Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blue Star Creeper

It is unlikely that any ground cover will ever be as popular as turf grass.  It is beautiful when well-maintained, tolerates a lot of foot traffic and makes a fine surface for entertaining and sports.  Many types are available, so it's not difficult to find one for almost any climate and soil type.  What's more, turf grass is conventional and doesn't raise eyebrows.  On the other hand, turf grass requires frequent maintenance, which can become rather expensive.  Furthermore, it is not particularly interesting, so some homeowners seek alternatives.

There are a host of substitutes, and Blue Star Creeper is a good one.  It may be that the most difficult thing to know about the plant is its name.  It has been called Isotoma  (pronounced eye-SOT-oh-muh), Laurentia (law-REN-tee-uh), Lobelia (low-BEE-lee-ah) and Pratia (PRAT-ee-uh), and those are just the genera.  The species names have been as many and confusing.

The genus is native to parts of Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Tiny green leaves form a low, dense mat that is evergreen in warmer climates or semi-evergreen in cooler ones.  Small, light blue flowers bloom from spring to fall.  Mature height is 3". Spreads to 18".  It tolerates some foot traffic, but not much.  Use it where you want a low-maintenance cover at a distance from high-traffic areas.  It's perfect around patios and between stepping stones, but bear in mind that foliage and stems that spread over the edges of hard surfaces will be crushed if mashed.

As with many ornamental plants, Blue Star Creeper can be toxic if ingested in large amounts, and may cause skin irritation in sensitive persons.

Blue Star Creeper is often used in container gardens where it forms a nice mat beneath taller plant subjects, and it makes an effective ground cover beneath small deciduous trees, landscape shrubs and other perennials.  It grows densely enough when established to smother many less aggressive weeds.

It thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5 or 6 to 10 in fertile, well-drained, slightly moist soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Blue Star Creeper will not tolerate consistently wet soil.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 18" to 24" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant Blue Star Creeper with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

It has no serious pests and few diseases.  Warm, wet soil may encourage common fungal diseases which can cause some problems if not treated, but the best way to avoid them is to plant in a proper environment as mentioned before.

If you're looking for a low-maintenance, low-profile, quickly growing ground cover with a long bloom season, consider Blue Star Creeper.

Return to Pratia at goGardenNow.com.

Lamium

If you were offered a basket of dead nettle, you might be put off by the suggestion for nettles are well-known for their stinging hairs.  I dare say there isn't one of us who hasn't run across them as children or brushed against them with our bare limbs and felt the consequences.  Nettles are synonymous with stinging.  To be nettlesome is to be very irritating.  Dead or alive, you wouldn't want them.

But wait, the name unfairly invokes distrust of a very charming genus of perennial plants, Lamium, native mostly to Europe.  The botanical name, (pronounced LAY-mee-um), which means "dead nettle", refers to the hairy surfaces of the plant which do not sting.  Thus, they are "dead."  One of the most popular ornamental species is L. maculatum (pronounced mak-you-LAY-tum), meaning "spotted."  Lamium belongs to the Mint family, Lamiaceae.

It's easy to recognize Lamium's relationship to mints.  Leaves are ovate and toothed.  The most popular varieties are variegated.  The flowers are fairly large compared to mints, usually pink in color and having two lips, and are produced repeatedly throughout the growing season.  The fragrance is not as pleasing as its tasty cousins.  Lamium grows about 12" high and spreads by runners to about 12" across.  It attracts bees and butterflies.

Lamium is suitable as a ground cover and in container gardens.  It's beautiful planted at the base of stone walls and other such structures.  Plant plenty of it for the bees and butterflies, and in your herb garden.  You'll also love it for its seasonal color; the foliage is nearly evergreen and displays a nice plum shade in winter.

Lamium thrives in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 3 to 9 or 10 in fertile, well-drained, slightly moist soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 8.5.  It's somewhat drought-tolerant when established.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 12" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Because it likes well-drained soil, plant Lamium with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

Lamium has no serious pests or diseases, and deer don't like it.  The greatest cause of failure is planting it in an environment that is not to its liking.

Lamium does not spread as rapidly or as far as its relative, Lamiastrum.  The plant is much more compact and as beautiful.  However, if you have to cover a large area, Lamiastrum may be the better choice.  Considering its beauty, adaptability to a wide range of climates and soil conditions, Lamium should be one of the top choices for your garden.

Return to Lamium at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Yellow Archangel


Yellow Archangel.  The name evokes a visitor from on high.  I suppose it's derived from the appearance of the flower which is yellow and appears to be winged.  Its botanical name is Lamiastrum (pronounced lay-mee-ACE-trum) galeobdolon (pronounced gay-lee-OB-doh-lon) and refers to characteristics not so lofty.  Translated, it means "resembles dead nettle and smells like a weasel."  Thus, its other common name is "dead nettle", which it shares with Lamium (pronounced LAY-mee-um).  Sometimes, in fact, Lamiastrum is included in the genus, Lamium.  Both plants belong to Lamiaceae, the Mint family.

At once, you'll recognize Lamiastrum's relationship to mints in foliage and flower.  Leaf shape is ovate and toothed, the most popular varieties being variegated.  The flower is similarly shaped but much larger than other mints.  The fragrance, however, is not so pleasing.  Lamiustrum grows up to 18" high and spreads up to 24" by runners.  It does attract bees and butterflies. 

Lamiastrum is native to much of Europe, but was introduced to North America as an ornamental plant.  Finding much to its liking, the plant has made itself at home.  Which is fine if you really like it, as I do.  The foliage is beautiful and the flowers are very attractive.  It is most effective as a ground cover, especially in light shade.  Provided that its needs are met, it requires little maintenance.  It thrives in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 4 to 9 in well-drained soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 8.5.  It's somewhat drought-tolerant when established.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants. 

Space the plants 18" to 24" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Because it likes well-drained soil, plant Lamiastrum with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.  Over-watering is the most frequent cause of failure.

Lamiastrum has no serious pests or diseases.  What's more, deer don't like it.  As mentioned before, the greatest cause of failure is over-watering.

Should you include Lamiastrum in your garden?  In some parts of the country such as the Pacific Northwest, it is considered invasive.  Check with your local Cooperative Extension office to determine whether it is appropriate for your area.  Lamiastrum does exactly what a good ground cover should; it covers ground beautifully.

Return to Lamiastrum at goGardenNow.com.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ornaments On The Wing


Sitting at the window viewing the congregation about our bird feeders and bath, I was impressed once again with the beauty and cheer that songbirds bring to us, especially this time of year.  The day was rainy and cold.  Bright red cardinals caught my eye.  They are so called because the color is reminiscent of the red robes worn by Roman Catholic cardinals.  Winging among the Southern Magnolias and feasting on the sunflower seeds we provide, I thought of them as Christmas ornaments.  It seldom snows here in south Georgia, but I remember enjoying the wonderful contrast of red against white that I've seen during winter visits to the snowy north.  They are no less beautiful against the monochromatic shades of a rainy day.

Within moments, a blue jay appeared in his royal splendor.  Like kings, they tend to dominate the scene, but they are beautiful, indeed.  Other species displaying silver, black and white reminded me of tinsel.

