Monday, November 12, 2012

Plans and Dreams #2 - Looking Ahead to 2013!

Yes, I know it is only November 12th, but as my father says, "Dates on the calendar are closer than they appear."

So what do you think of these selections that I'm planning to plant in 2013?

1) Lobularia maritima, Sweet Alyssum - Planning to heavily wintersow actually by buying seeds in bulk.

Sweet Alyssum, photo by Anita363

2) Cosmos bipinnatus, Sensation mix from Southern Exposure

Cosmos 'Sensation', photo by Yoko Nekonomania

3) Helianthus debilis Cucumerifolius, Cucumber-Leaf Sunflower - I love growing sunflowers for their cheery late-summer blooms. Last year's Autumn Beauty sunflowers not only looked great, they also did a wonderful job of attracting bees, birds and squirrels. This year, the puffy Tiger's Eye sunflowers were attractive, but the birds, bees and squirrels all ignored them. Since I prefer plants with wildlife value, I'll be trying a new variety next year - the wild Cucumber-Leaf Sunflower from Southern Exposure. The flowers on this variety of sunflower are supposed to be much smaller, but it looks like there are a lot of them and the seeds are supposed to be very attractive to birds. I can't find a Creative Commons-licensed photo online, but you can get a good look of a spectacular specimen at the Dave's Garden site. Southern Exposure also has good general advice on the benefits and the nuts-and-bolts of growing sunflowers. (Helianthus debilis is actually a perennial sunflower, but is only hardy through zone 8, so I'll be growing it as an annual. Floridata notes that there is a prostrate form as well as the erect Cucumber-Leaf variety. Since this is native to sandy Florida beaches, I'm a little worried about how it will do in clay soil, but I'm going to give it a shot. If it fails to grow, my backup plan is to grow the Lemon Queen version of Helianthus annuus from Seed Savers.)

4) Zinnia elegans, "State Fair" variety from Southern Exposure. (Note - I don't have any commercial relationship with Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, I just think they carry a great variety of seeds!)

Geranium sanguineum, "Max Frei", photo by Michael Kappel

5) Geraniums - I'm probably going to go a little overboard with the perennial geraniums next year. I've enjoyed having Rozanne in my garden for two years now and I'm eager to experiment with some other varieties -- hopefully ones that will spread into groundcovers. Rozanne bloomed beautifully in full sun during the springtime, but it quickly faded and baked during the summer, so I moved it to the front foundation bed where it will get afternoon shade. That's where I plan to put the others - Karmina (G. cantabrigiense) and Max Frei (G. sanguineum) from Romence Gardens; Biokovo (another G. cantabrigiense), Bevan's Variety (G. macrorrhizum) and Claridge Druce (G. oxonianum) from Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek.
6) Hibiscus syriacus "Diana" - I ordered the blue Rose of Sharon ("Blue Bird") from Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek last month. I had wanted to get Diana too, but they were sold out until next spring. Like Blue Bird, Diana is supposed to be a sterile cultivar without the excessive self-sowing issues that can reportedly be a problem with some Hibiscus syriacus varieties.

"Diana" Rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus), photo courtesy of Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek. (I had another white hibiscus with a red center previously pictured here that I had found labeled as "Diana" on Flickr, but Dottie at Gardens in the Wood was kind enough to let me know that Diana is a pure white hibiscus and to let me display the photo from her website in this blog post.

7) Aquilegia, Columbine - Yes, I just wrote that I was "on the fence" about aquilegia (or at least the "Winky" ones I've got, which I believe may be sterile). Part of the fun of Aquilegia, it seems to me, is that it should self sow! So I think I'll try the Aquilegia canadensis and vulgaris from Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek next year and then hope for lots of volunteers the year after that!

8) Amorpha fruticosa, False Indigo, Indigo Bush - Supposed to be a tough sun-loving native that fixes its own nitrogen and can tolerate windy sites. Sign me up! Oh and did I mention it is supposed to attract butterflies too? This will be my first attempt at bare root planting, via Prairie Moon Nursery.

Amorpha fruticosa, False Indigo, photo by Dendroica cerulea

9) Forestiera neomexicana, Desert Olive - Reportedly tolerates drought, heat and clay soil while growing anywhere from 6 to 18-feet tall and 12-feet wide. As a bonus, it is also supposed to have nice fall color. I'm planning to get mine from Woodlanders. (I have to admit I'm a little concerned about whether the soil drainage here is good enough for this plant, since it's really native to SW deserts, but I'll probably give it a shot regardless. High Country Gardens seems to think it can handle clay.) There are sources on the Internet that suggest the berries - which you need both male and female plants to produce - may be edible to people, but not very palatable.

