Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hardy Hibiscus -- One Day Only!

Hardy hibiscus close-up
Yep, it's a limited-time offer.

If you want to see hardy hibiscus flowers, you have to act fast, because they only has last for a single day.

There was a lot of anticipation for these flowers. Remember the bud photos I posted a couple of days ago? I thought the flowers were going to open the next day, but they teased me and took a couple of days to pop.

It was worth the wait.

Hardy hibiscus, extreme close-up

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

There's a Hole in my Garden!

Not a black hole.

Not even a hole dug by an animal (although there are some of those too).

Nope, I'm talking about the metaphorical hole - the blank space - that is left in a garden when annuals die or when perennials die back.

In this case, it's the annuals that have kicked the bucket.

Ah - a blank canvas! In mid-summer. How would you paint it?

So what would you do??

I see five options:

1) Plant more annuals from seed (something like sunflowers or zinnias). I already have sunflowers and zinnias in my garden, so I'd be open to other suggestions of heat-loving, fast-flowering annuals.

2) Plant some annuals from a nursery - offers instant color, but to justify the investment, I'd want something with a good chance to reseeding for next year. Maybe cornflower (Centaurea cyanus)? Does it transplant well?

3) Plant some perennials (Ajuga, for example, or Golden Star a.k.a. Chrysogonum virginianum). I had been planning to plant these in autumn, but I have the hole(s) now. Do you think they would survive a mid-summer planting? Open to other perennial suggestions, especially those that are tough, can deal with clay soil and attract bees and/or butterflies.

4) Plant a shrub (Smoke Bush, maybe, or False Indigo a.k.a. Amorpha fruticosa). Same idea here - planning to plant in autumn, is it worth stressing them by planting in midsummer heat? Open to other bush suggestions, especially those that are tough, can deal with clay soil and attract bees and/or butterflies.

5) Do nothing until autumn. September is only ~6 weeks away. Live with the hole until then and just pull the inevitable weeds that will try to colonize the bare space.

So...what would you do if this was your windy sunny clay Tennessee garden?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Hallelujah! The Rains Have Come!

The rains have come at last. The temperatures have fallen to manageable levels. In fact, the high temperature was only 74F (23.3C) on Thursday! Incredible. Our neighborhood actually missed out on some of the rain that fell in the region - particularly to the South in Alabama - but I still think we must have ended up getting close to 2 inches of rain this past week.

The rain and cooler temperatures have had a miraculously restorative effect on the garden just when I was close to giving up hope.

Remember the twisted pineapple sage and the withered zinnia that were already looking drought-ravaged back in late June before the record heat wave?

Here's how they have bounced back with the cooler, wetter weather:

Pineapple sage, back from the dead

Zinnia, twisted no more

The rest of the garden is looking good too. Here are some of the plants that caught my eye in the front Eastern bed:

Ajuga may have been hanging tough in the heat, but it seems to be loving this wetter weather. It is even threatening to overgrow its plant tag!

The heat and the drought scorched the older leaves on this Aronia arbutifolia (red chokeberry) seedling, but the new leaves look green and healthy.

I was worried about clematis integrifolia (a bush-type clematis) after the older stems flopped over and the leaves curled up. But as you can see, fresh new foliage has emerged from the center of the clump. A hopeful sign!

Over in the vegetable garden...

I still haven't gotten any beans off these Emerite pole beans yet, but the new leaves look gorgeous and untouched (so far) by any of the pests that chewed holes in the older leaves. I haven't sprayed at all. Maybe the predator insects have the upper hand now?

I should be harvesting okra by now, not staring down at tiny seedlings, but at least a couple of these Emerald okra seedlings are looking healthy and starting to put on a little bit of growth.

This hardy hibiscus plant is squeezed into the vegetable garden alongside cucumbers and tomatoes. I think it's going to bloom in the next day or two. The beautiful blossoms only last one day. I'll try to take a photo for you when it happens.

And two final shots from the back (Western) beds:

Cosmos had been looking tired in the heat. Some of the plants had actually turned brown and died, others were just resting and biding their time. Now that the rains have come, this one is back in bloom.

This is the gaura I didn't trim. I'm glad that I procrastinated so that I could get this photo of the stems laden with water droplets just moments after a strong rain shower.

I am so happy to have rain. I hope that all the other gardeners and farmers struggling with drought this year will soon receive the blessing of sweet, cool rain dousing their troubles and washing away their worries.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Trouble with Annuals... that they die.

Well, all plants die eventually, but annuals die so quickly!

At least some of them do.

Like these evening-scented stock:

Evening-scented stock, after the pull. Not all that pretty, but strangely sculptural. If I were a mixed-media artist, I might grow them just for the dead stems.

And when you pull the dead annuals from the garden, you leave behind unsightly bare patches. But they don't stay bare for long because weeds are happy to populate them. do you deal with this problem?

