Garlic Chives

They’ve been a powerhouse of white blooms and a bee magnet for weeks but their time has drawn to a close. They began to bloom for me in mid-summer just as the allium Millenium in the background had reached its peak of color.

Garlic Chives 2018

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) aren’t as common in gardens as regular chives (Allium schoenoprasum) but are just as easy to grow. Known in Asian cooking as Chinese chives with a flavor in cooking more like garlic than onions. We don’t use them as much as we should in the kitchen but the leaves are great for garlic butter spread, in soups, and salads. For us they mostly serve as an ornamental accent in a short walkway border and as nectar for insects.

garlic chives

These plants were a pass-along from a neighbor who grew tired of pulling up a multitude of garlic chive babies in her borders. The plant is a prolific self-seeder just like regular chives and a gardener must be on top of deadheading before the seeds are dispersed. For me, planting them in pots helps keep them contained.

Garlic Chives 2018

All those beautiful blooms have since developed late summer seedheads. But before the seeds dropped, I removed all of the dried seedheads. I first cut the few with seeds ready to drop and didn’t lose a one.

Garlic Chives 2018

It’s easy to deadhead the bunch. Just pull them together and cut… almost like a ponytail.

Garlic Chives 2018

The neighbor who passed along the garlic chives to me can see the pots from her window. Last summer she came over and took photos. She’d never thought of putting them in pots at her house and thought they were beautiful on our pathway.

PS: I didn’t offer to give them back.

My All-White Garden

What ever happened to my all-white garden plan? It looked so great on paper but it never materialized. We will soon lose our white focal point in the yard as we say farewell to the striking blooms of the doublefile viburnum. Petals are falling with every gentle breeze and beginning to cover the ground like giant snowflakes. Soon the shrub will be full of red drupes that will turn black in autumn against deep red and burgundy leaves. Great 4-season woody shrub!

Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum ‘Mariesii’ 2018

We anticipate a fair share of summer whites with Little Lime and Incrediball hydrangea and arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum), but somehow in the few years we’ve lived here, I’ve added a little purple, then blue, and eventually pink, and a few yellows. I simply cannot refuse a pass-along plant no matter the color and, of course, I must add host plants for butterfly larvae, like the orange asclepias tuberosa for the monarch butterfly. So, in the end I like to think the colors in the garden are compatible and just what nature intended…. a bit of the rainbow here on earth.

tall yellow bearded iris 2018

Tall bearded reblooming iris

Purple is emerging in the perennial bed with Baptisia australis, commonly called blue false indigo. This tough plant comes in white, blue, yellow, and bi-colors, but this is the only shade that calls to me. I have three of them in the garden… pest free, great pollinator plants and the tall foliage keeps on ticking once the blooms fade.

Baptisia australis 2018

Baptisia

Allium continues to give color to a border where little lime hydrangea and varieties of lavender have yet to bloom. Bees still visit, but now that the rhododendron have opened, I can hear the loud buzzing there.

allium 2018That’s a chunk of what we have in bloom at the moment. Lovely so far but the real excitement is in the anticipation of what’s to come. I like to think of the garden as a Broadway production… Act I, Act II, etc.  It just wouldn’t do to have a grand finale of all the blooms on stage at the same time.

Happy Gardening!

Bee vs Man

It is a war zone in my Richmond VA brother’s garden.  Daily battles… bee vs bee, bee vs man, bee vs dog, bee vs anything that comes too close to its nectar zone… a chaste tree.

He summoned his siblings for help with a “HELP IDENTIFY BEE” email full of photos and description of the aggressive and hostile bee behavior. The mystery bee is a warrior bee, yellow and black like a yellow jacket but it’s not, able to maneuver like a hoverbee but it’s not, the size of a small bumble bee but it’s not.

With his other bees relentlessly being attacked, battered, bitten, and headbutted, he wanted answers fast. We had plenty of questions and plenty of guesses but it was he who solved the puzzle. It’s a European wool carder bee (Anthidium manicatum), a solitary bee that was accidentally introduced to New York state before 1963 and is named for the fuzz the female collects from plants to line its nests.

Here are some of his photos:

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European wool carder bee

European Wool Carder Bee

European wool carder bee

Claiming a flowering plant as territory just for female carder bees to better his chance of mating, the male carder bee will attack and ward off any intruder it feels is a competitor. And, yikes, that can be humans!  Run or be headbutted!

wikimedia.org

wikimedia.org

It was tricky but my brother eventually trapped a male just to examine him more closely. His abdomen was fairly flat like a hoverfly but, whoa, this guy had had fierce toothed mandibles that he tried to use as a weapon against my brother. No, definitely not a hoverfly! He had no stinger, but had 5 sharp spines on his abdomen to better maim his opponents. These males mean business…..  😳

With an arsenal of weapons, he can kill other bees, like the honeybee, but from what I read online, this non-native and our non-native honeybee have co-existed for many thousands of years in Europe. Some die, yes, but many are killed by other means. And the good news is… the carder bees are pollinators, too!

