Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Politeness And Grace Of Freesia

Freesia 

There was a time long, long ago when love was romantic and intentions were made known discreetly.  Rather than rumble through the neighborhood to the thunder of deep bass and obscenities, polite suitors gave blossoms to signal their desires in an idiom without words.  It was called "the language of flowers."

Freesia symbolized innocent friendship.  A gift of purple lilac hinted at love's first emotion.  A red tulip in hand was a bolder declaration of love.  Sunflowers indicated pure and lofty thoughts, but a handful of coriander might elicit a smart slap across the face.  Bearing a branch of linden in bloom (somewhat analogous to thundering through the neighborhood to deep bass and obscenities) could result in really big trouble and cause a fellow to "rue" the day that he ever entertained such thoughts.

Freesia (prounounced FREE-see-uh), native to South Africa, is very popular as a cut flower for arrangements.  Colorful flowers ranging from white and yellow to pink and blue appear on long racemes in spring.  The fragrance is often used in bath and body oils and in aromatherapy.  Plant height is approximately 18".

It is also superb for indoor gardening, fragrance gardens, bulb and perennial borders in mild climates.  Because all parts of the plant are toxic, be cautious if growing them where children may nibble them.

Freesia thrives in USDA climate zones 8 through 11, in full sun to partial shade.  Plant in organic, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.

Before preparing your planting site, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  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 late summer to fall.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  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.

The bulbs look like onions.  Plant them 2" to 3" deep with the pointed end up.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 3".  After planting, water well.

When the bloom season is over, the foliage will stay green for several weeks.  Let it remain to build food reserves in the bulb for future seasons.  When the leaves turn yellow and die back, they may be removed.

As mentioned earlier, freesia are excellent for forcing indoors.  Choose containers with drainage holes, and fill them with a good grade of peat-based potting soil.  Plant the bulbs 2" deep and 1" to 2" apart.  Water thoroughly after planting until water comes out of the drainage holes.  After the water has drained, place the containers in a sunny place.  Because it's often difficult to provide enough light indoors, freesia may become "leggy" and require support.  Decorative stakes or rods will suffice.  Soil should remain slightly moist, but never soggy.  If possible, keep the room temperature a bit on the cool side in order to prolong bloom time.  After flowering, your freesia may be transplanted outdoors provided that your climate is freesia-friendly.

Restore a sense of innocence, elegance and politeness to your surroundings with freesia.  By all means, share them with your friends.  The graceful stems, color and fragrance will be most welcome.

Return to Freesia at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Power Of Winter Aconite

Eranthis hyemalis - Winter Aconite
When crocuses bloom, another blossom joins them cheerfully declaring that spring is near. It's called Eranthis (pronounced "ee-RAN-thiss") or Winter Aconite. There are 8 species in the genus. Most are native to Asia, but only one is commercially popular and it, E. hyemalis (pronounced "hi-EM-ay-liss"), is native to woodlands in southern Europe from France to Bulgaria. Bright yellow blooms like buttercups en mass light up forest floors beneath bare arborical canopies.

But Eranthis has a dark history which it shares with an unrelated herb, Aconitum. Both are commonly called "Aconite" and "Wolfbane." Both are poisonous. The word "aconite" is from the Greek meaning "without dust", referring to the easy victory that an athletic champion might enjoy. Aconite, then, is invincible in its potency. The name, "wolfbane", refers to their former use in ridding the countryside of those fearsome beasts. Perhaps meat was laced with bits of tuber and left out as bait. As though this practical application was not enough, legend had it that aconite could also repel werewolves if carried in one's purse. Better still, the bearer could wrap a tuber in lizard skin and not be seen at all! Well, the dangerous properties of both aconites were also put to benevolent use as medicines. But, then as now, they were only to be used by trained medical professionals, licensed exterminators and people who had to walk home after dark.

One wonders, however, why Eranthis and Aconitum are both freely available as ornamental perennials. Clearly, it is because gardeners are gentle people, without malice, and do not associate with bad company.

Eranthis is superb for container and rock gardens, low bulb borders, and naturalizing. Don't expect a handful of tubers to make much of an impression; they should be planted in large quantities. Because all parts of the plant are toxic, be cautious if planting them where children may dig and nibble them.  Deer won't eat them.

Winter Aconite thrives in USDA climate zones 3 through 7, in full sun to partial shade. Plant in well-drained, humusy garden soil that is consistently moist.

Before preparing your planting site, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. 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 September or October, depending upon your area. Unless you are naturalizing them in the lawn, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Though they like moist soil, Eranthis tubers do not like soggy conditions.

A fine 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.

Before planting, soak the tubers over-night in tepid water. Plant them 2" to 3" deep. Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole. Recommended plant spacing is 3". Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Eranthis requires very little maintenance. Plant them and forget about them. But they will chase winter away and brighten your days when you need it most.

Return to Eranthis at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Thoughts Of Wintry Hellebore

Helleborus - Hellebore - Lenten Rose
A flower that appears in very cold weather is, understandably, an object of wonder.  It seems, also, that upon closer notice wonders never cease, inspiring awe and sometimes suspicion.

Helleborus (pronounced "hel-leh-BORE-us") is a fine example.  A member of the Ranunculaceae family, Helleborus is a genus of 20 species native to much of Europe, the Mediterranean region, and eastward to China.  The highest concentration can be found in southeastern Europe.  The common name is Hellebore (pronounced "HELL-uh-bore).  Other names given to various species include Christmas Rose, Lenten Rose, and Bear's-Foot.

The exact meaning of Helleborus appears to be a mystery, though I'm speculating that it might be derived from two Greek words, hellas meaning "Greece" and borrhas meaning "the north." It makes sense to me since Helleborus is concentrated in the Balkans.

Medicinal plants inspire awe and sometimes suspicion.  How is it that something possessing the power to heal may also possess the power to kill, at once beneficent and malignant?  Though known to be toxic, various hellebores have been used for many centuries for treatment of insanity, paralysis, gout, cardiac and respiratory ailments, as a diuretic and purgative.

Hellebores have been ascribed with symbolism in art, literature and lore.  In Loves Me, Loves Me Not: The Hidden Language of Flowers, Peter Loewer noted that "they were thought to have magical powers because they bloomed in very cold weather, and if blooms appeared before Christmas it presaged a bountiful year ahead.  Because the roots are not edible, they are thought to contain evil spirits, hence the darker meanings of scandal or slander."

Sydney Dobell (1824-1874), in Balder, mused of "hellebore, like a girl-murderess, green-eyed & sick with jealousy, & white with wintry thoughts of poison."

Finally, hellebores sometimes have the reputation of being very difficult to grow and suitable subjects for expert gardeners only.  Not so.  The most popular species in cultivation is H. orientalis and its hybrids.  Presently, most that are commercially available are simply named H. x hybridus plus whatever the name of the cultivar.  Because it is so easy to grow, the Perennial Plant Association named H. x hybridus the 2005 Perennial Plant of the Year.

Hybrid hellebores are cultivated as deciduous to evergreen ground cover perennials.  Plant height is up to 18".  Foliage is usually dark green and deeply lobed.  Flower colors range from light green or white to shades of pink or burgundy.

