Garden Articles

  1. Swallowtail Butterfly Gardening

    Gardeners tend to have a thing for swallowtail butterflies.  Likewise, swallowtails tend to have a thing for certain plants – and certain gardens. The more you incorporate their favorites into your garden, the more they will favor you with their flighty visits. Adult swallowtails of all species (including the half-dozen or so species native to …

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  2. Gardening Tips for Dog Owners

    Garden borders and paths can make it easier to teach dogs to stay out of beds.

    You love your dog.  You love your garden.  Sometimes, though, your dog and garden just don’t get along, and it is harder to feel the love.  The dog follows his instincts and digs, pulls up plants, romps over delicate specimens and relieves himself in the wrong places.  You follow your instincts and get frustrated.

    What can you do?

    As with all things related to gardening, a little planning can prevent a lot of mayhem.  Make a few adjustments to accommodate dog and animal priorities, and you can transform the garden into a place where both the resident gardener and the resident canine can feel comfortable.

    Paths

    Create garden paths or raised bed borders to keep straying humans and dogs out of beds and borders.  Paved walkways are the best way to prevent muddy paws, but fine gravel or mulch will also work.  Avoid cocoa bean mulch, which can be toxic to dogs.

    Training

    Dogs are diggers, so train them early to avoid garden digging.

    Famed dog trainer, Barbara Woodhouse, famously said, “Dogs aren’t born knowing what or what not to do; they only learn like children.”  Invest in proper training for your four-legged “child” so that the two of you can work together to set boundaries—literally and figuratively—for garden behavior.  Training works best when you start on a puppy, but even older dogs can benefit, especially from a skilled trainer.

    Training does not have to be expensive.  A wide array of available books, videos and apps can guide you through gentle, effective ways of training your dog.  No matter what method you choose, the cost of training beats the trouble and expense of repairing your landscape when your furry friend misbehaves.

    Planting

    Some plants are more attractive to dogs than others, so choose canine-proof plantings.

    Use tough plants along paths and other canine traffic areas and plant densely, because bare earth invites canine curiosity, mischief and digging.  Enrich the soil every time you plant by using a quality amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend to encourage thick, leafy growth.

    Ornamental grasses, compact shrub varieties, and even sturdy, clump-forming perennials like big-root geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) can withstand the occasional trampling or the occasional exuberant full-body roll and survive intact.  Low boundary fencing may also help separate pets from plants.

    Avoid planting species and varieties with sharp prickles or spines, and keep toxic plants confined to areas that are off limits to your dog.  For a list of toxic indoor and outdoor plants, go to the ASPCA website on toxic plants (click here to view) or read our article about the 12 Most Poisonous Plants to Avoid for Kids and Pets.

    Relief

    Dogs also need places to relieve themselves.  If you don’t set aside those dedicated spaces and train the dog to use them, dog waste will harm your lawn and garden.

    Distractions

    Keeping dogs distracted and well exercised will help them lose interest in your beds.

    A bored canine is an unhappy canine.  Keep some favorite dog toys in your garden basket or cart and use them to entertain the dog while you plant, weed, and water.  Taking a moment to give your dog a chewy toy or throw a ball is much better than watching him munch the stems of your prize coneflowers and daisies.

    Exercise

    The author’s dog, Brodie, romping in a dense, practically dog-proof bed of loosestrife.

    Humans get flabby and unhappy without sufficient exercise, and dogs are no different.  Walk your dog at least forty-five minutes every day, or hire someone else to do so when time is at a premium.  Space permitting; install an enclosed dog run in a corner of your yard, with a latched gate and appropriate shelter for dogs that stay outside for long periods.  A dog that gets regular exercise is less likely to tear up the iris bed or uproot the tomatoes.

    One of the most celebrated gardener/dog lovers was the late English plantsman, Christopher Lloyd, who rarely set foot in his garden at Great Dixter without his faithful dachshunds.  Less famous gardeners agree that canine companionship is good for the psyche and may also deter plant predators like rabbits, groundhogs and deer.  Even if your dog only wags his tail at rabbits and groundhogs, if he is happy, chances are you will be happy, and the garden will be a better place all the way around.

  3. Grow a Mexican Herb Garden

    The delicate white flowers of cilantro develop into coriander seeds. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Several key herbs and peppers create the foundation of Mexican cuisine. Everyone knows and loves cilantro and chile peppers, but have you ever tried epazote, Mexican oregano, or Mexican mint marigold? Add some authenticity and good flavor to your Mexican dishes this season with these herbs and spices!

    Mexican Herbs

    Some of the herbs essential to Mexican cooking originate from the Old World, such are cilantro, cumin and Mexican thyme. But, most are regional natives that have been used to flavor the traditional foods of indigenous peoples for thousands of years.

    Annatto

    Tropical annatto can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors.

    Annatto (Bixa orellana, 20–33 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 10-12), also called lipstick tree or achiote, is a tender tropical tree or shrub, but it can be grown and trained as a container specimen in cold-winter zones. It is native to the tropical Americas where its seeds have been used to impart sweet, peppery flavor and bright orange-red color to food for centuries. Southern Native American tribes also used it to color their skin and hair.

    Gardeners in temperate areas can grow annatto in containers that can be brought outdoors in summer and overwintered in a sunny indoor location. They grow best in slightly acid soil that is evenly moist and fertile. Fafard® Professional Potting Mix is a good potting mix choice. Plant them in a large pot, and keep them well pruned. In a couple of years, the evergreen shrubs will begin producing clusters of pretty, five-petaled pink flowers followed by hairy brownish orange pods. These pods are filled with orange seeds that can be dried and enjoyed for cooking.

    Epazote

    The aromatic leaves of epazote (Dysphania ambrosioides, 2-3 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11) have a distinctive fennel taste when raw and develop a citrusy taste when cooked. The leaves are commonly used in moles and soups. The rangy plants are not attractive, so surround them with prettier herbs, if garden appearance is important to you. The seeds are toxic, so cut back the flower heads to keep plants from setting seed. The leaves can also be a skin irritant for some.

