Tag Archive: Flower Gardening

  1. Miniature Water Lily Pots for the Patio

    Lotus leaves-5

    The white pygmy water lily is tiny and perfect for container culture.

    Nothing is more cooling in summer than a water garden filled with water lilies. Lack of space and resources for a garden pond keep most gardeners from growing these beautiful aquatic flowers, but what if a pond isn’t needed? Spacious troughs or large pots without drainage holes can be converted into small water gardens for miniature water lily varieties. If you have a partially sunny patio, deck, or flat garden space that can take the weight of a water-filled pot, you are set!

    Choosing a Container

    stone pot with leaves of water lilies

    Any deep, spacious, water-tight pot will hold miniature water lilies.

    Water lily pots have to be large and spacious, so start with choosing a container that’s at least 15-18 inches deep and 24-40 inches wide. This will give you enough water-holding space for your lilies and their roots.

    Pots must be water tight. Specialty “no hole” pots designed for aquascaping are sold, but you can also fill line large pots with pond liner, which is often the cheaper option. Simply cut the liner to a round that will fit in your pot and fit it snugly along the inner lip of the pot. Its helps to apply a strong, non-toxic adhesive along the edge to keep it in place.

    Choosing Miniature Waterlilies


    The yellow water lily ‘Helvola’ is a classic compact variety that grows beautifully in containers.

    True miniature water lilies are so tiny that some even have flowers the size of a quarter. Many are pygmy waterlily (Nymphaea tetragona) variants, which are very hardy—surviving winters as cold as USDA Hardiness Zones 4-11, with good protection. They come in a suite of colors that include ivory, pale yellow, pink, and red. The best for home gardens are easy to find online or in specialty stores.

    One of the tiniest miniatures is the white pygmy water lily (Nymphaea tetragona ‘Alba’). The hardy plants reach 18 to 24 inches across and sport tiny white flowers that float alongside teensie white flowers. Another beautiful white-flowered variety with much bigger, tulip-shaped flowers but a small growth habit is ‘Hermine’.

    The peach-pink-flowered ‘Berit Strawn’ (Nymphaea ‘Berit Strawn’) has larger flowers (3 to 4 inches) and pads of deep green with some reddish mottling. The tiny plant is perfect for container growing, is very hardy, and will bloom nonstop from early summer to fall. Plants will spread between 24 and 30 inches.

    white lotus flower in pots

    ‘Hermine’ is a stunning, white-flowered miniature water lily.

    One of the smallest red-flowered miniatures is ‘Perry Baby Red’ (Nymphaea ‘Perry Baby Red’). Its rosy red flowers compliment dark green pads. Plants spread 12 to 36 inches.

    An old classic mini water lily is the hardy ‘Indiana’ (Nymphaea ‘Indiana’). Its tricolored, 2- to 3-inch flowers are in shades of rose-red, yellow, and orange. The diminutive plants have a spread of 12 to 28 inches and small green pads with reddish spots.

    One of the best yellow-flowered water lilies is the cheerful ‘Yellow Pygmy’ (Nymphaea ‘Helvola’). Flowers are only a couple of inches across, but they are bright and pretty. Plants reach 18 to 36 inches across.

    There are lots of great sources for miniature water lilies. Lilypons and Texas Water Lilies are good sources that offer quality selections.

    Planting Waterlilies

    Nymphaea 'Pygmaea Helvola' JaKMPM

    Water lily ‘Helvola’ in full bloom. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Water lilies grow from fleshy tubers that must be grounded in smaller pots sunk below the surface of your water container. Choose a wide, shallow plastic pot that will fit in the bottom of your container while providing plenty of head space. Planting depth can be 5 to 24 inches from the water surface. Pots should be placed where they can get 6 hours of sun per day or more.

    Line the pots with porous but tight-knit plastic burlap. The base soil should consist of a 3:1 mixture of heavy loam and Black Gold Garden Compost Blend. The compost and soil must be well combined before planting. Finally, add a small amount of a slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer to the mix. Over fertilization can cause algal bloom.

    Sink the tuber into the soil, so the top of the plant meets the soil line. Once it is planted, line the top 2 inches of the pot with pea gravel to help keep the soil and plant in place. Place the pot on the bottom on the container and stabilize a flat, 1 to 2 inch thick rock along one side of the pot, so it sits at an angle; this helps with gas exchange for healthy root growth. Gently fill the pot with clean tap water to a depth a couple of inches below the lip of the pot.

    Maintaining Potted Waterlilies

    Lotus and lotus leaf background.

    Clean, fresh water is important to the health of potted water lilies.

    Keeping the water clean in your water lily pot is important. Remove any debris that falls in the water, and cut old leaves from your water lilies. Refresh the water regularly as it recedes. Small- to medium-sized water pots don’t need aeration filters.

    Water-filled containers cannot be allowed to freeze in winter, even if your water lily is hardy. Freezing and thawing can also cause containers to crack. The best course of action is to drain the container before the first freeze of the season, remove the lily pot (being sure to cut back the leaves), and store it in a water-filled bucket in a cool place. Water lily tubers should be divided every two to three years.

    Water lily pots are colorful, impressive, and will brighten any summer garden spot. If you want the tranquil beauty of a pond without all the work and hassle, plant one this season.

  2. Gorgeous Garden Goldenrods


    Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is one of the most common field species in North America. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    It is hard to think of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), as something precious and special when it is so extraordinarily ubiquitous.  Native to all of North America, it bursts into bloom in late summer and early fall, lining field edges, roadsides and just about every sunny space where it can gain a foothold.  In its native land it is often damned with faint or non-existent praise.  Even worse, it is unjustly damned as the source of pesky, end-of-summer hay fever attacks.