They thrive in partial to full shade in USDA climate zones 4 through 9 in slightly moist, well-drained, humusy soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  If exposed to direct sun at all, it should only be in the morning.  Hellebores will tolerate some drought once established.

Plant them in cottage gardens, naturalized in shade gardens and woodland settings where they combine well with ferns, Aquilegia, Convallaria and hostas.  Because of the long history of medicinal use, gardeners who collect medicinal plants often include them in their collections.  The rich history and symbolism are other reasons for growing them.

Again, it's important to note that all parts of Helleborus should be considered very toxic, so treat with appropriate caution.  On a positive note, hellebores are deer-resistant.

It is always a good idea to have your soil tested before cultivating and planting.  Carry a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a small fee, you will receive a report on mineral content and pH.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" 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 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.

Space the plants 12" to 18" 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 3" deep.

The garden inspires a sense of awe, wonder and sometimes solicitude; especially so with Helleborus in the shade.  Experience it.

Return to Hellebore at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Lily-Of-The-Valley: Fragrant And Beautiful

Convallaria - Lily Of The Valley
There is a plant symbolizing sweetness and humility which according to legend sprang from the very tears of Eve that dropped upon the earth when she and Adam were sent away from the Garden of Eden.  Other legends tell that it sprouted from the shed blood of Sts. Leonard or George when battling dragons, or from the tears of The Blessed Virgin Mary as she wept at the foot of the Cross.  The same plant, sometimes pictured in Renaissance paintings, symbolizes the return of Christ when all is restored.

Scripture poetry mentions it:
 
I am a rose of Sharon,
A lily of the valleys.
As a lily among thorns,
So is my love among the daughters. - Canticles, Chapter 2

Thus inspired, the beautiful blooms are sometimes used in bridal bouquets. Would you not be delighted to grow such a wonderful flower in your own garden?

That plant is Convallaria majalis (pronounced "con-vah-LAIR-ee-ah mah-JAY-liss").  Convallaria meaning "of the valley" signifies it's native habitat; majalis meaning "May" refers to its bloom time.  Common names include "Lily-Of-The-Valley", "May Bells" and "Our Lady's Tears."

Convallaria majalis is unique, being the only species in that genus.  It's native to temperate regions in Europe and parts of Asia.  One variety, C. majalis var. montana, may be native to the eastern U.S., but there is some question whether it is in fact a native or introduced.

Lily-Of-The-Valley is cultivated as a deciduous ground cover perennial.  Plant height is up to 9".  Foliage is medium to dark green, but may be variegated.  Sweetly fragrant, pendulous, bell-shaped white to pink flowers bloom for 2 to 3 weeks in late spring to early summer

It thrives in light shade in USDA climate zones 4 through 8 in slightly moist, well-drained, humusy soils with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5.  If exposed to direct sun at all, it should only be in the morning.  Consistent soil moisture is especially important during bloom period, but the plants are reasonably drought-tolerant during summer months.

Lily-Of-The-Valley is effective in container gardens, fragrance gardens, and naturalized in shade gardens and woodland settings were it combines well with ferns, Aquilegia, Helleborus and hostas.  The plant also has a long history of medicinal use, so gardeners who collect medicinal plants often include it in their collections.  Its rich history and legends, religious symbolism are other reasons for including it in a garden.

It's important to note that all parts of it should be considered very toxic, especially the berries, so treat it with appropriate caution.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" 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 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.

Lily-Of-The-Valley is very easy to grow from bare-root rhizome divisions or "pips."  Plant them 3" deep and 4" to 6" apart. One method is to place the rhizomes on cultivated soil and cover them with 3" of topsoil.  Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.  When the site is to its liking, Lily-Of-The-Valley spreads rapidly.

It is rich in history, legend, and symbolism.  Fragrant to the nose and beautiful to the eye.  Yet, no significant pests or diseases afflict it.  Deer won't eat it.  Its cultural requirements are few.  For the romantic gardener, Lily-Of-The-Valley is a choice plant.

Return to Convallaria at goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Golden Stars At Your Feet

Chrysogoum virginianum - Golden Star

Imagine wandering through an idyllic woodland with aurelian stars at your feet.  That is something like what you experience with Golden Star, properly named Chrysogonum virginianum (pronounced "chris-OG-oh-num vir-gin-ee-AN-num").  Appropriately enough, the name means "gold star from Virginia."  It also goes by another common name: Green-and-gold.  I like "Golden Star" best.

Chrysogonum virginianum
is unique, being the only species in that genus.  It's native to the eastern U.S., ranging from Pennsylvania to Ohio and Kentucky, southward to Louisiana, and eastward to north Florida and Georgia.

Goldenstar is cultivated as a ground cover perennial.  Plant height ranges from 6" to 9".  Foliage is semi-evergreen, meaning that the 1" to 3" long leaves remain green in warmer regions.  Dark yellow flowers appear sporadically from spring through summer.

It thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5 through 9 in slightly moist, well-drained, humusy soils with slightly acid pH.   Because it needs consistent moisture, partial shade is recommended in the hottest climates, though heat itself is not the issue.

Goldenstar is most effective naturalized in shade gardens and woodland settings.  Though it grows a little tall for a lawn substitute, it will tolerate some foot traffic when established.  Ajuga makes a fine companion plant.  It also combines well with such natives as Violets (Viola spp.) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).

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 12" to 18" 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 slightly moist, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter, plant Goldenstar with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and irrigate when necessary.  Goldenstar spreads by sending out runners, much like strawberries.

Chrysogonum has no serious pests or diseases, and it's deer-resistant.  It's a wonderful addition to the native woodland garden.

Return to Goldenstars at goGardenNow.com.

Leadwort Has Everything Going For It

Ceratostigma plumbaginoides - Leadwort
Leadwort.  The name doesn't sound very interesting, but it is an impressive ground cover providing wonderful color from spring through fall.  Its botanical name is Ceratostigma plumbaginoides (pronounced "ser-ah-toh-STIG-muh plum-bah-gih-NOY-deez").  It is native to western China.  The genus name refers to the horn-shaped stigma of the flower.  The species name means "similar to plumbago."  The plumbago the botanists had in mind is Plumbago auriculata, a South Africa native plant with light blue flowers.  Well, by golly, if you compare the flowers of C. plumbaginoides and P. auriculata you'll see resemblances in color and shape.  And, wouldn't you know it, they share the same common name, Leadwort, so there are created opportunities for confusion.

The name, Leadwort, comes from the fact that its relative, P. auriculata, was thought to be useful for treating lead poisoning.  I'm not sure how that came to be, but I'm guessing that it had something to do with the "doctrine of signatures", an ancient medical philosophy which taught that plants resembling certain body parts or other things were relevant to treating their afflictions.  So, for example, Hepatica was used to treat liver ailments because the leaf resembles, at some point in its life cycle, a liver.  Well now, if one were looking at the flowers of P. auriculata, he would notice their light, grayish-blue color, and it might occur to him that the color is similar to oxidizing lead.  Therefore, it might be good for treating lead-poisoning.

