Friday, July 26, 2013

Gold in the Garden

The green headed coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) rises above all of the summer flowers in the garden at this time of year.  Standing 6 - 7 feet tall, it is truely a giant.  The green headed coneflower stretches up to meet the other gold giant that can not be ignored - the blazing hot sun.  It is a native to eastern North America and does well in wet soil conditions, although it is planted in a dry area of my garden.  The center should be green, hence the name, however mine has yet to turn any shade other than gold.

I find the green headed coneflower to be a good companion plant of butterfly bushes.  They are about the same height and together form a nice sort of hedge at the back of the bed.

Another equally excellent companion plant is the Chaste Tree.  The gorgeous blue flowers are a real show stopper with the coneflower.  They are also about the same height and so their flowers mix together to make a pleasing combination.

One would be remiss if the common black eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta) was not mentioned when discussing golds in the garden.  An easy to find perennial at any small or large garden shop, it becomes the grounding flower in my garden at the end of July.   It does have to be sprayed with critter repellent as the rabbits will grind it down to twigs if you look away for even a second. 

Black eyed susans pair well with other coneflowers and decorative grasses.  When the grasses send up their feathery plumes there is nothing finer than the look of a bed filled with blacked eyed susans and wispy grasses swaying in a warm breeze.  It reminds me that autumn is just around the corner.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Is it Butterfly Season?

I was in the garden earlier this week and my son came out to ask me a question.  Mid sentence he stopped what he came out to ask and instead blurted out "Is it butterfly season?".  Indeed butterfly season is upon us! There were swallowtail butterflies all over the garden this week.

They were dancing in the air and flitting from flower to flower.
My butterfly bush collection has increased over the years and I now have eight of them.  'Ellen's Blue' has become somewhat invasive and I am pulling a lot of seedlings out in the garden these days.  I have tried digging them up and giving them away, but they don't seem to transplant well at all.

Bumblebees where also buzzing along in large numbers this gray, drizzly week. 

On Thursday, I decided it was time to prune back the red bee balm.  I left three that were still flowering and when I looked up a few minutes later there was the first hummingbird of the season coming for a visit to the last of the red bee balm.  I thought to myself "Where were you two weeks ago when the bee balm was in full bloom?".  Now he will have to wait until the swamp hibiscus starts to bloom!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

A Picturesque Spot

Every summer our family drives up from Virginia to upstate New York to visit my husband's family.  The summers are so different there.  The temperature and humidity is low compared to what we contend with in the South.  The sky is always a brilliant blue with big fluffy white clouds.  My husband's parents' house sits on a picturesque street with wide sidewalks and towering maple trees lining the street.  Sounds nice, doesn't it?  The best part lies behind the houses on the street though.  A secret spot that only the owners and guests know is there.   A little stream lies behind the houses, each one having it's own wooden bridge to cross over to the rest of the property.  The stream feeds into the historic Eerie Canal.  My father-in-law, Poppy, as the grandkids call him, built two bridges.  A high bridge to get to the other side of the property and a low bridge for all of the grandkids to use to catch crayfish and jump in the creek.

Many photos have been taken here over the years as we have watched the creek stay the same and our children continue to change and grow.
It is a peaceful and calming spot that my in-laws have decorated with plants that cause the creek to pop with color and texture.

This day lily was the highlight during our stay this year.

Beyond the creek are enormous trees with shady and sunny gardens spotted here and there. The large ferns and dark green ivy add a lush, coolness to this area even on a hot day.
The front of the house has a gorgeous side garden that they share with a neighbor.  Lace cap and mop head hydrangeas were in full bloom while we were there.
Wooden structures play an important part throughout their gardens. The structures are the background and bones of the plantings.  Without them, the plants would be so bland.
Clematis runs up the trellis, while bee balm and a color coordinating money plant fill in below.  Baby's breath is scattered through the holes with it's tiny, airy flowers that are blooming right now.  It will be another year before we come back.  My children will have grown and changed some more as these gardens and the creek stay the same.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Begonia 'Bonfire'

Begonia 'Bonfire' is a new plant for my garden this year.  I rescued it from the sale area at a garden center. It was orginially $25 and was on sale for $5.  'Bonfire' was clearly on its last legs.  The leaves were turning yellow and dropping.  I couldn't pass up this plant though.  The weeping form caught my eye and the flower's shape looked like a tulip with a beautiful coral color.