    Cilantro

    The leaves of cilantro taste best in cool weather.

    The flavorful leaves of cilantro (Coriandrum sativum, 18-24 inches) are common in many Mexican dishes and salsas, and the seeds are ground to make the spice, coriander. Cilantro is a cool-season annual herb that grows best in spring and fall. It prefers full sun and well-drained, fertile soil. It’s frilly white flowers set round seed heads that readily self-sow, so don’t be afraid to sprinkle some of its seeds on the ground after it has bolted.

    Cumin

    Cumin leaves are edible and their seeds are ground for spice.

    Cumin (Cuminum cyminum, 12-15 inches) is a warm-season, drought-tolerant annual that has feathery, aromatic leaves that can be added to salads. Its flower heads look like delicate Queen-Anne’s-lace blooms. Once the heads have set seed, collect the seeds and grind them to make the spice, cumin. Grow it as you would cilantro, and give the plants at least three months to produce seed. Cumin is a key component of taco seasoning but also has a place in more traditional Mexican dishes.

    Mexican Oregano

    Mexican oregano is pretty and has a lemony oregano flavor.

    Native to the American Southwest down to Central America, Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens, 2-4 feet, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11) tastes a bit like oregano but has a distinctive lemony flavor. The leaves are used to season meats, beans, and vegetables. Mexican oregano is a small, open shrub that bears clusters of pretty white summer flowers (similar to the blooms of Lantana camara), which are pollinated by butterflies. Its leaves can be used dried or fresh.

    Mexican Thyme

    The succulent leaves of Mexican thyme can be used dried or fresh.

    This semi-succulent African herb was brought to Mexico by the Spanish. Mexican thyme (Plectranthus amboinicus, 12-24 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11), also called Cuban oregano, has a strong oregano-like flavor and can be used fresh or dried to flavor meats. It grows best in partial sun and produces spikes of pretty lavender flowers during the growing months. This tender herb can be brought indoors in winter as a potted plant and is easy to propagate from cuttings. It likes well-drained potting soil, like OMRI Listed Fafard Natural & Organic Potting Mix.

    Mexican Mint Marigold 

    Mexican marigold (Tagetes lucida, 18-24 inches, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10) is a native of Mexico and Central America, so it will tolerate high heat and drought. The slender, fragrant leaves of this herbal marigold are used to flavor pork, chicken, and vegetables. The shrubby tender perennial bears pretty yellow flowers in summer that attract bees. Grow it in full sun and average soil with good drainage.

    Mexican Peppers

    Peppers are New World plants native from southern North America to northern South America. Many different varieties are used to flavor food in Mexico, but several are more common in traditional foods.

    Plant all peppers in full sun and provide them with well-drained soil fortified with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. They will also grow better if fed with a tomato and vegetable fertilizer. Their small white flowers are bee pollinated, so be sure to avoid using insecticides on them. Most peppers require staking or caging to support their heavy fruits. (Click here for our video about pepper growing.)  Here are three essential peppers for Mexican cooking.

    Jalapeño

    Jalapeño mature to red but are most often eaten green.

    Favored for spicing up salsas, jalapeño peppers (Capsicum annuum, 24-30 inches) are most commonly harvested green, though they will mature to a deep red color. Like all peppers, they are warm-season veggies that thrive in heat and will tolerate drought. Jalapeños have medium heat (3,500 to 8,000 Scoville Heat Units).

    Poblano (Ancho) Chile

    Poblano peppers are most productive in late summer.

    The poblano chile (Capsicum annuum, 2.5-4 feet) has mild heat (1000-1500 Scoville Heat Units), and its origin is attributed to Puebla, Mexico. The peppers mature to a purplish brown, and when dried are called ancho chiles. The tall plants must be supported with a sturdy cage. These are the classic peppers used for chiles rellenos, and when dried they are used to flavor moles.

    Serrano Chile

    Serrano chiles turn from green to bright red.

    Spicy serrano chiles (Capsicum annuum, 24 feet) are generally harvested red and added to fresh salsas. They are spicy (10,000–23,000 Scoville Heat Units), very flavorful, and sweet when fully mature. One plant will produce a wealth of peppers.

    Any one of these herbs or peppers will spice up your garden and cooking, so consider planting your own Mexican herb garden this season!

     

  4. Technicolor Gardening: Vibrant Garden Flowers

    Colorful Benary’s Dreamland Zinnias are lined with deepest blue edging lobelia.

    Sometimes gardening life is just a little too pastel and predictable.  A day dawns when all those pale pinks, powdery blues, and dreamy pale yellows look washed out, and you yearn for exuberant flowers that pop out of beds and containers with bursts of bright color.  By adding a few “technicolor” flowers with deep, saturated colors, you can create explosions in the garden without scaring the neighbors. (Those same neighbors will probably also enjoy the bees, butterflies, and other pollinators drawn to your vibrant blooms.)

    Adding technicolor flowers is easy.  In each season, chose a few of your favorite flower types—coneflowers, pansies, dahlias, chrysanthemums, or zinnias.  Search garden centers and mail order vendors for the brightest varieties of those favorite plants.  Insert new flashy specimens into existing planting schemes or create new borders or container arrangements devoted to bright colors.

    Colorful Spring Flowers

    ‘Flaming Parrot’ tulips add big color to spring gardens. (Image by American Meadows)

    Start the technicolor spring parade by using the brightest tulips in expected—and unexpected—places.  Red and orange flowers or mixes of red-orange and yellow, make for garden excitement, especially against the fresh greens of plants that are just leafing out.  Think about the brilliant orange tulip, ‘Orange Emperor’ or the red-orange/yellow sparkler ‘Banja Luka’, a giant Darwin hybrid.  ‘Flaming Parrot’, with bright yellow petals striped in red, is stunning.

