Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Spring Cinquefoil (Potentilla neumanniana): Is it 'sink' or is it 'sank'?

Spring cinquefoil (pronounced "sink-foil", or "sank-foil" if you prefer French), might be barely noticed if not in bloom and trodden underfoot. Its relative, the rose, has inspired volumes of poetry. But, so far as I know, cinquefoil has inspired only two poems and one piece of music.

Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana' - Spring cinquefoil

One poem is Mysteries by Jack Sanders in which he wondered:

 The bigger question does remain:
How you pronounce that funny name?
Does it ‘sink’ or does it ‘sank’
As it wanders up the bank?

The other is The Cinquefoil (An Impotent Rose), a parody of Edna Saint Vincent Millay by Sinfull, nom de plume of Terri Turrell.

The music is Little Flowers Op.205 No.5 Cinquefoil by Cornelius Gurlitt (1820-1901). Perhaps you remember it from your days as a young piano student.

There are over 300 species of cinquefoil. My subject is Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana', also known as Potentilla tabernaemontani, Potentilla verna or Potentilla crantzii. 

Potentilla was named by Heinrich Gottlieb Ludwig Reichenbach (January 8, 1793 - March 17, 1879), a German botanist and ornithologist. Potentilla refers to powerful medicinal properties possessed by members of the genus, as noted in Sauer's Herbal and Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs. Neumanniana was given probably to honor either Henri Fran├žois Joseph Neumann (1899-1858), or Louis Neumann (1827-1903). Both were botanists and horticulturists at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. I'm guessing the elder was honored. 'Nana' differentiates the dwarf form from the common species.

Spring cinquefoil is native to North America and Greenland, known to thrive from the northernmost regions of eastern Canada to Massachusetts and Connecticut. It is reliably hardy to USDA climate zone 8, yet it has been successfully grown as far south as zone 10.

Upon seeing it for the first time, you might mistake it for Appalachian Barren Strawberry (Waldsteinia fragaroides), or another of the Waldsteinia species. They have strawberry-like leaves and yellow flowers. To add to the confusion, spring cinquefoil is also commonly called "barren strawberry." But Walsteinias are identified by three leaflets. Potentillas have five, thus the name "cinquefoil."

Dwarf spring cinquefoil grows about 6 inches high and spreads to 12 inches. Fragrant foliage is evergreen. Loads of bright yellow flowers appear in spring, making quite a show.

Plant it in average, well-drained loamy soil with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8. The site should be exposed to full sun or partial shade. Space young plants 12 inches to 15 inches apart. Take care not to overwater.

Dwarf spring cinquefoil is a marvelous ground cover for alpine and rock gardens, especially in bulb gardens where you need something to hide old bulb foliage and crowns. Grow it in container gardens as an underplanting. Tuck cinquefoil in stone walls and between stepping stones.

Potentilla neumanniana 'Nana' spreads readily, making a fine lawn grass substitute, even in areas that receive a little foot traffic. You can trim spring cinquefoil with your lawn mower. Set your mower at a high position.

Need something to plant on that slope? No matter how you pronounce it, you'll love your spring cinquefoil as it wanders up the bank.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Is it too late to force narcissus for Christmas bloom?

Q. I would like to force bowls of paperwhite narcissus for Christmas gifts. If I start them now, will they bloom in time for Christmas?

A. Once placed in bowls and watered, it usually takes about 3 weeks for paperwhites to bloom. If you start them today, they might be in bloom by New Year's Day. But that doesn't mean they won't be appreciated if given as Christmas gifts. Your gift recipients will have the pleasure of watching them come into full flower.

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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Is it too late to plant fall bulbs?

