Friday, August 29, 2014

Shots from the August Garden #3 - Lemon Queen Perennial Sunflower, Switch Grass, Purslane, Gro-Low Sumac, Sedum, Prague Viburnum and Arrowwood Viburnum!

I know I covered both Cucumber Leaf sunflowers and the more well-known annual sunflowers in my last post, but there are lots of different types of garden worth sunflowers, so here's one more. This is a perennial sunflower (hardy to zone 3) called Lemon Queen. Confusingly, there is also a popular annual sunflower called Lemon Queen (see photo further down in this post). Unlike a typical annual sunflower, this perennial grows into a huge bushy plant with multiple stems and lots of small flowers. Just like annual sunflower, it's native to North America. As I understand it, the parentage of Lemon Queen perennial sunflower is uncertain, but it may be a naturally-occurring hybrid of H. pauciflorus var. subrhomboideus (Still Sunflower) and H. tuberosus (Jerusalem Artichoke).

As you can see, the bees -- especially small native bees - really like Lemon Queen Sunflower. Last year, my Lemon Queen sunflower hosted a months-long party/orgy of Soldier Beetles, but I haven't seen any this year. Guess they've moved on. Maybe the neighbors complained?

As you can see, perennial Lemon Queen Sunflower has grown into a huge bushy plant. It's probably more than one foot in diameter at the base with many stems - like a clump of bamboo - and dozens of flowers open at any one time. The clump seems to expand gradually (at least from year one to year two). Not sure how I'm going to control the spread next year, but I'll try using a sharp spade and pruning any stray stems that emerge beyond an arbitrary (and imaginary) red line. In the foreground, you can see a couple of annual Lemon Queen sunflowers. These are small specimens. I've got some much larger (6-7 feet tall) Lemon Queen annual sunflowers elsewhere on the property. So clearly, their height is very variable.

One more close-up shot of some of the flowerheads on the perennial Lemon Queen sunflower. Like the annual types, Lemon Queen does attract gold finches, though my anecdotal observations suggests they might prefer the Cucumber Leaf and annual varieties. I've read that Lemon Queen sunflower does not set much viable seed, but I do think I've seen a couple of stray seedlings. (They haven't flowered yet, so I'm not sure, but the foliage looks very similar and they are nearby to the main Lemon Queen plant.) If they are seedlings, I may try transplanting them later this autumn and see if they survive elsewhere in the garden.

Circumstantial evidence of a rabbit attack on a young Liriope muscari "Royal Purple"

Love-in-a-Mist is pretty when it blooms, but it does seed itself to the point of weediness. All these seedlings sprang up despite the fact that I tried (not very successfully obviously) to pull many of this year's plants before they went to seed. I may leave a few seedlings, but I think I'll think much more aggressively than I did last year. 

This is my first year with Panicum virgatum (Switch Grass) and so far I'm head over heals. This Native American grass seems super tough and adds some great vertical excitement to the garden. This is a Northwind cultivar that has won particular praise for its strong upright stance. 

Out in the backyard where they have loads of room and all day sun, some more Switch Grass plants are growing like gangbusters. These are supposed to be Northwind cultivars too, although the habit does seem a bit more wild and bushy than the specimens growing in the garden beds adjacent to my patio. These are all first-year plants purchased from the nursery in 3-gallon containers, I believe. Elsewhere (not pictured here) I'm growing the Heavy Metal cultivar which also seems to be doing really well. 

Is this a weed? Well, it depends on your perspective. It certainly grows like a weed - quickly, with no care or attention whatsoever. I didn't plant it and if it's left alone it will probably replicate itself with abandon. And yet this plant, called Purslane (Portulaca oleracea), is apparently cultivated in many parts of the world as a nutritional vegetable! You can even buy seeds for "improved" varieties at certainly online nurseries (e.g. at Baker Creek or Territorial Seed). I don't know that I would intentionally plant it, but I think I might encourage it by ripping out other weeds and letting this one remain. There are worse things than having a carpet of edible purslane beneath intentionally-planted shrubs, trees and perennials, I suppose. I also think rabbits will help keep it in check. They definitely chow down on its relative the Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora) and I think I've seen some bitten-off stems from the Purslane weeds that suggest rabbit damage. My wife and I did try some leaves and lived to tell the tale. They were a bit grassy-tasting on their own, but more mellow when eaten with cherry tomatoes. If you're tempted to search for some wild purslane in your own yard, be careful not to confuse it with poisonous spurge. You can see a few leaves of spurge (darker green, smaller leaves with a red splotch, thinner wiry stem) peeking out from under the purslane in the lower left center of the image above. 

