Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Russian Sage - Neither Russian Nor Sage


Russian Sage is not native to Russia.  The genus, Perovskia, is native to the mountains of central Asia, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan to China.  Perovskia was discovered in 1840, and probably named in honor of Russian governor and general, Vasily Alekseevich Perovski.

In 1839, when the British were occupied with the First Anglo-Afghan War, Russia seized the opportunity to extend its borders into central Asia.  Led by Perovski, Russian forces invaded The Khanate of Khiva with over 5000 troops and 10,000 camels under the pretense of apprehending slave traders.  Within three months, extreme winter weather forced a retreat at the cost of 1000 casualties without a single battle.

About 12 years later, Perovski returned to The Khanates of Khiva and Kokan with more experience, better planning and weather.  Perhaps the high-point of his military success was the taking of Fortress Ak-Mechet, held by Kokanians "on Russian territory".

Perovski diplomatically informed the Kokands, "Ak-Mechet is already taken, although you are inside it, and you cannot fail to perceive that without losing any of my men, I am in a position to destroy every one of you.  The Russians have come hither not for a day, nor yet for a year, but for ever.  They will not retire.  If you wish to live, ask for mercy; should you prefer to die in Ak-Mechet, you can do so; I am not pressed for time, and do not intend to hurry you.  I here repeat that I do not come to offer you combat, but to thrash you until you open your gates."

His diplomacy being successful, Perovski gained a treaty in 1854 that benefited Russia.  Perovski was made a count.  Fortress Ak-Mechet was renamed Fort Perovski.  By 1924, both Kokan and Khiva (together becoming parts of Kazakhstan) were absorbed into the Soviet Union.  In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed.  Kazakhstan is now an independent Turkic state.  Some Russians remain.

The cavalry flew by and vanished,
The storm thundered and hushed.
Lawlessness bore down, bore down -
Silence and light all around.

- Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin

Flowers also remain, brushed by the wind.

Russian Sage is not a true sage, though it is related as a member of the Lamiaceae family which includes lavender, mint, salvia and such.  Like many of its relatives, its leaves and stems contain aromatic essential oils.  Though known for over a century, it was not used much in ornamental gardens until fairly recently.  The favorite species has been P. atriplicifolia (pronounced at-ry-pliss-ih-FOH-lee-uh).  Being named the Perennial Plant Of The Year in 1995 by the Perennial Plant Association  helped a lot.

From a distance, Russian Sage resembles lavender with its long, wispy stems and small, light blue flowers held above silvery foliage.  Crush a few leaves between your fingers, bring to your nose.  Inhale.  The family connection is obvious.  (This is where I wish technology enabled a "scratch and sniff" link.)

Perovskia atriplicifolia grows to 36" or more and at least as wide.  Newer cultivars may be more compact.

Few gardeners would devote a garden to Russian Sage as they might to roses, but a mass planting is spectacular.  It's also very effective in mixed perennial borders for color and textural contrast.  Russian Sage is also effective in fragrance gardens, cutting gardens, naturalized meadows, butterfly and herb gardens.  It's perfect for dried flower arrangements.  Russian Sage can be grown in short hedges, open fields, borders and knot-gardens.

Do you live in an area with a dry climate?  Is your water use restricted?  When well-established, Russian Sage is drought-tolerant.  Being native to harsh environments, it tolerates inner-city pollution.  Do deer and rabbits come to your garden to dine?  Russian Sage is deer and rabbit resistant.  The essential oils may even repel some insects and vermin.

Flowers of Russian Sage, which appear from late spring to early fall, are edible.  They have a hint of sweetness.  You can sprinkle them on salads, cookies and baked goods.

Historically, Russian Sage has been used medicinally to reduce fever, but I highly recommend you ask your doctor before you try to treat yourself or others.

Russian Sage is generally hardy in USDA climate zones 5 through 9, preferring full sun and well-drained soils with pH ranging from 5.1 to 6.5.  Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service Office for proper analysis.  You may pay a small fee.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  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 24" to 36" 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 Russian Sage with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.  The greatest cause of failure is over-watering.

For cutting and drying, clip Russian Sage with small hand clippers just before flower buds open when dew has dried.  Hang stems upside down to dry in a warm, dry, shady area.  The cuttings should dry within a week.