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    The compact ‘Little Lemon’ is a tidy, small goldenrod fit for border edges and containers. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Ragweed, goldenrod’s seasonal fellow traveler, is the true cause of most late-season allergies.  Ragweed is a stealth allergen. It’s so visually nondescript with its humdrum green flowers that people overlook it in their quest to point accusing fingers at goldenrod’s bright plumes.  Like many hay-fever-trigger plants, ragweed is wind pollinated. It relies on the breeze to complete its pollinating chores, sending tiny pollen granules flying through the air where they meet up with sensitive human beings.  Goldenrod, on the other hand, is pollinated by bees and other insects, meaning its pollen never becomes airborne and causes us no harm.

    Common and condemned, goldenrod had to go all the way to Europe to lose its bad reputation.  Europeans, untroubled by hay-fever concerns, common origins, and supposed coarse appearances, fell in love.  When plant people on the other side of the Atlantic got hold of the winsome field flower, that love translated into hybridizing.  The result of international travel and human-initiated plant hanky-panky is that gardeners have the option of getting their goldenrod two ways—wild or bred into garden-worthy forms.

    Solidago 'Crown of Rays' is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Solidago ‘Crown of Rays’ is a tidier cultivated form for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Goldenrod’s lineage makes it a natural for the home garden.  At first glance the resemblance is hard to see, but Solidago is in the daisy family, Asteraceae.  Each lush flower panicle is made of up of many miniature golden daisies that can be seen up close. Loaded with pollen, they attract bees, butterflies, and many other insects.  If you have ever eaten wildflower honey collected in fall, you have most likely tasted the autumnal richness of goldenrod.

    In the garden, these hardy perennials ask for little. Established plants can tolerate dry spells in fine fashion, and some species are tolerant of moist soils. Sunny space is ideal for the plants, although some will also prosper in light shade, sporting somewhat fewer flowers per stem.  Anyone familiar with field goldenrod, which is frequently, but not always, Solidago canadensis, knows that it can grow 3 to 6 feet high and forms large clumps due to its vigorous, spreading root systems.  Clearly this is not ideal for all gardens.  Fortunately, breeders have come up with more civilized, compact garden goldenrods that are perfect for small spaces or containers.

    2209Fafard N&O Potting_3D-1cu RESILIENCE front WEBOne of those compact varieties is Solidago ‘Little Lemon’, which reaches only 12 to 18 inches tall. It looks cute in seasonal containers, but this perennial should be replanted along a border edge before frost descends.  The popular ‘Crown of Rays’, which grows 18 to 24 inches tall, is another compact form to consider. For a medium-tall variety, try the popular Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’, which grows 3 to 4 feet tall and spreads less aggressively than some wild forms. The winter seed heads of all goldenrod add garden beauty by attracting the lovely, yellow-feathered goldfinch.

    To make potted goldenrod thrive, fill your chosen container with Fafard Natural and Organic Potting Soil. This premium mix is full of the kind of rich organic materials that a goldenrod would chose for itself, if it were able. Amend garden soils with Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost before planting.

    The word “Solidago” comprises two Latin words that mean “to make whole”.  “Solidago” shares a common root with the English word “solidarity”.  This seems perfect for goldenrod, which finds solidarity with a variety of plants that bloom at the same time.  The most prominent of them is the blue-purple Symphiotrichum novae-angliae (New England aster).  Mums, especially those in burnt orange or dark red shades, also make good companions.  In the fields, the waving golden wands harmonize with the last of summer’s true blue chicory, not to mention purple ironweed (Vernonia spp.) and lots of airy native grasses.

    Goldenrod is a great garden plant, but it also makes an excellent cut flower.  Best of all, since no one has ever been inclined to pick ragweed and add it to a vase, you can enjoy goldenrod’s sunny fall flowers indoors without resorting to allergy medicine or the tissue box.


    Strands of Solidago rugosa ‘Fireworks’ intermingle with a fall planting of red dahlias and Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  3. Protect Plants from Summer Heat in Four Steps

    A thick layer of straw helps hold moisture around these okra plants while also keeping walkways clean and weed free.

    A thick layer of straw helps keep roots cool while also holding moisture and keeping walkways clean and weed free.

    It’s baking hot and your garden plants are wilting, waning, and altogether looking crummy. What do you do? High heat can take a toll on our vegetable and flower gardens, causing fruit and flowers to drop, buds to shrivel, leaves to wilt, and plants show general stress. It’s bad news, but there are a few protective measures gardeners can take to save their green investments through the worst of the high heat periods. Just four tips can help you turn your over-heated plants around: 1. Plant Smart, 2. Add Water-Holding Amendments, 3. Water Smart, and 4. Provide Mulch and Shade.

    Plant Smart


    Heat-tolerant Profusion Zinnias buffer the hot edge of a driveway garden.

    This basically means choosing heat-tolerant plants and picking the right locations for your plant choices. Vegetables (read more about heat-tolerant vegetables here and read more about heat-tolerant greens here) and flowers (read more about heat- and drought-tolerant bedding flowers here) that can take the heat generally originate from warmer parts of the world. Choosing a Mexican-native Marigold (Tagetes erecta) over a European Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis) means a world of difference when temperatures heat up. The Mexican Marigold will thrive and the European species will fry.

