Tag Archive: Flowers

  1. 3 Steps to Growing Great Roses (With No Fuss)

    Strike it Rich® is a glorious grandiflora with exceptional disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Got rose problems? Over 20 common pests and diseases plague roses, threatening the beauty of many a rose-filled yard and garden. But, rose growers can take heart. You can have the beauty of roses without the burden of doing constant battle with pests and diseases.  It all comes down to choosing resistant varieties and giving them the right care. Here are the three key steps to growing great roses without the fuss.

    1) Pick a winner.

    This is the most important step! Old roses are often the most fragrant and beautiful, but they are more often maintenance nightmares. Classic Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora (and other) rose varieties were bred for their voluptuous, iconic flowers, with little consideration for the plants’ overall vigor and disease resistance.  Consequently, they’re susceptible to a slew of diseases including blackspot, powdery mildew, and stem cankers.  They’re also easy marks for rose chafers, Japanese beetles, rose slugs, and a host of other insects that prey on roses.

    ‘Carefree Beauty’ is a wonderful shrub rose that will resist many common rose diseases. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    In recent years, breeders have developed and introduced new hybrids that resist diseases and pests.   Most familiar of these are a number of “landscape” roses (such as the Knockout series) noted for their tough shrubby growth and abundant, relatively small, typically scentless flowers.  Rose fanciers who are looking for something with taller stems and larger, more fragrant blooms will also find plenty of low-maintenance roses to choose from, however – including several Hybrid Tea and Grandiflora cultivars that rival anything in their class.  Notable sources – and cultivars – include:

    The German firm Kordes:  Their Grandiflora rose ‘Eliza’ produces a succession of lightly fragrant, double pink blooms on tall stems.  The repeat-blooming climber ‘Moonlight’ carries nicely scented peachy-yellow flowers.  ‘Yankee Doodle’ is a tall, vigorously growing Hybrid Tea with intensely fragrant, double, apricot-pink roses.

    Rosa PINK KNOCK OUT® is a classic, disease-free Knock Out rose planted for its strong disease resistance. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The Explorers Hybrids from Canada:  This collection of rock-hardy roses includes the Rosa rugosa hybrid ‘Jens Munk’, which bears 2.5-inch, double, medium-pink flowers on shrubby plants.  It also includes several outstanding, repeat-blooming climbers.  ‘William Baffin’ produces several flushes of dark pink flowers beginning in late June, and ‘John Cabot’ covers itself with double, fuchsia-red flowers from early summer to fall.  Both can grow to 10 feet or more.

    The Iowa breeder Griffith Buck:  Among his many outstanding introductions are the pink-flowered Hybrid Tea ‘Earth Song’, and the shrub rose ‘Carefree Beauty’, with large pink flowers.

    Weeks Roses: Many Weeks introductions are graced with fine fragrance, good looks, and remarkable disease resistance. The introduction Strike it Rich®, bred by Tom Carruth, is a testament to their rose-breeding prowess.

    Rosa rugosa ‘Hansa’ is a tough rugosa rose that grows well in coastal gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Anything of Rosa rugosa parentage: These rough and tough roses include the bright pink ‘Hansa’, dark red ‘Linda Campbell’, bright yellow ‘Topaz Jewel’, and the intensely fragrant, white-flowered ‘Blanc Double de Coubert’.

    The French rose breeder Meilland:   ‘Francis Meilland’ is a Hybrid Tea with double, silvery pink roses on tall stems.  The similarly hued double flowers of the Grandiflora ‘Mother of Pearl’ have a light, sprightly scent.  Dark red, heavy-scented, fully double flowers crown the 4- to 5-foot stems of the Hybrid Tea rose‘Traviata’.

    2) Choose the right soil and the site.

    Roses thrive in full sun and rich, healthy, humus-rich soil.  Before you plant your rose, amend the soil with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. It adds rich organic matter for increased water-holding capacity and porosity. Follow up by adding fertilizer formulated for roses. This will encourage strong growth and flowering.

    Ample air circulation helps too.  Plant your prize rose in a hole that’s at least twice as wide as its root ball, and amend the backfill and surrounding soil with compost and organic fertilizer.  Then apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch to keep the roots moist and cool (and keep the soil microorganisms happy!).  Plants should be well spaced to allow air flow.

    3) Maintain!

    If you see rose rosette “witches brooms” remove your roses. There is no cure for this contagious disease. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Prune out all diseased growth in spring and throughout the growing season (dip pruners in a 10% bleach solution to reduce the chance of accidentally spreading disease from rose to rose). Be on particular lookout for the red “witches brooms” that signal the presence of rose rosette disease, a destructive disease for which there is no cure. Roses that have contracted rose rosette disease should be quickly removed from the garden.

    Thin stems in spring and summer to encourage air circulation and discourage diseases.   Tolerate modest insect damage, but treat plants with the appropriate OMRI Listed® insecticide if insects reach high levels.  Rake and remove fallen vegetation, which may harbor disease-causing fungal spores.  Apply rose fertilizer and a layer of compost each spring.  Plant “companion” perennials (such as members of the parsley and daisy families) that harbor beneficial insects.  And remember to water during dry spells!

    The right rose in the right place (with the right maintenance) will provide years of beauty with a minimum of grief.  It will also astonish your acquaintances who think that beautiful roses require lots of care for great looks.

    Rosa ‘Red Cascade’ is a rare old-fashioned miniature climbing rose that is disease resistant and prolific! (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  2. Delicious Gardening with Edible and Ornamental Plants

    Variegated pineapple sage and golden marjoram will brighten up any landscape while also adding valuable flavor to dishes. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Gardening with edible and ornamental plants makes gardening a little tastier and more valuable. Not many of us have the time and space for immense ornamental landscapes any more, but lots of us take great pride in our shrubs, perennials, and annuals.  At the same time, we want to eat better, fresher food, and that urge has led us back to the garden.  Limited space means that we have to grow ornamentals and edibles side-by-side.  Fortunately, it is easy to do, and the results can be just as beautiful as an ornamental-only landscape.

