Sweet Peas On My Mind

Sweet pea collage
The fragrance of  sweet peas, as distinct a fragrance as that of Lily of the Valley or Viola odorata, wafts in and out of my January garden dreams. In New England, it is the dreams of the next season's garden which keep the mind active while the gardener's hands are somewhat idle. The only exercise the hands are getting these days is in the turning of plant catalog pages and searching for information on the internet to improve the success of the next garden. Revisiting the photos of those gardens which I have visited in the past also provides inspiration for Garden 2021. I have been fortunate to travel to the gardening capitol of the world, the UK. Yes, I stand firm on this point. Gardening in the UK is a national past time and the proof is in the publication of the National Garden Scheme Handbook which lists over 3,700 gardens, both public and private, within the UK which are open for visits during specific times during the year. Our comparable organization, The Garden Conservancy, is close to having the same amount of featured gardens in our country which is 40 times larger with 11 out of 50 states that are bigger than the UK. I digress, back to sweet peas. Sweet peas in early MayI did grow them in 2019 with some success. Sweet peas are a cool annual, vining flowering plant, Lathyrus odoratus. Brought to serious cultivation in the UK in the early 1700's after their discovery on an island in the Mediterranean, I can only imagine it was the fragrance which captivated the plant explorer who happened upon them. You can read more about the history of the development and breeding of sweet peas here on Sarah Raven's blog if you so choose. Many of the large private gardens which I have visited in England grow sweet peas  as we here in the US grow zucchini. One would never complain about an abundance of sweet peas. When I grew them I planted them along the fence on poles attached to a top support. They grew fairly well and I did have an abundance of flowers but this year I have ordered my seeds from Owl's Acre who offer exhibition Spencer varieties-yes the very Spencer family of the famous Princess Diana. These varieties have longer stems which are easier to cut and make a better bouquet. They do come in a wide range of delicious colors. From chardonnay through merlot, the allure of the sweet pea is hard to resist. Sweet peas require a fertile, well drained soil and with hardening off, will tolerate frost. They need attention to watering through dry spells and they are heavy feeders although nitrogen should be the more limited element in a complete fertilizer. I will use Fish/Seaweed fertilizer for a liquid feed. I planted the sweet peas out at the end of April in 2019 but this year, I will aim for an earlier planting date. Planting any early crop is very weather dependent here in New England as there can still be a bit of snow on the ground or frost in the ground. Instead of the single angled support, I will adopt this tee pee shaped support. Training the peasIt is attractive as well as functional and gives the gardener access to cutting and viewing from both sides.  Sweet peas can also be grown on tripods which are freestanding in the garden or you could put a tripod in a large container on your patio for an up close scentsational experience. Tutuer and sweet peasHey, that is a good idea and one which I will employ if I don't forget. I have seen sweet peas for sale in pots at garden centers in the spring so if you are not willing or don't have the time and space for growing plants from seed, you can  buy the plants and pot them up yourself for a wonderfully fragrant addition to the patio or back door step. I will start my seeds around the first of March on heat mats and under lights in the basement. Sweet peas have a thick seed coat and many experts advise soaking the seeds or nicking them with an emery board or file. I find that less is more and even soaking is not required. They have germinated quite well without that added step. There is much instruction to be found on line for the growing of sweet peas but I did find this little gem written by George Ball in the 1900's on growing sweet peas for production.  If you are truly enthusiastic and want to have an abundance of sweet peas, you will find great information in this publication which can also be purchased here on Amazon. 

A Riot of sweet peas
Sweet peas are on my mind, in my heart and with luck, in the garden growing this coming season. There is no more perfect garden than the one in the imagination.


Bloom Day -August 15, 2016

BloomdaybutterflyI missed Bloom Day in July due to challenging gardening conditions. Pests, drought, pests. No bother, the season moves along at its own pace. August has, so far, been a month of high humidity, heat and at least some rain. Welcome rain. Every plant looks better with moisture. Weeds included. The warmth brings out the butterflies and today's Bloom Day is sunny, dry and a bit more comfortable with humidity levels down from 90%. BloomdaylimelightDeer do eat hydrangeas but they left me a few blooms on the H. paniculata 'Vanilla Strawberry' and H. paniculata 'Limelight'. Both have unique qualities. BloomdaycomboThe Vanilla Strawberry has dark stems and is shown here with coneflower. The 'Limelight' is incredibly floriferous. BloomdayblackbutterflyThe true blue of Ceratostigma is cool relief for these hot days and this butterfly finds it palatable as well. BloomdaydahliaIn August, it is usually the annuals which take center stage.  Here, the dahlias are beginning to bloom. This one is 'Cafe au Lait' and it is quite popular. I find it adequate, preferring bright colors to its bland, cream tone. Bloomday AthenaPortulaca provides a brilliant crown for 'Athena' who hangs on the garden gate.  BloomdaycannaCannas are also blooming and add a tropical look to this summer garden. There is more in bloom but tasks await. Thank you for visiting. A big thank you to Carol at May Dreams for hosting yet another Bloom Day. I hope to visit gardens around the country via her Bloom Day Blog list.


