Tag Archive: Jessie Keith

  1. The Prettiest Garden Lavenders

    Sweeps of hedge lavender add color and fragrance to a patio garden.

    Wands of fragrant purple blooms dance in the wind, feeding bees, and shining cheerfully on even the hottest summer days. These are the flowers of lavender, a plant beloved for its aroma and ability to grow well in tough Mediterranean climates. This aromatic evergreen perennial has been used in perfumes, poultices and potpourris for centuries, giving it high value in the herb garden. And, many diverse varieties exist, so there’s lavender to satisfy almost every gardener.

    There are nearly 50 lavender species, all with lovely flowers that attract bees and butterflies. One of the dividing factors when choosing lavender for your garden is hardiness. Only a few species are truly hardy, and most fare poorly in areas with dense soils and cold, wet winters. This guide will help you choose the best lavender for your needs and plant it correctly to ensure it will survive and thrive.

    Hardy Lavenders

    The pretty English lavender ‘Munstead’ is compact and blooms heavily in summer. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, 2-4’) is excellent for containers or sunny, raised beds where fragrance and summer color are needed. It is one of the hardiest lavenders surviving in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 8. The shrubby evergreen perennial has a bushy habit and fragrant, linear gray-green leaves that turn fully gray in winter. From early to midsummer, it bears slender stems topped with wands of lavender-blue flowers that are very fragrant.

    White-flowered English lavender is fragrant, and unique. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The white-flowered variety ‘Alba’ offers a more neutral color option. The compact ‘Munstead’ is also a favorite heavily flowered variety that only reaches 2 to 1.5 feet. And, for seed growers, the 1994 AAS Flower Winner ‘Lady’ is compact English lavender that will bloom first year from seed.

    This lavender is native to Western Europe, so it is more tolerant of moist growing conditions, which is why it is grown in England, but it also thrives in Mediterranean climates. Some stem die back might occur in winter. If this happens, simply prune off the old, haggard stems in spring to keep plants looking nice.

    Hedge lavender is very fragrant, vigorous, and hardy.

    Lavandin (Lavandula x intermedia, 2-3’), also called hedge lavender, is a tough plant favored for dry growing areas. It’s very vigorous and will survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 6 to 8, if provided excellent drainage. This popular lavender is a hybrid between hybrid between English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) and Portuguese spike lavender (Lavandula latifolia). It is slightly less hardy than English lavender but will withstand a little more heat and drought.

    The foliage and habit is much like that of English lavender, and its summer flowers are very dense and richly aromatic. The wealth of slender stems hold dense clusters of lavender-blue flowers, which are sterile, so their seed cannot be collected. After the first flush of flowers, cut them back to encourage further bloom. The exceptional new cultivar ‘Phenomenal’, bred by Peace Tree Farm, is a little hardier, surviving up to zone 5, and produces loads of lavender blue stems and has little winter die back. ‘Grosso’ is another favorite variety prized for its extra-large, extra-fragrant purple blooms.

    Tender Lavenders

    Fringed lavender has upright flower clusters with small plumes of colorful bracts on top.

    Fringed lavender has unique scalloped leaves.

    Fringed lavender (Lavandula dentata, 1.5-2’) is a sea and hillside perennial Mediterranean native that will survive in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 9. It is exceptionally heat and drought tolerant and suited to southerly arid or coastal region. It has delicate green to gray-green leaves with scalloped edges. Unlike the other lavenders mentioned, it has a more mounding, spreading habit and moderately fragrant spikes of fuzzy lavender flowers topped by showy lavender-blue bracts that appear in summer.

    This lavender is perfect for border edges or containers, and will form a spreading mound over time. It also looks great in large containers.

    French lace has long stems for an airy look. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The everblooming nature of this lavender makes it especially appealing. Airy, fast-growing and aromatic, French lace (Lavandula multifida, 1-2’) is native to the northwestern Mediterranean region where conditions are arid. The open, shrubby perennial is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 9 and becomes woody as it matures. Its fragrant, evergreen leaves are gray-green and ferny and long-stemmed flowers are violet-blue and held high above the leaves.

    If plants become too woody, prune them back in spring to encourage new, denser growth, and a tidier habit.

    Fernleaf lavender has ferny silver leaves and long-stemmed flowers with multiple flower clusters at the top.

    Fragrant ferny leaves of silver-green are one of fernleaf lavender’s (Lavandula pinnata, 2-3’) greatest appeals.  This native of the Canary Islands and Madeira requires arid growing conditions and survives to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11, making it the tenderest of the lavenders mentioned.  It is bushy and becomes woody over time. Like French lace, its small, angular spikes of lavender-blue flowers are long-stemmed and everblooming. Keep spent flowers cut back to encourage keep plants looking tidy.