I love plants that are beautiful, fragrant, useful, easy to grow and with stories behind them.  Russian Sage is such a plant.

Return to Russian Sage at goGardenNow.com.

Pick Your Own Fruit And Vegetables

Sure, you can find fresh produce at the grocery store.  The selection seems unlimited.  Trucks bring it every day from near and far; mostly far.

But wait...  Summer is here!  You can pick your own produce and enjoy the benefits that grocery shoppers miss.
  • Save money.  The labor you invest in harvesting your own can result in lower prices.
  • Know your farmer.  Most pick-your-own farms are family-owned and operated, so family members are usually on site.  Building friendships is easy to do.
  • Know the farm.  Good farming practices result in quality produce.  You can make a reasonable assessment just by visiting, and it's easy to learn more by asking the farmer himself.
  • Enjoy the local flavor.  Food just seems to taste better when it's eaten close to where it was grown.  Perhaps it's the soil, or the environment.  Many argue that locally-grown food is more nutritious, too.  In fact, some very flavorful fruit and vegetable varieties don't ship well, so you'll never have the opportunity to enjoy them if you don't buy them at the farm.
  • Teach your children.  Many people have no idea where their food comes from, how it's grown or harvested.  Visiting a farm with your family can be a valuable life lesson for the children.
  • Have some fun.  Many pick-your-own farms offer hay-rides, petting zoos, seasonal festivals and lots of other attractions.
  • Support the local economy.  What goes around comes around, and the cycle is a bit shorter when you buy from locally owned farmers and markets.
Our blueberry crop here in Statesboro, GA is ready for picking.  We're open 8 am to 6pm Monday through Friday, 8 am to 4pm on Saturday.  We're closed on Sundays.  Call me me at 912-601-2338 or email me for availability and directions.

If you want to find a pick-your-own farm in your area, check out PickYourOwn.org.  The nice people at that site also provide lots of helpful information, including picking tips, recipes, and how to can and freeze your produce.

Find a farm today, and start picking!

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Matted Lignum: A Treat For Big Birds, Children And You

Once there was a very big bird (yellow, I think, or perhaps light brown) that loved sweet treats.  It was huge, about 12' high and weighed maybe 500 lbs.   This bird couldn't fly because it had no wings, but that didn't matter much for it had few enemies.  It lived in a small, sheltered neighborhood.

But bullies moved in and grew in number.  Before long, the big bird existed no more.  They ate it.  Strangely, few remember.  Now they claim the neighborhood as though it had always been theirs, and their children eat the treats.

The bird in mind is not the star of television and movies, but a very large species called the Moa, native to New Zealand.  Perhaps its closest living relative is the emu, or possibly the South American tinamous.  But, to get an image in your mind, think of the ostrich, only much bigger and with a formidable hooked beak.  It browsed on a wide variety of plants including the sweet fruit of Muehlenbeckia axillaris (pronounced mew-len-BEK-ee-ah ax-ILL-ar-iss), also known as Matted Lignum, Creeping Wire Vine, Maidenhair Vine, and Mattress Vine.

Until humans arrived on the scene, the only known enemy of the moa was an enormous raptor called Haast's Eagle.  Haast's eagles weighed up to 33 pounds and attacked moas from above at speeds of over 50 miles per hour.

Then Maori arrived around 1300AD.  They are now considered to be the indigenous people of New Zealand.  As you know, indigenous people are often portrayed as living in harmony with nature.  In fact, the Maori hunted the moa to extinction, perhaps within a hundred years after their arrival.  As the moa disappeared, so did the Haast's eagle.

The pearly, succulent, star-shaped fruit of Matted Lignum is edible and rather sweet.  To be precise, it is not the fruit that is edible; it resembles a black seed.  But the succulent sepals and petals surrounding the fruit are enjoyed, especially by Maori children.  (If your child is not Maori, I suggest you check with your physician before you allow him to eat the fruit.)

Muehlenbeckia, native to New Zealand, Australia and Papua New Guinea, was named in honor of Henri Gustave Muehlenbeck, a 19th century French physician who investigated the flora of Alsace.  In those days, most physicians were botanists, too.  But he got nowhere near New Zealand, as far as I can tell.  "Axillaris" means "in the leaf axils", referring to the position of the flowers and fruit.

