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Friday, July 31, 2009

Hortense Hoelove Answers Questions About Flowers

Hortense Hoelove answers questions about flowers for the plant-lorn and other gardeners.

Dear Ms. Hoelove,

My heart is being broken by a night-blooming cereus! I've been in a long-term relationship with this plant for many years, and when we first got together it was happy and reciprocated my attention by blooming in that special way only a cereus can (of which you are well aware). In the past few years, however, my cereus has lost interest in me, never blooms, and is generally listless and unhappy.

I must confess that there is a large generation gap between me and my cereus. I was introduced to this plant by a childhood mentor who has since passed away, and I feel obligated to stay in this relationship because of our mutual connection. I've tried to revive our relationship with fertilizer, compost, and a sunnier location, but so far I've seen no change!

What should I do? Should I admit that our age difference is just too great, and it's time to let this plant go on to a better place? Is there some way I can make it love me again? Help me, Hortense!

Serious about Cereus
Ramble on Rose

Dear Ramble on Rose,

Oh, dear! You must not let your night-blooming cereus go to a better place, no matter how great the age difference! I recommend that you practice tough love by withholding almost all fertilizer and just keep it watered. That’s what I do with mine and it seems to respond with a bloom or two every year, even though I keep it inside. I also recommend that you take some cuttings of new growth and root those to create some new night-bloomers. You can then either forge a future relationship with them, just in case your current one decides to “go to a better place” , or you can give them to others who will surely covet one of their own if they ever see yours blooming!

I will hardly be able to sleep if you tell me you are giving up hope for your night-blooming cereus, so please post periodic updates!

Also Serious about Cereus,

Night-blooming Cereus at May Dreams Gardens

Dear Hortense,

I’m a little embarrassed by some blooms that showed up in my garden just a week or so ago without any leaves. It is as those they are “nekkid”, but they are quite pretty with pink lily-like flowers. There were lily-like leaves in those same places last spring. Could they be related? Please help!

Pink Cheeks Gardener

Dear Pink,

Relax, those are likely Lycoris squamigera. The leaves come up in the spring and then die back so you think that the plant has died, and then “surprise”, later in the summer the flower stalk shoots up and you have a beautiful bloom, usually in some shade of pink. For that reason, many genteel gardeners call them Surprise Lilies. Other gardeners call them Resurrection Lilies because it seems they’ve died after the foliage is gone, but they return to life with a beautiful bloom. And of course, some gardeners call them Naked Ladies because when they bloom, they have no leaves.

I prefer the more genteel name of Surprise Lilies, but you may call them whatever you’d like to call them!

All the best,

Surprise Lilies bloom at May Dreams Gardens

Dear Hortense,

How long must I wait for a blasted white marigold to bloom in my garden! I sowed seeds for the white flowering marigold, ‘Kilamanjaro’ way back on May 19th, the same day I sowed seeds for zinnias and sunflowers. I’m still waiting for the marigolds to bloom while the zinnias and sunflowers have been blooming for weeks. Weeks!

I don’t know why I’m so anxious to see this white marigold because they’ve been around for decades, or at least since 1975 when Burpee awarded Alice Vonk with $10,000 for the seed of a true white marigold. And now thirty plus years later I’ve decided I want a white marigold in my garden and I want it now!

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Dear Carol,

Patience is a virtue they say and one you don't seem to have much of! Your white marigold looks like it is just about ready to fully bloom. Really, has it been that much of a wait? I once heard that you waited thirteen years for your night-bloomer to start blooming after you acquired it and repotted it, so maybe at one time you did have patience?

Give the marigold another day or so. You don’t even have your first big ripe tomato! Though, there are some rumors floating around that you have a ‘Pink Oxheart’ tomato ready to pick this weekend.

I would like you to practice more patience in the garden by weeding every day for at least fifteen minutes. And then, while you are at it, I’ve noticed that you still have ten bags of mulch on your patio, that have been there since June. Really, is that mulch doing much good still in bags on the patio? I know you have flower beds that once weeded, should be mulched.

You might also look into some extended sessions with a therapist, like Dr. Hortfreud, because it is impossible for me to address all your issues in one letter.

Good luck,
Hortense Hoelove

First white marigold at May Dreams Gardens

Congratulations To Our Seed Winner!

Congratulations to Leslie of Growing a Garden in Davis who is the lucky winner of six packets of seed from Botanical Interests!

For those who didn't win, "get thee over to Garden Rant", where they are hosting another great seed giveaway, this time for all fourteen seeds in Botanical Interests' Botanic Garden Series.

Thanks to all who entered. Now, go buy some seeds!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Society Meets Again To Discuss Seeds

Greetings to all members of the Society for the Preservation and Propagation of Old-Time Gardening Wisdom, Lore, and Superstition (SPPOTGWLS or “the Society”)

Following are the minutes of our last meeting in which there was a rousing debate amongst those members who regularly sow seeds and those members who generally do not sow seeds.

I, your self-proclaimed President of the SPPOTGWLS, did my best to keep order and prevent an outright melee from breaking out between the two groups, which I will refer to as the sowers and the non-sowers.

At issue was whether one group of gardeners was superior to the other because they sowed seeds and the others didn’t and vice versa.

I, your President for life, reminded everyone present that the revered gardener and garden writer, Elizabeth Lawrence, often wrote about having someone else who sowed the seeds sent to her from around the country and grew the seedlings on to be good sized plants that Elizabeth could then plant out in her garden. The seed sowers amongst the group were a bit taken aback by this, but seemded to understand that not everyone has a good indoor space for sowing seeds or even a spot in their garden suitable for directly sowing seeds.

I then reminded those who don’t sow seeds that seed sowers are not just vegetable growers who start their tomatoes inside from seed and then fuss over them for weeks on end, with frequent updates to anyone who will listen, until the last frost is past, and it safe to plant their carefully tended plants out in the garden where they will be further nurtured to produce the perfect tomato, the kind that would win first prize in any contest entered. No, that is not the case at all! Seed sowers also sow seeds for perennials, biennials, annuals, trees, really any seeds they can get their hands on.