    French lavender is especially fragrant and showy.

    The highly fragrant French lavender (Lavandula stoechas, 1-3’) has some of the showiest flowers of all the lavenders. The Mediterranean native was grown by the Romans for its exceptional scent, and its ability to thrive in hot and dry conditions. It is a bit hardier, surviving to USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10.

    ‘Anouk’ is a showy French lavender exceptional vigor. (Image by Jessie Keith)

    The shrubby perennial spreads as it ages, forming a considerable mound that should be pruned back in spring to keep it looking its best. It has fine, silvery foliage and bears many thin, upright stems holding oval clusters of very dark purple flowers topped with big plumes of bright purple bracts. There are many varieties that may be pale lavender, pink or white. The compact lavender-pink-flowered ‘Madrid Pink’ is one of the better forms, as is ‘Anouk’, which is vigorous, early blooming, and very showy. New flowers will keep appearing, if you remove the old blooms. French lavender also comes in pinkish shades.

    Growing Lavender

    Lavender looks great in any sunny garden situation where drainage is good.

    Full sun and sharply drained soil are essential for success. Moist winter weather can quickly cause stem and root rot, if soil is not perfectly drained. Lavenders generally grow best in more alkaline soils that are raised and gravelly with added organic matter, such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost. Newly planted lavenders should be watered regularly for a few weeks, until they become established. Once established they generally can take care of themselves, especially those most adapted to arid climates. They tend to grow well in nutrient-poor soils, but the addition of a slow-release fertilize will support good growth and flowering and encourage fuller growth and flowering.

    Container-grown specimens are best planted in large pots filled with fast-draining soil like Fafard® Ultra Outdoor Planting Mix. In areas with cold or wet winters, you can move the pots to a cool, protected porch to keep them away from excess snow and cold. Just don’t let the pots become completely dry.

    Lavenders are semi-woody, and can look ill-kept over time. In spring, once new foliage has begun to emerge, prune old or dead stems back to encourage new, fresh looking foliage.

    If you want to harvest lavender flowers for dried flower arrangements, sachets, or potpourri, cut stems when flowers are still fresh and hang them upside down in a cool, dry place. Once dry, you can display the stems or pull off the aromatic dried buds for use.

    Plant lavender in areas where their wonderful fragrance can best be enjoyed. They make wonderful patio or walkway edgings and give garden spaces a Mediterranean flair.

    Bees and butterflies are especially attracted to lavender.

     

  2. Grow a Mexican Herb Garden

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

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

    Mexican Herbs

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

    Annatto

    Tropical annatto can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors.

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

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

    Epazote

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

    Cilantro

    The leaves of cilantro taste best in cool weather.

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

    Cumin

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

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

    Mexican Oregano

    Mexican oregano is pretty and has a lemony oregano flavor.

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

    Mexican Thyme

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

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

    Mexican Mint Marigold 

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

    Mexican Peppers

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

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

    Jalapeño

    Jalapeño mature to red but are most often eaten green.

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

    Poblano (Ancho) Chile

    Poblano peppers are most productive in late summer.

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

    Serrano Chile

    Serrano chiles turn from green to bright red.

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

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

     

  3. Favorite Garden Poppies

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

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

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

    Annual Poppies

    Breadseed Poppies

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

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

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

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

    Peony Poppies

    The frilled puffy blooms of peony poppies resemble powder puffs.

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

    Flanders Poppies

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

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

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

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

    Western Poppies

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

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

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

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

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

    Perennial Poppies

    Spanish Poppy

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

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

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

    Icelandic Poppy

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

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

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

    Oriental Poppy

    Old-fashioned oriental poppies are a perennial border staple.

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

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

    Growing Poppies

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

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

  4. Two Butterfly Garden Designs

    A monarch butterfly feeds on swamp milkweed.

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

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

    Black Swallowtail Garden Plants

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

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

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

    Monarch Garden Plants

    Monarch caterpillars only feed on milkweed plants.

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

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

    Planting your Butterfly Garden

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

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

  5. Favorite Heirloom Garden Flowers from Seed

    Heirloom garden flowers are perfect for informal cottage gardens.