These male garden bullies are the fiercest warriors in my brother’s peaceable kingdom but I believe he’s taken the view, ‘Live and Let Live.’  Cross my fingers that I don’t see them anytime soon in my New Hampshire garden. I’m worried because I built a cute little solitary bee house in the garden mama carder might like and I grow several plants in the fuzzy Stachy family that she would simply love.

If one shows up here, I could always suggest another occupation for this nasty tempered insect.  If he grows tired of garden warfare, I think he’d be a shoo-in on Game of Thrones with his wicked temper, his built-in arsonal and his acrobatic agility. In all probability, I think he could manhandle the Mountain a bit better than some of the other challengers!

Garden Drama

Of all places in the garden to attach a chrysalis, one of our black swallowtail caterpillars (Papilio polyxenes asterius) chose the smooth metal drainpipe along the side of the house.  How the caterpillar bridged the collar with an opening to an underground drain, I can’t guess. But here is where I found the emerging butterfly struggling to gain a foothold on the smooth surface… and failing. It was in big trouble and I could tell it had been here too long with wings partly out and beginning to plump.

cocoonI felt a little like a butterfly midwife as I assisted in the birth by offering a twig. It was readily accepted and it climbed aboard. I gently urged the butterfly onto a viburnum shrub and watched as she began to unfurl and pump up those gorgeous wings… that I believe identified her as female.

butterflyIt was exciting to be so close and be able to study the beautiful wings, her huge eyes, and watch her coil and uncoil her proboscis.  Click for closeup.

I left her on a trunk of the viburnum where she continued to dry and pump her wings. An hour later I checked and she had flown…. I hope straight to the summersweet for a nice first meal as a butterfly.

It made me smile to think she got her start in the parsley beds 5 feet away that I planted just for her and her siblings.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

Bye Bye Violas

violasSummer temperatures have been slowing creeping upward and every now and then, it’s been absolutely hot. Yesterday, with 90° and high humidity, our poor spring violas fizzled in the afternoon heat. Those planted in the shade were fine but those leggy plants that melted in the blazing sun needed to be removed from the garden.

Cutting off the roots, I plunged the wilted blooms in a little cool water. Result: Totally revived and days of new life on the breakfast table. How divine!

Going Native

The summer of 2013 was a very bad year for the monarch butterfly. All summer long, I thought it was odd that I never saw a monarch. Reasons are not 100% clear but impacts include weather factors, loss of habitat in the US and Mexico, increased traffic on roads, and the extensive use of Roundup on genetically engineered crops. Farmers spray Roundup on these crops, killing all the weeds but not the crop.  The herbicide destroys milkweed upon which the monarch depends as a host plant.

This summer I am doing my part to go a little more native. In addition to nectar flowers, I’ve planted native milkweed. If the monarch finds my plants, I should have a monarch butterfly nursery. The plants will provide sustenance for the larvae.The blooms will provide nectar along with other nectar plants in the garden.

There are different varieties of milkweed but I planted butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) with its bright orange bloom. It should do well in hot, dry, sunny spot in the border. The hint of first blooms are appearing and I am checking my plants daily for signs of eggs.

Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)What can we all do to help? While we hope for more favorable weather conditions, we can all plant several milkweed plants in our yards along with the nectar plants to sustain both the larvae and the adult monarch.

I love a rainy night…

6 a.m. Dear gentle, rejuvenating, cleansing overnight rain. You sure freshened things up and washed away a lot of yellow pollen. Many thanks….

Click to enlarge photos:

Abundant Sunshine

“Abundant sunshine” is the Yahoo Weather forecast for today. It is 39° this morning but temperatures will rise to an enjoyable 51° by noon before dropping back to 30° tonight. Forecast calls a welcome warming trend with temperatures pushing into the high 60s on one day early next week. There should not be a flake of snow left on the ground then.

Although we see wonderful signs of spring around the neighborhood like my friend’s crocus below, our home lingers in the shade of tall pines.

Crocus

Crocus blooming in the neighborhood

Where there is deep shade, there is snow. Yesterday I took matters into my own hands and helped some of my newly planted treasures see daylight for the first time in many months. I had no idea what I’d find under the crush of snow and ice but I knew there had to be damage. Plants will live but, darn that snow!

