Tag Archives: flowers

Honesty, Money, and Sincerity: What More Could You Want in a Plant?

silver dollar flowers

Some plants provide beauty in the spring and then step back off stage, only to be forgotten until next spring. Others provide beauty in the spring, come back with an encore in the fall, and stay with us all winter long. The silver dollar plant (Lunaria annua) is blooming now in April in the Washington DC area. A member of the cruciferous family (Brassicaceae), these flowers have the typical four-petal cross shape but the petals seem wider and larger than the yellow roadside mustard flowers. The plant is 2 to 3 feet tall and the fragrant flowers are purple butterfly magnets although there is a white variety. Usually there are masses of blooms because the plant self-seeds but the plant looks best this way since the flowers are small.

purple flowers at Carlyle House, Old Town, Alexandria

In the summer, the flowers form green, flat but oval-shape pods with large seeds inside. As the pods mature, the green disappears, the seeds drop, and what is left is the translucent papery thin membrane of each pod. The encore to their pretty spring show of flowers are these shimmery flat pods. The pods dry so well, i.e., hold their shape for so long, they can last the winter in dried flower arrangements and wreaths.

basket of dried, mature seed pods

The silver dollar plant has many common names. In England the more popular name is honesty, which refers to the frankness of the plant in displaying its seed in the pods (because some remaining seeds appear in the transparent pods). Other common names are white satin flower since the mature pods are shiny like satin, moonwort because the translucent pods are round like the moon, and money-in-both pockets because the mature pods look like coins.

If you are growing this from seed, you may not get flowers the first year. Technically it is a biennial but once it starts flowering and drops seed, it will just appear every year as if it were a perennial. Treat it like a woodland plant, provide part sun and part shade in well-drained soil. Hardy to zone 5, the silver dollar plant is deer resistant.

close up of seed pods

A native of Europe, this was one of the first plants brought by the colonists to the New World. The plant is quite common in colonial gardens. Most local nurseries sell the plant or seed.

In the language of flowers, the plant represents honesty, money, and sincerity. In witchcraft, the silver dollar plant is protective, known for keeping away monsters. The plant also is used in spells for prosperity – the mature seed pods resemble coins and promises of wealth. Either way, having a basket of silvery coins has got to be good for you. Grow some honesty, money, and sincerity and share the wealth.

 

Containers with Summer Blooming Bulbs: Living Flower Arrangements

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to create a container with summer blooming bulbs, a “living flower arrangement.” I along with a group of garden writers and communicators visited Brent and Becky’s Bulbs in Gloucester, Virginia. I have known Brent and Becky for years but have never made the 3-hour drive to the Tidewater area. Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is THE place to buy bulbs in the mid-Atlantic area. Although known for daffodils, they sell spring and summer blooming bulbs as well as some perennials and grasses.

Becky provided a “living flower arrangement” workshop for the group. Living flower arrangements are spring or summer blooming bulbs that have been planted in layers in a large container. As they break dormancy and flower, they provide an array of different blooms, similar to cut flowers in a vase. Usually the containers are outside, making them ideal for porches, patios, decks, and front doorways.

Becky began the workshop by giving us each a large vinyl container with drainage holes. After adding about 4-5 inches of potting soil, we planted three lilies, Lilium orientale ‘Mona Lisa’. These are the fragrant, oriental lilies with the large star-shaped flowers. This particular cultivar was bred to be short, only 1 to 2 feet tall, with rose/pink flowers.

While she distributed the bulbs to us, she explained the plants and the planting depth. The lilies produce stem roots that act as anchors so the plants stand taller if they are planted deep, about 6-8 inches, which is why they were planted first. Becky also gave each of us a special ruler indicating how deep different bulbs should be planted.

After covering the lilies with soil, we planted one Dahlia ‘Gallery Leonardo’ and one Zantedeschia ‘Paco’ on the same level, across from each other. The Dahlia Gallery series is more compact and floriferous than other dahlias, making them ideal for containers. The dahlias grow to about 1 to 2 feet tall and the flowers have pointed petals, in apricot, peach, and salmon colors.

The Zantedeschia, also called calla lily, has a flower that looks like the peace lily houseplant. The spathe is a dark rose color and the plant grows to about 1 to 1 ½ feet tall. They look exotic but they grow well outside in this area. The bulb looked like a biscuit, it was hard to tell which end was up. Becky explained that if you cannot figure out the top and the bottom, plant the bulb sideways and it will sort itself out.

After covering with soil, we planted 10 Oxalis regnellii var. triangularis. Also known as the shamrock plant, this particular variety has burgundy-colored, triangular-shaped leaves and small pink flowers. Shamrocks grow to about 6 inches tall and prefer shade which they will get since they will be under the foliage of the other plants. These “pips” were about the size of a thumb, so it was easy to fit 10 across the container.