But Ceratostigma has no known medical value.  It is simply a beautiful plant.  Blue flowers are borne atop low-growing, semi-evergreen plants.  With a touch of cold weather, the foliage turns to rich scarlet, burgundy or bronze, so there is ornamental interest spring to fall.  It is most effective as a ground cover, especially under small trees and in bulb beds.  Though it grows a little tall for a lawn substitute (about 8"), it will tolerate some foot traffic when established.

Ceratostigma thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6 through 9 in well-drained soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  It's somewhat drought-tolerant when established.  In the hottest climates, afternoon shade is beneficial.

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" to 15" 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 Ceratostigma 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.  To encourage dense growth on new stems, mow Ceratostigma to about 4" high in late fall or early winter.  If you use it as a ground cover for a spring bulb bed, mowing will allow the bulbs to show to good advantage.  When the bulb foliage begins to yellow and die, the ground cover growth will help to hide it.

Ceratostigma 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 Ceratostigma in your garden?  Read these reviews by people who grow it, then decide:

"Even though this reportedly is hardy only to Zone 6, if planted in a protected area (moist, well-drained, too) this is certainly hardy in our zone 5A/4B climate. Last winter was particularly rough in terms of zero-minus and no snow cover; lots of gardeners (me too) lost lots of perennials - but this one pulled through with flying colors!  ...it is so prolific as a ground cover! And the colors in late summer through fall are spectacular! The bright blue flowers against the burnt-red foliage is hard to beat!" - Karen, IL

"It is spreading which I don't like. I don't think I like groundcovers anyway."  Ginny, CA

"The only reason this isn't THE most popular groundcover is because it's herbaceous (dies back to the ground each winter.)  Other than that, it's got everything going for it - nice, lush foliage in the spring, turns a wonderful red color in the fall, and has electric blue flowers from mid-summer on." - Terry, TN

"I disagree with that lady from California.  I have a HUGE rectangular garden, with a round center that has creeping red sedum surrounding a bird bath.  In the two squares on either side of the circle are my plumbagoes.  The garden is bricked in, so they can't spread anywhere but in the garden.  Maybe she should try that?  I have them as a main focal point, and are in the biggest area of the garden.  Next to the fence are purple turtleheads? and yellow daylillies alternately, along with hostas that surround my patio.  I'll have to take a picture to show you, but yes!  The plumbagoes are the main attraction.  The bumbles (big black bees) and hummingbirds just love them!" - Ann, IL

Return to Ceratostigma at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Asters' Glory

When summer flowers begin to fade, asters steal the show. From late summer to fall, these delightful perennials adorn the garden with blankets of color.  Aster (pronounced ASS-ter, meaning "star" referring to the shape of the flower) is a group of over 600 species of flowering plants native to Europe, parts of Asia and North America.  Their late bloom time has earned for some of them the common name "Michaelmas Daisy" for the Christian Feast of St. Michael and All Angels which falls on 29 September.

It would have been far too simple to leave all of the species in one big genus, Aster.  So in the 1990s, after intense observation, almost all of the North American species were spun off into new genera.  Those include Almutaster, Canadanthus, Doellingeria, Eucephalus, Eurybia, Ionactis, Oligoneuron, Oreostemma, Sericocarpus and Symphyotrichum.  Not impressed, most gardeners and aster growers have resisted the new names, preferring to stick with the older one.

You know that summer is waning when asters bloom.  Shades of pink, blue, purple and yellow, and white color the landscape.   As the days shorten, they seem to me at once extravagant and melancholy.

Rose Kingsley observed in The Autumn Garden,

"In the garden, Autumn is, indeed the crowning glory of the year, bringing us the fruition of months of thought and care and toil.  And at no season, safe perhaps in Daffodil time, do we get such superb colour effects as from August to November."

Asters generally thrive in full sun in USDA climate zones 3 through 8 in well-drained soils with pH ranging from 5.1 to 6.5.  The flowers attract butterflies, and bees, but the plants are unattractive to deer.  They are generally heat- and drought-tolerant, therefore are well-suited to exposed perennial gardens, wild-flower gardens, butterfly gardens and xeriscaping.  Because it of its medicinal properties, herb gardeners sometimes include Aster tartaricus in their collections.  Gardeners interested in native species have many to choose from.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" 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 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.

Space asters 12" to 18" 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 asters with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.  Occasional pruning helps to maintain compact plants and produces more blooms.

Asters have their afflictions including fungi, nematodes and various insects.  But good gardening practices such as providing good air circulation, removal of dead and diseased material can help to prevent them .

Many of us plan our gardens around spring and summer.  There is nothing wrong with that.  But it would be a shame to neglect shades of autumn.  Asters, by whatever name, add richness to the landscape.  Be sure to include some in your late garden for the crowning glory of the year.

Return to Asters at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Aspidistras Are Practically Immortal

Aspidistra elatior - Cast Iron Plant
As I stroll through cities from Washington, DC to Fort Myers, FL and westward to Dallas, TX, I can't resist glancing between buildings, through gates, over fences and walls to see what's growing.  Very often there's not much to see; the average landscape does not look like something to be featured in a national magazine.  But there are usually a few things worth noting; aspidistras are often among them.

In the narrow, bleak spaces between city townhouses, crowded around gas meters and covered with dust, you'll find aspidistras.  In dry, thin soil under trees they thrive.  Stuffed in neglected pots, they wait for someone to come and dribble a little water; often just a styrofoam cup of melted ice and lemon slice.  Yellowed by too much sun, ragged from neglect, they persist.  Often they are as neglected indoors, or worse.  Orwell's description of one in his novel Keep The Aspidistra Flying is apt:

"It was a peculiarly mangy specimen. It had only seven leaves and never seemed to put forth any new ones. Gordon had a sort of secret feud with the aspidistra. Many a time he had furtively attempted to kill it--starving it of water, grinding hot cigarette-ends against its stem, even mixing salt with its earth. But the beastly things are practically immortal. In almost any circumstances they can preserve a wilting, diseased existence."

Despite its treatment, Aspidistra (pronounced ass-pi-DIS-truh, meaning "shield-like") is a noble genus.  It boasts over 90 known species native to Asian forests from east India to China and Japan.  The bold leaves inspired its name.  They arise, stemless, from underground rhizomes.    Flowers are insignificant.

Aspidistra elatior (pronounced ee-LAY-tee-or, meaning "taller") is the most popular.  In fact, it is the only one known to most gardeners.  It is also known as Cast-Iron Plant or Bar-Room Plant, signifying its toughness.  The dark green leaves, 4" wide, may grow to over 30" in height.  Variegated cultivars are not unknown.  It is drought tolerant and deer-resistant.  Use it in in partial shade to full shade in USDA climate zones 7 to 11.  It prefers well-drained, acid soil with pH ranging from 4.5 to 5.5.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a small fee, they can run a lab test and tell you what your soil may need.

Prepare the planting bed 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.  If you choose to use synthetic fertilizer, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 3 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 8" of soil.  Aspidistra cooperates with kindness.  Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space them 24" to 36" apart.   Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than that of the growing containers.  Water the plants in their pots.  Place them into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the top of the root mass with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed.

Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 3" deep.  The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently.  It also helps suppress weeds.  Though quite drought tolerant, there's no need to abuse.  Irrigate when necessary, but allow the soil to dry between watering.

Aspidistra lends a wonderful tropical appearance to the home and landscape.  Considering that and its few requirements, you should include Cast-Iron Plant in your garden and home.

Return to Aspidistras at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hypericum Lifts The Spirits

Hypericum calycinum - St John's Wort - Aaron's Beard
Hypericum (pronounced hi-PER-ee-kum), also known as St. John's Wort or Aaron's Beard, is a genus of herbaceous annuals and perennials of about 400 species.  With so many species, it should not surprise that they are distributed almost world-wide.  Fewer than 100 species are much cultivated.  Less than two dozen of those are commercially available.  I will focus on one, Hypericum calycinum, which is native to Turkey and parts of eastern Europe.

The name, Hypericum, refers to its being hung above pictures or "icons" to repel evil.  The species name, calycinum (pronounced ka-LEE-kin-um), refers to the prominent calyx at the base of the flower.  The common name, St. John's Wort, refers to St. John The Baptist, whose Birthday Feast in June roughly coincides with the beginning of Hypericum's bloom time.  It's possible that there is also some connection to his imprisonment.  The name, Aaron's Beard, refers to the very prominent, hairy-looking stamens of the flower.

Since antiquity, Hypericum has been used for medicinal purposes.  H. perforatum is most potent.  Taken internally, it's supposed to treat depression.  Used externally, the aromatic oil is said to possess antibiotic properties and to aid in healing wounds, burns and concussions.   Having grown up in a family of herbalists, I remember the plant being often pointed out to us.  It is important to note, however, that self-treatment is not advised.  St. John's Wort may interact badly with other drugs and cause hypersensitivity to light.

Oval-shaped foliage covers shrubby stems up to 18" high.  An abundance of butter-yellow flowers continue for several weeks during the summer.  Foliage color is medium to light green during growing season blushed with burgundy in fall.  In warmer areas of its range, leaves are evergreen.  In colder regions, they turn brown but persist through winter.

The plant covers ground very well, so is excellent for erosion control in medium to large areas.  It is also very useful in perennial gardens and borders.  Hypericum is truly a ground cover plant for all seasons.  It's deer resistant, too.

St. John's Wort is hardy in USDA climate zones 5 through 9, though it produces fewer blooms in zone 9.  It thrives in full sun to partial shade in average, slightly-moist, well-drained soil, but tolerates dry conditions quite well.  Recommended pH ranges from slightly acid to slightly alkaline.  Maintenance needs are few.  Trimming it to 6" height in early spring will stimulate lush re-growth.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a small fee, they can run a lab test and tell you what your soil may need.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep.   If your site is not well-drained, add enough soil to raise the bed about 4" above the surrounding ground level.  Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, 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.

Plant St. John's Wort 12" to 15" apart, or farther. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in their pots.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots, but do not cover the top of the root mass which should remain slightly exposed.

Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" deep.  The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently.  It also helps suppress weeds.

Irrigate when necessary until the planting is established, but allow the soil to dry between watering.  Keep the bed weed-free until the ground cover begins to suppress weed growth on its own.

Though St. John's Wort has been used as an anti-depressant, it lifts my spirits just to see it in bloom.   Given its historical interest, beautiful showy flowers, and easy cultivation, I believe it will please you, too.

Return to Hypericum at goGardenNow.com.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Pachysandra - A Ground Cover Of Choice

Pachysandra terminalis - Japanese Spurge

Pachysandra (pronounced pak-ih-SAND-ruh), commonly called Spurge, is a genus of 4 species that are native to Asia and the U.S.  The genus, a member of the Buxaceae or Boxwood family, is named for its thick stamens.

It's a solution plant for a common landscape problem:  too much shade.  Pachysandra loves shade.  It spreads quickly, too, doing what a ground cover is supposed to do; it covers ground beautifully.  For that reason, pachysandra is the ground cover of choice in some areas.

Of the four species, only two are of commercial importance.

Pachysandra procumbens (pronounced pro-KUM-benz), known as Allegheny Spurge, is native mostly to the southeastern U.S.  Procumbens means "on the ground".  Its distribution roughly follows the Appalachian range, from parts of Florida through Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  But it also occurs in some parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Indiana.  As a side note, I'll mention here that the geological foot of the Appalachians does reach into north Florida around Tallahassee.

Plant height is up to 12".  Mature leaf length is about 4", with toothed margin.  White flowers are insignificant.

It thrives in USDA climate zones 4 through 9 in well-drained but consistently moist soil high in organic matter.  Recommended pH ranges from 5.1 to 6.0.  Full sun may be tolerated in the cooler regions of its range, otherwise grow it in full sun to partial shade.

P. terminalis (pronounced term-in-AL-iss), known as Japanese Spurge, is native also China and Japan.  Insignificant white flowers are produced at the terminal ends of the stems.  Plant height is under 12".  Mature leaf is 3" to 5", with toothed margin.  Foliage is glossier than P. procumbens.

Its cultural requirements are similar to P. procumbens, but it tolerates lower pH levels from 4.0 to 6.0 and drier soil conditions.  In fact, P. terminalis is reasonably drought-tolerant.  Do not over-water.  As with P. procumbens, full sun is tolerated in cooler regions of its range.  Having said that, I recommend partial to full shade for I've observed that the foliage tends to yellow if grown in full sun.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee they will provide a helpful analysis and recommend any necessary improvements.

Pachysandra can be planted almost any time of year so long that the ground is not frozen.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add plenty of organic matter such as compost, peat moss or humus.  If used at all, 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.

Space 12" to 18" 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.

If planting bare root spurge, plant them no deeper than their original growing depth.  You can usually determine this by inspecting the plant stem.  There should be a change in tissue color and texture at the original soil level.  When adding soil around the plant, lightly tamp the soil to remove air pockets, or add water to help settle the soil.  Add mulch.

For the first year until plants become established, monitor moisture levels in the soil.  Though P. terminalis is drought-tolerant, young plants should not be allowed to dry out.  Water both species deeply and slowly enough to allow the water to soak in.

Though pachysandra is frequently used, it is certainly not humdrum.  It covers ground and does it well.  The foliage is beautiful; its needs are few.  Our native species is perfect for moist areas, the Asian species is great for drier places.  The choice should be easy.

Return to Pachysandra at goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

O, Look! Crocuses!


Crocuses are among the earliest harbingers of spring.  Like little jewels, they sprinkle the dark moist earth and bring joy to those who find them.  "O, look!  A crocus!  And look, there are more!"

When a chill remains but hope of spring is growing, native crocus species begin to paint the landscape from central and southern Europe into North Africa and eastward to China.  Meadows, woodlands, slopes and ravines come alive with color.

Cultivation began in ancient times, and they were carried in pockets and sacks to far-flung regions of Europe from the Crusades onward.  Now they seem so common, even in North America, that folks might think they are "from around here."