Both sides were chastised to not fall into the trap of a haughtyculturist who thinks that his/her garden is better than anyone else’s and that their flowers are just a bit brighter and their vegetables just a bit tastier.

The meeting concluded with everyone agreeing that there is room in this great big gardening world for both those who sow and those who don’t sow and both sides will have respect for each other.

I, your President who discloses freely that I happen to enjoy sowing seeds, did make a final motion that if a gardener/Society member has never tried to sow a few seeds, that they try to do so at their next opportunity. There was a second to the motion and voting is now taking place. Members are asked to vote yeah or nay via the comments.

The meeting concluded with a reminder for all to make sure they had registered to win six packets of seeds from Botanical Interests before the deadline of July 31st, 5:00 PM EDT.

Minutes sown by your faithful president,

Carol, May Dreams Gardens

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You Might Be A Gardening Geek: Seed Edition

If the seed companies follow their usual schedules for mailing out seed catalogs, I should receive the first seed catalog in my mailbox in about nine weeks. I know this little tidbit of information not because I remember exactly when I get all the seed catalogs. I know this because I write an entry in my garden journal when I get that first catalog.

“Received first seed catalog” was the entry last October 9th.

Do you know what it means if you record in your garden journal when you got your first seed catalog?

It means you might be a special kind of gardening geek, a seedy one.

You might also be a seedy gardening geek if…

You grow most of the plants for your vegetable garden from seed. Bonus points if you started seeds indoors before the last frost date. Double bonus points for growing perennials from seed.

You keep all your old seed packets because you might want to refer back to the information on one of them. Bonus points if just the other day you went through a bunch of old seed packets to find a particular one from 2001.

You track all the seeds you bought on a spreadsheet, sorted by type of seed and then sorted by which ones you will sow indoors and which ones you will sow outdoors. Bonus points if you’ve kept copies of these spreadsheets from previous years.

You kept a copy of a seed catalog because you thought it might be fun to look back through someday. Bonus points if it was from 1976, the U.S. Bicentennial year, and you kept it because you thought it would be as good a souvenir from that year as anything else.

Your high school classmates thought that one day you might end up writing descriptions for the Burpee seed catalog. Bonus points if that prediction was included in your high school yearbook for everyone to read years later.

You actually own special seed sowing spoons that make it easier to pick up tiny little seeds. Bonus points if you aren’t afraid of the tiny little seeds.

You see seeds everywhere in the garden and want to collect them all. Bonus points if you do collect seeds from your garden.

You open any “junk” drawer in your house and find one or two or bunches of seed packets. Bonus points if you can look around where you are right now reading this post and see at least one seed packet.

You know about stratification and scarification. Bonus points if you have stratified or scarified seed.

You always look at the seed racks at any store that has them, even though you have all the seeds you need. Bonus points if you usually buy some of those seeds from the store even though you know you already have more seeds than you have time or space to sow.

You remember when Frank’s Nursery and Crafts used to sell seeds early in the season for 50% off and you regularly saved $25 by shopping there. Oops, that’s more a sign of being a gardening geek 50 and over!

You always buy more seeds than you actually sow. Bonus points if you thought to give some of your extra seeds to someone else to try!

And one last one…

You know that seeds can also be sown in late summer and fall for some vegetables and flowers and therefore sign up for the seed giveaway sponsored by Botanical Interests. Hurry, giveaway ends on Friday, July 31st at 5:00 PM EDT!

You might also be a gardening geek in other ways, such as …

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Monday, July 27, 2009

New Seed Tricks And A Seed Giveaway

This old gardener learned some new seed tricks this spring!

(Yes, I can call myself “this old gardener” since I was inducted officially into SGAFO – Society of Gardeners Age Fifty and Over – earlier this winter. And I’ve got the official pin and a certificate to prove I’m a member. )

My new seed trick is to grow onions from seed. Now some gardeners are going to say, “Is that all? I’ve been growing onions from seeds since the get-go.”

But it's new to me. That's what's fun about gardening. What's new to me is old to others, and what's old to me is new to some. There's always something new to try, no matter how long you've gardened.

Anyway, I always grew onions from onion sets, little onion bulbs, purchased in the spring. I’d get a handful of white, a scoop of yellow, and top it off with reds and plant them out at the same time as I planted out the peas, around March 17th.

Then this spring, on a whim, I bought a packet of onion seeds, sowed them in May, and now I’m reaping the harvest, a few onions at a time. These are delicious cut up on salads, or just eaten like a carrot stick. And now, I’m going to sow some more onions seeds because…

Seeds aren’t just for spring!

There are lots of seeds we can sow in the late summer and fall, both in the vegetable garden and in the flower garden.

Here are six that I’ll be trying this summer/fall in the vegetable garden and in the flower garden, compliments of Botanical Interests.

Flowers include:

Nodding onion - Allium cernuum. I just like the sound of something “nodding” in the garden.

Penstemon FirecrackerPenstemon eatonii. I have so little red in my garden that I decided I should try this. Plus, I think it will attract hummingbirds!

Leadplant - Amorpha canescens. It attracts butterflies!

(By the way, I passed up on the Compass Plant, Silphium laciniatum, because they warned that you should sow this one where you want it because it is has a long tap root and can’t be easily moved. I took that to also mean that it might be hard to get rid of. Plus it can grow up to nine feet tall. My “inner gardener”, the one who whispers in my ear to warn me of danger, said maybe this one wouldn’t be good for my suburban garden, but if you’ve got a big garden, go for it, and let me know how it works out for you)

Vegetables include:

Spinach Bordeaux – It looks pretty with green leaves and burgundy stems, plus you can sow seeds up to four weeks before the first frost and still get a nice harvest. This means that I can sow seeds for spinach until Labor Day or so.

Lettuce Romaine Parris Island – I like the sound of “crunchy leaves”, "heirloom" and you can sow this one up to two weeks before the first frost!

Bean Bush Roma II - I’m kind of tired of green beans right at the moment, but by September, I’ll be ready for more. These are supposed to take 55 days from sowing to eating, so I have enough time to grow a good crop of these before frost returns to my garden.