This is the time of year when birds are on the move, migrating as cold weather approaches from their summer playgrounds to far-away places.  If you watch carefully, you may see some of the following colorful species passing through that are not often seen in your area.
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks - The black head and red breast patch on white distinguishes the males.   Females are heavily streaked with brown and white.  They winter in Mexico and northern South America.
  • Purple Finches - These raspberry-colored friends, about the size of sparrows, love bird feeders during winter months.
  • Rufous-Sided Towhees - You'll find them kicking up leaves and debris on the ground.  Their black heads, backs, white undersides and orangish sides are quite handsome.  They don't go far during winter, shifting only a bit southward.
  • Orioles - Northern and Baltimore, are quite striking with their bright orange bodies.  They're headed to southern Mexico and beyond.  They love fruit and jelly.
  • American Goldfinches - Their bright yellow colors fade in winter, but remain very attractive.  They spend the winter near the Gulf Coast and in Mexico.
  • Painted Buntings - These gaudy creatures tend to be shy.  I don't know why.  You may find them around feeding stations in the South.  They go to the Gulf Coast, Bahamas, Mexico and onward to Panama during our winter months.
  • Indigo Buntings - These gorgeous birds appear to be dark blue, but they are actually black.  The blue results from light diffraction on the feathers.  They're also headed to Mexico, Panama and the West Indies.  Wouldn't it be nice to go with them?
These are but a few of the many wonderful species I could mention.  If you would like a better chance of enjoying them, provide something for their journeys along the way.  Add a few more bird feeders to your station.  Stock up on bird seed, fruit and other favorite foods.  Don't forget to keep your bird baths filled and warmed.  If you experience freezing weather, heated baths will be especially welcome.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Answers To Our Community Poll Ending November 30, 2009

Our Community Poll ending November 30, 2009 at goGardenNow.com asked the question, "What do you think about organic fruits and vegetables?
  • There is no real difference between organic and non-organic produce.
  • Organic produce is fine if you can get it, but not worth any inconvenience.
  • I'd buy organic produce if it didn't cost so much.
  • I'll suffer any inconvenience and pay any price for organic produce.
29% of respondents said "there is no real difference between organic and non-organic produce."  71% of respondents said "I'd buy organic produce if it didn't cost so much."  None responded to the other two questions.  What this tells me is that most respondents think that organic produce is desirable, but not worth paying the extra price. Keep in mind that this is not a scientific survey, but only reflects the opinions of a select group.

Our current Community Poll asks the question, "Are you putting up a Christmas tree this year?"  Let us know what you think.  Go to goGardenNow.com, navigate away from the Home Page; our Customer Testimonials page is as good as any.  You'll find the Community Poll in the right hand column.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Behind A Garden Wall: The Georgia Southern Botanical Garden

Nestled near the campus of Georgia Southern University, a quiet place awaits harried students, faculty and the Statesboro community.  Passersby on busy Fair Road might not know the garden even exists, since it is mostly concealed behind native hardwoods and shrubbery.  If not for a discreet sign, one might glimpse down the modest allee and mistake it for a quaint residence.

In fact, the Georgia Southern Botanical Garden was once a farmstead near The First District Agricultural and Mechanical School, an institution established in 1906.  Mr. Dan Bland and his wife, Catharine, established their farm of more than 50 acres in 1916 shortly after their marriage.  There they lived and worked for many decades growing cotton, vegetables, hogs, chickens and cows as the school and community grew up around them.

Mr. Dan was not only a farmer, a high calling indeed, but also an avid plant enthusiast with special interest in native species.  In 1985, he willed the remaining 6.5 acres of his property including his cottage and outbuildings to the Georgia Southern College Foundation for use as a botanical garden.  It was, as Wendell Berry put it, a "gift of good land."  The garden has been undergoing constant improvement and growth since.  Many of the plants in Mr. Dan's collection, including camellias, azaleas and the allee of magnolias and hollies are an important part of the garden's landscape. 

The school underwent transformations, becoming a Teacher's College, then a liberal arts college.  In 1990, the college gained university status, and is now the third largest in Georgia.  In 2006, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching classified Georgia Southern University as a doctoral/research institution.

The GS Botanical Garden offers educational and recreational opportunities to the community as well as to university faculty and students.  Educational tours, seminars, workshops, and other special events are often conducted.  The Garden is also a popular site for social gatherings such as weddings, parties and wine-tastings.

A walking tour of the garden features landscaping with native plants, a heritage garden including old-fashioned plant varieties and cultivars, a butterfly garden, rose arbor, the allee, a woodland trail, the cottage and restored outbuildings.  Of special interest is the recently constructed water conservation area which features permeable paving, a rain garden and retention systems.  A visitor may also view many protected plant species that are part of the Garden's collection.  Art work by faculty and students enhances the landscape.

This unique botanical garden affords a wonderful perspective on gardening in the Deep South and Georgia's Coastal Plain.  When I stroll around the grounds, I think of Wendell Berry and that line in his essay, An Excellent Farmstead, "Everywhere you look you see the signs of care."  That is precisely what the Blands willed.  If you're in the area, make it a point to visit.  Hours and policies are posted on the Garden's web site.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Tips for Choosing and Caring For Your Christmas Tree

'Tis the season to decorate your home for Christmas, if you're so inclined, and the Christmas tree is usually a featured item.  Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your tree.

Size is usually the first consideration when choosing a tree.  Before you begin shopping, make sure you know how much space you have available.  Measure ceiling height and width of the area where you intend to set it.  If you buy a cut tree, remember that you'll shorten the tree a few inches when you cut off a bit of the trunk end.  On the other hand, the tree stand may add a few inches.  Don't forget that an ornament on the top of the tree may add some height.  Since you pay for size, it's better to buy a tree slightly smaller than needed than to buy one too large that is need of trimming.

Several types of trees are commonly available, including cut trees, potted or balled & burlapped trees, and artificial trees.

Cut Trees

Cut trees are very popular.  You can purchase them from dealers, select and cut your own from a local grower, or harvest a native tree from the forest.

For your tree to last throughout the holiday season, it must be fresh and moist.  A dry tree can not be revived, so select a good tree in the beginning.  Here's how:
  • Pull gently on the needles. If they come off easily, forget it and look for another tree.  
  • Give the tree a good shake or bump the cut end of the trunk on the ground.  Green needles should not fall off.  Sometimes brown needles may have collected on the inner branches near the trunk.  If brown needles fall out, the tree is probably okay.
  • Make sure that the needles are green, pliable and fragrant.
  • Buy your tree early as soon as possible after they have been delivered to the dealer.  Waiting until nearer Christmas will not ensure that your tree is fresher.
  • Make sure that branches are well-placed and strong enough to support your ornaments.
  • Purchase locally grown trees, if possible.  They are often fresher because they are not shipped long distances, and buying from local growers helps to support your neighbors.
When my children were small, we often visited local pick-your-own Christmas tree farms.  Walking through manicured forests was an adventure for the kids, and we knew that our trees couldn't be any fresher.  Pick-your-own farms will usually cut the tree for you when you've made your selection, but some expect you to cut-your-own.  Check with the grower before you visit.

Use a substantial tree stand with a large water reservoir to provide stability and adequate moisture.  A 1-gallon capacity reservoir is ideal.  Stands for very large trees should have supporting legs or cross-pieces to prevent the tree from falling.

When you get your tree home, store it out of sun and wind with the end in a bucket of water if you can't set it up immediately.  Before you set it up, cut a couple of inches off the bottom to expose fresh wood.  This will enable your tree to take up water from the reservoir in the tree stand.