This southern gardener is learning about New England winters. Next fall, the holly below will be tied or wrapped in burlap to protect the shape of the upright growth.

Beneath the snowbank (below), I was most worried about three tiny boxwood I found nearby at Rolling Green Nursery. I fell hard for these dwarf Korean boxwood (Buxus sinica var. insularis ‘Tide Hill’) that were described as ‘rugged.’ The weight of snow from the roof and from driveway and sidewalk clearing was severe in this border. I tried shoveling it off early in the season, but eventually I had to give up trying to minimize or prevent damage to stems. The snow came too fast and too often.

snow

Tide Mill BoxwoodOnce I located all three shrubs, of course I found crushing damage to the top of shrubs…which is sad as these plants only grow about a foot in height.

Thankfully, when handed lemons, my philosophy is to make the sweetest lemonade on the block. Box can be propagated! I carefully removed the stems that were broken, removed the bottom leaves, dipped the stems in a hormone solution, and I’m growing them in a potting mix. Instead of three dwarf boxwood, I should end up with 8 or 9 babies in about 8 weeks. Who knows? My new landscape plan is to have a full border of these most attractive dwarf boxwood.

Tide Hill

 

Seeing Red

Do you recognize him? You’ve certainly seen him before. He was a well-known television personality for 15 years, the author of 5 books, a former science editor of Horticulture Magazine, a lecturer, and the author of numerous magazine articles. He earned his graduate degree and PhD. from Harvard in Biology.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it may be because he is out of uniform. You need to see a little red.

Roger SwainYou should recognize him without the gray vest. He’s the beloved man in the red suspenders,aka Roger Swain, who hosted the popular PBS show, The Victory Garden until 2001. We are fortunate to claim him as a fellow New Hampshire The man in the red suspenders.resident and mister gardener and I were lucky to hear him speak at a combined meeting of local garden clubs.

He spoke to the crowd in his usual chatty style, full of enthusiasm, wit and humor while passing on knowledge about what he loves and believes in: vegetable gardening.

“Gardening is the single greatest skill that humans have ever come up with because we harness photosynthesis for human sustenance. Every population on the planet is absolutely dependent on the skills of gardeners.” And he added, “A garden without something to eat in it isn’t really a garden.”

Wikimedia Commons "Groundwork for Victory. Grow More in '44" He was the third host of PBS’s Victory Garden. He told us the original war gardens began in WWI with a “Can the Kaiser” campaign to encourage vegetable gardening. The term Victory Garden grew from that. Victory Gardens returned in WWII. “Grow More in 44!” was the phrase on this WWII poster. In 1944, 44% of fresh food was grown by 20 million amateur gardeners. So much was grown that there was a food shortage after the war when gardens were turned back into lawns.

Why does he want us to garden? We need to understand that the vegetables we buy in stores today are commodified or bred for color, longevity, and shipping but not taste. The best tasting vegetables are those picked at peak of ripeness from your own garden. When asked what is the best tomato, he said, “The best tasting tomato is a ripe tomato. The one I like best is the one I just ate that was ripe.”  Today, we have other choices.  Farmers’ markets are all the rage, especially in New England. There are currently 8,100 farmers markets selling local vegetables in this country. To champion agriculture, his philosophy is to spend $10 every week at his local farmers’ market.

But his message to us was to grow it yourself whether in community gardens or at a neighbor’s or in pots or in your own garden at home. Then be a role model. Pass along the interest and skills to the next generation. A child who learns to love gardening will garden for a lifetime.

Lavender Blue

In the spring, one of the first plants I searched for in local nurseries was Liriope muscari,  a common perennial border plant in Virginia. I was happy to read that with a little care, it can be hardy in our zone 5. So I was surprised that it was not readily available locally and I saw puzzled looks on faces when I asked for it. The word liriope easily rolls off a southerner’s tongue as it is found practically in every garden… usually as a wonderful pass-along plant.

I was absolutely thrilled to finally find some at Rolling Green Nursery. A enlightened worker marched me right to their one flat in a far corner of the property. I bought it all. I knew how easily it divided. Each pot became two. But I wanted more and vocalized my disappointment to my brother and his wife. Imagine my surprise when a heavy box arrived soon after. I was delighted to find carefully packed pass-along Liriope muscari from their garden. The best part of this story is that the plants were passed along to them from a beloved aunt’s garden in Jacksonville FL. Better yet, she obtained her plants from my dear grandparents’ gardens in Richmond VA many years before. So I am the 4th person to benefit from these special pass-along plants! As soon as they are more established, my daughter in Portsmouth will be the 5th recipient.

liriope

There are two species of of the plant and I’ve cultivated both in the past: Liriope muscari, a plant that behaves as a mound of grass-like foliage and Liriope spicata, a variety that spreads as a wonderful groundcover.

