Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Azure Blue Sage

Alongside my driveway is my 'blue and gold' garden, which is one of my favorite flower color combinations.  While there is a plethora of different types of yellow flowers, blue flowers are more rare, especially in perennial plants, and can be a little hard to find sometimes.  A couple of years ago I saw a plant at a nursery that had flowers the prettiest shade of blue I'd ever seen, and it just had to go home with me for my blue and gold garden.

Azure Blue Sage
Salvia azurea, known as Azure Blue Sage or Prairie Sage, is a perennial native to central and southeastern United States.  It flowers over quite a long period, blooming for me from the end of August through the beginning of October.  In warmer climates it can start blooming in June or July.  It is one of the taller sages, growing 2 to 5 feet or taller, and making a clump about 2 to 3 feet wide.  It has a very airy and delicate appearance, with the spikes of clear blue flowers hovering above other plants.

Azure Blue Sage mingling with my other plants on the right
Even the leaves are fairly delicate and thin.  This is one plant that is pretty easy to squeeze into the garden among other plants.  Indeed Azure Blue Sage is actually better with neighboring plants to support it, as it tends to flop unless it is pinched back in late spring or early summer (which of course I never get to.)

leaves of Azure Blue Sage
Azure Blue Sage is a true prairie plant; it likes full sun and is extremely hardy and drought tolerant.  Its branching roots can reach eight feet deep during times of drought in search of water.   It is hardy in zones 5 to 9 and is tolerant of heat and humidity.  It does like well-draining soil, however, or else the roots can be subject to root rot.  Like other sages, Azure Blue Sage is deer and bunny resistant.  Hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees love it, however, and my plants are usually buzzing with bumblebees.

There are some slightly different varieties of Azure Blue Sage.  Salvia azurea var. azurea grows mainly in the southeast, while the better-known Salvia azurea var. grandiflora has a larger native range, also growing in central US.  They look very similar, but grandiflora has larger flowers and is usually the one grown in the home garden (and the one I probably have).  Var. grandiflora is often also called Pitcher Sage in honor of Dr. Zina Pitcher, a 19th century army field surgeon and amateur botanist.  (This plant used to be known as Salvia pitcheri and is sometimes still sold as such or as Salvia azurea ssp. pitcheri, just to make things more confusing.)  There are also a couple of named strains of Azure Blue Sage: 'Nekan' is a seed strain of grandiflora found in Nebraska that is supposed to be more upright and robust with even larger flowers, and 'September Snow' is a rare white flowering form.

Though in the mint family, Azure Blue Sage is not very aggressive, though it will politely reseed itself somewhat in the garden.  The new plants bloom the first year, so it can even be grown as an annual in places where it is not hardy.   Other than its flopping habit, it's been a great plant for me.   I never take care of it, but it slowly spreads, the critters don't bother it, pollinators love it, and every fall I am treated to those amazing blue flowers.

What more could you ask for?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

In the Cottage Gardening State of Mind

Cottage gardening is an attitude, not a location.

When I read that sentiment about cottage gardening, I immediately identified with it.  As a busy mom, I tend to just plant the things I love and enjoy and then let the garden do its own thing.

Some describe a cottage garden as artful chaos, another sentiment I like. Chaos I have definitely nailed. Artful?  Well, as they say, art is in the eye of the beholder.  I try to at least keep colors somewhat harmonious.  (Matching colors is an art thing, right?)

'Spanish Eyes' Black-eyed Susan Vine growing on veggie garden fence
For some reason, when I call what I do 'cottage gardening', I feel a little less guilty about my lack of weeding this hot and droughty summer.  Weeds or no weeds, the bees and butterflies still come, which makes me happy.

Monarch butterfly on 'Miss Molly' butterfly bush
My goal is to have all of the garden plants fill in so fully that there isn't any room for the weeds to grow, another inclination right in line with the philosophy of cottage gardening.  (Though I have to admit that in certain areas the dense planting is going a little too well, and I have to keep pruning the cosmos so that visitors can reach the front door.  Cottage gardening bonus: I don't get any door-to-door salesmen!)

the plant gauntlet
There is definitely more weeding and pruning and editing to be done in the garden, which I am starting to do now that the weather has turned cooler.  But more than anything, I'm just enjoying the garden...

...which I think is definitely in line with the cottage gardening state of mind.

bumblebee on native Azure Blue Sage
Happy gardening!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Quest for the Best Tasting Tomato

"You have to grow Black Krims," a relative advised me.  "They are the best tasting tomatoes by far!"  Others disagreed, claiming that the award-winning Brandywines deserved the honor of top tomato.

Black Krim heirloom tomatoes
Both Black Krim and the Brandywines (of which there are several strains) are notable heirloom tomatoes, and both have won many accolades, but which was the best?  This summer I was on a quest to grow these tomatoes that I had heard so much about - and determine once and for all which was truly the top tasting tomato.

So which one won?

Which tomato was the best tasting, 
the cream of the crop, 
the king of the garden, 
all that and a bag of chips?

I don't know.

The *$&^! chipmunks ate every single one of the Brandywines.

Yes, you.
I managed to save some Black Krims and other types of tomatoes that I had in the greenhouse by putting up a screen door to keep the chipmunks out, but every. single. tomato that grew outside in the vegetable garden was a goner, which included every Brandywine I had.

half-eaten tomato
Likely thanks to the drought, the chipmunks went wild in the garden this year, even gobbling up all of my kids' favorite ground cherries while they were still green. (Aren't ground cherries supposed to be somewhat toxic until totally ripe?)  I tried putting pepper spray on the tomatoes and ground cherries, but either I couldn't keep up or my chipmunks have developed a liking for spicy food.

a chipmunk in what he thinks is his own personal ground cherry patch
I did eat some of the treasured Black Krims, and yes, they were amazingly delicious.  But can I say they are the absolute best tomato of all?

It looks like I will be on the quest yet again next summer to determine the answer to that question.

And here I thought squirrels were the worst.

Anyone else have a favorite type of tomato?
And maybe a really great recipe for chipmunk repellant?
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