Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October Surprise

The fall cleanup continues. The winds have been fierce these past couple of days, so much so that yesterday it toppled my very sturdy iron trellis. In my attempt to upright it, the scarf that was wrapped around my neck got tangled up in the thorny branches of my climbing rose. It took awhile to disengage myself and I am sure I was a hilarious sight for anyone passing by.

But check out what I came across: strawberries! Just a couple mind you, so nowhere near a harvest but their appearance is quite unexpected and I will appreciate them even more.

Friday, October 24, 2008

You Gonna Eat That?

I'm in clean up mode now. There is much cutting back and dividing to do as well. Most of my annuals have bit the dust so it's time to pull those out and dispose of them which is what I spent a couple hours doing this afternoon. But here's a surprise I thought I'd share. When I pulled up one of my expired sweet potato vines (see picture of actual vine below), which I buy strictly for ornamental foliage, I discovered this very good looking pair of potatoes. I did some Internet research and according to some sources, these potatoes are every bit as edible as the ones produced by the non-ornamental variety. But no one stated that they had, in fact, tried them. I decided to toss these but I have a couple more plants to pull up so if I encounter another potato, I may just give it a good scrub and pop it in the oven. If I do, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Plan for Spring Flowers

Here in Northern Virginia, we are definitely feeling fall in the air. It came on pretty quick and caught me a little off guard. The lower temperatures mean one thing for me: planning for spring. And so on Sunday, I found myself on the Fairfax County Parkway (where the changing leaves are beautiful, by the way) heading to Merrifield Garden Center to buy bulbs. I was delirious with the selection they offered. While most people were buying in mass quantities for their landscape gardens, I was buying for my containers.

I've noticed that the selection of bulbs at nurseries and the big box stores is very plentiful now and there is a wide variety to choose from so if you would like to have some tulips or daffodils or hyacinth ready to greet you in the early days of spring, I would suggest buying now. But depending on where you live, you still have lots of time to plant. I don't think I'm going to plant mine until the end of November. If you have containers that are in a spot easily accessible to squirrels, I would suggest waiting as well--especially if you plan to grow tulips. Otherwise you may come outside to find your pots dug up and the bulbs missing.

I will post more on this topic of bulbs later on but for now, just know that you can plant them in your outside containers. Larger pots are always better and if you tend to get really cold temperatures, you can always cover the top of the soil with mulch and wrap the pot in bubble wrap (or something similar) to provide a little more insulation.

Shown at the beginning of this post is a handful of daffodil bulbs. Merrifield had about fifty different daffodils to choose from. Who knew? The other two pictures I'm providing show a healthy bulb. When you buy them, make sure they are plump and firm. Toss back any bulbs that are dried up, or are mushy or moldy. Then stash them away in a cool, dark place until you are ready to plant. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Secrets to Success: Tip Number One

When my friend Maureen came to visit last month, she suggested I do a post to summarize all of the things I do to help make my garden thrive. A good idea, I thought, but that would be too wordy for a single post so I've decided to make it a brief series, revisiting it over the next several months. I'll plan to provide a summary of all the points in advance of next year's growing season so you'll have them condensed in one place.

Of course, one could go on and on talking about what each plant requires to succeed in a garden but there are some fundamental things that, if you don't do them, you are likely to be in for some heartache and disappointment (not to mention an emptier wallet).

So first on my list is elevation and drainage. I cannot stress this enough because if there is one thing that thoroughly demoralizes the beginning gardener it's a plant's failure to thrive due to lack of drainage and airflow beneath the container.

The solutions are simple and quite inexpensive (relative to the cost of your plants). First, get some pot feet (see above photo). They'll cost you about a buck apiece. For a round pot, you only really need three but for a square or rectangular, of course, buy four. You can find them at nearly every nursery or garden center. Oh sure, you can get all fancy and buy the ones that look like tiger paws or frogs or snails or whatever (they cost more, by the way) that's up to you. What these provide is elevation so that air can flow beneath the pot. Alternatively, you could buy a plant stand (as long as the surface allows the water from the pot to drain through). Whatever you do, don't waste your time with the matching saucer for the pot, that's not going to do the trick, get pot feet instead.