Avoid placing your tree near heating vents and sources of flame.  Heating vents will dry the tree.  Sources of flame may ignite your tree if it does dry out before the holiday is over.  A dry tree is a very flammable object.

Keep the reservoir filled.  Your tree should continue to draw on the water and remain fresh.  If the reservoir is allowed to dry out, the butt end of the tree will also dry and will not longer take up moisture.

Potted or Balled & Burlapped Trees

Some purchase potted or balled & burlapped trees with roots intact hoping to plant it after the holiday is over and grow it successfully in the landscape.  This may not be easy to accomplish, but here are a few tips that might help.
  • Buy a healthy specimen of a species that is known to survive in your area.  A fraser fir planted in south Georgia won't stand a chance.
  • Carry the tree by the pot or root ball.  Lifting the tree by the trunk or limbs may separate the roots from the rest of the tree.
  • Keep the tree in a cool, shaded place until brought indoors.
  • Maintain moisture in the pot or root ball until it is planted after Christmas.
  • Avoid placing your tree near heating vents and sources of flame.
  • Enjoy the tree indoors for about a week.  If kept inside any longer, the health of the tree may decline and it might not survive.
  • Dig the planting hole no deeper than the depth of the root ball.  The hole should be two or three times as wide as the root ball.
  • Remove the tree from the pot or plastic wrapping before planting.  It is not necessary to remove burlap wrapping material.  Once again, move the tree by the root ball, not the top part of the tree.

Artificial Trees

Artificial trees go in and out of style, but make your selection based upon what is right for you.  At any rate, artificial trees should be used wisely.  Avoid sources of flame.  Check all electrical wiring to make sure it is in good condition.  Artificial trees may be treated with flame retardants, but that doesn't make them flame-proof.  Toxic fumes may be emitted from smouldering material.  Electric lights should not be used on metal trees.

Tree Safety and Care

Let's not spoil Christmas with an accident.  Keep these tips in mind:
  • As mentioned before, position the tree away from heat sources.Make sure the tree is stable and not likely to fall over, even when your cat is climbing it.
  • Keep the water reservoir filled.
  • Use lights that are in good condition.  
  • Turn decorative lights off when the tree is unattended.
  • Never use candles to light your Christmas tree.
When Christmas is over, there are various eco-friendly ways you can dispose of your cut tree.  If left in the yard, out of public view, it will provide a welcome sanctuary for birds and small mammals until spring.  Christmas trees taken to your recycling center for chipping; some Christmas tree dealers even provide the service.  Gardeners sometimes used their Christmas tree branches for mulch or natural supports for tall perennials.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Now, Boys, This Is Alumroot.


"Boys.  Now, boys," my grandfather would say, stopping to gently probe a plant with his walking staff, "this is alumroot.  It is good for the liver.  Yes.  That's right." 

When he said, "boys", he meant all male members of the group including his grown sons who were also Naturopathic physicians.  And my grandmother was a Naturopath.  Young and old, we would all stop for a closer look and a lesson.  One of the "boys" might recollect, "Say, Daddy, remember when we gathered it near Star Mountain?  We packed a picnic lunch, and..."  Much of the discussion was lost on me; I was in a hurry to explore beyond the next bend in the trail before we had to turn around and go back.  But now that I have children of my own, I slow them down for a closer look at herbs of interest.

Alumroot is properly named Heuchera (pronounced "HEW-ker-uh").  It was named by Carolus Linnaeus in honor of Johann Heinrich von Heucher, 18th century professor of medicine and botanist at Wittenberg, Germany.  Heucher was one of the most accomplished and honored naturalists of his day.  Another name for Heuchera is Coralbells.

There are about 50 species of Heuchera.  All are native to North America and found in practically every state and province. 

Though Heuchera has more than one medicinal use, it is more often cultivated as an ornamental perennial for its foliage and flower.  So popular has it become, and new hybrids so frequently introduced, that one wonders, "Alright, already!  How many more do we need?"

Plant height ranges from 12" to 18".  Foliage is herbaceous, meaning that the rounded, scalloped leaves usually die back in winter.  Leaves range in color from green to peach or purplish.  Small, white to pink flowers appear in sprays atop wiry stems from spring through summer.  Heuchera is effective in perennial, rock gardens and container gardens.  Wooded gardens with light shade are just what the doctor ordered.

It thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3 through 8 in slightly moist, well-drained, humusy soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.   Partial shade is best in warmer climates.  It needs slight but consistent moisture in spring, but otherwise is reasonably drought-tolerantHeuchera is deer-resistant, too.
 
If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 10" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If the soil is high in organic matter and friable, it may not require cultivation.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil, if necessary.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants. 

Space the plants 24" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants in the pots, and drain before de-potting them.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Because it likes slightly moist, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter, plant Heuchera with companions having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and irrigate when necessary, but don't over-water.

Heuchera should be a wonderful addition to your perennial garden.  If you prefer using native plants in your garden, this one may be right for you.  And if you like to collect specimens with some medicinal history, you can proudly stroll through your garden and point out alumroot to your attentive friends and loved-ones.

Return to Heuchera at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

FAQ: I would like to grow some plants indoors under lights. Do you have any suggestions other than African Violets?

Oh my!  I have many, but here are a few: ferns such as maidenhair, button, holly ferns; gesneriads such as Achimenes, Columnea, Episcia and Sinningia; cacti such as ball, cob, crown and pincushion; orchids such as Cattleya, Phalaenopsis, Oncidium, Brassia and Paphiopedilum; succulents such as Aloe, Haworthia, Echeveria and Agave; Pilea, miniature roses, Tradescantia, bromeliads, thyme, basil, Oxalis, Maranta, dwarf crape myrtles, Impatiens, Gardenia, Hoya, Hedera, Cuphea and Coleus.  Start with those.

FAQ: My shrubs look weak. Should I fertilize them?

Determine why they look weak. It may not be a nutrition problem. Check for scale and other insects, and for damage by disease or rodents. Is grass growing too close and competing for nutrients? At any rate, take a soil sample to your nearby Cooperative Extension Service for analysis. You may need to adjust the pH of the soil. If your shrubs do need fertilizer, use one with low nitrogen content. You shouldn't stimulate growth prior to cold weather as it may be damaged by freezing temperatures. An application of organic compost is always in order.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Rainbow Of Irises

Irises are truly aristocrats in the garden.  The ornate flowers in luscious shades inspired monarchs to include them in their flags and coats-of-arms.

The genus, Iris (pronounced EYE-riss), includes at least 200 species native to just about everywhere within temperate zones in the northern hemisphere.  The name comes from a Greek mythological goddess who personified the rainbow, communicated between divinity and humanity, and raced along just out of reach.

Irises can be found growing in habitats as diverse as cool, mountainous regions and warm, subtropical swamps.  Some are drought-tolerant while others grow in water up to 10" deep.  Most irises prefer a site with full sun and well-drained, moderately fertile soil.  Many are cold hardy down to -15F.  Therefore, you should be able to find a type that will perform well for you.

As the name suggests, "iris" is synonymous with color, and they are myriad. Shades range from white to pink, blue, lilac and purple.  Some are yellow, scarlet, orange or nearly black.  Others display bold combinations of colors.  Most flower for about a month in late spring and early summer.  But, with careful selection, you can have iris blooms from very early spring to mid-fall.

