Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas in the Garden?

Well, as always in North Carolina around this time of year, my garden is confused.

Is it already spring?  My daffodils seem to think so.

Is it still fall?  Many of those flowers are still blooming away, despite the fact that it is officially winter.

Is winter actually coming?  Some of my Gaillardia are finally starting to look affected by the chill.

However, I'm quite sure that the blooms of my Sweet Alyssum is all the white my garden is going to see on the ground this Christmas holiday.

Well, no matter what season my garden thinks it is in, it is time for a holiday break for this gardener.  I will be away from my blog for a couple weeks spending time with family and friends.  I wish you and your families a safe and merry Christmas season and a blessed New Year!

Yes, even you squirrels..
(though maybe not the voles)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Why My Birds are Hungry

You turned my bird feeder upside down and are shaking out the birdseed?!

Ha, I've caught you this time!

Oh, don't give me that story about being framed!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Operation Vole Control - Setting up a Defense Perimeter

It's been a battlefield out there.  All year we have been besieged by that family of organized rodent crime - the Vole family.  Every single one of them has proven to be a serial plant killer, and these tunneling mice-like fiends are apparently also masterminds at avoiding all efforts to trap them.

We have finally pushed them back using deterrents made out of castor oil, but let's be honest - we know it isn't going to last.  

We need to set up a defense perimeter.  

Okay, troops, this is the plan:  we are going to surround our borders and valuable plants with what we hope will be Vole kryptonite - plants that are either poisonous or distasteful to Voles.  Daffodils have been trucked in by the dozens, and other plants resistant to these little monsters have been purchased.  

It is our solemn duty to see that our garden is protected - let's turn it into a veritable minefield for these creatures!

****Bulbs and Vole-resistant Plants included in our defense perimeter****
Daffodils, Alliums, Hyacinths, Grape Hyacinths, Snowdrops, Summer Snowflakes, Star Flower, Fritillaria, Hellebores, and Mountain Mint.

Other Vole-repellant plants for future consideration include:
Glory-of-the-Snow, Squill, Autumn Crocus, and Goldenrod

If any other Gardening Soldier out there knows of any other plants, intel is always appreciated.  

Disclaimer: This Garden Commander does not guarantee all of these plants listed to be completely Vole-proof - when it comes to these nefarious plant killers, all bets are off!

To your trowels, Soldiers - Operation Vole Control is a go!

Monday, December 3, 2012

With this Kale, I now Pronounce that you have Turned into your Mother

As similar as I am to my mother, there were several things we disagreed on growing up.

I didn't understand why in the world we would need to make our beds when we were just going to sleep in them again that night.  I vowed that when I grew up, I would never tell my children 'because I told you so.' Being forced to eat whole grain bread was cruel and unusual punishment (and let's not even talk about spinach).  And I certainly didn't understand how anyone could stand to watch that many episodes of the extremely boring home improvement show 'This Old House'.

Our differences also stretched to the garden.  Those blue Hydrangeas that my mom loved?  I informed her that blue flowers and green leaves do NOT match.  Irises?  Pretty flowers, but those leaves are too poky-looking.  And in the fall when she bought Ornamental Kale, I thought they were the ugliest plants alive.  Who in the world would buy a plant that looks like it should belong in (ugh) a salad?

Of course, now that I am grown up, my tastes have changed.  I love Hydrangeas and blue flowers of any kind.  I find myself looking for the types of Irises that my mom used to grow when I was young.  My dislike of Ornamental Kale, however, held out for quite some time...

...until this year when I was looking for something to fill a fall-blooming container.

Well, since planted the Kale has edged out most of the pansies and pushed a little Juniper to the side in its quest for Gigantic Awesomeness.  And you know what?  I find that I don't mind a bit.  In fact, I wonder how in the world I could dislike this plant for so long.

Oh, the brilliant fall color!  The beautifully veined leaves!  
And after a frost?  Divine!