But I don’t want to sow alone, so I’ve arranged for Botanical Interests to give away six packets of seeds to one lucky commenter. You can get seeds for fall or get a big jump on spring. Your choice!

To enter, go to the Botanical Interests website, look around at the seeds, then come here and

- leave a comment about what you found of interest (you might entice me to buy more seeds)

- put your name in the Mr. Linky widget by Friday, July 31st, 5:00 PM EDT.

I’ll use an online random number generator to pick a winner from those listed on the Mr. Linky widget and notify the winner late Friday night. Please make sure your link leads me to a place where I can get your email address.

Good luck and happy fall seed sowing!

(Note: Botanical Interests currently can only ship to U.S. residents.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, July 26, 2009

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and Gardening Friends Everywhere,

I’ll start right off with a picture of today’s harvest, picked just a few hours ago.

My trug contains bell peppers, banana peppers, Hungarian hot wax peppers, jalapeno peppers, cucumbers, onions grown from seed, a small bouquet of Zinnias, a handful of ‘Gold Nugget’ tomatoes, a few ‘Red Currant’ tomatoes, the first two ears of ‘Honey Select’ corn and one ‘Eight Ball’ squash that I let get too big.

My excuse on the squash that got too big was that it was hiding, as were some of those bigger cucumbers. There are even bigger cucumbers in the compost bin, but don’t tell anyone. I always feel a bit wasteful and lazy when I let cucumbers grow too big and have to toss them to the worms and micro-organisms that live in the compost. I’ll just consider it a contribution to the garden for next year when all that breaks down into good compost for top dressing the garden beds.

Still missing from the picture of my bounty are the first ripe “big” tomatoes, but there are plenty of green ones so I’m sure by next weekend I’ll have a few of those to eat, too. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy the cherry tomatoes, including the first ‘Black Cherry’ which I saw while filming a little video of my garden. I picked it and ate it in one motion. It’s a talent I’ve developed to be able to pick a cherry tomato, wipe it on a clean spot on my shirt and then pop it into my mouth as fast as you can say “tomato hornworm”.

Tomato hornworm? Who said that? Where? Not in my garden, at least as far as I can tell. Usually by now I’ve found some and squished them, but they seem to be missing this year. I won’t complain about that or the lack of Japanese beetles. I’ll just count my blessings and my green tomatoes and keep on weeding when I can.

Speaking of weeding, I think I’ll wrap up the weekend with some more weeding in my garden this evening before the new work week begins. I never seem to get much done in the garden Monday through Friday, do you?

Flowers and veggies for all,


P.S. Here’s the weekly picture of my garden.

I don’t think it has changed that much from last week, other than some of the plants look a little more worn out and there are a few more weeds in the paths.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hortense Hoelove Answers More Plant Questions

Hortense Hoelove answers more questions from gardeners and the plant-lorn.

Dearest Ms. Hoelove,

I'm in love with Pieris japonica 'Mountain Fire' and everyone tells me we are not compatible because I live on the wrong side of Chicago. I find the photo of your crepe myrtle to be very intriguing but it's not quite tall enough. I need a shrub about as tall as me (5'). If you should ever come across another shrub with red new growth changing to green, that's taller, will you please post a mention of it? And thanks so much for the wonderful advice service you provide.

Your fan,

Dear Snarky,

Oh my, many a gardener has become enamored with a particular plant, totally unsuitable for their garden, and then they pine for it something fierce, losing sight of all that is good that they can have in their garden! My advice to you is to stop thinking about this Pieris right now. It's just not meant to be! Focus instead on lovely shrubs like the Korean Spice Viburnum, Viburnum carlesii, which doesn’t have new red growth in the spring, but does turn lovely shades of red in the fall and won’t get much taller than five feet. Or how about Fothergilla gardenii, which also turns a lovely red in the fall? And both of these shrubs flower in the spring! I promise you won’t think another thought about the totally unsuitable Pieris after seeing these shrubs!

No fan of Pieris,

Fall color on Viburnum carlesii.

Dear Hortense,

I've had a serious case of daylily envy for quite some time. I'm going to my first-ever daylily farm this week. Should I take a set amount of cash or take the credit card with the high credit limit?? Keep in mind, Ms. H, that I am going with my friend Beckie, a serious plant buying enabler.

Prairie Rose

Dear Prairie Rose,

How I envy you your first trip to a daylily farm! The first time is always so special. What a treat and I wish I could go with you and Beckie! I hope you took your camera! But I suspect by now you’ve already been to the farm. Let me say that as far as how much money to take, well, I can’t tell you how much to spend on plants. I can just remind you that money spent on plants is money well spent! My advice is always take cash, if you can. It is less likely that others can track how much you actually spend on plants if you pay in cash, should it come into question. And really, is it Beckie who is the plant-buying enabler or are you using her as an excuse for buying so many plants? I’d like to hear what she thinks about your plant buying excursions, which are becoming legendary.

Takes one to know one,

'Orchid Corsage', a daylily I bought on a recent visit to a local daylily farm, Soules Garden.

Dear Hortense,

I'm so glad I found your blog. It's wonderful. I have a question. My garden in NE Ohio is a first year garden so it has a lot of growing to do. I'm thrilled with its progress so far. In the spring when I was just beginning to plant I had trouble with Chompers I and II, a chipmunk and a squirrel. I kept them at bay with a product called Liquid Fence made with rotten eggs and garlic. Smells bad until it dries. Lasts for a couple months. It really works. Now I'm dreading the onset of Japanese beetles. Have not seen any yet but I see them in nearby gardens in ones and twos. My question: Do you think there may be any possibility of this product repelling the dread JBs?


