Archive for July, 2006

Thunbergia and Melianthus Consort

in a cast iron urn on garden tour day.

Thunbergia grandiflora is the blue flowered vine,     Melianthus major ‘Purple Haze’ is the plant with the   toothy leaves. Please scroll down or hit coming attractions for a plant list –and write if you’re curious about something you saw that’s not there.

Night-Scented Stock

It’s little. It’s weedy-looking. The simple 4-petaled flowers are a washed out purple-pink and they close when the sun shines on them.

The beauty part is a night fragrance as strong as any in the garden and a great deal more refined than most. Instead of the heavy tropical spice of brugmansia or the decadent perfume of lilies, night scented stock offers a combination of vanilla and new mown hay.

Its botanical name is Matthiola longipetala, aka M. bicornis, genus name pronounced Mat-ee-O-la because it’s named for Pierandrea Mattioli, a 16th century Italian botanist who knew a good thing when he smelled one.

Seeds are widely available. Plant some next spring ( you could try it even now and get lucky if it’s a long fall).

Growing Garlic ( and Roasting It)

(Please scroll down or hit coming attractions for the Garden Tour Plant List)

With garlic, it’s almost impossible to fail completely. Plant one clove, get one multi-clove bulb, pretty much no matter what. The catch is that it’s quite easy to fail partially. I did for years, simply because I kept planting softneck garlic, the most common kind, even though I was in Maine and the garlic wanted to be in Southern California. Over and over, I got small bulbs filled with small cloves that were very tedious to peel, a defect slightly mitigated by the fact that the garlic was so incredibly strong and hot you didn’t need (or want) much.

What I’ve learned since:

* If you live in the North, plant hardneck garlic, the kind with the stiff stem running up the middle. It’s much hardier than softneck garlic. Bigger and sweeter, too. ( it doesn’t store as well, but it stores well enough).

* Big cloves make big bulbs. When you get your seed garlic, either at the farmers’ market or from a source like Filaree Farm; plant only the large outer cloves. Eat the smaller cloves at the center or plant them in the perennial border and let them stay there indefinitely, making larger and larger clumps of their gorgeous, twirly stems.

* Plant in well-drained, fertile, weed-free soil, in late September or early October. Goal is to have good strong roots but only short green shoots when hard frost puts growth on hold until spring.

* Garlic comes up early. So do weeds. Mulch helps, but you’ll probably still have to pull a few. The plants are too narrow to shade anything out and they have small, shallow roots that do not compete well.

* The combo of increasing warmth and lengthening days tells the plants to stop making leaves and start making bulbs. Energy to do this comes from those leaves, so the goal is to have them get as big as possible as soon as possible. ( A little fish emulsion at intervals never hurt anybody).

* Bulbs keep putting on size until mature and must be mature to store well, but if they stay in the ground after they’re ready, they split and spoil quickly. Generally speaking, it’s time to harvest when about half of the leaves have fallen over or turned brown or both. Dig on a dry day, brush off dirt, then spread the plants on racks ( screens on bricks, for instance) to dry. Ideal spot is a barn or shed that’s warm, dry and dark. Let the bulbs cure for about a month, then cut off the tops; hardneck is not braid material.

* Eat lots. No matter how you store it, it will start sprouting by February. We like:

Garlic Roasted With Olive oil and Potatoes: several head’s worth of peeled cloves for about 2 pounds of small , new potatoes. Big splash of oil in a jellyroll pan. Be sure potatoes are thoroughly dry, so they don’t stick. Roll everything around to coat well, then bake in the upper third of a 400 degree oven until interiors are soft and outsides have lots of crisp brown spots, about 45 minutes. Stir with a flat spatula from time to time. Malden salt at the half hour mark or at the end but not at the start.

garlic in a little while

This garlic came up in the compost at the edge of the garden and has been left to make scapes for bouquets. More ( much more) about hardneck garlic, the garlic to grow if you’re in the North, after the garden tour is but a memory ( plant list for tour is below)

Garden Tour Plant List

(Please scroll down or click at right for coming attractions)

Upper garden, as you enter from the field:

Blue-purple spike flowers around right edge are Salvia transylvanica

Cobalt blue flowers are Salvia patens

Blue flowers with balck calyces are Salvia Guaranitica ‘Black and Blue’

Shrubs with gray foliage and long thorns are sea buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides

Foamy yellow flowers w/blue leaves are Thalictrum flavum ssp glaucum (yellow meadow rue)

Large vines framing greenhouse door are hardy kiwis (that refuse to bloom at the same time so I never get any fruit)

In iron urn opposite stone wall:
Vine with lavender-blue flowers is Thunbergia grandiflora
Sawtooth-leaves are Melianthus major ‘Purple Haze’