So I do apologize to my mother for criticizing her planting choice for so long.  I am now off to go lie on my neatly made bed and watch some home improvement television after feeding my kids a healthy supper that included whole grains.

Hey, at least I didn't serve them spinach.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Love at First Sight - Viola walteri 'Silver Gem'

I am (usually) a pretty strategical plant shopper.  I usually know what type of plant I want and for what site.  I research the plants before I go and buy them.  Oh yes, there are those impulse purchases, but true love usually comes slowly for me, after I have bought the plant and it has proved that it can have have gorgeous blooms/foliage and thrive in my garden.

Plants usually have to earn my love.  But every once in a great while a very special plant comes along....

Viola walteri 'Silver Gem'
... and it's love at first sight.

When I saw Viola walteri ‘Silver Gem’ at a local nursery, I fell in love.  I had no idea where I was going to put it (in fact it sat on my patio for a couple months before I found it a spot) but this is one native beauty I couldn't pass up.

Viola walteri is a spreading ground cover, only 2"-5" tall, with darling little bluish-purple flowers.  It is a native wildflower of the Southeast, and it's nicknames include Walter's violet, prostrate blue violet, and Appalachian blue violet. 'Silver Gem' is a natural variant that was found growing in Alabama in 2003 and introduced to the markets by Mt. Cuba Center a couple years ago.

According to Mt. Cuba Center, this violet grows best in filtered to partial shade, like it's woodland origins, and in fertile, moist, well-drained soil.  After it is established, however, it is supposed to be pretty drought tolerant.  This deer-resistant wildflower blooms from spring through fall.  It wasn't the dainty blooms that made me fall in love, though... 

my pictures don't do justice to the absolutely gorgeous, silvery, veined foliage.

Viola walteri is hardy for zones 5 - 8.  Further north, it is deciduous; down south the leaves at the base may stay evergreen.  (So far, the frost has turned all the top leaves of my plants a dark green, leading to an interesting bicolor look.)

The best spot I could find for my new little treasures is tucked away next to a stump, sheltered and shaded by it and by some taller plants.  It's a spot where one has to look to find them; but then again, the Viola walteri 'Silver Gem' is a plant that is better appreciated up close... most loves are.

Celebrating a beautiful Wildflower Wednesday today with Clay and Limestone.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rejoice, the Plant is Dead!

Finally.  Finally it has gotten cold enough to have our first good plant-killing frost of the season.

You might be surprised that I would want such a frost.  It's now frigid outside, the leaves of most perennials are in tatters, and all of my annuals are kaput.  But I do have a confession - there is one annual that I have been waiting to die...

the Jalapeño Pepper plant

I have had two problems with this plant:
1) the only person in the house that eats jalapeño peppers is Mr. Red House
2) this plant doesn't know how to stop giving.  
And giving. 
And giving.

I actually did can my first pint of pickled peppers this summer, which I was very proud of myself for.  So I put the next large round of peppers that I picked in the fridge, meaning to can them.  Well, you know how life gets (I like to blame my kids a lot for these types of things); before I knew it, the peppers were too old to use, and I had to throw them out.  

Die, plant, die!
Several more times I had to throw out large batches of peppers, as I refused to admit the fact that I just didn't have time to can, and Mr. Red House certainly couldn't eat scores of peppers each week.  Seriously, how many plants can one little plant produce?!  This plant was getting on my nerves and giving me quite the guilt complex!

It's about time!
Now, after a good freeze, I think this plant is finally done!  No more guilt about wasting food!  ..Well, at least, until next summer when Mr. Red House begs me for another pepper plant... 

Do you have any perfectly good plants in your garden that you wish would die?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ten Perennials that You Might Be Able to Grow in Hell (Part 2)

My last post featured five plants that have survived the hottest, sunniest, driest part of my garden without a care (and certainly without my care).  Here are five more tough, drought tolerant plants for the Southern garden:

6. Sedum - common name: Stonecrop

Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
I think some of the Sedums in my yard live practically on air - I certainly don't water them!  I have some Sedum thriving on top of a green-roofed birdhouse.  I have some growing in the cracks of my driveway.  (I'm guessing it grew from a piece of Sedum that fell off the birdhouse when I tipped it over once.)  The only Sedums I have that don't flower well are the ones growing in my swampy side yard. 

