My first guest post for the Herb Society of America’s blog appeared yesterday. I was inspired by the numerous beneficial insects hovering around my herbs in my Virginia garden. Often my herbs flower before I ever get to harvest the leaves but that’s okay because their tiny flowers attract the “good” bugs. If you are interested in growing and learning more about herbs, contact the Herb Society of America (I belong to the local Potomac Unit).
yellow four o’clocks in my garden, 8:30 pm
When we were at Monticello last summer I was struck by how large Thomas Jefferson’s four o’clocks (Mirabilis jalapa) were compared to mine. I also liked the fact that it was a plant he knew and grew and could still be grown today as an heirloom. Although I had a few small plants in dry, lean soil in full sun, I was inspired to start new plants from seed this year. I planted them in very rich soil, under morning sun and afternoon shade. Yes, Virginia, despite our heat, humidity, and lack of rain, they are growing very well. They are about 2 feet tall with light green leaves and many yellow or pink blossoms.
The only trick is that the flowers do not open in the day. Although they are named for opening at 4:00 pm, mine never do. The tubular blossoms are sensitive to light and temperature and prefer to open during the cool of the evening, usually between 4 and 8 pm, and stay open all night long. Currently we are in the midst of a heat wave so they do not seem to be opening fully.
flower begins to open in evening
Flowers come in pink, white, red, yellow, magenta, or mixed, liked speckled. They are tender perennials which means they will grow as perennials in the south but in my zone 7 garden, I can grow them as annuals that may not overwinter, dig and save the tubers for next year, or start new seed next year. Four o’clocks were cultivated and selected for various colors by the Aztecs prior to the Spanish Conquest. They were then introduced to Spain and England and were in cultivation in Europe for about 200 years before Linnaeus first described the species in 1753. Thomas Jefferson received his from France. In July 1767, exactly 250 years ago to the month, he noted in his journal “Mirabilis just opened, very clever.”
Garden Bloggers Bloom Day occurs on the 15th of the month. Garden bloggers from around the world post their articles about blossoms in their garden.
pink four o’clocks at Monticello, early afternoon
During the Garden Bloggers Fling, I had the opportunity to get to know Susie Moffat who mentioned that Cathy at Rambling in the Garden posts a photo of flowers in a vase on Mondays and calls it “In a Vase on Monday.” Other bloggers chime in and post photos of their vases of flowers on Monday. Usually I cut flowers in my garden and bring them to the office but I just stick them in a vase; I don’t “arrange.” By Friday they have passed their prime so I do it all over again the next week. For today, July 10, I have black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta. They are very easy to grow in my Virginia garden and they are the state flower for Maryland where I work. #inavaseonmonday
Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium) is an old herb once thought to treat fevers but actually is helpful in preventing migraine headaches. I first saw the plant blooming at a demonstration garden a few years ago and liked the small, daisy-like flowers, similar to chamomile. I sowed seed late last summer and transplanted the seedlings in the ground before frost. They weathered the mild winter in my zone 7 Virginia garden but remained small. When the temperature increased in early spring, the plants grew up very fast and started blooming as early as . The plants are several feet tall now in full sun, oblivious to our current dry spell. I do not use feverfew medicinally but as a summer flowering perennial. Because they are small white flowers, they are great by themselves in a vase or as a filler with other flowers.
I read that the plant has a strong and bitter smell but I don’t notice it. I have also read that feverfew has mosquito repelling qualities but there are still the same number of mosquitoes in my garden. However, I have noticed that nothing goes near it, no deer and no rabbits.
My variety is Heirloom Double White Wonder from Renees Garden but there are other cultivars on the market such as Aureum, White Bonnet, Golden Ball, Crown White, and Ultra Double White. You may not find this in your local nursery as a plant; you may have to purchase seed but the seed germinates easily. Feverfew is known to be a short-lived perennial but it will be a summer-long success in my garden this year.
The 15th of the month is Garden Bloggers Bloom Day where garden bloggers post photos of plants that are blooming in their area across the country.
Last year I received a small green plant that just sat in my garden all year long. It really did not grow much, it did not bloom, it just took up 6 inches of space. I assumed it was on its way to the pearly gates. This year, it has bloomed so well I would not mind having a few more! Lychnis ‘Petite Jenny’ has leaves at the base (a basal rosette) with inch-wide lavender-rose, tufted blossoms atop 12-inch wiry stems. Petite Jenny started blooming in April in my Virginia garden and should bloom all summer long. Because the flowers sit atop the thin stems, the blossoms sway in the breeze, much like a Calder mobile.
Now that it is flowering (its alive!), I realized I was fortunate to plant mine next to a ninebark called ‘Summer Wine’ (Physocarpus opulifolius). Summer Wine is a small bush with dark, red/purple foliage that complements Petite Jenny’s lavender-rose flowers and also provides a dark backdrop to make it easier to see the flowers.