Q. Is it too late to plant fall bulbs?

Narcissus bulb

A. That depends on where you live. If your soil is frozen, you are too late. If your soil is not frozen, you still have time to plant fall bulbs. But you probably won't find much of a selection this late in the year. If you do find the varieties you want, they may not be in good condition. Before you purchase, press each and every bulb for firmness. Don't buy if they're not firm all over. For best selection, begin planning your fall bulb purchases in July. I realize mid-summer seems early, but some garden stores offer substantial discounts on early orders. Many varieties begin shipping as early as the end of August.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Behind A Garden Wall: Brookside Gardens, Wheaton, Maryland

Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, Maryland is a pleasant place we return to often. Set on 54 acres surrounded by woodland, you hardly know you are surrounded by the insane busyness that characterizes the suburbs of Washington, DC. It's no surprise, then, that it's a popular place for quiet walks, reflection, observation, nature and horticultural studies. Don't be put off by the garden wall and the tall fence. They keep deer out.

Japanese Tea House, Gude Garden, Brookside Gardens

Brookside Gardens was opened in 1969 after four years of planning and development by the Maryland‑ National Capital Park and Planning Commission as part of the Wheaton Regional Park system. The Gardens are located on a site formerly owned by Stadler Nursery. At that time, Brookside Gardens occupied only 25 acres, and consisted of a conservatory, three formal gardens, a wedding gazebo and an azalea garden. Some original plants from the Stadler Nursery collection still thrive.

Wedding gazebo, Brookside Gardens
Beginning in 1972, Brookside Gardens was developed further to include the Fragrance Garden, the Rose Garden, and the Gude Garden with its prominent Japanese Tea House and vistas. The Gude Garden honors another area nurseryman, Adolph Gude. It was dedicated by his son, U.S. Congressman Gilbert Gude (Republican). Rep. Gude worked in his father's nursery for many years, so had a lot of interest in horticultural and environmental issues.

The Visitors Center, made possible by a generous donation, was opened in 1998. It houses an information desk, library, classrooms, auditorium, gift shop and offices. Unless you only intend to see the Conservatory, this is the place to begin your visit. More parking is available near the Visitors Center than elsewhere.

Chrysanthemum Craftsmanship display, Brookside Gardens
 Major events at Brookside Gardens include the fall Chrysanthemum Craftsmanship display in the Conservatory. The 2013 display continues until November 25. There is no admission fee. Chrysanthemum enthusiasts will enjoy seeing all types of chrysanthemum flower forms including various incurves, pompons, spider types and more chrysanthemum forms.

The Garden of Lights Winter Walk-through Holiday Light Display begins late November and continues into the first week of January. There's an evening entrance fee of $20 or $25 per car. Weekend visits cost most. For those who don't like being in cramped cars stuck in slow traffic for interminable drive-through light displays, this is the way to go. If the cold gets to you, duck into the warm Conservatory to enjoy the Winter Display and Model Train Exhibit.

We return to Brookside Gardens often because there's so much to see in every season. Winter's snow sometimes mantles the gardens with frozen silence. But even if there's no snow, the stark outlines and earthy colors are appealing. Organic patterns and textures are more easily seen and appreciated in winter. Red ilex berries and yellow tree fruits pop against drab background colors. So do the scarlet lines of dogwood stems in winter.

Spring brings reticulated iris, crocuses, lenten roses, early-flowering rhododendrons and flowering trees. Even though the weather can be nippy and patches of snow remain, spring brings so much promise with it.


Summer at Brookside Gardens, of course, is a riot of colorful annuals and perennials, glossy ground covers, wonderful things growing behind garden walls and spilling over them. Japanese maple seeds glow in the sun. Containers are packed with bold displays of cannas. The Wings Of Fancy Butterfly Exhibit flutters with activity.

Fall at Brookside Gardens descends with a blaze of glory. Wonderful colors, like these of Parthenocissus tricuspidata 'Fenway Park', and tracery of Schizophragma hydrangoides cover walls. Then the cycle begins again.

Hydrangea quercifolia, Brookside Gardens

Regardless of the season, the Conservatory is always a pleasure to visit. It houses many of my favorites such as Cymbidium orchids, Heliconia, and Clerodendrum.