    Marigold Double

    Choose heat-tolerant plants, such as Mexican marigolds, that will shine all season long.

    More heat-tender plants should be placed in spots where they are protected by midday shade. Those planted alongside pavement need to be tougher because of the reflective heat generated by the concrete or asphalt. Buffering walkway or driveway edges with super tough creeping plants, such as rocky stonecrop (Sedum rupestre ‘Angelina’), trailing rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’) or Profusion zinnias, will reduce some of the glare and generated heat. Another tip is to place plants so that they are just touching, but not overcrowded. Keeping the sunlight from hitting the ground surrounding plants is cooling. It is also smart to plant from high to low with taller plants shading shorter plants (Wild Senna is an outstanding tall, heat-tolerant perennial you can read about here).

    Add Water-Holding Amendments

    Amend zinnia beds with a fertile amendment like Fafard Natural & Organic Compost Blend.Water keeps soil cooler, so adding water-holding amendments helps reduce heat stress as well as drought stress. Organic matter always holds more water, so it is wise to add fresh compost to beds before planting. Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost is a great choice, but there are other amendments designed specifically to hold water. A sustainable selection is Black Gold Just Coir, which is comprised of 100% all-natural coconut coir and holds water like a dream. Coir comes from processed coconut husks, a byproduct of the coconut industry.

    Water Smart


    Early morning is a great time to water plants, if the day is going to be a hot one.

    There are several watering techniques that will help you protect your plants from heat a little better (read all about smart watering tips here). First, watering early in the morning or later in the evening will allow plants take in moisture at cooler times of the day to help them withstand the high heat of midday. I like to water in the morning best. Drip hoses also help keep roots cool and water directly at the root zone.

    Provide Mulch & Shade


    Mulching cools rootzones, which helps keep plants happy during the hottest times of the day.

    Mulches help keep plant roots cool. In the garden, lighter mulches, such as straw, hay, or leaf mulch, make a real difference in keeping plants happy during high-heat windows. Leaf mulch or pine straw are good choices for ornamental gardens. When days are really scorching, vegetables may benefit from floating shade cloth to reduce the sun’s glare. The cloth can either be supported by stakes surrounding beds or floated over rows during the day’s hottest window, from 11:00 am to 5:00 pm. Most studies show that the time between 2:00 and 3:00 pm is the hottest time of the day.

    The most scorching days of summer usually don’t last long, but they can do lasting damage, dulling your garden’s looks and reducing yields. Protect them during these times to make the most of your garden for the rest of the season.

  4. Native Spring Wildflowers for the Garden

    Hepatica acutiloba

    The vibrant blooms of Hepatica acutiloba peer up from the forest floor.

    Eastern U.S. gardeners in search of spring color can find plenty of inspiration and possibilities right here at home. Many of the wildflowers that brighten our fields and forests in spring also make wonderful and easy garden plants (and quite a few of them are available from reputable plant and seed merchants).

    Among the earliest and most exquisite wildflowers are the hepaticas, two of which occur in woodlands throughout eastern and central North America. Both round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica americana) and sharp-leaved hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) grow into dainty clumps of leathery, semi-evergreen, three-lobed leaves that are often strikingly marbled with contrasting hues. The blue (or sometimes pink or white), starry flowers face up from erect, somewhat furry stems in earliest spring. Hepaticas are lovely Natural and Organicin a partly shaded garden niche protected from the encroachment of larger, more rampant plants. If they’re in a place where passersby can easily admire their early-season display, so much the better. Some botanists place all hepaticas in the genus Anemone, but horticulturists and gardeners will no doubt continue to use the traditional name.

    The delicate white flowers and broad, lobed, bluish green leaves of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) arise soon after the hepaticas come into bloom, with the flowers usually shattering seemingly hours after opening. The spellbinding double blooms of the cultivar ‘Multiplex’, however, keep their exotic beauty for a week or more, looking for all the world like ruffled waterlilies. This is one of those plants that once seen, must be possessed. Native to moist woodlands over much of North America, bloodroot does best in humus-rich soil and partial shade. For this, and many other spring wildflowers, we suggest amending wooded beds with Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost.

    Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires'

    The pinkish rose Phlox stolonifera ‘Home Fires’.

    For mid-spring display, almost any garden planting could benefit from a few native Phlox. Wild sweet William, Phlox divaricata, is among the most essential. Its sprays of five-petaled, lilac-blue (but occasionally white, purple, or pink) flowers on foot-tall stems spangle woodlands from Quebec to Texas in early or mid-spring. Plants self-sow readily in partly shaded, moist habitats, both in the wild and in the garden. Another eastern U.S. woodlander, Phlox stolonifera, lifts its flower clusters on 8-inch stems about a week after Phlox divaricata commences bloom. Flowers vary in hue, with ‘Bruce’s White’, ‘Blue Ridge’, ‘Sherwood Purple’, and the lilac-pink ‘Home Fires’ representing some of the color range. The species’ common name, creeping phlox, refers to the ground-hugging mats of spoon-shaped, evergreen leaves, which spread rather rapidly in moist acid soil and partial shade.

    Phlox divaricata

    Phlox divaricata spreads across the forest floor to create a sweep of blooms.

