Friday, August 31, 2012

The Allure Of Catnip

Nepeta 'Walker's Low'
The Allure Of Catnip

Animals of many sorts have found their pleasures among common weeds. Wandering cats apparently found theirs around Nepi (Nepete), Italy. The town became for them a little Etruscan resort on a hill. The plant was a kind of mint, a member of the Lamiaceae family. So closely associated was it with the town that it was eventually called Nepeta (pronounced NEP-eh,tuh), aka Catnip, Catmint. Nepeta is native to most of Europe.


As cats set off to discover the New World, they carried dried leaves and and seeds with them. Dried herbs for the long trip. Seeds for colonization when they arrived. Large quantities, sometimes of inferior quality, were transported and sold in unmarked burlap sacks, un chat en poche.

There are about 250 species worldwide. Only 4 species of Nepeta are widely distributed in North America.

Catnip is often enjoyed by humans, but not in the same way as their feline owners. Catnip tea is said to promote relaxation, so is used as a sleep aid. It can also reduce sinus congestion.

Catnip plants are wonderful for the herb garden. The alluring flowers and aroma are pleasing. In addition to cats, they attract honey bees and butterflies.

Many gardeners grow catnip for the sole purpose of serving their cats and laughing at their drunken antics. Kind of like watching Foster Brooks on Youtube.

All cats are not so influenced by catnip. Ours shows no interest. Not a bit. Nevertheless, my wife and daughter drop sprigs on the floor because cats are supposed to adore it.  Perhaps our cat is simply too proud to have it served on a rug.

Lavender flower spikes, held above aromatic silver-green foliage, bloom from late spring until frost. Nepeta foliage is evergreen in warmer climates to semi-evergreen in cooler zones.

Catnip prefers full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 4 to 8. Plant in average garden soil that is slightly moist with pH ranging from 6.0 to 7.5. Take a sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. The fee is nominal.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches 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 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants between 12 inches to 24 inches 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 inch deep.

In addition to herb gardens, catnip is great for butterfly gardens, medicinal gardens, and perennial borders. Cat fanciers with limited growing space can grow catnip in containers. If you live in an area where dry spells are frequent, you'll be relieved to know that catnip is drought-tolerant once established. If you're beseiged by deer, catnip is deer resistant.

Return to Nepeta at goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Must-Have Plants: Achillea 'Moonshine'


Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Name(s): Achillea x 'Moonshine', Achillea taygetia, Greek Yarrow.
Flower Color: Yellow
Bloom Time: June to September
Foliage: Herbaceous, gray-green, fragrant.
Height/Spread: 12 inches to 24 inches x 10 inches to 12 inches.
Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, average to poor, pH 5.6 to 7.5
Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, fragrant.
Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, naturalizing, cutting gardens, butterfly gardens, herb gardens, perennial borders.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Must-Have Plants: Achillea 'Coronation Gold'


Must-have plants are among the best plants for appropriate garden situations. When you need great garden plants for ground cover, naturalizing, wildflower gardens, perennial borders, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, herb gardens, heritage gardens, cutting gardens, woodland gardens, shade gardens, bulb gardens, container gardens, bog gardens, water gardens, rain gardens or xeriscaping, look for the best among our must-have plants.

Name(s): Achillea filipendulina 'Coronation Gold', Fern Leaf Yarrow.
Flower Color: Golden yellow
Bloom Time: June to September
Foliage: Herbaceous, gray-green, fragrant.
Height/Spread: 30 inches to 36 inches x 18 inches to 24 inches.
Climate Zones: 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Soil Condition: Well-drained to dry, average to poor, pH 6.1 to 7.8
Features: Drought tolerant, deer resistant, fragrant.
Uses: Xeriscaping, massed planting, naturalizing, cutting gardens, butterfly gardens, herb gardens, borders.

Return to goGardenNow.com.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Results of Community Poll Ending 24 August, 2012

Our community poll at goGardenNow.com, ending 24 August, 2012, asked the question: Thinking about the plants in your garden,

  • Most are strictly edible.
  • Most are strictly ornamental.
  • About half are edible and half are ornamental.
 30% said their plants are strictly edible. 60% said their plants are strictly ornamental. 10% said about half and half.