    Violas in the Sorbet series come in lots of saturated colors. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    For containers, border fronts and other smaller spaces, search out orange pansies and violas and pair them with darkest purple varieties.  ‘Jolly Joker’ features the orange/purple combination in a single blossom, making flower selection that much easier.  Single pots of extremely showy varieties, like the yellow and black-striped Viola ‘Tiger Eye’ also provide a colorful thrill. And, any of the violas in the Sorbet Series are sure to add big color to spring containers.

    Another low-growing, cool-season container annual that’s big on color are nemesias. Those in the Sunsatia® series are more heat tolerant than most and will continue looking good into summer. For vibrant color, try Nemesia Sunsatia® Blood Orange, with its masses of deep orange-red blooms, or the deepest red Sunsatia® Cranberry.

    Colorful Summer Flowers

    Mexican sunflower is a tall summer annual with bold color.

    Strong summer sunlight favors vivid colors and the possibilities are endless.  Instead of plain yellow or orange marigolds, try something a little different, like Marigold “Harlequin’, with striking red and yellow petals. Marigolds offered in new color combinations of rose, apricot and yellow, like the new French marigold ‘Strawberry Blonde‘, are also unusually colorful.

    The arresting Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) grows up to 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide, throwing out scores of intense orange blooms.  Pair it with ‘Black and Blue’ salvia for an eye-catching color experience.

    Tall zinnias of all kinds lend bright color to garden borders.

    If you normally grow zinnias, dial up the brightness with Benary’s Giant tall zinnia (Zinnia elegans) varieties that feature a host of saturated colors and large blooms that banish boredom in the garden or the vase. The bold plants reach up to 4 feet, so be sure to give them plenty of space. If you want something a little shorter, the equally colorful zinnias in Benary’s Dreamland Series only reach 1 foot. These are complemented with an edge of vibrant blue edging lobelia (Lobelia erinus Laguna® Dark Blue).

    Snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) are another old summer favorite that can ignite horticultural flames.  The Candy Showers mixed snapdragons cascade, making them perfect for hanging baskets, and they bloom in bright yellow, orange and red.  The butterfly snapdragon mix Chantilly Summer Flame are also uncommonly vibrant with their open flowers of dark apricot, deep orange and vermilion red. Use them singly or mix the varieties for a technicolor blast. But, any old tall snapdragon variety will add big color and height to the summer garden.

    Red coneflowers like ‘Hot Lava’ make the summer garden a little hotter.

    Coneflower (Echinacea spp.) lovers can now choose from a wide range of colors, including vivid purples, acid greens, incandescent oranges, and saturated reds.  The most colorful include ‘Colorburst Orange’, with fluffy double flowers that are green at the center; torrid ‘Hot Lava’, boasting big, red-orange blooms; and ‘Dixie Belle’, with bright pink petals.  Perennial coneflowers have many virtues, including the ability to bloom more than once in a growing season, and they attract bees and butterflies.

    What about shade?  Don’t miss out on dramatic color just because your garden or container array sits in partial shade.  Big New Guinea impatiens can rescue a boring landscape with repeated flower production in magenta, red and orange.  Team these large impatiens with chartreuse-leafed coleus varieties for color impact.

    Colorful Fall Flowers

    The brilliant dahlia ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ blooms best in fall.

    There is a lot of color available from early September through first frost.  Dahlias come into their own as the season winds down and the number of technicolor varieties is large.  Try the classic red-flowered ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, which also features contrasting dark stems and leaves.  Varieties bred from ‘Bishop of Llandaff’ and sometimes labeled “Bishop’s Children”, combine the trademark dark foliage with vibrant petal colors.  For something a bit larger, the huge, red-orange dahlia ‘Caliente’ is as hot as its name, and it makes a dramatic duo with the likes of the orange/yellow ‘Flamethrower’.

    Garden mums, which are reliably hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 5-9, are another foolproof source of saturated color.  The red and yellow ‘Matchsticks’ with spoon-type petals, works well planted at the feet of dwarf goldenrod, like ‘Little Lemon’ (Solidago ‘Little Lemon’).  ‘Cheerleader’, a large-flowered “football” mum, features bright orange-amber petals.  Pair it with dark purple ‘Grape Queen’ and round out the fall season on a high, clear, bright note.

    Brightly colored New Guinea impatiens will bloom beautifully until frost.

  5. Four Hardy Fruiting Vines for Edible Landscaping

    Concord grapes are an old-standard hardy grape.

    Hardy fruiting vines bring together two of the hottest trends in horticulture: edible landscaping and vertical gardening.  They are the perfect choice for grow-it-yourself gardeners with limited square footage and a tasty way to clothe a pergola or trellis or provide rapid aerial cover.

    Although many hardy fruiting vines will ramble for 30 feet or more if left untamed, with proper training they will fit (and fruit) quite nicely on a 10-by-10-foot trellis.  A few even make excellent subjects for large containers.  If you’re looking to add something vertical and edible to your garden, consider one of the following winter-hardy vines, all of which thrive in full sun and humus-rich soil.  They also benefit from a spring top-dressing of Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and Garden Manure Blend.

    Maypop

    Maypop fruits turn yellowish orange as they ripen.

    Native to the Southeast United States, this hardy passionflower brings a tropical look to the edible garden.  A suckering, herbaceous vine, it returns from the ground in spring and rapidly climbs to 20 feet or more via coiling, clasping tendrils.  Large, showy, lavender-blue flowers appear in summer. Each bloom is fringed with frilly, thread-like segments that surround a central array of large, club-shaped pistils and anthers.   Pale-green, egg-shaped fruits with gloppy, tart-flavored flesh ripen in late summer and early fall. They are best used to make tasty jam or jelly.

    Maypop needs a long growing season to fully ripen its fruits.  It thus requires a warm microclimate or other coddling to bring it to harvest in the northern fringes of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 10).  Where the growing season is impossibly short, grow it in a large container (as described below for Actinidia kolomikta).  Move the container from winter protection to a warm sunny frost-free location in April, and place it outside in full sun after the final frost date.