Bloom Day-September 15, 2014

Lemon QueenBloom Day has arrived clear and cool. The end of summer has been quite dry and the gardens are showing a bit of wear and tear. Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' is blooming at seven feet tall. It will grow taller but I pinched it in late June to keep it from falling over. The bees do love it. ColchicumWhile I was sleeping the colchicums appeared in the garden. They are a sweet surprise. Lilac is usually a spring color but it is a welcome addition to the late summer garden. Aster Alma PotschkeAster 'Alma Potschke' is wearing her bright magenta sweater. She needs it as it is a bit chilly this morning. Unlike mid-summer when there are large drifts of color in the garden, the late summer garden has bright spots and lots of texture.  Verbena b.This annual verbena has reseeded throughout the garden and it shines this time of year. Each flower is small, just an inch or two across but they wave in the breeze and add a very whimsical look to the borders and vegetable garden. Berkeley Tie DieFlowers are wonderful, they feed the spirit but this Berkeley Tie Die tomato is beautiful and also makes a great BLT. I find the flavor full with bright acidity and a hint of the earth. It is one of my new favorites. I hope that this Bloom Day finds your garden full and lush. Many thanks to Carol of May Dreams for another day of flowers.



Wooly Morning Glory

DSC_0016One of the most interesting annuals I planted in the garden this year was the wooly morning glory, Argyreia nervosa. Also called Hawaiian woodrose and elephant creeper this plant is native to India and while perennial there and in any similar tropical locale, it is very frost sensitive. My first frost occurred on October 13th of this year. This vine takes quite a while to get growing. It loves a warm, humid summer.Argyreia nervosaIt was the end of July before it reached for the rooster on the tutuer and then, in the heat of August, it grew inches every day. The leaves are large, the size of a ping pong paddle and the new growth is softly grey and textured. The sinuous vine searches for a structure to envelop and wraps itself with thick purpose climbing higher each day.  Argyreia nervosa is in the Convolvulaceae family which is the same as the morning glory, sweet potato and bindweed. There are over 1,000 species in this family.Wooly morning gloryThis vine flowers if grown in the tropics but here the season is just too short. It would also produce seed pods if it flowered. A. nervosaThe seeds contain a chemical compound, LSA, similar to LSD and with the same psychedelic/hallucinogenic effect. Perhaps just the act of growing inspires a similar effect as I swear that I saw Jack climbing this beanstalk-like vine on more than one occasion and friends have reported similar sightings. A heavy frost has reduced this vine to a sinister version of itself. Frost withered A. nervosaThe withered leaves are hanging as if ready for Halloween. I find it almost as striking in death as I did in its life. Argyreia n. - wooly morning gloryAny plant which has such large tropical foliage and which shows measurable growth each day is a welcome addition to my garden. What was the greatest conversation piece in your garden this past season? 

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.


Mina lobata - Spanish Flag

DSC_0082My son named this plant 'Cousin It'.  Cousin It is from 'The Addam's Family' which was a hit in the 60's. I was just a child then so he must have been watching re-runs to make this connection. It does bear some resemblance.  He noticed it from the living room window. Mina lobata - Cousin ItIt has taken over the bird feeder post with vining, thick tendrils and it has been late to bloom.  Frost is imminent here and I was a bit concerned that I would not see any flowers but they are appearing and they are worth the wait.  Mina lobata flowerSpanish flag is a common name for this plant and the Latin name, Ipomoea lobata shows its relation to its cousin, the morning glory, Ipomoea tricolor. This reminds me that I did not plant 'Heavenly Blue' this year and now I miss it. Maybe these two would look interesting twining together.  I guess late bloom is normal with this family of plants. 'Heavenly Blue' takes its sweet time blooming for me.  I will plant this one again. It is a bit unusual and the flowers are quite lovely. Have any of you grown Spanish flag?  Did it bloom late for you?