    Other phlox, including the Eastern and Midwestern native Phlox subulata, favor harsher, sunnier niches. Moss phlox’s adaptability to arid, sun-parched sites has made it something of a cliché in challenging suburban habitats such as traffic medians and gas station islands. It’s equally well suited, however, for naturalistic “habitat garden” plantings, where its needle-like foliage and colorful early spring blooms combine splendidly with other tough, sun-loving U.S. natives such as bearberry, little bluestem, Missouri primrose, lowbush blueberry, prickly pear, and purple lovegrass. Numerous cultivars of moss phlox are available, flowering in a rainbow of colors from lavender to pink to white. Gardeners looking for a less ubiquitous needle-leaved species might want to consider sand phlox (Phlox bifida), a Plains native whose petals are elegantly cleft into narrow lobes.

    Phlox stolonifera 'Sherwood Purple'

    Phlox stolonifera ‘Sherwood Purple’ is an attractive variety for the garden.

    Among the best companions for woodland phlox is celandine poppy, Stylophorum diphyllum, which inhabits fertile woodlands throughout much of the East and Midwest. Its bright yellow, mid-spring “poppies” on 15-inch plants provide a splashy contrast to the blues of Phlox divaricata and Phlox stolonifera, and its bold, deeply lobed leaves complement their relatively dainty foliage. Both celandine poppy and Phlox divaricata self-sow moderately in partial shade, making them a perfect pair for naturalizing together.

    Sanguinaria canadensis 'Multiplex'

    The double flowers if bloodroot ‘Multiplex’ last for nearly a week!

    They also form a perfect trio with Virginia bluebells, Mertensia virginica, named for its baby-blue flowers (opening from soft pink buds) that indeed resemble tiny hand bells. The flowers are borne in coiled clusters that elongate on 16-inch stems in late April and May. Prolific self-sowing can occur in moist, partly shaded sites. The large, tongue shaped leaves of this New York to Kansas native die back early summer, as does celandine poppy’s foliage.

    All the above, and many more native plants besides, offer both beautiful blooms and a connection to this place we call home, with little or no fuss involved. What more could a North American gardener want?

  5. Pruning Summer Flowers

    Phlox paniculata 'Nicky' JaKMPM

    Tall phlox are midsummer bloomers that will rebloom if the old flowers are pruned back. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Timely summer pruning is the key to more flowers – and less flopping – in the perennial (and annual and shrub) border.

    Many annuals and perennials bloom better and longer if their spent flowers are regularly pruned – a practice known as deadheading. In addition to boosting floral display, deadheading also prevents self-sowing by fecund perennials and annuals such as spiderwort (Tradescantia), garden phlox (Phlox suffruticosa), and mulleins (Verbascum).

    Echinacea 'Marmalade'

    Echinaceas produce seeds that are perfect bird forage, so you may rethink pruning their seedheads back.

    Different plants favor different deadheading regimes. Some perennials require minimal deadheading other than a hard pruning back to their basal foliage as their last flowers fade. Among these are columbine (Aquilegia), Delphinium, most catmints (Nepeta) and Salvia, most perennial geraniums, lungwort (Pulmonaria), mountain bluet (Centaurea montana), and lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina). Many of these will send up a second round of flowers later in the season.

    Numerous long-blooming perennials – including bellflowers (Campanula), balloon flower (Platycodon), Jupiter’s beard (Centranthus ruber), Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum × superbum), bee balm (Monarda), most Veronica, garden phlox, and daylilies (Hemerocallis) – do best with frequent deadheading of individual flowers or flower clusters. In most cases, the cut should be made just above the next bud or leaf below the spent flower(s).

    Similarly, most long-blooming annuals benefit from regular, light deadheading, although heavier pruning may be necessary if growth flags in summer (as sometimes happens with diascias, sweet alyssum, and others).

    Shrubby perennials that flower relatively briefly (e.g., goatsbeard and Cimicfuga) usually require nothing more than a single tip-pruning after they bloom.

    Some plants are better not deadheaded, particularly if their seeds are valued for ornament (as with nigellas and shrubby Clematis), bird forage (e.g., echinaceas and rudbeckias), or self-sowing. Knowing when not to prune is also important!


    Lamb’s ears always look better when the old bloom stalks are removed.

    Deadheading is not the only type of pruning that benefits perennials. A good early-summer (or late-spring) shearing can do wonders for large, late-blooming species with unruly habits such as asters, Joe Pye weed (Eupatorium), and perennial sunflowers (Helianthus). Left unchecked, the statuesque stems of these perennials topple under the weight of their flowers. A far better solution than trussing them with stakes and string after they flop is to cut them back halfway in June. Shorter, sturdier, swoon-resistant plants will result. Flowers may be a bit later and smaller than those of unpruned plants, but they’ll also be abundant and upright.

    June is also the ideal time to prune lanky early-blooming perennials such as moss phlox (Phlox subulata), Dianthus, and perennial candytuft (Iberis). Sheared back halfway immediately after flowering, they’ll produce fresh basal growth and possibly a few repeat blooms. Straggly stems of lavender, sage, and other woody-based perennials respond well to pruning in early spring, before bloom.


    Blanketflower will bloom until frost if you keep the seedheads clipped off.

    And then there are shrubs. Weigela, mock-oranges (Philadelphus), Deutzia, and other shrubs of similar growth habit should be cut back hard to vigorous new lateral shoots that break growth as the flowers fade in late spring and early summer. These new shoots will eventually provide next year’s floral display. Unpruned shrubs from this group decline into a lanky mass of leggy stems topped with old, unproductive wood that chokes out new growth.

    Numerous other spring-blooming shrubs (including rhododendrons and lilacs) exhibit a somewhat different growth pattern, bearing relatively short new shoots mostly at their tips. Consequently, they generally do best with a relatively light early summer pruning, with care taken to preserve as much new growth as possible (which will give rise to next year’s flowers).