7.  Agastache - common names:  Anise Hyssop, Hummingbird Mint

Agastache 'Grape Nectar'
I resisted planting Agastache for a long time, despite all the wonderful things I had heard about it.  The reason?  The leaves are said to smell like licorice, which I hate.  But I finally planted some, and the plants lived up to all the hype - they are tough, hardy plants, and the hummingbirds love them.  And I was thrilled to find that the leaves didn't smell exactly like licorice either.  Instead the scent is so pleasing that occasionally you may find me out in the garden petting and smelling my Agastaches. 

8.  Aclepias tuberosa - common name:  Butterfly Weed

Asclepias tuberosa
"Here you go.  Plant this in your garden.  It's a butterfly weed." Another gardener pulled what looked like a dried-up carrot out of her garden and handed it to me.  "Uh, okay," I said and later stuck it in my garden at the top of a hill and promptly forgot about it - until summertime, that is, when I was stopped in my tracks at the bright orange flowers.  Now it's a must-have in my garden.  This plant likes it sunny and dry, and, of course, the added attraction is that you will likely end up with some baby Monarchs if you plant them.

9.  Nepeta - common names:  Catmint, Catnip

Nepeta 'Limelight'
As I am writing this, I am shocked that I haven't brought any of my Nepeta inside to see what my cats' reactions will be to it.  Known for having a smell that is attractive to cats, Nepeta is also known for prospering in those sunny, dry spots that are a death knell to so many other plants.  Note: some of them may even prosper a little too much.  They are in the mint family, after all!

10.  Coreopsis - common name:  Tickseed

Coreopsis 'Full Moon'
This tough native is one of the flowers in which the Latin name is usually used instead of the common name (well, would you want to be called 'Tickseed'?)  Perennial Coreopsis are prolific bloomers, and they are often included in highway beautification programs.  Hey, if it will grow in a highway median, it will probably grow anywhere, right?

This concludes my list of 10 plants that have thrived in those scorching hot, dry spots in my North Carolina garden, even if they might not truly grow in Hell (I suspect Hell is full of crabgrass).

What plants would you pick to add to the list?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Ten Perennials that You Might Be Able to Grow in Hell (Part 1)

They've survived one of the hottest summers on record despite my complete and total neglect.  In fact, they're even thriving!  Here is my list of perennials that can take the glaring sun and the scorching heat we get in the Southeast - and live to tell about it.

1.  Rudbeckia - common name: Black-eyed Susans
Rudbeckia hirta 'Irish Eyes'
I have several different types of Rudbeckia, and there are usually some blooming at any given point from early summer until fall.  Nothing seems to stop them, not even this summer's record week of 105°F (40°C) temperatures. In fact, I still have a lot blooming (yes, it's mid-November).  They even politely seed a few babies around.  And the bees and butterflies love them.  And magic fairies sprout from them ready to grant wishes.

Okay, I might have been lying about the last part.  On to number 2...

2.  Gaillardia - common name: Blanket Flower
Gaillardia x grandiflora
Pretty much ditto everything from #1, including the magic sprouting fairies.  Gaillardia is a rather short-lived perennial often described as 'tough-as-nails.'

3. Salvia
Salvia guaranitica 'Black and Blue'
I've heard rumors of a few Salvias that like shade, but I'll bet you'd have to go looking for them.  I have Salvia by my mailbox, among other places, if that tells you anything.  Salvias come in many different colors and heights, which begets quite the dilemma - which one of the hundreds of heat-loving varieties do you like the best?  