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

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

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

    Top 10 Heirloom Flowers from Seed

    China pinks (Dianthus chinensis)

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

    Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens)

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

     

    Sweet Pea (Lathyrus odoratus)

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

     

    Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritima)

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

    Marigolds (Tagetes hybrids)

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

    Jasmine-Scented Tobacco (Nicotiana alata)

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

    Love-in-a-Mist (Nigella damascena)

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

    Old-Fashioned Petunia (Petunia hybrid)

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

    Scarlet Sage (Salvia spendens)

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

     

    Growing Heirlooms from Seed

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

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

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

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

  6. Traditional Asian Vegetables for the Garden

    Asparagus bean

    Many prized vegetables originate from or were bred in Asian countries, from India to Japan to Malaysia. Great emphasis is placed on the beans, cucurbits, greens, and root vegetables, and many are very old, select varieties collected and grown for generations. The best are flavorful and great for any home garden.

    Local climate often dictates growth preference. For example, vegetables bred in Thailand, Vietnam, or Malaysia are heat and drought tolerant, while the vegetables of northern China prefer cooler climates. Many of these crops are unknown to American gardeners, but consider trying a few this season, if you like Asian cuisine or simply delicious garden-fresh food.

    Beans

    Yardlong bean

    The asparagus or winged bean (Psophocarpus tetragonolobus) is both attractive and delicious—sporting red flowers and beautiful winged beans.  It is a warm season crop that produces long twining vines that produce edible beans just 75 days after planting. It is grown in tropical regions due to its marked tolerance to high heat. The unusual looking pods taste like a cross between peas and asparagus. Asparagus bean has added value because the leaves are eaten like spinach, and the edible roots have a nutty flavor.

    Also well-adapted to high heat and summer growing is the yardlong bean (Vigna unguiculata ssp. sesquipedalis). Its vigorous vines bear loads of very long beans that reach 12- to 16-inches and taste delicious. They have been grown for centuries in China and are best sautéed or stir fried.

    Cucurbits

    Angled luffa

    Japanese cucumbers are unique in that they are very long, thin skinned, and crisp. They grow on rambling vines that are best trellised to accommodate the cucumbers that can reach between 8 to 12 inches. Try the open-pollinated variety ‘Sooyow Nishiki’, which has thin, warty skin and crisp, sweet flesh.

    Many Asian melons exist, which are bred and selected to be remarkable sweet. The open-pollinated Japanese variety, ‘New Melon’ is golden, smooth skinned, and was developed in the 1950s for Japanese growers. Each vigorous vine produces between four to eight melons. Be sure to plant them as early as possible, because vines take between 110 to 120 days to produce fruit.

    Asian melons

    Most westerners know luffa as a natural sponge for bathing, but in China the young gourds are a popular vegetable. The angled luffa (Luffa acutangula) is commonly referred to as Chinese okra and has a sweet taste (much like zucchini) when harvested young. Give the vines plenty of space, or trellis them for easier growing and harvest.

    Greens & Cabbages

    Chinese cabbage

    Bok choy (pak choi) is a mild, cool-season green that produces rosettes of green leaves with fleshy white bases. These are fast-growing and typically eaten stir fried. Some varieties are very small and others large. The super small variety ‘Extra Dwarf Pak Choi’ is very fast growing , reaching full size in just 30 days, and is just right for edible container gardening.

    Valued as a spring vegetable across Asia, Korean minari is a leafy green that tastes much like watercress. It is closely related to celery and is a vital ingredient in Korean bibimbap bowls or can be prepared as a spicy vegetable side dish. It grows best in cool weather and slows growth in temperatures above 70 degrees F.

    Chinese cabbage is a well-known, cool-season crop that produces large heads that may be barrel-shaped or loose headed. Try the old Japanese variety, ‘Aichi’, which is a large, barrel-shaped variety that produces dense heads with a sweet cabbagy flavor. These grow and taste best in the mild temperatures of spring or fall.

    Root Vegetables

    Watermelon radish

    Radishes play an important role in the cuisine of many Asian cultures. These include watermelon, daikon, and hot radishes as well as those used for microgreens. All radishes are fast growing and best suited to growing in cool weather. When temperatures are hot, they don’t develop substantial roots and taste very hot. Watermelon radish types are some of the most beautiful with their red interiors and greenish-white exteriors. They are also fun for kids to grow. Try the Chinese radish ‘Red Meat’, which is thin skinned, sweet, and ready to harvest 60 days after planting.

    Turnips are a common root vegetable, but most western gardeners are not familiar with red turnips. These fast-growing, sweet root vegetables are popular in Asia and eaten fresh or cooked. They are typically red on the outside and white or pinkish on the inside. Try the traditional Japanese turnip ‘Hidabeni‘, which has flattened roots with scarlet exteriors and white interiors.

    Eggplant

    Green Japanese eggplant

    Eggplant is essential to Asian cuisine, from India to Japan. Most are elongated, mild, thin-skinned, and have few seeds. This warm-season crop bears many fruits over the season. One of the easiest and best varieties to try is the Taiwanese eggplant ‘Ping Tung Long‘, which is very heat tolerant and has bright purple fruits that reach over a foot long. The equally large green fruits of the Japanese ‘Choryoku‘ are also firm, sweet, and delicious.