Join us for our new community poll at goGardenNow.com. You'll find the poll in the right side-bar of the page.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Norfolk Botanical Garden - Freedom, Imagination, Dreams and Flights Of Fancy


Norfolk Botanical Garden - Mermaid
Just beyond a rise at the edge of the Norfolk Botanical Garden, planes begin and end their flights at the Norfolk International Airport. The jets and noise may seem like intrusions on garden tranquility. They are sometimes, sadly. But both are symbols of freedom, imagination, dreams, flights of fancy.  

An improbable idea for a civic garden came from Frederic Heutte, a young plantsman. Heutte loved azaleas, and he observed that tidewater Virginia was almost as clement as the South Carolina lowcountry. Perfect for azaleas. This was during the Great Depression. Though I don't know for sure, I think Frederic perceived success if an azalea garden could be promoted as a tourist attraction. Charleston, SC drew thousands of tourists every year, even when money was short. He told his dream to Thomas P. Thompson, Norfolk City Manager. Thompson agreed. They applied to the city of Norfolk. The city complied, giving them about 150 acres to work with.

The project needed money and labor. The "good-ole-boy" network got things started. (I don't mean that in a perjorative sense.) Summer of 1938, U.S. Congressman Norman R. Hamilton announced a Works Progress Administration (WPA) grant of $76, 278 for the garden project. The WPA in Virginia employed lots of people, unskilled and skilled, at taxpayer expense for all kinds of projects. It worked wonders for awhile.

The administrators hired over 200 African-Americans, mostly women, to prepare the site. They "carried the equivalent of 150 truck loads of dirt by hand to build a levee for the lake. The laborers were paid twenty-five cents an hour for their hard work," equivalent of about $3.00 per hour now. Probably more than I make most days as a small-business owner.

By spring of 1939, "four thousand azaleas, two thousand rhododendrons, several thousand miscellaneous shrubs and trees and one hundred bushels of daffodils had been planted."

Success breeds success. "In August of 1939, Representative Colgate W. Darden Jr. secured an additional $138, 553 for the Azalea Garden, and the founding of the Old Dominion Horticultural Society provided volunteer labor to assist the Garden. By 1941 the Garden displayed nearly five thousand azaleas, and seventy-five landscaped acres that were encompassed by five miles of walking trails."

The city got behind it in a bigger way and renamed the Azalea Garden the Norfolk Municipal Gardens. For political and economic reasons, the city promoted the gardens as the site for the International Azalea Festival. The event was recently renamed Norfolk NATO Festival.

The Norfolk Municipal Gardens was renamed Norfolk Botanical Garden after the Old Dominion Horticultural Society took over its maintenance. The stated mission was to "promote for the people of Tidewater, Virginia, a Garden that will always remain an inspiration, and lead the home gardener to greater enjoyment and accomplishment in his own yard", and more.

Other improvements have been made. Waterways, which always appeal to me, have been constructed. Boats ply them to provide visitors placid viewing experiences.

There are theme gardens: Japanese, American Colonial, Rose, Statuary, Butterfly, Native Plant, the WOW garden for children. Professional and amateur gardeners should make a point of visiting the All-America Selections Garden, where new plants with exciting potential are on display.

Visitors can tour the Norfolk Botanical Garden by foot, boat or tram. In March, we toured on foot with a garden map in hand. We like walking because we have freedom to roam, can stop when we want, look at different angles, inspect plants closely, take pictures, sit and wait, scratch and sniff.

Gardens and art are essentially the same. I think gardens are the epitome, for they are sculptures we can enter to involve all our senses. The flying mermaid sculpture and an exhibit of paintings were the perfect segue to what we found behind the garden wall.

At the end of an ample plaza we found a pergola flanked by Edgworthia chrysantha and draped with Gelsemium sempervirens. It was our first chance to enjoy a fragrant view overlooking the boat basin to the Sarah Lee Baker Perennial Garden beyond.

Japanese gardens quietly invite visitors to enter, so we did. Stone, water, thoughtfully trimmed plants and a Japanese garden bell enhanced the tranquility of the moment and subdued any disturbance from the airport beyond.