10) Agastache foeniculum, Anise Hyssop - Supposed to attract bees and butterflies, supposed to self-sow too. I didn't have any luck growing this from seed this past spring, so I eventually bought a golden anise hyssop cultivar at a local nursery and planted it in partial sun a couple of months ago. But I think anise hyssop really needs full sun. Maybe I'll try transplanting the golden one and then buying a new species plant from Almost Eden. Again, I'm a little worried about drainage with this plant, but I think I'll give it a shot. Even if it does not overwinter, hopefully I'll get lots of volunteers!

Agastache foeniculum, Anise Hyssop, photo by mmwm

11) Borago officinalis, Borage - This annual flower is supposed to be very attractive to bees. Other selling points - drought tolerance and an ability to repel some pest insects. I plan on buying my seeds from Seed Savers.

12) Chrysogonum virginianum, Allen Bush, Golden Star, Green and Gold - I continue to look for groundcovers that are vigorous, but not exotic invasives. Allen Bush is supposedly a good ground cover for shady spots in the South. I plan to buy a couple specimens from a local nursery or Almost Eden.

Chrysogonum virginianum, Allen Bush, photo by Chris Kreussling

13) Helianthus microcephalus, Small-headed Sunflower - Yes, it's another sunflower! This one is a perennial that is hardy to zone TK, and thus should survive in my Middle TN garden. Should make a statement if it reaches its projected size (5 to 8-feet tall by 3-feet wide). I plan to buy the "Lemon Queen" variety from Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek. Should hopefully attract bees and butterflies!

Helianthus microcephalus, Small-headed Sunflower, "Lemon Queen" (next to a very thorny rosa rugosa), photo by KiG

14) Kniphofia uvaria, Red Hot Poker, Torch Lily - Highly recommended by an accomplished gardener in Tennessee, I'm looking forward to trying my hand at growing Torch Lily. I'm a little worried about drainage issues here too, but I'll try amending the hole at planting time and hope for the best. I'm planning to order an "Earliest of All" Kniphofia from Edelweiss Perennials in the spring.

Kniphofia 'Amsterdam', photo collage by Manuel Martin Vicente

15) Muhlenbergia capillaris, Pink Muhley Grass - I've seen some of these around in the neighborhood and I like the floating-pink-cloud look and the fluffy texture. My plan is to order 2 or 4 of the "Lenca" variety from a local nursery and use them to frame the entrance from our back to patio to the yard.

Muhlenbergia capillaris, Pink Muhley Grass, photo by Jenny Evans / SCCF Nursery

16) Ratibida pinnata, Grey-Headed Coneflower - Another North American native that supposedly tolerates heat and drought, self sows, and attracts butterflies, bees and birds! Once again, drainage could be an issue here, but I'll try amending the soil at planting time and hoping for the best. I anticipate purchasing Ratibida from Romence Gardens

17) Vernonia noveboracensis, Ironweed - Yep, the name says 'weed', but I still think it's beautiful. Supposed to tolerate drought, heat and humidity, while attracting butterflies. I plan to purchase this plant from Gardens in the Wood of Grassy Creek.

Vernonia noveboracensis, Ironweed, photo by dogtooth77

So...what do y'all think of my (incredibly overambitious) plans?? :)

UPDATE 11/13 - Thanks to Casa Mariposa's comment below, I have added Malva sylvestris "Zebrina" to my 2013 planting plans! I anticipate ordering this from Romence Gardens. Supposedly, this plant tolerates heat and drought while attracting butterflies. And it self sows!! Some reviewers at Dave's Garden say that it self sows too much, but I'm willing to take that risk for such a beautiful plant :)

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Friday, November 9, 2012

25 Gardening Mistakes That I Made in 2012!

I am not shy about admitting my errors in the hopes that others may learn from them.

Here are a list of plants that I trialed this year that either completely failed or did not grow as well as I had hoped. I have listed pros and cons where I felt the results were mixed.

1)  Abelmoschus esculentus, Okra, Emerald variety - Almost all the plants failed to thrive. I only harvested one okra pod - and that was from a plant that I transplanted. Not sure if the problem was the variety (I had much better success with Clemson Spineless last year) or the soil in the raised bed which seemed to become very hard and heavy this year. I dismantled that raised bed and practically had to use a pickaxe to break up the soil so that I could plant buffalo grass.