They are absolutely lovely in the garden, regal in appearance.  In my opinion, irises are best displayed when planted in groups of a single color.  Different groups may be of various colors.  The resulting masses of bloom will captivate even the casual passerby.

The blooms certainly command attention, but foliage is as useful as the flowers.  The long, sword-like leaves provide a strikingly simple contrast to many of the shapes and textures found there.  The same features also make them very popular in cut flower arrangements.

The majority of irises are rhizomous plants.  Rhizomes are thick, fleshy stems that grow horizontally just below the soil surface giving rise to leaves, flowers and roots.  Other irises grow from bulbs.  Dutch irises are bulbous.

It's beyond the scope of this article to delve into all the species and hybrids.  I'll stick to some species most popular and readily available.

German irises (I. germanica), especially the hybrids, are widely grown.  Germanica (pronounced jer-MAN-ih-kuh) means "of Germany."  They produce multiple, huge flowers on forked stems held above the silver-grey foliage.  German irises are included in a group called "bearded" irises.  The "beards" are the hairs on the the "falls".  "Falls" are the three drooping sepals located under the upright petals.

Dwarf bearded irises may be as short as 6".  The taller varieties range from 36" to 48".  They prefer pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8, and require only mildly fertile soil.  Planting depth is very important:  the top portion should be right at soil level.  Space them 12" to 24" apart.  Bearded irises require full sun, and prefer dry conditions during the summer after flowering is completed.  Because they are drought tolerant, they are ideal for xeriscaping.  (Xeriscaping is the garden practice that seeks to reduce the need for irrigation.) German irises generally do well in climate zones 3-9.

Iris pallida (pronounced PAL-lid-uh, meaning "pale") is another bearded iris.  Common names include Dalmatian Iris and Sweet Iris.  It's native to the rocky coast of what was once Yugoslavia.  Flower color is pale blue.  A variety with lovely variegated foliage is quite beautiful.  Height ranges from 18" to 36".  It thrives in USDA climate zones 3-8.  Plant 12" to 24" apart in full sun and well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  In addition to its ornamental interest, I. pallida is also cultivated for the essential oil in the rhizomes which are processed and sold as "orris root."

Beardless irises are found in many other species.

Siberian irises, Iris sibirica (pronounced sy-BEER-ih-kuh) are native to eastern Europe and northern Asia, as the name suggests.  They grow 24" to 36" tall.  The foliage is slender and grasslike.  Flower colors are purple, lavender, burgundy, yellow or white.  They prefer rich, well-drained soil in full sun, but they will tolerate more moisture than German irises.  Space them 18" to 24" apart.  They tend to grow in clumps.  Preferred pH ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  They do well in climate zones 3-9.  Masses of single colors planted near a watercourse are dazzling sights.

Japanese irises, of the species I. ensata (pronounced en-SAH-tuh or en-SAY-tuh, meaning "sword-shaped"), are absolutely stunning.  Native not only to Japan, they are common in parts of China, Korea, India and eastern Russia.  Their large, horizontal blooms may be up to 8" across and resemble enormous butterflies.  Colors may be solid, mottled or marbled in rare combinations of exotic shades of blue, white, pink, yellow, and reddish-purple.  Height is 24" to 36".  They require evenly moist soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  They're great for wet places like bog and water gardens, and will grow in water to 4" deep.  Japanese irises will tolerate full sun or partial shade.  They do well in climate zones 5-9.  Space them 18" to 24" apart.

Iris pseudacorus (pronounced soo-DA-ko-rus, meaning "false sweet flag") is commonly called Yellow Flag.  The species is native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa, but are naturalized in parts of North America.  Yes, they are of one color:  yellow.  But they'll knock your socks off in spring and early summer.  They require full sun and wet places, growing in water up to 10" deep.  These are also excellent for bog and water gardens.  Best pH ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  If simply planted in consistently moist garden soil, they will perform, but the flowers will be smaller.  Height ranges from 18" to 36".  Yellow Flag irises are easy to grow in climate zones 5-9.  Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Space them 18" to 24" apart.

Iris versicolor (pronounced VER-suh-color, meaning "variously colored"), sometimes known as Blue Flag, Water Iris or Harlequin Iris, is another that has very high moisture requirements.  It is native to North America, thriving in USDA climate zones 5-8.  Cultural requirements are the same as for I. pseudacorus.  For those who wish to grow native species, this one is ideal.

Iris cristata (pronounced kris-TAY-tuh), also known as Crested Iris or Blue Flag, is native to the Eastern United States.  Flowers are lavender-blue with white or yellow crests.  Blooms appear in spring.  Blue Flag grows to only 4" high and spreads vigorously in all directions, so it makes a fine ground cover in a natural setting.  Plant 3" to 6" apart in partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-8.  Soil must be consistently moist soil (not soggy) with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5.

Roof irises are relatively little-known plants that get their name from an unusual habitat:  the thatched roofs of simple Japanese country houses.  They are of the species, Iris tectorum (pronounced tek-TOR-um), which means "on roof".  Actually, they are native to China, but usually associated with Japan.  It is said that Japanese women used the ground powder of the rhizomes for cosmetics.  Perhaps limited growing space forced them to grow their face powder on their roofs.  The plants grow to 12" tall and display lavender-blue or white flowers in late spring and early summer.  Flowers are about 3" across.  Roof irises grow in USDA climate zones 5-9.  You don't have to have a thatched roof to grow them.  Plant in full sun to partial shade, spacing 8" to 12" apart.  Preferred soil pH ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  Garden soil high in organic matter and slightly moist is fine.  Take care not to over-water.

Dutch irises are elegant plants producing large, graceful blooms.  Their botanical name is Iris x hollandica (pronounced haw-LAN-dik-uh), named for the country where they were hybridized.  They are beardless.  No cutting garden should be without them as they are superb in flower arrangements.  Colors are white, blue, purple and yellow, often in combination.  Mass beds of dutch irises are gorgeous, but they also make great companions to other bulbs and perennials in borders.  Soil should be well-drained and in a sunny location.  They are perennial in USDA climate zones 5-9.  Moist, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is best.  Plant the bulbs in fall, 4" deep and 3" to 6" apart.  Take care not to over-water.

Reticulated irises are of the species Iris reticulata (pronounced ree-tick-you-LAY-tuh), which means "netted", referring to a pattern on the bulbs.  They are native to Iran, Iraq, Turkey and environs.  These are among the earliest blooming irises, making them especially welcome when you've had enough of winter.  Plant height is about 6".  Colors are blue or purple.  They thrive in USDA climate zones 3-9.  Plant them in full sun to partial shade, spacing 3" to 6" apart.  Slightly moist soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is fine, but avoid soggy soil.  A dry period is required after bloom time.  Growing them in raised beds is recommended.  Because they are compact in size, reticulated irises are perfect for container gardens.

Iris histrioides (pronounced hiss-tree-OY-dayz, meaning "like an actor") is similar in many respects to Iris reticulata.  The bulbs are also netted, they bloom very early and are native to the Caucasus region.  Colors are shades of blue.  Cultural requirements are nearly the same as for I. reticulata.  They thrive in USDA climate zones 3-8.

Iris danfordiae (pronounced dan-FORD-ee-ay) is yet another species similar to I. reticulata.  It is named in honor of Mrs. Charles Danford, 19th century plant explorer and wife of the noted artist and ornithologist.  Also known as Buttercup Iris, the color is yellow.  Cultural requirements are practically the same as for the other "netted" irises, but it is not as cold-hardy, thriving in USDA climate zones 5-9.