    For most of horticultural history, average people grew food from necessity, with little thought to purely ornamental plants.  Inevitably, though, some gardeners noticed that certain edible plants and herbs sported lovely flowers or foliage that added a dimension to the vegetable garden.  Others even transplanted flowering specimens from the wild into corners of their home vegetable plots.  Eventually, as great civilizations (Egyptians, Ancient Persians and Greeks) grew wealthy, ornamental gardening came into its own, with immense ornamental landscapes designed, constructed, and documented in detail by artists and writers. Gardeners today are able to take the best from both worlds, mixing the edible and ornamental for increased garden value.

     

    Feathery fennel is beautiful and tasty. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Add Ornamental Vegetables

    The vegetable gardener’s mantra—“Grow what you like to eat”—is a good place to start if you have decided to take the plunge and mix some edibles among your ornamental plants.  The feathery fronds of bronze or green fennel make a lovely addition to any garden and also attract swallowtail butterflies, but if you don’t like fennel, growing it may waste space that is better used for other plants.

    Just about everyone loves fresh tomatoes and peppers, which are easy to grow and come in many varieties.  They also thrive under the same conditions as horticultural divas like roses—at least 8 hours of sunlight per day, rich soil and fairly consistent moisture.  The problem is that most tomato plants—especially indeterminate types that keep growing and producing all season–need some kind of support.  Typical wire tomato cages are not the loveliest addition to an ornamental garden.  Solve the tomato problem by training the plants up a simple bamboo stake or decorative tuteur or trellis that can hold its own among the flowering plants.

    This technique not only makes a virtue out of a necessity, but it works for other vining plants like beans, cucumbers, and even squash.  For a lovely garden backdrop, try scarlet runner beans trained up a trellis.  The flowers are a brilliant red and the beans are delicious either raw or cooked.

    Pots of tomatoes and peppers show off the beauty of these valuable garden vegetables.

    For a successful edible/ornamental combination, don’t neglect adequate plant nutrition.  Give both types of plants a good start by enriching your garden soil with a rich soil amendment like Fafard® Garden Manure Blend. Not only will it add needed organic matter for better water-holding capacity, it will also enrich the soil for better overall performance.

    Add Beautiful Fruits

    If fruit is your idea of the perfect edible crop, and you want a beautiful ornamental plant, try growing blueberries (Vaccinium spp. and cultivars).  These shrubs feature lovely pinkish-white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring, followed by neat, green oval-shaped leaves.  The tasty blue fruits appear in early summer and scarlet leaves announce the arrival of fall.  Blueberries like the same acid soil as rhododendrons and azaleas and would complement them well in a mixed shrub or shrub/perennial border.  Smaller varieties can even be grown in containers and can hold their own among the pots of geraniums and snapdragons on a porch or terrace.  The same holds true of strawberries, with their white flowers and brilliant red fruits, grown in the pockets of decorative ceramic or terra cotta strawberry pots.

    Blueberries are attractive, fruitful garden shrubs. Their fall foliage turns scarlet for a late-season show!

     

    Add Ornamental Herbs

    Herbs have long been used as ornamentals.  Purple basil makes a dramatic edging plant at the front of a border and would provide a perfect complement to red/orange marigolds or late summer dahlias.  The strong aroma of the basil also helps deter garden varmints like rabbits and deer.  Pineapple sage, with its variegated leaves makes a lovely filler for a pot of flowering annuals.  The leaves are also the perfect enhancement for a glass of lemonade.

    Purple-flowered cinnamon basil is a dramatic beauty that looks pretty in edible and ornamental borders. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    If your ornamental landscape is mature and already filled with plants, look for “holes” where you can install a few ‘Bright Lights’ chard plants or fill in with low-growing herbs like thyme.  Start small, with a few edibles and then, when the “grow your own” bug bites, increase the number of edibles.  You will be amazed at how well it all fits together.

    Bright Lights chard mingles with Profusion zinnias in this edible and floral border. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

  3. “Knitting” Perennials for Textural Flower Gardens

    Geranium sanguineum ‘John Elsley’ “knitting” into a silvery lungwort. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Flopping is often frowned upon in the perennial garden (and quickly corrected with bamboo stakes, peasticks, or other mechanisms, if it occurs).  Some perennials, however, make a virtue out of laxity, their trailing growth providing the perfect foil to the upright stems of delphiniums, New England asters (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), and garden phlox (Phlox paniculata).  In flower gardens, as in containers, nothing complements a towering thriller better than a contrasting spiller.

    Natural and OrganicTrailing perennials are especially valuable for their ability to knit together other garden elements, upright or otherwise.  Mass them at the fringe of a perennial border, and they unify what lies behind them.  Position them near a path or patio, and their tumbling stems interrupt and soften the line between hardscape and softscape.  And they’re literally made for walls, producing cascades of texture and color that bring the landscape alive.

    Margins and walls are not the only places where trailing perennials do their knitting.  They excel at covering the voids left by large perennials that go dormant in early summer, such as oriental poppies (Papaver orientale) and bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis).  Many will thread their stems through upright neighboring perennials, intermingling their contrasting foliage and blooms.  Some ground-hugging sprawlers (including creeping thyme, Thymus serpyllum) can even be planted into lawns to form textured, flowering patchworks.

    Here’s a sampling of some of the best of these perennial “knitters”.

    Callirhoe-involucrata

    Winecups (Callirhoe involucrata)

    A native of dry prairies throughout the Central U.S., winecups (Callirhoe involucrata) has just about everything a North American gardener could want, including cold-hardiness (USDA Zones 4-9), drought-tolerance, and a long season of showy blooms. Its lax stems typically form low mats, but will also clamber up neighboring plants or cascade down banks or walls. The bowl-shaped, bright purplish-pink, white-eyed blooms continue for many weeks in summer along new portions of the continually lengthening growth. Several other species of Callirhoe – of various habit – are also well worth growing. All of them prosper in dry habitats.

