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September 2012

August 2012

Garden Routines

Early morningA usual day starts with a walk in the garden coffee cup and camera in hands (quite the juggling act) and the dogs on a tear. There is only one problem with walking the same time of morning along the same path and that is that the familiar often becomes the overlooked.The border in early morning Changing the morning route helps one to keep a fresh eye on the garden and to see it in a different light. The border in early eveningChanging the time of the walk to early evening allows greater variation in light and beverages. Coffee in the morning, wine in the evening. The dogs provide continuity. SalviaI am in love with the early evening light at this time of year. The flowers are full and the lower light creates a range of color on blossoms. Magenta salviaA routine by definition is "a regular, unvarying, habitual, unimaginative, or rote procedure."  I will keep the routine of walking in the garden but from now on, I will pay more attention to varying the path and the time of day. Who knows what I may see tomorrow. How about you? Do you vary the routine each day?

Pineapple Lily - Eucomis

DSC_0007The pineapple lily is a South African native which adds a thrill to any container planting. There are several different species of pineapple lily and over fifteen different cultivars. All have strap like leaves and a flower stalk which emerges from the center of the foliage. This is topped with a pineapple shaped flower composed of many small waxy florets. They are easy to grow and will grow in full sun or light shade although flowering is better in full sun. If I lived further south I would consider bedding them out for interesting texture in the borders. They are a bit pricey though and I hope to overwinter this one in the dormant state in a cool basement. We shall see what happens. DSC_0008I planted 'Sparkling Burgundy' in my containers near the house this spring. This cultivar has dark foliage and the flowers are creamy with bits of pink and yellow stamens. I have not detected any repulsive odor although, since it is pollinated by flies, it is said to have a bit of a stench. DSC_0005I am enjoying the tropical, exotic look it brings to these containers. Eucomis 1In addition to the burgundy pineapple lilies in my container, a friend gave me a bulb which she had potted up from last year and overwintered in her basement. EucomisThis lily has green foliage, a smaller flower head and interesting markings on the stem. It looks quite nice on its own in the small clay pot on the patio and is also a reminder of friendship. Thank you Lois. If you are looking for Eucomis bulbs, there are several on line sources.  Mine was purchased as a potted bulb already showing promise.  Now, a promise fulfilled. Have you grown this plant and, if so, what are your thoughts on Eucomis?

Lemon Cucumber - Cucumis sativus


Cucumber vines

Cucumbers bring to mind cool crispness and delicate flavor. Their flavor is unique. Nothing else tastes like cucumber especially a cucumber that is home grown and picked just before a meal or snack. This year I planted two different kinds of cucumbers.

Lemon cuke with Chelsea Prize
'Chelsea Prize' and lemon cucumber

One was the long English type of cucumber, 'Chelsea Prize' and the other the heirloom variety, the Lemon Cucumber which is said to have superior flavor. Cucumbers have a long and interesting history. They have been grown in Asia for over three thousand years. Well loved by kings, emperors, The Romans, and just plain folks, cucumbers satisfy the palate. Many cucumbers consumed in this country are eaten as pickles since they are so easy to store on the shelf. I did read that the average American eats 9 lbs. of pickles per year with over 2.5 billion pounds of pickles consumed annually. Well, pickles don't really taste much like a fresh cucumber. Fresh cucumbers are available in the produce section of the market all year long but I have to say that the flavor of a cucumber is best and most defined when it comes straight from the garden.

Lemon cucumber
Lemon Cucumber

Lemon cucumbers are very uncucumberlike. They are round, yellow and grow more like their relative, the melon, than the familiar,traditional long and slender cucumber. The taste has been described as delicate and the skins, thin.  I really should have read the information on determining just when to best pick this fruit. Seeds of lemon cukeI picked the fruit  when it was yellow to gold in color. When I sliced it open I found large seeds. This fruit is mature and best picked when they just start to turn yellow. To know a vegetable, one must grow it. I found the taste of the smaller, greenish yellow fruit about the same as the more mature fruit but the seeds were more palatable. The fruit has little spines as do other cucumbers and you can rub them right off and eat them just as you would an apple or a tomato while standing in the garden. My cucumbers are planted a bit close together and the vines of the Chelsea Prize are intertwined with those of the lemon cucumber. Space is always an issue and productivity is sacrificed just a bit when spacing is tight. Good companion plantings for cucumbers include: nasturtiums, radishes, marigolds and goldenrod. The plants are heavy feeders. I fed them initially with an organic, granular fertilizer supplemented with liquid fish fertilizer. The lemon cuke does have a nice, mild flavor and it is a good conversation piece on the table but Chelsea Prize has won my heart for productivity, flavor and size. Perhaps it is not a fair comparison. I might grow lemon cucumbers again. They are quite pretty and a bit of a surprise to the uninitiated.Lemon cukeWhat about you? Have you grown anything unusual or different this year? 