    Whatever the plant – shrub, perennial, or annual – it will respond well to a post-pruning application of a nutrient-rich compost such as Fafard Natural & Organic Compost. Fertile soil and proper pruning make for happy plants (and gardeners!).

  6. Five Annual Cut Flowers for Fall

    Nigella JaKMPM

    Love-in-a-mist flowers are airy, colorful and long-lasting. Their pretty puffy seed heads can be dried for winter everlasting arrangements.

    Some of the prettiest flowers for cutting are annuals that grow and bloom fast and thrive in cool weather.  Growing them is a snap. Start them in early August, and you should have lots of pretty flowers for cutting by late September or early October.

    Parks 51138-pk-p1

    ‘Towering Orange’ sulfur coreopsis is a tall variety that is perfect for fall cutting!

    Planting Cut Flowers for Fall

    If you are someone who already plants summer cut flowers, you will likely still have zinnias, tall marigolds, and purple cosmos in the garden, but these tend to lose steam towards the end of the season. Removing declining summer cut flowers and filling in the holes with fresh, cool-season bloomers will pay off. Just be sure to turn, smooth, and clean the ground before planting, and top dress with a good, moisture-holding mix that will allow your new cut flower seeds to germinate easily. Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix is a great choice.

    Once your area is prepared, sprinkle your seeds of choice over the soil, and then lightly cover with some additional mix and gently pat the area down. Annuals with larger seeds, like sweet peas, will need to be planted at least an inch below the soil. Keep newly sown spots evenly moist with daily misting or watering.

    Most annuals germinate quickly, in a week or two. Once new seedlings have emerged, continue providing them with needed moisture, and be sure to remove any weed seedlings. Feed plantlets every two weeks with a little water-soluble flower food. This will help them grow and flower at top speed.

    Five Cut Flowers for Fall

    1) Sweet Peas

    Sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus, 74-85 days from seed) are some of the sweetest smelling cool-season cut flowers, but they require light trellising. This is easily done by securing strong, firm stakes into the ground and lining the spaces between them with trellis netting that the peas can climb up with their tendrils. Renee’s Garden Seeds carries loads of exceptional sweet peas for cutting. The antique ‘Perfume Delight’ is especially fragrant and a little more heat tolerant, which allows them to forge through unexpected warm days.  (Read Renee’s article “All About Sweet Peas” for more information about these pleasing flowers.)

    Johnnys 1017

    The classic bachelor’s button for cutting is the long-stemmed ‘Blue Boy’. (photo care of Johnny’s Selected Seeds)

    2) Bachelor’s Buttons

    Colorful bachelor’s buttons (Centaurea cyanus, 65-75 days from seed) come in shades of richest violet-blue, pink, white, and deepest burgundy. Most agree that the blue flowers are the most remarkable and prettiest in a vase. There are lots of compact varieties, but these have short stems. Long-stemmed selections are the best for cutting, but they must be staked for reliable upright growth. ‘Blue Boy’ is an old-fashioned, large-flowered heirloom with tall stems that are perfect for cutting.

    3) Sulfur Coreopsis

    For fiery color, few cut flowers grow faster than sulfur coreopsis (Coreopsis sulphureus, 50-60 days from seed). The long-stemmed ‘Towering Orange’ produces billows of tangerine orange flowers that will last a long time. These look beautiful in a vase with ‘Blue Boy’ bachelor’s buttons!

    Renees swp-perfume

    Extra fragrant, colorful blooms are the selling point of ‘Perfume Delight’ sweet pea sold by Renee’s Seeds. (photo care of Renee’s Garden Seeds)

    4) Love-in-a-Mist

    Uniquely lacy flowers make love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena, 63-80 days from seed) especially charming in the garden or a vase. The dried seed pots are also visually interesting, allowing them to double as dried flowers. The flowers come in shades of violet-blue, purple, white, and pink. One of the better Nigella mixes is provided by Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

    5) Annual Baby’s Breath

    No flower arrangement is complete without a frothy filler flower to add loft and interest. Annual baby’s breath (Gypsophila elegans, 45-50 days from seed) is the standard choice, and ‘Covent Garden Market’ is a tall, airy variety that will bloom until frost. It is very easy to grow, and its small, white, cup-shaped flowers make more colorful blooms stand out in a vase.

    Cut flowers brighten our gardens and homes, so consider planting some of these traditional beauties in August for fall bloom. You’ll save money at the farmer’s market and impress your guests.

  7. Surprise Lilies for Summer and Fall

    Lycoris incarnata JM

    The rosy blooms of Lycoris incarnata almost look candy striped. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)

    Commonly known as “magic lily,” plants in the genus Lycoris are, in fact, much more closely related to amaryllis than to their namesake. But they do bring plenty of magic to the landscape when they open their large funnel-shaped flowers on tall naked stems in mid- to late summer. Several are winter-hardy to boot, creating all sorts of delicious possibilities for gardens in USDA Hardiness Zone 5 and warmer. With their showy amaryllis-like flowers and their tolerance of bitter winters and partial shade, these bulbs from East Asia make marvelous (and miraculous) subjects for cold-climate gardens.

    Lycoris longituba JM

    The delicate blooms of Lycoris longituba are pure white. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)

    The major challenge in growing Lycoris is in finding some to plant in the first place. Unlike their close kin, the daffodils, magic lilies do not take well to dry storage, and purchased bulbs may be reluctant to establish after planting. Additionally, most hardy Lycoris species and hybrids are virtually unavailable from U.S. bulb merchants. This is partly due to their growth cycle, which does not mesh well with the shipping seasons of commercial suppliers.