After covering with soil we dug a little hole in the middle and added one pink muhly grass (Muhlenbergia capillaris). This was a small plug, about 2 inches wide, which will eventually grow several feet tall. Muhly grass is an ornamental grass with blue green foliage. In the fall, the pink variety blooms, creating a beautiful pink haze in the landscape. Becky added this because she felt participants should go home with something pretty to see on top. I agree, it was the promise of great things to come.

Becky also distributed a handout with care instructions and possible combinations of the three-layered technique. We had a great time creating the living flower arrangement – it was definitely a hands on experience!

As I drove home with my container in the back seat, it occurred to me that this technique could be used many ways. Dormant bulbs can sit in a container for a while and not die.  If I take the muhly grass out (which needs water and light), I could “package” the container with tissue paper and give it as a gift. These containers could be “instant” gardens, just water and watch! And for those who may have trouble gardening, these could be great gifts –pre-made flower gardens.

When I got home I took the grass out and put it into another container. I then wrapped the large container with tissue paper I had in the house just to see how it would look. I could see the potential – giving a container with several types of bulbs could inspire others to garden or help those who have limited physical capabilities still enjoy growing flowers.

As I write this at the end of April, I have put the container outside on the deck where the temperatures are now warm enough. Already the bulbs are sending up shoots. I will post photos when they flower, but the plant links in this article to Brent and Becky’s catalog should give you an idea of the flower and additional information. Try this method of three layers of summer blooming bulbs for a beautiful container. I know I will spend the summer enjoying my living flower arrangement and the memories of a great weekend at Brent and Becky’s Bulbs.

Brent and Becky’s Bulbs is a family-owned, mail order business in operation since 1900. They have a fall planted/spring flowering catalog and a summer-flowering catalog. They have a Bulb Shoppe full of bulbs and gardening accessories surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay friendly 8-acre teaching garden. The public is welcomed to visit the Shoppe and gardens Monday through Saturday, February through mid-December. Workshop and gardening programs also are offered onsite and Brent gives lectures across the country.

Best Phlox Plants for Mid-Atlantic Gardens

Lavelle phlox

Lavelle

Despite its tendency to get powdery mildew, phlox is a very common perennial in the mid-Atlantic area. Many gardeners –as well as butterflies– love the old-fashioned, native plant for its tall stems of summer-blooming pink, purple, or white flowers.  Phlox is actually a large genus comprising more than 60 species native to North America. There is wide variation — some plants are tall, low growing, or groundcovers, while some prefer full sun and others thrive in shady, woodland areas.

This year, before you purchase phlox for your garden, read about the recommended varieties in Mt. Cuba Center’s report. The horticulturists at the Trial Garden, Mt. Cuba Center, Delaware, completed a three-year study. They tested 94 selections of eight sun-loving species and 43 selections of two shade-loving species.  For the sun lovers, they deliberately tested for resistance to powdery mildew, a fungal infestation of the foliage that creates an unsightly white powder. (This usually does not kill the plant but detracts from its beauty).

Of the sun-loving plants, within the species Phlox paniculata, top performers are ‘Jeana’, ‘Glamour Girl’, ‘Delta Snow’, ‘Lavelle’, ‘Robert Poore’, ‘Dick Weaver’, ‘David’, ‘Ditomdre’ (Coral Cream Drop), ‘Shortwood’, and the hybrid P. x arendsii ‘Babyface’.

Jeana

“Jeana,” according to the report, “is, without a doubt, the best performing phlox from the trial. This cultivar was discovered growing along the Harpeth River near Nashville, Tennessee and named after its discover Jeana Prewitt.”

Interestingly, volunteers who monitored pollinator visitations in the trial garden, noticed that ‘Jeana’s’ pink flowers received 539 visits from butterflies over 2 years. Others phlox flowers received at best 117 and lower.  ‘Lavelle’, second in place, received 117 visits indicating a marked preference for ‘Jeana’.

 

Blue Moon phlox

Blue Moon

Horticulturists also trialed shade-loving woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata) and creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera). Their report stated that the creeping phlox was easy to grow while the woodland was more difficult. However, they conceded that their initial plants of the woodland may not have been the healthiest. The best performers of woodland phlox are Phlox divaricata and P. divaricata ‘Blue Moon.’ With creeping phlox, best performers are Phlox stolonifera ‘Fran’s Purple’, ‘Home Fires’, ‘Pink Ridge’, and ‘Sherwood Purple’.

Fran's purple phlox

Fran’s Purple

All photos courtesy of Mt. Cuba Center

In a Vase on Monday

Here is a small container of summer blooming flowers from my Virginia garden for #inavaseonMonday. Can you guess the herb that is tucked inside?

Letting Your Herbs Flower to Attract Beneficial Insects

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).

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Four O’Clocks

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

In a Vase on Monday: Black-Eyed Susans

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

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day: Feverfew

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.

Petite Jenny’s Lavender-Rose Flowers Sway Like a Calder Mobile

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

Start Hardy Annuals now for Spring Flowers

love-in-a-mist

love-in-a-mist

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.

dianthus

dianthus

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.