    Hardy Grapes

    A variety of red grape varieties are uncommonly hardy. (Image by Patrick Tregenza)

    Time was when tasty table grapes (Vitis spp.) were a near-impossibility in regions such as the Northeast and Midwest United States.  No longer.  Beyond old-fashioned ‘Concord’ grapes (USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9), numerous outstanding hardy varieties have entered horticulture in the past few decades, including ‘Swenson Red’, whose seeded fruits are large and sweet with hints of strawberry; and ‘Somerset Seedless’, which bears small, juicy, flavorful grapes that ripen orange-red in late summer.  Both are reliably hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.

    For optimum production (and compact growth), allow your grape vine to develop only one or two main stems, pruning out any other shoots that develop from the base.  Remove all weak, congested, or out-of-bounds side-growth that develops from these main stems, leaving only a well-spaced framework of branches.  This maximizes the space, light, and energy available for flowers and fruits, which are borne on the previous year’s growth on short spurs known as “canes”.

    Hardy Kiwis

    The fruits of hardy kiwi are smooth, green, and delicious.

    Believe it or not, several close relatives of the familiar, but frost tender, supermarket kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa) produce delicious fruits of their own on twining vines that are hardy up to USDA Hardiness Zone 4.  The most widely cultivated of these is hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta), a rambunctious climber that rapidly ascends to 30 feet or more.  The vines are dioecious, meaning vines may be male or female. Female vines produce eye-catching clusters of dime-sized, saucer-shaped white flowers open in spring, followed by inch-long fruits that resemble miniature, smooth-skinned tropical kiwis that are good for fresh eating.  A pollenizing male companion is required for fruit set, except in the case of self-fruitful cultivars such as ‘Issai’.  Hardy kiwi requires either ample room in which to romp, or frequent pruning to keep it in bounds.  Its architecture and pruning regimen is similar to that of grapes, with flowers and fruits occurring on the previous year’s growth.

    ‘Arctic Beauty’ is the most common variegated hardy kiwi vines. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    A better behaved but equally hardy cousin of hardy kiwi is variegated-leaf hardy kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta), which is usually represented in gardens by ornamental male cultivars such as ‘Arctic Beauty’, whose leaves are showily daubed with splashes of pink and silver variegation.  Female selections are drabber in leaf, but compensate by producing a late-summer crop of tasty, spherical, pale-orange fruits (provided a male pollenizer is nearby).  All Actinidia kolomikta cultivars can be grown in large containers, creating all sorts of portable garden possibilities.  A coarse potting mix such as Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix works best.  In USDA Hardiness Zones 5 and below, move containerized actinidias to a cold frame or other protected location for the winter.

    Actinidia polygama fruits have inner orange flesh. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Showy, edible, pale-orange fruits and silver-variegated leaves (on male plants) are also among the horticulturally significant features of a third hardy kiwi vine, silver kiwi vine (Actinidia polygama).  It ranks somewhere between the above two species in vigor. The exterior of the fruit resembles that of standard kiwi, but the inner flesh is orange.

     

    Chocolate Vine

    Chocolate vine flowers are attractive, but the vines are aggressive. (Image by Jeff Delonge)

    Impossibly invasive (and widely banned) in milder sectors of its hardiness range (USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9), this vigorous , semi-evergreen vine is well worth growing in colder regions such as the American Northeast and Midwest.  Chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) will rapidly ascend to 20 feet or more if left unpruned, the twining stems with elegant, hand-shaped leaves are laced with clusters of small, delightfully fragrant, maroon-purple flowers in spring.  White-flowered cultivars (e.g., ‘Shiro Bana’) are also available.  Large, sausage-shaped fruits expand in summer, deepening to purple as they mature.  Fully ripened fruits split open to reveal the seedy, gelatinous flesh, which has a melon- or guava-like flavor when ripe.  Plant two or more cultivars for a good crop.

  6. Favorite Garden Poppies

    Poppies are some of the most beautiful garden flowers! (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Nothing is prettier than a field of red, windblown poppies. The delicate blooms rise from slender stems, and their colorful petals resemble crushed tissue paper—giving these classic garden flowers lasting appeal. Poppies are diverse, and can be grown in practically any garden. Some are long-lived perennials while others are fleeting annuals the bloom spectacularly for a short time before setting seed.

    The best poppies for the garden are effortless and big on color and appeal. Most are cool-season spring bloomers, but a select few will weather through the heat of summer. Here are some of our favorites.

    Annual Poppies

    Breadseed Poppies

    The flowers of breadseed poppies are a favorite of bees. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Some of the showiest annual poppies are breadseed poppies (Papaver somniferum). They bloom in late spring and die back and set their beautiful flower heads by summer. The tall plants reach 2-3 feet and have lush grey-green leaves. Their  large seedheads are filled with edible seeds that are ready for harvest when the heads dry. Their flowers come in shades of white, red, pink, and purple, and are favored by bees.

    The breadseed poppy ‘Pepperbox’ has beautiful flowers of pink, red, and purple and produces loads of seed for baking. The ~1886 heirloom ‘Danish Flag’ is another select variety with frilly cut petals of red and white. All are sure to self-sow.

    Papaver somniferum is also the source of opium, but cultivated forms are bred just for flower color and seeds. Gardeners should not worry about growing these flowers, if they are purchased from legitimate flower seed vendors. The trade and consumption of Papaver somniferum seed within the United States is unregulated, and it is legal to grow them as garden flowers, but it is illegal to grow forms for opiates. The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 made any Papaver somniferum cultivation illegal in the United States, but it was repealed in 1970. Still, unauthorized farming and processing of this plant is a felony crime, so be sure to just grow plants sold in flower catalogs for blooms and seed!

    Peony Poppies

    The frilled puffy blooms of peony poppies resemble powder puffs.

    These plumy poppies grow much like breadseed poppies and are most often sold as glorious doubles that resemble powder puffs. Peony poppies (Papaver paeoniflorum) are old-fashioned and add elegance to late spring gardens. Try Feathered Mix with its lush, fluffy flowers in that come in lots of bright colors, including purple, red, white, pink, and lavender.

