I’ve written previously of my adoration for ornamental grasses. A few of you folks in the mid-Atlantic might have heard my “Grasses for the Masses!” presentation complete with lots of arm-waving. As with most of my talks, there’s usually some sort of interpretive dance involved.
Most of our warm-season ornamental grasses are in full gloriousness at the moment. Because it’s autumn! ‘Tis the season to purchase, plant, and enjoy ornamental grasses!
Well, not really. If you’d have purchased and planted them in April or May, you’d only have to do the “enjoy” part now. And your local grower/garden center would LOVE you for it. But most gardeners overlook containers full of 6″ tall Fescue – which is what a LOT of our best grasses resemble in the spring. It’s always been challenging to sell “green” in the spring – consumers want to see and buy plants in flower – so nurseries and greenhouses that supply garden centers do their darnedest to provide said blossoms.
So we pass over pots full of green grassy things in favor of enticing blooms. Nurseries have picked up on this – many include grasses in their summer/early fall production schedule, making full, fluffy pots for the autumn gardener. This works o.k. for shorter, compact things like fountain grass, little bluestem, etc. But by September, majestic switchgrass, big bluestem, and the like rarely look that fabulous in a one or two gallon pot – the proportions aren’t right; a bit of wind and rain and the situation is ripe for floppage (closely related to splayage). So you’ll probably pass them over. Again. Or maybe…take a second look? Just cut them back and plant away – you’ll enjoy them NEXT fall.
For all five of you that might have paid attention to my posts on the genus Puya (which does in fact rhyme with booyah…thank you my west-coastie friends):
Here’s the update that you’ve been waiting for!
Puya is a horrifically spiny, painful, and hateful genus in the Bromeliad family. Native to the Andes, the fish-hook-like spines snare passing mammals; the rotting flesh provides nutrients to the exceptionally lean soil of the arid steppes on which it sort of grows/becomes grumpier.
Puya flowers once an eon, in a spectacular [but ill-earned] display that turned me to mush, based on a photo in an Annie’s Annuals catalog (see my “eternal gardening optimist” post). Autumn of 2012, I ordered and received one healthy Puya berteroniana in a 4” pot. Heckling commenced. Overwinters in a 40 F greenhouse, where it was watered once or twice. Summers have been spent on our deck. Osmocote has hopefully provided required nutrients. Expected to kill her within months, as it is SO VERY not native to the verdant and humid Blue Ridge mountains of Southwest Virginia.
Happy and amazed to say Pootie [what was I going to name her? Bert??] is in her 3rd year – continuing to grow, and, AND, captured her very first mammal!
Okay… so it’s a fluffy stuffed possum, and the dogs dropped it from the deck above. But snagged! You know Pootie got a thrill…
I’m going to keep posting about perennials that deserve more attention until somebody makes me stop. The fact that my subject is, once again, yellow… is merely coincidental
Definitely was a crowd favorite during the Perennial Plant Association annual Symposium’s grower tour (mentioned in my previous post). These photos were taken at Emory Knoll Farms north of Baltimore; I believe that they were trialing and/or including it in their plant selection for green roof use.
Thanks to Mary Vaananen, Jelitto’s North American operations manager (and goddess of perennial plant knowledge), who just happened to be standing next to it, full of 411, when I squealed “WHAT the (blankety blank) is THAT?!” My compadre Paul Westervelt added more info, as he’s also a plant geek deluxe (and manager of the annuals and perennials section of Saunder Brothers Nursery). D’oh. Plus you rock gardening fanatics probably know this cutie as well (I may have first seen this in one of Joseph T.’s talks, now that I think about it).
Eriogonum allenii, shale barren buckwheat, is native to counties that comprise the Virginia Highlands plus those on the West Virginia side of the line in the same region. Within these counties, the scattered populations reside in the botanical wonderlands called the shale barrens.
This floriferous selection ‘Little Rascal’ is indeed from Jelitto, so you too can obtain seeds of this rarity (along with detailed germination/growing instructions). Jelitto lists hardiness to USDA zone 5. As with most species from the barrens, it requires plenty of sun and excellent drainage.
