Sunday, November 3, 2013

Well I Wasn't Expecting This (emphasis on "This")

My roses are going out in grand style.  This planting season has definitely ended on a high note as you can see from these pictures.  The "real" November arrives tomorrow.  It will be colder and windier--sort of what one expects this time of year.  But I'm a happy camper, make that gardener.  My growing season was great and all is not lost; I still have some cooler weather plants that I can enjoy:  lettuce, broccoli, thyme, and onions.  Not to mention the indoor planting that I will start next weekend.  Yes, it's paperwhite and amaryllis time.  It's my strategy for making the blooming season last all year long.  It can be yours too.  Stay tuned.

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Praying (Preying) Mantis

Praying (Preying) Mantis
 I almost missed this guy.  I was trimming back some out-of-control foliage and when I got to one of my roses, my keen eyes (with the help of a mighty powerful prescription) landed on him. It's been a while since I've seen a praying mantis in my garden.  But today, he (maybe she?) was definitely a "preying" mantis.  I'm not sure what it had in its grips, some sort of moth-like insect, but it was going to town.  

I've always heard that mantises (mantes? manti?) are good for the garden.  And it's true, they are an organic solution to certain bothersome pest problems.  But absent pests, they'll eat beneficial insects too.  And absent those, I'm given to understand they'll eat each other.  Ewww.

So let's not end on that grim note.  Let me offer you a picture of a really pretty flower:  Zinnia "Orange Profusion."  Happy thoughts.
Zinnia "Orange Profusion"

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Hemingway, Bond (James Bond), and Me

My Mojito

Let's talk about that tasty little Cuban cocktail known as the mojito.  I like it on a hot summer evening;  the fictitious Mr. Bond drank it in Die Another Day; and the very real Hemingway enjoyed it at the place where it was invented:  La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana.

You can find lots of recipes for it on the Internet.  Most generically call for mint, others are more specific and use spearmint.  But you don't want just any mojito, do you?  You want the real deal and that means using Mojito Mint. This is the first year I've seen it at my local nursery so of course I snapped it up.  Aside from being a great cocktail ingredient, it's also a pretty great plant, provided you plant it alone in a pot because, like all mints, it has a very invasive growth habit.  
Mojito Mint

Mojito Mint is not demanding; it likes full to part sun.  Keep it watered and it will grow up to 36" although mine is closer to about 18" probably because the small pot I have it in has limited its growth.  It's hardy to zone 5 and lives happily surrounded by all sorts of other plants.


Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Old Faithful

Heuchera "Obsidian"
There are some plants that you know you can rely on.  Heuchera is one of them.  It has never failed me, not once.  Oh sure, I've exposed a couple of them to more sun than they would like.  And they've protested a bit, but they've stuck with me.  These are the types of plants with which I am more generous with my real estate.  Altogether I probably have about ten varieties of heuchera scattered about in mixed containers.  They like part sun and most are hardy to zone 4.  In the spring, they shoot up some nice little delicate blooms, but when those fade, you still have the glory of its foliage.  One I particularly like is "Obsidian."  It has glossy purple, almost black leaves.  Fabulous if paired with a vibrant green or chartreuse plant.  Heuchera comes back strong every year, in fact, you'll have to divide it after about three years or so.  Fine by me.  More is better.

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Book

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The Makings for a Great Salad

Grape tomato harvest
Yellow bell pepper
There's not much more to say in this post other than "Yum!"  Here are some pictures of the edible things I have growing in containers.  The particular lettuce in the picture has made it through the summer without bolting (going to seed).  That's rare in a lettuce as it much prefers cool weather so I'll definitely be growing it again.  My grape tomatoes are super sweet; you can just pop these straight into your mouth.  It's a huge plant, by the way--I'm glad I got a tall support for it.  I'm also growing yellow pear tomatoes.  I didn't fertilize the tomatoes at all this year other than when I first planted them and I've had more than enough.  Also, I grew red and yellow bell peppers.  They start off green (see the smaller one above the yellow pepper shown here).  You just have to leave them on the plant to wait for them to turn color.  You don't have to wait though; you can eat them green.  But I like a yellow or a red pepper because it's sweeter.  

Lettuce (from seed)
So there you have it:  Delicious salad; comin' right up!
Yellow pear tomatoes

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, July 28, 2013

More Bees, Please!

Bumblebee visiting gaura
 I try to do everything I can to attract bees to my garden.  Different types of bees visit, but my predominant guests are bumblebees.  I can't say they've arrived in record numbers this year, after all, the bee population has been at risk for a while now.  But I have gotten quite a few and I continue to plant things that I think they will like and that will contribute to their survival. 

