Friday, July 31, 2009


There is monarch butterfly in my yard! It's taken all summer, but one finally came to visit my Joe-Pye weed! I love how the flowerhead in the above picture is bending towards the butterfly, as if acknowledging how long it's been and volunteering to help him out.

Here's a nice close-up:

Unfortunately this guy wasn't feeling very photogenic and I couldn't get a shot of him with wings opened. But the important part is that he was here in the first place. Then, when I wrapped up my little photo shoot he got spooked and flew away, so hopefully I'll see him again. This is the first butterfly I've seen actually hanging out here since that swallowtail that's in my header photo (which has obviously been there a long time). What great timing for getting the camera working again! Have a good weekend everybody!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

We are Experiencing Technical Difficulties...

So I took pictures of my tall coreopsis (C. tripteris) to make a post today about this plant's positive attributes, unfair (I think) reputation, and struggles in this year's weather. Yet when it was time to transfer those pictures and create the post, I found my camera is having some problem with its memory card, and to be honest I think it's on its last legs.

So, please stand by for photos. But I will at least give you the gist of my thoughts on tall coreopsis.

Mine is about 4 years old now, and every summer it's one of the anchors of the prairie corner in my front bed. Cheery yellow flowers and bamboo-like foliage make it attractive from the time it peeks out of the ground until frost. It's between 3' and 4' tall and therefore easily noticeable without being domineering. This year, however, the poor thing is listing to the side, vainly reaching for the sunlight that has been so sorely lacking. It usually blooms by early to mid-July but it's just now setting out buds (it's almost August!!)

Nevertheless, I'm eagerly awaiting its saffron flowers with brown centers. The foliage has looked exotic and verdant all year, despite the slow blooming (which I can't blame on the plant itself).

I've read many times that this plant can be aggressive, but I have yet to see evidence of that. Sure, it's grown in width, but I haven't found any runners/shoots, it's not muscling out any of its neighbors, and in general it seems to be a well-behaved, well-adjusted plant. Perhaps my nutrient-poor clay is slowing it down, but so far I've got no complaints.

So that's my two cents about tall coreopsis. Has anyone else had any experience with this plant? I will post pictures once I have a working camera again. Hopefully by next Bloom Day it will have copious flowers on display!

And because I feel weird making a post without images, here's some random shots from a family friend's home in southern Baja California, Mexico.

Here's some huge aloes...

...and what is this pretty desert flower? (Southern bloggers, I'm looking your way!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Agony and the Ecstasy

I have a curious relationship with annuals. On the one hand, I don't like their lack of commitment. My garden is filled with perennials because I want plants I can trust to stick with me and be there year after year. On the other hand, annuals are a dalliance and chance to try new things, which is also good for keeping the garden vibrant and interesting.

From college until the time I owned a home, I gardened almost exclusively in containers. I filled these with annuals because I was never in one location for more than 12 consecutive months (standard lease agreement time). But since settling on one property I've neglected container gardening, getting lazier with it each passing year. This year has been the pinnacle of laziness, and I'm so disappointed with my lack of effort that I'm determined to improve next year.

So what does this have to do with annuals? It has resulted in a very short list of my best and worst annuals for the meme by Mr. McGregor's Daughter. Let's start with the best:

I've waxed poetic about this coleus for most of the summer now, and this plant's performance is the driving force behind my decision to improve my container gardening. I really should have used these beautiful foliage plants with other flowers to take advantage of their colors and textures. Instead, I plopped them all in this pot with my spearmint in the middle. At the very least I should have planted some of these in the garden beds. There's enough shade around here that they could have spiced up some dull areas!

(These neon leaves are a perfect example of what I like about annuals--something eye-catching and different from my general color scheme, but not something I'll have to look at for years.)

(Gasping for breath to left of the coleus is my spearmint.)

In another example of container laziness that has still managed to produce prettiness, here's my Spring Fling Supertunias, still going strong in a partly shady spot on my front patio.

(I know they supposedly don't need deadheading, but I still pick off the spent flowers. Except, not in this picture I guess...)

Now for the worst:

These are 'Velvet Queen' sunflowers that I had such high hopes for. I've failed at growing sunflowers before by sowing them in places that were too shady, so this past year I watched and planned and sowed these in the sunniest place I have. And thanks to a cloudy, rainy summer, I've got these lovely leaves and no sunflowers. I'm still hoping they'll make a miraculous comeback by late August, but I'm not holding my breath.

(Sunflower failure: is it the weather, the flowers, or me?)