Note: My seeds came to me from Renee's Garden in a promotional pack for garden writers. I thank them for the opportunity to try their product. I have re-ordered seeds from them at my own expense.

Renee's Garden - Lemon Cucumber


Bloom Day - August 15, 2012

Sunny borderIt is Bloom Day once again and there is a wealth of color here this year. August always makes me realize the value of annual flowers in beds and borders. The perennials blooming in August don't carry the show quite as well as those of June. I love the blue of these petunias which do require a bit of deadheading but then how else does a gardener acquire a green thumb?  I was generous with planting annuals this year since there was a garden tour here in June. I have found that it doesn't pay to be stingy with the annuals if you do want a good play of late color. Of course there are perennials blooming as well. Helianthus 'Lemon Queen'The Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' is quite large and stately and the little oregano, Oregano 'Kent Beauty'Origanum rotundifolium 'Kent Beauty' is subtle but interesting.  Phlox is in color at the moment and this one has re-seeded in solid purple from the original 'Laura' which has a white eye.  Garden phlox - Phlox paniculataIt is fragrant and more vibrant than many of the self seeded phlox. CalaminthaCalamintha is small but has a profusion of flowers which add texture and contrast to the garden. Echinacea purpureaThe coneflowers are blooming in abundance with tattered flowers on the same stalk as the fresh newly opened blooms. Time to deadhead. Deadheading is really the name of the game in August to keep colors fresh. Torenia 'Yellow Moon'I tried this new torenia in Lady Athena's crown and I am quite pleased with its performance. Such a shallow container requires quite a bit of watering and this torenia sulks a bit to let me know I have been ignoring this task. Blue Morning GloryThere is nothing quite as heavenly as the clear blue of the morning glory. The color is breathtaking in the morning light. I have sometimes forgotten to plant some of these but not this year.  I hope you remembered to plant some as well. So, what is blooming in your garden? I do hope to visit and see for myself. Many thanks to Carol of May Dreams for hosting yet another installment of Bloom Day.  Click on over to say hello to her and visit gardens from across the world on Bloom Day.


The Corn Thief

Morning fogIn August, the air is heavy and there is often a morning fog which rolls in from the lower field. It occurs occasionally and the fog leaves as quickly as it arrives. It lends a mystical and ethereal air to the garden. DSC_0003Colors seem a bit brighter but shapes and textures are more diffuse. I am enjoying the mistiness in the air as the clear, cool mornings of fall will soon be upon us.  DSC_0029August is also the time of sweet corn and ripening tomatoes. The tomatoes are taking their time (my fault) but they have promise. The promise of sweet corn has been realized. The EM loves corn. Well, I love it as well but he really loves it. Many summer evenings, when the corn is ripe and the air hangs heavy, we eat just corn for dinner outside on the patio. Corn 'bodaceous'The butter drips down the chin and all is right with the world. The corn season is short. We have found that we are not the only ones who love corn. We have discovered that we have a corn thief. The corn thief is often seen running frantically around and through the corn patch trying desperately to catch the fat rabbit who has the poor judgement to try and co-habitate in a garden with two yellow labs as guardians. Tucker is getting a bit old to chase rabbits but Cooper makes up for his lack of interest.  

Cooper runningWhen Cooper tires of the chase he grabs an ear of corn. Perhaps it is a consolation prize for missing that elusive rabbit. I would rather see the dregs of an ear of corn, often with the stalk lying there in the grass, than the remains of a rabbit. Cooper the corn thief
I have not actually seen him rip the stalk out of the ground but the evidence is there. I just don't have the heart to deny him a sweet ear of corn but it is a good thing he has a cute face and only takes one or two per day. What would you do with this corn thief?