The Sarah Lee Baker Perennial Garden features a dramatic limestone fountain and terraced canals. Over 200 varieties of perennials and bulbs paint the landscape with seasonal splashes of color. The backdrop of Chamaecyparis pisifera 'Filifera Aurea' and Magnolia x soulangeana was spectacular. This perennial garden is a fitting tribute to one of Norfolk's most important patrons. Mrs. Baker's influence is palpable. Sarah Lee Baker (1910-2002) was the wife of prominent businessman Isaac Mitchell Baker of Norfolk.

As we strolled to the Renaissance Court, we noticed photographers with some serious equipment trained on nearby pines. They said bald eagles were nesting in the garden. Our approach to the Court was cordoned off to protect the raptors from intrusion.

In 2003, a pair of bald eagles decided the high pines soaring above would be a fine place to begin a family. Since then the eagles have become quite an attraction. An "Eagle Cam" provides visitors around the world views of the eyrie via the internet. Views are also possible from the NATO Tower and the Renaissance Court.

The female eagle was killed, tragically, in 2011 when she collided with an airplane while hunting food for her three fledglings. The young were removed to a wildlife center until they could be released to the wild that summer. An impressive sculpture of an eagle in flight and a plaque commemorates her life.

Apparently her mate began a new romance for the nest was home to eaglets once again in spring 2012. The nesting season lasts from December through July.

Near the Renaissance Court along the Camellia Allee, we came upon a delightful bronze sculpture of graceful dancers by Mario Korbel. They seemed to float above a marble base inscribed with a flight of fancy by Arther Morris of Norfolk.

There Are
So Many Gods
So Many Creeds
So Many Paths
That Wind And Wind
When
Just The Art Of Being Kind
Is All This Sad World Needs

Arther Morris was the father of noted sculptor Virginia Morris Pollak.

Korbel's sculpture was removed from the garden for awhile for restoration, which is complete. Since the camellias were in bloom, someone thoughtfully dressed them with a few blossoms. A smaller version of the sculpture may be seen at the Cooper Gallery, Lewisburg, WV.

Behind the Renaissance Court, a statuary garden leads to a view of Lake Whitehurst. Stony attendants include Phidias, Rubens, Canova, Durer, Thomas Crawford, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Murillo, Raphael and Rembrandt.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden was rich with pleasant spring scenes and blazing floral displays. I was particularly impressed by an imaginative espaliered cordon.

Gardeners who anticipate new plant releases will appreciate that the Norfolk Botanical Garden is an official All-America Selections Display Garden. The mission of All-America Selections is "to promote new garden varieties with superior garden performance judged in impartial trials in North America." The AAS tests plants at gardens nationwide. Superior selections are named AAS Winners. At AAS Display Gardens, visitors can see plant selections up close and visualize how they might use them in their home landscapes.

It seems that every botanical garden nowadays has a children's garden. If not, they should. Children's gardens are fun and educational, introducing young ones to nature, science, art, freedom to explore and the joy of growing. Norfolk's World Of Wonders is especially well-conceived. The sculpted caterpillar arbor was fun. A passing grown-up jogger couldn't resist going through it back and forth.

There is more to enjoy than one can take in on a single day, or even in a single season. You really need to visit often. The best way to do that is to become a Garden Member. For a reasonable fee you get free admission, which makes it easy to drop in on a whim, and lots of other perks such as discounts, a subscription to Norfolk's garden magazine, and borrowing privileges at the Huette Horticultural Library.

The Norfolk Botanical Garden is a member of the American Horticulture Society Reciprocal Admissions Program. So with your membership at Norfolk, you get free or discounted admission to over 230 other member gardens in the U.S. for as long as your membership is current. You can't beat that.

Become a member of the Norfolk Botanical Garden, visit often, learn, enjoy, imagine, dream, let your spirit soar. Maybe I'll see you there.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Norfolk Botanical Garden canal in spring.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How can I prevent lily pollen stains?

How can I prevent lily pollen stains? I cut some lilies to bring inside. They're really beautiful, but they've dropped yellow pollen on my tablecloth. Can I spray the flowers with something to keep them from doing that?

To keep pollen from dropping on your furniture surfaces, cut off the stamens from the insides of the lilies with small scissors or snips before you bring them indoors. The accompanying photograph shows a tiger lily with its 6 distinct stamens.