Stocky and slightly shrubby in habit, the coarse grey-green green foliage was, when I saw it at the end of July, completely smothered in deep gold flowers. Simply gorgeous. It was abuzz with bees of all sorts, including insanely happy honey bees that could barely attain lift-off. I have a plot of regular-old-buckwheat (same family, Polygonaceae), but our spoiled-rotten bees always seem underwhelmed. Wait till they get a load of this!
I believe I’ve spent approximately $1,000,000 on seeds over the years. Plant and seed catalogs are usually addressed to “Gullible L. Scoggins.” I really suffer (on many levels) during the darkest days of winter; this makes me highly susceptible to seed catalogs filled with delicious descriptions and enhanced photos.
This spring, I sorted through my massive bin of partially used seed packets and ruthlessly (ruthlessly!!!) chucked everything dated prior to 2012 (like normal people do). A large portion of the expired packets were for squash and zucchini. I love squash of every ilk – glossy dark zukes, gold crooknecks, pattypan-anything. Squash and tomatoes are summer incarnate.
My absolute favorite is the heirloom Italian variety Costata Romenesco with its dense, nutty flesh – it really tastes like something on its own. The huge rambling vines put out relatively few fruit, so not the best for a compact garden.
But variety is the spice of life…so how to try several varieties and not end up with either a mountain of squash (as happened to me a while back) or a bunch of seeds left over? California seed purveyor Renee’s Garden does a very cool thing – one pack of seeds with three (3!) varieties – the “Tricolor Mix”. Brilliant! You get a gold-bar type (Golden Dawn), the dark green one that will go berserk (Raven), and a lovely pale gray-green Clarimore.
The seeds are color-coded with just good ol’ food coloring, so you know what you’ve planted. I got 100% germination (whoops) and a delightful variety and volume of zucchini. And NO LEFTOVER SEEDS – so I will feel completely justified next February when ordering more. Hurrah!
Just back from the always-inspirational Perennial Plant Association Symposium, this year held in Baltimore. The theme celebrated the massive influence of German plantsmen and designers on both the mid-Atlantic and the perennial business as a whole. Whether a grower, garden center owner, or landscape designer, the names historically associated with Mid-Atlantic horticulture – Kurt Bluemel, Oehme, van Sweden & Associates, etc. – resonated with all attendees.
The history of the “perennials movement” was recounted – where the Germans (and more than a few Dutch) admired, utilized, and selected cultivars of our fabulous summer and fall-blooming native perennials – long before we North Americans ceased relegating them to ditch weeds. And then they taught us how to use them in “New American Garden” style – sweeping herbaceous plantings (fewer species but larger quantities of each), mixed with ornamental grasses and non-native but pollinator-friendly beauties such as Salvia nemorosa and Perovskia atriplicifolia.
But this was my first encounter with Rudbeckia grandiflora ‘Sundance’. This seed strain was introduced by Jelitto® Staudensamen seven or eight years ago. It has a pretty broad native range… Midwest to South-Central United States. USDA cold hardiness zone ratings listed as 5-8 and 4-9 from various sources. Always full sun. Didn’t see a speck of powdery mildew.
The flower habit is a bit like Ratibida pinnata – the slightly drooping petals give the sensation of movement (even with zero breeze, 90% humidity, and 96° F). The clear yellow color works with just about anything. Around 4’ tall, the sturdy stems showed little sign of flopping. I’m sure the cones will persist, adding texture as the fall progresses.
‘Sundance’ will never impress in a nursery container in May. It’s one of those you-must-see-it-in-the-garden plants. OR or you can take my word for it. And that word is “Yowza!” (Followed by “gimme gimme gimme.”)