Scenes of Summer

August 1st 036 Is it late summer yet? I don't think so. Late summer is after the 21st of August when only a month is left. Still, the above spring blooming azalea is throwing more blossoms than it did this spring. It has re-bloomed in the past but with just one or two flowers. August 1st 035This year, this August, it is putting on a good show. I have no idea why as it is not supposed to re-bloom. Just an added bonus. I don't remember its name. Anyone?  August 1st 030I have a love-hate relationship with any plant bearing the color 'school bus yellow'. On one hand, it shows up very well in the garden from a great distance but close up it is garish and harsh and doesn't seem to blend well with other colors. Black eyed Susan's were one of my childhood favorites so I give them a bit of a pass. It is hard to dislike black eyed Susan's. They can be thuggish and persistent but these look quite at home next to the anise hyssop blooming in the Winter Garden. Yes, it is behind the corn patch which hides it from direct view but there should be a reason to walk behind the corn.
Phlox paniculataThe tall garden phlox are in bloom and those that have reseeded are large, fragrant and purple. I have several cultivars of Phlox paniculata. Phlox paniculata 'Peppermint Twist' is coral and white although it does revert back to just coral. It has little fragrance.Phlox paniculata 'Peppermint Twist'Still, this phlox is pretty and at 24" tall fits on the edge of the garden quite well. August can be a bit of a garden bore. The borders rely heavily on the color of annuals and the textures of earlier blooming perennials. The real stars of an August garden are vegetables: corn, squash, beans and tomatoes. Well, my tomatoes are not ripe yet with the exception of 'Sungold'.  That is a topic for another day. What perennials are you enjoying in your garden in early August?


Culver's Root - Veronicastrum virginicum

August 1st 003
Veronicastrum virginicum

Culver's Root is a wonderful perennial with a common name which bears the question "Who is Culver"? Friend Gail of Clay and Limestome fame has provided the information on the common name from the Prairie Moon Plant website. It is derived from the name Dr. Coulvert who found a medicial use for the plant in the 18th century. Dr. Coulvert may have the honor of the name but Native Americans used the plant as an emetic probably long before Dr. Coulvert examined its medicinal properties. I find that the genus name,Veronicastrum, is a much more descriptive name for this native herbaceous perennial as its flowers do resemble those of veronica which is a more familiar plant. Veronicastrum is widely distributed in the U.S. from the east coast to the mid-west. It will grow in zones 3-10 and tolerates a wide range of soil type and light although it is at home in the open woods, thickets and meadows. August 1st 001It is in the same family, Scrophulariaceae, as veronica. Snapdragons also are family members. There is much to recommend this plant for your perennial border. It has beautiful foliage. The leaves surround the stem in a whorled pattern and when the flowers do emerge in mid-summer they are spikes which do stand straight and tall with the caveat "if pinched". This plant is described as a plant with erect stems but I have found that left to its own devices it stands less than erect. I have it planted in full sun, partial shade, dry soil, moist soil and even lean soil. Perhaps it is the strain I am growing that flops. I saw a beautiful stand of Veronicastrum in an English garden the summer of 2011. It was at a garden called 'Woodpeckers' and the plant was dense with new growth in mid-June.

V. Chelsea Chopped
Culver's Root exhibiting 'The Chelsea Chop'

So dense,in fact, it took me a moment to realize what I was looking at. I asked the owner/gardener about the plant which had new growth at the top and he told me that they always do the "Chelsea Chop" on their Veronicastrum plants. I had not heard this term before so he explained that he pinches the plant by a good third during the time of the Chelsea Flower Show which takes place at the end of May. This year, I gave my plant by the front walkway the mid-June chop. Our winters are more severe than those of England and plants emerge a bit later so I adjusted the calendar accordingly.

Veronicastrum 2
The 'June Chop' on Culver's Root

There is no flopping on this plant by the walk which stands about three and a half feet tall.

August 1st 004
Veronicastrum v.

Not so for those in the island garden which are a bit caddywhompus as are those in the long, sunny border where this plant would be six feet tall if it were not leaning against the fence.

August 1st 007
Veronicastrum with phlox and bee balm

I think it looks much nicer after the 'chop'.  I am trying to find a apt name. One that will remind me to pinch this plant in June. I don't know, the 'Flag Day Chop' does not have much of a ring to it. Do you have any suggestions?     



While You Were Away....


It only takes a vacation away from the garden to realize how vigorous the garden really grows. Not just the cultivated spoiled plants in the garden but also the weeds, the grass, the vegetables.

August 1st 048
Shaggy grass and way too much bee balm

One week is not a long time unless you are a dandelion. I say 'dandelion' as that is one of the most recognizable of weeds but really, the cucumbers can triple in size and the zucchini flowers turn into wiffle ball bats in just a week. It doesn't matter how neat and tidy you leave the garden, when you return, it is overgrown.

The edges are blurred. Coming home is as wonderful as leaving on vacation and seeing the garden take over is just its revenge on you for leaving. I don't mind. I love to walk the garden upon my return to see new blooms fully unfurled, the senescent flower blossoms which now need deadheading and even those wiffle ball zucchini bats are gratifying. There are chores to be done. The gardener is needed. Being needed is always a good feeling.