June 16, 2011

June Bloom Day

Its mid month again, time for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day sponsored by Carol at May Dreams Gardens... only I'm a little late, but not too late too be blog number 171 on her list! This is also a perfect chance for me to catch up on everything that's blooming in the summer borders. Right now the star of the show is the 'Jacob Cline' Bee-Balm (Monarda didyma 'Jacob Cline'), which is in full bloom and yet to be touched by any rains.

We have only had 1/4 inch of rain in the past few weeks, and although we set up the sprinkler on all the beds about once a week, we can never get quite enough water for the plants... and its starting to show. The constant temperatures about 90 don't help either. We were supposed to get storms last night but they swung south.... and so out comes the hose again, but that's what it takes.

The familiar faces of summer are returning to the garden. The first Purple Cone flowers (Echinacia purpurea) have just opened. A personal favorite of mine, Crocosmia 'Lucifer', is also just opening. I just love the exotic flower and the large linear leaves add interest even when not in bloom.

June is full of blooms of all shapes and colors, too many to capture. A few more beauties right now are a pink Yarrow (Yarrow millefolium 'Summer Pastels'), Route 66 Coreopsis (Ceoropsis verticillata 'Route 66'), Perennial Plumbago (Plumbago ariculata), Japanese Aster (Kalimeris pinnatafida), and a sunflower planted by the birds.

Two more of my favorites June bloomers are Culver Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and Tomato Soup Coneflower (Echinacea 'Tomato Soup'). The Echinacea is not quite as red as some pictures I have seen of it in other gardens, but mine generally gets a beautiful striping effect.

The Clematis (Clematis 'Ernest Markham') is also blooming, for the first time I've seen. Actually we thought it was a different variety ('Nelly Moser') because that's what the tag said, until it bloomed with a deep burgundy flush instead of white. I guess that's the chance you take with clearance plants.

There are quite a few day lilies (Hemerocallis) splashed in the garden too... but 'Lady Elizabeth' is my favorite, with its near-white color.

 For a passing glance, I will leave you with the first blooms from the Butterfly bush (Buddlea) in our front landscape, a true sign of summers presence. It is almost 10 feet tall already, and I cut it back to less that a foot this spring! I'll have to think of it as my gift to the butterflies. 

"Let us dance in the sun, wearing wild flowers in our hair..."  ~Susan Polis Shutz

June 7, 2011

Escape to Natures Gardens

A couple weeks ago Brian and I escaped hot Raleigh for a couple days to camp along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. Ive been late posting this one, as I have started my new job, but after this I will get back to the garden soon! 
Just a 2 hr and 45 minute drive north from our little garden gets us to some amazing hiking and camping spots in Rocky Knob Recreation Area of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Although we have been to this area before, this time was special because we were at the peak of the Flame Azalea blooms with wildflower accompaniments, in the best section of the parkway to see it, with the rainy weather keeping away any crowds. For most of this post, I'll let John Muir take the reigns.

"The mountains are calling and I must go"

"Now comes sundown. The west is all a glory of color transfiguring everything. Far up the Pilot Peak Ridge the radiant host of trees stand hushed and thoughtful, receiving the Sun’s good-night, as solemn and impressive a leave-taking as if sun and trees were to meet no more. The daylight fades, the color spell is broken, and the forest breathes free in the night breeze beneath the stars. " 

"How deep our sleep last night in the mountain’s heart, beneath the trees and stars, hushed by solemn-sounding waterfalls and many small soothing voices in sweet accord whispering peace! And our first pure mountain day, warm, calm, cloudless, —how immeasurable it seems, how serenely wild! I can scarcely remember its beginning. Along the river, over the hills, in the ground, in the sky, spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm, new life, new beauty, unfolding, unrolling in glorious exuberant extravagance, —new birds in their nests, new winged creatures in the air, and new leaves, new flowers, spreading, shining, rejoicing everywhere."

"Warm, sunny day, thrilling plant and animals and rocks alike, making sap and blood flow fast, and making every particle of the crystal mountains throb and swirl and dance in glad accord like star-dust. No dullness anywhere visible or thinkable. No stagnation, no death. Everything kept in joyful rhythmic motion in the pulses of Nature’s big heart."

"Another of those charming exhilarating days that makes the blood dance and excites nerve currents that render one unweariable and well-nigh immortal."

"Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life." ~ John Muir

May 26, 2011

Staying Cool in the Shade

It has been HOT this week... like 93 degrees and 70% humidity. But what did I expect? Summer was bound to come soon. While the new growth in the sun border is weeping from the afternoon rays, I found a box turtle taking cover below the Hypericum at the entrance to our shady-path garden.

Before this area was a typical problem North-side yard... the kind of place where grass dosent grow and run-off washed out any mulch.  A large oak just on the neighbors side of the fence adds to the shade. With only a kiss of sun for 30 minutes in the mid-day in summer, this is our only deep shade area in the garden. You can see down to our full-sun perennial border at the far end... baking in the afternoon heat. A couple years ago, with only mud and ideas, Brian started with a simple bubble diagram with the central path and general heights of plants along the wall and fence. It made for a great way to plan a beautiful garden and still "plop" some of those clearance plants in as we find them.

Possibly my favorite plants in the area are the Ghost Ferns (Antherium 'ghost') (left), a cross between the Japanese Painted Fern (A. niponicum var. 'Pictum') and the Lady Fern (A. filix-femina). This variety has the best characteristics of both partent plants, with a stunning color and more up-right habit. White blooming Nandinas (Nandina domestica 'alba') (right) add some structure and contrasting lime-green new growth. The flowers are quite stunning as well.

These soft 'Blue Angel' Hostas (Hosta 'Blue Angel') filled a big gap in the shade garden to complete the main part of the path. A gift dug from the yard of one of Brian's co-workers, we split one giant-sized Hosta into 3 still giant size clumps. I am almost embarrassed to say this is the first Hosta I have owned, but having limited shade I was drawn to other textures...

... like the beautiful, glossy, foot-wide leaves of the Giant Leopard plant (Farfugium japonicum 'Giganteum'). In late-October these unique plants are topped with yellow aster-like blooms, but the foliage is really the star of the show.

 To help hide the neighbors fence, we added a Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris). It is the perfect pick for the spot, as it grabs on to climb surfaces with small hairs along the stem. I gave it a trellis to give it a head start, but now it is slowly searching along the fence for the light. It flowers later than the other hydrangeas, usually starting in mid-June here. Speaking of Hydrangeas, the 'Endless Summer' (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Endless Summer') is looking stunning behind our thinking-spot, an East-facing area that is shaded from the afternoon sun.

 The Southern Wood ferns (Thelypteris kunthii) add a magical feel... we sit here often and look out on the garden to unwind from the day.

"Take a course in good water and air; and in the eternal youth of Nature you may renew your own. Go quietly, alone; no harm will befall you." ~John Muir


May 22, 2011

Spring Spotlight: 'Heart Attack' Sweet William

While most varieties of Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) are biennial, 'Heart Attack' is one that is known for its longevity. Bold, clusters of carnation like flowers are blood red with a hint of chocolate and a white eye. Blooming on rich evergreen foliage from mid April until early June, it is the star of our spring garden.

'Heart Attack' was an introduction from a local nursery, Plant Delights, and was found in Southern Europe by their plant explorers. It grows in zones 4a through 8b, and prefers to be shaded from the afternoon sun in southern gardens. It generally likes well drained soils, but does fine in our clay mix. This year, the blooms first started to show April 20th, as the tight buds opened one by one. Although the petals are now starting to fade and some stalks are flopping from the rains, it still makes an impact. After cutting it back I usually get a smaller flush of flowers in mid summer.... but I might wait this year so I can collect some seeds.

The deep purple winter color is also a great feature on the evergreen foilage, making it an excelent choice for year-round interest in the front of the border. The new grows appears rich dark green in the spring, as the purple coloration fades. It gets to about 16 inches in height when in bloom, and otherwise the foliage stays low.

'Heart Attack' Sweet William is one of my favorite plants, and from what I hear about its perennial nature I will be enjoying the blooms for years to come. Its rich color is made even better by a pairing with the spring blooming 'Minnie Pearls' Phlox, another Plant Delights introduction which will be the topic of my next post in the Spring Spotlight series.