Heliconia angusta 'Holiday'
Gardeners who follow All-America Selections can view AAS Flower Winners at Brookside Gardens, for Brookside has the distinction of being an AAS Display Garden. Interested gardeners can view the newest AAS winners in person.

This is a link to Brookside Gardens web site to get directions, learn more, and help you plan your visit.

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Monday, November 18, 2013

Is it okay to plant cold-hardy perennials during freezing weather?

Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Q. Is it okay to plant cold-hardy perennials during freezing weather?

A. It is okay to plant some cold-hardy perennials during freezing weather. Here are some things you must consider:
  • Whether the soil is workable. If your soil is frozen solid, you shouldn't try planting. If it is soft but too wet, don't try planting. You can test whether it's too wet by squeezing a fist full of dirt. If water squeezes out, it's too wet. If the soil tends to crumble, it's okay to plant.
  • Whether the plants you have in mind are reliably or marginally cold-hardy for your area. If they are only marginally cold-hardy, hold off planting until the following spring when danger of frost is past. 
  • Though the plant seems dormant, the roots are growing below even when the top is not. By planting early, the perennials will be more established summer arrives. If the plants are reliably cold-hardy, they may be planted during freezing weather.
  • Whether the plants still have tender new growth, or have hardened off. Perennials in an active growing state are more susceptible to cold damage. Those that have entered dormancy should survive freezing temperatures.
Be sure to water your perennials after planting. Watering will help to settle the soil around the roots. Water also possesses an insulating quality.

For good measure, apply a 3 inch layer of mulch around your plants. The mulch will also help to insulate them from severe cold.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Garden Of St. John's Church, Savannah, GA

St. John's Church, Savannah, GA
About St. John's Church in Savannah, GA, Linton Weeks wrote, "St. John's Church is like a beautiful plant in the garden of downtown Savannah. ...The seed was planted beneath the earth, in firm, fertile soil. The first service of St. John's was held in the basement of Christ Church".

Christ Church Anglican was the first house of worship in Georgia, founded in 1733. That was long before the Protestant Episcopal Church (TEC) existed.

"Slowly, surely, the plant spiralled upwards, striving for the sunlight and the heavens. Gardeners tended the plant. They watered it, fertilized it, nurtured it, and then, when the plant's roots were large and strong, the garden-tenders transplanted the church into a larger, lovelier garden - Madison Square."

That's where you'll still find it. Though the story of St. John's Church is much richer, a visit to its garden and nearby Madison Square provides a glimpse of its beauty.

St. John's was planted in 1840, but not at its present site. Planning for a larger sanctuary began in 1850. The cornerstone of the Gothic-style church, designed by architect C. N. Otis of Buffalo, NY, was laid in 1852. The consecration sermon, delivered by Bishop Stephen Elliott, was delivered on May 7, 1853.

The Parish House, also known as the Green-Meldrim Home, is "one of the most elegant and luxurious homes in Savannah." Built concurrently with St. John's, it was for many years a private residence.

Charles Green, its first owner, was born 1807, a native of Halesowen, Shropshire, England. It's said that he arrived in Savannah at age 26 with two dollars in his pocket, and gave one dollar to a beggar on the street as he disembarked. He went to work right away for Andrew Low and Company, cotton merchants. Green and Low were related by marriage. He must have been very savvy, for he soon became a partner in the firm.
The Green-Meldrim Home was also designed in the Gothic Revival style, but by architect John S. Norris, a resident of Savannah originally from New York. St. John's Church and Charles Green's home were both completed about the same time. Constructed of brick, stucco and stone, the residence featured elegant "sculptured tracery of cast iron, bays and oriel windows, ...a novel and graceful appearance." It was compared favorably "on a par with the mansions of New York's Fifth Avenue."