    Flanders Poppies

    Flanders are Old-World field poppies that add color to naturalistic gardens.

    These are the black-blotched red field poppies (Papaver rhoeas) that dot roadways and meadows across much of the Old-World and are planted to commemorate fallen soldiers of war. Common red forms are easy to find in seed catalogs, but some have been selected with more delicate colors. The best of these are the English Shirley poppies that may be pink, coral, or white. The pale hues of the Shirley poppies in Old Fashioned Mix are subdued, while Falling in Love has semi-double blooms in brighter shades of coral, pink, and clear white.

    Shirley poppies come in shades of pink, coral, and white and can be semi-double.

    All Flanders poppies should be sown early in cool weather and will bloom by early summer. In midsummer, they set seed. Be sure to shake mature seedheads on the ground to encourage seedlings the following year.

    Western Poppies

    Fields of California poppies fill fields and hillsides across the West. (Image by Maureen Gilmer)

    Two poppies worth mentioning are in the poppy family but not the Papaver genus. These are the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and Mexican tulip poppy (Hunnemannia fumariifolia).

    The bright orange California poppy thrives in cool, spring weather in western states. Its low mounds of grey-green, ferny foliage give rise to loads of cup-shaped flowers that set fields and hillsides on fire with color. Lots of cultivated varieties have been developed that may be ivory, pink, rose, or orange-red. Some are even have double petals.

    California poppies are best grown in cool spring or fall weather. They often self-sow to extend the show the following season.

    Golden, bowl-shaped blooms are highlight of Mexican Tulip Poppies. These rare, heat-tolerant poppies are native to California and adjacent Mexico.

    Perennial Poppies

    Spanish Poppy

    ‘Double Tangerine Gem’ a lovely Spanish poppy for summer gardens. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    This pure orange poppy is one of the most heat tolerant of the perennial poppies. Spanish poppy (Papaver rupifragum) has small clumps of ferny foliage that produce slender stems of soft orange flowers. Plants start to bloom in midsummer and will continue until fall if spent flowers are removed before they set seed. Leave a few seedheads at the end of the season to sprinkle on the ground, to encourage new seedlings the following year.

    Give this poppy soil with excellent drainage. It is so waterwise, it is approved for xeric gardening!

    Icelandic Poppy

    Iceland poppies require cool weather to perform well. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    As the common name suggests, these delicate poppies are adapted to cool weather, but surprisingly, they are not from Iceland, as their common name suggests. They are boreal flowers native across the whole of the north from Europe across to North America. Icelandic poppies (Papaver nudicaule) thrive cool spring weather throughout much of the US, and southwestern winters with mild, cool temperatures. They usually survive as short-lived perennials, so expect to plant them again after three years or so. Plants may die in high summer heat.

    The papery flowers of Iceland poppies come in lots of pretty shades of salmon, orange, pink, white, apricot, and yellow. Try Meadow Pastels, a delicate mix with ruffled flowers in almost every color.

    Oriental Poppy

    Old-fashioned oriental poppies are a perennial border staple.

    The large, bowl-shaped blooms of oriental poppies are distinguished by showy clusters of black stamens in the center of each flower. Theses long-lived perennials bloom in early summer, and traditional forms have classic orange-red flowers with ruffled petals. They have been a mainstay in flower gardens for hundreds of years, and though it sounds like they should come from “the Orient” they are native to northern Turkey and Iran, and the Caucasus mountains.

    Their prickly green foliage appears in spring and nearly disappears by summer’s end. Flower stem height depends on the cultivated variety; taller forms can reach 3 feet. There are many varieties with flower colors that may be white, pink, red, orange, lavender, and burgundy. ‘Beauty of Livermere‘ is a classic red that will add elegance to any garden.

    Growing Poppies

    All poppies need full sun and fertile soil with a neutral pH and good drainage. Before planting, be sure to amend the soil with a fertile amendment, like Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Annual and spring perennial poppies will die back, so be sure to plant other garden flowers among them to fill in the spaces they leave behind.

    A nodding bed of poppies will make any gardener or passerby delight in the beauty of these prized flowers. Plant a few this season to add cheer and bright color to your garden.

  7. Growing Scented Geraniums

    Citronella-scented geranium deters mosquitoes.

    In the centuries before sewers and daily bathing were common, rank odors were everywhere.  That is probably why Europeans were so excited when scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.) first arrived from their native South Africa in the early 17th century. With aromatic leaves exuding the fragrance of roses, citrus, or spice, the plants were immediately pressed into service as weapons in the ongoing battle against undesirable smells.

    Scented Geranium History

    Some of the earliest scented geranium specimens were shipped to Holland by the Dutch East India Company and found their way into the hands of Dutch plant breeders, who propagated and cross bred them.  Rose-scented types, especially the intensely fragrant Pelargonium graveolens ‘Attar of Roses’, were eventually produced in mass quantities for the perfume industry.  By the Victorian era, the number of varieties had exploded, and the fragrant plants had become garden and conservatory staples.  After a dip in popularity in the 20th century, the attractive and intoxicating plants are enjoying a renaissance, with 80 or more varieties available from specialty nurseries, like Mountain Valley Growers.

    Scented Geranium Types

    Apple scented geranium has a delightful scent good for potpourri.

    Scented geraniums are members of the Pelargonium genus, just like the common backyard and window box flowers that gardeners have loved for generations.  In the case of fragrant types, tiny hairs on leaves and stems produce the various characteristic scents.

    The plants are loosely grouped into five fragrance categories, including: rose, citrus, mint, spice and “pungent” (with overtones of camphor, eucalyptus, or other strong, woodsy or medicinal aromas).  The rose, citrus, and mint fragrances seem to be the strongest, with others like apricot and chocolate, registering more subtly.  A fifth category, oak-leaf, comprises varieties bred from the Pelargonium quercifolium species, featuring oak-like leaves that bear distinctive, sometimes citrusy, or pungent scents.  In all cases, the scents are most noticeable when you rub leaves between your fingers, or brush by the plants on a sunny day.