So this year I have:  (annuals) calibrachoa, zinnia; (perennials) agastache, clematis, purple coneflower, gaura, geranium, roses, sedum; (fruit and vegetables) peppers, strawberries; (herbs) bee balm, rosemary, sage, thyme, and mint.  All of these are known to attract bees. 

This forager bee looks pretty pleased with the selection.

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Exactly Three Months Later...

Lady Elizabeth Daylily
...Elizabeth, my daylily has bloomed.  And she's a beauty.  

You may recall that this plant arrived bareroot from White Flower Farm in the spring.  Its roots were wrapped in newspaper and it didn't look like much of anything.  But all I did was put it in a pot with some potting mix, time release fertilizer, and some earthworm castings.  I put the pot in full sun and just watered regularly. Now it's just starting to bloom.
Daylily arrives bareroot

So why is it called a daylily?  Because each bloom lasts about 24 hours.  Not to worry; there are other buds ready to open up when the previous one(s) wilt. 

Daylily in pot
Elizabeth is perennial so I should be able to count on her returning next year.  She's a good height for my container garden (18"), and she blends in well with all kinds of other flowers and plants.  Definitely a winner.

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Candy Onion

"Candy" Onion

Today, I harvested my first onion.  This is called "Candy Onion."  This is one of a few plants that I bought in early April.  I planted each of them in separate pots.  As you can see in the picture, this pot is tall and narrow so it allows for decent root growth.  The plant tag said it would take about 85 days until ready to harvest.  I pulled this one today so it's been about 90 days.

So, I planted them all in full sun. I did not use any extra fertilizer other than my regular time-release Osmocote that I always use at planting.  My minimal web research told me that I should harvest when the tops fall over.  Well, they fell over pretty much immediately so I ignored that piece of information.  However, I did notice that recently the tops were turning brown and dry looking so that's probably an indication of maturity. 

Falling tops and dried tips

Further instructions indicate that I should let my harvested onion dry for a few days, then clip off the top an inch from the bulb and store in a ventilated area.

I have about 3 or 4 more plants out on the deck that will be ready to harvest soon.  I wish I had more but I simply don't have the space to grow enough onions to keep pace with what we consume.  Practically everything we cook starts out with onion (and garlic). I might be able to eke out a little more real estate next year for more Candys.  But first I'm going to wait to see how this one tastes.

Close up of Candy

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Your Pots Need Feet

Lots (and lots) of feet

If there's one thing that will kill a plant faster than anything, it's poor drainage.  Water is critical to plant survival, but that water also has to have a way out of your pot or else your plant will become waterlogged and die of root rot.  So not only do you need to have proper potting mix as well as drainage holes in your pot, but you also have to make sure the drainage holes are not blocked when water is trying to make its way out.  The best way to do this is to elevate your pots.  I use pot feet.  I have a lot of them because I have so many containers.  They get my pots up off of the deck's surface and let the water run through.  I usually use three feet on my round pots; the few big square pots that I have require four.

Bay leaves on pot feet

No matter what you use to raise your containers off of the surface they're on, don't skip this step.  You could do everything right and because you neglect to do this, end up with a sad ending to what was a promising start.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Controlled Chaos

Clematis 'Parisienne'

I love climbing plants--their rambling and chaotic nature.  But most climbers aren't well suited for container gardening because they need a lot of vertical space.  Introducing Clematis 'Parisienne'--not your normal clematis.  Many clematis climb up to 8 feet, sometimes taller.  My trellises aren't tall enough to accommodate that.  But Parisienne is short and compact, with a maximum height of 4 feet.  I have it climbing on an obelisk-type trellis and it looks terrific.  It just started to bloom and its purple blooms are

This clematis is hardy to zone 4 and blooms from May to June, with a second burst of bloom from August to September.  I have it in a pretty large pot (about 22" in diameter) and have some low growing plants around it (see last week's post on Erodium).  It likes a sunny location and good drainage.  I'll have to study up on the pruning guidelines to ensure I get good growth next year. 

Give climbers a try, especially if you're really short on space.  If you can't plant out, then plant up.

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Something Old and Something New

Erodium 'Sweetheart'
 Let's reverse the order.  First:  The "Something New."  This is called Erodium 'Sweetheart."  Erodium is also commonly known as Heron's Bill.  There are a lot of reasons why it's so great and you should have it.  It blooms late spring to fall.  Already I'm sold.  It thrives in full to partial sun and it's hardy to zone 6, so in most places, it's going to come back.  Yay!  The blooms are tiny and pretty, and the plant is just the right size to squeeze into those nooks, edges, and corners of a container where not much else will fit.


