Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Well Worth the Wait

How's that title for some alliteration?? Well, that's how I feel right now. My midsummer natives are taking their time to bloom, but their eventual arrival has been sweet.

In fact, these bee balm (Monarda fistulosa) have been three years in the making! They're finally blooming after a few years of struggling with powdery mildew. I'm so glad I refrained from pulling them out in a fit of frustration! The bumblebees are happy about it too.

Ready for more alliterative effects? It's also the season of purple plants for pollinators:

This species hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) had a wonderful year last year and they have seeded prolifically, which is fine with me. Before realizing I had lots of little seedlings, I also added some 'Blue Fortune':

Also rewarding me after a couple years of patience are purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea).

I know, I know, these are some of the easiest and most popular flowers to grow, but for some reason they've struggled here. But now it's coneflowers-a-plenty around here, with the yellow ones (Ratbida pinnata) going crazy as well.

Soon there will be more wildflowers in full bloom, such as my cardinal flower, Joe-Pye weed, asters and goldenrods. All well worth the wait as well, I'm sure!

To see more wildflowers, visit Gail at Clay and Limestone, the most gracious host of Wildflower Wednesday!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Where's the Chard?

Hey, did anyone else not get their Swiss Chard seeds from One Seed Chicago? I was so excited that chard won, and through what must be some snafu, my seeds never arrived! I voted for chard and even tried to spread the word through this blog! So it is a sad irony they never got here. But, if anyone has a suggestion on who to contact at One Seed Chicago and/or NeighborSpace, please leave me a comment. I'd like to try a fall crop if I can get them.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

July Bloom Day--Happy to be Here

It was a wild week that saw intense, hurricane-force winds wreak havoc across the Chicagoland area, and at my house we lost power for three days. Now that the electricity has been restored it is a relief to be home and posting for Bloom Day, hosted monthly by Carol at May Dreams Garden. So without further ado...

There are lots of umbels blooming in my front garden right now, namely these cilantros which have bolted and the 'Moonshine' yarrows still going strong in the background.

Hyssops (Agastache foeniculum) are starting to bloom...

...as the native monardas (M. fistulosa). Finally! I guess my threats to them last year made an impression.

I have no idea how or when these got here...they're some type of Rudbeckia I think, but which kind? Possibly the classic Black-Eyed Susan (R. hirta), but I honestly don't know!

These Candy Oh! roses from Proven Winners were a free trial last year...I've done no spraying or maintenance and they seem fine. I don't love their really small blooms but they're bringing some color to a forgotten spot on the side of the house.

There is a sea of salvia nemorosa 'Plumosa' mixing with prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)...

...and daylilies...

...including this great wine-colored passalong from Mr. McGregor's Daughter. Unfortunately it's languishing in a rather dry spot (although everything is languishing in dry conditions, but that's another story).

In the rain garden swamp milkweed (Ascelpias incarnata) is blooming...

...but the most interesting plants in the whole garden right now are these yellow coneflowers (Ratbida pinnata):

I planted these last fall and they've exploded! Pretty much all the blurry greenery behind these flowers are more yellow coneflowers. I can't wait until they're all in full bloom; it should be gorgeous. On the downside, I think they've crowded out all my nodding wild onion (Allium cernuum), which are conspicuously absent after a lovely show last year.

I've included this picture to give you a sense of how tall these flowers are. That fence? It's four-and-a-half feet high. As you can see the yellow coneflowers clear it by about six inches. I had no idea these would get so tall and robust! I now need to figure out how to balance them so they don't choke out anything else!

For those of you in the Chicago area, I hope your gardens came through this week unscathed. It's shaping up to be quite the challenging year for gardening, between the cold, rainy spring, severe storms, and now weeks of hot drought (the rain Monday fell so fast it didn't make much of a difference). It's time for tough plants to act as such!

