Thursday, January 31, 2013

Stoke's Aster - A Sensible Plant Named For A Lunartick

Stokesia laevis (Stoke's Aster)
Stokesia laevis, also known as Carthamus laevis, Stoke's Aster and Cornflower Aster, is an heirloom plant you may remember seeing in your grandmother's garden. Many hard-working women of yesteryear had no time for fussy flowers. Today's overwhelmed gardeners aren't much different. Perhaps that's why Stoke's Aster was and is so popular. It's a beautiful, sensible, low maintenance plant.

According to the USDA PLANTS database, Stoke's Aster is native to the southeastern United States, generally found growing in the coastal plain. Native plants are perfectly suited to their environments. That's why they're native. Ubiquitous native plants are ignored. Undesirable native plants are called "weeds." Attractive native plants are called "ornamentals", collected and transplanted to gardens. Perhaps that explains why Stoke's Aster ended up in my grandmothers' flower beds.

Stokesia (pronounced "sto-KEES-ee-ah") was named for Dr. Jonathan Stokes (c. 1755 - 1831). Stokes was an English physician and botanist. Historically, physicians tended to be botanists because doctors relied on plants for their medicinal qualities. They usually corresponded with others about their findings, and often published them. This was the case with Dr. Stokes.

As a member of the original Lunar Society, Stokes often met and corresponded with fellows to discuss science, philosophy and whatever else mattered. Apparently, the Lunar Society was so-named because the members met at night under the full moon. The moonlight made nocturnal travels easier. Eventually, the members were known as "lunarticks", an appellation they merrily embraced. Their convivial society was beneficial personally and professionally.

Jonathan Stokes published books on botany including A Botanical Materia Medica: Consisting of the Generic and Specific Characters of the Plants Used in Medicine and Diet, with Synonyms, and References to Medical Authors (1812) and Botanical Commentaries (1830). Botanical Commentaries would be most interesting to the layman.

Stokesia flowers appear from spring to fall. They're about 3 inches in diameter and usually purple, though colors may range to pinkish and nearly white. They are borne on strong stems. They're long-lasting, too.

Foliage is herbaceous. The plant rosette may remain green during winter months in warmer climates. Leaf surfaces are smooth. Plants grow to 12 inches height and spread from 12 to 15 inches.

Stoke's Aster is hardy in USDA climate zones 5 through 10. They thrive in full sun to partial shade, but flowering is most profuse in full sun. Plant in well-drained, loamy to sandy loam soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Office for analysis. If stokesias fail, the problem can usually be traced to poor drainage or too little sun exposure.

Stokesia laevis is best known for colorful, long-lasting flowers. In addition, the flowers attract butterflies. Plants are deer-resistant, drought-tolerant and somewhat salt-tolerant.

Stoke's Aster, a perennial plant, is well-suited to garden borders, butterfly gardens, cut flower gardens and xeriscaping.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Two new AAS Bedding Plant Award Winners for 2013

All-America Selections just announced two new AAS Bedding Plant Award Winners for 2013. Both are zinnias.

Zinnia 'Profusion Double Deep Salmon'

About Zinnia ‘Profusion Double Deep Salmon’, AAS says "an abundance of salmon colored double flowers cover attractive, compact plants from late spring through fall. In trials the dramatic double blooms offered a unique salmon color that held the color better and later into the season than the comparisons. The bright foliage covers spent blossoms giving a much fresher appearance without the need to deadhead. Mature plants are 8-14 inches tall and are perfect as a low or medium height divider. This outstanding garden performer offers disease resistance to both Alternaria and powdery mildew."

Zinnia 'Profusion Double Hot Cherry'

AAS says, "‘Double Hot Cherry’ offers an abundance of vivid deep-rose double flowers. This continuous bloomer covers well-mounded plants from late spring through fall. In trials the dramatic large double blooms held the color significantly better than comparisons and later into the season. The plant covers spent blossoms giving a much fresher appearance without deadheading. Mature plants 8-14 inches tall are perfect as a low or medium height divider. This excellent garden performer also offers disease resistance to Alternaria and powdery mildew."

Both winners were bred by Sakata Seed Corporation.

AAS winners are grown beside two or three similar varieties already on the market. The AAS Judges grow them, then do a side-by-side analysis of growth habit, disease resistance and more to determine if the new ones are truly better than those currently available to home gardeners. Only superior plants are granted the honor of an AAS Award.

Be sure to give Zinnia 'Profusion Double Deep Salmon' and Zinnia 'Profusion Double Hot Cherry' places in your garden. Seed and bedding plants should be available at your local garden center.

Images are courtesy of All-America Selections.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Behind A Garden Wall: Armstrong Atlantic State University Arboretum

In her characteristic languorous drawl, a friend from Savannah suggested, "Armstrong Atlantic State University has a marvelous arboretum. You simply must visit." So I did.

I don't think I've visited the campus more than twice during the last forty-some years since I matriculated there. When I arrived at Armstrong Atlantic State University, I was a bit confused. Some drives had been closed, others had been re-directed, I couldn't find a legal place to park, and I couldn't find the arboretum. I found the University Police Office to ask.

Providing me with a map, the officer pointed to visitor parking areas and the "location of the arboretum." Unfortunately, the map didn't clearly show a route re-direction, so I drove about confused. I finally hailed a university pickup truck to ask the driver where I might find the arboretum. The man with the graying ponytail said, "You're in it. The entire campus is the arboretum."

Have you ever noticed that unless you intend to visit for 15 minutes or less, visitor parking at universities tend to be in inconvenient locations? Of course, administrators' parking spaces are very near their office doors, faculty and staff might be in the vicinity of their classrooms; student parking is way beyond that. I found a parking space on the outskirts and set out on foot to enjoy the arboretum.