When so many garden flowers are beginning to fade in July and August, Liriope is just beginning its show. The flowers are tiny however they are numerous along a spike. The hum of bees working the blooms is music to my ears.

It’s a terrific plant, tolerant of summer heat and lack of water. There are many species and cultivars with variegated leaves of green and white or yellow and white or pink blooms,and different sizes, however the solid green leaves feel cool and inviting to me.

This week, the mower with our landscaping service stopped his tractor and asked, ‘Can you tell me what those plants are that are blooming along your border?’ Of course I could… and if he plays his cards right he may be another pass-along donee.

Coastal Maine Botanical Garden

When friends invited us to join them Down East at the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden in Boothbay, we jumped at the opportunity. It was voted Tripadvisor’s #1 in April’s Top 10 Public Gardens in the U.S. For a botanical garden that only opened its gates in 2007, that seems remarkable.

The mission of the garden is “to protect, preserve, and enhance the botanical heritage and natural landscapes of coastal Maine…”  Almost 250 acres of stunning beauty and miles of trails along the waterfront, through pristine woodlands, and ornamental gardens simply took our breath away.

This time of year, the hydrangeas are stunning and the gardens took full advantage. The combination of large globular white flowers of ‘Incrediball’ and the hot pink of ‘Invincibelle Spirit,’ a fairly new addition to the market, were a delicious combination in the children’s garden.

Mist sprayed from several boulders in the children's garden to cool off on a hot summer day.

Mist sprayed from several boulders in the children’s garden, a fun way to cool on a hot summer day.

Wonderful whimsical touches invited children to run, to touch, to participate in all aspects of the Children’s Garden from watering the flowers, planting vegetables, to art projects.

My favorite garden was The Garden of the Five Senses. To show how a garden will delight, visitors are invited to renew their senses by sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch.

Five Senses Sweeps of my favorite daisy, ‘Becky’ (Leucanthemum x superbum) lined the pond in the touch garden. I stood there for awhile and admired the variety of insects that feasted on the beautiful blooms.

'Becky'

We took a break midway through our adventure to dine in the Kitchen Garden Cafe where delicious cuisine is created using organic and local ingredients. Herbs, fruits, and vegetables come from their own gardens. It was a very good day.

For more information about the gardens, go to the website for Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens. To see more scenes from several of the gardens watch the slideshow below.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A Garden Party…. Maine Style

This being the first official weekend of summer, we decided to celebrate by taking in a garden tour just over the Maine border in York. It was a fabulous opportunity to peek over the hedge (see below) into a lovely estate, stroll through the gardens, enjoy refreshments and come away inspired by what we saw.

Brave Boat Harbor Farms I love a landscape that beckons visitors along gentle pathways from one garden to another, around corners, up hills, along stone walls, through woodlands and meadows with wonderful vistas and surprises along the way. Brave Boat Harbor Farm did just that. It was a true slice of heaven on earth.

Pathway to the PondA sampling of sights from our adventure. Click on photos to enlarge:

The Gunhouse, built by the last owner, a marksman and a gunsmith, was completed in 1980. This tiny getaway sparked a real interest among the men on the tour but I’d be perfectly thrilled to claim it as my personal retreat…

Many thanks to Old York Garden Club for sponsoring the tour and our gratitude to the family for throwing open the garden gates for visitors.

Pure Bliss at Dumbarton Oaks

Tucked into a quiet Georgetown residential neighborhood in Washington DC is Dunbarton Oaks, the home and gardens of the late Robert and Mildred Bliss. It was the gardens that I sought on a visit last week to recharge my batteries after a rather harsh first winter in New Hampshire.

Dumbarton OaksOriginally part of a land grant by Queen Anne in 1702, Mr. and Mrs. Bliss, purchased the estate in 1920, remodeled the 1800 era home and called it Dumbarton Oaks from the original Rock of Dumbarton land grant and the mighty oaks on the property.

IMG_3022Begining in 1921, Mildred Bliss began working with noted Landscape Gardener (as she preferred to be called) Beatrix Farrand for over 20 years to design the hillside garden retreat. Both women were well traveled and brought a European flair to the garden ‘rooms’ of Dunbarton Oak.

