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

May 10, 2011

First Tomatoes

Over the last week, while I have been holed up inside, the tomatoes were starting in the vegtable garden. I wasn't sure whether the title of this post fit, because the tomatoes are not ripe yet, but early signs of the deliciousness to come is something to celebrate. Pictured below is 'Smarty' Grape Tomato, a purchase from my local plant indulgence, Fairview Garden Center.

The 'Mountain Fresh' Tomatoes are also producing small green fruits, but they will take much longer to mature into large red slicing tomatoes.  This little powerhouse pictured below is the only hybrid of my tomatoes, and has been producing huge yellow flowers for weeks now. A product of the NC State University breeding program, this is part of the 'Mountain series' which touts disease and crack-resistant fruits with a great taste. Ive grown 'Mountain' tomatoes for 3 seasons now, and they are always the most prolific producers. It has about the best taste I've had for a hybrid, and although it might not taste quite as good as the heirlooms, I grew 3 plants of this variety because its perfect for canning and makes an amazing salsa. Plus I love growing a local variety, that way I know its going to preform well in the North Carolina heat.


The tomatoes are filling out nicely. You can see my original plant list on my Preparing the Vegtable Bed Post, although I've swayed only a bit..  For tomatoes I'm growing 2 'Green Zebras', 3 'Mountain Fresh', 1 'Smarty Grape', 2 'Black Krim', and 1 unknown heirloom that was in the 'Black Krim' seed packet which looks to be 'Brandywine' or 'German Johnson'. I just couldn't resist planting it to see what it was. I also added some Italian oregano and lemon grass at the far end.


The larger cages in the picture above were a great find, left by the previous homeowner and obviously handmade from fencing. At 6 feet tall they are about they best support you could ask for. You will also notice the marigolds scattered throughout the vegetable bed. Although I'm not a huge fan of the marigold look (too common perhaps) they do bring some amazing benefits. Besides being deer resistant, they help keep aphids away and their roots secrete toxins that help treat soil nematodes that are harmful to vegetables. I figure its worth the 6 bucks for a couple six packs!

Holy hops! The hops are growing fast, and since I took this picture a couple days ago, the 'Centennial' hop vines have already met in the middle of the grape trellis. They grow 4-6 inches a day right now, and should set cones within a month, hopefully, otherwise the heat will start to stunt them. The dill is also going crazy. I use fresh herbs almost every day in cooking, I can always find a way to make them fit, but I still grow too much. Good think a couple friends joined me to help eat the dill. I expect the swallowtails to come every year, so I plant a few extra dill seeds to share.


To add a little color, the chives added some blooms. The first is beginning to open, but there are signs of more to come. I probably use these the most of all my herbs, as the onion taste works with all types of dishes.

So begins the summer vegetable garden. I wonder how long until my little green tomatoes will be ripe enough for a salad...

"I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in."  ~George Washington Carver

May 5, 2011

Peak at the Perennial Border

Ive been spending the last week or so glued to the computer finishing my master's papers, but the beautiful sights of mid-may outside keep calling me for a break. I told myself I wouldn't post again until my paper is finished, but I couldn't resist... so here's a peak at the perennial border in all of its mid-may glory. I can't wait to have the chance to catch up on all the spring happenings...

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.  Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.  The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves."  ~John Muir

May 1, 2011

My Iris Obsession

I love all types of Irises, and am slowly becoming a collector of different species of these unique flowers in the garden. Iris is the Greek word for rainbow, referring to the myriad of colors of the flowers occurring in the wild. In Greek mythology, Iris is a messenger of the Gods, connecting humanity to the divine through rainbows.

Iris pseudoacorus (Sweet Flag Iris)
 I have Irises in many areas in the garden, in both the front and back yards. The Japanese Sweet Flag Iris (above) is one of my favorites, and thrives in a tough spot where the clay soil floods in winter. After the flowers fade, seed pods appear that, when mature, can be collected for new plants. I germinated a dozen seeds in the greenhouse last fall and had 6 new plants for this spring... not too bad. German Bearded Irises are also a favorite, and I am always amazed at the new color choices every year.  I can put these plants anywhere, even on a side of a ditch, and they thrive. The foliage is semi-evergreen here, and some, like 'Immortality' and 'Well Endowed' are reblooming, flowering in early May and giving another show in late summer.

Above, the jet black buds and rich blooms of Iris germanica 'Gypsy Romance' (German Bearded Iris)

Another unknown cultivar of Iris germanica is blooming at the end of the vegetable bed. A mid-afternoon shower provided a great opportunity for dew-covered pictures.

A great rebloomer with outstanding evergreen foliage worthy of the front landscape, Iris germanica 'Immortality' is pure white, with a yellow "beard".

I also have started a collection of Siberian Irises, Iris siberica. These beauties have a thin, sword-like foliage and delicate flowers. I purchased I. siberica 'Caesars Brother' (left) and 'Butter and Sugar' on clearance last fall and just discovered the beauty of these in the last few days!

A grouping of Japanese Irises (from left to right):  Iris pseudoacorus 'variegata' (Varigated Yellow Flag Iris) yet to bloom, Yellow Flag Iris, and  Iris versicolor (Blue Flag Iris)
Irises have always been one of my favorite, and I remember them growing in our yard as a child. Now they have secured a solid place in our garden. They look beautiful in a border or solo, and make wonderful cut flowers (although the blooms only last a day or two). I always think of these as Mothers Day flowers, as they seem to bloom around that time. This year they are a little early... but I'm not complaining!

 "Thou art the Iris, fair among the fairest, who, armed with golden rod and winged with the celestial azure, bearest the message of some God." ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, from Iris