    Lycoris sprengeri 2 JM

    Lycoris sprengeri has party pink blossoms that appear late in the season. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)

    Hardy Lycoris begin their growing season in early spring, sending up clumps of strappy leaves that suggest daffodil foliage. The leaves wither away in late spring, setting the stage for the floral display to come. In northern U.S. gardens, this is almost always in the form of the lilac-pink blooms of Lycoris squamigera. Large and lovely, the funnel-shaped flowers of this robust magic lily open in clusters on 2-foot stems from late July into August. They are particularly magical in partial shade, where splashes of sunlight can set them aglow. At its best when thrusting through companion plants such as ferns and hostas, Lycoris squamigera multiplies relatively rapidly into lush clumps, and is well suited for naturalizing. A sterile triploid (i.e. with an extra set of chromosomes), it increases solely by division of its bulbs.

    Lycoris squamigera JM

    The classic surprise lily is a favorite old-fashioned summer garden flower. (photo courtesy of Jim Murrain)

    Far less often seen are a number of other hardy Lycoris, all of which would make prized additions to any garden that can support them. Flower colors include pale silver-pink with lilac-purple midribs (Lycoris incarnata); white with a lemon-yellow throat (Lycoris longituba); lavender-pink with rose-pink streaking (Lycoris sprengeri); pale creamy-yellow (Lycoris x caldwellii); shimmering orchid-pink (Lycoris x haywardii); and orange to salmon-pink (Lycoris sanguinea). Breeders in China, Japan, and elsewhere have crossed these and other species to produce an array of delicious hybrids, including some that are beginning to appear in U.S. catalogs. American gardeners have much to discover in this enchanting genus.

    To create your own garden magic, purchase Lycoris in pots, or as bare-root bulbs in late summer. Plant the bulbs several inches deep in sun to partial shade as soon as possible after receiving them. Although Lycoris squamigera does well in almost any soil type, most other species favor relatively fertile, humus-rich soil (amend excessively heavy or sandy soils with a good compost such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost or Fafard Peat Moss. Plants may take a year to fully establish and bloom, but the magic of a Lycoris in full glory is well worth the wait.

  8. Fanciful and Fun Container Gardening

    Opuntia humifusa and bumblebee

    Used shoes of galoshes make very cute containers for flowers and succulents. (image by Maureen Gilmer)

    Gardening, no matter what or where you plant, should be fun. Container gardening has an overwhelming fun quota because experimentation, creativity, and even mobility are part of the experience. Planting in pots is also a great equalizer. The smallest children can start seeds in paper cups, as can seniors, the disabled and just about anyone else. The idea that some people are born with a green thumb is a myth. The contagious fun of growing flowers or edible crops in interesting containers has been known to turn even lifelong black thumbs bright green.

    Find It

    Interesting containers, like interesting people and ideas, are everywhere. Look around the house, apartment or garage. Are you harboring an out-of-commission tea kettle? Fill it with boiling-hot-colored portulacas. Up to your eyeballs in plastic detergent containers? Cut them off to form bright-colored oval planters and pot up some of the currently fashionable succulent plants like hens and chicks (Sempervivum). Put a miniature African violet in an orphaned teacup from the local antique shop. In some parts of the country, people have been making “crown tire” planters out of bald tires since rubber began hitting the road. The tires can be decorated to suit your fancy. If your neighbors will be offended by a front-yard tire display, put it in the rear.

    citronella shell

    A pink Kalanchoe blossfeldiana looks seaside-ready in a turquoise shell container.

    Avid container gardeners are always on the prowl for unique planters. Yard sales are a good source, as are dollar stores. Check out local curbsides on bulk pick-up days. People discard an amazing number of plant-worthy containers.

    Repurpose existing receptacles. A picnic caddy, designed to hold plates and cutlery for outdoor dining, also makes an interesting, portable herb planter. Make an ultra-fashionable statement by making a container garden in an old purse or insulated lunch sack. Plant a gaudy croton in an old wastebasket. Once your mosquito-repelling citronella candle has burned down, take out the leftover wax and use the candleholder as a plant pot.

    Doing It Right

    picnic caddy

    This old picnic caddy is filled with fragrant, ornamental herbs.

    Once you have found your planter, get your supplies. Create simple temporary plantings by sinking nursery-potted specimens into imaginative containers lined with plastic. Disguise unsightly edges with sphagnum moss. For more permanent plantings, check the bottom of the chosen container. If it already has drainage holes, you are all set. If not, and the vessel can withstand being pierced, create holes in the bottom. If making drainage holes would ruin the container, create drainage room by covering the container’s bottom with a one-inch layer of fine gravel before adding the potting medium and plants.

    Good potting mix is essential. Most plants benefit from an excellent all-purpose medium like Fafard® Ultra Potting Mix with extended feed with Resilience™. Depending on the types of plants in your containers, you may need specialist planting media, like Fafard® African Violet Potting Mix or Fafard® Cactus & Succulent Potting Mix. Differences among the various potting mixes are determined by amount of drainage material incorporated into the mix, as well as the addition of nutrients specific to different plant types.