Strolling along the walks and through the terraced gardens with a sister from California and a brother and wife from Richmond, I felt I could have been touring Italian or English gardens filled with perennials, enclosed by high and low stone or brick walls, spring flowering trees, shrubs, vines and adorned with water features, fountains, seating areas, iron gates, urns, finials and vases.

LizWe began our adventure at the Arbor Terrace where a reflecting pool and an ancient wisteria with purple blooms dripping through a teak pergola framed a billowing cloud of chicken wire holding thousands of lead-crystal pendants. My California sister had expressly chosen this garden because of the “Cloud Terrace” display, the third in a series of temporary art exhibits by environmental artists. I must admit it was alive with movement, color, light, and sound. We sat beneath the wisteria pergola and watched as the sun appeared and disappeared and breezes moved the 10,000 crystals. A variety of colors twinkled and sparkled in the cloud and water.  Yes, we were awed by this work of art and were happy to be able to see it as it will be removed soon.

Cloud

wisteria I loved seeing the stone and brick steps and pathways adored with pink from crabapple, cherry, and magnolia tree blossoms. It was as if little flower girls had sprinkled them for a bride who will soon approach her groom in this spiritual place.

Our timing was perfect to witness the splendor of blooming Japanese Wisteria that tumbled over walls throughout the different garden areas. It was breathtaking.

wisteria

Japanese WisteriaThe Pebble Garden, a wonderful pebble mosaic sort of brought out the kid in me, enticed me to explore every curve and design. This was a later garden design, changing Farrand’s original design as the tennis court area.

Pathways ushered us from one garden room to the next. The Prunus Walk overlooked The Kitchen Gardens with attractive garden houses with terracotta tile roofs. Admiring the space, I thought of Thomas Jefferson who would have enjoyed exploring the vegetation in this garden.

The Prunus Walk of flowering plums stretched from the Herbaceous Borders to Cherry Hill. Beneath the trees grew a healthy groundcover of my favorite pink and yellow Epimedium.

Very Virginia, I felt at home on The Box Walk that took us gently down a 40-foot drop.

Walkways made from brick and stone designs continued around the estate leading us to various seemingly secret gardens.

We were happy to see that blooms seemed to be the theme on this warm spring day but I could tell that this was a garden for all seasons.

Just past peak blooms was Forsythia Dell, which must have looked like butter with happy forsythia melting down a acre of a hillside. Pathways led inside and above inviting visitors to discover a small terrace and seating.

forsythia hillBeautiful benches and seating areas were plentiful in almost every garden.

The Ellipse, a more formal garden containing an antique Provençal fountain surrounded by double rows of American Hornbeans, equally spaced and pleached to 16′ tall, invited us to explore.

Sculptor Patrick Dougherty’s “Easy Rider” stick creations gives movement to this peaceful but static garden space. This was fun for my California sister as she had played in one of Dougherty’s sculptures on a visit to Maui.

I love this: A private pool and terrace for employees and volunteers ONLY. How cool.

I hated to leave Dumbarton Oaks but it was approaching closing time. We exited the way we entered, along the drive on the East Lawn with the impressive spreading Katsura tree  (Cercidphyllum japonicum), planted in the 1800’s. Batteries recharged, we left with big smiles and appetites.

Any visitor to Washington DC who appreciates garden design is certain to enjoy the exquisite gardens of Dunbarton Oaks. It is 10-acres of pure Bliss.

There’s a new seedling in the garden!

A week ago,we were blessed with a new seedling in the family garden… a healthy new grandson. This tiny little sprout has drawn me away from my regular duties of gardening, blogging, etc. to spreading a bit of assistance wherever it’s needed for my daughter and her now family of three.

Before we know it, he’ll be stomping through mud puddles and trying to pull the dog’s tail, however, I’m truly looking forward to teaching another little one the joys and benefits of gardening and doing one’s duty in caring for this earth. I hope we can plant a ‘baby tree’ soon to grow with this little one the way my parents did for us. My siblings and I recently visited the Warwick (now Newport News) VA home where we were raised and the fully grown trees were a testament to our ages!

“A garden of love grows in a grandmother’s heart.”  Author Unknown

A Touch of Eden

Just about a mile from where we live, there are several large greenhouses on the UNH campus that are used in the agriculture, horticulture, and science departments for classrooms, research projects, breeding, Integrated Pest Management, organic gardening, sustainability studies and more. When I read they were opening the greenhouses to the community last week, we jumped at the opportunity to tour them, learn from professors and master gardeners, plus get a little break from the late winter bleakness.