When the War for Southern Independence broke out in 1861, Charles Green, his sister Mrs. John Low, and Andrew Low were in Europe. Upon their return via Canada, Green and his sister were arrested in Detroit, and Low in Cincinnati on obvious false charges as agents for the Confederacy. They were imprisoned separately. All were released after about three months, and returned to Savannah.

Charles Green had another brush with Yankees in 1864 when General William T. Sherman took Savannah with his invasive species to set up his headquarters in Green's home. Though he sent his family packing out of Savannah, Green remained in the home with his man servant to watch over his house, cultivating his unwelcome relationship with Sherman. Again, Green's quickness and generosity paid off, for his home and furnishings, food and drink were left unmolested. Some speculated that Green's hospitality had a gentling effect on W.T. Sherman while that rascal headquartered in Savannah.

From 1892 to 1943, the house belonged to the family of Judge Peter Meldrim. When it was put up for sale, the Rev. Mr. Ernest Risley, rector of St. John's, convinced his congregation that it could be a wonderful rectory and parish house. The house might have been razed if sold to others. The congregation bought and  saved it. The city rejoiced.

The street that once separated them, Macon Street, has been blocked. The space is now part of a garden and arched passageway that joins them. Where traffic once passed, a pleasant lawn, fish fountain and pool calm the spirit. The effect is not unlike a cloister.

The Rectory Garden is at the southwest corner of the Parish House, filling what was once a service area. It provides a quiet place for meditation and reflection for the rector and guests.

Box Garden, Green-Meldrim Home
The Box Garden, edged with antique glazed terracotta tiles, is on the east side of the Parish House facing Madison Square. Cooling shade is amply provided by the live oaks which characterize Savannah. The Box Garden is surrounded with intricate cast iron tracery for which The Green-Meldrim Home is justly famous.

Mention must be made of Madison Square, for it, St. John's Church and the Green-Meldrim Home seem unified in spirit. As Linton Weeks observed, the three are elements of the larger, lovelier garden.

Every Savannahian knows, and visitors will soon learn, that the names of the city's squares and the monuments in them commemorate different people and events. Madison Square, for example, celebrates the memory of James Madison, Jr., fourth President of the United States. Its monument commemorates the heroic sacrifice of Sgt. William Jasper who was mortally wounded in 1779 during the American assault on nearby British troops. A plaque and series of reliefs on the cenotaph tells the tragic tale of the conflict and Jasper's death. Other historical markers tell more about Madison Square and another local hero, the Count d'Estaing, fully known as Jean-Baptiste-Charles-Henri-Hector, comte d’Estaing, marquis de Saillans.

It's fitting that Weeks wrote of St. John's Church as "a beautiful plant in the garden of downtown Savannah." To my knowledge, no church in Savannah's historic district has a larger or lovelier garden, if they have gardens at all.

I'm reminded of the carols, "King Jesus Hath A Garden", "Christ Hath A Garden" and "Jesus Christ The Apple Tree" and the imagery they represent. St. John's Church Savannah is a testimony to the faithful who have carefully tended and defended Christ's garden in Savannah, Georgia.

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

FAQ: Can I prune my perennials back in fall?

 Q. A lot of my perennials are looking worn out and unsightly. Can I prune them back in fall? A friend told me I should wait until spring.

A. When your perennial plants have run through their summer cycle of growing, flowering and going to seed, it's time to prune them back. They'll look a lot better. In addition, trimming removes dead and decaying plant material that harbors diseases and insects. So, go ahead and trim your perennials. Be sure you remove the trimmings from your perennial beds. Your garden environment will be a much healthier place, and look better, too.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Do you have any ideas to spruce up our house for sale?

Plenty of daffodils will help sell your house in spring.

Q. We are planning to sell our house next spring. Our realtor says we should do something to spruce up the yard. Do you have any ideas?

A. Spring is a good time to sell a home. The crush of Christmas is over. People have more time and money. Spring is an encouraging season.