"How can one help shivering with delight when one's hot fingers close around the stem of a live flower, cool from the shade and stiff with newborn vigor!" ~Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette

May 19, 2011

Spring Spotlight: Small's Beardtongue

Penstemon (beardtongue) is a spring staple in the garden, and we have a couple in our perennial areas as well as wild ones that have free-seeded into the sunny areas near the stream in the back. My favorite specimen of the genus, the native Small's Beardtongue (Penstemon smallii) is no small bloomer. At over 2 feet tall and covered in lavender-colored blooms, this beauty is paid frequent visits by the bumble bees and every so often a humming bird.

The bumbles fly from flower to flower, crawling all the way inside the calyx to get the sweet nectar. Looking closely at the trumpet-shaped flower, the pubescence on the tongue-like petals makes you realize why they call it "beardtongue".

Small's Beardtongue is native to the mountain regions of the Carolinas, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama and grows in USDA zones 5a through 9b. In its native habitat it grows in light shade and well-drained soils, but in the garden it does best in full to part sun typical of Penstemon species. My plants (its a clump of 3) came from a class I took in the NCSU horticulture program last year, and grows in 4-5 hours of morning and mid-day sun. It blooms earlier, and for a longer period than our Penstemon digitalis varieties, starting in late April and continuing into mid-June. Last October it graced us with a second, smaller flush of blooms. I hear this is a short-lived perennial so I let it go to seed before cutting it back.

Following the heavy rains we've experienced in the past few weeks, a few stems have flopped, but it stood its ground better than expected for such a tall plant. We placed these near the front of our landscape border, near a downspout garden.  Great for the middle or front of any border or rock garden, this beauty is one of my new spring favorites and a has been sure place to spot the seasons first male hummers.

"The little purple plant, tended by its Maker, closed its petals, crouched low in its crevice of a home, and enjoyed the storm in safety" ~John Muir

May 15, 2011

May Bloom Day

With everything going on right now, I almost forgot about May's Garden Bloggers Bloom Day sponsored by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. The perennial border is filled with bloomers this month! I defend for my Masters tomorrow and am quite busy so I will have to substitute my usual closeups for mostly wide shots and a list. It does give me a chance to show off the perennial border, which is looking beautiful right now!

Blooming right now: Penstemon, Gallardia, Scabiosa 'Butterfly Blue', Catmint 'Walker's low', Guara 'Whirling Butterflies' and 'Pink Gin', Red Knockout rose, Allium giganteum, Dianthus 'Heart Attack', Phlox 'Minnie Pearls', Coreopsis 'Moonbeam', Purple Flag Iris, Lespedeza, Spirea, Hydrangea 'Endless Summer', Hydrangea 'Annabelle', Agastache 'Salmon and Pink', Lamium... and some more! I hope to feature many of these as Plant Spotlights.

"More than anything, I must have flowers always, always." ~Claude Monet

May 13, 2011

Spring Spotlight: Banana Shrub

With so many things going on in the garden, its hard to keep up on what to blog! So I've decided to start a 'Spring Spotlight' series with some of my favorite plants for the season. Hopefully it will introduce readers to some new plants and inspire some gardening ideas. I imagine this will follow into a 'Summer Spotlight' and so on... but who knows! This spotlight is Brian's favorite at the moment. The smell on a warm day is pure bananas!

Banana shrub (Michelia fugo) is a member of the Magnolia family, with thick evergreen leaves and cream-colored flowers. Hardy only in USDA zones 8a-10b, it was a throwaway plant from the nursery where Brian works due to winter damage. We took it home, nursed it back to health, and it thanked us with a month long showing of banana scented flowers from mid-April to mid-May. Ours is only a few feet tall, but the shrub attains a full size of 10-15 feet tall and wide. It prefers an acidic soil so we feed it Holly Tone a few times a year.

The bugs love this shrub too! Maybe the small spider mite problem draws them in, but I always catch butterflies, arthropods, or beetles sitting on the leaves and flowers. Watching the flowers opening on this shrub were particularly interesting.. I like to think of it as a little botanical study. The bud is encased in a leathery covering which sheds as the petals grow inside. The pink rimmed petals open to show a bright green stamen. As the petals fall off one by one, the stamen is left behind and remains until a new leaf beings to grow.

Introduced to United States in late 1700, this is one of the classic evergreen shrubs of the old south, although the banana shrub is originally from China. It was named after Pietro Antonio Michele, 1679-1737, a Florentine botanist. This plant is new to my garden and we've "Gone Bananas" for it!

"To sit in the shade on a fine day and look upon verdure is the most perfect refreshment."  
~Jane Austen