    Moss phlox (Phlox subulata) is so common as to be dismissed by gardeners who should know better. But, just because a plant species is sold at hardware stores and supermarkets (as well as about every other establishment that deals in plants) doesn’t mean that it’s unfit for sophisticated gardens. Hailing from dry slopes and ledges in the East and Central U.S., this needle-leaved evergreen can’t be beat for draping down a wall, or covering a dry slope, or fronting a xeric perennial planting. Its filigreed foliage would be reason enough to grow it, even if it weren’t also a prolific early-spring bloomer. Gardeners who are put off by brassy-flowered forms of this species have any number of subtler cultivars from which to choose. It’s worth considering for any sunny garden within USDA Zones 3 to 9.

    Phlox subulata 'Fort Hill' (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Phlox subulata ‘Fort Hill’ (Image by Jessie Keith)

    Several trailing bellflowers (Campanula spp.) occur on ledges and embankments in European mountains and take well to similar habitats in gardens.  Among the most vigorous of the lot is Serbian bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana), which in late spring bears starry blue flowers on low, 3- to 4-foot-wide hummocks. The typically sprawling stems will also clamber or drape, given the opportunity. Plants tolerate a wide range of conditions and may become overly rambunctious in moist, fertile soil.  Other bellflowers for edging or walls include Campanula cochlearifolia, C. carpaticaC. garganica, and C. portenschlagiana.

    Also from Europe is another trailing perennial that excels on sunny dry slopes: bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum).  A variable plant, it typically matures into a sprawling, 6- to 10-inch-tall mound of deeply lobed foliage, decked in late spring and summer with magenta, pink, or white, dark-veined flowers.  This hardy (USDA Zones 5 to 9), durable perennial is perhaps at its best in naturalistic plantings, where it can be allowed to seed around into informal colonies.

    Clematis × durandii (Image by Leonora Enking )

    Clematis × durandii (Image by Leonora Enking)

    An excellent geranium for threading through perennials and shrubs is the Geranium ‘Rozanne’, prized for its early-summer-to-frost bounty of purplish-blue flowers.   This lanky, 2- to 3-footer will also sprawl obligingly across gaps left by early-dormant perennials.

    The legendary garden designer Gertrude Jekyll liked to cover such gaps with the lax, non-climbing growth of , a hybrid between the shrubby Clematis integrifolia and the vining Clematis lanuginosa.  Its toppling, 7-foot stems bear a summer-long succession of large starry violet-blue flowers that resemble those of its vining parent.  Other clematis for this purpose include Clematis recta, a 5-foot, splaying perennial that envelops itself in summer with small fragrant white flowers; and ‘Mrs. Robert Brydon’, another shrub/vine hybrid whose flopping 8-foot stems carry billowing clusters of pale-blue blooms in August and September.

    Hardy perennials for knitting can be planted in fall. Good soil preparation and light mulch will help them become established and protect them through the winter months. Fafard® Premium Natural & Organic Compost should be worked into the soil at planting time and added as a light mulch around newly installed perennials.

  4. Luscious Lilies of Late Summer

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    Tiger lilies (Lilium lancifolium) are spectacular tall bloomers that appear in late summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Most gardens can use a visual lift in the dog days of late summer.  This is where late-blooming lilies come in.  When their voluptuous, often deliciously scented blooms make their grand entrance in July and August, it’s like a royal fanfare in the landscape.  Goodbye, garden doldrums.

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    The raspberry-pink-flowered Lilium speciosum is a lovely species lily for the garden. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    Thanks to the efforts of breeders, late-blooming lilies flower in a wide spectrum of luscious colors, from white to yellow to pink to red, with all manner of hues in between.  They also come in many sizes, with the smallest measuring only a foot tall and the grandest towering to 6 feet or more.  While the former are useful for containers and bedding schemes, it’s the giant late-blooming hybrids that are the true glory of the dog-day garden.  Their enormous clusters of large, sumptuous blooms on eye-high stems are almost beyond belief (as is the fact that they grow from relatively modest-sized, scaly bulbs).

    Better yet, they’re easily cultivated, with most lilies thriving in full sun and fertile, humus-rich, well-aerated soil in USDA Hardiness zones 5 through 8 (excessively sandy or clay-heavy soil should be amended with a good compost, such as Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost).  All bets are off, however, in areas that host the dreaded red lily beetle.  Where this insect abounds (mostly in the Northeast), lilies can be more of a chore than they’re worth, requiring hours of hand-picking of the glossy scarlet adults and their repulsive, excrement-coated larvae.  In other parts of their hardiness range, lilies have few enemies, although viruses and large herbivores (particularly deer) can sometimes cause problems.

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    Oriental Hybrids come into prominence in early August. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The summer lily season opens in spectacular style with the stately Trumpet Hybrids, renowned for their gigantic, fragrant, funnel-shaped blooms that take after the Chinese native Lilium regale.  The popular Golden Splendor Strain produces 6-foot spires of rich lemon-yellow trumpets with burgundy-stained exteriors, while the equally popular (and showy) Pink Perfection Strain sports rose-pink funnels with gold throats.  Many other splendid Trumpet Hybrids are offered by bulb merchants (including several that specialize in lilies).  Lilium regale itself is well worth growing for its immense white flowers with maroon reverses (pure white forms are also sold).

    Some hybrids in the Trumpet tribe have nodding, mildly scented, “Turks-cap” flowers that evoke the group’s other important ancestor, Lilium henryi.  Among the best and most widely offered of these is ‘Lady Alice’, with white, purple-flecked, gold-starred flowers on 4- to 6-foot stems. There are also several common species worth seeking out.  The classic “tiger lily” (Lilium lancifolium), with its black-spotted blooms of clear orange, is tall, clumping, and looks its best in August.