    Favorite Thai eggplants are a bit different in that many are smaller and oval or round. They may be green striped or deep purple. The small, round variety ‘Petch Siam’ is grown from India to Vietnam. Its small green striped fruits are numerous, and the plants like high heat.

    Squash

    Kabocha squash

    There are many squash grown and favored across Asian countries, but some of the sweetest and best tasting are kabocha winter squash. These somewhat flattened, globe-shaped squash typically have dark green skin and gold to orange flesh that is smooth and very sweet. The open-pollinated kabocha from Japan, ‘Kuri Winter’, has very sweet, thick, golden flesh and dark blue-green skin. Plant it early as vines take 95 to 110 days to produce good fruit.

    Vegetable Care

    For high vegetable yields be sure to feed your crops with a granular organic vegetable fertilizer early in the season. Amendments such as Fafard Premium Natural & Organic Compost and Fafard Garden Manure Blend also ensure high soil moisture and aeration to encourage vigorous root growth. Double–digging is another great way to optimize deep root growth to help plants withstand moderate drought and high heat.

  7. DIY Outdoor Holiday Containers

    It’s amazing what a few winter branches can do for an empty container.

    When flower-filled summer containers die back at the end of the season, don’t put those empty pots away. Convert your vacant outdoor planters into beautiful showpieces for the holidays. Take pruned evergreen and berried branches, dry grass plumes, and dry hydrangea flowers to make festive DIY outdoor holiday containers that will remain attractive well into winter.

    Gathering Holiday Container Materials

    Winter branches and dried flowers can be purchased, but it’s more cost effective if you have these materials in your own landscape or garden. Pine, fir, or spruce branches are perfect for that touch of greenery. Holly and winter berry branches will add color and substance as will red twig dogwood or curly willow branches. If you have ornamental grasses with dried seed heads or hydrangeas with dried flower heads, these add substance to outdoor winter containers, especially if given a little glitz with metallic spray paint. Finally, pine cones, magnolia seed heads or sweet gum balls make an excellent addition, so use them if you have them.

    Directions

    Materials needed for holiday containers

    Creating these containers is no different than putting together a large winter bouquet, but instead of a vase, you use a planter with potting mix. Long branches make bolder showpieces with bigger impact, so start with branches that are at least 2-3 feet in length, and trim them as needed.

    Your container composition will depend on the materials you have on hand, but this is the formula I use for one large container.

    • A large planter filled with potting mix
    • 6-8 large evergreen branches
    • One large berried holly or winter berry branch
    • 10 dried hydrangea and grass plumes
    • 5 red twig dogwood branches (curly willow or other spray painted bare branches would work)
    • Pine cones
    • Gold or silver spray paint for the hydrangea plumes
    • Pruners

    Make sure your pot is filled with potting mix to support the branches. Place the pot in its final location before arranging; this will allow you to consider appearance and size as you craft the piece. If your container will be placed against a wall, set the showiest branches along the front.

    Start by adding the greenery—placing the tallest branches towards the middle. Trim additional branches to place along the periphery. Next, add the colorful ornamental branches concentrically around the container. Set the berried branch in the center, and follow up by placing the dried hydrangea flowers along the edges. Add the grass plumes around the composition, and center one tall plume behind the berries. Nestle pine cones along the base and in the greenery or bare branches.

    1. Start by adding the greenery

    2. Add the ornamental branches

    3. Add your berried branch in the center

    4. Add your holly branches

    5. Add the hydrangea around the base

    6. Place the grass plumes along the center and sides

    6. Nestle in the the pine cones, and you are done!

    Create Your Own Container Design

    These containers should reflect your personal style and home, so get creative and design your own. There are lots of things you can do to make them bigger, bolder, or more glittery. Adding stark but colorful branches in the center of your container and surrounding them with greenery and pine cones creates a bold, attractive look. For added glitz, spiral some lights around each arrangement, embellish with a few glittery outdoor ornaments, or add a bright, colorful bow. It’s up to you!

    These impressive home containers are decorated with evergreens, southern magnolia leaves, broomseed plumes, curly willow, and red twig dogwood.

  8. Moth and Moon Garden Plants

    A hawk moth pollinates a pink evening primrose flower in the evening light. (Image by Edal Anton Lefterov)

     

    If you spend evenings relaxing on your porch or patio, then consider planting a moon garden nearby. These fragrant late-day gardens glow in the evening light, attracting luminous moths, such as luna moths and sphinx moths, which is why they are also considered “moth gardens”.