    While common geraniums are grown for their big, showy flowerheads, scented types feature smaller blooms and rely largely on the allure of sweet-smelling leaves.  Those leaves vary from small and deeply dissected, like those of the classic lemon-scented P. crispum , to the scalloped and almost tomato-like foliage of the heavenly-smelling P. graveolens ‘Rober’s Lemon Rose’.  Plants can be relatively slender and erect, or short and squat, and some varieties may sport variegated leaves.  A few, like P. x fragrans ‘Logeei’, feature a cascading habit that works well in hanging baskets.  The unscented flowers bloom in shades of cream, pink, red and purple, with bi-colored varieties marked with contrasting blotches.

    Some of the most popular scented varieties include: Pelargonium graveolens ‘Lady Plymouth’, with large, cream-edged leaves and a rose fragrance; P. ‘Citronella’, with a lemon scent that is reputed to repel mosquitoes; P. graveolens ‘Old Fashioned Rose’, with purple flowers and an intense rose fragrance; P. fragrans ‘Old Spice’, reminiscent of the famous men’s cologne, and ‘Apple’, with a distinctive fruity aroma.

    Growing Scented Geraniums

    Pelargonium graveolens comes in rose-scented varieties.

    Scented geraniums are easy to grow and can get along well in a sunny window in cold winter climates.  Most appreciate a summer vacation outdoors—either in containers or garden beds– beginning when night temperatures rise above 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

    To grow these fragrant plants, start with a good potting mix, like Fafard® Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, lightened with an equal amount of Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost.  Unglazed clay pots work better than plastic ones, allowing the soil to dry out more quickly.  Water only when the top of the soil feels dry.  Fertilize bi-weekly with 1/2 teaspoon of water soluble fertilizer per gallon of water.  In winter, when plant growth slows, discontinue fertilizing.  Prune plants periodically to maintain fuller growth.

    The Victorians found that fresh rose or lemon geranium leaves added distinction to foods.  The flavors are not overwhelming, but lend delicate notes to cakes, custards and other baked goods.  Bury leaves in a closed sugar container for a few days and then use the flavored sugar to enhance the taste of teas or cold beverages.  Elsewhere in the household, dry the leaves until crumbly to hold their scents in sachets and potpourris.

    As landscape plants, scented geraniums work especially well in herb gardens, containers, and raised beds.  For maximum enjoyment, position them close to paths or entry areas, where visitors can brush the leaves and liberate their unique fragrances.

    It is thought that geraniums’ scented leaves evolved as a defense against plant predators.  Many centuries later, they attract plant lovers.

  8. The Best Reblooming Shrubs for Summer

    Panicle hydrangea blooms through much of the summer.

    Flowering shrubs do lots of good things in the garden, but their length of bloom often disappoints.  Exceptions do occur, with hybrid roses being the most obvious and ubiquitous example.  They’re not the only shrubs that bloom long and well, though.  Here are seven of the best of the rest.  Their individual flowers may not be as voluptuous as those of a hybrid tea rose, but in other respects – including habit, foliage, and disease-resistance – they more than hold their own.

     

    Littleleaf Lilac and Hybrids

    Littleleaf lilac has smaller blooms that rebloom in midsummer.

    Almost all lilacs are one-and-done bloomers.  Not so with littleleaf lilac ‘Superba’ (Syringa pubescens ssp. microphylla ‘Superba’).  Abundant clusters of sweet-scented, pale lilac-pink flowers open from reddish buds in mid-spring, a few days after those of common lilac.  Then, in midsummer, a miracle occurs, with a second flush of blooms developing on the current season’s growth.  Littleleaf lilac is also attractive out of bloom, forming a dense, rounded, 8-foot specimen clad in dainty, privet-like leaves.  Plant breeders have crossed ‘Superba’ with other lilacs to produce several repeat-blooming cultivars, including those in the Bloomerang® Series.   For maximum rebloom, plant ‘Superba’ and its offspring in full sun and fertile, loamy, near-neutral soil.  A spring top-dressing of Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost is all to the good.  These lilacs do best in USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8.

     

    Summer Snowflake Doublefile Viburnum

    Summer snowflake is a reblooming doublefile viburnum. (Image by Russell Stafford)

    Viburnums, like lilacs, typically flower for only a couple of weeks per year.  One of the few exceptions is the remarkable ‘Summer Snowflake’ (Viburnum plicatum ‘Summer Snowflake’), whose terraced branches are frosted with flat clusters of white flowers from mid-spring to early fall.  It also differs from other doublefile viburnums in its relatively compact, narrow habit (5 to 7 feet tall and wide).  Although lacking the wide-sweeping drama of full-sized doublefile cultivars, such as ‘Mariesii’ and ‘Shasta’, ‘Summer Snowflake’ literally makes a better fit for foundation plantings and other niches where space is limited.  The leaves take on smoky maroon tones in fall.  All doublefile viburnums perform best in sun to light shade and humus-rich soil, in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9.

     

    Weigela Sonic Bloom® Series

    Weigela Sonic Bloom® Pink offers bright color through summer. (Image by Proven Winners)

    Many weigelas throw a few flowers now and then in the months following their main late-spring display.  This has inspired plant breeders to develop new Weigela (Weigela hybrids) cultivars that rebloom not demurely, but with abandon.  Those in the Sonic Bloom® Series are reputed to produce several good flushes of showy, trumpet-shaped blooms not just in late spring, but throughout summer and early fall.  Sonic Bloom® weigelas flower in pink, purple, or white, depending on the variety.  These relatively recent introductions have yet to prove their mettle in many parts of the U.S. – but they’re well worth a try in a sunny spot in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.  At 4 to 5 feet high and wide, they won’t take much space while you’re putting them through their paces.