I doubt you want to spend much money on landscaping, but you'll want the most "bang for your buck." Mow the lawn. Prune the shrubs. Kill the weeds. Add fresh mulch in your planting beds. Plant flowering annuals and bulbs that will look their best when the house is on the market. Yellow should be your preferred color.

If planting spring-flowering bulbs, choose varieties that will provide an extended bloom season. You must plant them in the fall. Daffodils should do the trick. There are many yellow varieties in different sizes and seasons. Early, mid and late-season bloomers will improve curb appeal for many weeks.

Whether planting flowering annuals or bulbs, don't skimp. A host of daffodils, for example, will provide a rich, appealing display.

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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How DEEP do you plant bare root Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' - Dwarf Mondo Grass - divisions?

Q. How DEEP do you plant bare root Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana' - Dwarf Mondo Grass - Bare Root?

Dwarf Mondo divisions (Ophiopogon japonicus 'Nana')

A. It's not planted deeply. You'll see some whitish, papery tissue at the base of the leaves just above the roots. Ideally, it should remain exposed. If some is covered with soil, it'll be okay. The green portion of the leaves should not be planted below grade.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, Florida

In 1936, title to a tract of land known now as Washington Oaks Gardens, a Florida State Park, was received by Louise Powis Clark (1887-1965), a widow with three children. It was to become a winter home for her and her third husband, Owen D. Young (1874-1962), also recently widowed. Both were from New York. Louise owned a lingerie company in the Philippines. Owen had been a lawyer, diplomat, and chairman of the boards of General Electric Company and RCA. But there's very little about Washington Oaks that immediately suggests the owners' wealth.

The area had been home to diverse residents, from aboriginal people to Spanish and English Colonists. In 1818, Jose Mariano Hernandez acquired the tract as an addition to his plantation, Mala Compra (Bad Purchase), to the south. Since it overlooked the Matanzas River, he called it Bella Vista (Beautiful View).

Eventually it passed to heirs, one being George L. Washington. Members of the family lived on “The Washington Place” occasionally from the 1870s to 1890s. The Washington lodge no longer exists.

In 1923, the property was sold to developers to be subdivided into residential lots known as Hernandez Estates. But the financial crash of the ‘20s and the Depression of the ‘30s put an end to that dream.

Louise and Owen discovered the property along old highway A1A in 1935 while visiting her mother in St. Augustine, FL. The developers had failed to pay taxes on some parcels, land values were way down, and the romantic couple from up North had money to spend. Louise acquired title in 1936. She and Owen were married the following year.

Rather than rename the place, they called it “Washington Oaks.” Perhaps they liked the sound of it, or named it so because George L. slept there.

Being a designer with interests in weaving and pottery, Louise went to work designing the house and gardens with an artistic eye. Their home was modest, and took full advantage of the view of the river. She combined native and exotic plants in the garden, and included oriental motifs.

Owen Young was a businessman who took an interest in horticulture, so he planted a citrus grove. Naturally, he set up a fruit stand beside old A1A where he occasionally tended and sold citrus to passersby.

My parents often took us boys to Florida in those days, sometimes traveling that scenic highway. I like to imagine we passed the old man hawking oranges by the road, not realizing he was the co-founder of RCA, NBC, and a consultant to presidents.

The Youngs eventually purchased land across the road, allowing them beach access. Owen built an office on that side so he’d have a quiet place to do business and study.  He built a nice home there for the caretaker, too.

Traffic increased, and road noise began to disturb the Young’s idyll, so they prevailed to have A1A relocated closer to the beach. A quiet, scenic portion of the old road still exists, reminding visitors of those days long gone.

Follow me to see what grows beyond the garden wall by clicking on the links below.

Travelers might have barely noticed Washington Oaks simple coquina gates. Coquina stone is sedimentary rock consisting of coquina shells and sand. It was often used as a building material.

The driveway at Washington Oaks opens to a fine view of the comfortable house and the Matanzas River beyond.