Dear Coneflower,

I think the question really is “do Japanese beetles have noses”? No, they don’t have noses, but most insects pick up scents through their antenna. So knowing they can recognize scents, the next question is would they avoid an area that smelled like rotten eggs and garlic? A lot of insects, especially those who feed on gross things like, well, gross things, probably wouldn’t avoid such a smell. So, I’m going to conclude that Liquid Fence probably won’t keep away the Japanese beetles. Your best option for combating those Japanese beetles is to hand pick off as many as you can, especially those who are, how to put it delicately, having a “good time”. In my garden, by the way, I’ve not seen very many Japanese beetles this year. Oh, sure I’ve seen a few, and I’ve crushed them, but there aren’t as many as in past years. I read somewhere that the population was reduced because late last summer we had a dry spell at just the time when the beetle eggs were hatching into larva, and the larva didn’t have enough moisture! Good for me and my garden!

Embrace bugs for a happier life,

There are actually TWO Japanese beetles in this picture. Avert your eyes!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A New Hoe - The Hooke ‘n Crooke™

Here’s the before picture of a little corner planting…

And here’s the after picture…
And here’s the tool I used to clean up that little bed and add a nice edge in a matter of a few minutes.
This is the Hooke ‘n Crooke™ hoe sent to me by Holdredge Enterprises of West Burlington, NY to try out and add to my hoe collection. I used it exclusively to clean up that little area, and never had to pull a weed by hand, get down on my knees to make sure I didn’t accidently weed out the hosta, or go get any other tools to finish the job.

After just a few minutes of use, I was impressed by the thought and design that went into this gardening tool. It’s more than “just a hoe”. And it’s the first one I’ve received with instructions! They aren’t complicated instructions, because most gardeners, most people, hopefully know what to do with a hoe when they pick one up and use it to weed. But the Hooke ‘n Crooke™ can be used in so many different ways to weed, chop, cultivate, dig, edge, and even rake up chopped up weeds that the instructions, really just a set of diagrams, are helpful to show all its uses.

After I cleaned up around that hosta, I used the tip of the Hooke ‘n Crooke™ to dig a few dandelions out of the lawn and practiced using it to remove sod in a spot by the fence –reminding me how desperately I want to dig out that sod along the fence to but in a new flower bed. If I just used this tool to remove a little bit of sod each day…

Then I took it out the vegetable garden and practiced using it for “regular” hoeing, removing weeds from the paths and right by the raised bed sides, and making some furrows. It passed all my tests!

You should really check out the videos on their website to get a better feel for how the Hooke ‘n Crooke™ works, not only in the vegetable garden but also around the landscape. It’s sharp, well made, and an impressively designed gardening tool.

Thank you again to Holdredge Enterprises for sending me this new gardening tool. I’m pleased to add it to my hoe collection post.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Tomato Update from May Dreams Gardens

From the tiniest ‘Red Currant’ to the ginormous ‘Super Beefsteak’, I have tomatoes of all sizes and shapes, but essentially only one color. Green.

Yes, the ‘Gold Nugget’ cherry tomatoes have been slowly turning to a golden yellow color, and they are great for snacking. And earlier this evening, I ran out into the mist and cloudiness and picked a few nearly ripe, tiny ‘Red Currant’ tomatoes that were not quite bright red, but red enough for me to pick for a salad tomorrow.

And there were those three ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes that turned bright red, but all had blossom end rot and now are rotting in the compost pile.

But other than that, all my tomatoes are green. Green. It’s my favorite color, except when it comes to tomatoes. I prefer my tomatoes to be red, or yellow, or the pink of the ‘German Johnson’. Any color but green.

But I’m hopeful that any day now, those tomatoes will start turning and soon I’ll be able to post more tongue-in-cheek descriptions of first tomato rituals and faux laments about how I have so many tomatoes, I don’t know what to do! (Please let me have so many tomatoes that I’m forced to write such a post!)

This year all my tomatoes seem perfectly shaped, with no serious contenders for the World’s Ugliest Tomato (WUT) so there will be no contest for a new WUT this year.

For those waiting for the May Dreams Garden’s Tomato Contest Rules (MDGTCR) to be announced, I thank you for your patience. I’m working out rules that will be fair and impartial and allow all to enter for the coveted second place prize!

How are everyone else’s tomatoes doing this year?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Embrace Annuals For a Happier Life

If you want to boost your confidence as a gardener, embrace annuals!

Botanically, annuals complete their lifecycle in one growing season. They sprout from seed, grow like mad, flower as much as they can to produce seeds, and then die off, usually with the first hard frost. Sometimes we also grow tender perennials as annuals because they will also flower the first year from seed and are killed off by the first freeze.

But it’s not that important to know if a plant is botanically an annual versus a tender perennial. As long as they flower that first season, we can usually treat them as annuals.

Many are easy to grow from seed and require very little care. And because they die out in the fall, if we don’t like them, they are gone so we don’t have to grow them again the next year. We can start all over in the spring embracing other annuals!

Here are five annuals I embrace every year and grow from seed:


I try to grow a few different varieties of marigolds, Tagetes sp., every year, direct sowing them in a raised bed in the vegetable garden along with other annual flowers like zinnias and sunflowers.

This year I’m growing. ‘Kilamanjaro’, pictured above. It’s a white marigold that seems to be a bit slow in blooming. I also sent some seeds of this variety to MSS at Zanthan Gardens in Austin, Texas so she could also grow them and we could compare notes. I haven’t heard how or if they are blooming for her and suspect that both the marigolds and MSS are suffering in the extreme drought in that area of the country.


I’m growing two kinds of sunflowers, Helianthus annuus, this year.

The ‘Earthwalker’ sunflowers from Pinetree Garden Seeds are nearly eight feet tall and are currently blooming in all shades of rust and orange and maroon. Just think, two months ago, these were just seeds in the ground.
I wasn’t sure if I liked the “fall” colors of ‘Earthwalker’ in the middle of summer, but they’ve “grown” on me, so I’ll probably get them again next year.

My other sunflowers, ‘Elves Blend’ from Botanical Interests, are just about one foot tall, as they are supposed to be, but none of them are flowering yet.
And that’s probably my fault. I decided to move them two weeks ago when they were really too big to move. But I did it anyway because I wanted to plant my new daylilies where they were growing and the move set them back a bit.