Gardeners know Matted Lignum as an effective ground cover.  When prostrate, the plant forms a dense mat, up to 4", of tough, woody vines.  "Lignum" refers to the tough vines, as does the name, Creeping Wire Vine.  The name, Mattress Vine, refers to the density of the mat.  It tolerates foot traffic quite well.  It is also excellent for controlling erosion in your landscape.

I have no idea why it's called Maidenhair Vine, as it doesn't resemble the hair of any maidens I've known.  The small, evergreen leaves are bronze in color from fall to spring.  In addition to its use as a ground cover, it's excellent for container gardens and hanging baskets, topiarys, and cascading over walls.

Matted Lignum is hardy in USDA climate zones 6 through 9.  Soil should be well-drained, with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Mature plants are drought tolerant.  It is deer-resistant.

To determine whether soil amendments are necessary, take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office.  They will provide you with a helpful report for a small fee.

Prepare the planting bed for Matted Lignum by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep. Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Fertilizer 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.

Plant Matted Lignum 24" to 30" 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.

The only negative is that it can cover ground, as a good ground cover should, therefore it should be trimmed occasionally to keep it confined.

Matted Lignum is an interesting solution plant.  It's a fine ground cover, controls erosion beautifully and tolerates foot traffic.  It makes lovely topiarys, performs well in container gardens and hanging baskets, and cascades nicely over stone walls.  Not only that, you'll have a fascinating story to tell your guests as you stroll through your garden.  What a treat that will be!

Return to Muehlenbeckia at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Refreshing Oswego Tea

The New World was a treasure-trove of plants to early European explorers. Many of their uses came to light as the colonizing foreigners observed the native people. Just so did the value of Oswego Tea come to be known.

Oswego Tea, also known as Bee Balm, Horsemint and Bergamot is of the genus Monarda, containing about 16 indigenous species. Monarda is named for Nicolas Monardes, 16th century Spanish physician and botanist. In those days, most physicians were botanists. Monardes wrote his famous Historia medicinal de las cosas que se traen de nuestras Indias Occidentales. Of course, he referred to "our West Indian" possessions because most of the territory was under the Spanish flag. In 1577, John Frampton (Englishman) translated Monardes book and titled it, Ioyfull newes out of the newe founde worlde, typically disregarding Spanish claims.

Monarda belongs to the Mint family, Lamiaceae. It's easy to recognize Monarda's relationship to mints. Stems are squared. Leaves are slender, tapered and toothed. The flowers are quite large compared to mints, usually red to pink in color, and are produced repeatedly throughout the growing season. The fragrance is very pleasing. I enjoy crushing the leaves between my fingers for a refreshing sniff.

One of the most useful species, and the one I'll treat for the rest of this article, is M. didyma (pronounced DID-ee-muh). It is sometimes called Scarlet Beebalm. You can find it growing wild, especially in the Appalacians where rich, moist, well-drained soils are very much to its liking.

Scarlet Beebalm is known for its antiseptic properties. Of course, the Indians knew it first. They used it as a poultice, and as a refreshing tea for fighting tooth decay, gum disease, and bad breath. An active ingredient, Thymol, is still used in mouthwashes.

It attracts bees, so is a useful honey plant. Butterflies love it, too.

But most of us love Scarlet Beebalm because it is so beautiful. Monarda grows up to 48", sometimes taller, so the lovely flowers may tower above other perennials. It spreads by runners to about 12" across, so if your garden site is to its liking, you may have a colony in a couple of growing seasons.

Monarda is suitable in perennial gardens and borders, herb gardens, butterfly and bee gardens, and wildflower gardens. New cultivars and hybrids are available in differing heights and in colors ranging from white, to pink, purplish and scarlet.

Monarda thrives in full sun in USDA climate zones 3 or 4 to 9 in fertile, well-drained, evenly moist soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8. It can be grown in partial shade, but tends to be leggy and flower less.

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 12" 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.

Monarda has no serious pests or diseases, and deer and rabbits don't like it. Powdery mildew may appear, but is usually not serious enough to ruin your plants. The greatest cause of failure is planting it in an environment that is not to its liking.

When your Beebalm is in bloom, pick a few leaves for tea, then sit in the shade, and enjoy its beauty. It's as refreshing to the palate as it is to the eye.