Crocus, is in the Iridaceae family.  The name, derived from Greek, means "saffron yellow."  Plant size is under 6".  Flower color ranges from shades of purple and blue, to pink, yellow and white.  Most species bloom in early spring, but a few, including Crocus sativus from which saffron is collected, bloom in fall.

They are superb for container and rock gardens, and low bulb borders.  There isn't a better subject for naturalizing, even in the lawn.  Tuck a few anywhere you want a dash of color.  Don't expect a handful of corms to make much of an impression; they should be planted in large quantities.

Crocuses thrive in USDA climate zones 3 through 8, so gardeners in most parts of the U.S. can enjoy them.  Plant in full sun to partial shade.  Average garden soil that is consistently moist with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is fine.

Before preparing your planting site, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  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.

Crocus planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area.  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.  Though they like moist soil, crocus corms do not like soggy conditions.



Your soil sample report will include soil amendment and fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test.  Follow them.  A fine all-around practice for 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 growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Crocus corms should be planted 3" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 3" to 6".  A case of 250 should cover 30 to 60 square feet.  Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Crocuses require very little maintenance.  Plant them and forget about them.  But they will surprise you and bring lots of joy when you've had about all the winter you can stand.  Plant some this fall and anticipate the pleasure.



Colchicum Brings History and Legend To Life

Plants in the genus Colchicum are sometimes called Autumn Crocus, which they resemble.  But they are not true crocus.  The name, Colchicum (pronounced KOHL-chik-um), refers to Colchis, their native region.  Colchis is the area near the Black Sea which was the destination of Jason and the Argonauts in Greek Mythology.

Colchicum are also known as Naked Ladies, inspired by the fact that the blooms appear in the fall without foliage present.   There are, in fact, many plants that share that name.   So to walk into your local garden center and ask for Naked Ladies may not only cause some confusion, but might get you arrested.  I always recommend using botanical names.

Flowering is during fall, and colors range from white to pink to lilac.  Colchicum are effective in container gardens, bulb gardens and borders.  One unique characteristic is that they will often sprout and bloom directly from the bare bulb without the benefit of chilling.  Forcing never was so easy!  Colchicum are also superb for naturalizing.

The plants are hardy in USDA climate zones 5 to 8, requiring full sun to partial shade and well-drained but consistently moist soil, preferably high in organic matter.  Recommended pH is from 6.1 to 7.5.  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 10" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 15" deep.  Common soil amendments include sulfur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil.  Bone meal is especially good for bulbs.  Which you should use depends upon the recommendations of the lab anaylis based your particular circumstance.

Your soil sample report will also include fertilizer recommendations.  A fine all-around practice is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant Colchicum 6" deep and 6" to 10" apart in the fall.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Colchicum is one source of the drug, colchine.  Colchine has been in use for millenia as a treatment for arthritis, rheumatism and gout.  But it must be noted that all parts of the Colchicum plant are quite toxic when ingested.  Mythical Medea, Jason's vindictive wife, may have used it in the commission of her crimes.  Colchicum bulbs should not be confused with or planted near saffron (Crocus sativus) which they resemble and which blooms the same time of year.  Very sensitive persons should avoid direct skin contact.

It's interesting and very educational to grow a plant that has such an ancient and colorful past.  With a couple dozen Colchicum bulbs tucked away in your garden, history and legend will come alive every autumn.

Return to Colchicum at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Triteleia - The Magic of Ithuriel's Spear


Why does a native plant captivate gardeners afar but remain practically unknown in its country of origin?  I have no good explanation.  But such is the case with Triteleia laxa (syn. Brodiaea laxa), commonly known as Grass Nut, Ithuriel's Spear and Fool's OnionTriteleia (pronounced try-TELL-ay-uh) is native to California.

I'm fascinated by names, especially those of plants.  Triteleia refers to the flower parts which appear in threes.  Laxa means "loose."  The common name, Grass Nut, refers to the corm.

The other common name, "Ithuriel's Spear", was probably inspired by John Milton's mention of it in Paradise Lost.  Ithuriel, an angel sent to hunt Satan, was able with the touch of his spear to show the truth of a matter.  Thus, when he touched a toad whispering in Eve's ear, the old sycophant's true form and devilish deceit was revealed.  To be quite honest, I have no idea why this name was given to Triteleia, but it makes for interesting speculation.  Perhaps the magical appearance of the star-shaped flowers had something to do with it, or perhaps its resemblance to Allium flower seemed like a bit of natural deception.

Triteleia is very popular in Europe, and commercially cultivated there.  The most popular cultivar "Queen Fabiola", named for the much-loved Queen of Belgium, blooms late spring to early summer.  Flowers colored light blue last for two to three weeks.  Plant height is 12" or more.  A handful of Triteleia will not make much of a show.  I recommend you plant at least a couple hundred of them.  They're perfect for naturalizing, alpine and rock gardens and containers. Great for cut flowers, too!

Triteleia is hardy in USDA climate zones 6 to 10.  They prefer full sun to partial shade and do well in average garden soil. Ideal pH ranges from 6.1 to 7.8.  Though somewhat drought tolerant during summer months, they benefit from moist soil during the growing season. Leafy mulch is ideal. 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.

Corms for fall planting are shipped in September or October.  Corms for spring planting are shipped in February, weather permitting.

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.  Common soil amendments include sulfur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil.  Bone meal is especially good for bulbs.  Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance.

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.

Triteleia corms should be planted about 5" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Recommended plant spacing is 6" to 8", so a case of 250 should cover  approximately 60 to 110 square feet.  Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Some suitable companion plants may include the following in shades of yellow and white: Centaurea dealbata, Coreopsis, Digitalis, Hemerocallis, Kniphofia, Leucanthemum, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Verbascum (ornamental mullein).

Planted liberally, Triteleia will make a wonderful, long-lasting show in your late spring to early summer garden.  You'll be glad you found this lovely American native.

Return to Tritelia at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Astilbe Glitters In The Shade

Astilbe is a genus of easy-to-grow, herbaceous perennials native to China, Japan and North America, with frothy blooms and fern-like foliage. The name Astilbe (pronounced a-STIL-bee) is formed from two Greek words meaning "without glittering", referring to the leaf surface that is often dull. I think the name is unfortunate for Astilbe flowers do seem to glitter in the summer shade garden. Astilbe is commonly known as false spirea, goat's beard and false goats beard.

Bloom season ranges from early to mid-summer. Flower colors include shades of red and pink, lilac to purple, and white. Plant height ranges from 8" to 48".

Though there are about 18 species within the genus, there are very many cultivars and hybrids, so astilbe is a great subject for the plant collector who wishes to specialize in a particular genus. Astilbe, however, works well with companion plants such as ferns, hostas, azaleas and rhododendrons, pieris, kalmia. As summer wears on, astilbe tends to wear out, so it is a good idea to plant with companions that are more attractive later in the growing season.

Astilbe performs well in USDA climate zones 3 through 8. Because it is native to woodland coves and ravines, it stands to reason that shade is the preferred environment. But astilbe also thrives in sunny gardens if adequate moisture is supplied. Slightly moist, loamy soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5 is recommended. Take care not to over-water.

