Archive | July, 2012

lavender – lavandula

23 Jul

Lavender is one of the few plants that truly like growing in full sun. (Many plants are tagged ‘full sun’ at the nursery, but few thrive in the 100-degree heat we’ve had for several weeks.) The small flowers look like a lavender-colored cloud when viewed from far away and, of course, the scent is heavenly. Clumps of lavender grow larger each year, eventually growing to the size of small shrubs. This one is slightly overshadowed by the pergola nearby and might have to be moved next spring to keep it from growing lopsided.

purple heart – setcreasea purpurea

23 Jul

Usually grown as a house plant, prized for its furry purple leaves and habit of trailing down the sides of hanging baskets, purple heart also makes a great plant for outdoor container gardens.  It puts out small pink blooms sporadically throughout the season. I’ve also  seen it used as a ground cover to separate larger plants in a flower bed. The plant must winter indoors but begins flowering in mid-February or early March, creating a welcome promise of Spring to come. With its ‘hairy’ stems, purple heart is easy to propagate. Pinch off a section of stem; strip off the lower 3″ or so of leaves; put it in a pot of regular potting soil; and keep it moist. Within a few weeks, it will form a root system, making a new plant. Plants that winter over indoors can get a little leggy by Spring, so I usually pinch off the trailing stems when I move the plants outside. They soon fill in and begin trailing down the sides of their containers within a month or so.  Purple heart will grow just about anywhere, but a part-sun location usually produces the best results.  The plant will live in full shade but does not flower as readily.

surprise lily (amaryllis belladonna)

22 Jul

These have almost as many names as there are gardeners:  painted lady, naked lady, resurrection lily, magic lily……….. Of course, they’re not lilies at all; they’re part of the amaryllis family (you know, the bulbs you plant half in and half out of the pot to produce big red flowers in the winter–often given as Christmas presents). They’re grown from large, onion-like bulbs and start in early spring as a clump of long (about 15″), thick leaves that come up about the same time as the daffodils. They hang around for a month or so and then die back completely, so completely that you can easily forget they were ever there. Then, in mid to late summer they come back, sprouting overnight as 18″ to 24″ stems that are almost completely white with a circle of pink, lily-like flowers at the top. I have these in several spots around the back yard and see no signs of any of the others. But one morning I’ll take my daily tour of the garden and there they’ll be. The only care you need to take with these flowers is to be sure to plant them among other plants. Otherwise, when the leaves die back you’ll have a bare spot for most of the season.

beating the heat

19 Jul

The weather lately has been brutal.  We always have a few weeks of very hot, dry weather, but this has been severe even for us–3 weeks of temperatures above 90 degrees, 13 days above 100, and 2 weeks with no rain.  Despite the heat, some flowers are not just surviving, they are multiplying.  Flower beds on the west side of the yard are protected by a row of bushes that cast shadows and filter the sunlight during the worst of the afternoon heat.  I water every 5 days, not just a sprinkle but a real soaking until water stands on the ground (except the veg garden, which is watered whenever the tomato reservoirs are empty–see ‘first tomato’ post of  6/22/12).  Even so, with about half the grass having turned brown from the heat, it’s surprising how many flowers seem to be doing well.

The datura is in the sun all day.  Its self-protective device seems to be to close up its flowers during the worst of the day, opening only mornings and evenings.Other flowers, located in semi-protected beds and doing well include purple loosestrife,bee balm,rose of sharon,garden phlox,cone flowers,  and shasta daisies.Coreopsis, which normally blooms throughout the season, is struggling but still hanging in there.Spirea, which normally stops blooming when it gets too hot, is trying to rebloom,and spiderwort, which I cut back after it started to yellow and go dormant, is trying to rebloom, too.I do what I can to help the garden through this tough weather, but in the end Mother Nature determines what will survive and thrive.

petunias – update

15 Jul

I featured these petunias in my very first post (April 11, 2012). They were notable because they had been planted the previous spring. Petunias shouldn’t live more than a year, especially not through one of our Midwest winters. They continue to thrive and at one point were growing about 14″ up the window. I could see from inside the house that some of the stems weren’t looking too healthy. The back of the plot is under the eaves, so it doesn’t get the same benefit from rain and sun as the plants in front. I cut off the weak stems in back and a few throughout the bed that weren’t looking so great. Some of my neighbors were horrified that I would cut such seemingly healthy plants. It’s hard for non-gardeners to understand that if you leave weak stems on a plant they weaken the whole plant. The flowers have since grown back and are once again nice and full, so full in fact that some are trailing on the sidewalk and are in danger of being stepped on. If they keep growing at this rate I’ll have to prune them again. Guess that means I’ll be in trouble with the neighbors again.


13 Jul

This silver/grey plant is a great contrast to the greens and other colors in a garden. They are supposed to flower in mid- to late summer, although mine never have. Not enough sun maybe. The other variety of artemisia is called ‘silver mound’–you can see why by just looking at it. I’m told it also gets very small white flowers, although I don’t think I’ve ever seen those, either. As far as I’m concerned flowers aren’t necessary. The leaves are pretty enough by themselves.

white butterfly bush

12 Jul

This one lives in a row of shrubs on the north side of the back yard. Other shrubs around it had grown so large they were blocking the sunlight. In an attempt to get to the light, this bush was growing sideways, almost parallel to the ground. Early this spring I cut it back to the base and raised the canopy of the shrubs around it by trimming away low hanging limbs to let in more light. It seems to have worked because the bush has come back and is (almost) completely upright.

bee balm – monarda

10 Jul

As the name implies, bees (and hummingbirds) like this plant, making it a valuable addition to the garden. Most commonly red, bee balm comes in many shades of red and pink as well as lavender, like this one. The plant is only supposed to grow 3′-4′ tall, but when planted in full sun this one grew to six feet. When the flowers opened, they were so much taller than I am that I couldn’t see the blossoms, so I moved them to a spot near the house, where they only get sun for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. That kept them smaller so I can see when they’re blooming, and the bees don’t seem to mind.


5 Jul

A warm climate vine, this mandevilla happily lives in the sunroom over the winter. Last winter, it got so long that it was trailing across the ceiling and trying to attach itself to the rafters. The flowers form on new growth toward the end of each stem, so I cut them back to about 12″ to get the blossoms down closer to eye level where I can see them up close. I’ve heard them called Chilean jasmine because their fragrance is similar, although they’re not related to jasmine. Mine doesn’t have a fragrance–I guess that’s what you get when you pick up cheap plants at end-of-season sales.

passion flower

5 Jul

This probably is the most common of this type of vine but possibly also the hardiest for climates with cold winters. Still, we sometimes have pretty severe winters, so I save the seeds and replant every spring. The plants typically don’t sprout until late in the spring–I’ve had them sprout as late as July, so it’s easy to forget they’ve been planted.  The seeds are found in round green “fruit” about 2″ in diameter (in this variety the fruit is not edible) that develops toward the end of the season; each contains numerous seeds that can be dried and stored indoors over the winter. The plant has a habit of sending out underground runners, so plants can pop up where you don’t want them, which is probably why some people plant them along fences and let them vine where they will. Any that sprout away from the fence can be mowed down with the grass. The flowers’ features are said to represent the suffering of Jesus Christ. If you view the vine from several feet away, you might not even notice the flowers. They often are hidden among the vines and you must view them up close to appreciate their complexity.