Return to Monarda goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Beth's Dahlias

Several days ago, I invited my Facebook friends to send photos of flowers from their gardens, and that I would post them here.  Beth Oldham in Statesboro, GA sent this photo of some of her dahlias.  Beautiful, aren't they?

To learn more about dahlias, check out my blog article: Dahlias For Best Of Show 

If you have some flowers in your garden you'd like to showcase here, send digital photos of them to me.  john@gogardennow.com.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Results of Community Poll Ending 11 June, 2010.

The community poll just ended at goGardenNow.com asked the question:

"Regarding your lawn, what is your preference?"

  • 8% said "I must have a perfect lawn (like a putting green), and am willing to pay any price for it."
  • 26% said "I would have a perfect lawn, but can't afford it."
  • 66% said "I am not that particular as long as it's green."

While this is not a scientific sampling, it does indicate that our love for our lawns is not what some might think.  Bormann, Balmori and Geballe in Redesigning The American Lawn: A Search for Environmental Harmony (1993) argued that Americans were too much in love with the ideal lawn, "a rich sward of pure grass", and that our love affair was detrimental to the environment due to overuse of pesticides and fertilizers.  Perhaps it was never so, or perhaps things have changed, for a sizable majority of respondents indicated that they are "not that particular."

When I was growing up in the '50s and '60s, my parents were of a slightly different category: "just so long as the grass and weeds are the same height."  Green didn't matter.  Brown and even would do.

My recent blog article, Lawn Grass Substitutes, explores some of these issues and suggests a number of alternatives.  I hope you find it interesting and useful.

Participate in our next Community Poll at goGardenNow.com and let us know what you think!  You'll see the poll in the right-hand side-bar.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Lawn Grass Substitutes

For some homeowners, lawn work is therapeutic and the end result is a matter of pride.  Others consider it to be necessary, but time-consuming and an unwelcome expense.  Some folks think lawns are ecologically unfriendly, requiring chemical applications and too much water.  The fact is that lawns can be all of that, more or less.  It depends on your perspective.  But this guide is not intended to argue the virtues and vices of grass.  The purpose is to stimulate your thinking about options and to inform you of various plant alternatives to the typical lawn.

What practical purposes do lawns serve?
  • Lawns prevent wind and water erosion.
  • Lawns moderate soil and air temperatures.
  • Lawns suppress growth of undesirable plants.
  • Lawns create buffers.
  • Lawns allow visibility.
  • Lawns provide resilient living surfaces for outdoor activities.
Grass does all of these so well.

When thinking about alternatives, you should consider which of these purposes you need to satisfy, then determine whether anything else will work so well for you as grass.

As with any landscape plan, you'll need to assess your circumstances and choose your plants accordingly.  Consider your maximum and minimum seasonal temperatures, exposure to sun or shade, available water, slope, soil characteristics.

Almost any low-growing plant will help to prevent erosion, moderate temperatures, suppress weeds, create buffers and allow for visibility.  But fewer accommodate foot traffic in outdoor living spaces as well as grass.  Even grass has its limits.

The following plants tolerate some foot traffic, especially if planted around flag stones or pavers, and are easy to step over.  Some are drought-tolerant.  The list is not exhaustive.  The descriptions are very brief.

Acaena inermis.  Also known as New Zealand Bur.  Best varieties are 'Purpurea' and 'Blue Haze'.  Evergreen foliage of 'Purpurea' turns red in full sun.  Foliage of 'Blue Haze is blue-gray color.  Creamy white flowers in early summer.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6-9.  Grows to 6" in height.  Drought tolerant.  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Acinos alpinus.  Also known as Alpine Calamint or Alpine Catmint.  Pinkish purple flower from spring to fall.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5-10.  Height approx. 6".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Ajuga reptans.  Also known as Carpet Bugleweed.  Bronze to variegated foliage.  Blue flowers on short spikes in spring.  Full sun to full shade.  USDA climate zones 3-9.  Well-drained soil.  Drought-tolerant.  Best varieties include 'Burgundy Glow' (3" to 4"), 'Chocolate Chip' (2" to 4"), 'Gaiety'/'Bronze Improved' (3" to 4").  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Arenaria balearica.  Also known as Mossy Sandwort.  Evergreen foliage.  White blooms in spring.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-11.  Grows to under 6" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Chrysogonum virginianum 'Pierre'.  Also known as Green and Gold.  Yellow flowers over green foliage.  Full sun to partial shade.  USDA climate zones 5-9.  Moist soil.  Grows 4" to 6" in height.  Low tolerance for foot traffic.