Astilbe plants are most commonly available in 3-1/2" to 4" pots, 1-gallon pots, or as bare root plants. I should note at this point that bare root plants are usually divisions, and they are not at all attractive. They may lack foliage. Fibrous roots extending from the main rhizome usually look dry. Depending on the number of growing points (known as "eyes") per division, the length of the rhizomes could be from 2" to 6". Container-grown plants acquired in late summer don't look too good, either, but don't let that stop you. It is simply the nature of the beast.

Before planting, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. For a small fee, they can run a lab test and tell you what your soil may need.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 12" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Composted manure and peat moss may be incorporated into the soil. If you choose to use synthetic fertilizer, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 3 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 8" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space at 12" to 18" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Water the plants in their pots. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the top of the root mass with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed.

If planting bare root divisions, plant approximately 4" deep and cover with a good grade of organic peat soil. Water gently to avoid disturbance.

Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" deep. The mulch helps retain soil moisture, so you can water less frequently. It also helps suppress weeds.

Astilbe foliage lends a lush, woodsy appearance to the landscape while the frothy flower clusters add beauty and color. Diseases are seldom a problem. Insects, deer and rabbits don't seem interested. So, astilbe ranks high on my list of recommended plants.

Return to Astilbe at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Glory Of The Snow

When winter has become a burden, delightful little flowers popping through the snow delight the soul. Chionodoxa (pronounced kye-oh-no-DOK-sa) should be among them. Commonly called Glory-Of-The-Snow, it is aptly named. We seldom experience snow here in south Georgia, but late winter blooms pushing up through the grass are welcomed.

Like many of our favorite perennial bulbs, Chionodoxa is native to Turkey and the Mediterranean region. They have been in cultivation for so long that you will find them naturalized in many European and North American landscapes.

The genus Chionodoxa is in the Hyacinthaceae family, and the resemblance is evident. Though the flowers are not borne in such abundance as Hyacinthus, they are very charming. Plant size is under 6". Flower color ranges from blue to pink to white. Bloom season is from late winter to mid-spring, depending upon the region.

They are wonderful for naturalizing, even in the lawn. You can also use them to good effect in containers, bulb gardens, rock gardens, and in low borders. Don't expect a handful of bulbs to make much of an impression. They should be planted in large quantities en masse.

Glory-Of-The-Snow thrives in USDA climate zones 4 through 9, so gardeners in most parts of the U.S. can enjoy them. Plant in full sun. Average garden soil that is consistently moist with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is fine.

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. Their recommendations are well worth it.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. 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. Though they like moist soil, Chionodoxa bulbs do not like soggy conditions. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance.

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.

Chionodoxa bulbs should be planted no deeper than 3". Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole. Recommended plant spacing is 3" to 6". A case of 250 should cover 30 to 60 square feet. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Like many ornamental bulbs, Chionodoxa are toxic. Very sensitive persons may experience irritation with skin contact. However, that same characteristic makes them unattractive to hungry wildlife.

Glory-Of-The-Snow, planted liberally, will brighten your life when the winter blues have gotten you down. Plant some this fall and anticipate the pleasure.

Return to Chionodoxa at goGardenNow.com.

Native Camassia For The Extraordinary Garden

Camassia is a small genus of six species of perennials that are native to North America. Apart from their floral beauty, they were appreciated as food by natives and new settlers. The name is from American Indian words meaning "sweet". They grew in large numbers in moist meadows exposed to full sun. They are sometimes called Wild Hyacinth or Quamash.

The six species are:
  • Camassia angusta - Praire Camas. Ranges from Iowa to Texas, and eastward to Indiana and Mississippi. Flowers are nearly white. Height is 24" to 36".
  • Camassia cusickii - Cusick's Camas. Native to Oregon and Idaho. Flowers are blue. Height is 18" to 24".
  • Camassia howellii - Howell's Camas. Native to Oregon. Flowers are blue or white, depending upon the variety. Height is 36" to 48".
  • Camassia leichtlinii - Large Camas. Ranges in the U.S. from Washington to southern California and eastward to Nevada. Flowers are blue or white, depending upon the variety. Height is 36" to 48".
  • Camassia quamash - Small Camas. Ranges in the U.S. from Washington to southern California and eastward to Wyoming. Flowers are blue. Height is 18" to 24".
  • Camassia scilloides - Bear Grass. Ranges in the U.S. from Michigan to Georgia and from Pennsylvania to Texas. Flowers are blue. Height is 18" to 24".

Of those species, three are commonly available from commercial suppliers: Camassia cusickii, C. leichtlinii, and C. quamash. Flowering season ranges from spring into summer.

Camassia is a nice, low-maintenance plant that thrives in USDA climate zones 4 or 5 through 8 or 9. Plant in full sun to partial shade. Average garden soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8 is fine. Though found in moist places, Camassia is also drought tolerant when established.

Before planting, take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office. They often provide collection bags. With each soil sample, indicate the type of bulb you intend to grow in it. 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. Follow the recommendations.

Bulb planting begins in September or October, depending upon your area. Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 12" deep. Poorly drained sites can be improved by raising the height of the planting beds. Common soil amendments include sulphur for lowering pH, limestone for raising pH, sand for helping drainage, clay for slowing drainage, gypsum for breaking up caking clay and compost for enriching the soil. Bone meal is especially good for bulbs. Which you should use depends upon your particular circumstance. Your local Cooperative Extension Service should be helpful.

Your soil sample report will include fertilizer recommendations based upon the results of the test. Following its instruction should be a good bet. 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. Apply 2 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer per ten square feet of garden area every two weeks until flower buds appear.

Camassia bulbs should be planted three times as deep as the bulbs are wide. For example, if the bulb is 2" wide, plant it 6" deep. Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole. Plant spacing depends upon the species, but ranges from 6" to 18". Cover the bulbs with soil and add a top-dressing of mulch about 2" deep to suppress weeds. Unless snow or rain fall is inadequate, irrigation should not be necessary.

Because Camassia are edible, curious persons may be tempted to eat them. But care should be taken to verify the plant's correct identity. Camassia bulbs are similar in appearance and name to the toxic Death Camas, Zigadenus nuttallii. Similarly, the name, Wild Hyacinth, may be confused with the popular but toxic Hyacinthus orientalis or Dutch Hyacinth. Do not munch if you are not absolutely sure.

Sometimes native plants are considered to be common and ordinary. Perhaps, as the saying goes, "Familiarity breeds contempt." But there is nothing common or ordinary about Camassia when you take a closer look. It is a wonderful native plant for your extraordinary garden.

Return to Camassia at goGardenNow.com.

Planting Time & Conventional Wisdom

I visited a nearby garden center a few days ago. The plants were of excellent quality, well-maintained and attractively arranged. Most were atop black ground cover fabric. While waiting to speak to the salesperson, I overheard a conversation between him and an inquisitive buyer who was purchasing some Aztec Grass in 1-gallon nursery containers. The exchange went something like this:

Buyer: "I want to plant some of those Leyland Cypress in 15-gallon containers. When would be the best time to do it? I'm thinking it might be too hot right now."