One of the secrets to successfully embracing many annuals is to sow them where you want them to grow and don’t plan on transplanting them.


I almost always sow the zinnias where I want them to grow, generally in a raised bed in the vegetable garden.
And I also thin out the seedlings to give the zinnias room to grow. Don’t be tempted to skip thinning out the seedlings. If you do, you’ll just end up with a bunch of spindly over-crowded plants that won't bloom to their fullest potential.

Zinnias come in all sizes, from sprawlers like the star zinnias, Zinnia angustifolia, to my tall zinnias with names like ‘Lavender Queen’, ‘Envy’, and ‘Lilac Time’.

Sweet Alyssum

Of course, not transplanting doesn’t hold true for all flowers sown from seed. I’m also growing Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima ‘Oriental Nights’, also from Botanical Interests. I actually started them inside about four weeks before I planted them out in various containers as a filler plant.
Red and purple look, um, interesting together, don't they?

Sweet Peas

Another favorite annual flower is sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus. This year, I grew two varieties from Botanical Interests – ‘Fairytale Blend’ and ‘High Scent’. Both grew wonderfully and bloomed as well as any sweet peas I’ve grown. Part of that may be due to the weather we had this spring, but much of it has to do with choosing good varieties. I also soaked the seeds overnight and planted them out in the garden with the garden peas on March 17th. Sweet peas like it cool, so once we had a little heat wave at the end of June, they were done, and I pulled them out on July 3rd.

Now some gardeners wouldn’t embrace a flower like this, one that is done mid-summer when other flowers are just getting going, but have they smelled those sweet peas?


I encourage all to embrace annuals, to grow some from seed for a happier life, at least in the garden. It will not only boost your confidence as a gardener, but also give you blooms all summer right up to the first hard freeze. What more could you ask for?


If you’d like to find out more about the best and worst of annuals that other gardeners are growing and writing about this summer, visit Mr. McGregor’s Daughter to join in her annual flowers meme.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Planting By The Signs of the Moon

As we look back 40 years ago to the Apollo 11 moon landing on July 20, 1969, our thoughts turn to gardening, as they always do.

I remember where I was when Neil Armstrong first stepped onto that plant-less moon, do you?

I was in the family room at home watching it all on a 19-inch black and white television set, all ready to take pictures of the television to capture the moment on film. We obviously had no VCR’s back then. And no You-Tube, either. No siree bob! We had never even heard or imagined of something that could record television shows like that, let alone the Internet. But we had read something in the newspaper about how to take pictures of the television with our cameras while the broadcast took place, so we set up TV trays in front of the TV to help us hold our little Kodak Instamatic cameras real still and clicked away.

We probably took just one or two pictures each, my sisters and brother and I. I’d love to have those pictures now but have no idea where they are, if any of my siblings have some of them or if they got tossed away at some point in time.

At the time of the moon landing, our kitchen counters were probably loaded down with cucumbers, green beans and peppers from the garden, just like mine are now. And we probably had more than one or two ripe tomatoes at that time, too, because my Dad always did manage to harvest his tomatoes much earlier than I ever have. I’m still not sure exactly how he managed that, but I have a pretty good idea that it took way more time and effort than I am willing to put forth. He sowed the seeds very early and up-potted them several times before that last frost. Then he hauled them outside on any day warm enough for them, and hauled them back inside in the event of a frost warning, until finally it warmed up enough that he could plant them outside for good. By that time the plants were probably two feet tall and flowering.

I also wonder if he didn’t secretly check the moon phase and sow his seeds on a day that was supposedly the best day to sow seedlings for plants that were grown to produce a fruit like that.

Does anyone plant strictly according to the signs of the moon and does it make a difference?

I always mean to. I even have a couple of books that go into some detail explaining how to plant by the moon. I’ve looked through them but they make it seem a tad bit complicated, though I suspect if I really dug into it, I’d find it isn’t that difficult to follow. Basically, you plant above ground crops in the light of the moon (from new moon to full moon) and plant below ground crops in the dark of the moon (from full moon to new moon). (Right? I think that's right.)

Every year, I also buy an almanac that has tables listing all the vegetables I would grow and when the moon is favorable for planting. But then spring comes and I generally plant when I can, regardless of the moon.

By the way, my almanac says that the moon is favorable tomorrow for planting late beans. I think I’ll sow some and see what it happens. It also says that the moon wasn’t favorable when I planted my first beans, so I’m not sure how to explain the five pounds of beans still in the refrigerator. Just how good a crop would I have had, had I waited until the moon was favorable to plant those?

There is also a “best days” chart in the almanac that is based on the moon’s signs. According to that chart, today and tomorrow are good days to end projects; plant below ground crops; graft or pollinate; and can, pickle, or make sauerkraut. I’m not sure how that works with the other chart about planting beans tomorrow but who am I to disagree?

I just know that 40 years ago today, we put a man on the moon, and today it has made me think more about how the moon affects my garden. Next year, maybe I really will finally plant by the signs of the moon…

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, July 19, 2009

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and gardening friends everywhere,

Greetings from my summer garden where I am overrun with green beans, squash and cucumbers. Too much produce is a good problem to have, isn’t it?

I also picked my first two ears of sweet corn on Thursday, an early ripening variety called ‘Spring Treat’ from Botanical Interests. I had one of the ears for a snack right away and can report it was delicious and sweet.

This is a picture of that harvest from Thursday.

The rest of the sweet corn, a variety called ‘Honey Select’ from Pinetree Garden Seeds is right on schedule to be harvested in early August. It’s tasseling now and I can see the silks of the ears.

I m newbie when it comes to growing sweet corn, since I’ve only been growing it for a few years now. I was brought up believing that you needed a lot of sweet corn to get good pollination, so I had to get over that before I tried it in my garden. But I do fine with my little 4’ x 8’ bed of it. I don’t get bushels of corn, but I get enough to eat fresh sweet corn for a few meals in the summertime, and that’s fine with me. And every year, I get a little better at growing it. This year I’m attempting to keep the raccoons away from my corn by growing a big spaghetti squash vine right in the center of the bed. Supposedly, the raccoons don’t like to walk on the prickly leaves and stems of the squash vines. I’m shocked they could be so finicky, but so far, I’ve not had any raccoons steal my sweet corn, so maybe it does work?