    Moth-pollinated plants have several shared floral characteristics. Their blooms stay open and become fragrant late in the day and into the night. They are pale colored, often white, to catch the last evening light and light of the moon. Finally, they are often trumpet shaped and hold lots of nectar for the many long-tongued moths that pollinate them.

    Moth or moon garden plants may be annual, perennial, or woody, and many you may already know or grow. Favorites are are easy to find at garden centers, but few may require a purchase from a specialty seed vendor and grown at home. Those that can be grown from seed should be started indoors in late winter in Black Gold Seedling mix and planted outdoors after the threat of frost has passed. (Click here to learn how to grow flowers from seed.)

    Moon Garden Annuals

    These annuals can be added to any existing garden space for nighttime charm. Some require a good bit of space while others are smaller and tidier.

    Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

    Moonflower

    Though related to morning glories, moonflower opens in the evening, producing huge 5-6” flowers. One of the great joys of these enormous white flowers is that they open so quickly you can see it in real time. (See a real-time video of an opening moon flower here!). The blooms open in the mid evening and remain open until morning, presenting a strong, sweet fragrance. The large, vigorous, twining vines grow and flower best in full sun and require a strong fence or trellis for support. Flowering occurs from midsummer to frost.

     

    Four-O-Clocks (Mirabilis jalapa)

    ‘Limelight’ four-o-clocks

    Best known for their colorful tubular flowers of orange, white, magenta, or yellow (sometimes in tricolor combinations), four-o-clocks open in late afternoon and stay open until morning. The highly fragrant blooms are produced on bushy plants (to 3’) and attract long-tonged moths. Four-o-clocks are Peruvian natives that first became popular in Victorian times, and are still planted today. The chartreuse-leaved, magenta-flowered ‘Limelight’ is an especially pretty selection (seed source here!). All plant parts are poisonous, so plant them away from children and pets.

     

    Woodland tobacco

    Woodland Tobacco (Nicotiana sylvestris)

    Plant these tall (to 3-5’), old-fashioned garden flowers along the back of a partially shaded flower bed or in full sun. Showy clusters of tubular white flowers crown the plants, emitting nighttime fragrance and glowing in the evening light. Remove old, spent flower clusters to keep plants blooming vigorously to frost. All plant parts are toxic.

     

    Angel’s Trumpet (Datura innoxia)

    Angel’s trumpet (image by Jessie Keith)

    Huge, white, trumpet-shaped flowers are the glory of this large (to 2-5’), bushy, tender perennial. Its powerfully fragrant flowers glow at night, feeding hovering long-tongued moths that get drunk on their nectar. Provide angel’s trumpet with lots of space, and be sure to plant it away from pets or children as all parts are poisonous.

     

    Night Phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis)

    Native to South Africa, night phlox produces lacy white flowers (with burgundy outer petals) in summer. The bushy, compact (to 6-12”) plants look best in containers or along border edges. Their delicious, honeyed fragrance will spice the evening air and draw all manner of moths. Try the high-performing cultivar ‘Midnight Candy’ (plant source here).

     

    Evening Stocks (Matthiola longipetala)

    Evening stocks

    Delicate, slightly showy flowers of lavender, pink, and white bedeck this old-fashioned annual when growing conditions are cool and mild, in spring or fall. Gardeners grow evening stocks for their indulgent, sweet fragrance rather than appearance. They reach about 12” in height and are best planted among showier flowers, such as spring bulbs or fall four-o-clocks. Start them from seed indoors in late winter for spring or midsummer for fall (seed source here).

    Moon Garden Perennials

    Missouri Evening Primrose (Oenothera macrocarpa)

    Missouri evening primrose

    There are many species of evening primrose with showy flowers, but many are pretty aggressive spreaders that need a lot of space, such as the beautiful, pink evening primrose (Oenothera speciosa). Missouri evening primrose is an exception. Its glowing yellow flowers  appear on tidy, compact plants (to 8-10”) and open in the evening, emitting a light fragrance that attracts hawk moths. Native to rocky, limestone landscapes across the Central United States, it is remarkably hardy, surviving in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-7.

     

    Adam’s needle flowers (image by Jessie Keith)

    Adam’s Needle (Yucca filamentosa)

    This bold, evergreen perennial has clusters of sword-like leaves and produces 6-8’ upright panicles of waxy ivory flowers in summer.  The fragrant, pendant, bell-shaped blooms glow in the evening, and are pollinated exclusively by a yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella). Plant on sunny high ground, and give the clump plenty of space to grow. ‘Golden Sword’ is a particularly lovely selection with variegated foliage of gold edged in green.