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    Pink Oriental lilies in a late-summer border at Longwood Gardens. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    The Oriental Hybrids come into prominence in early August, as the Trumpets fade from the scene.  Their freckled, seductively scented flowers with back-curved petals show the influence of their two primary parents: raspberry-pink-flowered Lilium speciosum and white, yellow-banded Lilium auratum var. platyphyllum. Most Oriental Lilies have nodding or out-facing flowers, but exceptions occur, as evidenced by arguably the most famous lily hybrid, ‘Stargazer’.  The glowing crimson-rose, white-edged blooms of this 1974 introduction look up from 3- to 4-foot stems in early August.  Other outstanding and renowned Orientals include white ‘Casa Blanca’; lilac-pink, lemon-striped ‘Tom Pouce’; white, rose-veined ‘Muscadet’; and white, gold-striped ‘Aubade’.  All are of similar stature to ‘Stargazer’.

    Natural and OrganicHybrids between Oriental and Trumpet lilies (known as “Orienpets”) combine the best features of both groups, bearing swarms of large, fragrant flowers on lofty stems.  A winner of the North American Lily Society’s popularity poll, the Orienpet ‘Anastasia’ flaunts white, rose-brushed, heavy-textured flowers on 6-foot stems in early August, giving the effect of a high-rise Lilium speciosum.  The cultivar ‘Scheherazade’ sports a similar look, but with raspberry-red, lemon-edged blooms.  ‘Silk Road’ (also known as ‘Friso’) is more suggestive of a Trumpet Lily, producing white, rose-throated, funnel-shaped flowers with burgundy-flushed exteriors in mid-July.  It’s a four-time popularity poll winner.

    Now is the season not only to savor the beauty of late-blooming lilies, but also to order some of their bulbs to plant this fall.  The payoff next summer will be well worth the investment!

  5. Colorful Tropical Hibiscus

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Chiffon Breeze' (TRADEWINDS™ CHIFFON BREEZE, TRADEWINDS™ BREEZE SERIES) PP17606 JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Chiffon Breeze’

    Giant blooms bursting with color—these make Chinese or Hawaiian hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis) a floral favorite in sizzling summer gardens. Huge variety is another perk of these tried-and-true tropical shrubs. There are literally hundreds of types that come in many floral color variations and sizes. And, their familiar good looks bring to mind Hawaiian shirts, leis, and landscapes. What’s not to love?

    Native throughout tropical Asia, these hibiscus have been bred for centuries for their big, beautiful flowers. Through woody, they are fast growing and ever blooming, making them ideal for large patio containers and bed plantings. Their lush, deep green foliage creates a perfect foil for the big beautiful flowers. Some leaves are even glossy. These plants are only hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11, which means they will only survive winters in the most southerly regions of the United States. But, they will overwinter well in a sunny, warm indoor location where winters are cold. A bright south-facing window, sun room, or conservatory is perfect.

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Baja Breeze' (TRADEWINDS™ BAJA BREEZE, TRADEWINDS™ BREEZE SERIES) PP17607 JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis TRADEWINDS™ BAJA BREEZE

    The flowers are between 4 and 8″ wide and comprised of five large, open petals. The largest varieties are the size of dessert plates. They come in loads of bright, tropical colors to include all shades of pink, red, orange, yellow, and white. Unusual colors, such as near black, gray, and purplish hues are also common. Many blooms are bicolored and tricolored, with radiating rings of bright color. At the center of each bloom is a protruding pistil lined with colorful stamens, which is attractive and interesting in its own right.

    There are literally hundreds of varieties of Hawaiian hibiscus. The International Hibiscus Society has a full register of every type under the sun. Anyone interested in learning more about these beautiful flowers should have a look. The wide ranging varieties give a complete picture of all this plant has to offer. To get a good look at exciting newer, interesting selections, check out the offerings of specialty growers, such as Charles Black’s Hidden Valley Hibiscus. His amazing hibiscus may be just enough to hook you!

    Garden center varieties are often bred for compact habits and high flower production. The Tradewinds varieties are particularly nice, being developed to produce lots of flowers on tidy plants ideal for container growing. Though the plants are small, they always grow and flower best in large containers that allow their roots to spread and easily access water and nutrients. Large containers also need to be watered less often.

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis 'Erin Rachel' JaKMPM

    Hibiscus rosa-sinensis ‘Erin Rachel’

    Grow these beautiful flowers anywhere there is sun. They prefer fertile soil that drains well and perform best with some supplementary fertilizer for flowers. Starting with a fortified potting mix, such as Black Gold’s All-Purpose Potting Soil with RESiLIENCE, is a good idea. Potted plants appreciate large containers and will fill them in quickly, if plants are happy and well-tended. In warmer zones, these shrubs are best planted in garden and shrub borders mixed with other lush, tropical plants loaded with bright color.

  6. Annuals for Fantastic Fall Color

    Pennisetum setaceum JaKMPM

    Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’ has reddish foliage and grassy plumes that look great until frost. (photo by Jessie Keith)

    Many gardens lack for fall color – prompting many gardeners to resort to the ubiquitous fall mum.  Often overlooked, however, are the numerous other annuals for autumn display, many of which come into their glory months before chrysanthemum season.  Their beauty, longevity, and relative novelty make them a refreshing and often preferable alternative to what has become a fall garden cliché.