With so many species, hybrids and cultivars to choose from, you are bound to have a place to grow irises.

Return to Iris at goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Reasons Not To Criticize Your Employer/Co-Workers in Public

I was meeting friends for dinner.  Most were older distinguished professionals.  A younger man arrived and someone asked him how his day had gone.  He immediately launched into a blow-by-blow account of a frustrating work experience fresh on his mind.  When he finally stopped to take a breath, one in our party asked, "Are you talking about Jim?"  A bit surprised that Jim was known to someone, he put the best face on it and replied, "No.  Jim is a great guy.  I like Jim.  The problem is with the system of management."  Well, Jim is the manager, so it seemed clear enough that he was, in fact, complaining about Jim.

Since then I've reflected on that episode, and noted a few reasons to avoid criticizing employers, co-workers or anybody, for that matter, in public.

Unbeknown to you, your subject might be a relative or friend of someone listening, and the hearer be offended.  When I opened a business in a new town a customer wished me well and asked how I liked it so far.  "Great", I replied, but I continued to remark about some odd things I noticed.

"It seems like everyone around here is related to everyone else.  Almost all I've met are Smiths or Wessons.  I reckon there were a lot of people marrying their first cousins back in the day."  I was joking, of course.  The customer chuckled.  I thanked him for his purchase, and said, "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name."

"Wesson."

Oops!  His mother was probably a Smith.  Or worse, perhaps a Wesson.  The more public the criticism, the greater the potential for such a faux pas.

Similarly, your subject might be close to someone who may report your criticism.  It could be communicated like this: "Hey, Jim, I was talking to Mike the other day when your name came up, and..."  Or, "Listen, Jim, I hear you're having some trouble with your management system."

"Huh?"

The Preacher advised against even discreet criticism; "Revile not the king, no, not in thy thought; and revile not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the heavens shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter."  Ecclesiastes 10:20.  History is filled with names of prime ministers, bishops, heirs, crofters and employees who learned too late.

A listener might be a potential employer who would remember the episode and be cautious about hiring you, not wanting himself to be trashed in the future.  Over the years, I've interviewed many people for employment.  I understand that no one would apply to work for me unless she is unhappy in her present job, quit or recently lost it, so when I ask about work history, I expect to hear some report of discontent.  But when an applicant unloads on me her unrestrained denunciation of another, I step back and wonder whether she will in a few weeks or months tell the same story but fill in the blanks with my name.

"Jane, I really appreciate your application and the opportunity to meet you, but..."

Which brings me to my next reason.

Thinking that there are two sides to every story, a listener might wonder whether you are the problem.

Unbridled criticism suggests that you can not control your emotions, and if you can not control them that you are a difficult person.  Poet Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “The happiness of a man in this life does not consist in the absence but in the mastery of his passions.”  No one wants to work with a chronically unhappy man.

Carping infers that you can not control your tongue.  On the other hand, self-control is complimentary.  "Even the foolish man, when he keeps quiet, is taken to be wise: when his lips are shut he is credited with good sense." Proverbs 17:28

Uncontrolled faultfinding is uncharitable.  The Westminster Confession of Faith, a document admired by Presbyterians everywhere, reminds that moral duties include "charitable thoughts, love, compassion, meekness, gentleness, kindness; peaceable, mild and courteous speeches and behavior; forbearance, readiness to be reconciled, patient bearing and forgiving of injuries, and requiting good for evil."  Ouch.  That hurts.

Benjamin Franklin noted, “Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”  That said, I'd better close.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fluffy Clouds Of Candytuft

There is a ground cover plant that spreads soft, white clouds in spring covering dry, poor soil with a flowery mantle of sweetness.  It's called "Candytuft."

Of the genus Iberis (pronounced "eye-BEER-us"), there are about 50 species.  Iberis refers to Spain and the Iberian peninsula, one area where they are native.  Only a few are widely used as ornamentals.  Iberis is a member of the Brassicaceae family, which also includes popular vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard, turnips and such.

Perhaps the most popular species is I. sempervirens (pronounced "semper-VY-renz", meaning "evergreen").  From Spain, its native range extends across the Mediterranean region and into western Asia.  In fact, the name "Candytuft" does not refer to its appearance or fragrance, but to Candia (Iraklion) on the island of Crete where it is a common wildflower.  Candytuft is not edible, but the roots and seeds possess medicinal properties.

If you garden within USDA climate zones 3 through 9, you may be able to grow it.  Candytuft thrives in full sun to partial shade in average garden soil with pH ranging from 6.6 to 8.5.  Slightly moist soil is fine, but over-watering must be avoided.  In fact, candytuft is drought-tolerant, so it is ideal for gardeners who must restrict their water use.

Mature height is about 12" and spread is about 24".  Flowering season ranges from late spring to early summer, depending upon your location.  Candytuft spreads by rooting from stems which contact the ground.  It's superb as a ground cover in perennial gardens and borders, rock and alpine gardens.  Candytuft is very effective on slopes, terraces and cascading over stone walls.  Use it beside stepping stone paths, but know that it does not tolerate foot traffic.

Prepare the planting bed for candytuft by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate 5-10-15 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Container-grown candytuft can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, but will require monitoring of soil moisture conditions during hot weather to avoid plant stress.

Space plants 12" to 18" apart. Keep in mind that my spacing recommendations are approximate. If you want them to fill in quickly, plant closer together. If you have plenty of time and patience but less money, plant them farther apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants thoroughly in their plots.  Allow the water to drain a bit, remove the plants from the pots, place them into the holes and back-fill. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" to 4" deep. Irrigate thoroughly.

Maintenance is minimal. Candytuft has few pest and disease problems, but they aren't immune.  Crown rot is one of the most frequent, and over-watering is the most frequent cause.

Club root is another problem resulting from a combination of conditions:  over-moist soil, cool weather and low pH.  Again, keeping the soil on the dry side helps.  There's nothing you can do about temperature.  But you can raise pH, so keeping it above 7.2 is beneficial.  If club root becomes a problem, there's no other option than to remove the infected plants and destroy them.  Don't compost them.  As always, prevention is the best medicine.

Candytuft benefits from pruning soon after flowering is complete.  Doing so helps to discourage seed production, maintain compactness and encourage general plant health.  Pruning also helps to ensure good bud-set for next year's flowering.  You may safely remove up to 1/2 of the top growth.

Plant Candytuft in your garden and imagine walking in spring with fluffy clouds at your feet.


Return to Iberis at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Eco-Friendly Garden Art By Shelia Thompson


Shelia Thompson is best known for her wooden replicas of landmark Charleston buildings which have been very popular with collectors for about 30 years.  Later she turned her attention to working in recycled metal.

It happened in a most unusual way.  Bob Bell, vice president of operations at Associated Container Sales and Fabrication, had a new high-definition plasma laser his company had purchased to expand its storage system business.  But the laser had some unused time and needed something to do with it.  He envisioned using it to produce something creative.  Bob had worked with Shelia before, so he gave her a call to see what they could come up with.  He offered her some sheets of steel and an idea was born.