Which leads me to drainage. Be sure all pots or containers have drainage holes. If they don't drill some if the structure of the pot can withstand it. (See my post from the beginning of the season) If it can't, don't plant in it or else you are setting yourself up for disappointment--don't say I didn't warn you. Also, you'll want to put some sort of material in the bottom of the pot to facilitate drainage prior to adding the soil. I use styrofoam peanuts but you can use gravel from your driveway or broken pot shards. The point is, you don't want soil packed down at the base of your container preventing the water from draining through. That road leads directly to root rot. Best to avoid it.

So there you have it. Tip Number One.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Shades of Green

One of my favorite gardening books is Sydney Eddison's "The Gardener's Palette" because it taught me to look at color in a whole new way. I used to think every container needed to be a riot of color. It wasn't until after a couple of years of gardening that I realized when viewing a garden, one's eyes need a place to rest. In her book, there is one section in which she asks the reader just to appreciate all the types of green in nature. Green in a garden is not only calming, but provides an effective transition between colors.

I was doing some cleaning up of dead leaves and such yesterday and came across this wonderful cluster of greens. The main attraction of this pot is a Japanese Maple but I have lots of things planted underneath it including Lamium, Heuchera, Creeping Jenny and Geranium. This photo is a closeup of some of that green foliage. Though there is no bloom to be found, I think it has a beauty all its own.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Oh, Grow Up!

When space is at a premium, think about gardening vertically. Even if you have plenty of room, using this technique offers depth and dimension to a container garden. Here's a climber that I love: Mandevilla. I grow it every year without fail--I've talked about it before in an earlier post. This spring, I bought a new trellis (shown below) from Smith and Hawken. It is extremely sturdy and even the strong winds that we got from a couple of the tropical storms this summer didn't blow it over. It provides great support for all types of climbers. I've seen some people plant mandevilla at the base of their mailbox and let it climb up and around it and I have a neighbor that has let one climb up her front stair rail.

Mandevilla is a tropical but it appears in garden centers here around mid-May. If you work this into your gardening plan next year, don't get all in a hurry to plant it too early because overnight temperatures need to consistently be at or above 55F otherwise it may never have a chance. So if you do buy early, keep it indoors for a while.

For whatever reason, my mandevilla was slow to climb this year. Although it was producing plenty of blooms, it didn't really start to take off until mid-August. That was not the case for my friend Chris who lives in Pennsylvania so I have no idea what to attribute it to. Nevertheless, it is looking great and I fully expect it to last until frost.

Mandevilla can be overwintered inside, which I have never done because I have nowhere to put it. But if you try it, be sure to spray it thoroughly with insecticidal soap so that you get to all the bugs living in the nooks and crannies. Then keep it in a room that has a window so there is light exposure. Chris uses her laundry room. As sad is it will start to look throughout the winter, I have it on good authority that it will bounce back when spring returns.

So if you're short on space, my suggestion would be to try growing up.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

But Wait...There's More!

Just when I thought things were starting to come to a close in the garden, this plant starts to bloom. I actually had forgotten all about it because I have it in a container that has, among other things, a very mature gaura and heuchera. The latin name is Eupatorium rugosum. This specific version is Chocolate Eupatorium. It is commonly known as White Snakeroot. Again with the unattractive names.

Anyway, this doesn't smell like chocolate, at least, not that I can tell. The foliage is more purple and green than chocolate so really, I'm not sure where the chocolate part comes from. But, as you may have guessed, that's the reason I bought it. The blooms just started to appear in the last few days and they are really small (you can see more detail if you click on the photo to enlarge it). To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I'm all that wild about it. The one thing I can say is I do like having a plant that starts to bloom so late in the season.

Eupatorium grows to be about 3 feet high and likes sun/part shade. It is hardy to zone 4 so if I decide I don't want it next year, I'm going to have to dig it up and give it away to someone who has a better appreciation for it. Any takers?