01 August 2014

Pollinators love Joe Pye Weed - plant seeds this fall

Joe Pye Weed with Monarch butterfly
Joe Pye Weed is an all American native plant that is loved by every pollinator that visits our garden. The plants are rarely sold commercially but it is well worth purchasing and starting seeds if you like to watch butterflies, skippers and bees.

The post I wrote about it last year is here.

It's best to start seeds in the fall and there are a few Eupatorium varieties to choose from. Here's a bit more about that from a 2009 blog entry when I planted these original plants from seed that are still providing nectar today.

Anyone who wants what is called a butterfly garden should have some Joe Pye but it is a weed, er um wildflower, in enough places that gardeners shun it. Also, it's big, tall and a bit coarse compared to lilies and roses.

29 July 2014

Plant Fennel Seeds in Containers - grow your own transplants

Planting seeds directly into our garden is a waste of time because we live on a steep enough hill that they just wash away during watering and before germinating. So, planting in sterile potting mix and controlling their environment until they emerge works best.

Here's how I planted the Fennel seeds that arrived a few days ago
Clean pots were filled with sterile potting mix
and put into a bottom watering tray. They
were watered from the top to settle the soil.

Paper towel was used to
pre-soak the seeds and the plumped
seeds were sprinkled over the soil surface
Sterile seed starting mix was used on
top of the seeds to the recommended
depth of 1/4 inch and the tray
was tagged. We use a label maker
and put the labels on slices of mini-blind.
Since I planted two varieties, the second
type was planted in round pots so when
the inevitable happens and the tags
become dislodged, I'll be better able
to guess which is which.

Most garden seeds do not need direct sunlight to germinate. Fennel seeds that require dark to germinate not only need to be covered with a bit of soil but also benefit from being out of drying direct sunlight. These two trays of seeds are inside the shed where their water and light needs can be closely monitored.

The potting mix we used is from Lowe's - about $6 a bag. It is a bark-based mix and we add perlite and vermiculite for container growing.

Seed saving - collect, clean and store for next year's garden

Gardeners who save seeds from their favorite flowers, herbs and vegetables from year to year are ensuring that their garden will please them. The seeds we choose to save are our favorite variety from the best plants, which means that they will be an improvement on the ones purchased

Of course, money is saved by collecting your own seeds particularly if you usually purchase specialty seeds by mail order and add in the shipping costs.

Over years of saving only the best, the seeds available for the next season’s garden will produce top quality heirloom plants that are acclimated to your weather, water availability and climate, plus GMO-free.
Save the seeds of plants with the qualities you prefer: Color, disease resistance, when they bear flowers or fruit, insect protection, size, length of storage in vase or basement, texture and yield.

Annuals are the easiest to save. Snip and save the seed heads of zinnias, cosmos, marigolds, petunias, columbine, dill, parsley, lettuce, kale, chard, leeks, etc.  If the seeds you originally purchased were of hybridized plants, the seeds you collect probably will revert back to one of the parents so it is more rewarding to use seeds from non-hybrid varieties.

If there is an annual growing in the garden now that you would like to have again next year because of its height, fruit size, insect resistance or yield, mark it with a tag of some kind so you remember not to cut it for a vase or cook with it.

Seeds that are gathered too early will not be mature enough to produce plants next year. If you are saving vegetable seed, the fruit has to be completely ripe in most cases though slightly immature seeds of beans, tomatoes, and leaf vegetables are often viable.

Fleshy fruit such as cucumber, squash, and pepper should be completely ripe. Tomatoes should be soft, cucumbers yellow and peppers red. On the other hand, once fruit has rotted, the seeds are deteriorated and useless. 

After the seeds are collected they have to be cleaned, sorted, dried and carefully stored.  For home gardeners this process can be done on a clear, dry day sitting outside or at the kitchen table.

Tomato seeds have their own requirements but it is worth the trouble if you have an especially good tomato that you want to grow again. Soak tomato seeds for a few days to ferment them. The good seeds will sink to the bottom of the container and the poor seeds will float to the top. Cucumber seeds can be treated the same way.

Seeds must be completely dry before storing.  After cleaning out the chaff, air-dry the seeds on newspaper for a week or two and change the paper once or twice a week. Large seeds of peas and beans can take 2 weeks to dry thoroughly.

Heat from a light bulb can be applied to the seeds but keep the temperature under 110 F.

Storing seed correctly will keep them alive and inhibit sprouting. Many gardeners keep their saved seed in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator. If the seeds are completely dry, many types can be stored in a home freezer.