     

     

    Tuberose (Polianthes tuberosa)

    Tuberose flowers

    This summer-blooming bulb produces 2-3’ upright stalks of tubular white flowers with spectacular nighttime fragrance. The waxy blooms are delicate and lovely. Tuberose is somewhat tender, surviving up to USDA Hardiness Zone 7. After flowering, it will die back, so plant it among other ornamentals with fuller foliage that will continue to look attractive into fall.

    Moon Garden Shrubs

     

    Night Flowering Jasmine (Cestrum nocturnum)

    Night flowering jasmine

    A tender shrub (to 4’) native to the West Indies, night flowering jasmine produces clusters of long, trumpet-shaped flowers of palest green, ivory, or near yellow. In colder climates, it can be planted as a potted tender perennial in summer containers or grown as a conservatory plant. The blooms produce a heady fragrance in the evening.

    Gardenias (Gardenia spp.)

    ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ gardenia (image by Jessie Keith)

    Gardenias are popular evergreen shrubs with a familiar strong, sweet fragrance. What most don’t know is that they are moth pollinated, which is why their fragrance grows stronger in the evening. Gardenias are considered one of the best southern evergreen shrubs, and the single-flowered ‘Kleim’s Hardyis an exceptional cultivar for the landscape that will reliably survive winters up to USDA Hardiness Zone 7.

    Common Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum)

    The common honeysuckle is a known moth-pollinated woody vine that is both long blooming and high performing. The impressive Proven Winners introduction ‘Scentsation’ has especially fragrant blooms produced on twining, scrambling vines that can reach 20′ or more. The flowers remain open during the day, but like all true moth-pollinated plants, they are most fragrant at night. Common honeysuckle is hardy to USDA Hardiness Zones 4-9.

    Honeysuckle ‘Scentsation’ is ideal for evening gardens, offering unmatched scent and good looks. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

  9. 12 Poisonous Garden Plants to Avoid for Kids and Pets

    Some of the most common ornamental plants are the most deadly!

    When I was seven, I found a beautiful plant covered with pretty purple flowers. I picked a bouquet for my mother, and when I gave it to her, she screamed. They were poisonous nightshade blooms! She rushed me to the bathroom to wash my hands, and repeatedly asked whether I’d put my hands in my mouth. It was so frightening, but my mother’s basic knowledge of toxic plants kept me safe.

    Once I had children, I armed myself with the same knowledge and quickly learned that my garden was full of poisonous plants. Lots of garden favorites pose a true threat to humans, pets, and livestock. The worst contain neurotoxins, able to kill if ingested or even handled. Some have even caused intrigue of historical significance.

    Castor beans (Ricinus communis) contain ricin, a poison famously used in the 1978 assassination of Bulgarian dissident novelist Georgi Markov by Bulgarian secret police using a ricin-injected umbrella. Wolf’s bane (Aconitum spp.) contains aconitine, a common deadly poison of the ancient world that appears repeatedly in Greek and eastern mythology and custom. In fact, and Greeks used aconitum-juice-tipped arrows to kill wolves, hence the common name, while the Japanese used tipped arrows to hunt bear. The deadly Indian rosary pea (Abrus precatorius) has pretty scarlet and black seeds grown for jewelry beads, but they are so lethal, jewelry makers have died handling them with pricked fingers.

    Knowledge is power, which is why I created this list of poisonous garden flowers, shrubs, vines, and trees. If you have pets and/or children, protect them from the plants on this list!

     

    Monkshood (Aconitum spp.)

    Monkshood

    Beautiful hooded purple flowers make this a popular garden perennial, but beware the toxic underside of monkshood. Its deadly poison, aconitine, can enter the body from the skin as well as the mouth, so take caution when cutting it back. Never grow monkshood if you have children or pets. The grape purple flowers are too attractive. Gardeners should also be warned before growing it.

     

    Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum)

    Horse chestnuts

    Robust horse chestnut trees have beautiful white flower clusters in spring that develop into hulled, smooth brown seeds that look like edible chestnuts. Children love the pretty seeds, which were used by UK children to play a game called conkers, but horse chestnuts are toxic if ingested. They contain aesculin, a poison known to cause unconsciousness, paralysis, and even death in humans, livestock, and pets. If you have a horse chestnut, teach older children about their dangers, and keep the nuts away from young children and pets.

     

    Morning Glory (Ipomoea spp.)

    Morning Glory

    Vining morning glories have beautiful flowers that attract bees, hummingbirds, and moths, but their profuse seeds are poisonous. They contain toxic alkaloids that cause disorientation, nausea, and diarrhea, if consumed. The papery seed capsules rattle and release the angled black seeds when crushed, so they attract kids, and occasionally pets. Morning glory seed packets are also a danger, so keep them out of reach of children if you choose to grow these annual vines.