     

    Caucasian Daphne

    A parent of the variegated, briefly blooming Daphne × burkwoodii ‘Carol Mackie’, Caucasian daphne (Daphne × transatlantica) is in most ways superior to its popular offspring.  Where it particularly outdistances ‘Carol’ is in its repeat, spring-to-fall display of tubular, white, sweet-scented blooms.  The dainty, oval, semi-evergreen leaves are also attractive and are strikingly variegated in forms such as ‘Summer Ice’.  Most varieties of this outstanding daphne top out at about 3 feet tall, with their branches splaying with age (or with heavy snow).  It does well in sun to light shade in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8.

     

    Panicle Hydrangea

    The flowers of ‘Pinky Winky’ panicle hydrangea darken in color as they age. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Not many years ago, panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata) was represented in gardens almost exclusively by the mop-headed cultivar ‘Grandiflora’ (more commonly known as peegee hydrangea).  Today, numerous outstanding varieties of this exceptionally hardy species (USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9) have found their way into horticulture, including many with lacy, conical flower clusters rather than weighty mops.  Most Hydrangea paniculata cultivars bear white-flowered panicles from mid to late summer, but other flowering times and colors also occur.  Look for ‘Limelight’, with full flower-heads that age to chartreuse-green; ‘Pinky Winky’, an early- to late-summer bloomer that evolves from white to rose-pink; and the late-blooming (and magnificent) ‘Tardiva’, with large lacy spires of white flowers from late summer to frost.  These large shrubs can be cut back severely in early spring to keep them in bounds.  Dwarf varieties such as ‘Little Lamb’ require no size control.

     

    Butterfly Bush

    Sterile, seed-free butterfly bushes are just as pretty but don’t self sow.

    How can we not mention the ever-popular, somewhat cold-tender butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii) and its many hybrids, which draw in butterflies over much of summer with their steeples of fragrant blooms in a variety of colors?  Recent developments in the butterfly bush universe include the introduction of several compact, sterile cultivars with especially prolonged bloom and no pesky seedlings.  These include ‘Ice Chip’, ‘Lavender Chip’, and ‘Purple Haze’.  Buddleia davidii and its hybrids do best in full sun in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9, and usually benefit from a hard early-spring pruning, even in areas where they don’t die back.

     

    Flowering Abelia

    Flowering abelia is a long bloomer that will flower up until frost.

    Popular in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S., flowering abelia (Abelia × grandiflora and kin) are small to medium shrubs that could be used much more in the northern fringes of their USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9 hardiness range.  Their dainty, fragrant bells – in various shades of pink or white – cluster on arching stems from midsummer into fall.  Small, oval leaves add to the delicate, fine-textured feel of these quietly attractive plants.  Most flowering abelias are evergreen to semi-evergreen into USDA Hardiness Zone 6.   In zones 5 and 6, flowering abelias often work well as winter die-back shrubs, resprouting in spring and flowering in late summer and fall.  In all hardiness zones they benefit from early-spring pruning of snarled or winter-killed stems.

  9. Two Butterfly Garden Designs

    A monarch butterfly feeds on swamp milkweed.

    Everyone loves butterflies, and the threat to monarch populations has spurred increased interest in butterfly gardening. When planning a smart butterfly garden, you want to include plants that feed both adult butterflies and their caterpillars. This is essential because butterfly caterpillars are species specific, meaning they only feed on specific plants.

    Color, design, and site conditions are important when creating butterfly gardens. To make the job easy for new pollinator gardeners, we created two designs that are colorful and appeal to black swallowtail and monarch butterflies. Most butterfly plants are sun-loving, so these gardens are all adapted to sunny garden spaces.

    Black Swallowtail Garden Plants

    A black swallowtail caterpillar feeds on bronze fennel. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The caterpillars of black swallowtail butterflies feed on many plants in the carrot family, Apiaceae. These eastern North American butterflies have many native host plants, but none are attractive enough for ornamental gardening. Thankfully, quite a few cultivated flowers also feed them. These include bronze fennel, Queen Anne’s lace, lace flower, and dill. When mixed with colorful, compact Magellan zinnias and Sonata coreopsis, which feed adult butterflies, a wild, lacy flower garden is created.

    Black Swallowtail Garden Design: This simple design shows a traditional rectangular flower border, but it can be adapted to fit any garden shape. Just be sure to keep the taller plants towards the center or back of the border. Most of these flowers are annuals, meaning they need to be planted year after year.

    Monarch Garden Plants

    Monarch caterpillars only feed on milkweed plants.

    All milkweed species (Asclepias spp.) feed monarchs. These colorful perennials contain protective chemicals that the caterpillars feed on, which render both the caterpillars and adult butterflies unpalatable to birds. The prettiest of all milkweeds include the orange-flowered butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa (USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9)), pink-flowered swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata (USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9), and orange-red flowered Mexican milkweed (Asclepias curassavica (USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10)), which self sows yearly. Monarch adults feed on all manner of butterfly flowers. The best are fall-flowering species that support the butterflies as they head to Mexico late in the season, like goldenrod and asters. [Click here to read more about growing milkweeds for monarchs.]

    Monarch Garden Design: This border design includes three showy milkweed species and dwarf late-season asters (such as Symphyotrichum novi-belgii ‘Lady-in-Blue’ (12-inches tall) or ‘Nesthäkchen’ (18-inches tall) and dwarf goldenrod (such as Solidago ‘Golden Baby’ (18-inches tall) or ‘Little Lemon’ (18-inches tall)) to feed migrating monarchs.

    Planting your Butterfly Garden

    These gardens are all designed for full-sun exposures. When planting them, feed the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost to ensure the plants get a good start. You might also consider feeding them with a good flower fertilizer approved for organic gardening. Another important note is to avoid using insecticides, which will damage or kill visiting butterflies.

    These simple gardens are pretty and sure to lure lots of beautiful butterflies to your yard. To learn more about pollinator conservation and gardening, visit the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation page.