    Picking Plants


    An old fountain is repurposed as a beautiful succulent container garden. (photo by Maureen Gilmer)

    Pick plants for containers the same way you select garden plants—right plant, right place. Container specimens in small to medium-size vessels are easy to transport, so it is sometimes easier to match light requirements to plant types. Sun-loving plants, including most flowering varieties and many edibles, require full sun, which means at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Shade lovers, like begonias can get by with as little as a couple of hours of dappled sunlight.

    No matter whether you plant a miniature blueberry bush in an old spackle bucket or an entire small vegetable garden in a leaky wheelbarrow, be sure to water regularly. Container plants tend to be m ore thirsty than those grown in-ground. Fertilize regularly as well, especially if your plantings are nutrient-hungry annuals.

  9. Native Wildflowers for the Garden

    April 2007 064

    Spring Virginia bluebells blanket a woodland garden floor.


    America’s native plants are a national treasure.  They also offer a wealth of material for American gardens.  This is perhaps most evident in spring, when many of the most beautiful native wildflowers strut their stuff in our fields, forests, and perennial borders.

    Celandine poppies add a golden glow to the spring wildflower garden.

    Celandine poppies add a golden glow to the spring wildflower garden.


    Among the first of these to bloom is one of the queens of the Eastern forest, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  Its broad, scalloped, kidney-shaped leaves unfurl in early spring, sending forth dainty, white, short-stemmed flowers that shatter within a few days of opening .  Far longer lasting, however, are the breathtaking double blooms of the cultivar ‘Multiplex’, whose sublime form would do the finest waterlily proud.  In whatever form, bloodroot makes a wonderful subject for massing and naturalizing in dappled shade.  A moist, relatively coarse soil suits it best (amend heavy or sandy soils with a good compost such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost).

    Virginia Bluebells

    Another first-rate naturalizer for moist shade, Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) sends up clusters of nodding, long-necked bell-flowers that morph from pale pink to summer-sky-blue upon opening in early- to mid-spring.  The 15- to 18-inch-tall plants are well furnished with broad, blue-dusted leaves that tone prettily with the flowers.  As bloom fades, so does the rest of the plant, yellowing and dwindling to a thick fleshy rootstock in late spring.  Colonies of seedlings often follow.  Wild-collected roots and plants of Virginia bluebell are sometimes sold by disreputable dealers, so buyer beware.

    April 2007 067

    Virginia bluebells have great color and naturalize effortlessly.

    Celandine Poppy

    With its sunny yellow mid-spring flowers and penchant for self-sowing, celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) makes an excellent shade-garden companion for Virginia bluebells.  The 2-inch-wide, crepe-textured, four-petaled poppies are borne atop 18-inch clumps of bold foliage with oakleaf-shaped lobes.  Bristly seedpods resembling miniature gourds ripen in late spring, with dormancy (and enthusiastic self-sowing) ensuing.  Both celandine poppy and Virginia bluebells work well with other, more persistent woodlanders (such as ferns and Solomon’s seal) that fill the gaps left by their early exit.

    Woodland Phlox

    Although many native woodland perennials die back after blooming in spring, some stay around for the long haul.  These include two species of Phlox that make excellent subjects for borders or naturalistic plantings.  Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricarta) produces drifts of fragrant, five-petaled blooms on wiry, foot-tall stems with paired, pointed leaves. The flowers are typically periwinkle-blue, but white, violet, and other colors occur in the wild and in cultivation.  Their form and hue combine effectively with Virginia bluebells, celandine poppy, white trilliums, wild geraniums, and other wildflowers that bloom in mid-spring.  After flowering, plants persist through the growing season and beyond as low semi-evergreen hummocks.

    Phlox divaricata andrews 51008d

    Pretty starry flowers decorate Phlox divaricata ‘in spring.

    Creeping Phlox

    Named for its low spreading mats of rounded evergreen leaves, creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera) produces compact clusters of blue, purple, or white flowers about a week after woodland phlox commences bloom.   Although best in partial shade, it does well in full sun in cool moist sites, and makes a great “knitter” for interplanting with taller perennials.

    Barren Strawberry

    Also excelling as a mat-forming spreader is barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides).  Its low, weed-smothering carpets of three-lobed, semi-evergreen leaves do indeed suggest strawberry foliage, but of a more refined nature.  Yellow, five-lobed buttercups nestle in the leafage in mid-spring, maturing to dry, inedible fruit capsules.  An outstanding but little-known ground cover for partial shade, it tolerates considerable drought once established.

    The delicate wood geranium (Geranium maculatum) blooms towards late spring.

    The delicate wood geranium (Geranium maculatum) blooms towards late spring.

    Crested Iris

    Yet another splendid spreader for partial shade, crested iris (Iris cristata) grows from knobbly rhizomes that walk along the soil surface, like a bearded iris in miniature.  Fanned tufts of arching, 6-inch, blade-shaped leaves give rise to proportionately large blooms that slightly over top the foliage in mid-spring.  Flower color ranges from violet-blue to white, with contrasting yellow and white markings.   Several cultivars are available.  A lightly shaded site with moist, fertile, relatively porous soil is ideal.

    All of these – and many more besides (including Geranium maculatum, Hepatica acutiloba, Trillium grandiflorum, Delphinium tricorne, Tiarella cordifolia, Polemonium reptans, and Uvularia grandiflora) – are essential plants for any eastern North American garden that seeks to embody a sense of place.