Store the thoroughly dry seeds in glass jars with tops or in envelopes stored in glass jars.  Mark each envelope or jar with the plant name before storing.

Baby food jars and others with a small rubber gasket are ideal because they keep out moisture that can damage the life of the seeds. Cans with tight lids work just as well as glass containers.

If saving seeds is new to you, start with something you love. Next year you will have your own heirloom plants to enjoy.

26 July 2014

A fresh slant on native vs invaders

The push for native plants, bees, animals, and, well, closed borders in general is just part of the times we live in. Immigrants bad. Indigenous good.

Emma Marris, author of Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. attended a conference in Montana at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology. 

It's an enlightening read - quick, too. Follow this link to the article Marris wrote for National Geographic.

"As scientists have sounded the alarm about these pests, the public has gotten the message. Citizen groups rip out non-native plants. Native gardens have become increasingly popular, both as ways to celebrate the unique flora of each region and as tiny hot spots of diversity. Native trees provide food for native bugs, which feed native birds. Food chains developed over thousands of years of co-evolution unfold in our backyards. We're even going native in the kitchen, with fine restaurants increasingly focused around locally hunted, foraged, and grown ingredients.
So we've learned, scientists and lay people alike, that native species are good and non-natives are bad.
Julian Olden, a biologist at the University of Washington, Seattle, who co-organized the symposium, recently polled nearly 2,000 ecologists. Among his findings: A substantial number of them said they would immediately eradicate a hypothetical non-native forest plant, even if it were shown to have no effect on the forest. Olden calls this the "guilty even when proven innocent" approach."
"How, scientists at the symposium wondered, do you define "native" on a warming planet, when plants and animals are already moving toward the poles or up mountainsides in search of climate conditions they can tolerate? Should we consider them "invasive" in their new homes? Regardless of what we label them, conservationists will be reluctant to remove them from their new environs—to do so would stymie their chances of adapting to the warmer future we're creating.
And then there are the non-natives that we actually like. Most domestic crops are exotic in most of the places they're grown, but there are even wild exotics that "do good," forming useful relationships with native species."
More at the link 

24 July 2014

Fennel - start seeds July-August

Of all the herbs we can grow in our gardens, Fennel has as many valuable uses as its close cousins, parsley, carrot, coriander and dill. They are all members of the Apiaceae plant family, native to southern Europe but naturalized throughout the world.

Fennel is the characteristic sweet flavor that dominates sausage and Italian pasta sauces. It is a nutritious addition to salads, and is a must-have for butterfly and pollinator gardeners.

The bulbs are cooked with other root vegetables such as carrots, onions and garlic for a hot side dish and baked with pasta for an entrée. The stalks are added to stock to make broths.

Fennel contains Vitamin C, potassium, manganese, copper, phosphorus, folate, calcium, and iron plus the phytonutrients, flavonoids, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, and liver protection (http://hort.li/1rxe).

Fennel seeds are used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Asian cooking. In Chinese Five Spice it is called anise. In ancient China it was used as a treatment for snake bites, probably because of its anti-inflammatory properties. Most commercial Fennel seed comes from Egypt.

In French and Italian cooking, Fennel has been a key player for hundreds of years. In Greek myths Fennel was associated with the god of food and wine, Dionysus.

One of the best-known medicinal uses for Fennel is mixing Fennel water with sodium bicarbonate and syrup to make Gripe Water for soothing infants’ indigestion. Fennel tea or juice is made by pouring a half pint of boiling water on a teaspoon of seeds.

Add Fennel leaves, stems or bulbs to apple, ginger, carrot, beet, cucumber and lime for a beverage or smoothie.

There are two distinctions between Fennel varieties: The types that make large, edible bulbs and those that do not. All Foeniculum varieties are easy to grow and seeds are best planted mid-summer.

Most varieties grow 4 to 5 feet tall but Florence, called finocchio or azoricum is smaller with a larger root.

Smokey or Bronze Fennel is very popular for kitchen and garden though it does not form bulbs.

If the flower heads are pinched off, the stems become thick and can be blanched for the table.

It also has feathery purple leaves that can be used in flower arrangements. Johnny’s Seeds has 1,000 Bronze Fennel seeds for $4 at www.johnnyseeds.com.

Bulbing Fennel is called finocchio or Florence fennel. Fedcoseeds.com sells Perfection Fennel that they say is the best bulber, developing the fewest stalks but large bulbs for cooking.

Seeds of Change.com sells Zefa Fino Florence which is an old Italian variety with flat, elongated bulbs (100 seeds for $3.49).