Shelia had never worked with metal before, but saw the opportunity as a fantastic opportunity to expand her creativity.  She considered what she could design as a basis for a series reflecting images of her beloved Lowcountry that would be popular with Charlestonians and visitors alike.  Finally Shelia settled upon matte black silhouettes of images such as an egret, magnolia flower and a plantation house.

“I draw whatever the design is going to be. It gets put into a computer program and the machine reads it and cuts out whatever my design is. As of right now, I probably have about 25 designs”, says she.  The recycled steel is sand-blasted to remove rust and finally painted with a black powder-coat finish.  When backlit or their outlines are reflected against a lighter background such as a fence or white wall, the silhouettes take on an added dimension.

Fans of Charleston and the Carolina Lowcountry can reminisce and enjoy a memorable souvenir of the South.  Even if you've never visited Charleston, you'll love these beautiful, eco-friendly pieces.  Many of the motifs are taken from nature.  The series includes wall art, garden stakes, trellises and arbors, and other whimsical items.  They can used at mailboxes, against walls, or serve as accents in the garden.  The arbors or trellises, made of 11-gauge steel, do a great job of supporting vines and tall perennials.  Give them as gifts, and don't forget to collect them yourself.


Return to goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Get Ready For Bird Feeding


Summer is over and for many of our friends, winter has already begun.  Have you read about the early snow in many parts of our country?  It's time to prepare for fall and winter bird feeding.  Here is a checklist to get your yard ready for your migrating friends.
  • Clean your bird feeders thoroughly with a mixture of water and dish soap, or a solution of water and bleach.  Bleach helps to prevent mold that is encouraged by moisture.
  • Make any necessary repairs.  Perches, hangers and seed-catchers that have become unstable should be replaced.
  • Invest in a few new feeders.  You may need to purchase some of different types to add to your collection.  More species will visit if you provide a smorgasbord of delights.
  • Migratory birds need quick energy boosts, and so do those which have recently molted.  Suet provides that.  Suet cages are easily attached to many existing feeders, boards and posts.
  • Place a salt block in your bird-feeding area.  It attracts many species of migratory birds.
  • Don't forget to clean your seed storage bins.  Washing them with a bleach solution will help to discourage insects.
  • Keep plenty of fresh seed and suet on hand.  When the feeding season gets into full swing, the food disappears quickly.  Don't run out.
  • Spread some wood mulch under your feeders.  It helps to prevent seed sprouting.  It's a good idea to use material that is native to your area; it costs less.
  • Fall is a great time for planting, so add some small trees and shrubs to enhance your bird habitat.  Plants that provide food and shelter will be much appreciated.
  • Dump the water from your birdbath and clean it of debris.  Scrubbing it with bleach will help to remove and prevent algae build-up.
  • Install a small heater in your birdbath before the temperature drops to freezing.  Birds need to bathe and get a sip of water in winter, too.
  • Provide for the squirrels.  Okay, we know they can be pesky at times.  A good way to keep them off of your bird feeders is to give them some food that's more attractive.  Corn on the cob is excellent.  Buy a bag of deer corn at your local sporting goods or feed store.  You can pitch a few ears on the ground, or present them in squirrel feeders.  You may enjoy watching them as much as you do the birds!
Return to goGardenNow.com.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Answers To Our Community Poll Ending November 2, 2009

Our Community Poll ending November 2, 2009 at goGardenNow.com asked the question, "During the present economic downturn, do you view gardening in general as:
  • An unnecessary expense?
  • A necessary expense?
  • An inexpensive pleasure?
  • An expensive pleasure, but worth it?"
50% of respondents said it's an expensive pleasure, but worth it.  25% of respondents said it's an inexpensive pleasure.  25% said it's a necessary expense.

No respondents answered that it's an unnecessary expense.  So what this tells me is that, whatever our respondents think of gardening, they don't intend to quit..  Of course, this is not a scientific survey, but only reflects the opinions of a select group.

Our current Community Poll asks the question, "What do you think about organic fruits and vegetables?"



Let us know what you think.  Go to goGardenNow.com, navigate away from the Home Page; our Customer Testimonials page is as good as any.  You'll find the Community Poll in the right hand column.  We look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Bluebells Seem Like Fairy Gifts

There is a silent eloquence
In every wild bluebell
That fills my softened heart with bliss
That words could never tell.
                                                                       The Bluebell,
Anne Bronte

It was early spring and I was walking through a wood near Munich.  Gray clouds had induced in me a pensive mood, when I came upon a clump of bluebells.  The forest at once became enchanted.  In the words of Bronte, they "seemed like fairy gifts."  Such was my first experience with these delightful plants.

Well, I thought they were bluebells.  They could have been squill.  They are very much alike, and the names are practically synonymous.  Let me explain.

Plants are grouped together because of similarity or affinity.  But sometimes, upon closer examination, they are set apart because of certain differences.  This is the case with bluebells and squill.

Most squill are properly of the genus, Scilla, a member of the Hyacinthaceae family.  The genus consists of about 90 species native to Europe and parts of Asia where they grow in woodlands and meadows.  The flowers are somewhat bell-like or star-like and are found in shades ranging from blue or pink to nearly white.  Most bloom in spring, though some bloom in fall.  Plant size ranges from under 6" to 12".  The name, Scilla (pronounced "SILL-uh"), is thought to have come from a Greek word meaning "to excite."  They certainly do.

Another squill, formerly of the genus Scilla, has been set apart into its own genus, Puschkinia.  This, too, is in the Hyacinthaceae family.  Pronounced "push-KIN-ee-uh", it is named for Count Apollo Mussin-Puschkin, an 18th Century Russian chemist and plant collector.  The genus consists of two species that are native to Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.  Flowers are very similar to scilla in colors ranging from pale blue to white.  Plant size ranges from under 6" to 12".

Hyacinthoides is another related genus - so related in fact that it also used to be included among the Scilla.  But taxonomists, doing what they do best, separated it from the others.  Hyacinthoides (pronounced "hi-ah-sin-THOY-deez") means "resembles hyacinth", and by golly it does.  No surprise that it is also in the Hyacinthaceae family.  These are the true bluebells, though colors actually range from blue or pink to white.  Plant size ranges from 6" to 18".  Bluebells, sometimes called Wood Hyacinths, are native from the Iberian peninsula, across south central Europe and northward to Britain.  Each species has its own range.

Bluebells and squill require very little maintenance.  They are wonderful for bulb gardens, perennial gardens, container gardens as well as for naturalizing in meadows, around the margins of lawns, and in woodlands.

Planting of squill and bluebells begins in fall.  As always, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  They will send it to a lab for analysis and recommendations.  Expect to pay a nominal fee.  If you don't understand the report, ask the County Agent to interpret it for you.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

After blooming, be sure to let the leaves yellow and die before cutting them.  Leaving them alone will allow the bulbs to build up food reserves for a glorious show the next year.

Following are specific information and planting tips for some of the most popular species.

Spanish Bluebells (Hyacinthoides hispanica) - Flowers appear in late spring to early summer.  Thrives in USDA climate zones 4 to 8.  Prefers average garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 6.5.  Plant in light shade to full shade.  Plant bulbs 4" deep and 4" apart.  Water needs are average.  They are somewhat drought tolerant; avoid over-watering.  The plants are toxic to mammals, so are deer and rodent resistant.

Striped Squill (Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica) -  Flowers appear in late winter to early spring. Thrives in USDA climate zones 3 to 8 or 9.  Prefers average, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Plant bulbs 2" to 5" deep and 3" to 6" apart.  The plants are toxic to mammals, so are deer and rodent resistant.