The dye in pollen can be troublesome to remove. Trying to remove it by rubbing makes matters worse. Use some masking tape to gently lift freshly fallen pollen. If the dye is already in the fabric and the cloth is washable, soak the spot in cold water with hydrogen peroxide. You may have to repeat the process two or three times.

Return to Lilium at goGardenNow.com.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kniphofia - Out Of Africa A Red Hot Torch Lily

Kniphofia uvaria. Photo by Toby Hudson.
 Out Of Africa A Red Hot Torch Lily

From Africa comes a bold spear of blazing hot color to a garden near you. It's called Kniphofia (pronounced nip-HOFF-ee-ah), the Red Hot Poker or Torch Lily. Kniphofia species are native from Ethiopia to Sudan, Madagascar and South Africa, with most found in the later.

Depending on the species, long, sword-like leaves may grow to 3 feet long. Upright spikes of bright, tubular flowers may extend to 6 feet (K. multiflora). Most popular garden species grow to less than half that size. Flower color ranges from red orange to light yellow. The flower spikes inspired the names Torch Lily and Red Hot Poker.

Kniphofia is a member of the Asphodeloideae subfamily, along with Aloe. Aloe is another African native. So closely does it resemble Aloe, in fact, that it was originally given that name by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778). Aloe (pronounced AL-oh) is derived from an Arabic word, Alloeh, meaning "bitter."

In Linnaeus day, taxonomy was not so standardized. There were almost as many systems as there were botanists. They'd name, correspond, argue, reorder and rename. Sometimes they'd name plants to honor other botanists. Red Hot Poker, for example, was later renamed to honor Johannes Kniphof (1704-1763). Kniphof was a botanist and Professor of Medicine at Erfurt University. German naturalist, Lorenze Oken (1779-1851) reorganized Linnaeus' Aloe (aka Kniphofia). Sometime along the way, Kniphofia was also named Tritoma because of its flower form, but the name didn't stick.

Undoubtedly the fiery flower spikes of Red Hot Poker first attracted the attention of plant explorers. But they weren't only interested in ornamental value. They were drawn by medical potential, too. Very many early botanists were also physicians. It's possible explorers also observed that Red Hot Poker was used by native Africans for treating stomach cramps, and for eradicating intestinal parasites in cattle. More recently, some species have shown potential for treating malaria.

Kniphofias thrive in full sun in USDA climate zones 5 through 10 in average, well-drained soil with pH from 6.6 to 7.5. All species are drought and heat-tolerant. Kniphofia attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer will not eat it!

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches 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 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants. 

Space the plants 12 inches to 18 inches 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 inch deep.

Kniphofia requires very little maintenance. In some areas Kniphofia has made itself too much at home. Parts of Australia and California, for example,

Red Hot Poker is a superb plant that lends height, texture and bold color to a sunny garden. Plant it to attract hummingbirds and butterflies. It's also fine addition to African plant collections and medicinal gardens.

Return to Kiphofia at goGardenNow.com.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Aquilegia (Columbine) - The Eagle And The Dove

Aquilegia canadensis by Jennifer Anderson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database
Aquilegia (Columbine) - The Eagle And The Dove

The name Aquilegia (a-kwi-LEE-jee-a) is derived from the Latin aquila, referring to the talon-like structures or "spurs" on its flowers. The name "columbine", derived from the Latin word for "dove" (columba), was given because someone observed that, viewed from below, the petals resemble a cluster of doves. So, in one plant genus we have a vision of two very different birds.

Some of my dearest childhood memories are of hiking in the mountains with my elders, brother and cousins. Actually, we didn't hike; we strolled. For us children, strolling and stopping was a source of frustration. We were always in a hurry wanting to reach the summit. But we were usually accompanied by at least one real old elder who slowed us down a lot. Typically, the oldest was also the most knowledgeable about plants, or who felt like stopping to talk about them more. "Boys, now boys," grandfather would say, "this is...", and he'd probe it with his walking staff and proceed to tell us what ailment it was good for. After he died, my dad and uncles would do the same.

So I was leisurely, thoughtfully introduced to Aquilegia. In the Rocky Mountains it was Aquilegia coerulea growing beside a brook. It was Aquilegia canadensis along the Blue Ridge.