Now for the "Something Old."  You've seen this here before but it keeps getting better every season.  This rose is called "Quietness" and I bought it a couple of years ago online from the Antique Rose Emporium.  It bloomed like crazy this spring and the fragrance was amazing.  Had I known it would climb so well, I would have planted it with a trellis.  Instead, I've had to use stakes after the fact.  It's probably about 5 feet tall now and is branching all over the place.  I love it.  You will too.

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, June 2, 2013

I'll Have the Combo Planter

Mixed Planting
 Here's an assortment that I bought a couple of weeks ago--most of which I ended up putting in the same container.  When creating a mixed planting, that is, a combination of plants that will all go in one pot, I choose plants that have similar requirements when it comes to light and water.  All of the plants here need full sun and about the same amount of moisture.  Also, all of these plants are annuals, meaning that they will die  once it gets permanently cold.  You can mix perennial and annual plants, but the thing is you have to pull the annuals out when they die and then replace them the following season.  Also, if your pot isn't big enough, the perennial eventually grows large enough that there won't be any more room for annuals after a couple of years.

So here's what's in the picture:  Chives, Italian Parsley, Basil, Eucalyptus, Calibrachoa (Double Deep Yellow and Dreamsicle), and Ivy Geranium (Pink Variegated and Burgundy Bicolor).  It's fine to mix flowers and herbs--I do it all of the time because we use a ton of herbs for cooking so one pot with herbs isn't enough.  I have them sprinkled among all of my mixed plantings.

So give it a try. Be bold.  Mix it up.

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, May 26, 2013

To-MAY-toe; To-MAH-toe

Planting tomatoes and basil
  I've grown a tomatillo plant before, but never a tomato plant.  Yet we found ourselves eating so many dishes last summer with tomatoes that I thought it was just silly to keep buying mealy, bland, or otherwise suspect tomatoes in the supermarket.  I decided to grow a yellow teardrop shaped tomato and a grape tomato.  So I planted over Mother's Day weekend, and wouldn't you know it, the temperature dropped to the low 40s the following night.  I had to wrestle the heavy pot indoors.

I used an organic vegetable planting mix, my usual Osmocote timed release fertilizer, and earthworm castings (aka earthworm poo).  I planted my two tomato plants, one chive plant, and a couple of basil plants all in the same pot.  The red wire cage will support the tomatoes (I hope) as they get taller.  I really have no idea how they will fare in this pot--I'll just see what happens.

Tomato tag

All of the plants require full sun and plenty of water.  But that's where I draw the line (I say that now anyway).  If you're a regular reader, you know I have a low maintenance philosophy so I will not be using any special tomato this, that, or the other to try to get this fruit to grow.  I really hope I stick to my guns.

A little more info:  I'm pretty sure that both tomatoes are of the "indeterminate" variety.  That means they will continue to grow and produce until killed by frost.  Whereas "determinate" tomatoes ripen at the same time (within a 2 week period or so) and die.  I've read that certain indeterminate varieties can grow up to 10 feet high.  That might be a problem.  Stay tuned.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Last of the Lilac

Lilac "Bloomerang"

It was great while it lasted.  My lilac bloomed beautifully this spring but that beauty was fleeting--I only got to enjoy it for a few weeks.  Despite its name, Bloomerang, and all that it implies, it only bloomed once last year.  However, I read online that I should deadhead those blooms and by doing so maybe I could get it to rebloom later in the season.  I didn't do that last year, but I will this time around.  I'll report back.  Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures.  I wish I could electronically transmit the amazing fragrance.  There's not a manufactured perfume out there that smells half as good as this.

This lilac is hardy to zone 4 and it's about 3 feet tall now in its 4th year. 

Lilac "Bloomerang"

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Right Tools for the Right Job

Flat Bottom Faves

I've been there.  I've tried to divide plants with a butter knife (seriously, I have).  I've labeled seeds with markers that fade under the hot summer sun so I can't remember what organic version of pepper I planted.  I've pruned roses wearing regular garden gloves and still have the scars on my arms to prove it.  Let me save you the aggravation, disappointment, and Neosporin.  Here's a list of my favorite garden tools and supplies:

1)  A kneeling pad.  I garden out on my deck and am either sitting or kneeling on the hard, sometimes splintery wood.  My husband bought me this kneepad.  It's great.  Get one.  Your knees will thank you.

2)  Gauntlet gloves.  These are what you need when you're dealing with thorny roses and blackberry bushes.  They can take a beating.  I left mine out all winter. 