Much of the Young’s home looks as it did in the 1950s and '60s. A vintage television displays recorded episodes of old shows.

The front door of a home on the river always faces the river. Remember that.

Roses ‘Sweet Surrender’, ‘Gold Medal’ and ‘Pope John Paul II’ in the formal rose garden.

Visitors can rest on the garden bench beside the pond.

Curcuma provides pops of color in the tropical garden.

A Bird-Of-Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) flower hides among the foliage.

A sculpture from Asia and koi reflect the Young’s affection for oriental motifs.

In The Compleat Angler, Izaak Walton observed “the Carp is the Queen of Rivers: a stately, a good, and a very subtil fish”. Koi are glorified carp. For bait, Walton instructed, “Take the flesh of a Rabbet or Cat cut small, and Bean-flowre;…and then mix these together, and put to them either Sugar, or Honey, …beat together in a Mortar, …and then make it into a ball, or two, or three…” Since I had none of those things, nor a fishing license, I simply watched them laze about.

A bridge not too far with Clerodendrum speciosum beside.

Ponderosa lemons (Citrus limon) in the citrus grove.

“Now the serpent was more subtle than any other wild creature that the Lord God had made.” (Genesis 3)

Owen Young’s office now houses the gift shop at Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, FL.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2013

How To Plant Container Gardens With Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Spring-flowering container gardens

I bet every spring you see container gardens brimming with colorful flowers like tulips, narcissus and muscari, and wish you had thought ahead to plant some yourself. If you haven't yet, do it now when the selection of fall bulbs is good, and the time to plant is upon us. Here are tips about how to plant container gardens with spring-flowering bulbs.

Container gardens add lots of color to the spring garden, creating focal points in the landscape. Because they're portable, they can be placed in the right spots to welcome visitors, brighten seating areas, and add drama to borders.

Any fall bulb is good for container gardens, but your choice may depend on personal preference, bloom time, ease of care, and climate zone. Personal preference is entirely up to you. Some gardeners remember their favorites from childhood, and like re-living those days. Others get excited about the newest plant cultivars. Some gardeners choose color themes they like best, or try to emulate gardens they've enjoyed while traveling. No matter the reason, there are hundreds of species and cultivars to satisfy any preference.

Bloom time varies, and that's a good thing. Some, like crocuses and winter aconite, peep from under melting snow. Others, such as various narcissus and tulip cultivars, bloom early, mid-season or late. With a little planning, container gardens can be planted to provide delightful color all spring. Choose bulbs with varying bloom times for succession of color. When some containers are spent, others can begin their show.

Apart from proper watering and weeding, ease of care can be as simple as emptying out spent bulbs and throwing them away. Many bulbs, though, can be transplanted in the garden, naturalized in the lawn, border or shade garden.

Some bulbs thrive in many parts of the country, but may require special treatment to bloom in warmer regions. This is where climate zone influences your decisions. Tulips, for example, do not receive enough chilling in southern zones, so must be chilled artificially before planting. Because they will not thrive when transplanted in warm climate gardens, they are best treated as annuals and thrown away after blooming. (I know it might hurt your feelings, but you'll get over it.) On the other hand, if you plan to perennialize your bulbs in the garden, you must choose those that will succeed in your zone.

Fall planting time may vary depending on the climate zone, but is best done before first frost. It's very important that the bulbs be planted while firm and fresh. Those left sitting about until the end of the season may rot before they go in the ground. By the way, if you must store them awhile, keep them in a cool, dark place. If you must chill them artificially in the refrigerator before planting (tulips and hyacinths, for example), do not chill them in the presence of fruit. Ripening fruit gives off ethylene that will gas your bulbs and inhibit flowering.

Planting container with spring-flowering bulbsChoose durable containers that will not split or crack in colder regions. Stone, glazed stoneware, concrete, cast iron, fiberglass and plastic will do. Southern gardeners may use terracotta. Containers must also provide good drainage. They need not be large to hold lots of bulbs for bulbs can be planted closer in containers than in the ground. Container depth, on the other hand, depends on your bulbs' requirements. They should be deep enough to allow for the roots to grow downward with space left over. If roots grow to the bottom of the pot, the bulbs will probably be forced upward and out of the mix.