Cymbalaria aequitriloba.  Also known as Kenilworth Ivy.  Evergreen foliage.  White to purple flowers in spring to summer.  Light shade to full shade in USDA climate zones 7-10.  Drought tolerant.  Grows to 6".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Euonymus fortunei 'Kewensis'.  Glossy green foliage only 1/4" to 5/8".  Full sun to full shade.  Drought-tolerant.  USDA climte zones 4-9.  Grows to 3".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Ficus pumila.  Also known as Creeping Fig.  Green or variegated foliage.  Can climb.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 8b-10.  Grows from 1/2" to 1 1/2" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Glechoma hederacea 'Variegata'.  Also known as Variegated Ground Ivy or Variegated Creeping Charlie.  Blue flowers spring to summer.  Full sun to full shade in USDA climate zones 3-9.  Grows to under 3".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Herniaria glabra.  Also known as Green Carpet.  'Sea Foam' is a good variety.  Evergreen green or variegated leaves turn red in winter.  White flower.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6-9 (some gardeners report success in zones 5 - 11).  Grows to 3".  High tolerance for foot traffic.

Houstonia caerulea.  Also known as Bluets.  Light blue flowers from spring to fall.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-8.  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Hydrocotyle sibthorpioides.  Also known as Pennywort.  Small white flowers in summer.  Requires moist soil.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 8-10.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Laurentia (Isotoma) fluviatilis.  Also known as Blue Star Creeper.  Blue flowers in spring.  Evergreen to semi-evergreen foliage.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5b to 10.  Grows to 3".  High tolerance for foot traffic.

Leptinella gruveri.  Also known as Brass Buttons.  The hybrid 'Platt's Black' is very beautiful.  Small yellow flowers in summer.  Forms dense evergreen carpet.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 8-10.  High tolerance for foot traffic.

Lotus corniculatus.  Also known as Bird Foot Trefoil.  Dense dark green mat.  Orange buds and yellow flowers from spring to fall.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 3-9.  Grows to 4".  High tolerance for foot traffic.

Lysimachia nummularia 'Aurea'.  Also known as Golden Creeping Jenny.  Low, mat-forming plant with gold leaves and yellow flowers.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-10.  Grows to 3".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Mazus reptans.  Blue or white flowers in spring.  Fast-spreading.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 2" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Muehlenbeckia axillaris.  Also known as Creeping Wire Vine or Maidenhair Vine.  Low, mat-forming plant.  Small white flowers in summer.  Full sun to full shade in USDA climate zones 5-10.  Drought-tolerant.  Grows to 4".  High tolerance for foot traffic.

Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana'.  Also known as Dwarf Mondo Grass.  Evergreen, dark leaf blades 1/8" wide.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun to full shade in USDA climate zones 6-10.  Grows to 3".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Phlox subulata.  Also known as Thrift or Creeping Phlox.  Pink, red, white, lavender flowers in early spring.  Tolerates drought and wide range of soil conditions.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 3-9.  Grows 4" to 6" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana'.  Also known as Creeping Cinquefoil.  Dark green leaves.  Evergreen.  Yellow flowers in late spring.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 5-10.  Grows to 3".   High tolerance for foot traffic.