Aquilegia vulgaris "Winky" - The leaves actually look quite pretty now, but I've found that the foliage deteriorates rapidly especially in hot weather. If you cut it back, it will regenerate nicely. I had to cut this plant to the ground twice during the growing season to keep the foliage looking nice. I wonder if this process of needing to regenerate foliage all the time will exhaust the plant?
2) Aquilegia vulgaris, Columbine, "Winky" variety - The species Columbine is supposed to attract hummingbirds, but I didn't see any on either of my two Winky plants. I liked the long bloom season in the spring (around four weeks, maybe longer) and the foliage starts out really pretty, but it soon gets tattered and torn. I do like how you can cut the foliage down to the ground and it will resprout and look good in no time (though the plant will not rebloom). Perhaps the bloom would have lasted even longer if I had deadheaded the flowers, but I wanted the plant to produce seeds, which I tried scattering throughout a couple of my landscaped beds. I'm eager to see whether I get new plants next year. If the plant resows, I may consider it a success. I don't consider this an abject failures. I guess I'm still on the fence with Winky and will Aquilegia in general.

Pay no attention to the green weedy-looking plants covering the ground. Most are self-sown Calendula officinalis or Evening Stock (and a few are weeds). Try to focus on this few small vertical sticks in the middle of the photo. That's Aronia (Chokeberry). Supposed to be a small tree. It's not there yet. Maybe next year? It does have hints of pretty fall color.
3) Aronia, Chokeberry - I purchased three plants via mail order in quart-size pots. I got tiny bare sticks that seemed to really struggle in the heat and humidity of a Tennessee summer, even in partial shade. (The partial shade still received sun all morning and until 1 or 2 p.m. in the heat of the summer, and that might have been just too much for the little plants.) The good news is that they all survived, but they didn't grow much. Again, I'm on the fence with these. I have high hopes for next year. My mistake, I think, was to buy such small plants via mail order. If I could go back, I'd try to buy one or two larger plants and get them in the ground in the autumn to provide them with time to settle in. (The price at my favorite local nursery for a 3-gallon potted plant is only around double the price of the tiny quart-size plant I foolishly bought.) Apparently, Aronia's natural habitat is wet woods and swamps, so it may just not like being planted on a hilltop property. But I'm not giving up quite yet.

Callicarpa americana, American Beautyberry - Yep, it's the stick in the middle of the photo. No berries, not much beauty.

4) Callicarpa americana, American Beautyberry - Another tiny quart-size mail order plant. I tried it in a full-sun windy location where it constantly looked on the verge of death. With lots of supplemental water, it survived our scorching summer. I relocated it in September to a half-shade location in the front border. It didn't seem all that happy about being transplanted and dropped its leaves soon after, but we'll see if it comes back next year. Even if it does survive, I'm don't think I like the plant enough aesthetically to recommend it. The flowers are tiny. The leaves and form are unremarkable. The purple berries are nice, although small and they did not persist into winter nearly as long as I had thought they would. (I don't think any birds ate them, I think they just shriveled up and dropped off the plant.) A disappointment, but one that I'm not ready to shovel prune quite yet.

Calycanthus floridus, Carolina Allspice, Sweetshrub -- It's not surprising when the leaves look like this in autumn, but Calycanthus' leaves curled up and died throughout the year. Not good.

5) Calycanthus floridus, Carolina Allspice, Sweetshrub - Yet another tiny quart-size mail order plant. Even in a partial sun Eastern facing bed, it looked miserable most of the summer. It would put out a new leaf and then that leaf would curl up and die. At one point, I thought it was mostly dead, so I cut the small plant back nearly to the ground to see what would happen. That actually seemed to help. It put out a new branch with healthier-looking foliage. Of course, it stayed pretty small, but it seemed a little stronger near the end of the growing season and even had a bit of nice color change to yellow on the foliage. I'm on the fence with this one too. Wish I had bought a larger plant to start (could have bought a 3-gallon for $30 instead of a quart for $11). I learned a lot this year about being penny-wise and pound-foolish. Not only did most of the plants fail to grow as quickly as I had thought they might, I think they had a much harder time settling in than if I had bought a bigger plant with a more established root system. And whatever size I bought, I'm thinking I probably should have planted in autumn 2011 to give the plants lots of time to settle in and establish roots before the hot summer weather set in. (Of course, I had not yet finished tearing out the previous landscaping in Autumn 2011. I always feel like I am doing things at the Wrong Time in the garden, but I'm trying to learn better as I go along.)