That's part of what makes me dissatisfied with annuals: I don't have next year to enjoy some beautiful, deep-coral sunflowers, I'm just out of luck. But as hope springs eternal, I'm confident that next year I'll get around to planting some decent containers and improving my record with annuals. They embody the constant renewal and continual opportunities of the garden!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Garden All-Stars

Having just passed the halfway point of the season, it's still too early to start talking about the MVP, but the all-stars of this year's garden have made their presence felt.

Without a doubt, this coleus is a starter on the team of elites. Started from seed in mid-winter, this vibrantly colored annual has been making a splash since it sprouted. Its coloration is unpredictable because these plants came from random seeds all grown together. But the purples, magentas, chartreuses, and shades of green have provided kaleidoscopic interest all year. The plants are growing so vigorously that they're engulfing the spearmint buried in the center of this container. (Please excuse the chew holes, most likely from earwigs.)

(I know this shot is blurry, but it gives you a sense of the variegation in the individual plants. And all from a 99-cent pack of seeds!)

Another definite all-star, and strong contender for rookie of the year, is the group of obedient plants (Physostegia virginiana).

While most of my first-year plants are just getting acclimated to the big leagues, these moisture-loving guys have flourished in this year's soggy conditions. Consequently, all four of them are blooming, and those in the rain garden are the only blooms of the year in this new garden.

(These pictures don't really do the flowers justice. They are a light lavender, shading to purple at the edges of the petals, with little flecks of dark purple inside the tubular-shaped flowers. You can get a closer look by clicking on any of the pictures.)

Giving the Physostegias a run for the money in the ROY race is this big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla), whose performance has only improved since its feature in my last Bloom Day post.

(I think the juxtaposition between the dainty flowers and disproportionately large leaves is very amusing!)

(Here is a slightly blurry look at the flowers that gives you a better sense of their light purple coloring than my Bloom Day picture.)

It's no surprise to see Joe Pye back on the all-star team, where he's been for the last three years. At a robust 5' tall, Joe is really hitting his stride and enjoying the fewer japanese beetles this year because they usually feast on his foliage.

(This plant is lovely not even in full bloom yet.)

Of course, we can't leave out the plants whose first-half performances will be remembered for the rest of the season. The peonies are certainly all-stars, and the Canadian columbines had another great year. As I just mentioned in that same Bloom Day post (see link above), the flowers have just now petered out after a spectacular spring performance.
(Somehow I missed getting pictures of these pink peonies at their peak. Here they were slightly ragged, but still vibrantly colorful.)

Who will be this year's MVP? And what plants will make a late push to grab a spot on the all-star team? Will the smooth blue asters overcome some foliage issues for a strong fall performance? The tall coreopsis is late to bloom, but will it match previous years' activity? Stay tuned!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bloom Day--July

There is no such thing as a "typical" year or, even less realistically, "typical" weather. This simple idea is being borne out in the garden here at the height of summer, which at times hasn't been very summery at all (although we are now enjoying low 80s, low humidity, and blue skies).

For example, Canadian columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) should be long gone at this point, yet here are some new blooms:

(Sorry for the blurriness)

Another oddity is my Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), which should have started blooming at least a week ago but is just now starting to blossom.

(A closer look at an emergent bloom from another angle)

That is the Salvia 'Plumosa' below the Joe-Pye weed. It's still going strong and maintaining my salvia puddle, although it's starting to look tired, if you ask me. (And yes those are stakes you see. I admit it--I stake these salvias.)

In more, well, typical developments, my astilbe is blooming steadily if not grandly. After its near-death experience last year, I'm just happy to have it blooming at all.

I like the astilbe next to the Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum) because of the symmetry of their shapes and the pink panicles next to the frosty green and purple foliage.

(The plants look nice; too bad all around them is mulch-less ugly barrenness.)

This big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla) is the only one blooming out of the four I planted this spring, but I'm not complaining about that ratio.

Seeing as this is the "sleep" year out of the "sleep, creep, leap" cycle, I'm pleased to have any blooms. Although in this picture the flower looks white, in person it's a very pale shade of lavender, a nice surprise.

I've given up on trying to remove the flowers of my cilantro plants to maintain vigorous foliage growth. I've just been too busy and they're too prolific, so now I'm hoping for some reseeding. They make an interesting, lacy little understory to the columbine foliage.

And how could the July garden be complete without at least one daylily? Right now one is all I have blooming:

(Anyone recognize this cultivar? It was here when I got here.)

Here is the same daylily next to a spent spirea, which had baby pink flowers when it bloomed. That's right--light pink flowers next to bright yellow and orange flowers. Offensive to the eyes, even just in your imagination!