    The dazzling, October-sky-blue flowers of Chinese hound’s tongue (Cynoglossum amabile) give the impression of a tall, out-of-season forget-me-not (Myosotis).  In all respects, however, this biennial outshines its spring-blooming cousin, possessing a much longer, summer-to-fall flowering season, as well as attractive, fuzzy, gray-green basal leaves that persist rather than turning to mush.  Sown directly in the garden in spring, it will bear a late-summer to frost succession of clustered blooms on upright stems.  Plants usually self-sow, but not with the prolific abandon of forget-me-not.  Available as seed or occasionally as plants, Chinese hound’s tongue is typically sold in the form of dwarf varieties such as ‘Firmament’, which top out at about 15 inches.  It reaches its zenith, however, in full-size forms (including ‘Blue Showers’), which can reach 30 inches tall.  This East-Asian native takes well to sunny or partly shaded cottage gardens and mixed borders, partnering beautifully with Japanese anemones, colchicums, and other late-blooming perennials.  Dwarf forms do nicely in containers as well as in the open garden.

    Beautiful red flowers and golden leaves make Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ a great sage for season’s end.

    There’s nothing dwarf about woodland tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris), a lordly, bold-leaved, delightfully shaggy plant that holds slender silky-white trumpets on lofty stems that look you in the eye.  Blooming alongside (and above) Chinese hound’s tongue from summer to fall, this heat- and sun-loving tender perennial is also a reliable self-sower, with spontaneous seedlings almost always appearing in spring.  Debuting in mid to late summer and continuing in abundance until frost, the flowers cast an intense, intoxicating, musky-sweet perfume that peaks at night, drawing pollinating moths.  Hummingbirds visit during the day.  Plants can be started from seed sown under cover in early spring, or in the garden at tomato-planting time.  Seedlings (which are sometimes available from nurseries) should be planted out after the last frost date.  Fertile, moist soil is best.

    For containers and other niches where something more chrysanthemum-like is desired, butter daisy (Melampodium paludosum) is just the ticket.  Low, mounded, bushy, and brassy-flowered, it envelops itself with petite golden-yellow daisies for many weeks beginning in summer.  Seed catalogs and nurseries sell numerous compact varieties, all of which form tight, 8- to 12-inch hummocks of oval, weakly toothed, mid-green leaves, with flowers appearing about 3 months after sowing.  Given a fertile, not overly dry soil, plants will continue blooming profusely until the first heavy frost.  Native to Mexico and Central America, this annual can take the heat, and will seed itself around in warmer gardens.

    Mexico is also home to several cold-tender, shrubby sages notable for their showy late-season bloom.  Among the best are Salvia greggii and its hybrids, which throw numerous spires of richly hued, hummingbird-thronged flowers from late spring until frost.  Cultivars include compact ‘Ultra Violet’ , with vibrant rose-purple flowers on 18-inch stems, and the fiery-flowered ‘Furman’s Red’, whose cherry-vermillion wands can reach 3 feet tall.  At least a dozen other tender Salvia species are indispensable contributors to the fall (and summer) garden, thriving in any well-drained, reasonably fertile growing medium, preferably in full sun.  Salvia elegans ‘Golden Delicious’ is a gold leaved, red flowered selection with a particularly beautiful fall display. Most of the shrubby salvias perform splendidly in containers as well as in the open garden, and a few will survive USDA Zone 6 winters.

    Beta vulgaris ssp. cicla 'Ruby Red'

    Colorful Swiss chard looks and tastes best in fall.

    The arching, brown-purple leaves of red fountain grass (Pennisetum ‘Rubrum’) make the perfect foil to salvias and other bright summer- and fall-bloomers.  Tawny, purple-tinged, plumed flower spikes arch above the foliage in summer and fall.  Thought to be a hybrid of Pennisetum setaceum (although usually listed as a cultivar of same), ‘Rubrum’ rarely self-sows, unlike its prodigiously fertile parent.  At 3 to 4 feet tall and wide, it works wonderfully in large containers or mixed plantings in full sun or light shade.  Typically grown as an annual, it’s a hardy perennial in USDA Zones 9 and warmer.

    The roster of showy-leaved fall annuals also includes several varieties of chard.  Sow the seeds in summer for a fall display of large, crinkled, often bronze-suffused leaves, with vividly contrasting ribs and veins.  Most named varieties (such as yellow-ribbed ‘Oriole’ and burgundy-ribbed ‘Rhubarb’) feature one contrasting color, but the mix ‘Bright Lights’ contains numerous hues including red, yellow, orange, purple, and creamy white.  Chard’s close cousin, the beet, has also given rise to some showy-leaved varieties.  Among the most notable is ‘Bull’s Blood’, whose deep maroon leaves make for good eating as well as for good ornament.  As with chard, plants mature in fall from a summer sowing. and provide a welcome change of pace from ornamental kale.

  7. The Summer Garden Harvest Revs Up

    Tomatoes

    Tomatoes are in full swing by late summer. (Photo by Jessie Keith)

    As summer starts to wind down, the harvest revs up. August finds many gardeners harvesting daily, as the hard work of spring and early summer is transformed into bountiful crops. Vegetables, fruits and herbs hover at the peak of ripeness, almost crying out to be picked. Flowers can be dried for winter arrangements and next year’s garden waits in the wings in the form of seeds ready for collection. In the midst of all that abundance, the biggest challenge maybe  finding time to capture and process the plentiful harvest while keeping the garden productive well into fall.

    Vegetables: Tomatoes, squashes, eggplant, peppers, beans, cucumbers, broccoli and a host of other summer vegetables require regular harvesting to keep plants productive. Earlier generations of gardeners spent late summer afternoons, evenings and weekends canning or drying the surplus produce. These techniques, plus freezing, are still an option, but so is donating extras to local food pantries or soup kitchens. Non-gardening neighbors may appreciate gifts of fresh produce as well.

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    A basket of fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden.

    In between harvesting sessions, keep production high by enriching soil around plants such as cucumber, squash and broccoli with fertilizers like Fafard Garden Manure Blend or Fafard Premium Natural and Organic Compost Blend. After mid-August, gardeners in northern areas with short fall growing seasons, should remove excessive bushy growth and flowers from tomato plants, so the plants’ energies go into enlarging and ripening existing fruits before frost.