Clematis integrifolia, Solitary clematis - Not a big fan of the twisty green leaves and you can see those brown stems radiating outwards. Are they dead? I'm not sure. As described below, the flowers have an interesting appearance, but the bloom time was short in my garden and I don't feel like the plant pulls its weight the rest of the year.

6) Clematis integrifolia - A queer little plant, sprawling, sickly looking twisted foliage. Eventually it did have a brief bloom period, but the flowers were so downcast and low to the ground that I can't say they added much ornamental value. Nor do I ever recall seeing a single bee or butterfly at the flowers, so the plant did not seem to add much wildlife value. For a while, it looked as though the plant would root along its stems, but eventually it seemed to give up that notion and just die back. It has greened up in the center again this autumn, but I'm still far from impressed. I'm tempted to shovel prune it, but since I don't need the space right now, I'll probably let it be. That said, I can't see myself ever planting it again or recommending it to anyone.

7) Coreopsis - Supposed to be easy to grow. Supposed to attract butterflies to the flowers and birds to the seeds. I didn't see any birds or butterflies, and the plant generally failed to thrive. When it did send up flowers, I thought they looked weedy and common. Yellow flowers are not my favorites anyway and these scarcely looked different from dandelions. Or maybe worse than dandelions since the flowers didn't last long and the dead ones persisted on the plant. (I have a strong dislike for plants that require deadheading to look decent.) I haven't seen the coreopsis in months. I think it got covered up by the triumphant French Marigolds, plus some leaning cosmos and zinnias. I'll be interested to see if it returns next year, but I won't be crying in my beer if it doesn't come back. (There are admittedly lots of coreopsis varieties. I've heard some, like Zagreb, are much tougher than others. I didn't keep a record of the variety I planted from a local nursery, but it looked a lot like what is listed elsewhere on the Internet as "Sunray". You can see a photo of the blooms in this post from earlier in the year.)

8) Cosmos, Dancing Petticoats and Double Click - Eventually, some of the Dancing Petticoats seeds sprouted and turned into beautiful plants, but I never saw any plants with Double Click flowers and even the Dancing Petticoats did not grow or germinate nearly as well as the plain Cosmos bipinnatus seeds that I bought at a supermarket last year. I guess the lesson here for me was that sometimes fancier hybrids might be a bit more delicate than a robust species. Or maybe I just got a bad batch of seed? Not sure. I'll buy a different type of cosmos for next year (although buying any cosmos at this point probably isn't necessary since I imagine there will be lots of self sown plants popping up in the garden next spring).

9) Cucumis sativus, Cucumber, Progress and Summer Delight - These Japanese type cucumbers were delicious! They were sweet, no trace of bitterness at all, and the thin skins were edible, which made preparation a breeze. Unfortunately, despite loads of flowers, fruit production was poor and the plants seemed unable to cope when the weather got hot. Despite trellising the vines and despite the fact that they were marketed as disease-resistant, they still came down with some sort of disease - most likely bacterial wilt and/or powdery mildew. After that happened, the vines quickly declined and died. I got much better yields last year with the Burpee Hybrid II strain even though those (untrellised) plants eventually got some disease (powdery mildew) also. As mentioned in earlier posts, I won't be growing any veggies next year (due to the need to spray weed killer on the adjacent lawn) but next time I grow cukes, I'll be moving on to try yet another variety.

10) Fragaria vesca alba, Everbearing White Strawberry - Total failure. Strawberries that I grew in the ground last year were eaten by something (slugs?) so I tried growing these strawberries in a pot. In full Tennessee afternoon sun, they were burned to a crisp. I moved them to a shadier spot, but they failed to recover. I don't think I was meant to grow strawberries. In fact, at this point I'm amazed that anyone can get a strawberry crop, at least using organic methods. I talked to one grower at a farmer's market who had planted a long row of strawberry plants and harvested a single pint. I don't think I was meant to grow strawberries and I'm not at all sure that the plants were meant to grow in Tennessee at all.