Also blooming, not pictured:
Coral bells
Big-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla)
Rattlesnake master (Eryngium yuccifolium)

PS-Yes I know I'm a little early with this post but it's Friday tomorrow, and I didn't want to risk missing Bloom Day due to weekend laziness. I hope you understand.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


This is a crime scene.

These are the grisly photos of plant homicide, and the victims are purple prairie clovers (Dalea purpurea).

The identity of the murderer (or murderers)? Rabbits, at least one. We've had a minimum of one rabbit take up residence in our yard and it was spotted at the scene of the crime (multiple times). Whether there are additional accomplices has not been determined, but what I do know is that rather than enjoying these rare prairie beauties that should look like this (while starting to bloom)...

...and in combo with the yellow and pink of yarrows and remaining columbines...

...I'm stuck with this sad, sorry sight of decapitated stems:

The only silver lining to this cloud is that I'm pretty confident that the tulip murderer from this spring was the very same rabbit (or rabbits). And, I will now diligently research what products can prevent rabbit damage and go on the offensive. Especially next spring when these are sprouting.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Best $20 I Ever Spent

It may not look like much, but the APS40 Seed Starting Kit from Gardener's Supply Company revolutionized seed growing around here. It consists of a water reservoir, moisture wicking mat, a styrofoam pegboard and seed cells, and of course a plastic cover to retain moisture before seed germination.

Historically I've had problems with watering seedlings. Either I water too much and they end up damping off, or I water too little and they dry up. What's worse, whether I'm watering well or not, the force of even a small stream of water from a watering can often damages delicate seedling stems, which for me has led to the loss of many healthy seedlings that just got flattened and never recovered.

So I thought to myself this past winter that I would finally invest in a seed growing kit that was self-watering. I chose the APS 40 after much research because the water wicking mat was supposed to keep soil moist for five days (which to me sounded like a long time between refillings).

When it first arrived I was wary that the styrofoam pieces would be cheap and flimsy. So far this year, through two rounds of seedlings, they've held up remarkably well with no real cracking or flaking of little pieces to speak of. As for the water refilling timetable, five days was a massive underestimate! There were times my APS 40 went for two full weeks (i.e., 14 days not 10) before I had to refill the reservoir with water, all the while keeping the soilless mix evenly and thoroughly moist. To ensure it works, you've got to follow the directions closely and be sure the mix is well connected with the mat to keep the water wicking up. But if I could make this work successfully, I'm confident that just about anyone can do it.

My other reservation was that popping the seedlings out of the styrofoam cells would be difficult. Getting seedlings out of plastic trays has always been my bugbear with transplanting. In all honesty, I was flabbergasted at how easy it was to get the seedlings out. A little push from the bottom side and they came right out, with a perfectly intact root system. This feature was quite possibly the best part of the entire system.

To show you how crappy our spring and early summer weather has been, I am just now packing away my APS40, and it's July 3rd! About a week ago I finally transplanted my last basils and coleus plants, which had to wait as long as they did because of dreary, cool weather through much of early June. Clean up of the seed starting kit was the proverbial breeze: I rinsed the reservoir, pegboard and seedling cells, and I soaked the water wicking mat (per the directions) in some bleach water and it's now drying on my porch, waiting to be packed away with the other clean, dry components.

If you've struggled with seedling issues like damping off, forgetting to water them, crushing them while transplanting, or just general frustration at how much babying they need, I highly recommend you shell out $20 for an APS 40 (or APS 24 if you start fewer seeds). Gardener's Supply also sells replacement parts in case those styrofoam pieces turn out to be flimsy. (However, I skipped their seed starting soil mix because seriously, I can get perfectly good soilless mix for a fraction of the price with no shipping cost at my local garden center.) If you're thinking of starting cool-season vegetables in your air conditioned house for a fall crop, you would be wise to consider it!

As you can probably judge by the title of this post, I bought the APS 40 with my own money and received no inducement or compensation from Gardener's Supply Company to write this review.

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