Early or White Squill (Scilla mischtschenkoana or S. tubergeniana) - Flowers appear in late winter to early spring.  Thrives in USDA climate zones 4 to 8.  Prefers average garden soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8.  Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Plant bulbs 4" deep and 4" apart.  Soil should be consistently moist, so avoid allowing it to try out.  The plants are toxic to mammals, so are deer and rodent resistant.

Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica) - Flowers appear in late winter to early spring.  Thrives in USDA climate zones 2 to 8.  Prefers average garden soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.8.  Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Plant bulbs 4" deep and 4" apart.  Soil should be consistently moist, so avoid allowing it to try out.  The plants are toxic to mammals, so are deer and rodent resistant.

No matter which you choose, you'll be delighted with these elegant, enchanting "fairy gifts."

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Flurry Of Snowdrops In Spring


Springtime brings a flurry of favorite flowers, and among them are Snowdrops.  Snowdrops belong to the genus Galanthus which comprises about 20 species ranging from the mountains of France to western Turkey.  The pop up in so many places around the world, however, that you'd think they belonged just about everywhere.  Perhaps from as early as Roman times, they were carried about and planted as far away from their native habitat as Britain.  They are still so popular that plant hunters can't resist the urge to dig them up.  In fact, some species are so threatened that it is illegal under international trade agreements to disturb them without a permit.  (Be assured that those we market are sold legally and not harvested from the wild.)

The most widely available species is Galanthus nivalisGalanthus (pronounced guh-LAN-thus) means "milk-flower", referring to its color.  Nivalis (pronounced niv-VAL-iss) means "growing in snow."

Snowdrops are perennial plants that grow from bulbs.  Long, narrow leaves resemble narcissus foliage.  Flowers are produced in late winter to early spring on stems about 12" long.  After flowering, the leaves yellow and die.

Like very many ornamental plants, Snowdrops are toxic and must not be eaten, so care must be taken if planting where "muchkins" might be tempted to sample them.  Sensitive persons should consider wearing gloves if handling any part of the plant, especially the juice from cut stems or bulbs.  Interestingly, though, they contain a substance called galanthamine which is used in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.  Bear in mind that it is not a home remedy.

Because they are toxic, Snowdrops are deer and rodent resistant.

Snowdrops thrive in full sun to partial shade in climate zones 3 through 8, and require slightly but consistently moist soil that is high in organic matter.  Best pH should range from 5.6 to 7.5.

As always, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  They will send it to a lab for analysis and recommendations.  Expect to pay a nominal fee.  If you don't understand the report, ask the County Agent to interpret it for you.

Planting begins in fall, and must be done soon after you receive them.  They will not be happy if left to dry out.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant the bulbs about 4" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 2" to 3" apart.  Figure on planting 10 bulbs per square foot.

The plants require very little maintenance.  Plant them and forget about them.  They are wonderful for bulb gardens, perennial gardens, container gardens as well as for naturalizing in meadows, around the margins of lawns, and in woodlands.  After blooming, be sure to let the leaves yellow and die before cutting them.  Leaving them alone will allow the bulbs to build up food reserves for a glorious show the next year.  Believe me, a generous planting of Snowdrops is a wonderful sight that will quickly chase the winter blues.

Return to Galanthus at goGardenNow.com.

Afternoon Of The Fawn Lilies


Before hardwood forests begin to leaf in spring, Fawn Lilies grace the forest floor.  I'll never forget the first time I saw them.  I was a college student at the time, hiking with a friend.  As we explored a small stream in the foothills of east Tennessee, we came upon the charming yellow blossoms of Erythronium americanum nodding in the breeze and reflecting the dappled sunlight.  Enchanted, we stopped to sit and enjoy them for awhile.  I remember it as the afternoon of the fawn lilies.

Erythronium (pronounced er-ih-THROH-ni-um) refers to the reddish stems or mottling on the leaves on most of the species.  Native to parts of Asia, Europe and North America, they are also characterized by bell-shaped flowers (usually yellow) with recurved petals. Common names also include Dog-Tooth Violet, Trout Lily, and Deer-Tongue.  The most widely available species is E. revolutum.  "Revolutum" (pronounced re-voh-LOO-tum) refers to the petals which appear rolled back.  It can be found growing wild in most of eastern North America.  The most popular cultivar is 'Pagoda', a hybrid of E. tuolumnense, a California native, and E. revolutum.

Fawn Lilies are not believed to possess any medicinal qualities.  But N. J. Turner in Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples reported that American Indians used to harvest the bulbs for food.  They must have done so when food was otherwise scarce for the bulbs have a bitter taste.  Aboriginal diners washed them down with water to avoid feeling sick.  (Reminds me of my childhood experience with soy burgers.)  I haven't tried them myself, and don't recommend you do so either.

Erythronium x 'Pagoda' produces 3 to 5 yellow flowers on reddish stalks up to 12" tall.  It prefers partial shade in climate zones 3 through 9, and consistently moist soil that is high in organic matter with pH ranging from 5.1 to 7.5.

As always, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  For a nominal fee, they will send the sample to a lab for analysis.  The analysis will normally be sent to you through the mail.  If the test results seem somewhat cryptic and difficult to understand, don't hesitate to call your County Agent for explanation.

Planting begins in fall, and must be done soon after you receive them.  They will not be happy if left to dry out.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant the bulbs about 5" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 3".

The plants require very little maintenance.  Plant them and forget about them.  They are wonderful for bulb gardens, perennial gardens, container gardens as well as for naturalizing in woodland and shade gardens.  When they bloom in the spring and nod their heads in the breeze, each day will bring new delights.  Be sure to include them in your garden, and enjoy spring afternoons among your fawn lilies.

Return to Erythronium at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Behind A Garden Wall: The Maclay Gardens

Tall pines and a thick hardwood forest conceal one of Florida's best gardens from heavy traffic on Thomasville Road in Tallahassee.  But behind a fence and beyond a brick entry, the Alfred B. Maclay Gardens is open for all to enjoy.  Now an urban oasis, it was once the hunter's paradise.  The scene is not typical of what one imagines when thinking of Florida.  Rolling hillsides and forests resemble the upcountry of the eastern U.S.  Indeed, the geology of the Appalachians is rooted here.

Fertile soil and rich diversity of flora and fauna attracted humans to this site from prehistoric times.  Native Americans inhabited the area, followed by Europeans.  Encompassing this region, Spanish missionaries developed the largest and most enduring system of missions in North America.  Control was later seized by the English.  Following the War of Independence, the U.S. government deeded land to the Marquis de Lafayette for his assistance during the conflict.  The Marquis never visited, so later sold his property.

In 1882, another Frenchman bought a parcel and developed a vineyard which, by 1890, was producing 4,000 gallons of wine per year.  He sold it when the county voted to go "dry" in 1904, before Prohibition.  Colonel John H. Law, an insurance businessman from Chicago, bought the property and established a hunting lodge which became the site of lavish parties.  New York financier Alfred Maclay and his wife Louise acquired the land in 1923, joined "house to house and field to field", and established a large estate of over 3000 acres as a winter home.  Later it was acquired by the State of Florida and now is operated as a state park.  Join me now as we visit this garden treasure.