Yes, there were crowds. We wandered and squeezed around people through the several greenhouses that were all connected to one building where educators, students, master gardeners were set up to answer questions or tell a little about the plants, the greenhouses and how they were managed. There were greenhouses devoted to annuals, some perennials, to crops, to herbs, to exotics and some where only students and staff were allowed entrance.

Hallways were arranged with attractive display gardens… pots, wall hangings, vertical gardens, tulip landscapes and horticulture students like Zack (below), tired from a late night getting ready for the open house, but ready to answer questions.

Zach yawned a bit but he was ready to chat...

We realized that some greenhouse had lots of healthy tomato plants and herbs for sale… CHEAP… and folks were buying and buying.

Other greenhouses held succulents, gorgeous exotics, and all those carnivorous pitcher plants, and orchids, some labeled, others not. There were ferns, a small pond, bananas, oranges… Pinch myself.  Is this Eden?

Flamboyant pitcher traps (Sarracenia levocphylla)

Another pitcher plant (Nepenthes x ventrata) from the Philippines

Orchids galore! (Paphiopedilum insigne)

Pitcher Plant with little bugs inside

Flamingo Flower or Boy Flower (Anthurium scherzerian)

Venus Fly Trap (Dionaea muscipula)

The melon greenhouse was filled with a variety of plants, all grown vertically. Fruits were supported in little hammocks. What a great idea!

And yes, like many others, we did succumb to the lure of healthy, large herb plants.  So we left after an hour and a half with a Tiny Tim tomato plant and some dill…. all for a good cause to raise funds for a trip for the students, we were told.

Now to keep them healthy until May 20 when the last frost is over in these parts…..

Forsythia in bloom…

Plenty of people I know look down their noses at forsythia. I admit that I once dug up and discarded a lovely forsythia shrub because I was influenced by negative opinion from a more experienced gardener. But I’m more confident now and I plant what makes me smile and forsythia really makes me smile. It brings back memories of my childhood, the full, naturally arching boughs that invited playtime beneath the branches.  It’s just beginning to bloom in this yard and although someone has pruned it into a sad light bulb shape, those tiny yellow blooms still capture the magic of spring.

They fibbed….

My grandfather loved roses. He grew beautiful prize-winning roses. My mother, a knowledgeable gardener, followed suit and grew roses for pleasure. But NEVER, EVER did I want a rose garden. I witnessed the time it took my mother to tend to her roses, examining leaves for fungus or insects, pruning, deadheading, picking off the Japanese beetles and plunking them into soapy water. (She never knew that when she walked away I dumped them out and rinsed them with the hose. Playing with Japanese beetles was great entertainment for a youngster with no TV, video games or smart phones in the late 50’s)

Years ago, a landscape designer friend opened the back of her car and unloaded 3 healthy red single Knock Out roses (Rosa x ‘Knock Out’) for me. “You must have these,” she said. “Disease resistant, insect resistant, no deadheading, no pruning, blooms all summer….  Carefree!”  I was grateful and appreciative but I was a little reluctant and wary. Carefree, indeed….

Carefree and continuous blooming were the two thoughts that stayed with me as I planted the three rose bushes center stage in my sunniest garden. The instructions read, “….compact plant, 3-4 feet tall and wide.”  I played it safe and planted a little further apart, two side by side and one slightly angled behind.

That was that. For two years, they were true to form. They did bloom heavily from June to Thanksgiving or until a killing frost. The shape of the shrub was naturally round. I never deadheaded. I never pruned. Japanese beetles visited occasionally but did not swarm. No black spot. No mildew. No aphids. I got compliments. I beamed. Eventually this became my new ‘Red Garden.’

Just as the directions read, they reached 3 feet tall after a year, then 4 feet tall the next summer, but they continued to grow…. 5 feet, 6 feet, 7, 8, 9, 10 feet tall. Eventually two grew together appearing as one massive bush. They have withstood hurricanes, salt water spray, Nor’easters, and an earthquake, and they’re still growing. I do not prune. I do not spray. I do not deadhead and I don’t fertilize.

They ‘fibbed’ about the 4 foot height but it’s all good: It is a favorite hangout for birds in the garden; I have lovely cut flowers from June to Thanksgiving; they provide great curb appeal as people point and ask about them before getting out of their cars; and this summer they provided a profusion of blooms as a backdrop for a wedding reception and photographs.

K.I.S.S. in the garden. What more could a gardener want?

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

A Hot Spot in the Garden

It’s been just over a year since we experienced a severe heat wave in Tidewater when temperatures topped 106˚ for several days in a row.  I survived only because I could escape to the comfort of the home but the garden suffered greatly. Water wasn’t enough to help in some cases. The worst casualty was a section of a bed of juniper (Juniperus c. ‘Blue Pacific‘) that endured the baking sun from sunrise to sunset.