    Herbs: Harvest herbs, especially vigorous types, like basil, regularly, to ensure a continuing supply of young leaves. Cut off any flower stalks as soon as they appear, because the flowering process gives herbs a bitter taste. If plants have become leggy or unwieldy, cut them back by about one third, to stimulate bushy new growth.

    Harvest herbs in early morning, after the dew has dried. The easiest way to dry parsley, sage, rosemary, lavender and other herbs that are shrubby or have a relatively low moisture content, is to hang cut stems upside down in a warm dry place. Basil and other mint family members with higher moisture levels dry best when the leaves are separated from the stems and arranged on trays to dry. All herbs are ready to store when the leaves can be crumbled easily.

    Hydrangea

    The aging blooms of oakleaf hydrangea turn pink as they dry and are great for cutting.

    Fruit: August is the time to harvest figs, some melon varieties, late-bearing blueberries, everbearing strawberries, plums and even the last of the cane fruits, like raspberries and blackberries. During the harvest period, use netting to protect ripening fruits from hungry birds. After fruit has been gathered, prune back fruiting canes and check near the soil line for signs of cane borers. Remove and discard any infested wood.

    Flowers: Many varieties of flowers, grasses and seed heads are ready to be harvested and preserved for crafts and indoor arrangements. As with herbs, the most popular preservation method is air drying, which works best for flowers like strawflower, yarrow and globe amaranth that contain relatively little moisture. Flowers with higher moisture content can be submerged in a granular desiccant compound, pressed between layers of absorbent paper, or preserved using a glycerin solution.

    Harvest flowers just as they open, choosing unblemished specimens that feature graceful forms and growth habits. Strip off all leaves before tying and hanging flowers for air drying. Hydrangeas, especially “peegee” (Hydrangea paniculata), oakleaf (Hydrangea quercifolia), and mophead (Hydrangea macrophylla) types, may also be ready for August harvest. Choose flower panicles that have already begun to dry on the plant, with petal edges that are somewhat crisp to the touch. In the case of white-flowered peegee and oakleaf types, the flower panicles will have turned pink. Many mophead hydrangeas will display greenish petals.

    Seeds: Beginning in August, save seeds of heirloom or unusual varieties of edible and ornamental plants. Some seeds can be harvested “dry” by simply removing dried seed pods or receptacles from stems and shaking or blowing out seeds. Others, like tomato seeds, must be gathered “wet” and soaked in water, along with some attached plant material. During the soaking process, seeds tend to collect in the bottom of the soaking vessel, while other plant debris floats to the top. Wet-gathered seeds are then air dried. All seeds should be stored in cool, dry, dark conditions and labeled according to seed type and date of collection.

    August marks the beginning of the harvest cycle that brings the growing season full circle. The month’s “to do” list may be long, but for most gardeners, the end result makes the labor worthwhile.

  8. Glorious Gladiolus

    Gladiolus

    Mixed summer Gladiolus offer bright color to borders and cut flower beds.

    Few gardeners feel ambivalent about common garden gladiolus (Gladiolus x hortulanus). In the decades since the first large-flowered hybrids were developed in the late 1830’s, the tall flower spikes have been in and out of fashion many times. But glads and the gardeners who love them are nothing if not persistent. Even when horticultural fashion arbiters ignore the genus, the many-colored blooms show up in all kinds of places, from the end rows of vegetable gardens to carefully tended perennial borders and florists’ bouquets.

    The tall garden hybrids are impressive, but the genus is full of other winning plants, including petite species and varieties that are well suited to container and small garden culture. Many species glads have an informal look that is more reminiscent of the wildflower garden than the florist shop. Some are also fragrant. All gladioli share the characteristic long, sword-shaped leaves and summer bloom time.

    The following is a brief guide to some of the stars of the gladiolus galaxy.

    Grandiflora Hybrids: These are the plants that come to mind when most people hear the word “gladiolus.” All grow from corms that are tender in cold winter climates. Standard grandifloras soar between 3 and 6 feet tall. The trumpet-shaped individual flowers, which can be up to 6 inches wide, open from the bottom of the spike to the top. Vendors carry scores of named varieties in just about every imaginable color. Bi-colored glads are available in an amazing array of combinations. Breeders have also developed shorter, dwarf varieties, including the vividly marked “butterfly” types, which reach only 1 to 3 feet.

    Abyssinian Gladiolus feature orchid-like flowers.

    Primulinus Hybrids: These plants, formerly known as Gladiolus primulinus, are now classified as Gladiolus dalenii. Somewhat shorter, at 2 to 4 feet tall, the individual blossoms are hooded, rather than open like the grandiflora types. They also tend to be smaller and less crowded on the stems, giving the plants an informal feel. The primulinus glads are especially useful to cold winter gardeners, because they are hardier than grandifloras. Some varieties, like golden-apricot ‘Boone,’ are cold hardy to USDA zone 6.

    Nanus Hybrids: Also smaller and less formal than the grandifloras, the Nanus Hybrids, bred from Gladiolus nanus, bear up to three slim flower stalks with up to ten relatively small individual flowers. These cold-tolerant miniatures may also feature distinctive markings.

    Byzantine Gladiolus: Native to the Mediterranean, Gladiolus communis var. byzantinus blooms somewhat earlier than grandiflora types and is also more cold-tolerant. The 24 to 36 inch stems are slender and arch gracefully, bearing ten to twelve individual, open magenta flowers per stem. Byzantine glads bloom earlier than their large-flowered relatives and naturalize readily. They are fixtures in old southern gardens and have often been passed along from gardener to gardener.

    Abyssinian Gladiolus: Formerly known as Acidanthera, Abyssinian gladiolus (Gladiolus callianthus ‘Murielae’) has a distinctive, orchid-like appearance and a pronounced fragrance. Introduced in the late nineteenth century, the blossoms feature sharply pointed white petals with dark purple centers. Abyssinian glads grow on slender stems that rise from 3 to 4 feet in height.

