Category Archives: flowers

Start Planting Cool Season, Hardy Annuals for Spring Flowers

snapdragons in the spring

Now is the time to start thinking of planting cool season hardy annuals. This is a group of annuals (grow and die in one season) that can survive the winter and thrive in cool spring weather. In the Washington DC metro area, they are planted in the fall and bloom in the spring. They spend the winter getting established so when spring arrives, they are ready to bolt out the door waving their pretty flowers before the warm season summer annuals appear.

Examples of cool season annuals are snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), calendula (Calendula officinalis), bells of Ireland (Moluccella laevis), delphinium (Delphinium), lisianthus (Eustoma), love in a mist (Nigella), sweet peas (Lathyrus odoratus), sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), and bachelor buttons (Centaurea cyanus). Many of these make great cut flowers.

I credit everything I have learned about cool season hardy annuals to Lisa Mason Ziegler and her book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques.  Lisa manages a commercial cut flower business in Newport News, which is in Zone 7, similar to my Northern Virginia garden. In addition to growing and selling cut flowers, she writes books, gives lectures, provides free videos as well as Facebook Live presentations, and manages a website called The Gardener’s Workshop.

Several years ago I was inspired by her book to plant calendula and snapdragons in the fall. I was starting them in the beginning of the growing season and was not having great success. The weather became too hot before the snapdragons could bloom and the calendula foliage was covered in powdery mildew because of the summer’s heat and humidity. When I tried her method of starting them in the fall, they both bloomed early enough the following spring that I was able to enjoy the calendula flowers before powdery mildew set in and cut many snapdragons for indoor arrangements.

calendula flowers in the spring

This year, I plan to grow sweet peas, which I have not been able to master in the spring. Our springs are just too short to have a long blooming period. I bought a package of Botanical Interests ‘Old Spice Blend’, a fragrant, heirloom blend of various flower colors. Interestingly, sweet peas are deer resistant and attract pollinators but I am going to grow them for indoor flower arrangements so I can enjoy their beautiful, fragrant flowers in the office.

Although Lisa provides specific information for 30 flowers in her book, in general, we should start 6 to 8 weeks before the average first frost. In Northern Virginia, 8 weeks is August 31 and 6 weeks is September 15. She recommends to err on starting later rather than earlier. Some seeds can be sowed directly in the garden while others work well as transplants. Sweet peas can be done either way so I am going to do both as an experiment to see which works better in my garden. I will start half of the seeds indoors under lights and half outdoors, directly in the garden. In order to have transplants large enough to move into the ground around September 15, I would have to start sowing seeds around September 1. Then I can sow the remaining seeds around September 15. September is still a very hot month so I will have to remember to water often. If this works, next year I will post a photo of the sweet peas.

If hardy annuals are something you would like to try, you can catch up by visiting Lisa’s website, listening to her videos, and reading her book. Although she sells seeds and gardening products, you can also purchase seed packets at your local independent garden center. Good luck!

Hardy Hibiscus: Summer-Flowering, Native Shrubs

Amaretto

This summer I am enjoying two hardy hibiscus plants in my Virginia garden. I planted them last year along the perimeter of the backyard where the water runs through like a river when it rains. It is a full sun, exposed area and the plants are blooming their heads off.

Hardy hibiscus plants (Hibiscus moscheutos) are native to the eastern United States and are common in swampy areas. They typically grow 4-5 feet tall with large hibiscus-like flowers. The flowers only last a day, attracting pollinators, butterflies, and hummingbirds. For years, several cultivars have been available with flowers in the white, pink, and red range.

My bushes come from a new series of eye-popping colors.  I have Amaretto (salmon-colored flowers) and Bleu Brulee (lavender petals with dark red center) from J. Berry Nursery’s Summer Spice Hardy Hibiscus collection. This is a wholesale nursery but their website has a retailer locator. The collection has unusual flower colors – from dark red chocolate to cornflower blue.

Bleu Brulee

My plants were very small when I planted them last summer but they grew quickly. In the fall, after the first frost, I cut the stems down to about 4 inches above the ground. They overwintered well but as with all hardy hibiscus plants, they were late to the dance. Just when I thought the bushes might be dead, I saw new growth at the base in May. The stems grew so fast that by June the bushes were about 3 feet tall (this series also is more compact). Now in July, they are covered in flowers constantly visited by bees. Hardy hibiscus plants are also deer-resistant, although I have seen some Japanese beetle damage on the foliage. I like their large flowers, especially since I can see them from the house. I have a few areas in my garden where there are depressions in the ground that remain damp after the rain or low lying areas through which rain water channels and hardy hibiscus plants are perfect for these areas. In addition, they thrive despite our heat and humidity and provide great color all summer long.