Big seed head is Star of Persia ( Allium christophii)

Giant hosta is ‘Sum and Substance’

Plant with long, narrow purple bells is Iochroma cyaneum ‘Royal Blue’ ( which only goes to show you)

Vine with purple flowers in clay pot is Asarina scandens

Plant in iron urn in front of lilac is Brilliantaisia subulugarica

All hollyhocks (including the dark magenta ones) are self-sown great-grandchildren of a yellow Alcea ficifolia

Vines in front of greenhouse:

Orange daisy-flowers: Senecio confusis ‘San Paulo’

Orange/pink/white flowers all together : Mina lobata ( Spanish flag)

Bright red trumpets: Ipomoea quamoclit ( Cypress vine)

Salvia w/yellow and purple flowers ( almost done) is S. bulleyana

Plant with long deep purple spikes (on right, in front of holyhocks) is a butterfly bush, Buddleia davidii ‘Black Knight’
Poppies by path on left are self-sown annual shirleys ( P. rhoeas). On right, a perennial sold to me as P. alpinum but I don’t think it is.

The red coleus is ‘Kingswood Torch’

The purple-brown grassy-looking thing is ornamental millet, ‘Purple Majesty’

Dark green leaves on black stems are Alocasia , cultivar name lost ( there are much larger ones in the white garden)

The orange Turk’s cap lilies are L. davidii

The yellow coneflower is E. ‘Big Sky Sunrise’

The yellow flowered bush at the very back (on the road side) is a heliopsis, cultivar name forgotten

White garden:

Vines on the entry arch are
Clematis virginiana (virgin’s bower) and
Lathyrus latifolius ‘White Pearl’

Plant in the middle with big white trumpets is a brugmansia

Low rosettes of big silvery leaves are Salvia argentea ( silver sage)

Striped Euphorbia ( ball on a stem) : ‘Tasmanian Tiger’

Tall stems with seed heads, Allium giganteum ‘White Giant’

Striped red and white rose is ‘Scentimental’

plant with tuft on top that looks like a pineapple is Eucomis bicolor (pineapple lily) There are other eucomis beside the path – including one with purple leaves – which have not yet bloomed.

Dark green leaves on black stems are Alocasia , cultivar name lost

Fragrant shrub near the path end, Aloysia triphylla (lemon verbena)

The hedge is Hydrangea tardiva

In windowbox:
the big tree is Acnistus australis. It has purple-blue flowers when it gets sun in spring.
The thing that looks like a little palm tree ( sort-of) is a begonia

In bathtub, vine with orange and yellow flowers is a leggy Abutilon megapotamicum that isn’t getting enough sun.

Lower garden:

Pink and yellow border – inspired by the Minton bowl in the picture posted underneath the birch

Pink cotton candy is Filipendula rubra (queen of the prairie)
Yellow scabiosa on steroids is Cephalaria gigantea

Large shrub at end is a golden elderberry, Sambucus nigra ‘Aurea’

Small shrub in center with long yellow leaves is a sumac, Rhus typhina ‘ Tiger eyes’


Purple brown trumpets in front are salpiglossis ‘Chocolate’

Self-sowns on left are calendula ( grandchildren of ‘Pink Surprise’); Bupleurum rotundifolium ( no common name that I know of), blue nigella (love in a mist) , silene (the screaming pink), and larkspur ‘Blue Cloud’.

Single cosmos are ‘Psyche, ‘ doubles are ‘Doubleclick’

Special thanks to assistant/garden-helper/friend Kristi Niedermann, without whom this garden could not exist.

Foxgloves – Opera Length

( For coming attractions, please scroll down)

There are about 22 species of Digitalis, all of them known as foxgloves, but today’s special is D. purpurea, the common foxglove, a weed of the English hedgerows and a weed in its willingness in gardens across the US northern tier. ( The farther south you go, the less delighted they are.)
They’ll bloom for months if kept deadheaded, but are most glorious in early summer, just reaching their maximum 5 or 6 feet as the peonies start declining. And foxgloves can be almost as permanent as peonies, even though they are biennials (or short-lived perennials), because they self-sow so prolifically.
Each flower is good for at least a hundred seeds – usually, there are far more – and a happy plant will produce anywhere from 60 to more than 100 flowers on its roughly 5 to 9 spikes. (The woodland world is not paved with foxgloves for the same reason that the woodland streams are not paved with trout; most of the babies don’t make it. )

As D. purpurea suggests, the species flower is purple ( purple-pink, actually, with maroon spots – scroll down to see). But there is a selection: D. purpurea f. albiflora that is, as ITS name suggests, white, and it does pretty well at staying white through generations of mixed breeding.

Foxglove growing tips:

* Alkaline soil helps, but is not essential. What really counts is good drainage. Foxgloves like a lot of moisture but rot swiftly if roots stay wet.