Salesperson: "Uh. Well, it is a little too hot right now. Wait 'til the weather cools off. Then anytime until the first of May would be okay."

Buyer: "Okay. Thanks. I'll be back."

I hope the buyer will return. If he plants his Leyland Cypress anytime between October and the first of May, he'll be okay. But he could have bought and planted them that day!

The buyer's question was one that I often hear. So was the salesperson's answer. Both were relying on conventional wisdom regarding "the right time" to plant. Both needed help. I wanted to step into the conversation and ask the following:
  • "Excuse me, but why is it okay to plant the Aztec Grass today, but not to plant Leyland Cypress?"
  • "What is the surface temperature out there under those plants?" Since they were displayed in full sun atop black plastic, my guess is that it would have been way over 100 degrees F.
  • "Do you think normal soil temperature is cooler than that material?" Answer: Yes.
  • "Do you think the plants will need watering more or less frequently if planted?" Answer: If not planted, they may require water more than once per day. If planted, they may need water less than once per day.
  • "So, do you think the Leyland Cypress would be better off in the ground, or on top of it?" Answer: In the ground.
But I didn't interrupt.

The fact is that anytime is a good time to plant container-grown shrubs, trees and perennials that are hardy in your area. What more is involved than preparing the site, digging some holes, watering them in their pots, lifting them from their containers, plugging them in the ground, watering some more, and adding a layer of mulch? As long as the soil isn't shaken from their roots in the process, the plants will do well. They will require maintenance whether planted or not, but less maintenance if planted.

Shrubs, trees and perennials planted in fall should not succumb to cold temperatures if planted in winter, provided that they are in good health to begin with and cold hardy in your area.  The roots are better protected in the ground.  Though the branches and foliage will not grow during cold weather, the roots will establish themselves.  As a result, they will be ready to get growing the following warm season.

The successful gardener will often question conventional wisdom. Sometimes wisdom is conventional because it's true. But it may be bad information that has been accepted as true and passed along.

Ask questions. Consider answers. Think again.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hippeastrum Will Delight You

The genus Hippeastrum (pronounced "hip-ee-ASS-trum") is native to sub-tropical and tropical areas of South America and the Caribbean. The name is formed from two Greek words referring to "cavalry" and "star." It is theorized that the man who named it in 1837, the Reverend William Herbert, was thinking that the flower resembled a weapon used by medieval knights. Though the plants are of the Amaryllidacea (pronounced "am-uh-ril-id-AY-see-ee") family, Hippeastrum are incorrectly called "amaryllis." True Amaryllis are members of a separate genus.

Commercial bulb growers in the Netherlands noticed them and began developing them shortly after they were discovered. The cultivars developed there are known as Dutch Hippeastrum or Dutch Amaryllis. In the 1940s, a couple of Dutch growers moved their operations to South Africa and began developing them there. Unfortunately, South African Hippeastrum are not as widely available as the Dutch cultivars, but they are every bit as beautiful.

Commercial hippeastrum cultivation is no longer confined to Holland and South Africa; growers in other countries have begun their own development programs.

Hippeastrum are easily grown indoors. Because they are readily available in fall and early winter, they are very popular as gift items during the Christmas season.

Growing them indoors is a snap. Obtain good quality bulbs. The larger ones will produce the most flowers and be much more satisfying. Select planting containers with good drainage that are 6" to 8" deep, and wide enough to allow 1" to 1-1/2" of space around the bulbs. Hippeastrum do well when pot-bound. Potting soil should be peat-based and blended with perlite for good drainage. Plant each bulb in the center of its pot with one third of the bulb exposed above the soil level. Water thoroughly and allow to drain.

It is not necessary to feed the bulb at planting time; many popular brands of potting soil already contain small amounts of fertilizer. When the last flowers fade, feed the plant every two or three weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer or slow-release bulb fertilizer. Always follow label instructions.

Watering at planting time should be the last time you do so until the flower stem begins to appear. Then resume watering and keep the soil slightly moist. Irrigating once every week to ten days should suffice. Slowly pour water around the bulb into the soil. If grown indoors, the room temperature should be maintained at 70 to 75 degrees. A cool room temperature will extend the bloom period. Plenty of indirect light is necessary; southern exposure is best.

When spring arrives and danger of cold weather is past, move your plant outdoors. You may keep the pot on a porch or patio, or submerge it somewhere in your garden. Submerging it will relieve you of watering as frequently. Avoid direct sun during the heat of the day.

Sometime around late summer to early fall, the plant will begin to slip into dormancy. Cut back on watering and fertilizing. If your area is experiencing a lot of rainfall, bring the pot indoors. When the foliage has yellowed and dried, trim it off.

Every couple of years or so, you may want to remove the dormant bulb from its pot and inspect it for fungus or insect damage. If the damage is not severe, trim off affected material and dust with an appropriate fungicide according to label instructions. Store the bulb in a cool, dark area with good air circulation. The parent bulb may have produced smaller ones from the base. They can be separated and planted in their own pots.

The normal period of dormancy lasts for a little over six weeks. The bulb may signal that its dormancy is completed when it begins to produce a new flower spike. If it doesn't, watering it once again and bringing it into the light may induce a new growth cycle.

Hippeastrum were not discovered growing in pots somewhere in Brazil. They were in the ground. So you should be able to grow them in your garden if you live in a warm climate. USDA climate zones 8 through 11 have hospitable climates. Plant the bulbs in partial shade and well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. The shoulders of the bulbs should be exposed above the soil surface just as those planted in pots. The large bulbs used for forcing can be planted outdoors after blooming. But if you want to plant more than a couple, purchase the smaller, less expensive garden bulbs when they become available in spring.

Hippeastrum will delight you. Their large flowers and bold, strap-like foliage brighten any room or garden with tropical elegance.

Return to Hippeastrum at goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Not-So-Magical Experience Of Composting

Bette Midler is quoted as saying, "My whole life has been spent waiting for an epiphany, a manifestation of God's presence, the kind of transcendent, magical experience that let's you see your place in the big picture. And that is what I had with my first compost heap."

There comes a time in a gardener's life when she has an "Ah-HAH" moment. A light turns on and she discovers the wonders of compost. Though it is a revelation to her, composting is a great cycle that has continued since life first began: composing, decomposing, and back again. It's part of the plan that even the "Divine Miss M" may not fully know. "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust."

Compost happens, but intentional composting is a planned inducement of the natural process. The gardener collects organic material, stirs it occasionally, and lets native organisms do their work. From a heap of really nasty-looking stuff, nature works as if by magic to produce something wonderful.

But it's not as magical as it seems. Let's take a closer look.

The gathered materials may include grass clippings, shredded paper, discarded fruits and vegetables, egg shells, fallen leaves, shrub trimmings, sawdust, garden weeds, ashes, livestock and poultry manure, even pet poop. Given some water and air, micro-organisms attack the assemblage with voracious appetites. At the same time, chemical processes such as oxidation break down the materials, and the micro-organisms eat that stuff, too. With all this frenetic activity going on, the pile heats.