    'Boone' Gladiolus

    Hooded flowers characterize primulinus types like the cultivar ‘Boone’.

    Gladiolus corms should be planted 4 to 6 inches deep in rich, well-drained soil. Before planting, amend heavy clay soil with organic material like Fafard Garden Manure Blend or Fafard Natural and Organic Compost Blend. For container-grown specimens use a complete potting medium such as Fafard Ultra Potting Mix With Extended Feed. Tender gladiolus hybrids can be grown as annuals in cold weather climates. To keep desirable varieties from year to year, lift the corms in fall and store in a dry, frost-free location. Replant in spring after all danger of frost has passed. Grandiflora types may need stakes or other support to prevent the heavy flower stalks from flopping, but shorter varieties can stand on their own.

    Gladioli are sometimes known as “sword lilies” for the sword-like shape of their foliage. Arm your beds and borders with these “swords” and they will cut through the summer garden doldrums.

  9. 10 Terrific Flowers for Honey Bees

    IMG_0764

    Rudbeckia lacinata ‘Autumn Sun’ is a late-summer bloomer that bees love.

    The decline in honey bees (Apis mellifera) has heightened the popularity of honey bee plants. Many favorite flowers for honey bees, like sweetclover, thistle, alfalfa and dandelion, are Eurasian plants too weedy for flower beds. Thankfully, there are some beautiful summer garden flowers, many being  North American natives, which are also great nectar and pollen plants favored by these Old World native bees. Regional natives are also superb forage plants for regional bees.

    Work compost into the soil around your flowers in spring and fall for great results

    Work Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend into the soil around your flowers in spring and fall for great results.

    The best honey bee plants provide a good supply of both sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen sought after by these and other long-tongued bees. Lots of beautiful garden flowers provide both in high quantities. Here are our top 10 favorites organized by bloom time. Choose one for each blooming period and you’ll have great bee blooms throughout the growing season! All are sun-loving and grow best in good soils with regular to good drainage. Amend with Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend and feed with a fertilizer for flowers, such as Black Gold Rose & Flower Fertilizer, for best results.

     

    Early Summer Bee Flowers

    Echinacea pallidaPale Purple Coneflower (Echinacea pallida, perennial): An elegant beauty with fine, drooping petals, the pale purple coneflower is a bee favorite that also produces seeds much loved by finches. A native of grasslands and savannahs across the Eastern United States, this tough coneflower will bloom for up to three weeks from June to July. When in bloom, its flowers will feed lots of bees. You might even see a few butterflies on them as well.

     

    Achillea millefolium 'Strawberry Seduction' PP18401Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium, perennial): The bright, flattened heads of common yarrow are covered with tiny daisy flowers that bees really favor. Native to both Eurasia and North America, this plant attracts loads of pollinators no matter where it’s planted. There are many beautiful varieties for the garden; two of the better variants are the rich red ‘Strawberry Seduction’ (image left) and ‘Wonderful Wampee’, which has pink flowers that fade to nearly white. 

     

     

    Summer Bee Flowers

    IMG_8181Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus, annual): Nothing attracts and feeds bees like good old sunflowers. Their massive and prolific blooms come in shades of yellow, gold, red and orange and give way to lots of oil-rich seeds enjoyed by seed-eating birds and humans alike. There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose with various flower colors, heights and flower sizes. The dwarf varieties ‘Little Becka‘ (image left; 3-4’ tall with gold and brown flowers) and ‘Big Smile’ (1-2′ tall with classic golden flowers with black centers) are choice selections for any garden.

    Agastache_Blue_Boa_4Blue Giant Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum, perennial): The pretty spires of purple flowers produced by the giant hyssop become simply covered with bees. A native across the northern regions of North America, this fragrant perennial in the mint family it tough and very hardy. The hybrid Agastache ‘Blue Boa’ (image left by Terra Nova Nurseries) is an exceptional variety from Terra Nova Nursery that is exceptionally beautiful.

     

    Monarda punctata and Salvia coccinea JaKMPMHorsemint (Monarda punctata, perennial): Few garden perennials draw bees as efficiently as the long-blooming horsemint. A native of much of the United States, this sun-lover produces tiers of unique pink to white bracted flowers through much of summer and into fall. The blooms of these fragrant plants last a long time and become completely covered with pollinators. Plant in very well-drained soil for best performance.

     

    Echinacea_Dixie_Belle_1Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea, perennial): The popularity of purple coneflowers and their many hybrids serves as a testament to their beauty and resilience. All are a favorite of bees, and like the pale purple coneflower, seed-eating birds enjoy the seedheads that follow. The purple-pink daisy flowers begin blooming in summer and will easily continue into late summer and even fall if the old flowers are removed. Some of the better new variants for big, long-blooming flowers include ‘Dixie Belle’ (left, image by Terra Nova Nurseries) and the super heavy blooming ‘Pica Bella’

    019Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp., annual or perennial): Nothing says summer like a beautiful black-eyed Susan, and bees appreciate their prolific flowers just as much as we do. One to seek out is the heavy blooming dwarf ‘Little Goldstar’ (Rudbeckia fulgida var. sullivantii ‘Little Goldstar’).

     

     

     

    Late-Summer and Fall Bee Flowers

    Aster oblongifolius 'October Skies'Asters (Symphotrichum spp., perennial): The pinks, blues and purples of late-summer and fall aster flowers are a delight to all bees. There are so many wonderful varieties to choose from it’s hard to know where to start. The classic ‘October Skies’ (image left, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium ‘October Skies’) is a wonderful late bloomer with lavender-blue flowers and orange centers, and the dusty sky blue ‘Bluebird’  (Symphyotrichum laeve ‘Bluebird’) is an earlier bloomer with prolific flowers.

     

    Eupatorium purpureum 2Joe-Pye Weeds (Eutrochium spp., perennial): This group of mid-to late-summer bloomers produces big, fuzzy heads of purplish-red flowers filled with nectar and pollen. Native across North America, many of the sun-loving perennials are adapted to moist ground. One of the finest garden varieties is Eutrochium purpureum ‘Little Red’ with its 4′ tall stature and pretty reddish-purple flowers.