Elsewhere in the garden “Tomato Watch 2009” has begun in earnest. So far, I’ve picked a few handfuls of the cherry-type tomato ‘Gold Nugget’, but none of those even made it into the house. I ate them as snacks while gardening. All the other tomato plants, with the exception of a variety called ‘Aunt Anna’, are loaded with green tomatoes of all shapes and sizes. I have no idea why ‘Aunt Anna’ has no fruit on it. This is the first year I’ve grown this variety and if doesn’t produce any tomatoes, it will also be the last year for it.

I’m watching the tomatoes closely not only to find the first ripe one, but also for signs of tomato hornworms and that very devastating late blight which has decimated tomato crops up and down the east coast and as far west as Ohio this year. I hope it stops at the state line, because we are the next state west after Ohio (for those not familiar with the geography of the Midwest). So far I’ve seen neither hornworms nor late blight, just a few yellow bottom leaves, which is typical of tomato plants and nothing to get too worried about.

Once my tomatoes start ripening, I’ll announce the rules of my annual tomato growing contest. Everyone is welcome to join in! But it could be awhile because it has been fairly cool around here and tomatoes don’t do well when it is too cold. Yesterday’s high temperature was 71F, which set a new record for July 18th for the coldest high temperature. The previous record was 75F set in 1883.

With that bit of weather trivia, I'll end this letter and head out to the garden to see about pulling some weeds that are slowly creeping into my garden paths. Oh, and there are tons more cucumbers to pick.

Flowers and veggies for all,

P.S. Here’s a picture of my garden from earlier today.
See the weeds daring to grow in the paths?

P.S.S. The first picture above is of one of my baby cantaloupes. That’s another crop I haven’t grown for awhile, but decided to grow to fill in a bed on the edge of the garden that ended up with nothing else planted in it. I’m going to try that trick to set the cataloupes up on small plastic cups when they get a little bigger. It’s supposed to help keep them from rotting on the wet ground and gets them up out of the leaves where they will get more sun and supposedly ripen faster. We’ll see how they turn out!

Sizing Up Squash

Please review carefully these 'Eight Ball' squash picked at various times this week.

Now which one was picked at the right time?

Take your time, there are four choices. We'll call the big one "far left", the next one "next to left" the small one "far right" and the one next to it "next to right".

Do you have your answer in mind? Are you sure?

The answer is:

Far right.

Yes, the smallest one was picked at the correct time, and actually might be a little better if it were just a tiny bit smaller.

So if we all know the smaller one is the best one, why did I let the others grow so big? That's a rhetorical question, so you don't need to answer it. Really. We all know how squash grows. One minute it looks like it is "almost big enough", so we decide to wait to pick it. Then we go back an hour later and it is ginormous and might be best hidden in the compost pile.

In defense of myself and others with overgrown squash, sometimes the garden fairies don't even let us see the squash when it is the right size to pick. They hide it under the leaves until it is huge and then uncover it for the gardener to find. If you are really quiet, you can hear the fairies off hiding in the tomato patch laughing as you spy that big squash and think "how did I miss that one?"

Or occasionally the gardener just gets lazy and doesn't check the squash for a few days. A watched squash never grows, but an unwatched squash grows quickly.

But we shouldn't be too hard on ourselves for letting a few squash get out of hand. "Squash happens", as they say, and it wouldn't be mid-summer without a few ginormous squash sitting on the kitchen counter for the gardener to contemplate on, to size up and ask, "Now how am I going to use that squash?"

Updated later in the day...

Still not convinced that size matters? Here's the biggest and smallest squash cut in half. See how big the seeds are in the big squash.Plus, the center of the big squash is kind of soft and squishy.

Still not convinced?

Look at these seeds in the big one! They are as big as pumpkin seeds!
You wouldn't want to serve that in your favorite summer squash dish, would you? And because 'Eight Ball' is a hybrid variety, these seeds won't produce the same squash next year so you can't use seed saving as an excuse for growing over-sized squash.

Please pick your squash before it gets like this!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Hortense Hoelove Answers Your Plant Relationship Questions

Hortense Hoelove provides advice to the plant-lorn amongst us, those who are struggling with their plant and garden relationships.

Dear Hortense,

My Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’ flowers are pink! But when I bought it all the flowers were blue! I feel betrayed, let down. I thought for sure this plant was right for me, I could just tell when we first met. And I had the perfect place for a plant with blue flowers. Now I feel like the plant just wasn’t being honest with me when we were dating at the garden center. I don’t know what happened but I know that for sure this isn’t the plant I thought it was when I let it put down roots in my garden! Whatever should I do? Kick it to the compost pile? Is this typical for plants to change their ways once you’ve planted them in your garden?

Longing for Blue,
Feona Flowerlover

Dear Feona,

I hate to tell you this, but sometimes it isn’t the plant, it's where you planted the plant and in what type of soil. Hydrangeas like ‘Endless Summer’ need acidic soil to produce blue flowers. In alkaline soil, their flowers will be pink. You have two choices. You can accept the plant for what it is now, which is what I’ve done, or you can try to acidify your soil with soil amendments like sulfur. If you insist on trying to change the flower's color by changing the soil pH, check with your local cooperative extension service to find out what the typical soil pH is in your area and how best to acidify the soil.

But I really think you should just go apologize to your Hydrangea and love it for who and what it is!

Hortense Hoelove

Dear Hortense,

How many times should I try to grow a particular species of plant that keeps dying in my garden?

Zsa Zsa Gardener

Dear Zsa Zsa,

One of the good things about gardening is that you can try as many times as you would like to get a particular plant to grow in your garden. And you can do it in private. You are the only one who needs to know how many times you've tried to grow a particular type of plant. And you are the only one who needs to know how much money you’ve spent on plants that just don't make it in your garden. Unlike relationships with other life forms, which can be so messy to end properly, your relationship with a plant can end as quickly as you can pull it out and toss it in the compost bin.