Heirloom Rose Giveaway to Pegplant’s Post Subscribers

Anne Hathaway, photo courtesy of Heirloom Roses

I am very excited about the giveaway for the July 2019 issue of Pegplant’s Post. Heirloom Roses has graciously offered a $65 gift card to one winner. The winner can pick the particular rose plant he/she wants for the garden. Heirloom Roses is a family-owned business in Oregon with a terrific online presence. They have every type of heirloom rose plus a lot of information on growing them, including videos. They also have related products for sale such as fertilizer, shears, gloves, and plant ties. All of their roses are grown on their own roots, no grafting. Even if you don’t win the gift certificate, check out their website to learn more about growing roses. This giveaway opportunity is for subscribers of Pegplant’s Post, an online, free newsletter about gardening in the Washington DC metro area. Each issue provides at least 50, and often more than 100, gardening events for the month; newly published gardening books; local tips, advice, and articles; and a monthly giveaway contest. Subscribe now by clicking here or visit pegplant.com and enter your e-mail address in the box above “subscribe!” on the right column. Pegplant’s Post will be issued on the last weekend of the month.

The Magical Flowers of Butterfly Pea Plants

In August 2017, I visited the Atlanta Botanical Garden. It was beautiful and I took many photos. As always the plants that stayed with me were the ones I had not seen before. I remember vines with beautiful pea-like flowers, about 2 inches wide, wrapped around dead trees, which were painted (“art”). The flowers were blue/purple with a yellow inner strip and the green leaves reminded me of Kentucky coffee trees. Obviously it was a tropical vine in the legume family (Fabaceae) but I could not find a sign. Later when I got home, I stumbled across the same plant on Facebook only with cobalt blue flowers. Its name, I learned, was butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea).

The Facebook post said the flowers were used for an herbal tea. I had no idea this pretty vine had herbal qualities.  I researched online and discovered that the cobalt blue variety is well-known in Asian countries. The flowers are dried and sold in bags but one can purchase a powdered form or an extract. The flowers can be brewed alone or combined with other herbs such as lemongrass, ginger, and mint. The blue comes from anthocyanins, which are antioxidant compounds, similar to blueberries.

When brewed with water the tea is cobalt blue. However, when an acid is added, such as lemon juice, the tea turns purple. When an alkaline liquid such as roselle tea is added, the tea turns red. Apparently butterfly pea tea acts like a litmus strip, the color of the drink changes with the pH of what it is mixed with. This does not affect the taste but has transformed butterfly tea into a novelty cocktail drink. The cobalt blue flowers also are used to dye food such as custards, puddings, rice dishes, and sticky rice.

Butterfly pea is native to Africa. Here in Virginia it would be grown as an annual. The vine grows rapidly in the summer and needs support so an arbor is ideal but would be interesting to try it in a hanging basket. As a member of the pea family, the plant fixates nitrogen and is good for the soil. The vine can take full sun to light shade and is drought tolerant. There are several varieties, some have cobalt blue, lavender, or white flowers in single or double flowered forms.

This is not an easy plant to find here in Virginia but it seems that once you have the plant, you can let some flowers go to seed and collect the pods for next year. Last week I was in Florida and toured a friend’s garden. He was growing this plant in a large container with a trellis. I was so excited to see the butterfly pea again and explained how I was interested in growing it. He had a plastic bag full of the seed pods and offered me some. I took a handful of pods which by now had dried and split open and brought them home. This week, I plan to sow the seeds outside and grow butterfly pea plants in order to experiment with novelty drinks!

Pegplant’s Post April Giveaway: 21 packages of seed!

Cosmos, one of the flowers of the flower seed collection

For years I have been receiving the Kitchen Garden Seeds catalog as well as the newsletter. John Scheepers is a family-owned seed company that sells a large collection of vegetable, herb, and flower seeds. They produce a beautifully illustrated free catalog with detailed information on the plant itself and the varieties. This catalog is a great resource for beginner gardeners. Their website has horticultural information, an e-cookbook, and a blog. You also can subscribe to their free newsletter featuring particular vegetables, flowers, or herbs with sowing and growing information.