  10. All About Growing Tulips

    Tulipa red striped lily

    Lily-flowered tulips have pointed petals that open wide from vase-shaped buds. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    What would spring be without tulips? Their large, brilliant, jewel-toned flowers, often with playful markings at their centers, are just what we crave after the gloom and cold of winter. Those big bright bowls of color speak directly to our inner child (as well as to children themselves). And with the wide range of varieties available today, tulips can provide a continuous succession of garden brightness from early to late spring.

    Tulipa 'Girlfriend'

    ‘Girlfriend’ is a beautiful recently introduced hybrid of Tulipa vvdenskyi.

    Tulip History

    Tulips have been seducing gardeners for centuries. Turkish sultans featured them in their palace gardens in the 15th and 16th centuries, growing numerous hybrids characterized by dazzling colors and claw-shaped petals. From there, tulips made their way to Europe, evolving into the blunt-petaled forms that we associate with the genus (know botanically as Tulipa). By the early seventeenth century, tulips were all the rage in sophisticated European circles, triggering waves of “tulipomania” that built and destroyed fortunes. Today, we’re fortunate to have thousands of tulip hybrids in numerous shapes and color. Further enriching our gardens are the many Tulipa species that have been introduced to horticulture in the relatively recent past. Horticulturists group cultivated tulips into sixteen “classes” depending on their flowering times, characteristics, and lineage.

    Wild Tulips

    This vast horticultural treasure trove began with a handful of wild ancestors from Central and West Asia, regions where summers are hot and dry and winters cold and snowy. And even today, most garden tulips flourish in conditions that recall their lands of origin. They need sun and winter chill to bloom, and a relatively dry summer rest to perennialize. If you garden in the northern United States, and can offer sunny, not-too-damp conditions, tulips of all types will likely thrive – provided the pests don’t get them (more on this later).

    Tulipa 'Elegans Rubra'

    The heirloom cultivar ‘Elegans Rubra’ is an early lily-flowered tulip.

    Fittingly, tulip season begins just as spring officially arrives, in March and early April. Earliest of all are a number of elfin Tulipa species that are comparable in stature to the Dutch hybrid crocuses that bloom alongside them. Many of these pixies (e.g., Tulipa biflora) open wide in sun to reveal white interiors with central yolks of yellow. Perhaps the queen of the early-risers is Tulipa humilis, which blooms in a variety of eye-catching hues including purple, pink, and white, with contrasting eyes.

    Hybrid Tulips

    A number of larger-flowered hybrids follow closely upon these earliest tulips. Kaufmanniana Hybrids (named after the species that sired them) typically have pointed, white or yellow, red-flamed blooms, with broad basal leaves that often bear showy bronze mottling. Single Early Tulips (such as ‘Apricot Giant’ and ‘Coleur Cardinal’) open their large, goblet-shaped blooms on short sturdy stems just as the Kaufmannianas are peaking, in early to mid-April. Then in the next few weeks comes a succession of other tulip classes, most notably:

    Fosteriana Hybrids (including the famed ‘Emperor’ cultivars), prized for their huge, brightly colored flowers on relatively compact stems.

    Greigii Hybrids, short in stature, with large cupped flowers and gray-green, maroon-splotched leaves.

    Triumph Tulips, marked by their elegant, sturdy flowers and strong tall stems that stand up to inclement weather. Most bloom in the pastel range and many have contrasting petal margins.

    Darwin Hybrids, combining the height of the Single Late Tulips with the immense brilliant blooms of the Fosteriana Hybrids, and flowering between these two parent classes.

    Single Late Tulips, blooming well into May in a wide range of rich colors, on stems that typically exceed 26 inches.

    Lily-flowered Tulips, named for their pointed petals that open wide from vase-shaped buds.

    Double Late Tulips (such as ‘Angelique’), among the last to bloom, with peony-shaped flowers in mid- to late May.


    Tulipa clusiana is well adapted to Southern and California gardens.

    Altogether, tulip hybrids and species provide more than 2 months of bloom and endless ornamental possibilities. Many species and smaller-flowered hybrids mingle beautifully with other late winter and early spring perennials, both in formal borders and in less formal settings such as cottage gardens. For bold splashes of spring color, nothing beats the large-flowered hybrids, whether in massed bedding schemes or grouped in mixed borders. Some species even naturalize well, persisting and sometimes increasing in garden conditions that are to their liking.

    Many tulips also “force” easily in pots, brightening the winter months (see “Forcing Bulbs for Winter Cheer”). Single Early and Fosteriana cultivars are among the best for this purpose.

    Planting Tulips

    Outdoors, plant tulips in late summer or early fall in a sunny exposure (after first frost is often a good time). Fertile, not too heavy Natural and Organicsoil is best (amend sandy or clay soils with an organic compost such as Fafard Permium Natural & Organic Compost). Although often treated as annuals, tulips of all classes will usually return for several years of bloom if planted deep (6 inches or more below the soil surface). Deep planting also helps protect the bulbs from their chief bane – squirrels and other furry pests. Inter-plant tulips with rodent- and deer-resistant bulbs such as daffodils to further deter these herbivores.

    A few tulips will even bloom and persist where winters are “too warm” for them. Tulipa clusiana – often dubbed “lipstick tulip” for the red central bands that mark its outer petals – grows and flowers reliably in areas such as California, the Desert Southwest, and the Deep South. Others to try in these regions include Tulipa saxatilis and the previously mentioned Tulipa sylvestris. Tulips offer spring-long possibilities wherever and whatever the garden.

    Tulipa Ballerina JaKMPM

    ‘Ballerina’ is an award-winning, late-flowering tulip with lily-like blooms of orange and red. (Photo by Jessie Keith)