For those of you who won books through Elizabeth's crazy color combo contest on Garden Rant, you should be glad that these weren't in bloom at that time. I would have been a runaway winner. Seriously, what was I thinking when I put those spireas there??

And although these aren't technically blooms, I have some darling little bell peppers growing that I wanted to display.

(Almost too cute to eat, but not quite.)

Happy bloom day to all! For more see Carol at May Dreams Garden!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Experiment Update

I don't have indisputable results yet, let me be clear about that up front. But I am seeing some differences between my asters that underwent the milk solution/dormant oil experiment (full details in this link). Click on any photo for a closer look.

Here is the smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laevis) sprayed with the dormant oil solution. Unfortunately, it still has these brown spots that are spreading to newer leaves. However, this doesn't appear to be powdery mildew, so I guess that's a positive, but this plant is definitely struggling. It's also still a snack for the local rabbit, which is apparently enjoying the soapy vinaigrette.

Here is the aster sprayed with the milk solution. The white cast is dried milk, not mildew. So far the discolorations on the lowers leaves haven't spread to more foliage.

Since neither of these plants are dealing with an out-and-out mildew infection, it's impossible for me to say definitively whether milk or the dormant oil is the better fungicide. But the milk solution does seem to be keeping the plant healthier than the oil, at this point. I must admit, however, that the control aster is doing the best of all:

Results are even less clear with the monardas. Here's one:

And the other:

Can you tell a difference? I couldn't either! (For the record the first one had the milk and the second had the dormant oil.) Neither has powdery mildew or any other noticeable fungal infection, so that's great! I guess both solutions are working equally in that regard. But both of these monardas are being chewed relentlessly by insects, and neither solution is helping that problem. I suppose that's why "dormant oil" is meant to be applied when a plant is dormant!

Here's a look at one of the control monardas. As you can see, it looks just like the others.

I will probably apply another round of my solutions this week because we've had more cool rainy weather (what a shock!). I'll keep you posted on more developments, and I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Garden Experiment

Aptly observed by Carol at May Dreams Gardens, certain things are missing so far this summer. In my garden, powdery mildew is conspicuous in its absence. In the past it has descended on my garden early in the season, around June (when it murdered the monardas), and later, in August (last year in the aster attack).

But I'm not letting down my guard. We had months of soggy weather capped by deluges a couple weeks ago; now it hasn't rained in over a week (10 days? Almost two weeks? I lost track). I'm concerned that these adverse conditions could give the dreaded mildew an opportunity to maim the confused and struggling plants. So on the advice of some extremely helpful readers/bloggers, I am applying the proverbial ounce of prevention.

I have complained about my battles with powdery mildew in the past, and based on the comments from that post I have devised a little experiment with my new monardas (M. fistulosa) and smooth blue asters (Symphyotrichum laevis).

Garden Girl did some research and discovered that a milk/water mixture is recommended for mildew problems. I took a one quart spray bottle and made a 1:3 mixture of milk and water. I used 2% milk. Here's a look at a milk-mixture-sprayed aster.

(Got milk?)

I also sprayed one of the monardas with this mixture.

Gail suggested a recipe she learned courtesy of P. Allen Smith. I whipped it together and sprayed it on a second aster and a second monarda.

(This aster has ominous brown spots, now coated with dormant oil mix. My apologies for the harsh afternoon lighting.)

In one gallon of water, I mixed 1 heaping tablespoon of baking soda, one tablespoon of vegetable oil and one teaspoon of dish soap.

(Here is the monarda with an oil-illuminated spider web in the bottom left.)

Of course, any experiment must have a control, so I left my third smooth blue aster un-sprayed, as well as my other two monardas. What will I learn? Well, it could be a lot or nothing at all. Maybe one mixture will prove effective and the plants sprayed with the other will succumb to the mildew. Maybe both sprays will help and the controls will go down. Maybe every plant will survive unscathed because powdery mildew never gets near my garden this year (yeah, right). We'll have to see what happens!

(Milky monarda with spider web. Both mixtures look similar when sprayed, as the soap resembles the watered-down milk.)

On a side note, the baking soda-oil-soap mix was recommended to prevent insect damage, which is also a problem here. The asters are being eaten by a rabbit, but the monardas are suffering from some insect pest, I haven't figured out exactly what (likely earwigs since japanese beetles have been nowhere to be found). So I will also be watching to see if this "dormant oil" application cuts down on the bug damage!

And just for kicks, here's a gratuitous picture of my astilbe, which is blooming for the first time in two years! It's proof that for every challenge in the garden, there is another reward waiting!

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