Pratia angulata.  Also known as Star Creeper.  Dark green leaves.  White to blue flowers in spring.  Red fruit in fall.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6-10.  Grows to 2".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Pratia pendunculata.  Also known as Little Star Creeper.  Syn. Isotoma, Laurentia.  'County Park' and 'Tom Stone' are desirable varieties.  Blue to purple star-shaped flowers from spring to fall.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 7-10.  Grows to under 6".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Rubus calycinoides.  Also known as Creeping Raspberry.  Dark green, puckered foliage.  Evergreen.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6-10.  Grows to 2".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Sagina subulata.  Also known as Scotch Moss.  Green or gold foliage with small white star-shaped flowers.  Forms low, dense mat.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 3".  High tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum album.  Also known as Baby Tears.  Teardrop-shaped green foliage turns red in fall.  White flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 4".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum acre.  Also known as Gold Moss or Gold Stonecrop.  Soft yellow-green foliage turns red in winter.  Yellow flowers.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 4".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum hispanicum var. minus.  Also known as Blue Moss, Blue Stonecrop or Tiny Buttons.  Soft blue-gray groundcover produces small pink flowers in summer. Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 2-9.  Grows to 4".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum lydium.  Also known as Mossy Stonecrop.  Succulent green leaves turn burgundy-red when stressed by drought or cold.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 5-9.  Grows to 4".  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum makinoi 'Ogon'.  Small evergreen foliage gold in color with pink shades.  Yellow-green flowers in spring.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 7-9.  Grows to 2" in height.  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum requieneii.  Also known as Miniature Stonecrop.  Very small green leaves and yellow star-shaped flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to less than 2".  Very durable.  High tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum spurium 'Dragon's Blood'.  Red and green variegated leaves in whorled clusters.  Red flowers in late summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 3-9. Grows to 3".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum spurium 'Fuldaglut'.  Semi-evergreen, bronze fleshy leaves whorled around the stem.  Turns burgundy in fall.  Pink-red flowers in summer.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-9.  Grows to 3" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum spurium 'John Creech'.  Semi-evergreen, fleshy foliage.  Pink flowers in early spring.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 3-9.  Grows to 2" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum spurium Tricolor'.  Variegated green, red and white foliage.  Evergreen.  Pink flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 3-9.  Grows to 4" in height.  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Sedum tetractinum.  Also known as Chinese Sedum.  Flat evergreen foliage, light green in color turns reddish in fall.  Yellow flowers in summer.  Drought tolerant.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 3" in height.  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus doerfleri
'Doone Valley'.  Also known as Wild Thyme or Doone Valley Thyme.  Lemon-scented golden variegated foliage is evergreen.  Produces lilac flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 4".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus praecox 'Elfin'.  Also known as Miniature Thyme.  Gray-green foliage forms tight mat.  Light pink flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 5-10.  Grows to under 2".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus praecox 'Pink Chintz'.  Gray-green fragrant foliage is evergreen.  Light pink flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows 1" to 3" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus praecox ' Coccineus'.  Also known as Red Creeping Thyme.  Scented foliage turns bronze in winter.  Red flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 4" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus praecox 'Albiflorus'.  Also known as Wild Thyme or White Creeping Thyme.  Scented evergreen foliage.  White flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 4" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus praecox
'Pseudolanuginosus'.  Also known as Wooly Thyme.  Scented gray foliage is evergreen.  Pink flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 3" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus citriodorus.  Also known as Creeping Lemon Thyme.  Green, lemon-scented foliage is evergreen.  Lilac flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 3" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus citriodorus 'Archer's Gold'.  Also known as 'Archer's Gold' Lemon Thyme or Creeping Lemon Thyme.  Bright gold, lemon-scented foliage is evergreen.  Lilac flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 3" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Thymus x 'Spicy Orange'.  Green, needle-like foliage is fragrant and evergreen.  Pink flowers in summer.  Drought-tolerant.  Full sun in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 2" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Trifolium repens 'Atropurpureum'.  Red-bronze evergreen foliage with green margin.  White flowers in spring and summer.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Excellent for erosion control.  Grows to under 6" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Veronica liwanensis
.  Also known as Turkish Speedwell.  Evergreen, deep green color.  Blue flowers in summer.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-8.  Grows to under 4" in height.  Low tolerance for foot traffic.

Veronica penduncularis 'Georgia Blue'.  Evergreen foliage turns bronze in fall.  Blue flowers in spring.  Drought tolerant.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows 3" to 6".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Veronica repens 'Sunshine.'  Also known as 'Sunshine' Creeping Speedwell.  Yellow green foliage.  Bluish-white flowers in spring to summer.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 6-9.  Drought-tolerant.  Grows to 1" in height.  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Veronica surculosa 'Waterperry'.  Also known as 'Waterperry Blue'.  Lustrous semi-evergreen foliage turns bronze in winter.  Blue flowers in spring.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-8.  Grows to under 4".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Veronica x 'New Century'.  Evergreen, deep green color.  Foliage turns bronze in winter.  Blue flowers in summer.  Full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4-9.  Grows to 4".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

Viola labradorica.  Also known as Labrador Violet.  Foliage changes color throughout seasons, green-blue-black.  Small lilac flowers from spring to fall.  Partial shade in USDA climate zones 3-8.  Grows to under 4".  Medium tolerance for foot traffic.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Food Of Lotus-Eaters

The name, Lotus, conjures visions of those elegant aquatic plants (Nelumbo spp.) native to Asia and Africa that rise serenely above the muddy water.  But they are not the lotus I'm describing here.