* Foxgloves are often on lists of shade-bloomers, but that doesn’t mean deep shade. They do best where they get filtered light all day or plenty of morning sun.

* Fertilizer makes large plants gigantic, but also makes them more prone to fungus diseases. Don’t use it in damp years or where the plants are crowded ( which is where they are most charming).

* Because plants bloom in their second year and frequently die at the end of same, you have to plant from seed 2 years running to get a good stand of them going. Not difficult, but seed must be fresh for good results. If you have a friend with foxgloves, just ask them to let a stalk go to seed. If you don’t , buy a blooming-size plant from a garden center and do the same. When most of the seedpods have dried ( those on the bottom will have already split) just cut the stalk and wave it around where you want foxgloves. Seed forms in August or September, and baby plants should be up by the end of the season.

* Foxgloves are shallow rooted and frequently heave out of the soil in winter. But it’s hard to get around that with mulch because the plants spring back to life long before the freeze-thaw cycle is over. They’re also prone to rot in prolonged spring damps. The moral: do not move or thin them until after soil settles and weather warms and you know how many you have.

* The secondary spikes will be stronger if you cut those giant lead ones well before all the flowers open, when about a third are still in bud. It’s painful and I don’t always do it but when I do I just put them in a vase. They keep opening for quite a while, though after 5 or 6 days the purple ones start getting paler and paler.

Nomenclature Department: The dominant explanation seems to be that foxglove is a corruption of folksglove, idea being that the flowers are gloves for faeries but faeries do not like to have you say their name and will retaliate unpleasantly. They must be called “the little folk,” preferably in a soft voice that does not attract their attention.
Pretty story but unlikely to be true, given that the earliest use is Old English foxes glofa, which means just what it sounds like it means. Foxes, like faeries, inhabit the hedgerows where these flowers grow, and foxes have smaller paws than you might think.

Foxgloves, wrist-length

This is old-fashioned Digitalis purpurea and there will be tips on growing it as soon as I finish weeding the white garden or the mosquitoes drive me in, whichever comes sooner.

Slug City, with Remedies

(For coming attractions, please scroll down)  

Why is the number 40 beginning to echo in my mind? Why does the word plague, applied to the slugs and snails, seem especially appropriate?… Better not to answer, even if the ongoing rain, in both New York and Maine, is making one wonder if something – how shall we put it ? – special , is afoot. Having 3 hundred-year floods in less than 12 months does make you think there may be more to this than random luck.
We ourselves ARE lucky, actually, nothing wrong with our place except a soggy basement and a world-class collection of slugs and snails, on, among other things, a whole bunch of otherwise very happy hostas.

A happy hosta, in part because its leathery leaves are hard for slugs and snails to chew.
There are a variety of controls that do not involve metaldehyde, the most common mulloscicide, and this is a good thing because metaldehyde kills just about anything else that ingests it, including dogs, cats and birds. Dogs are especially vulnerable because the bait put in to attract the slugs also – they’re dogs, right? – attracts them, too.

So I spent years putting out tuna cans filled with beer, spreading diatomaceous earth, banding my raised beds with copper foil, doing all the approved organic things… but no more. Now I use what might be called Okslugbait, known to its friends as iron sulfate, marketed under trademarked names like Sluggo and Escar-go. It costs quite a bit more than old fashioned poisons, and you have to reapply it more often. But it doesn’t kill anything except mollusks and it’s environmentally benign, a fertilizer in the amounts needed to keep the average garden from being terminally ravaged.

The cost doesn’t make a lot of sense – iron sulfate is cheap – they just know they have you over a barrel. And have you they do, unless things have changed in the couple of years since I tried to buy some (which I figured I could combine with bait in the privacy of my own kitchen).
No dice. Googling turned up plenty of iron sulfate suppliers, but all of them sell it by the boxcar load. So if there are 2 or 3 hundred of you out there who’d like to go in with me…

I jest. But it is great stuff. Makes slugs and snails stop eating, so they eventually starve. The action takes days, however, and although they stop eating almost right away, they’re still THERE, thumbing their slimy little noses at you. So I also use the old-timer’s remedy, ammonia and water in a spray bottle. Near- instant knockdown, very gratifying and ammonia too is a fertilizer in the doses required. Most plants have no trouble handling the spray, though I’ve noticed that salvias and violets sometimes get minor leaf damage. The old timers mixed it 50-50; I usually use about 1/3 ammonia to 2/3 water, but as the “about” suggests, there’s no real need to measure.

Note: When we were preparing for the podcast , Dean reminded me I have already sung the praises of iron sulfate, at about this time last year. True. If we have this weather again in ’07, I’ll praise it again then, too.