I brought it home and took it out of it's hanging basket.  I planted it in my favorite urn under a cherry blossom tree.  I also gave it a shot of fish emulsion.  It's been about two weeks and it is starting to make a come back.  I still need to work on getting those leaves to achieve a more healthy color.  This is an annual in this area.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Garden Vegetables in Virginia

Even though my garden passion centers around perennials, I do also garden with vegetables and herbs.  The vegetable garden has to be fenced in because of the deer, woodchucks and rabbits.  I saw a raccoon down there the other day too!  We have had plenty of rain this year.  The drip lines that are typically a necessity in the summer here have been turned off. I have planted cucumbers, bush beans, and pole beans (pictured above).  I also have a few tomatoes, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, peppers, strawberries, kiwi, and edamame (pictured below). 

If you haven't tried growing edamame, you should give it a shot.  It is an easy vegetable to grow from seed.  You may want to have a few rows that are planted a few weeks apart.  The plant produces all of the edamame pods at the same time. 

Edamame pods
I am trying something new this year with my veggies.  I am taking the grass clippings from the lawn and using them as a mulch around the vegetables.  The two pepper plants pictured above were started and planted at the exact same time and they are the same variety.  The one on the left was mulched a week ago with grass clippings.  The one on the right was left alone. Clearly, the one on the left has benefited from the nitrogen in the grass clippings!  This week I spread grass clippings on the rest of the plants. I am aware that you do not want too much nitrogen with vegetables because it creates beautiful green leaves without flowers.  We'll see what happens!  We do not use any 'cides' on our lawn. If you use herbicides, fungicides or pesticides on your lawn, it's probably not in your best interest to use the grass clippings around your vegetables.  You are what you eat, after all. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Purple Coneflowers and Shasta Daisies

There are two flowers that keep my sunny garden going through July.  Purple coneflowers and Shasta daisies are quite common in many gardens of the East Coast.  I love them nonetheless for their reliability during this hot, dry month. 

The purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea) are a favorite of butterflies and birds.  The deer and rabbits seem to stay away from them.  They are considered an herb and most deer/rabbits stay away from all of my herbs (except parsley!).  The coneflowers make wonderful cut flowers as well.  It was a little tricky to get them started here.  My advice to you is if you have trouble with them, don't give up!  I planted them two or three times before they started to thrive.

The Shasta daisies pictured above were inherited from the previous homeowner when I moved in 11 years ago.  They are still going strong without me having to do anything to them. I realized a few years ago that if I planted a mass of them throughout my garden, spacing them relatively the same distance apart, then it created a sense of continuity in the space.  You can see in the picture above that the daisies are repeated further off in the distance.  For anybody out there that has a large garden filled with flowers, but still feels like it doesn't fit together, this tip is the key to making it work.  Buy the same flower (in large quantities) or divide what you have (as I did) and stagger the flower throughout your garden.  Our eyes have trouble focusing when there is a variety of color and shapes everywhere.  This creates a flow and pattern that the eye can follow. 

These daisies were found growing in an area that had not ever been tended.  The seeds must have blown over from someone else's garden.  I dug them up and planted them in my garden to see what they would do.  They are a different variety than the original which I believe is 'Becky'.  These daisies are much taller and have a habit of falling over in the rain.  They also spread much quicker which was a good thing because I was looking for something to fill in this large space. 

Sunday, June 30, 2013

More on Color Combinations

Color is everywhere in my garden at this time of year.  A combination that I find enjoyable is the bee balm pictured above and below with the soft blue blooms of the Chaste Tree.  New this year in this area of the garden is the addition of the orange common daylily.  The daylily blooms seem to be looking up at the bee balm almost as though they were speaking to them.


Another combination that is new in my garden this year centers around the addition of Elephant Ears 'Illustrum'.  In the photo above 'Illustrum' is in a shady area under a maple tree.  Look how the green and chartreuse speckled Acuba to the right of 'Illustrum' and the chartruese colored Spirea 'Ogon' under the bird house pick up on the bright green veins of 'Illustrum'.  Interestingly enough, the same variety of Elephant Ears is in the photo to the right, but in a full sun environment.  The leaves are much darker, achieving almost a full black color.  This paired with the silvery white lambs ear makes for a shocking contrast.  I intentionally planted one of the Illustrum in the shade and one in full sun.  Before planting them I read that they tend to change color based on the light conditions that they are offered.  I enjoy both variations and color combination equally!

Shasta daisies get my garden though the summer adding a strong form and color for a long period of time.  It contrasts well with the deep purple of this Veronica.  The difference in shapes also work well together.  I am still waiting for the Veronica to fill in more in this area.  Once it does, the impact should be really beautiful.

I showcased this log turned into a planter in the spring when it was first planted.  I have never had such an easy planter! I have not had to dead head it and because of the consistent rain fall this year it has barely been introduced to a watering can.  The rain fall has neither caused mildew issues nor yellow/brown leaves.   The chartreuse green of Gold selaginella plays so well with the purple 'Catalina Midnight Blue' Torenia.  A Japanese Maple behind it also shares in the soothing color combination.