3)  Wilcox All-Pro transplant trowel.  This is one of those times when the brand makes a difference.  You can't destroy this thing.  You can try; you will fail.  It's stainless steel, has depth measurements stamped right on it, and it's made in the USA. Cheers for the home team!

4)  Metal plant markers with pencil.  What you write on these will never fade.  I tried scrubbing an old one to reuse it.  Ajax wouldn't even get it completely clean.  I write stuff like what I planted, when I planted it, what its basic requirements are, when it will bloom/bear fruit, what color it's supposed to be, etc.  Order a bunch.

5)  Felco pruners.  Another time when brand makes a difference.  I'm not saying there aren't a bunch of pruners out there to choose from, I'm just saying I've tried a whole lot of them and found these have never let me down.  You can see from the picture, I don't do the best job of maintaining them.  And yet they keep doing the job they were meant to do.  You can even get a holster so you can really look like you mean business. 

6)  Joyce Chen scissors.  I bought my first pair about 12 years ago in the kitchen department.  Yes, they're great in the kitchen, but I found they are fantastic for the garden.  I use it to snip herbs, deadhead flowers, and prune scrawny branches. 

7)  Stretch garden tape.  I use this to train my climbers on a trellis or to tie plants to a stake.  The tape is soft and it gives so it won't dig into the stem of the plant. 

Make your hands happy

8)  Felco saw.  This is what I got to replace that butter knife.  It has cut through some of my most stubborn, root-bound plants like nobody's business.  And it's great for pruning more mature branches.

9)  Hand cream.  Sweet relief.  Even when you wear gloves, your hands somehow manage to get beaten up.  Sure, any old lotion will do.  But why not spoil yourself a little? 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Welcome Lady Elizabeth

Daylily "Lady Elizabeth"

She may sound like high-maintenance royalty but the truth is, she's anything but.  Daylilies are known for being super easy to grow and they're reliable bloomers.  I ordered Elizabeth from White Flower Farm and this is how she arrived:  bareroot.  I know; it looks like she could never survive a trip across town let alone the violent jostling she had to withstand on her trek from Connecticut to Virginia.  But I've received many plants this way (including roses) and it's rarely a problem.  So, all I did was separate the roots from the shredded paper, pull off the rubber band, and plant it in potting mix so that the crown of the plant is at soil level.  Then I watered.  Now I'll wait.

Plant crown at soil level

Elizabeth will grow to about 18" high while enjoying full to part sun.  She's hardy to zone 4 so there's a really good chance she'll survive winter in a container.  But I'll probably have to divide and replant within a couple of years because daylilies are prolific multipliers.  I'm supposed to see blooms starting in July.  Let's hope she lives up to her royal name.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Eat Your Vegetables!

Ready to plant broccoli and spinach

Most of my weekend was spent cleaning up the garden.  Trimming, pruning, emptying, and scrubbing.  I also had to do a little gluing.  All of my terracotta pots made it through the winter unscathed except for one.  I had to break out the Gorilla Glue.  That stuff is awesome. 

Anyway, even though I'm still in cleanup mode, I was able to plant a few things.  I bought some spinach plants from my favorite nursery and I ordered some broccoli seeds from Seeds of Change.  After consulting this cool companion planting chart, I decided to plant them both in the same container.  Both spinach and broccoli prefer to be planted in the spring or fall so I hope to have a good harvest before summer's heat arrives. 

Spinach 'Regiment'
To plant, I used an organic potting mix and some Osmocote fertilizer.  I also mixed in some earthworm castings, which is a nice way of saying worm poo--there I said it.  Basically it's what's left over after an earthworm has digested organic matter and it's used as a fertilizer.  I buy it at my local nursery.  Is it necessary?  I have no idea as I've never done a controlled study. I'm sure your plants will do just fine without it.

So, I'll report back on my vegetable progress--crossing my fingers that those broccoli seeds actually germinate.

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Broccoli in March

Broccoli in March

I planted broccoli very late last year; I think it was the end of October.  Even though it's a cool weather vegetable, it occurred to me that once November rolled around and I still didn't have any broccoli, I probably should have started it a little earlier.  But then I looked out at my container at the beginning of this month and I noticed these florets.  I had broccoli on all four of my plants!  It was oh-so-tasty in my salad.

I've started making plans for this year's garden.  There's major cleanup to be done, which I'll document here--it won't be pretty though.  And I'll post the new things that I plant in the garden this season.  Look for posts on the weekend throughout the growing season. 

Bookshelf:  Container Gardening Books