11) Hemerocallis, Daylilies - I'm still not a huge fan. In fact, I don't understand why they are so popular. They look awful in the heat of summer, recover a bit in autumn and then look awful again in winter. The dormant ones look particularly bad in winter and the semi-dormant ones seem to be worse in terms of harboring aphids so that the foliage and blooms are damaged come springtime. I'll admit that the flowers are pretty, but they don't seem to have much wildlife value (I can't recall ever seeing a bee or butterfly at a daylily blossom) and it's tedious to deadhead the spent blooms and scapes. An awful lot of work for not much reward. I doubt I'll remove them from the landscape simply because I think I learned my lesson from the front border about needlessly removing functional plants, but if I were planning to stay 20 years and completely redo the landscape to my liking, I have a feeling the daylilies would be replaced sooner rather than later. As it is, they may still be here when we leave, but I don't think I would ever purposely buy or plant them.

12) Lavatera trimestris, Silver Cup - Tried growing from seed, but did not get any germination via direct sowing method. Maybe a bad batch of seeds or maybe they need coddling in a controlled seed-starting environment? Regardless, I don't plan on trying to direct sow again, though if I ever saw a plant at a nursery, I might try buying and planting it.

13) Linum grandiflorum rubrum, Scarlet Flax - Same story here - tried direct sowing, but got zero germination.

14) Lonicera sempervivens, Coral Honeysuckle, "Alabama Crimson" and "Blanche Sandman" - I'm on the fence with this one, which could be a fun since this is a vine that I tried to get to grow on my porch railing. Unfortunately, the vine does not really grab onto anything, so I'd have to tie it to the railing, which I have not done at this point. Still, that's not the vine's fault. It is just following its nature. I don't really have any objection to these plants. They did not grow as much as I would have hoped, but they are perennial so hopefully they will be bigger and stronger next year. I tried planting two in partial shade. One did not have any flowers this year. The other had a few flowers, but the long tubular red flowers take a long time to unfurl and then they quickly dropped off. They are supposed to attract hummingbirds, but I did not see any at the plant. Then again, there weren't many flowers so perhaps the hummingbirds simply didn't notice them. I do like how the vine still has most of its leaves. I think they are supposed to be semi-evergreen in our area. Anyway, I'm not opposed to these plants by any means, just wish they had done better here. But they did survive and get bigger and I still have high hopes for next year. (Floridata has a nice description of the virtues of Coral Honeysuckle.)

15) Lonicera periclymeneum, Harlequin and Serotina varieties - Now these Loniceras did not impress me at all. I tried planting one in partial sun and one in full sun. Both of them were baked to a crisp and disappeared in our hot summer despite plenty of supplemental watering. Since the natural range, according to Paghat, is as far north as Sweden, I guess I should not have been too surprised that they didn't care for Tennessee's climate or soil. (On the other hand, Paghat says their range does extend to North Africa, which I would have imagined should have accustomed them to hot weather...)

Wild-looking seedpod for Nigella damascena, Love-in-a-Mist, photo by Katie Dalton

16) Nigella damascena, Love-in-a-Mist - Nothing really wrong with these dimunitive flowers. They're actually sort of interesting, but they are so small that they are easy to overlook. I think they are cool, but I can't recommend planting them as more than a curiosity, although I may change my mind if they have self-sowed and return next year.

17) Capiscum annuum, Peppers, Jimmy Nardello and Yellow Asti - I had a hard time growing peppers this summer. I started with transplants, not seeds, and the transplants really struggled in the heat. (I thought peppers were supposed to like heat?) As the plants were starting to grow, they kept getting devoured by something. I eventually caught a large caterpillar - I believe a tomato hornworm - on one of the plants. But by then it was too late. I think I eventually harvested one small pepper whose taste was unremarkable. I'm totally willing to accept that I screwed up and that the failure of the pepper harvest was my fault. But by buying peppers at the farmers market this summer, I also came to the realization that I don't think I am a huge pepper fan and that therefore I would probably prefer to spend my time and energy on other crops, especially ones that are easier to grow from seed in Tennessee.

18) Phaseolus vulgaris, Beans, Emerite and Musica - I had an awful time trying to grow pole beans this year. Last year, I grew bush beans and those didn't fare very well, so I thought I'd try the pole beans this year since they are supposed to be more prolific. The vines grew very well at first, but the beans were attacked by beetles (bean beetles?) that damaged the foliage and ruined many of the pods. And besides, the pods were small and twisty (perhaps because of the insect damage), nothing like the pods you find in the grocery store or at the farmers market. Again, from experience buying beans at the farmers market, I don't think I am such a huge fan of pole beans, so I doubt I would try growing them again anytime soon. Fortunately, my pea crop turned out well in the spring and I like eating peas much more than beans, so perhaps I'll just concentrate on growing peas and leave the beans to those who can grow them better than I can! :)