Do you swear off annuals altogether?

Or is that too extreme?

Do you wait until your first batch of annuals (the evening scented stock, the cosmos) looks tattered and worn, then pull and replace with new bedding plants purchased at a nursery?

Personally, I have to say that after (a) sowing numerous different kinds of annual seeds, (b) getting zero germination on some of those, (c) spending time on my knees thinning out seedlings from the ones that sprouted too prolifically and (d) watching some of the survivors like this stock race through a bloom period and then toward an early demise, I'm ready to cut way back on sowing annuals next year.

But I can't quit them completely. Not when I see how much the birds and the bees and the butterflies enjoy months and months of cosmos and zinnia flowers.

How about you? Where do you come down on the annual/perennial divide?

If you do sow annuals, how do you deal with the inevitable bare patches? Do you mulch when the annuals die, then clear the mulch to sow next year?

And if you do still love annuals, despite their drawbacks, which are your favorites and why?

Comments -- and links to photos of annuals in your garden, either in bloom or in senescence -- are greatly appreciated!

ps - Despite all the slings and arrows I've just fired at annuals, I went ahead and planted a crop of sunflowers anyway a month or so ago. I've got one already in bloom (a volunteer from last year) and can't wait until the new crop flowers! Here's last year's volunteer:

I know you're an annual, Senor Sunflower, but I love you anyway...

PPS - Evening-scented stock (a.k.a. Matthiola longipetala) is described by EverWilde Farms, where I bought my seed, as "beautifully fragrant in the evening." Plant them near a patio or window to enjoy the "night perfume", suggests EverWilde. Not only would I have been unable to smell the night perfume from evening-scented stock through an open window, I couldn't even detect any fragrance with my nose practically buried in a drift of flowers. Your mileage may vary, but I thought this was practically unscented. Its only saving grace? The bumble bees seemed to enjoy visiting the flowers in early evening just when they opened or those ones that were still open in the early morning hours. That's not enough for me to plant these next year when there are plenty of other bee-friendly options out there. Can anyone tell me if Malcolmia maritima (a.k.a. Virginia Stock) is any more fragrant? I've got it on my list of future plants to try but I'm wary of making the same mistake twice -- especially when there are so many new mistakes I could potentially make! ;-)

PPPS - The title of this post pays homage to the 1992 song "The Trouble With Andre" by Brit Pop due Shakespears Sister. A friend of mine put it on a mix-tape for me in high school. Yes, a mix-tape. From back when there were tape recorders, around the same time as the dinosaurs. Anyway, I never had any idea what the song was actually about, but it sure is a catchy tune.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Triple Digit Heat Continues, but Blue Plumbago Blooms Anyway

Blue Plumbago defies the heat and starts to bloom!!
That 95% rain chance yesterday?

Good thing I didn't bet on it, because in reality the 5% likelihood of not-a-single-drop-of-rain came to pass.

So I trudged out this morning to see what had shriveled up and died overnight. And that's when I saw it.

Direct afternoon sun. Clay soil. Surrounded by wilting zinnias, fading coneflowers and limp-leaved crape myrtles --- the hardy blue plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) had puffed out its metaphorical chest and said, "You feeling a little hot? How about I cool things down with these true-blue flower petals, y'all?"

I love it. I love that with just a bit of supplemental water and a lot of affection, hardy blue plumbago is standing strong and unfurling flower petals in the triple-digits.

And since the last post was a little doom-and-gloomy, how about a few other pics on some other plants that are toughing out the drought (so far):

Riesentraube cherry tomatoes are ripening up nicely

Spanish Musica pole beans are hanging in there, although the leaves are crinkling and beans themselves are curly. We had our first bean harvest last night, sauteed in olive oil. Could this curling be due to the heat?

Here's a little bee on a big purple coneflower...

And here's a smaller flower with a bigger bee...and a skipper butterfly. I didn't even notice the skipper until after I took this photo. He might have skipped into the picture while I was pushing the shutter button.
Who won this staring contest? The skipper! The bee flew off to a different cone flower.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

104, 108, 106, 104, 99, 99

Those aren't lottery numbers, they're the high temperatures recorded in my neck of the woods over the past six days.

At Nashville airport, it actually hit 109 degrees (42.8 celsius) on June 29, setting an all-time high temperature record.

That's right, the highest temperature ever recorded in Nashville since modern record-keeping began back in 1871, over 140 years ago.

Oh and did I mention we have had basically no rain for over a month?

What does that do to a garden? It ain't pretty, folks. I'll spare you pics of the worst of the carnage today and just say that I'm fighting to keep most plants alive.

At the same time, I'm perversely interested to see what will survive. Especially in an age of scarce resources, I believe that coddle our gardens far too much. I think I want a garden that can prosper - or at least survive - with little intervention or assistance.