Some readers may think of the mythical lotus-eaters described by Odysseus.  Their fruity snacks were said to have the power to remove memory and ambition.  They were not eating Nelumbo, but probably the fruit of a Zizyphus or Diospyros.  But even these are not properly "lotus."

How is it that different plants can be known by the same name?  Confusion, perhaps ignorance or loss of memory (someone already used that name?).  Want of desire to think of something original.  It has been suggested that ancient Greek naturalists applied the name, lotus, to several unrelated plants.

The lotus I'm writing about is actually of the genus, Lotus.  It belongs to the Fabacaea or Leguminacaea family, which includes beans, peas, kudzu, lupines and redbud trees.

Lotus contains many species with world-wide distribution.  Of course, some of them were introduced to new lands for various reasons.  Such is the case with Lotus corniculatus (pronounced LO-tus kor-nik-you-LAY-tus), commonly called Birdsfoot Trefoil, Deervetch and lots of other things.

Birdsfoot Trefoil, native to Europe, Asia and north Africa, was distributed elsewhere for cattle fodder.  Cattle, you see, are the real lotus eaters.  The plant is also useful for erosion control and as an ornamental ground cover.  It typically grows up to 6" in height, spreads rapidly and forms a dense carpet.  The deciduous foliage resembles clover.  Attractive yellow, pea-like flowers are produced in late spring to early summer.  Because it tolerates foot traffic, it is fine as a lawn substitute in suitable areas. It's reasonably drought-tolerant.

Though cattle can eat it, humans must not for it contains toxic cyanogenic glycosides.  Perhaps for that reason, in the language of flowers, Birdsfoot Trefoil is a symbol of revenge.  Nevertheless, in the hands of physicians it has been used medicinally to treat depression, nervousness and insomnia.

Birdsfoot Trefoil thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4 to 9.  Soil should be well-drained with pH ranging from 5.6 to 8.5.  With such obvious adaptability, it should do well in most parts of the country.

Before you plant, take 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.  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 12" to 15" 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 Birdsfoot Trefoil with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

You'll find that it's a low-maintenance plant, having no serious pests or diseases.  Lotus does attract butterflies.

Perhaps you've seen Birdsfoot Trefoil before, but didn't know what it was.  Next time you're driving through the countryside, keep an eye out for it.  You may see cattle munching it serenely with no sign of ambition to do much else.  If you decide to use it as a ground cover, you may find yourself sitting in the garden, content to enjoy its beauty.

Return to Lotus at goGardenNow.com.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

FAQ: My lawn used to be beautiful. Now it looks awful. A lot of the grass has disappeared. Exposed soil is hard like a brick. Help!


Common problems include fungus diseases, incorrect pH, poor fertilizing and lawn mowing practices. Your local county extension agent should be able to help you identify fungus, correct pH and suggest better fertilizing. If you're bagging your clippings, stop it. You may be removing topsoil and organic matter. Set your mower to a greater cutting height. Short leaf blades will eventually starve the grass. These are but a few possible factors to consider, but should be a good place for you to start.

Devotion To Lavender

"Here’s your sweet lavender
sixteen sprigs a penny
that you’ll find my ladies
will smell as sweet as any."

-Lavender Vendor's Call, England, 18th Century


A brief look about my house today turned up a bottle of "Relaxing Lavender Huile De Bain" (bath oil with a sprig of lavender) and a jar of "Sleep Soothing Milk Soak" (with lavender) by my wife's bath.  Not only that, she has three large terra cotta pots of lavender on the patio.  And today, while away visiting her mother, she called to request that I transplant one sorry-looking lavender from a spot where it gets too much water to another.

"What is this devotion to lavender?", I wondered.  A little research was in order.