Seeds from Italy (growitalian.com) offers several varieties with descriptions, including non-bulbing, bulbing and Fennel Bianco Perfezione Sel Fano-White Perfection for fall planting. Sand Mountain Herbs sells 100 Fennel azoricum seeds for $2 at www.sandmountainherbs.com.

Fennel can become perennial since it is cold hardy to zone 7. Farther north it is grown as an annual.

Plant pre-soaked seeds 1/4th inch deep in full sun (http://hort.li/1rDI). Plants mature in 80 to 100 days. Fennel can take some afternoon shade but cannot tolerate soil that is constantly water logged.

When the seedlings emerge, plant them 6 to 12-inches apart to allow room for plants to grow large. Space rows 3-feet apart. Plant Fennel away from other herbs since it cross-pollinates with other herbs readily. It self-seeds quite a bit in our garden so if you prefer to manage the amount you grow, remove the seed heads before they mature.

The Eastern Black Swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes and Anise Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio zelicaon, use Fennel as a host. If swallowtail butterflies visit your garden they may lay eggs and their caterpillars will eat the plants bare in the process of making the next generation of butterflies.

22 July 2014

Crystal Bridges Museum - grounds, architecture and art

Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville Arkansas has miles of gorgeous trails, carefully planted with natives. My 2012 tour and visit with the Scott Eccleston, Director of Trails and Grounds is here http://allthedirtongardening.blogspot.com/2012/05/gardens-at-crystal-bridges-museum.html.

Admission to the gardens, 3.5 miles of trails, parking and the art museum is free. Guided tours are available. There is a coffee bar and a restaurant as well as a gift shop.

We returned recently to see how the museum and grounds looked. Plants have matured quite a bit and the museum is spectacular.

Here's a photo essay

Here's a link to the Crystal Bridges Plant Guide http://crystalbridges.org/trails-and-grounds/plant-guide/

19 July 2014

Black Beauty Lily visited by Silver Spotted Skipper

Black Beauty Lily is one of the most beautiful lilies in our garden.
Called indestructible by Old House Garden Bulbs, it can take full sun or part shade, most soil types and is cold hardy in zones 5 to 8. 

The stalks are 6 to 8 feet tall in our garden and have to be staked if they are in too much shade. The faded flowers are snipped off to prevent seed set. Then, when the stems start to turn yellow they are cut off.

Each bulb will make bulb offsets that can be dug and moved to create large swaths of plants. Black Beauty is an Orienpet variety. Orienpets are a cross between Oriental lilies and Trumpet and Aurelian hybrids. There are more to enjoy at the Lily Garden site.

 Though his real claim to fame is the Stargazer Lily, Lily breeder Leslie Woodruff is credited with bringing Black Beauty into the world of flower lovers.

Woodruff lived a life of dedication to crossbreeding begonias and lilies and lived in a "ramshackle home and greenhouse." Read more about him at this link.

The Silver Spotted Skipper on the flower is abundant in our flower beds, though we are at the end of its range.

Bug Guide Silver Spotted Skipper
I'm not aware of seeing the caterpillars or chrysalis around the garden but I suspect they must be nearby since there are dozens of adults on the flowers.

Butterflies and Moths of North America's site has the entire scoop on Silver Spotted Skippers.

17 July 2014

Brunnera Macrophylla, Viper's Bugloss, Alkanet, Sea Heart

Brunnera is a clump forming perennial for parts of the garden where moist shade prevents other ground
covers from thriving. Not only is it low-maintenance, but it has long-lasting sprays of flowers, is rabbit
Brunnera Silver Heart
and deer resistant.

The most common name used for these plants is bugloss, from two Greek words: ox and tongue
because the rough leaves looked and felt like ox tongues to the person who named it. The new hybrids
look more like silver and green or cream and green hearts than ox tongues, but still have lovely clusters
of flowers.

The old medicinal variety, Echium vulgare or Viper’s Bugloss, is sometimes found in seed catalogs listed
as Blueweed (see Richter’s Herbs www.richters.com). To see several other Echium varieties, look no
further than Annie’s Annuals at http://hort.li/1qO9.

Another common variety, Lycopsis arvenis, is called Small Bugloss. It has waxy, toothed leaves and its
flowers are wheel shaped.

Historically, Viper's Bugloss was used to expel poisons and venom, and to cure the bites of a viper,
hence its name. The snake head appearance of the seeds led people to think it was a cure for serpent
bites. Echis is the word for viper and Echium stems from that history.

Brunnera Sea Heart
Water steeped with Bugloss root was taken for a trembling heart, swooning, and sadness caused by
passions and melancholy. Water steeped with the leaves was made into a cordial used for headaches
and nerves. The seeds were steeped in wine to comfort the heart.