Is that too much to ask?

In any case, I have not been living up to that ideal, but I have taken feeble steps in that direction by refraining from watering every day and limiting my watering to every other day.

(The exception is the vegetable garden. It's not fair to ask vegetables that were bred to be edible, not drought-resistant, to survive on their own. It would be like throwing a toy poodle into the Amazon jungle. So the cucumbers, the beans and the stubbornly small okra seedlings get some daily water. The tomatoes though, which are well-established, only get a deep watering every other day.)

So how are some of the previous garden superstars doing in this infernal weather? Not so well...

Remember the Rozanne perennial geraniums covered in blooms back in early June? This is the same plant now:

Perennial geranium 'Rozanne', nary a bloom in sight

I had thought perennial geraniums like Rozanne were drought-tolerant, but as with my last post, I find that when I go back to look at the Bluestone Perennials plant description, I must have actually focused on heat tolerance rather than drought tolerance.

That's a big difference. Rozanne might do great in steamy tropical wet Florida -- or even in a normal Tennessee summer punctuated by regular downpours -- but it doesn't seem to have much tolerance when the rains fail.

In any case, I tried cutting back the dead growth on my three Rozannes. (I was guided in part by this article that suggests a big cutback can promote rebloom, though I'd be happy with just having them survive to bloom next year.) As a relatively novice gardener, I'm not sure if that was a good idea or not. Would more experienced gardeners like to chime in? Do you typically cut back drought-stressed perennials.

The trimmed Rozannes look better...for now. But we'll see how they fare through July and August...

Rozanne geranium after a major haircut

Since I was in a trimming mood, I also cut back two of the three gauras. Again, I was guided by an article that said: "If the plants are looking tired prune again in summer to encourage a further flush of flowers."

But what is the best way to trim a wild and sprawling gaura that has ceased flowering?

How do you tame a plant like a gaura? (Apologies to Sound of Music.)

I tried two methods of pruning with these two plants:

1) For the plant on the right, I grabbed bundles of the long floppy stems and cut them back close to where the leafy bottom part of the gaura begins, maybe 8-inches off the ground.

2) Cutting bundles of stems is hard work, so for the plant on the left, I tried to cut back even further. I mostly chopped this plant back to its woody stems. One cut to a woody stem severs all the floppy ones above it, so fewer total cuts are needed. But I'm a bit concerned that I may have cut back the plant too severely.

There were a lot of dead leaves at the base of both plants, particularly the one on the left. I'm not sure if this is typical (it's only my 2nd year growing gaura and I know they are supposed to be short-lived plants), but I suspect that it's at least partly the result of the heat and the drought.

Well, here is a photo showing one trimmed and one soon-to-be trimmed gaura:

Short-haired gaura vs. Long-haired guara :)

With the trimming done, I took a walk around and visited some other plants, like this heat-and-drought stressed lily. I can't remember the name of these lilies we planted last year, but all three of them did come back and they were looking pretty good until about two or three weeks ago when they started yellowing at the base. Not all the flowers have opened and the ones that did open weren't looking all that happy. So I cut some of the flowers and brought them inside where we could enjoy the beautiful fragrance. The ones that are inside in the a/c and sitting in a vase of water look much happier now!

Lily struggling in the heat.

A cool and comfortable lily blooming widely and fragrantly in the air-conditioned house

As we established in a post about 10 days ago, the zinnias are looking extremely drought-stricken. But I've been watering them faithfully every couple of days and most of them seem to be (barely) hanging in there. The ones that are left are visited regularly by gold finches and butterflies. Many of the butterflies are little brown skippers, but there are other beautiful visitors including this one:

Black and blue butterfly (swallowtail?) on zinnia

Same butterfly, same plant, different flower, different angle

Finally, let's take a walk around to the North side of the house. It's a bit cooler and shadier over here, which means that while several of the Natchez crape myrtles sitting in direct sun on the west side of the house have stopped flowering and are sulking with drooping leaves, the ones on the North side of the house are looking much fresher and just starting to cover themselves with flowers. It's a welcome sight from an aesthetic standpoint, and I'm guessing that the bees are happy as well.

Lavender crape myrtle blossoms

Smaller reddish-pink crape myrtle has grown a lot and has many more flowers this year compared to last year. I'm not sure if it will stay shrub-sized or grow into a small tree. This one is more susceptible to powdery mildew than either the Natchez or lavender crape myrtles, but so far it has fought off the mildew on its own to produce a multitude of flowers

Close up on reddish-pink crape myrtle flowers that harmonize nicely with the brick wall background

That's all for now. is calling for a 95% chance of rain in the next six hours. Accuweather says 90% probability of rain. I hope they are right!

Conversation starter --- Do you pamper your garden with life-sustaining water in times of drought or do you practice tough love and create your own little Darwinian survival-of-the-toughest situation?