Hardy to zone 5, Petite Jenny prefers full sun to part shade and more moist than dry soil. It is deer resistant and the flowers can be cut for arrangements. There is a “Jenny” that is a larger plant; Petite Jenny is a dwarf form with sterile blossoms (sterile blossoms have a longer blooming period). Petite Jenny is a Blooms of Bressingham introduction. If this great perennial is not available at your local independent garden center, contact http://www.musthaveperennials.com
I forgot to grow zinnias. Every year I grow zinnias so I can put a vase of flowers on my desk at work but for some odd reason, I didn’t this year. Now in the heat of summer I don’t have many options to choose from but next year I will grow zinnias for summer blooms and on top of that, will start even earlier with spring flowers.
To learn more about increasing the diversity of flowers in my Northern Virginia garden, I have been following Lisa Mason Ziegler’s virtual book study for the past month. Each Friday for 10 Fridays, she posts a 10-minute video that corresponds to a chapter in her book, Cool Flowers: How to Grow and Enjoy Long-Blooming Hardy Annual Flowers Using Cool Weather Techniques. The videos can be viewed on her website any time and she is more than happy to answer questions. Lisa manages a commercial cut flower business in Newport News, Virginia. She is well known in the horticulture field, has written books and given lectures, and has an online garden shop called The Gardener’s Workshop. Lisa is an expert on hardy annuals, which prefer to bloom during spring’s cool temperatures. Hardy annuals differ from the summer annuals in that the seeds are sown in August/September or February/March, depending on the plant. In contrast, summer annuals, like zinnias, prefer the heat so they are sown after the danger of frost has passed in late April/early May.
Of the 30 plants mentioned in her book, I have seeds of six plants on hand. I can start snapdragon, dianthus, and feverfew indoors now and transplant at the end of August. I can direct sow love-in-a-mist, larkspur, and calendula seeds at the end of August to the beginning of September. All of these will bloom in the spring and peter out when summer arrives which will increase my number of cut flowers from spring to early summer. From then on the summer annuals can take over and I will look for a few more in addition to zinnias. In her videos and in her book, Lisa discusses her preference for direct sown versus transplants and starting in the fall versus early spring. If the plant is hardy to a zone colder than one’s own zone, plant in the fall. If the plant is not has hardy as one’s own zone, plant in early spring. However, early spring can mean cold, wet soil so she suggests preparing the bed in the fall and covering with mulch or landscape fabric to prevent weeds and to enable the ground to be worked easily in February and March.
So far I have viewed 5 of the 10 videos and I have read the book. If hardy annuals are something you would like to try, you can catch up by visiting her web site and listening to her videos or buy her book on her site or at a bookstore but it is not necessary to have the book in order to follow along with her videos.
Posted in flowers, seeds
Tagged calendula, cut flowers, dianthus, feverfew, flowers, hardy annuals, larkspur, Lisa Ziegler, love-in-a-mist, seeds, snapdragon, summer annuals, The Gardener's Workshop, zinnias
Cardinal climber among oregano and sage
July is a good time to take stock of the garden and determine what worked and what didn’t. This year I tried growing cardinal climber because I have banisters and rails in several locations on my property. Cardinal climber (Ipomoea x multifida) is a flowering vine, grown as an annual in Virginia. It is easy to grow indoors in the spring from seed which I obtained from Renee’s Garden. In May, I transplanted them outside and trained them up to the banisters with yarn. They learned quickly and began to wrap themselves around the banisters. Now that it is hot, they bloom every day in full sun. The flowers are bright red and simple but I discovered that they add a pop of color against the other plants. The leaves are very lacy and the vines are light enough to weave into neighboring plants (I like it when two or more plants tumble into each other’s space). Cardinal climber is a winner in my book.
Vanilla Cream marigold with Cossack Pineapple ground cherry
The other winner flower this year is ‘Vanilla Cream’, part of the Alumia series of French marigolds from Park’s Seed. I started the seed indoors in the spring although it was not necessary, I could have started them outside later. In May I plant them outside in a row in front of a vegetable bed so the lawn service crew wouldn’t get too close to the veggies with the weed wacker. The marigold plants have filled out nicely. Each bushy plant has several blooms at a time. The flowers are unusual for a marigold, they are anemone-shaped and bright yellow. I like the fact that they are a clear solid yellow — they glow like beacons in the garden.
husks pulled back from ground cherry fruit on spoon
Speaking of yellow, this year I grew Cossack Pineapple ground cherries. I bought seed from the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and started them indoors under lights in very early spring. I was surprised at how well they germinated. In May, I transplanted several in my tomato patch and although I thought I gave them enough space I did not realize how fast they grew. Mine are a few feet wide and tall and completely cover the ground. Members of the tomato family, the fruit is small like a pea covered in a papery husk. The husks are green on the plant and gradually turn yellow and drop to the ground. I have learned that some of the ones on the ground are empty, maybe something got to them before I did, so I gather the ones on the ground and gently touch the yellow ones on the plant to see if they will drop into my hand. The fruit really does taste like pineapple but without the zing so more like a cross between a pineapple and an apple. They can be eaten raw, used in desserts, or used in savory dishes like salsa.
These are just a few success stories in my garden, more to come!
Posted in edibles, flowers, plants, seeds
Tagged Alumia, annuals, Cardinal Climber, Cossack Pineapple, flowers, French marigolds, ground cherry, marigolds, Parks Seed, Renee's Garden, Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, Vanilla Cream, vines