19) Phlox paniculata, Garden Phlox, David - First of all, you supposedly need to divide this plant every few years to keep it vigorous. I am not a big fan of plants that require the work of division. Secondly, the plant just doesn't seem to do all that great in my Tennessee garden. It dies to the ground in winter, takes a while to emerge in the spring. After it does emerge, it takes a while to flower and by that time, it is getting toward summer and the plant is not really fond of hot weather, so it stops flowering again and then you just have a lot of dried dead brown flowers on the plant. I do have to say that I kind of like the scent of the flowers when it is in bloom, although you'll have to kneel down and smell them up close if you want to get the scent. This phlox did seem to overwinter easily in our garden and two of the three plants even multiplied. It seems pretty tough and was even able to survive a brutal summer here in more or less full sun. So I don't dislike Phlox paniculata. I certainly like it better than daylilies. But it's still far from my favorite plant at this point and not one that I would rush to plant in a new garden or recommend to a friend. I also tend to prefer plants with strong wildlife value for beneficial insects and I don't recall seeing many (any?) bees or butterflies around the Garden Phlox.

20) Rudbeckia, Black-Eyed Susan, "Summer Blaze" - It was supposed to be tough, but the Rudbeckia that I planted this past spring baked and withered away in our Tennessee summer. Yes, I killed Rudbeckia. Do I get a Black Thumb medal? (I've heard that different Rudbeckias have different levels of toughness. Maybe I just planted the wrong variety? I have to admit I'm intrigued by Rudbeckia nitida, Herbstonne...)

21) Salvia elegans, Pineapple Sage - First of all, I tried flavoring some water with the leaves of pineapple sage and failed to discern even a hint of pineapple flavor. Second, despite the beautiful sprays of red flowers in autumn, the plant looked miserable most of the summer. It seems to hate heat and detest drought. Accordingly, while I think this is a lovely plant, I just don't think it is suited to Tennessee. Fortunately, I probably won't need to worry about that - since the plant is only rated as hardy to zone 8, I doubt it will return next year. For now, I'm still enjoying those long-lasting red fall flowers!

22) Sarcococca confusa, Sweet Box - It was supposed to have fragrant winter flowers followed by black berries to attract birds. It was supposed to be drought tolerant (once established). I bought two tiny seedlings. One died in the drought. The other nearly died and is just hanging on. It may do better next year, but the growth rate is painfully slow. At its current growth rate, it might make a nice foundation shrub in 10-20 years.

23) Smilacina racemosa, Solomon's Plume - Bought for the fragrant spring flowers followed by berries. It completely failed to thrive, leaves turned brown and it quickly disappeared. Maybe it needed more acidic soil? Maybe it was just miserable in the heat and drought (despite supplemental water)? Maybe it needed more shade? In any case, I doubt I would try it again.

24) Tropaeolum majus, Nasturtium - Purchased for interesting foliage and edible flowers, but I never saw any blooms because the seeds took a long time to germinate and then the plants faded away in the heat of summer. Some new seedlings have actually sprouted now in the autumn, but since the plants are only hardy to zone 9, I presume that I missed my chance. I guess my only hope might be that some notoriously hard-to-germinate nasturtium seeds that did not germinate might still overwinter and sprout early next spring in order to flower before the heat sets in. I'm sure this is a lovely plant in the right climate and setting, but I can't imagine ever planting it again here in Tennessee. (I should have been clued in by Texas A&M which notes that the plants are "native to the cool highlands of mountains extending from Mexico to central Argentina and Chile." Cool mountain highlands does not describe my Middle Tennessee garden!)

25) Viola tricolor, Johnny Jump Up - There's nothing particularly wrong with these flowers. I sowed the seeds because they were supposed to bloom for a long time (some guides suggested 12-19 weeks of blooms!) and because the flowers were supposed to be edible. I did try to eat some of the flowers, but did not find the experience particularly enjoyable. As for the aesthetic value, the plants are tiny so that you really need to be on hands-and-knees to appreciate the beauty. They are cute and I certainly would have no objection to find some scattered here and there in the garden, but I don't think I would go out of my way to sow them again. As for wildlife value, I can't recall seeing any bees or butterflies visiting Viola tricolor.

So there you go. A lot of lessons learned! I'll try not to make the same mistakes again, because why repeat yourself when you can make new mistakes? :)

If anyone has good luck growing any of the plants listed above and wants to let me know I screwed up -- or even wants to stand up and defend a plant that I've disparaged -- I'm eager to hear your opinion in the Comments section!