I found a book still on her shelf that I gave her about 20 years ago, Penhaligon's Scented Treasury Of Verse And Prose: The Language of Flowers.  Before I tell you what I discovered, I must explain.

Back in the old days, about 50 years ago, flowers meant something.  They were symbols of emotion and intent.  On Mother's Day before we went to church, my mom would pin a red rose bud on my lapel or shirt with a hat pin (sometimes accidentally sticking me) to indicate that she was still alive.  Eventually, she wore a white rose saying that her mother had died.  Daisies meant innocence.  Roses meant love.  Lilies meant purity.  Violets meant modesty.  So, for example, the phrase "a shrinking violet" referred to a very shy person.  If you intended to give someone a bouquet, you'd better know what the flowers meant if you wanted to get your message straight.

Nowadays, suitors unwittingly give their prom dates corsages of carnations meaning "Alas, my poor heart!", refusal or disdain.  For them it's all over before it's started.  How sad.

Anyway, back to the book.  Upon opening it, I found a purple ribbon marking the page about lavender, and it is said to mean...distrust!  "No wonder she keeps checking up on me," I thought.  Surely, that can't be correct.  Looking for a better meaning, I found another that I liked:  devotion.  That's much better.

To make sure that her devotion will continue and distrust be banished, I promptly transplanted her drowning lavender.  Furthermore, I will continue to be responsible, work hard, and feed the cats while she's gone.

By now, your curiosity about lavender might be piqued, so I'll tell you more.

Lavender is a member of the Lamiaceae family (mints, etc), mostly native to the Old World around the Mediterranean region - Southern Europe, North Africa.  The genus is properly Lavandula (pronounced "lav-AN-dew-lah"), having to do with washing.  I'm pretty sure that women picked it, smelled it, liked the fragrance, threw sprigs in their baths, and the name came later.

The devotion to lavender grew.  Romans (presumably women) used it to disinfect their bath water, and surely carried it with them as they traveled with their legions.  Somewhere along the line, men came to realize that "if she's happy, (and she, and she, and she) then I'm happy", and finally began marketing it.  To this day, you'll find acres upon acres of lavender growing around the world, especially in France, to provide an essential ingredient of perfumes, bath salts, candles, soaps and heuiles de bain.

Lavender oil is said to possess various medicinal properties, especially promoting relaxation.  As with any medicinal herb, use with caution.

For culinary purposes, lavender is used in cooking oils, vinegars, jellies, cookies and other baked goods.  You can also simmer lavender on the stove to scent the room.

Lavender stems, leaves, buds, and flowers contain essential oils, but in different concentrations.  Fresh or dry, all are useful.  Lavender keeps its fragrance for a long time.

I expect you are wanting lavender right now to enhance your life: perhaps to grow in your garden, to scent your bath, to lay upon your pillow, to make flower arrangements, to dry for potpourris, to send your husband a mixed message.  Whatever your purpose, you can grow it yourself.  It's not difficult.

If you care which lavender to grow, there are several species, hybrids and cultivars.  They all grow like short bushes, produce blue flowers and smell great.

Lavender is generally hardy in USDA climate zones 5 through 8.  It prefers full sun and well-drained soils with pH ranging from 6.6 to 7.8.  Good air circulation is essential.  For more precise advice, take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service Office.  You may pay a small fee.

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 24" to 36" 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 lavender with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.  The greatest cause of failure is over-watering.

Lavender's silvery-green leaves are fragrant and enchanting.  If your plants never bloomed, you should be satisfied.  But when lavender blooms, you will enjoy the color and fragrance.  The best fragrance is from the flowers.  Lavender can be grown as low hedges in borders and knot-gardens.  They do well among mixed perennials and annuals. 

Some native soils may not be hospitable to lavender, but the soils in container gardens can be very easily adjusted.  Start with a good grade of peat-based professional potting soil mix.  Adjust soil pH, if necessary.

Clip lavender about mid-morning when dew has dried.  Choose sprigs with flower buds just about to open.  Hang them upside down in a warm, dry area.  The sprigs should dry within a week, then store them in a box.  If you intend to use lavender for cooking, put the sprigs in a plastic bag and refrigerate.

With such a history, and so many uses for lavender, you should include it in your garden.  I expect you'll become a devotee before long.

Return to Lavender at goGardenNow.com.