Actually, there was one thing that could temporarily distract me from reaching the summit. If the teaching elder would say, "Indians used this to...", I was ready to stop and learn. I learned that columbine was used to treat stomach cramps; reduce fever, pain and swelling; kill parasites; stop bleeding and make you pee. I also learned that little water droplets sometimes collected in the tops of the flowers below the spurs, which was kind of a neat thing to discover. I sometimes wondered if I could take something to kill pinworms, why it wouldn't kill me, too. I never asked. But, I suppose it's because Aquilegia is somewhat toxic, though not dangerous if taken as directed by a knowledgeable doctor.

From those woodland strolls, I also learned a principle by my elders' examples which means much more to me now that I'm the elder often inclined to mosey and pause at flowers.

"All that is needed for calm happiness
Hast thou not here?
Hast thou not pleasure in the golden bough
That shields thee from the day's fierce glow?
Canst thou not raise thy breast to catch,
On the soft moss beside the brook,
The sun's last rays at even?
Here thou mayst wander through the flowers' fresh dew,
Pluck from the overflow
The forest-trees provide,
Thy choicest food,--mayst quench
Thy light thirst at the silvery spring.
Oh friend, true happiness
Lies in contentedness,
And that contentedness
Finds everywhere enough."
"Oh, wise one!" said the eagle, while he sank
In deep and ever deep'ning thought--
"Oh Wisdom! like a dove thou speakest!"
The Eagle And The Dove - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

If you'd like to grow columbine, you probably can. Of the 60 or so Aquilegia species, 22 are native to North America. One Aquilegia vulgaris, native to Europe, thrives here, too. You'll find columbines in practically every state and province. Among the various species and hybrids, there are columbines cold hardy or heat-tolerant enough to thrive from USDA climate zones 3 to 10.

Choose a site in full sun to full shade. In hotter climates, partial shade is preferred. Before planting, you'll need to know the pH level of your soil. Aquilegias generally prefer slightly moist, well-drained soil with pH ranging from 6.6 to 7.5. Take a sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. The fee is nominal.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches 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 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants between 12 inches to 24 inches 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 inch deep.

Columbines are suitable for mixed perennial borders, hummingbird and butterfly gardens, medicinal plant and native plant collections.

Return to Aquilegia at goGardenNow.com.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

You Will Know It's Euphorbia By Its Glands

Euphorbia characis 'Glacier Blue' PP19027

Euphorbia is one of the world's largest genera with over 2000 known species. They're so diverse in appearance you'd hardly know they are all related. Compare the popular Euphorbia pulcherrima to Euphorbia canariensis to Euphorbia milii to Euphorbia serrata.

See what I mean? You might even have some growing in your yard like the Euphorbia cyathopora under my grape vines or Euphorbia maculata among the squash. Regardless of their differences, they all share characteristics with one called Euphorbia antiquorum, the type species. If you don't have one handy to compare, you'll know you've got Euphorbia by its glands. You might need a magnifying glass.

Carl Linneaus (1707-1778) devised the system of sorting and organizing plants according to their sexual apparatus. A better method was never contrived, nor shall be.

Euphorbia flowers are surrounded by modified leaves called bracts. The Christmas poinsettia is a good example. Those big floppy red things are not flowers, but bracts. In other words, they're false flowers. If you peer between the bracts, you'll find the true flowers. They're tiny. Each euphorbia flower is uni-sexual, either male or female. Sometimes both sexes occur on the same plant; sometimes on different plants. Anyway, euphorbia flowers have glands. The horn-shaped glands of E. amygdaloides are good examples. All euphorbia glands are not horn-shaped, but you get the idea.

Euphorbias also share another trait: sticky, milky sap. Depending on the species, the sap (latex) can be very caustic and even poisonous. Contact with skin, to say nothing of the eyes and sensitive tissue, may be very irritating. Ingesting it can make one throw up, or worse. For this reason, euphorbias are often called "spurge." Rhymes with "purge."

Ironically, the name Euphorbia is derived from two Greek words combined meaning "good pasture." But the genus wasn't named because of its edibility. It was named to honor Euphorbus (Dr. Goodpasture), the personal physician of King Juba II of Numidia. Juba (c. 50BC - 23AD) married the daughter of Anthony and Cleopatra. Numidia was in North Africa.

Juba was a scholar and best-selling author of books on history, natural history, geography, travel, language and the arts. It was natural that he named a plant known to be a powerful laxative for his doctor. Over 1700 years later, Linneaus could do no better, so he gave the name to the entire genus.