Mexican Sunflower - Tithonia

Has anyone grown Mexican Sunflower, Tithonia rotundiflora?  I grew it from seed several years ago after seeing it at Tower Hill Botanic Garden.  You have got to love the bright orange, zinnia like flowers.  The first year I grew it in average garden soil and the plants grew to about four feet at the most.  Here my friend, Denise, is taking a nap next to them.  Her outfit does match them quite nicely and she provides nice scale and proportion for the plant.  She is of average height. DSC_0294
The plants were unfazed by warm, dry weather and, in fact, they did thrive in those conditions.  You know how it goes with many annuals, you try them, like them, and then make room to try something else.  Tithonia has been on my list to plant again and this year a friend gave me two plants which she started from seed.  I put them in the flower bed right in front of the living room window since this plant does attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds and I often watch from inside.   Who knew what would happen.  They are making a nice green curtain right about now.   DSC_0120
 Outside the house, they are the large plants on either side of the birdfeeder, closest to the house, and towering over the roof.  They have had just two flowers so far and they have required rebar stakes to keep them  somewhat upright.  I use an organic fertilizer but not in excess and they really are being stingy with the flowers this year.  I am hoping they will light up like a jack o'lantern well before Halloween since the frost will get them by then.  We shall see.  Now, I am waiting to see just how tall they will grow.  Has anyone had them get this tall and, if so, did they have lots of flowers?  Just wondering.....

Seasonal reflections - August

A New England gardener recently told me that gardening is his obsession and he gardens in all four seasons.  I can relate although I have not added blankets to the outdoor seating as he has done.  For so many of us, gardening is our compulsion but in more positive terms it is our passion.  I see sports fans as fanatics while I see gardeners as enthusiasts.  Perspective is interesting and I find when something isn't working DSC_0009-1
in life or in the garden, it is important to change perspective, to look at a particularly challenging area from a different angle or approach. Sometimes the area in question will dictate usage as in the adage 'Form follows function'.  And so, I am appreciating the new garden area right in front of the greenhouse/office.  Spring flooding necessitated rethinking the area and three pots were chosen and planted up for this spot.   I truly enjoy the challenge of container gardening. DSC_0046  As the summer progresses, the watering needs of the containers increase and repeat fertilization is also important.  I use a liquid fish fertilizer and you can see that the plants have responded nicely.   I need to do a bit of pruning on these by the greenhouse but pruning is also an anticipated chore and not one that gets as much attention as watering.  If you don't manage the vigorous growers such as this sweet potato vine and coleus, they will (and seem to have here) take over the pot.  DSC_0060
Out with the clippers.
Picking a color combination, choosing the plants to fill the container, and then waiting and watching as they fill out and certain plants flourish in the container while others lazily hide amidst the thugs is a great summer past time.   They initially look so nice and neat. As the heat of summer progresses and watering requirements are heightened with the heat, they explode  with growth.    DSC_0052
The containers by the pool have gotten a bit out of control but, from a distance, add more interest to the area. DSC_0032
I do like the smoldering dark colors for a change.  Did you plant containers this year and, if so, what is working best for you?


Frostproof container planting


Frost in the field - May 11th 

We have had beautiful weather in New England this spring if you discount that week with the thirteen plus inches of rain which fell all at once.  Otherwise, we have had ample moisture, many days of warm temperatures sprinkled with the usual cooler days.  We had an early warm spell which has driven many to actually plant tomatoes and set out the warm weather annuals.  A friend of mine who runs a garden center told me that many of the growers are out of tomato plants.  What will happen if there is a serious frost in the next two weeks?  There will be a scramble for the plants left at the garden centers.  Some will be caught short.  DSC_0001

Morning light on the garden

Traditionally, Memorial Day weekend is planting weekend for warm weather crops in southern New England.  The last full moon in May is on the 27th and no farmer from days of yore would ever plant his tomatoes before that full moon.   This is really just a guideline as frost can still occur after the last full moon.    I am left wondering what has happened to those common sense rules of gardening?  There are few working farms left in my town even though there is now a resurgence in locally grown produce and more land is returning to cultivation.  Still, land is worth more as a house lot than for vegetable growing. 

Pansies, Heuchera and Lysimachia 

There are plants you can use in containers which are frost resistant.  I planted up a few early in April which is about the time that the gardening bug is at its' most feverish point but it is also too early to do much but clean up the garden. DSC_0016

The container by the garage is a bit battered and best viewed from a distance.  This is planted with Sedum 'Angelina', Euphorbia 'Tiny Tim' and  pansies.  

Viola 'Etain' is also lovely in a container.  This one needs some additions but for now sports only the viola. DSC_0022
You can also plant lettuce in the garden or in containers.  This container is handier for me as it is closer to the kitchen. The feathery plant is cilantro and violas, once again, add some color.  The cilantro is ready for picking but the lettuce needs another week or two.   In two weeks I will be planting the other containers with the tender annuals.  Well, two weeks and a few days since the full moon is on the 27th.  Why take a chance with Mother Nature?  I find that she usually wins.