The Brunnera used in shade gardens is in the same plant genus. Be sure to look for Brunnera when
shopping for the seeds or plants unless you specifically want the medicinal.

Brunneras are cold hardy from zone 3 to 9 and appreciate quite a bit of shade in our zone 7 since the
leaves burn in too much sun. Most varieties mature at a maximum of 18-inches tall when in bloom and
are a ground hugging clump the rest of the time.

The generic Brunnera macrophylla is a tough plant with solid green leaves. The varieties available for
purchase have other leaf colors. Companion plants with similar cultural requirements include Hostas,
Hellebore, Lamium, Japanese Painted Ferns and Bleeding Heart.

When found in stores and catalogs, these plants will have Brunnera macrophylla or Anchusa in their

Brunnera m. Diane’s Gold has gold-yellow leaves and blue flowers.

Brunnera m. Jack Frost has silvery leaves with green veins. Jack Frost was the 2012 Perennial Plant of the
Year and is available through Plant Delights Nursery (www.plantdelights.com).

Brunnera Langtrees or Silver Spot has green leaves dotted with silver. Heat and cold hardy.

Brunnera Looking Glass has leaves that are so silver they look metallic. Bluestone Perennials has Looking
Glass plants at http://hort.li/1qOr. They call it False Forget Me Not.

Bluestone also has Brunnera m. King’s Ransom which has silver, gold and green variegated leaves and
blue flowers. This one is called Siberian Bugloss.

Skagit Gardens (www.skagitgardens.com) is one of the plant breeders that brought new varieties to
market. Their Brunnera m. Sea Heart has silver leaves with thick, dark green veins. Sea Heart has
clusters of flowers that open pink and become blue.
Brunnera Silver Heart

Brunnera m. Silver Heart has pure silver leaves with light green veining. The flowers are blue.

Digging Dog Nursery (http://diggindog.com) has Heartleaf Brunnera plants, which they also call Siberian
or Common Bugloss and Alkanet. They also have Brunnera m. Hadspen Cream. Its leaves are mostly
green with white margins.

Alkanet seeds are available from Sand Mountain Herbs at http://hort.li/1qOn. The seeds are started in
the fall. Once you get Alkanet started in a shady spot, it will re-seed.

All varieties of Brunnera are great looking additions to shade gardens.

14 July 2014

White-lined sphinx moth is Hyles lineata

Thanks to Focus on Nature, it was easy to confirm the identification of this beauty hanging out on the tool bin in the garden shed.

Sphinx moths and hawk moths are members of the Sphingidae family. They are strong flying insects with rapid wingbeats, making them difficult to photograph. The adults feed on flowers at dusk or at night.

Their larvae or caterpillars are the hornworms that live on the leaves of tomatoes and tobacco, making them unpopular with gardeners and farmers.

Bug Life Cycles website
We don't grow tomatoes but have ornamental tobacco that we grow just for moths - it has white flowers that open at night and bring them in.

The caterpillars will also eat the leaves of Four O'Clock, Apple, Evening Primrose, Elm, Grapes, Purslane and a few other plants.

Uniquely, they pupate in the ground and if  you garden a lot like we do, you've seen them. I usually toss them out to the birds for them to feed their babies.

The native range of this beautiful moth is from South America to Canada. It is not endangered.

12 July 2014

Perennial Sweet Pea Vine is Lathyrus Latifolius

Perennial Sweet Peas are much more successful in our zone 7 gardens than the English Sweet Peas that prefer cooler, moist weather. The English varieties are well suited to zones north of us and on the west coast of the U.S.

Easily started from seed, Perennial Sweet Peas return from the root plus re-seed. The seeds need to be scarified but our winter freezing weather takes care of that.
The ones climbing the fence in full shade are almost finished for the season but the ones in part-shade are still loaded with flowers and there is no end in sight.

Phagat's article about them is titled "Invasive Perennial Sweet Pea" but in our low-care acreage, they are very well behaved.  

There are 150 Lathyrus species - annuals, herbaceous and evergreen perennials from Africa and South America. Generally, they prefer fertile, humus-rich, well-drained soil in full sun or dappled shade.

If you want to start some from purchased seed in the early spring, soak the seed or nick it to help them get started. They are hardy in zones 4 to 7. Farther south, it's just too hot for them.

In addition to using them to cover a fence and wind their way though crapemyrtle and white phlox, Lathyrus Latifolius can be used to cover a bank.

Bumblebees love to pollinate these!