Since I did not want to subject more junipers to this less than ideal location in the garden, I looked around for something else to fill the hot and dry bare spots. Sedum! Of course! Most sedums love the sun and will tolerate our coastal exposure. There are about 400 different species of sedum out there to choose from but I was attracted to Sedum ‘Gold Mound’ with its bright green needle-like foliage. It’s a low growing spreading sedum that will fill spaces around rocks or garden objects with soft mounds.

Gold Mound grows to about 8-10 inches tall and is relatively pest and disease free. This summer it spread gracefully around rocks, mingled beautifully with tuffs of grasses and has integrated with the surviving juniper creating contrasting shades of green. By the end of the summer, the sedum had snuggled into almost every crevice and was a focal point in this little garden. Garden objects and large rocks brought from other borders around the yard found their way to these bright green mounds, the happiest of whom is Peter who stands tall over the sedum welcoming visitors to the garden.

Peter

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It’s a small, small, small world…

I have a few aphids on some of my beautiful Shasta daisies (Leucanthemum ‘Becky), daisies that have flowered profusely throughout the summer. I know aphids can overtake and cause havoc in the bed of daisies but I needed to know how much of a problem I had.

Shasta daisies

Insects buzzed and circled around my head yesterday as I knelt to check out the aphids that traveled along stems beneath the blooms. These insects will suck the sap out of leaves, tender stems and the flowers, and they will transmit diseases like fungus and mold. I saw no signs of wilting leaves or buds. And I saw very few aphids. Now the question, “Should I treat these flowers with an insecticide?” That’s a question that every gardener faces when insect pests invade their gardens. Insecticides would certainly take care of the aphids, but….

… what damage would the insecticide do? The answer to that question comes by observing your garden. There is a small world of insects living there, good ones and pests. Insecticides will kill all insects, benign insects as well as insects that are the natural predators of pests such as ladybugs, praying mantis, assassin bugs, spiders and more.  Let’s take a closer look at the small world around these daisies.

Hover Fly – click photo

The hover fly is a common fly in our area. It gets its name from their ability to hover in midair, then dart here and there, sometimes backwards. The adult does not sting and feeds on pollen and nectar and they are important pollinators but their larvae are very important predators of aphids, thrips, and other caterpillars. These are excellent insects for the garden. Insecticides would eliminate them.

Green Bottle Fly – click

The green bottle fly (Lucilia sericata), also called a blowfly, is a scavenger of all things decomposing and will lay eggs in carrion, thus cleaning up what other animals cannot eat. Unless this fly invades your house or garbage and causes problems, it is not a threat to humans in the garden. It’s a natural pollinator attracted to the nectar of the daisy.

miniature ants – click photo

Almost too small to be identified as ants by my eyesight, the camera zoomed in on these miniature ants who are after food, too. These are benign insects that do no harm to the daisies and are food for other insects and birds.

 Skipper Butterfly – click photo

This little butterfly could be the Yehl Skipper (Poanes yehl), a fairly uncommon skipper that is seen along the coast at this time of year, but I prefer my IDs to be confirmed by an expert. This fella would be done in by an insecticide.

Soldier Beetle – click photo

This soldier beetle or Pennsylvania leatherwing beetle (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus) is a cousin to the lightning bug. They are common in the garden and beneficial as a pollinator and a predator of aphids and other small insects.

sweat bee – click photo

A variety of bees visited the daisies and we all know we need those pollinators. Although the sweat bee can be a nuisance when it seeks out the salt in our sweat, it is considered a benefit in the garden due to pollination.

mystery insect – click photo

These tiny insects were unknown to me. These winged insects were the size of pepper flakes to the naked eye. I watched them through the camera lens become the meal of a few hungry crab spiders that lived around the petals.

The answer to the original question about insecticides is IPM (Integrated Pest Management). IPM is a sustainable method of management using biological, cultural, physical and some chemicals to minimize environmental damage. Using a insecticide for the aphids indiscriminately will have a negative and damaging effect on all insects that depend on this small ecosystem for life.  Because there is no sign of damage to the plants and the insects are a part of the food chain for predator insects, I will allow the aphids to live in the daisy bed and permit the natural system to work. But I will monitor the flowers for signs of disease or damage. If I must interfere, I will learn about the life cycle of the insect, how best to control it physically, such as picking off or pinching the colonies to kill them. My next step will be to spray soapy water beneath the blooms. And if all else fails, the very last attempt would be a careful use of pesticides, preferably the newer natural pesticides derived from botanicals.