Borage, from the herb seed collection

The giveaway for the Pegplant’s Post April issue is three seed collections: vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Each collection has 7 packets for a total of 21 packages of seeds valued at $65.95. Only subscribers can enter the giveaway so subscribe now to Pegplant’s Post, a free gardening newsletter for the Washington DC metro area.

 

Photos courtesy of John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds

Sow-a-Smile: Grow and Give Flowers This Summer

For years I have cut flowers from my garden and brought them to my office. I am no flower arranger, I just stick the zinnias, marigolds, daisies, and cosmos in a vase and put the vase on my desk. My colleagues love them. Invariably they smile and strike up a conversation. Some ask me to bring in flowers for them; some are inspired to bring in flowers of their own.

Jeannette Haviland-Jones, Professor Emeritus with Rutgers’ Department of Psychology, has researched the impact flowers have on both men and women. In three different studies, she has proven that flowers are a positive emotional “inducer.” In the first study, flowers, when given to women, elicited the Duchenne smile. The Duchenne smile is a genuine smile, an indicator of happiness. The corners of the mouth are raised, the cheeks are raised, and the eyes are crinkled with lines. In addition, the women in the study reported more positive moods 3 days later.

In the second study, a flower or a pen was given to men and women in an elevator to see if flowers have the same impact on men and also to see if flowers (versus pens) would decrease the social distance in an elevator and increase conversation initiation. Men showed the same pattern of smiling when receiving flowers. When the people in the elevator were given flowers, they were more likely to initiate conversation thus closing the gap between them. In a third study, flowers were given to people in senior living residences. The flowers elicited positive moods and improved episodic memory.

Her research proves what we instinctively know: flowers trigger happy emotions and affect social behavior in a positive way. To celebrate the power of flowers, Burpee has started a sow-a-smile campaign. They are giving a free packet of flower seeds with each purchase of annual flowers (seed or plants). The seed packet has easy-to-grow annuals such as baby’s breath, candytuft, scarlet flax, red corn poppy, calendula, cornflower, zinnia, sulphur cosmos, gloriosa daisy, plains coreopsis, and catchfly. Burpee is encouraging people to grow and give a bouquet, capture the recipient’s smile on camera, and share the images on their Facebook site. A brilliant idea – share the love! If you want to see the Duchenne smile on your friends, family, and colleagues, give flowers!

Photos courtesy of Burpee.

 

Daffodils: Reliable Spring Bloomers

daffodil

British Gamble is a Division 1 daffodil, with a pale pink, broad, showy cup

Daffodils are great investments for your garden. For very little money, you can plant daffodil bulbs in the fall and enjoy their bloom every spring for years to come. Reliable and dependent, these sunny flowers can be used to landscape your garden or cut for indoor flower arrangements.

Cultural Requirements

Daffodils are long lasting and are not bothered by deer or other animals. They can be divided to increase the numbers or simply left in place. Bulbs are available at local nurseries in the fall or through mail order catalogs. Select large healthy bulbs and plant about 5 to 6 inches deep and apart. Daffodils can be planted in the garden bed, in large swaths for a naturalizing effect, under a deciduous tree, or in containers with other bulbs. One caveat is that after the daffodils bloom, the leaves must be left in place until they yellow so you may want to think about disguising the foliage with other perennials. Do not fold the leaves down, tie with rubber bands, or cut until they are so yellow they detract from the garden’s beauty.

Dutch Master, the classic Division 1 daffodil

Daffodils prefer full sun but will tolerate part sun (a half day of sun). They are not particular about soil but because they are bulbs the soil has to drain well to avoid rot. When planting, apply a balanced fertilizer. On an annual basis apply a low nitrogen fertilizer in the spring and fall. Daffodils do not need to be divided, they multiply naturally, but they can be dug up and divided if you want to increase your number of bulbs. Division should occur after the blooming period, when the leaves yellow. Dig up, divide, and replant immediately if possible. If not possible, store the bulbs in a dry area with good air circulation until can plant in the fall.  If you see a decline in blossoms after several years of growing, you can also dig up and divide daffodils because the bulbs may have increased to the point that they are too crowded.