PS - If you'd like to stay abreast of the latest developments at Garden of Aaron, you can now subscribe via email! Totally convenient, totally free - what could be nicer?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Plans and Dreams #1 - The Front Foundation

Part of the front foundation planting today. The plant in the upper right corner is a camellia, planted too close to the house, but otherwise quite nice. The slightly bushy green mound in front of it is an aquilegia and there's a lonicera sempervivens next to the stairs. There's some ajuga too and a lot of self-sown calendula officinalis seedlings that will die this winter, but as you can see, a lot of bare ground and not much in the way of shrubbery.
Are all gardeners dreamers? I know that I am.

I can't help looking at a catalog or a nursery website and imagining how many of the beautiful plants therein would look in my landscape.

This autumn, I'm taking the next step in trying to implement some of those plans and dreams in my front foundation bed.

When we bought the house in spring 2011, this east-facing bed was dominated by a multitude of small bland boxwoods, three large Nellie Stevens hollies and a thick carpet of Liriope. (I'm not sure which kind, but I believe it was Liriope muscari.)

In my not-so-infinite wisdom, we ripped out almost all these plants. I didn't want the prickly hollies (one of which was way too big for its location and threatening to give the squirrels a stepping-stone to the roof), the blah boxwoods or the tattered, brown rampant liriope.

So we got rid of almost everything in the front border, keeping only five azaleas and three camellias. I like plants that have flowers.

That left us with lots of bare space. Bare space, as any gardener knows, is an invitation to weeds.

I didn't want that, so I tried to fill in the space with mail-order shrubs, perennials and annuals.

Fast forward six months to today: The tiny shrubs that arrived in the mail either died or didn't grow much. Some of the perennials thrived (Ajuga, Hardy Blue Plumbago, Sweet Woodruff, Lonicera sempervivens), others died (Smilacina racemosa) or barely hung on (Clematis integrifolia). The annuals have mostly run their course. Sweet alyssum is still blooming and the English marigolds are on their second generation now, but that will all be over soon.

And it will be back to lots of bare ground and an exposed foundation, which is a big faux-pas in this neighborhood.

Another portion of the foundation planting. That's another too-close-to-the-stairs camellia on the left and a newly-planted gardenia in the middle. There are some tiny aronia (chokeberries) in the picture too and a lot of bare ground.
So I'm trying to fill in the space and create the front foundation of my dreams. I've put in a few more perennials - more Ajuga, a balloon flower, some divided Blue Star Creeper, three transplanted hardy Rozanne geraniums - but I knew that I needed something larger with more presence and impact. We have a large two-story house. Rozanne geraniums weren't quite on a scale to get noticed from the street or even a casual visitor.

The first step I took was to buy a gardenia. We had taken a garden tour in the spring and both my wife and I were intoxicated by the scent of gardenias. So I took a chance. It was a good price and a good size. I've since read that gardenias are very temperamental and hard to keep alive, so we'll see how that goes. Some leaves have yellowed, but overall a couple months later it's looking alright. (I know we're also at the northern edge of the gardenia hardiness zone, but since this one is planted close to the house, I'm hoping it will be alright.)

I contemplated hiring a landscaper to overhaul the front border, but (foolishly?) have decided that I'll give it a shot myself for reasons of money, time and the sheer pleasure that comes from putting a plant in the ground oneself and seeing it grow. So I did a lot of research, made a trip to the nursery this past weekend and here's what I ended up buying:

- Hydrangea quercifolia, Oakleaf hydrangea, "Snowflake" - Native, beautiful fall color, nice foliage, supposed to have a beautiful long bloom season, supposed to need less water than most hydrangeas.

Oakleaf hydrangea, photo by Chiot's Run

- Fothergilla gardenii - native, supposed to have nice foliage, nice fragrant spring flowers and good fall color

Close-up on fothergilla gardenii fall foliage, by jacki-dee

- Aucuba japonica "Variegata", Gold-Dust Plant - evergreen grower for shady spots. Marvelous foliage. (I didn't realize, but according to RHS, 'Variegata' is actually a female cultivar that can produce berries if a male clone is nearby. I think the berries are poisonous to humans, but attractive to birds. Not sure where to find such a male plant (and not sure I have enough shade for two aucubas on my pretty sunny property) but I will investigate.

Aucuba japonica "Variegata". As you can see, the plant has the potential to grow quite large. Dave's Garden says as much as 8-10 feet tall by 4-6 feet wide. Photo by maggie_and_her_camera.