Euphorbia is distributed world-wide. Over 60 species thrive in North America. Whether native or introduced, euphorbias grow in virtually every state and province in the U.S. and  Canada.

Euphorbia enthusiasts may choose their favorites for many reasons: their floral beauty, foliage, large size, small size, drought-tolerance, low maintenance, or because some look just plain weird. There's a euphorbia for everyone.

One might wonder whether euphorbias are suitable plants for the home and garden considering the troubling sap. Certainly any gardener should learn about plants and their possible hazards before growing them. But one thing I've observed about Euphorbia is the more formidable ones sport menacing spines that say, "Don't mess with me without gloves!" With that in mind, take care and have fun.

With so many different species, it would be difficult to summarize planting details and growing conditions. But as time goes by, I'll detail a few of them in future articles.

Until then, you can learn more about them at The International Euphorbia Society.

Return to Euphorbia at goGardenNow.com.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

How To Grow Garden Chrysanthemums In Your Yard


Think "fall color" and chrysanthemums come to mind. Their reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and whites are the shades we enjoy so in autumn. Not surprisingly, they are among the favorites in fall gardens.

Chrysanthemum (pronounced kris-AN-the-mum) comes from the Greek words chrysos and anthemon, meaning "gold flower." Chrysanthemums, often called "mums", were originally cultivated in China almost 4000 years ago as a medicinal herb thought to have the power of life. The leaves were eaten and boiled for tea. In China, the chrysanthemum is the flower of honor. So highly esteemed was it, that chrysanthemum even had a city named for it, Xiaolan Town, Zhongshan City is known as Chrysanthemum City. Chrysanthemums are celebrated in China during the Chongyang Festival or Double Ninth Festival known as Chrysanthemum Day.

Centuries later, chrysanthemums were imported to Japan, where they also became very popular. A chrysanthemum was incorporated into the official seal of the Emperor. The Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum is the highest honor of chivalry. Japan even has a National Chrysanthemum Day, known as the Festival of Happiness or Kiku Matsuri, which is celebrated in botanical gardens all over the world.

Though most often associated with Asia, some species are native to northeastern Europe. One, Chrysanthemum arcticum, is even native to North America, specifically to Alaska, Canada and some Great Lakes states.

The name, Chrysanthemum, was given by Carolus Linnaeus sometime in the 17th century. As with many plants, taxonomists seem always to be trying to sort out matters. So the genus has been split into two or more, and species have been added and shifted between genera. Some of those genera include Arctanthemum, Argyranthemum, Dendanthrema, Glebionis, Leucanthemopsis, Leucanthemum, Rhodanthemum, and Tanacetum.

There are hundreds of chrysanthemum flower types, sizes, colors and habits. Some, like the show quality types, can be tender and difficult to grow. Others are quite hardy and simple. Most gardeners stick to the hardy types. Hardy mums thrive in USDA climate zones 5 to 9.

Hardy chrysanthemums require at least 5 hours of full sun per day, particularly during the morning, because humidity and lingering moisture can encourage mildew. For the same reason, good air circulation and soil drainage are essential.

Choose a site with average, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Office for analysis. You will be charged a nominal fee. Follow the recommendations you'll receive.

It's best to plant chrysanthemums in spring or fall about 6 weeks before hot or freezing weather commences. If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches 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 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants between 18 inches to 24 inches 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 inch deep.

Even though chrysanthemums are known for fall bloom, they may actually put on buds as early as May. To delay flowering, pinch off the buds as soon as they appear. Don't be surprised if they appear again in June or July. If they do, pinch 'em again. Pruning like this will also encourage bushiness. A much better bloom set will occur in a little over 90 days.

After a few years, chrysanthemums should be divided. In spring, when danger of frost is past, dig the clumps and cut or pull them apart. Older, worn out parts should be cut off and discarded. Incorporate organic matter into the soil. Plant the renovated clumps at the same level they grew before. Water them in, and add mulch. A little renovation every 3 to 5 years will reward you with many seasons of pleasure.

A Chinese philosopher is supposed to have said, "If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow chrysanthemums." I'm sure it's true.