Daffodil Societies and Shows

While most people are familiar with the foot high daffodil with large yellow blossoms, there is a wide spectrum of colors, sizes, and bloom times. In fact the spectrum is so great that daffodils have been categorized into 13 divisions and there are thousands of cultivars. The divisions below illustrate the diversity but for more information contact the American Daffodil Society or a local daffodil society.

daffodil

In the foreground is Katie Heath, Division 5, and in the background is Pink Charm, Division 2

In the Washington DC metro area, there are three daffodil societies, each with their own spring shows that are open to the public. If you want to know what to plant this fall, visit these shows to see how the flowers will look, meet other daffodil enthusiasts, learn best cultivars for this area, and identify additional resources for purchasing bulbs. There also are local garden clubs that have their own daffodil shows such as the Garden Club of Virginia Daffodil show in Richmond, VA, on March 26; and the District II Federated Garden Clubs of Maryland Daffodil show in Severna Park, MD, on April 9-10. The daffodilfestivalva.org website provides a listing of local daffodil festivals and areas that have substantial daffodil collections.

Daffodil Divisions

One flower to a stem (corona is the center trumpet or cup)

  • Division 1: Trumpet: corona not more than one-third the length of petals
  • Division 2: Large cupped: corona more than one-third but less than equal to the length of petals
  • Division 3: Small cupped: corona not more than one-third the length of petals

One or more flowers per stem

  • Division 4: Double: many petals
  • Division 5: Triandrus: pendulous blooms, petals turned back

One flower per a stem

  • Division 6: Cyclamineus: petals turned back significantly and flower at an acute angle to stem

Several flowers per a stem

  • Division 7: Jonquilla: petals spreading or reflexed, usually has fragrance
  • Division 8: Tazetta: stout stem, petals spreading but not reflexed, usually has fragrance, have minimal to no chilling requirements, this is the division for paperwhites, which often are forced indoors

Division 9: Poeticus: white petals, short corona with green or yellow center and red rim

Division 10: Bulbocodium hybrids, one flower per stem, petals very small compared to a large corona

Division 11a: Split cup collar

Division 11b: Split cup papillon

Division 12: Other types

Division 13: Species or wild variants

Mary Gay Lirette, a Division 11a daffodil, has flowers that open with a yellow cup that turns salmon and folds back

Local daffodil societies and shows (open to the public)

The Washington Daffodil Society will have their spring show on April 13 & 14, 2019, at the Alexandria Valley Scottish Rite Temple, 1430 W. Braddock Road, Alexandria, VA.

The Maryland Daffodil Society   will have their spring show on April 24 & 25, 2019, at a new venue, Vollmer Center, Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore MD.

The Virginia Daffodil Society will have their show on March 30 & 31, 2019, at the Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, Richmond, VA. This society does not have a website but the contact person is Jennifer Potter, Jpotter890@msn.com

Sources

All photographs are courtesy of Brent and Becky’s Bulbs

Anise Hyssop: Culinary Herb of the Year

anise hyssop at the National Herb Garden in July

The International Herb Association has named the Agastache genus as the 2019 Herb of the Year. There are about 20 species, all native to North America. Of the agastache plants, anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) is the most well-known for culinary uses in Europe and America.

Anise hyssop is an herbaceous perennial hardy to zone 4. It is a short-lived perennial but it self-seeds and spreads a bit by rhizomes. In March, the leaves emerge with a purple hue. As the plant grows the leaves become green (although there is a golden cultivar). A member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves have scalloped edges and look like catnip leaves. Anise hyssop grows a few feet tall and about one foot wide. In the summer, there are small lavender-blue flowers on 4 to 6-inch terminal spikes, creating fuzzy wands. The flowers attract beneficial pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds. Because the foliage is so fragrant, deer do not seem interested.

Anise hyssop is a full sun to part shade plant tolerating a wide range of soils in a well-drained site. In addition to its culinary use, anise hyssop is an asset in the garden as an ornamental. It provides contrast to orange and yellow flowers and complements purple foliage plants.

purple foliage of anise hyssop in March

Anise hyssop is harvested for its leaves as well as its flowers. Although the aroma is categorized as anise or licorice, some might say anise with a touch of basil or anise with a touch of tarragon. The most common use of the leaves is tea but you can also add the leaves to lamb or pork dishes, to the milk for making ice cream, sugar syrups and/or sugar syrups for cough drops, cocktails, honey, butter cookies, and sugar to make flavored sugar. The leaves dry well, retaining their taste and fragrance.