Like a big bash going on down the street, nearby residents and passersby take notice. Flies breeze by and drop off bacteria. Single-cell creeps with hardly half a brain between them arrive and begin to cling. Fun-guys (fungi) appear from nowhere and make themselves at home. Mites pick at this and that, including other guests. Millipedes stroll and stroll and stroll, sampling a bit of everything. Sowbugs eat stuff mashed on the floor. Snails and slugs, never socially adept, slime their way among the crowd munching left-overs. Spiders entrap and roll the unsuspecting. Centipedes and beetles knock over spiders and other party-goers. Earthworms work their way around, and somehow everything comes out right from their ends.

Books have been written on how to contain and manage this free-for-all. A lot of material is available in book stores, magazines and posted on the internet. Most advocate confining it to boxes or bins hidden from view. Many recommend barrels disguised as BBQ cookers that can be tumbled to mix it up. Still others suggest heaping it up and letting it go, agitating sometimes to keep the party going. It's all good.

A few gardeners, like amateur brew-masters, compost very carefully. They follow recipes, add a touch of this or shovel-full of that, include obscure ingredients, take temperature readings and samples until just the right moment. It's beyond the scope of this article to address all that.

In my opinion, composting is not a transcendent experience; it is, simply, a very good thing to do. Here's why:
  • Composting recycles organic materials for further use.
  • It reduces waste.
  • Composting takes advantage of readily available materials.
  • It is environmentally friendly.
  • It is economical and inexpensive.
  • It is healthy for you and for your garden.
  • Composting is educational.
  • It gives a sense of "the big picture."
There you have it. Let this be your, "Ah-HAH!" moment. GoGardenNow!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Behind A Garden Wall: Ladew Topiary Gardens


Maryland State Highway 146, north of Jacksonville, meanders through gently rolling countryside featuring forest glades, verdant pastures and horse farms. Occasionally a fence, hedge or wall obscures a landscape from prying eyes. These always pique my interest. But there is one among them that welcomes public visitors to enjoy its pleasures: the Ladew Topiary Gardens.

In 1929, Harvey S. Ladew (1887-1976) purchased Pleasant Valley Farm and set about creating a 22-acre flower and topiary garden. Like most of us, he was a self-taught gardener who dreamed of creating an idyllic hideaway where he could garden to his heart's content and share it with friends. And like most of us, his garden grew along with his ideas. But unlike most of us, he had the means to create something really outstanding and keep it properly maintained.

Ladew loved to travel, so he gathered inspiration as he went. In the 1920s, he became fascinated with the art of topiary while visiting England. Topiary is the practice of training and trimming shrubs and trees into unnatural shapes. He was also very much taken with the idea of creating garden "rooms" or defined areas devoted to particular colors, plants or themes. So he gathered up his tools and set to work to create what The Garden Club of America named "the most outstanding topiary garden in America."

Before he died, Ladew made sure that his garden legacy would be preserved for public enjoyment. It exists today as a not-for-profit organization "to maintain and promote the gardens, house and facilities in keeping with the creative spirit of Harvey S. Ladew for the public benefit and for educational, scientific and cultural pursuits.


One of the first features to delight you upon visiting the property is the topiary Hunt Scene, which has become the symbol of Ladew Topiary Gardens. Yes, indeed. A green fox is frozen in time on the front lawn, chased by equally stationary hounds, and followed by top-hatted hunter made of shrubbery charging across a hedge astride his leafy steed. I wondered whether the bushy canines are ever visited by real dogs.


The existing home at Pleasant Valley Farm was originally a modest, four room house build around 1747. The Scarff family, from whom Ladew purchased the property, had enlarged the home during the 19th century. Ladew enlarged it further in the 1930s to create what is called the "Manor House." It is an imposing white residence that anchors the gardens around it. The garden rooms become living spaces as extensions of the home. On a smaller scale, this is something which I believe every home lawn and garden should be designed to achieve.

The first garden room to visit is a small woodland area featuring a large dovecote and antique aquarium. Shade loving perennials such as Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese spurge), Aserum europeum (European wild ginger), Mertensia virginica (Virginia Bluebells) surround the area. Pachysandra is such a successful ground cover that is is used in many of the other garden rooms.

A Victorian garden room is walled by rhododendron and features a carved concrete table with chairs with natural scene motifs.

The Berry Garden is planted with Viburnum and other species that produce colorful fall and winter harvests for birds.

A garden was also designed for sports. A tennis court built by Ladew was later turned into a croquet court. Border plantings begin with tulips in spring and change with the seasons. At some distance from the gardens, two well-manicured polo fields are on the property.

Three garden rooms are devoted to particular color themes. The Pink Garden is planted with Rosa 'The Fairy', cannas, Hydrangea macrophyllum, Phlox paniculata, Berberis thunbergii atropurpurea, Sedum x 'Autumn Joy' and plants of other appropriate shades. The Yellow Room, pictured above, features Ligularia, Ligustrum, Ilex x Foster hybrids, Chamaecyparis obtusa and C. pisifera cultivars, Hosta 'Sum and Substance', Hemerocallis and the like. The White Garden is planted with "more than 35 different types of plants" with white flowers and variegated foliage. Those include hostas, Aruncus, Actaea racemosa, variegated lacecap hydrangeas, Philadelphus, Cornus alba 'Elegantissima', Phlox, Hypoestes and more.

A "Garden Of Eden" cordoned with a Belgian fence of pome fruits features a statue of Adam and Eve. The sculpture can be viewed to good advantage looking back through the entrance of the Keyhole Garden. The Keyhole Garden is shaded by a mature Purple Leaf plum and planted with Phormium, Salvia, Celosia and Berberis 'Crimson Pigmy'.

The delightful Water Lily garden features PeeGee Hydrangea standards, Clethra alnifolia, Liriope spicata 'Variegata' and variegated hostas.
The Ladews loved to entertain in the garden, so the old facade of London's Tivoli Theatre ticket booth was moved to the garden and converted into a wonderful little tea house. At some distance, a Temple of Venus folly entices intimate visitors.

Magnificent topiaries can be found in many places around the property. The Sculpture Garden includes shrubby creations in the form of a top hat, a heart pierced by an arrow, birds, a butterfly and flower, seahorses and a victory sign. The 2-acre Great Bowl holds a shallow swimming pool in the center and is surrounded by wavy hedges afloat with swan topiaries. To the east of the Great Bowl, a walk through a gateway in a hedge leads to the Iris Garden, divided by an attractive brook. At the end, a koi pond features a topiary Chinese "junk", overlooking which a topiary Buddha meditates. The Terrace Garden is guarded with windowed walls, obelisks and garlands of Canadian hemlock.

So many wonderful areas invite us to linger: the portico, herb and cutting garden, cottage garden and wildflower meadow. When you've had enough order, a 1-1/2 mile nature walk provides a stroll through somewhat trammeled wilderness.

If you ever have an opportunity to visit Ladew Topiary Gardens, I encourage you to do so. There is no better way to spend your hours than in a garden. You'll come away with many ideas you'll want to try on a smaller scale at home. But don't hurry away; stop for refreshment in the Cafe. In addition to the gardens, tours of the manor house are available, and throughout the year special events and concerts will entertain you.
Return to goGardenNow.com.