Does anyone have some throwing stars I can borrow :-)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Orange you glad...


I know, it's a cheesy header, but sometimes you just can't resist the obvious :-) Last year, on a random trip to Joy Creek Nursery, I bought this, my first (and so far only) crocosmia. At the time, I hadn't really planned on buying it, as I just felt like going to the nursery and wandering around, admiring their gardens, and checking out the plants. My partner, however, feels that any trip made requires a purchase to justify it. Well, I told him he could pick anything he wanted and that's what I'd buy (within reason...I'm not a millionaire). This is what he picked out, Crocosmia 'Orangade'. I was a little skeptical at first, I've never been the biggest fan of Crocosmia, mostly because I'm leery of using red in the garden, and anyone who has ever seen a bunch of the red Crocosmia in full bloom can attest to the fact that they pretty much demand your attention. I'm more of a quiet garden lover, preferring calming, restful colors and harmonious combinations. This orange Crocosmia, however, seemed a better fit for my garden. It's bold, it's bright and it may even be a little gaudy, but for some reason, the play of yellow, red and orange together really adds a needed punctuation of color to the middle of the front garden. It has grown from a tiny little stem planted last fall to a nice-sized clump about 18" across and 2-2 1/2' tall. It has numerous blooming stems at this point and a lovely graceful arching habit. It's attractive even when out of bloom, with is strappy, blade-like leaves. If anyone is ever in need of a jolt of color for their garden, I'd whole-heartedly recommend this plant!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Black Beauty


Well....the first of my lilies has finally bloomed! I've been wanting lilies in the garden since I first started tearing up the old lawn and planting the garden last summer. I had to wait until I had most of it done to decide where to put them, exactly. I wanted them to be a focal point, but to also blend in with everything around them. I'm not sure if I've sited them particularly well, but time will tell, as they multiply and the plants around them mature and fill in. The species I decided on for my fist lily was, fittingly enough 'Black Beauty'. I say fittingly as it was the first cloned lily, developed in the 50's by Leslie Woodriff. It's supposed to be tough-as-nails and very vigorous, two qualities I love. I've always been partial to the "turks-cap" type of lilies, the ones with recurved petals. I've always thought they looked to exotic and dramatic. Growing up in Nebraska, the only lilies we had in our garden were Tiger Lilies, which I loved so much. I thought their form was appealing and was entranced by their dark, pollen-stained stamens. 'Black Beauty' has the loveliest, dark maroon petals which are outlines in white. The throat is dark with small, darker bumps, which give it a freckled appearance. I'm in love with the flowers, and my only regret is that it isn't particularly fragrant. Still, I can't wait to see it grow over the years!