     

    Angel’s Trumpets (Brugmansia and Datura spp.)

    Angel’s Trumpet

    Never grow angel’s trumpets if you have children or pets. Their impressive, trumpet-shaped flowers have garden appeal, but they are fatally poisonous—with many human deaths attributed to them. The plants and seeds contain toxic alkaloids that can kill if ingested. Wear gloves at pruning time, to avoid their toxic sap, and never put pruned stems on the burn pile as their smoke is poisonous to inhale.

    Gardeners should also look out for the common field weed called jimsonweed (Datura stramonium). It is just as toxic as cultivated forms and can appear in the garden unannounced.

     

    Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)

    Lily of the Valley

    Who hasn’t picked delicate stems of fragrant, nodding lily-of-the-valley? They are some of the sweetest garden flowers around, but if ingested, the blooms, orange-red fruits, and leaves can cause blurred vision, slowed heartbeat, collapse, and even death. The toxins convallatoxin and convalloside are to blame. This rampant groundcover should be removed with pets or small children around. Older children and adults should also be warned about its dangers.

    Foxglove

     

    Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea)

    Foxgloves are beautiful, old-fashioned garden flowers, but their dangerous toxins can stop the heart. Foxgloves have been reported to kill livestock, pets, and humans. Children have even been poisoned by drinking the vase water from flower arrangements containing foxgloves. The tall spikes of colorful, tubular blooms are very attractive, so don’t grow them with young ones around. Only well-advised adults should handle the plants or pick their flowers.

     

    English Ivy

    English Ivy (Hedera helix)

    This is one of the most common evergreen groundcovers for landscapes and gardens, but the leaves and fruit are toxic. Touching the leaves can cause severe dermatitis in some people, and ingestion of the leaves and berries can cause severe sickness, and even coma. Warn children about the dangers of this vine, and try to make sure pets don’t eat the leaves. Indoor specimens are especially attractive to cats that attack houseplants.

     

     

    Lantana (Lantana camara)

    Lantana

    The bright tropical colors of lantana flowers brighten many a flower border and container, but sadly all plant parts are toxic, especially the berries. There are many reported cases of human and animal poisonings, so take care when planting these in your garden.

     

    Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)

    Black Cherry Flowers

    The pits, foliage, and branches of black cherry contain the deadly poison, cyanide. Foraging livestock are sometimes killed by eating the leaves of this common Native American tree. The profuse, small, black cherry fruits are also attractive to children. If you have a black cherry that you don’t want to cut down, be sure to keep children and pets far from it at fruiting time.

     

    Oleander (Nerium oleander)

    Oleander

    Commonly planted in Southern gardens, oleander is one of the most poisonous plants you can grow due to the poison, oleandrin. Avoid touching the sap when pruning its branches, and refrain from burning cut stems as the smoke will also emit toxins. The colorful flowers and their nectar are also poisonous.

     

    Castor Bean (Ricinis communis)

    Castor Bean

    Bold castor bean is a popular annual garden plant, but both the plants and their seeds contain the deadly toxin, ricin. The bean-like seeds are so toxic, it is a serious liability to grow castor bean. Children are especially at risk. There are other bolder, prettier garden flowers that can be grown in its place, such as red maple leaf hibiscus (Hibiscus acetosella).

     

    Yew (Taxus spp.)

    Yew

    This popular landscape evergreen bears juicy, red berries with green centers that look appetizing to kids, but the green centers are poisonous along with all other plant parts. There are reports of animals dying from eating the foliage, so be cautious if you have yews. Keep your children from the berries and pets from the foliage.

    For more information about poisonous plants visit these websites:

    ASPCA Toxic Plants List for Pets

    Canadian Poisonous Plants Information System

    Texas A&M Poisonous Plants List

    The US government’s toll-free Poison Help line, 1-800-222-1222, connects you to your local poison center, in case of plant ingestion.

    Read the Fafard disclaimer here.

  10. Growing Eggplant in the Garden

    Eggplant come in many shapes, sizes, and colors.

    Eggplant is a staple in African, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines, where growing temperatures are hot. Think beyond the standard purple varieties you find at the grocery store. Green, ivory, rose, and magenta types of various shapes and lengths exist, and the best are mild and have few seeds. Some are even ornamental. The biggest challenge to growing them is battling a few common pests. Once these are tackled, plants will reward you with lots of fruits for Szechuan eggplant, eggplant Parmesan, ratatouille, and baba ganoush.

    African Eggplant

    The Indian ‘Petch Siam’ is a round, green eggplant favored for curries.