Use the flowers as a garnish for desserts, add to a salad, or add to a beverage such as ice tea. The flowers also dry well, retaining their color and aroma.

You can find small plants in the nursery in the spring or you can grow anise hyssop from seed. Sow the seed indoors under lights in order to transplant outside after the last frost or sow outside in the summer. Anise hyssop can also be propagated by root division.

This summer, grow anise hyssop in your garden for beauty as well as flavor.

Anthurium: Alternative Poinsettia

When I was young, we lived in Thailand and my mother (who grew up in Milwaukee) would buy plants and orchids from the market. I remember one houseplant in particular: the beautiful flowers were so waxy they looked like they had been polished with furniture polish. The red flowers would last for months. My mother of course did not speak Thai so we did not know the names of the plants but we enjoyed their exotic beauty. Now that I am older, I know the waxy plants are called anthuriums. Although I associate them with tropical Asian countries, they really hail from South America tropical environments.

Anthuriums are members of the Araceae or arum family. The “flower,” the red, heart-shaped part, is a modified leaf called a spathe. The actual flowers are tiny and appear in the center vertical structure called the spadix. The “flower” lasts a long time, making them ideal for cut flower arrangements.

As a houseplant, anthuriums can grow in low light conditions. However, the more light you can provide the more likely it will bloom throughout the year. It definitely does not like moist soil. Water when the soil is dry to the touch. Anthuriums are easy, low maintenance plants, perfect for the home and office.

Usually one sees red-flowering plants at the hardware store or nursery but pink, green and white, and purple colored cultivars are available. There is even a black flower cultivar called ‘Black Love‘. My plant was less than ten dollars at the local hardware store but it was very root bound in a 4-inch pot so check your plant’s roots after you purchase it.

Because I see red flowering anthuriums during the holidays, I think of anthuriums as alternative poinsettias. Although poinsettias are instant Christmas, anthurium flowers last longer than poinsettia flowers and the plant tends to have a more exotic, year round appeal. This year I bought both, poinsettias for the home for instant Christmas décor, and an anthurium for the office for year round beauty.

Light Up Shady Corners with Variegated Hardy Ginger Plants

White Feather Hardy Ginger in July

One of the advantages of belonging to a garden club is that you are introduced to new plants, as well as new friends. Last fall, in one of my garden clubs’ plant swaps, I came home with White Feather ginger (Zingiber mioga ‘White Feather’). My friends told me that it was a hardy ginger plant that would survive our winters. They also mentioned that its cousin ‘Dancing Crane’ was astounding with beautiful white and green variegation.

I planted White Feather in a shady location in my Virginia garden, inserted a label, and forgot about it until this year. I had noticed that something was emerging in April. In July, the plant was about 2 feet tall and wide and I could clearly see the pretty variegation.  White Feather is a rhizomatous perennial that will spread over time in a nice, divide-and-share-with-your-friends way.

This is such a pretty plant I do not know why more people do not grow this. Despite the tropical appearance of the leaves, it is hardy to zone 6, which means I do not have to dig it up and bring it inside in the fall. The variegated leaves light up a shady area and favor an oriental appearance. So far, there have been no pests or diseases.

White Feather Hardy Ginger in October

According to Tony Avent, owner of Plant Delights Nursery in North Carolina, there are three variegated forms. The most striking is Dancing Crane, which has white color in the middle of the leaves. White Feather has white color along the edge of the green leaves, and Silver Arrow is more subdued with lightly flecked leaves.

This is not the plant that produces the ginger root you buy in a store and grate for culinary use (Zingiber officinalis). This particular type is called Japanese ginger, mioga, or myoga ginger, and is grown for young spring shoots that are eaten like asparagus and for flower buds that are used in soups, tofu, sushi, and pickled vegetables.

Close Up of White Feather Flower

I have been looking for the flowers since September. Today, in October, I finally found several flowers which are only visible if you know to look down and under the foliage. They are ephemeral, a ghostly shade of yellow, certainly not something you would pick for a vase. They are only an inch off the ground and about 3 inches wide. They dissipate quickly; they seem to dissolve back into the ground after a few days. Still they add to White Feather’s intrigue, and by now my plant has grown to about 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide.

I recommend White Feather and I can see why others raved about Dancing Crane. Dancing Crane has more striking variegation and if it performs as well as White Feather, it would be a great addition to a garden. Next year, plant these hardy gingers in your garden to light up a shady corner.

Several White Feather Flowers