One of my most exciting discoveries this year has been Gro-Low Sumac (Rhus aromatica "Gro-Low").  While the viburnums flopped in the backyard, Gro-Low Sumac has generally thrived. Planted early in the spring, it even flowered a little its first year in the ground, hung tough and then recently started pushing out some new growth. As it covers ground, it shades out weeds and forms a beautiful tall groundcover. 

Beautiful new foliage on the Gro-Low Sumac! Love everything about it - color and form. And most of the leaves look absolutely pristine despite the heat and drought they endure. (I do try to go out and water them deeply once every week or two when we haven't had a good soaking rain. Especially since this is their first year. If I had to do it again, I'd plant Gro-Low Sumac, which apparently is hardy to zone 4, in the autumn to give it time to settle in before the heat of the summer. In fact, I'll likely try to add several more Rhus aromatica plants to my garden. Not sure whether I'll stick with the Gro-Low cultivar, which reportedly maxes out at 2-feet high by 6-8 feet wide, or whether I'll try planting the species, which reportedly becomes a large bush at 4-7 feet tall and 6-10 feet wide!

This is Sedum spectabile "Autumn Joy". It's kind of a mysterious plant. The original Autumn Joy I planted a couple of years back bit the dust. Maybe root rot? (Well, its mostly dead, with a few sprigs hanging on.) But before it kicked the bucket, I cut some stems, stripped the lower leaves and plunked them right in the dirt. This was in spring 2013. And wouldn't you know it? One those sprigs thrived and multipled into this beautiful plant! I don't understand it, but I'm not complaining. I think I'll try taking more cuttings from this one either later this autumn or next spring and transplanting it around the garden to see how if I can replicate my initial success with propagation.

This is Sedum spectabile "Vera Jameson". The flowers and green leaves are very pretty, but I can't say that I like the sprawling habit, the empty center or the yellowing leaves at the base. Hm. Maybe I should take some cuttings from this one too and try it in different areas? S. spectabile flowers are supposed to attract butterflies, but sadly the local Lepidoptera don't seem to have noticed this yet.

Here we go! These giant beauties are the annual version of Lemon Queen sunflower that I mentioned earlier. I don't think there's any chance of confusing these with the perennial Lemon Queen blooms, do you? From petal-to-petal, these are probably wider than my hand from fingertip-to-wrist. They are big, honking flowers. 

Oh and here are some other annual Sunflowers - not Lemon Queen, but unknown branched varieties from a mix I sowed last year that popped up some volunteers this spring. As you can see, something is really relishing the seeds. It could be the work of goldfinches, but the way that the seedheads seem gnawed, I'm thinking squirrel or chipmunk?

Just as the Alleghany Viburnums shuffled off this mortal coil in the backyard, one of the five Prague Viburnums I had installed next to the driveway also looks like it is on its last legs. Not that pretty and not that effective in terms of privacy, which is the reason I had them installed in the first place.

Four out of the five Prague Viburnums are still standing, but I've got to say that I deeply regret my choice. They just don't seem like good screening shrubs - at least not at this point. I'm not quite sure how to remedy the situation. I could try pruning them back in the hopes that they'll branch out and improve their density, but then I'll lose some height (at least in the short-term). If anyone has experience with the Prague viburnums and advice on how to prune them into an effective hedge, I'm all ears.

My favorite Viburnums - indeed the only ones I like so far - are the native Arrowwood Viburnums (V. dentatum). This is Pearl Bleu, purchased in late 2013 from Classic Viburnums. It barely survived a winter neglected in my garage. Yet it sprouted back from the roots and showed a fighting spirit.

Pearl Bleu is nice, but I like this Arrowwood Viburnum even better. It's called Chicago Lustre and the leaves are a stunning glossy deep green. Again, everything you see here is new growth that came back from the roots after the top growth died from neglect and lack of water during winter in the garage. Still, it came roaring back this year. Where Pearl Bleu perhaps put on half of its former top growth, I'd say that Chicago Lustre has grown back most if not all of its top growth, perhaps 2+ feet of new growth at its tallest point, with multiple stems, each of them looking strong and healthy. I didn't see any flowers this year, so I'm thinking perhaps Arrowwood flowers on old wood? If so, hopefully I'll see flowers and even fruit next year. The birds are supposed to love Arrowwood berries.