4. Gaura lindheimeri - common names: Wand Flower, Beeblossom
Gaura lindheimeri 'Gaudwwhi'
With it's graceful, airy wands of darling little white or pink flowers, Gaura looks dainty and delicate.  Don't be fooled - it's anything but.  

5. Stachys - common name: Lamb's Ear
Stachys byzantina 'Helen Von Stein'
Whatever you do, just don't water this plant!  Apparently water is the Kryptonite of Lamb's Ear.  (I found that out the hard way.)  I've actually seen this plant growing on the side of a cliff.  By the way, if you do have this plant in your garden, congratulations - I'm sure you're the parent of several new Lamb's Ear plants by now!

What other plants made my Hell list of drought-tolerant, heat-loving plants?  Well, the next post will be coming soon!  Now if anyone needs me, I'll be busy petting my Lamb's Ears...

Friday, November 9, 2012

In Which I Give my Bidens a Talking To

You Bidens obviously did not read your own plant tag description.

Bidens ferulifolia 'Goldilocks Rocks'
According to Proven Winners, 'Goldilocks Rocks' Bidens are supposed to be, and I quote,

heat and drought tolerant;
bright gold flowers spring to fall'.

Bidens ferulifolia 'Goldilocks Rocks'
Spring to fall?!  We both know that this is the best you've looked since early June.  And it's freakin' November.

Okay, okay, I must admit I didn't put in you the best of soils.  

And you were on a rather exposed, very sunny site during one of the hottest summers on record.

And I didn't really fertilize you. At all.

Okay, I'll admit that I didn't ever water you, either.  But you're supposed to be drought tolerant, right?

Don't look at me like that.  I'm still blaming you for this.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Visiting the JC Raulston Arboretum

You know you are in a nice place when even the trash cans are attractive.

A few days ago I visited the JC Raulston Arboretum in Raleigh along with my 3-year-old. It houses an incredible collection of plants, and, as part of the Department of Horticultural Science over at NC State University, it is involved in research of new cultivars and in plant evaluations.  

And think their trash cans are nice?  You should see the restrooms...

As soon as my 3-year-old saw this building, her eyes lit up.  Pointing, she asked, "What that?"  After I explained it was the restroom, she immediately responded, "Me need to pee."

Of course, the arboretum also does have some other attractions other than the trash cans and restrooms (though that was the highlight of the trip for my daughter).  There are a few plants as well...

Being October, there was still a fair amount of late-summer blooms at the gardens.

'Tis the season for Pink Muhly grass (one of my personal favorites in the grass family), and the arboretum did not disappoint with their lush swath.

My 3-year-old also liked the Pink Mulhy grass - it was pink!
The Beautyberry shrubs were full of clusters of their unusual, striking berries.

Callicarpa americana 'Welch's Pink', Callicarpa acuminata
But even with all this color, what really stood out to me at the arboretum were the beautiful trees.

 Lagerstroemia fauriei 'Fantasy'
one of the largest and oldest specimens of  Japanese crepe myrtle outside of Japan
the beautiful smooth bark of the variegated London Plane Tree
The JC Raulston Arboretum houses several collections of trees, including one of the most extensive Redbud (Cercis) tree collections in North America.  I'll bet it is just stunning when they are all in bloom in the springtime!

'Traveller' Weeping Texas Redbud
I love how they let vines grow draped around this  Redbud tree.
(Cercis canadensis 'Flame' with Akebia longeracemosa)
The arboretum also has the only collection of Dwarf Loblolly Pine trees in the world. 

Dwarf Loblolly Pine
This is just a fraction of the plants in the 10-acre arboretum.  I didn't quite make it to all the gardens (I did have a 3-year-old with me, after all), but I hope to go back and see more at another time.  The best part - the arboretum is totally free!  (Though one can purchase a membership for access to classes and other perks, which helps fund the arboretum.)

So if you are ever in the Raleigh area looking for some gardens to enjoy, it is definitely worth it to check out the arboretum.

Even if it is just to use the bathroom!

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