There is no particular place to begin a visit to the Armstrong Arboretum. No matter where you park you're in the arboretum. Walk to whatever catches your eye, but "Please Stay On Sidewalks."

I began humming, "sign, sign, everywhere a sign..." When I was in college, students were warned repeatedly to stay off the grass. But faculty didn't stay off grass, so there wasn't a convincing reason to comply.

Though sidewalks existed, most of us took short-cuts across lawns to our classrooms creating dirt trails (sometimes blocked by signs, ropes or chains), over which laborers would eventually pour more concrete walks where they should have been in the first place. Armstrong Arboretum's landscape designer has creatively solved the problem in the Quad by establishing expansive beds planted with large shrubs and cleverly obstructed by chains.

As in most arboreta, species are identified with permanent signs. But, unless one ignores the signs to stay on the sidewalk, some plant labels can't be read. I didn't stay on the sidewalks. I was prepared to answer any challenge saying, "That doesn't apply to me now. I'm an alumnus, and a professional."

Developed areas of the Armstrong Atlantic State University Aboretum make good use of native species including live oak (Quercus virginiana), southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) and yaupon holly (Ilex vomitoria), as well as introduced species from around the world. There is, however, the International Garden which only majors on plants from Asia and Australasia. Species include Kerosene Bush (Ozothamnus ledifolius), Lomatia myricoides, Bauhinia yunnanensis, Akebia trifoliata, Camellia sinensis and Pawlonia tomentosa.

The Conifer Garden is worth a visit. Surrounded by native pines, there are interesting varieties of Chamaecyparis obtusa and C. pisifera, Thuja, Juniperus, Pinus and Cryptomeria. Juniperus conferta 'All Gold' and Cryptomeria japonica 'Black Dragon' are two of my favorites.

Clerodendrum x speciosum

It seems that every available wall is draped with flowering vines. Remarkable specimens include Blue Glory (Thunbergia battiscombia), Brazilian Golden Vine (Mascagnia macroptera), Bauhinia, Glory Vine (Clerodendrum x speciosum), Coral Vine (Antigonon leptopus) and Orchid Vine (Mascagnia lilacina).

The Camellia Garden was just beginning to bloom when I visited, but it should be spectacular now in January. Camellia sasanqua brightens the landscape late September through November. Camellia japonica steals the show in December through February.

The Fern Collection includes some fine examples. The display should excite any shade gardener or collector of hardy ferns with selections such as Sechuan Ribbon Fern (Lepisorus bicolor), Dixie Wood Fern (Dryopteris x australis), Maiden Fern (Thelypteris kunthii), Hart's Tongue Fern (Pyrrosia lingua), Tassel Fern (Polystichum polyblepharum), Macho Fern (Nephrolepis biserrata) and Oriental Chain Fern (Woodwardia orientalis). Peacock Spikemoss (Selaginella uncinata) made a fine ground cover in the Fern Garden.

One small section was particularly fascinating. I don't remember what it was called. It looked arid and desolate like a Salvador Dali landscape, warmed by Anise Marigold (Tagetes lucida), with starkly shaped plants. Representatives included Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana), Cryptomeria japonica 'Araucaroides', Coontie (Zamia pumila), Cloverleaf Fern (Marsilea macropoda) and Chinese Nutmeg Tree (Torreya grandis). Gardeners with unusual plant preferences would be inspired.

Hedychium 'Elizabeth'

The Ginger Garden moved my senses from the stark to the lush. Protected by shade and sheltering walls, wonderful gingers thrive. Among them are Hidden Ginger (Curcuma 'Scarlet Fever'), Mauve Dancing Girl (Globba winitii), Yellow Dancing Girl (Globba schomburgkii), Hardy Ginger Lily (Hedychium 'Elizabeth'), Peacock Ginger (Cornukaempferia aurantifolia 'Jungle Gold') and Red Tower Ginger (Costus barbatus).

Every hour or so during my visit, students would swarm out of some buildings and into others. Then I would be alone again to stroll and snap pictures.

With so many lovely distractions, there's every reason to pause and enjoy the campus of Armstrong Atlantic State University Arboretum, unless one's in a big hurry to class.

Note: As of 2018, Armstrong is a campus of Georgia Southern University.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thoughts on planting container gardens for winter

Q. I want to plant an outdoor container garden this month. Are there things I need to know to be successful?

A. Choose the proper plants, then protect them from wind and extreme cold.

Obviously, you should choose plants that are cold hardy in your area. You can determine your climate zone by consulting the USDA Climate Zone map. It is very specific, even delineating some climate fluctuations within your county of residence. Various publications and online web sites provide hardiness information for specific plants. This blog provides plenty.

Wind can dislodge plants from containers, especially if the roots of new plants have not yet taken hold in the soil. If possible, position your containers out of the wind. Staking is recommended for tall, high-profile plants.

Select large, stable planting containers with thick walls. Fifteen gallon and larger containers with wide bottoms are best. Greater soil volume provides more insulation for tender roots. Wide bottoms help prevent tipping due to wind or snow loads. Thick walls provide more insulation.

Avoid hanging baskets.

Well-drained, evenly moist soil provides more protection than dry soil because water is insulating, even if turned to ice. Freezing water actually gives off heat.

If you plant more than one container, group them together. The collective mass is more protective than single containers scattered about.

Extreme cold weather may force you to insulate your containers with organic material such as straw to protect the roots. Bales can be conveniently placed around the containers for insulation, then removed when the weather moderates. Even old blankets can be used for insulation.

If extreme cold threatens plant tops, consider draping them with lightweight frost protection fabric. If you can't obtain it, drape your plants with old sheets. Never cover plants with plastic sheets.

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