If planting large bulbs such as some daffodils, figure about 1 inch of pot diameter per bulb. That would be a 24-inch diameter pot for 24 bulbs. Twice as many smaller bulbs such as tulips and jonquils will fit in the 24-inch pot, and you might stuff 4 times as many minor bulbs in it. If planting bulbs of different types in the same container, choose those that bloom at the same time.

Use a high-quality, sphagnum-based potting mix. Better mixes will also contain vermiculite or perlite, and some fertilizer. You may also make your own or amend commercial types. Composted chicken manure, available at garden centers, is a popular additive. Do not use native soil straight out of your garden because it will lack necessary drainage qualities for container gardens.

Plant your bulbs the same depth in the container as you would in the ground: 1-1/2 to 2 times as deep as the bulb diameter. Measure planting depth from the bottom of the hole. Another way to plant correctly is to measure from 1/2 inch below the pot rim downward to the proper depth. Mark the spot. Put enough potting mix in the container to the correct planting level, place bulbs upright on the mix, then add more mix to 1/2 inch below the rim.

If planting bulbs of different sizes, you'll place them at different depths. Following the same procedure, place the large bulbs on the lowest level, add planting mix to the proper level for the smaller bulbs, place them on the surface, and fill the container to 1/2 inch below the rim.

Water the container thoroughly after planting, then periodically thereafter as needed. Bulbs should never sit in soggy soil. You'd think that they would get enough moisture with winter rains and snow, but it's not always the case. Check the moisture level occasionally. Smaller containers, and terracotta ones, will dry quicker than others.

Face it, planted bulb containers aren't very attractive during the winter. It's best to store them out of sight. There's also the possibility that extreme cold may damage the bulbs for those in containers are more exposed than bulbs in the ground. I suggest grouping them together, burying them in sawdust, or surrounding them with bales of straw. Put your containers on display in the spring when the foliage or flowers are starting to emerge.

After the flowers are gone, make notes and begin planning your bulb purchases. Fall planting time will arrive before you know it.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Must-Have Plants: Lady Fern

Lady Fern
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): Athyrium filix-femina, Aspidium angustum, Athyrium angustum, Polypodium filix-femina, Lady Fern

Flower Color: None

Bloom Time: None

Foliage: Herbaceous, light green to medium green.

Height/Spread: 12 inches to 36 inches x 12 inches to 30 inches.

Climate Zones: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8

Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade.

Soil Condition: Moist to well-drained, loamy, pH 6.1 to 7.5

Features: Delicate foliage, deer resistant, insect resistant, disease resistant.

Uses: Massed planting, naturalizing, fern collections, native plant collections, woodland gardens, shade gardens and borders.

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Amaryllis leaves are dying after I transplanted them.

Dead leaves on transplanted hippeastrum.

Q. Hey. I asked you back in June if I could move my amaryllis in summer even though the foliage never died back. You said I could. Now the foliage is dying back. Will the bulbs die, too? I'm sending you a picture.

A. Judging from your photo, the bulbs are in good health. Notice the firm shoulder. It's not unusual for the foliage to die back. In fact, it's normal. I expect that your plants will bloom nicely next season. The ones that have defoliated may even bloom earlier.

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Monday, September 16, 2013

I would like to attract more birds to my garden. What do you recommend?

Birds Choice SNFT 200 Fly-Through Feeder made from recycled poly

Q. I would like to attract more birds to my garden. Will bird feeders and a bird bath help? What to you recommend?

A. There are four basic elements of wildlife habitat: Food, water, shelter and cover. Bird feeders and bird baths only provide food and water. I recommend you offer as much diversity as possible to provide all the elements.