It’s better to become familiar with IPM techniques and implement a regular monitoring program before using any biological controls. Read more about IPM here.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Women Are Better….

… at choosing, arranging and tending to flower gardens, that is according to a 2011 poll by Roundup (ugh!) of 2,000 Brit gardeners.  Men agreed they were better suited for cutting the grass, looking after the vegetable garden, minding the patio and decking. They also admitted they were better at fixing and painting fences, digging and preparing the ornamental gardens beds, building a garden house or a greenhouse.

mister gardener’s fence and vegetable garden

Women gardeners, on the other hand, acknowledged they were more skilled in the area of choosing plants, laying out the landscape plan and taking care of the flowers. They are more skilled at planting hanging baskets and choosing garden ornaments. Do you think the study would have the same results in the good old USA? According to ME, strengths in our gardens seem to be divided along these same lines.

Ann’s playground

Whether men are better or not at gardening is irrelevant. I don’t think we are any better. I think they are just darn smart. Although the planning, buying and planting is great fun, it’s the weeding, trimming, deadheading that takes the most time. The Roundup survey found that tending the garden is the most consuming job with the average gal Brit spending about 9 hours a month making sure the garden is weed free, watered and trimmed. By the time I’ve filled three wheelbarrows with weeds and debris, mister gardener has finished his veggie garden maintenance, showered and sitting with a glass of wine watching me work.  Smart fella.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

It’s a Berry nice fall…

The last few mornings in Tidewater have been crisp and there’s no denying that fall has arrived. Most gardeners agree that one of the best parts of a fall garden are the colorful berries on shrubs and trees. Birds are migrating like crazy on this property and enjoying the berries as much as I am. They are filling their tummies with tons of berries and I am filling my mind with the beauty of a wide array of colors, shapes and sizes. Many plants for this landscape were selected just for the berries they produce. Here are a few in the garden today:

Poet's Laurel (Danae racemosa)

American Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica)

Heavenly Bamboo (Nandina domestica 'Alba')

Flowering dogwood (Cornus florida)

Other fall berries that I admire in my gardens are clusters of tiny blue berries on our Southern Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera), red coral honeysuckle (Lonicera semperviens) berries, bumpy red berries of the Kousa Dogwood (Cornus kousa chinensis), several varieties of cotoneaster with masses of berries that are still green, numerous viburnums, foster’s holly that cedar waxwings adore, red plump berries of the female Aucuba japonica, showstopper berries on several winterberries (Ilex verticillata), and one of the loveliest but a weed is the pokeberry, this one already picked clean of almost all berries by hungry birds.

Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana)

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester

Nightmare On My Street

At first they looked insignificant and harmless but these plants were really the devil in disguise. Like those really bad reptilian creatures with sharp teeth and claws who rampaged a town in the 1984 horror movie, Gremlins, I am currently under attack by a weed…. a devil weed, a dangerous villain, a Gremlin. It’s Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a biennial plant in the Mustard family. Native to Europe, it is thought to have been brought to America in the 1860s as a culinary herb and indeed, it is edible.

Garlic_Mustard_close_800

The small rosettes of leaves appeared among my roses and lavender several years ago. I pulled up tons without recognizing the weed until successive years when the plant had matured into tall shoots, competing with the lavender, then moving on to other borders . Each year, I weed and weed and I think I’ve gotten it under control but when I turn my back, it multiplies as fast as those little Gremlins that terrorized an entire community.

It is a destructive invasive plant that is controlled best by hand-pulling before the plant goes to seed. Each mature plant can produce over a thousand seeds and once it produces seeds, it can become so prolific that it is difficult to eradicate. When it’s introduced into a new environment, it can aggressively spread into woodlands where it out-competes native plants and flowers that insects depend upon for life. The West Virginia White Butterfly (Pieris virginiensis) and the Mustard White Butterfly (Pieris oleracea) that lay eggs on Toothwort plants are choosing to lay eggs on Garlic Mustard which has proved toxic to both the eggs and larvae. The plant also produces toxins that suppress the mycorrhizal fungi that plants require for growth.

The plant has no natural enemies. For very heavy infestations where risks to desirable plants is at a minimum, applications of systemic herbicide glyphosate can be effective.  Since the seeds remain viable for five years in the soil, diligent monitoring is important. After weeding, do not compost this weed as the plant can germinate in the compost bed.

Wish me luck.

PS: I uploaded the wrong photo. I moved and now I live in New Hampshire. Wikipedia supplied the photo of Garlic Mustard for this post.

Ann Hohenberger, The Garden Club of Gloucester