  10. Favorite Heirloom Garden Flowers from Seed

    Heirloom garden flowers are perfect for informal cottage gardens.

    Imagine a sweeping cottage garden of China pinks, petunias, and marigolds interspersed with a tangle of colorful sweet peas and lacy love-in-a-mist. Old fashioned flowers such as these remain in vogue for the same reason our grandmothers grew them. They are lovely, easily grown from seed, and their seeds can be collected from year to year—making them perfect for gardeners on a budget.

    Choice heirloom flowers are brightly colored, long-blooming, and easy to manage. Quite a few have the added bonus of being highly fragrant, because fragrance was considered an important floral trait from Victorian times to the mid-nineteenth century.

    The majority of these flowers are best started indoors from seed at the beginning of the growing season, but several can be started outdoors. Our favorites will be sure to add value to your flower garden and containers this season.

    Top 10 Heirloom Flowers from Seed

    China pinks (Dianthus chinensis)

    These highly fragrant, short-lived perennials thrive where summers are cool and have frilly blooms in shades of red, white, and pink. Most reach a foot in height and are perfect for sunny border edges. Try the lovely Single Flowered Mix from Select seeds with single flowers in mixed colors. Start seeds indoors in February or March. 

    Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)

    These bushy, sun-loving bedding plants reach 2 to 3 feet and develop broad clusters of small, sweetly fragrant purple, lavender, or white flowers that attract butterflies. Remove old flower heads for repeat bloom all season. The very old variety ‘Amaretto‘ has pale violet flowers that smell of almonds. Start these from seed indoors in February.

     

    Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)

    Sweet peas are some of the most fragrant cool-season flowers. The delicate, tendriled vines require light trellising. Long-stemmed clusters of sweet-smelling flowers appear by late spring and are perfect for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and more heat tolerant than most. Start sweet peas indoors from seed in February or March.

     

    Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

    The ever-blooming nature of this small, fragrant garden annual has made it one of the best for border and container edges. It blooms well in both hot and cool weather with clusters of tiny white, pink, or purple flowers. Try the honey-scented Gulf Winds mix from Renee’s Garden Seeds, which has flowers of light pink, rose, lilac, and white. The seeds are very fine, so be sure not to accidentally plant too many when starting them indoors. Start these no later than March.

    Marigolds (Tagetes hybrids)

    Loads of warm-hued heirloom marigolds are still available to brighten contemporary flower beds. These tough sun lovers shine through the most difficult summers, keeping gardens looking good through the swelter. For garden edges, choose the 1903 heirloom French Marigold ‘Legion of Honor’. Its fragrant flowers are dark orange with gold edges. Small-flowered signet marigolds are also uncommonly showy with their ferny foliage and bushy habits. Plant seeds in March for late-May planting.

    Jasmine-Scented Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)

    The white blooms of jasmine-scented tobacco are most fragrant at night and pollinated by moths. The tubular flowers appear on plants reaching 3 to 4 feet high. This heat tolerant annual will tolerate some shade and will bloom well into fall. High Mowing Organic Seeds sells seeds for this old-fashioned beauty. Cut back the old flower stalks to encourage flowering. Start the seeds indoors no later than March. (Image by Carl E. Lewis)

    Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)

    Unusual lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist especially charming in the garden. The flowers may be violet-blue, purple, white, or pink. Once they have finished flowering, their dry seed pods are also visually interesting and useful in dried arrangements. They do tend to self-sow, so expect lots of seedlings to appear the following season. They flower best in cool weather and are short-lived, so they can be started both in early spring and late summer for two seasons of bloom.

    Old-Fashioned Petunia (Petunia hybrid)

    Heirloom petunias tend have looser habits that require regular pruning, but they are also charming and free-flowering. One of the most unique of the seed-grown heirlooms is ‘Old-Fashioned Climbing‘. This pretty rambler has highly fragrant flowers in shades of purple, lavender, and white that bloom above the foliage. Start the seeds no later than March for summer enjoyment.

    Scarlet Sage (Salvia spendens)

    Older varieties of scarlet sage are taller and bushier but no less free flowering. The tall and elegant ‘Van Houttei’ is one of the earliest cultivated forms. The bushy 3- to 4-foot variety thrives in heat and becomes covered with spikes of deep red blooms that attract the hummingbirds. Pinch back spent flowering stems to encourage more flowers! Start the seeds in February or March.

     

    Growing Heirlooms from Seed

    Some heirlooms, such as love-in-a-mist, can be directly sown in the ground outdoors, but most are best started indoors. Start your seeds in seed trays fitted with six-pack flats, which give growing flowers enough space for root and shoot growth. Fill the flats with premium OMRI Listed Black Gold Seedling Mix, which holds moisture and drains well.  Moisten the mix before planting for easier watering after planting. If planting your new seedlings in containers, choose Fafard Ultra Container Mix with Extended Feed, which feeds flowers for up to 6 months.

    Follow seed packet instructions for planting guidelines and expected germination times. Smaller seeds usually need to be lightly covered with mix while larger seeds require deeper planting. Plant each cell with two to three seeds to make sure you get at least one seedling per cell. You only want one seedling per cell, so pinch out the weakest seedlings that germinate and leave the largest. Seeds often sprout best in temperatures between 68-73º F. Warm-season annuals germinate faster if flats are placed on heat mats.

    Good light is important for strong growth. You can either start your seeds in a sunny, south-facing window of beneath strip shop lights fitted with broad-spectrum bulbs. One shop light will supply light to two trays. Keep trays 4 inches from the grow lights to keep seedlings from getting leggy. Raise the lights as your plants grow. Once seedlings develop new leaves, feed them with half-strength Proven Winners Premium Water Soluble Plant Food.

    Before planting your tender heirloom flower starts outdoors, acclimate them to the natural sunlight and wind by placing them in a protected spot with partial sun for one week. This process of “hardening off” allows indoor-grown starts to toughen up before outdoor planting. After this step, they will be ready to plant in your garden or containers.