However, I recommend that if you are known for trying too often with the wrong kind of plant that you bury the evidence of failure way in the bottom of the compost pile so that no one else finds out. Oh, wait, maybe a better option would be to find out why you can’t grow a particular plant before you try to grow it again and again and again. Seek out a garden club or other support group for plant relationship help.

Hortense Hoelove

Dear Hortense,

Why am I attracted to plants that just aren’t right for me? I’m always wanting to grow a plant that isn't suitable for my zone, even though I know in the end the plant will freeze to death and I’ll be out the money I paid for it. Our relationship always starts out so well in the spring and seems to be taking root by summer. Yet right after the holidays, the plant will often just up and die on me! But yet, even after having this happen more times than I should admit in print, I’d love to have a relationship with a crepe myrtle and I’m in zone 5. Will it ever work out for me?

Longing for the South,
Zoe Zonechallenged

Dear Zoe,

I have good news for you, Zoe. There is a crepe myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica ‘Coral Filli’, that is supposed to be hardy to zone 4 and I’ve got it planted in my zone 5 garden right now! Even though I planted it this spring, I feel like we are establishing a good long term relationship that will last for many years. Just remember that this crepe myrtle is only going to be a small shrub, maybe 12 – 18 inches tall. It is never going to be the smooth barked, multi-stemmed, often mis-pruned tree growing throughout the south. But it is a crepe myrtle and zone jumpers can’t be picky, can we?

Y’all Have A Nice Day,
Hortense Hoelove

Thursday, July 16, 2009

If I Was In Charge...

If I was in charge, I would have made sure these pink Phlox paniculata bloomed on July 15th and not today, so I could have included them in my bloom day post.

Well, actually, if we are going to be sticklers about it, this phlox really needed to bloom on the 14th because that's when I take my bloom day pictures. I like to post early on the 15th and pictures of the garden taken at midnight on the 15th don't generally turn out all that good.

Many thanks to all who participated and shared their blooms with everyone yesterday. That was fun. Let's do it again on August 15th!

If I was in charge, I would also not let this flower go by the common name Candy Lily. It's botanical name is x Pardancanda norrisii. That "x" in the front of the name means it is a hybrid developed by crossing two different genera instead of two species within the same genus. In this case, these resulted from a cross between Pardanthopsis dichotoma and Belamcanda chinensis. To further confuse matters, this flower is from a seedling from the original plants that I started from seed purchased years ago, so it is likely not really even Candy Lily any more because most hybrids will not produce seed that is true to type, anyway. (Although maybe when you cross two different genera, they do? Hmmm, something to look into...)

But that's not why I would not call this flower Candy Lily if I was in charge. I wouldn't call it Candy Lily because it is no lily, it is from the Iris famlily! It should be Candy Iris!

Now, at this point, I'm tempted to start up a long explanation about the Lily family, Liliaceae, and the Iris family, Iridaceae, but it is such a pretty day, I won't. Unless, of course, someone comments that they'd really like me to. Just let me know.

While I am pretending to be in charge in my garden, here's what else I would make happen:

- All the weeds in my garden would be small and easy to pull and there would be just a few so as to give me the pleasure of pulling them every once in a while, but they would never take over!

- The green beans would ripen just a serving or two at a time so I could pick them as I wanted to cook them for dinner, and not have them all ripen at once so that I have five pounds of green beans in my refrigerator waiting for me to either cook them, give them away, freeze them, or do something with them.

- My tomatoes would not all be green right now. (Enough said about that!)

- Squash would not blow up like balloons just because I didn't check them for a few days. (No further comment.)

- Everywhere I work in the garden would be in "dappled shade", but the garden would grow like it was in full sun.

Yes, if I was in charge just a few things would be different around here!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2009

Welcome to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day for July 2009.

It seems that in every garden, no matter how much research, thought, and planning we put into plant placement, there are always one or two flowers that end up hidden in the back of the flower border behind a much bigger plant.

In my garden, that flower is the balloon flower, Platycodon grandiflorus. Even though I try to remember to move them, and do move some of the seedlings, the balloon flowers always seem to end up behind a bigger plant, like the willowy-leaved blue dogbane in the background of this picture. To even see my balloon flowers, I had to step into the flower bed, being careful to step only on the weeds, and look behind that blue dogbane.

I'm now making the balloon flower the first picture of my bloom day post, as a way to make amends to it and to show off its blue color.

Note to self, move balloon flowers in the spring.

Elsewhere in the garden there are swathes of blooms, including Shasta daisies, Leucanthemum sp.

These are just past peak bloom and are ready for a first round of deadheading

I have plenty of the ubiquitous coneflowers, Echinacea purpurea, because I rarely deadhead them in the fall.
Right in the center there is a blooming perennial sweet pea, Lathyrus latifolius. I’ve been pulling that out for several years due to its thug-like qualities. Looks like I missed a one. I'll pull it tomorrow, maybe the day after, definitley by the weekend.

Out in front, I let a few black-eyed susan’s, Rudbeckia hirta, bloom where they self sowed themselves, right by the front walk.
They’ve done a nice job there. Sometimes Mother Nature knows what she’s doing.

Elsewhere in the garden are the remnants of the blooms of June, a continuing parade of daylily and hosta blooms, some white-flowering marigolds that seem a bit stubborn about even forming flower buds, and some Phlox paniculata that looks like it will start blooming on the 16th. And some squash blooms, lots of squash blooms. Oh, and "little n" nasturtiums.


As we do every month, we are sure to welcome some new participants to Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day this month. To bring them and everyone else up to speed on how this bloom day got started, I thought I’d reminisce a bit here in mid-summer going all the way back to a cold winter's day...

Bloom day started in February 2007 when it was cold and gray and snowy and icy in my garden and I was reading books by and about Elizabeth Lawrence, one of my favorite garden writers. I read where she wrote “We can have flowers nearly every month of the year.” We can? We can!