Learn more about chrysanthemums from the National Chrysanthemum Society.
Return to Chrysanthemum at goGardenNow.com.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Preventing Insect Infestations Around The House

Here's an excellent article by Kathy Van Mullekom, gardening columnist for the Daily Press, Newport News, Va on preventing insect infestations in and around the house.

Return to goGardenNow.com.

Bergenia - Grow Pig Squeak and Have A Little Fun

Bergenia cordifolia
Bergenia cordifolia - Pig Squeak

When I was a child, my grandfather taught me practical uses for plants. One was how to make a cow call from a squash leaf. With his pocketknife, he cut a large leaf from a yellow squash or cushaw plant and trimmed the foliage from the long petiole. He sliced about 1 inch deep into the narrow end. After gently rubbing the little spines off, he put it into my mouth far enough so my lips wouldn't restrict the movement of the two parts. Then I blew. It sounded like a moo-cow. If the tone wasn't just right, he sliced the tip a bit deeper to improve the vibration. That provided me with about an hour of fun until the petiole wilted. Then with my own pocketknife I could make the entertaining toy whenever I wanted to, so long as I didn't ruin his squash patch. I passed this on to my own kids, but didn't give them pocketknives until they were too old to care about moo-cows any more. Sad.

Here's another fun plant toy to try, and much simpler to do. It's called Pig Squeak. All you have to do is take a fleshy leaf from Bergenia cordifolia and drag it between your thumb and forefinger with proper pressure. Or you can rub two leaves together. The emanating sound resembles a porcine squeal. Appropriately, the plant's common name is Heart-leaf Pig Squeak. "Cordifolia" (pronounced cor-di-FOL-ee-ah) means "heart-shaped leaf."

Bergenia (pronounced ber-GEN-ee-ah) was named by Konrad Moench in 1794 to honor Karl August von Bergen, a contemporary 18th century German physician and botanist. Von Bergen (1704-1759) was professor of anatomy and botany at Viadrina European University in Frankfurt an der Oder, and was later awarded the chair of those departments. He was also overseer of the university's botanical garden.

The genus is native to Asia, from Afghanistan to China and the Himalayas. There are 10 species of Bergenia. Bergenia cordifolia is most widely grown.

Heart-leaf Pig Squeak grows to 18 inches tall and spreads by underground rhizomes. The plump, fleshy leaves are glossy green in summer, often turning to scarlet shades in fall. Better fall color appears if plants are exposed to more sun or dry conditions. Flower clusters produced in spring to early summer range from dark pink to white. Because the evergreen foliage is so attractive, gardeners enjoy Pig Squeak as much for that as for the blooms.

If you've read some of my other blog articles, you've probably noticed that many of the scientists were both botanists and physicians. It made sense then, and it would make sense today if there was sense enough, for many plants have medicinal properties. In earlier days, actual plants were used in various preparations to treat diseases. Now the potent chemicals are more often isolated or even synthesized.

Bergenia, which contains bergenin and gallic acid, has medicinal properties. Anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-arthritic and immunomodulatory effects have been documented. Bergenia species have been used to treat kidney stones, urinary problems, gout, stomach disorders, oral diseases, skin eruptions, and maybe more. The lore is not to be dismissed, but don't try curing yourself with Pig Squeak at home. Leave it to professionals.

Though Bergenia will tolerate full sun in cooler climates, it thrives in partial shade to full shade in USDA climate zones 4 through 9 in slightly moist, well-drained, humusy soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 9.0. Bergenia likes consistent moisture, but it's somewhat drought-tolerant when established.

Heart-leaf Pig Squeak tolerates a wide range of soil pH. But before sticking a plant in the ground it's always a good idea to know the pH level of your soil. Take a sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office for analysis. The fee is nominal.

If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches 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 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants between 12 inches to 24 inches 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 inch deep.

Heart-leaf Pig Squeak is a superb plant for naturalizing in moist, shady corners in the garden. The flowers are good for cutting and preserving. It attracts butterflies, so would be fine in butterfly gardens. It would also be a fine addition to Asian gardens, bog gardens, shady rain gardens, medicinal plant collections and herb gardens. And, of course, it's fun to play with the leaves.

Ajuga makes a fine companion plant.  It also combines well with such natives as Chrysogonum, Meehania, violets (Viola spp.), and ferns.

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