- Several crape myrtles - Geronimo (red flowers, 12-feet high x 8-feet wide), Tonto (red flowers, 8-feet high and wide) and Petite Snow (white flowers, dwarf, 5-feet high x 4-feet wide). Most people in our community place evergreens at the corners of their house. This is considered right and proper and sensible. But I've never had a hankering for evergreens like junipers or cedars. I like flowers. I like the bees that visit flowers. And I've been delighted so far with the other crape myrtles on our property - five Natchez crapes in the back border and two crapes on north side of the house (didn't plant them so I can't be sure, but I think one in Muskogee with lovely lavender blooms). I've been impressed with the crape myrtles' toughness and I needed something that would be able to survive the high winds that whip around our hilltop property. My plan is to put the two red crapes in the front east-facing border of the house, one on each corner. I doubt they'll do quite as well as the crapes in the back because they won't have as much sun - and crapes love sun. The smaller white crape myrtle, I plan to put next to the driveway on the back of the house near the recently-planted Chaste Tree. I didn't want a crape that would compete with the Chaste Tree and create an overcrowding situation, so hopefully a 5-foot tall crape will fit just perfectly there.

'Tonto' crape myrtle, photo via U.S. National Arboretum

- Ilex glabra, Inkberry Holly, "Nigra" - I mentioned above that I didn't like the Nellie Stevens holly, so why would I rip those out and plant some other hollies in their place. Well, all hollies are not alike. (This may be self-evidence to some gardeners, but it was a surprise to a relative novice like myself.) I may have scoffed at the orthodoxy in our area that says foundation plantings should be dominated by evergreens, but I recognize the virtues of having some green in the winter landscape. These evergreen hollies fit that bill, but they're not prickly like so many of the hollies. They're supposed to be very tough, a trait that I prize in any plant. And Ilex glabra should also stay a manageable size - the species may grow up to 8-feet tall, but the Nigra cultivar should max out around 4-6 feet. Like other hollies, Ilex glabra is dioecious, meaning that both male and female plants are needed to produce black berries (not the typical red berries found on most hollies). Birds supposedly like the berries but unfortunately, since most humans grow Ilex glabra for its foliage and not its berries, growers apparently generally do not bother to sex the plants. I bought three Ilex glabra and hope that I'll have a mix of males and females so that I get at least some berries for the birds. Slow Food USA notes that nectar from the plants - which are also known as Gallberry plants - is used by beekeepers in Florida and Georgia to produce a prized honey.

Ilex glabra, Inkberry Holly flowers with (I think) a bee, photo by Elsa Spezio

- Sasanqua camellias, Kanjiro and Pink-a-Boo - I've been really happy with the three camellias we have in the front foundation. Two of them are blooming right now and even when they are not blooming, the dark green foliage is attractive and (usually) healthy. They seem happier since I scattered some acidic fertilizer beneath them this past autumn - two of the bushes that didn't bloom at all last year bloomed heavily this time and the other one, which I guess blooms later in the year, is covered with buds. I love flowers, so I tend to try to find floriferous plants with long bloom seasons, but there are not too many plants (as far as I know) that will keep flowering in cold Middle Tennessee winters. Camellias offer a beautiful splash of color in the landscape, so I'm hoping these two new additions will thrive and join the tree existing camellias to create a really nice tapestry of winter blooms. Pink-a-Boo in particular seemed popular with bees at the nursery even on an early November day, so I'm hoping that adding these plants to my landscape will also provide more food for pollinators.

Camellia sasanqua (probably) 'Kanjiro' with bee, photo by Greenstone Girl

That's about it. I did buy one other perennial plant, but it's for the border at the back of the house so I'll cover it separately in another post.

Including delivery (scheduled for tomorrow) and with a seasonal 25% discount on the three crape myrtle trees, I spent a bit less than $500 on all these plants. I could have certainly spent less money had I bought smaller plants, but with a chance that we'll put our house on the market in a couple of years, I thought it made sense to buy larger plants so that the landscape looks more mature, even if they are also more work to plant up front. The Aucuba, Fothergilla and Ilex glabra all came in 3-gallon containers. The Hydrangea, both Camellias and two of the crape myrtles are 5-gallon size, and one of the crapes comes in a 7-gallon container.

Dear Readers: I would be honored to hear your thoughts as to the worthiness of my plant selections and the price I paid. Of course, if anyone has grown these plants themselves, I would be eager to hear about your experiences and/or receive your advice on planting and caring for them.

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