Species are attracted to different kinds of food. Consider offering nyjer seed, black oil sunflower, mixed seed blends, cracked corn, peanuts, suet, mealworms and nectar.

Water is necessary for bathing and drinking. A clean bird bath will provide both for most species, but hummingbirds like to fly through water spray. Attach a misting device near your bird bath, or attach it to a sturdy post or shrub near your hummingbird feeders.

Bird houses provide shelter, but mostly for nesting birds. Birds doen't usually set up permanent residence in them. Evergreen shrubs and trees are welcome additions to any wildlife habitat because they provide protection from the elements and roosting places during the night.

The need for cover is slightly different from the need for shelter for cover provides protection from predators. Evergreen shrubs and trees provide both, but smaller shrubs, grasses, perennials and vines give birds places to hide. I see birds outside my office window darting from shrubs and trees to the feeders and back again all day long. When visiting the feeders, the birds are more exposed. If I didn't provide safe places to hide, I'm sure I'd have fewer birds at my feeders.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Graceful Lady Fern

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
I bring nae rose, or lily fair,
To twine amang thy gowden hair,
Nor fragrant flower, nor scented wreath,
To mingle wi' thy balmy breat;
    But frae the green banks o' the burn
    I bring thy mate the Lady Fern.

The Lady Fern, whase slender stalk
Alane can peer thy genty mak,
The Lady Fern, whase gracefu' air,
Wit' thin alane can e'er compare,
    O whaur may Nature meekness learn?
    Frae thee an' frae the Lady Fern.

The broom adorns, an' crowns the brae,
The whin o'ertaps the rocklet grey;
The heath blooms brichtest on the hill,
An' a' wad fain climb heigher still;
    While in the shade thou lo'est to dern
    Beside thy mate the Lady Fern.

The Lady Fern, James Ballantine (1806-1877)

Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina, pronounced "uh-THEE-ree-um FY-licks fem-in-uh") makes some wax poetic. It's also known as Aspidium angustum, Athyrium angustum and Polypodium filix-femina. Lady fern is one of the world's most graceful ferns, found mostly in the Northern hemisphere. In North America, it is found in every state and province.

Except during dormancy when it's practically invisible, lady fern is a visual delight. Delicate, light green fronds unfurl in early spring when deciduous trees are just beginning to sprout foliage. Sunlight through the canopy makes lady fern sparkle. As the growing season progresses, fronds turn to medium green.

Mature height ranges from 12 inches to 36 inches, spreading from 12 inches to 30 inches. Lady fern is deer, insect and disease resistant, making it perfect for the low-maintenance shade garden. Gardeners in USDA climate zones 4 to 8 can use them in massed plantings, naturalize them in woodland gardens or any shady location. It seems like every gardener has her favorite collection. Fern and native plant collectors will adore lady ferns because they're so beautiful and easy to grow.

Plant lady fern in partial to full shade in moist, well-drained, loamy soil. pH may range from 6.1 to 7.5.  I recommend taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Office for testing. Follow their recommendations, preparing the soil before purchasing your ferns. Space them 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Take care not to over-water.

Lady fern is ideal for planting around your quiet place in the woodland and beside shady paths. Suitable companions include hosta, astilbe, Jack-in-the-pulpit, trillium, bloodroot, rhododendron, redbud, fawn lily and bluebells.

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Thursday, September 5, 2013

How do I save my caladiums over winter?

Caladium 'Frieda Hemple'

Caladiums are tropical plants, reliably cold hardy in USDA climate zones 10 and 11. However, they may survive mild winters in USDA climate zones 8 and 9. The best way to be sure they survive is to dig them before first frost. Carefully pull the plants. Keep the roots and soil intact, and store in a cool, dry place for a couple of weeks, allowing the roots and soil to dry. After drying, trim off the stems, and brush remaining soil from the tubers. Store them in a paper bag partially filled with dry peat moss or vermiculite in a cool, dry place over winter.

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