     

    SolidagoGoldenrods (Solidago spp., perennial): Lauded as one of the best bee flowers for late summer and fall, goldenrods become a buzzing mass when they open. In fact, goldenrod honey is a delicacy, known to be darker with a distinctive bite. Excellent garden-worthy goldenrods include the dwarf forms ‘Golden Fleece’ (Solidago sphacelata ‘Golden Fleece’) and ‘Baby Gold’ (Solidago ‘Baby Gold’).

    With just a few of these garden beauties, feeding the bees all summer long is easy.

  10. Top Flowering Vines for Garden Color

    IMG_9101

    The vining gloriosa lily has unique leaves with tendriled tips that allow it to ramble upwards.

    Heavenly blue morning glories catching the first light of day, iridescent purple hyacinth beans hanging like summer jewels, delicate trumpets of the cardinal climber drawing hummingbirds in charms—these are just three of the finest vines for garden color. Each year we erect trellises and tall tipis just to grow our favorite climbing flowers. Summer just wouldn’t be summer without them.

    The best flowering vines for our warm summer climate are tropical to subtropical. And even though they may not live through our cold winter, they are fast-growing, vigorous–able to reach tall heights by midsummer. Even better, they bloom and bloom and bloom offering flowers and ornamental pods in an array of bright, cheerful colors. Here are nine of the best vines to add vertical color and interest to any sunny summer garden:

    Ipomoea_tricolor-11. Morning Glory ‘Heavenly Blue’

    The queen of the summer climbers is the heirloom ‘Heavenly Blue’ morning glory (Ipomoea tricolor ‘Heavenly Blue’). It’s large, funnel-shaped flowers of clear blue cover the vine from mid- to late-summer when many other flowers flag in the heat. (Ipomoea tricolor is native to the New World tropics, so humid heat is not a problem for this vine.) Towards fall, the flowers become even bluer and more prolific. The twining vines become thick and robust when happy, so provide plenty of room for this old-fashioned classic vine. A strong fence, trellis or pergola is recommended for support.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2. Hyacinth Bean

    Space is required for this rambling, vigorous, flowering vine but the purple-hued leaves and purple flowers and pods of hyacinth bean (Lablab purpureus) make it a summer standout. Even in the hottest days of summer this African-native vine will shine. This bean is just for looks and not for eating. Be sure to give it a lot of space to twine and roam and feel free to gently prune it back as needed.

    3. Black-Eyed Susan Vine

    Pretty, dark-centered flowers of yellow, orange, white or peach dot the ever-beautiful black-eyed Susan vine (Thunbergia alata) when the weather is warm. The vines, though not as fast-growing as morning glories or hyacinth beans, become dense and lush when healthy and happy—offering lots of nice flowers that attract bees. The twining stems of this African native need a good trellis and out-of-bounds stems may need to be trimmed on occasion.

    2008 July Ann's BBQ 0054. Creeping Gloxinia

    Tolerance to partial sun makes creeping gloxinia (Asarina lophospermum) a good vine for patios and porches. Native to Mexico, its delicate, tubular flowers of white, russet red or pink, attract hummingbirds and rise from thin, twining stems lined with spade-shaped leaves with ragged, incised edges. This one is tame enough to plant in a large hanging basket or container. The popular selection Great Cascade™ Wine Red is very pretty.

    5. Cardinal Climber

    Hummingbirds cannot get enough of the hybrid cardinal climber’s (Ipomoea x sloteri) many tubular, red flowers produced along stems decorated with feathery leaves. The airy vine is deceptively delicate because its twining stems can reach up to 20’ by summer’s end. Expect it to be its most beautiful and flower-covered later in summer.

     

    IMG_98196. Spanish Flag

    The flowers of the Spanish flag (Ipomoea lobata) are like no other. Designed for hummingbirds, the flowers of this Brazilian vine are borne in one-sided clusters of pocketed blooms that are red in bud and open to palest yellow. The massive vines will completely cover a large trellis of the course of a summer, so plan big. The sunny flowers begin to appear in late summer and will continue until frost.

     

    IMG_93827. Malabar Spinach

    It’s attractive, heat-tolerant and edible, so what’s not to love? Malabar spinach (Basella alba) is a tropical vine native to tropical regions of Africa and Asia. Its thick twining purple-red stems and glossy leaves have a pleasing garden appeal, and they can be regularly harvested for eating. The flavor and texture of the leaves are spinach-like. Provide stout support for this twining vegetable. Inconspicuous flowers give way to berry-like black fruits that are subtly attractive.

    8. Moonflower

    Night bloomers like the moonflower (Ipomoea alba) use big size, white color and fragrance to attract moths in the fading hours of the evening. The enormous, funnel-shaped flowers are true novelties best enjoyed along a gazebo, pergola or a porch where they can best be viewed into the evening. The Mexican natives are quite heat tolerant and will bloom until frost.

    9. Gloriosa Lily

    The tender, tropical gloriosa lily (Gloriosa superba) is a true anomaly. It’s delicately twining stems and unique lives with tips that look and behave much like tendrils but its orange-red and yellow flowers look 100% lily. The tuberous roots can be stored in a cool place over winter but will not survive the harsh cold of northern winters. This native of Africa and Asia is a little less heat tolerant than some of the other vines we have mentioned. All parts of this plant are toxic, so it is not recommended for growing where children or pets might become attracted to the plants or flowers.

    Summer vines appreciate good, friable soil that drains freely. Moderate to good fertility will do, so I recommend amending with Premium Natural & Organic Compost Blend before planting. Container-grown vines should be planted in Fafard Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. All of these vines will appreciate a little food for garden flowers upon planting as well.

    To learn more about classic trellising for summer flowering vines, click here.