    There are many unique types of eggplant grown in Africa, most being variants of the African eggplant (Solanum aethiopicum). The ‘Striped Togo’ is an ornamental variety of African eggplant sold in the US, which has small, egg-shaped fruits of electric orange with green stripes. They are edible but have a very strong flavor, so most opt to add stems of the pretty fruits to late summer and fall arrangements. ‘Turkish Orange’ (Solanum aethiopicum ‘Turkish Orange’) is another African variety with fruits that age to brilliant orange red. These are larger and edible when green.

    Several African eggplant varieties are popular in Brazilian cooking and classified as Gilo (or Jiló) eggplant. They are small, bitter, harvested green, and include the small, pear-shaped ‘Comprido Verde Claro’, and round, more bitter ‘Morro Redondo’. Due to limited demand, these unusual eggplant have yet to be adopted by American seed companies, so they are hard to find in the US.

    Mediterranean and Middle Eastern Eggplant

    ‘Black Beauty’ is the most common eggplant variety grown in the US.

    The common eggplant or aubergine (Solanum melongena), is the most familiar eggplant to western palates and gardens. It has been grown and selected for hundreds of years in southerly regions of Europe and throughout the Middle East. One of the best from the Mediterranean is the classic Italian heirloom ‘Rosa Bianca’, with its broad, short, mild fruits covered with thin, lavender and cream skin. The French heirloom ‘Ronde de Valence’ is another unique but delicious eggplant that is deep purple, grapefruit-sized, and almost perfectly round. For a large-fruited, heat-tolerant eggplant, choose the Iraqi variety ‘Aswad’ (meaning “black” in Arabic), a new offering from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed. Its dark, pleated fruits can reach a massive 3 lbs.

    Eggplant ‘Gretel’ (Image by AAS Winners)

    One American eggplant with a classic pear shape and purple-black skin is ‘Black Beauty’. The 1902 heirloom from Burpee has large fruits with good flavor. Two more American varieties include the AAS winners ‘Gretel‘ (2009 winner), which is petite and has white fruits, and the compact ‘Fairy Tale’ (2005 winner) with its small stature and white-striped purple fruits. Both are very productive and good for small-space gardening.

    Asian Eggplant

    ‘Pingtung Long’ eggplant

    Eggplant varieties from Asia are noted for their elongated shape, low seed count, and mild flavor. Many were bred in Southeast Asia and have an unusually high tolerance to heat and drought. The brilliant purple ‘Machiaw‘ is a tender, mild, thin-skinned variety that always produces well. For exceptional heat tolerance, choose ‘Pingtung Long‘ an heirloom from Taiwan that produces loads 16″-18″ long magenta fruits through the hottest days of summer. The dark purple ‘Orient Express‘ is an early, tender variety popular in many gardens. Finally, for something more unusual, try the Indian ‘Petch Siam‘, a small, green, striped eggplant favored for curries.

    Growing and Harvesting Eggplant

    Flea beetle damage on an eggplant leaf.

    Growing eggplant is not too complicated. Provide them with full sun, warm summer days, good soil with adequate drainage, a little vegetable fertilizer, and water, and they will grow well. (Amend their soil with Fafard Garden Manure Blend before planting, and they will grow even better!) The biggest challenge to their success are two common pests: flea beetles and Colorado potato beetles.

    These two pests will destroy plants if given the chance. Flea beetles are tiny, shiny black, and invade in large numbers, hopping from leaf to leaf sucking the juices from the foliage, leaving behind a mass of pock marks. (Read more about these pests here.) To reduce populations, clean old plant debris in fall (where these pests overwinter), till beds in spring, and plant eggplant in late spring to early summer to avoid spring hatches of this pest. Spraying with insecticidal soap or pyrethrin sprays will kill adult beetles and protect plants from summer damage.

    Striped Colorado potato beetles lay masses of yellow eggs on the undersides of eggplant leaves in spring. Brownish orange larvae emerge that aggressively feed on leaves. As they grow larger, they cause more damage and can completely defoliate young eggplants. The best protection is to inspect plants for egg masses and remove them on sight. The beetles and larvae are also easy to remove by hand. (Learn more about these pests here.)

    Most fruits are ready to harvest when they are fully colored and firm to the touch, while giving slightly when pressed with a finger. Fruits that are too old begin to turn yellow. At this point, they are too seedy and strong to eat.

    Eggplant are delicious, easy to grow, and make a great addition to any summer garden. Add them to pasta sauces or your favorite eggplant dishes! They also freeze well for winter storage.

    Orange ‘Striped Togo’ African eggplants in a harvest bowl with tomatoes.