A picturesque brick walkway flanked by native plant species including Coontie (Zamia integrifolia) and non-native azalea cultivars such as 'Christmas Cheer' leads to the house.  Laid in 1968, the bricks were salvaged from an old street in Tampa, but were made in cities as distant as Baltimore, MD.  Because this was a winter home, plantings were designed for late-winter and early-spring bloom.

From the house, a short walk leads to a lakeside pavilion which affords a fine vista of Lake Hall.  Native trees include Gleditsia triacanthos, Magnolia grandiflora, Nyssa sylvatica, Taxodium distichum and Quercus species.  Further along the path, Aucuba japonica, Magnolia species, azaleas, camellias and native hollies provide seasonal interest.

The Camellia Walk is one of the most notable features of the Maclay Garden.  Sloping away from the house toward the Walled Garden, the path is flanked by an extensive collection of these lovely plants.  It is said that the oldest camellia, purchased and moved to the site in 1923, is nearly 200 years old.  Thousands of lovely blossoms adorn the shrubs and strew the path during colder months.

At the end of the Camellia Walk, one comes to the Walled Garden.  Ficus pumila covers the walls with soft evergreen foliage.  Sculptures of magnificent lions guard the entrance and stately peacocks perch atop the walls.  One notable feature is the blue medallion of infants inset into the wall.  The artwork was created by Florentine sculptor, Andrea Della Robbia, and was acquired by Mr. Maclay during one of his travels to Italy.

Mr. Maclay also returned from Europe with an increased knowledge and appreciation of landscape design.  Collaborating with his gardener, he designed special effects into the landscape such as the "disappearing" walk from the point of view of the reflecting pool.  Pansies are planted in the walled garden every year, continuing the tradition begun by the Maclays.  Century Plants (Agave americana) are also featured in the garden as well as repeated in the fountain's design.

From the Walled Garden, a path beneath large hollies leads to the Secret Garden.  This delightful little space features antique wrought iron benches and table, creating an intimate atmosphere.  Asarum, Selaginella and Cyrtomium are planted within the cozy scene and bordered by Mahonia.  During fall, winter and early spring, Osmanthus fragrans scents the air with its delightful citrusy perfume.

The visitor will also enjoy another pleasant walk.  The Pine Needle Path meanders between walls of large camellias, gardenias, osmanthus and viburnum.  Of special note is the native Florida Anise (Illicium floridanum) which produces lovely star-shaped blooms, and releases a spicy fragrance when the leaves are crushed.

Another narrow path leads past Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum), cherry and redbud (Cercis canadensis) to a scenic pond.  This water feature is designed to reflect the azalea covered hillside in the distance, and is especially effective when the shrubs are in bloom.  Daylilies, iris, liriope, ornamental grasses and bulbs are planted at the water's edge.  The Azalea Hillside is magnificent in season, but it also features Magnolia x soulangeana, conifers, holly, dogwood and Halesia (Silverbells).

Beyond the Azalea Hillside is the site of the former nursery where many of the plants in the garden were produced by the Maclays.  One is impressed by their level of involvement in the process, from production to design and installation.  Their inspiration, exploration and devotion resulted in this peaceful garden which all may now enjoy.  There is so much seldom understood and seen that grows behind a garden wall.


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Monday, October 19, 2009

Spring Starflower Like Grandma Used To Grow


Ipheion uniflorum (pronounced IF-ee-on you-nee-FLO-rum) is a lovely old-fashioned plant that your grand-mother may have grown.  It's native to Argentina and other parts of South America, but it seems so natural that you'd think it was from around here.  In my town, it pops up early- to mid-spring in lawns throughout the older neighborhoods.   It was introduced in the mid-nineteenth century, then apparently passed along from one gardener to another.

Its common name is Spring Star-flower, and as the name suggests, it is shaped like a star, pale to medium blue or purplish in color.  Plant height is about 6 to 10 inches.  Foliage is grass-like and smells like garlic when crushed under foot.  Perhaps because of the fragrance, Ipheion is deer-resistant.

Ipheion is perfect for naturalizing, alpine and rock gardens and containers.  Wonderful for edging garden paths.  I recommend you plant at least a couple hundred of them.

Ipheion is hardy in USDA climate zones 5 to 9.  They prefer full sun to partial shade in average garden soil. Ideal pH ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  Though drought tolerant during summer months, they benefit from slightly moist soil during the growing season. Use a high quality grade of potting soil if growing in containers.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and return a report to you.

Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep.

Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  A fine all-around practice for spring-flowering bulbs is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant Ipheion about 2" to 4" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  You can plant them as close as 3" apart.  Unless rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.  Because the plants are damaged at temperatures below 14 degrees Fahrenheit, gardeners in climate zones 5 - 7 should plant them 5" deep or cover with mulch for added protection.

Planted liberally, Ipheion will make a wonderful, long-lasting show in your spring garden.  You'll be glad you planted this lovely heirloom.

Return to Spring Starflower at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Magic Of Persian Buttercups

Ranunculus asiaticus, also known as Persian Buttercups, are fabulous perennials with a most unlikely name.  Ranunculus (pronounced ra-NUN-ku-lus), you see, means "little frog."  They are so called because some of the other species within the genus are native to watery places.  But this magical plant bears no resemblance to its salientian namesake.  Reminds me of Der Froschk√∂nig.

Persian Buttercups are native to the eastern Mediterranean region and nearby Asia, southeastern Europe and northwestern Africa.  Flower colors range from white to shades of pink and red, orange and yellow.  Plant height and spread are approximately 12" to 18".

Though they are cold hardy in USDA climate zones 8 through 11, there is hardly a gardener who can not use them.  The tuberous roots can be dug when the weather begins to cool, and stored until the following spring, but gardeners who live in cold climates often save themselves the trouble and treat them as annuals, planting fresh ones each year.


Flowering begins in late spring and continues into early summer.  Persian Buttercups are excellent in container gardens, perennial and bulb gardens, and absolutely fantastic for cut flower arrangements.  They are particularly beautiful when planted in lavish beds, or tucked here and there among other flowers.

Plant in full sun and in average, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.5.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  They often provide collection bags.  For the most basic recommendations, you may be charged a nominal fee.  For more information such as micro-nutrient and organic content you may be charged more.

Ranunculus planting begins in fall for gardeners in warmer climates.  Gardeners in colder climates should plant them in spring a couple of weeks or so before last frost.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds.

Your soil sample report from your local Cooperative Extension Service will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  Following instructions should be a good bet.  A fine all-around practice for Ranunculus is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of garden.  Repeat the application when shoots appear, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.  Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.  Bone meal is often beneficial.

Like many popular ornamental plants, Persian Buttercups are toxic to mammals.  Some chemicals in them can also cause skin irritations for sensitive persons, so avoid prolonged contact.

The tuberous roots are attached together at the top and somewhat resemble claws.  Plant them "claws" down about 2” deep, and 8" apart for a lush appearance.  They don't look like much, but know that they will soon be transformed into something handsome as if by magic.  Cover them with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds.  Water regularly, but do not over-water.

To induce new blooms, remove (dead-head) spent flowers.  Of course, cutting them fresh for arrangements is perfect for encouraging more.  When hot weather arrives, the plants will begin to yellow and go dormant.  After leaves have dried, the roots may be dug and stored.

Plant a box of them.  When your "little frogs" bloom, you'll be astonished and wonder, "Where have you been all my life?"

Return to Ranunculus at goGardenNow.com.