At the time, I had no flowers blooming outside in my garden, but knew others did. I wanted and needed to be reminded that some people were gardening where the earth wasn’t frozen, so I suggested that garden bloggers showcase their blooms on the 15th of the month so we could see who had what blooming where.

That first bloom day, 37 bloggers left a comment, and several of them posted about their blooms. This past month, June 2009, 155 bloggers added a link for their own bloom day posts!

I would like to thank all who have participated in the past, and all who will participate this month. I would also like to thank those who have helped to ensure that the garden world continues to know and learn from Elizabeth Lawrence, through her garden in Charlotte, North Carolina and through her writings, many now published as compilations. One day soon, I hope to visit her garden in person.


I offer one final bloom day picture, prompted by a post by Helen Yoest of Gardening with Confidence. She wrote that Elizabeth Lawrence displayed her cut flowers one per vase, to showcase each bloom individually.

And so with my nod to Elizabeth Lawrence, here's a sampling of what is blooming in my garden today, displayed in individual vases.
In the back are Hydrangea ‘Endless Summer’, an unnamed Asiatic lily, and Sunflower ‘Earthwalker’. In front are Zinnia ‘Envy’, a Shasta daisy, and a purple coneflower.

We can have flowers nearly every month of the year. And we can share and learn from one another about plants and gardens, wherever we live and grow, by stepping outside our own garden gates and corresponding with one another through blogs and emails.

I hope you’ll join us for Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day this month. All are welcome!

It's easy to participate. Just post on your blog about what is blooming in your garden on the 15th and then leave a link in the ‘Mr. Linky’ widget below and a comment. If you don’t know what to put in your comment, answer this question: Does your garden have more blooms or less blooms this year compared to last year?

I think my garden has more blooms. It’s been a good year so far.

Thanks to all for joining in for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day once again!

*Note, Mr. Linky is now working as you can see. Please notify me of any spam links left here so I can delete them. Thanks for your patience!

Monday, July 13, 2009

When A Gardener Goes To A Wedding

When a gardener goes to a wedding and the groom asks her to take a few pictures to supplement those taken by the real professional photographers, she tries to remember that he and his new bride would probably like a few pictures of people to go with the pictures of gardens and flowers.

First, the gardener realizes that boutainaire boutonniere is not an easy word to spell.

Then at the church, she notices how the trees perfectly frame the entrance and that the name of the church includes "Rosa", a favorite flower of many gardeners.And she notes what a nice day it would be for gardening.

She notices the elegance of the white flowers on black satin on the bridesmaids' dresses.And is reminded that sometimes simple decorations are best, on a dress and in a garden.

She is excited that the reception is at the Allison Mansion at Marian University because the gardens there were originally designed by Jens Jensen in 1912. And she notes upon arrival that it is an elegant estate in a park like setting that any gardener would love to explore.

The first garden she encounters is a circular garden under renovation.
But she thinks it is still beautiful in midsummer with hydrangeas blooming.

Then she sneaks over to see this garden with it's half circle of columns, which is typical of gardens designed by Jensen.
And she thinks about the lack of true architectural elements in her own garden.

Then she notices that there are lots of large planters around the entrance and on the balcony of the mansion.And she thinks about the planters in her garden and hopes she remembers to water them when she gets home, but then remembers that it rained the day before so they probably don't need water right away.

Inside the mansion, she sees all kinds of interesting architectural elements carved into solid wood, limestone and marble and painted onto ceilings, including this odd little girl.And she looks more closely to see that it looks like the little girl is holding radishes in her right hand. What does that symbolize? Who is she? Should the gardener plant radishes for fall harvest?

The gardener likes that the dinner takes place in a room with windows looking out over a wooded area behind the house.Though she is reminded again what a beautiful evening it is for gardening.

Elsewhere in the mansion, she looks out other windows to see various parts of the garden.And she is reminded of the beauty of a garden, the perfect place to celebrate a wedding.

And she hopes the bride and groom don't mind "a few" pictures of the gardens to go with the pictures of their family and guests...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Letters to Gardening Friends, July 12, 2009

Dear Dee and Mary Ann and gardening friends everywhere,

I’m a little rushed for time today, so this letter will be brief. Basically, the vegetable garden news is a repeat from last week. We had rain again yesterday, .74 inches which is pretty darn close to the .78 inches we had last Saturday. And it was another lovely, soaking, all day rain, but with a few thunderstorms mixed in for good measure.

I’m still picking green beans, including now the yellow wax beans, along with ‘Provider’ and ‘Bountiful’. I haven’t picked any ‘Straight ‘n’ Narrow’ yet, but I think they are ready, too. I just didn’t want to mix them in with the other beans because they are much more narrow.

Here’s a picture of the harvest from yesterday, all picked early in the morning before it started to rain.

And here’s a picture of the harvest from today.
I’m almost, but not quite, embarrassed by the size of that one cucumber that I somehow missed picking the day before. I blame it on the garden fairies who are quite adept at hiding cucumbers and zucchini squash so you don’t see them until they are enormous. I almost tossed that big one into the compost bin, but I thought I’d try it to see if it was bitter before I did.

Here’s what my cucumber patch looks like now, a 4' x 8' raised bed with just four hills of the “bush” type cucumbers.
Oh, and I could have picked more green beans today, but I didn’t have time. I’ll pick them tomorrow because I’m off work for the week.

All this produce is good and bountiful and much appreciated, but it still seems like a prelude to the main attraction, the tomatoes. I have lots of green tomatoes of all sizes and varieties. I’m just waiting for them to ripen. Of course, you’ll be among the first to know when I pick the first ripe one. Everyone will know!

Flowers and veggies for all,


P.S. The sunflower pictured above is a variety called ‘Earthwalker’. There are some that are a maroon color along with these burnt orange colored ones. I'm not sure if I like them or not. I might prefer the typical golden yellow sunflowers.

P.S.S. This is a picture of the garden taken earlier today.
I apologize for the poor lighting, it was taken in full sun. I also took it from a different place than normal because the sunflowers are nearly eight feet tall and are blocking the view from my usual location.

Now, enough about my vegetable garden, what's going on in your gardens?