We just finished up with our 8th season of welcoming you-pickers to our back yard, which happens to include three acres of northern highbush blueberries. This has been an interesting venture – helps pay for our farm, obviously, but also presents an opportunity to connect with the “general public” outside of academia [that probably wouldn’t happen otherwise, considering we are both introverts]. Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the folks that take the trouble to come to a you-pick are fabulous, functional human beings. We are very, very grateful for their patronage, especially since blueberries from Canada are on sale for $1.50/pint at the grocery store and take 5 seconds to plop in your cart. We do, as you might expect, get some interesting questions and comments, and the “OMG! Nature!” thing has come up a few times.
Here’s a selection of our [reasonably patient] responses to not-so-frequently-asked questions and comments that occur while handing out buckets and ringing up sales:
“No, we don’t have to plant them every year like potatoes. They are perennial shrubs.”
“The berries do indeed taste better if they are blue. Green and pink, not so much.”
“No, I cannot weigh you before and after picking to tell how many you’ve eaten in the field. Ha, ha, I’ve not heard that one before.”
“I’m sorry you saw a Japanese beetle.”
“Alas, we do not provide Wi-Fi out in the field.”
“I can’t go pick for you while you watch the sales stand. Sorry.”
“I know the picking season started one week earlier than last year, even though you were on vacation. It’s kind of a weather thing.”
“Nope, there will not be more berries ‘appearing’ later. This is sort of a one-shot deal, they flower in the spring, and that’s what you see here.”
“Yes, there may be some bees around. It’s a farm. We have bees. The name of our business is Bee Berry Farm.”
“No, we cannot put a net over three acres.” (People are very concerned as to how we are not overwhelmed with deer, birds, bears, etc.)
“I’m so sorry your child was stung while poking a stick in a yellow jacket’s nest.” (indeed very scary for all of us involved…especially the poor little guy with the stick.)
“We do not apply chemicals other than water and fertilizer. Pardon? Yes, water is a chemical.”
“Unfortunately, you cannot make your own bushes by planting these blueberries. And no, I’m not familiar with that website.”
“No ma’am, I do not know who placed excess zucchini in your unlocked car.”
Other observations made and behaviors noted:
Small children are usually not excited about roaming through a hot sunny field at 11:30 a.m. Though we salute the parents who think this might be a good experience for them.
Please do not send said hot and annoyed children to stand unattended under the sales tent, staring at the proprietor.
You would be amazed at how sound travels across a hillside; other pickers may or may not want to hear exactly what you think of your mother-in-law.
Please don’t park IN our perennial border.
It’s not fun to find a dirty diaper hiding in the bushes.
It’s been a great summer for perennials here in the mountains of SW Virginia – plenty of rain, warm days, cooler nights. We’ve been enjoying this wonderful bee balm in our home garden for the last few weeks. ‘Raspberry Wine’ is tall (up to 5′), vigorous, and a bit ramble-y; not for the carefully-curated border, but great where it can take up some space. For those who fear Monarda’s tendency to spread, know that is shallow-rooted and very, very easy to pull up. I don’t know much about the origins of ‘Raspberry Wine’ other than it’s a Monarda didyma selection or hybrid and a “White Flower Farm introduction” – Joseph may be able to shed some light.
Monarda didyma is plenty hardy (at least USDA Zone 4) and is included on just about everyone’s plant list for either pollinator gardens or “gardening for wildlife.” The species is bright scarlet, but ‘Raspberry Wine’ has rich magenta bloom with dusky purple bracts subtending the flowers. Speaking of wildlife, it doesn’t seem to be the first choice of deer, so I’d rate it as reasonably deer-resistant. There are a couple of very-territorial hummingbirds making their home next to it – can walk by any time of the day and they’re slurping away. Interestingly, they seem to be ignoring the red ‘Jacob Cline’ down the way. My photography skills aren’t such that I can snag a feeding hummer, but did catch a less-frantic bumble bee making the rounds (above).
The clump pictured is part shade (afternoon) and the foliage is still fairly clean. I have another batch in full sun that has a bit of powdery mildew. The red ‘Jacob Cline’ is frequently touted as powdery mildew resistant but I’ve yet to see ANY Monarda didyma species or hybrid that doesn’t end up with it eventually. Just chop it back to the ground ASAP; you’ll get fresh new foliage and sometimes another round of blooms.