Perennial Funday: Eriogonum allenii ‘Little Rascal’

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.

Eriogonom allenii 'Little Rascal' at Emory Knoll Farms
Eriogonom allenii ‘Little Rascal’ at Emory Knoll Farms

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.

Flowers you can hear!
Flowers you can hear!

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!

 

Just like it said on the seed package!

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 zucchini trifecta from Renee's Garden seeds.  That's Costata Romanesco on the far left.
The zucchini trifecta from Renee’s Garden seeds. Plus Costata Romanesco on the far left.

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!

Perennial Funday: Rudbeckia grandiflora ‘Sundance’

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.

'Sundance' massed with Rudbeckia triloba 'Prairie Glow' in the Bluemel garden.
Rudbeckia grandiflora ‘Sundance’ massed with Rudbeckia triloba ‘Prairie Glow’ in the Bluemel garden.

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' in action at Emory Knoll Farms.
‘Sundance’ in action at Emory Knoll Farms.

‘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.”)

Observations regarding you-pick blueberries…

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.

bee berry farm

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.

Perennial Monday: Monarda ‘Raspberry Wine’

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.

Raspberry WineMonarda 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).

IMG_8680
Bee balm out the yin-yang!

 

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.

 

Uncommon Clematis

– Holly Scoggins

Here’s a couple of clematis (clemati?) you may not be familiar with. Both are easy to grow but differ from the more common large-flowered form. There is a great deal of hybridization within the genus, so many cultivars are placed within “groups” rather than described as a cultivar of the species.

Clematis ‘Princess Diane’
Texensis GroupClematis 'Princess Diana' in the author's garden.

Clematis ‘Princess Diana’ in the author’s garden.

Crossing a large-flower clematis cultivar with Clematis texensis (scarlet leather flower) resulted in this lily-shaped beauty. Pointy little buds open as four hot pink tepals; bright yellow stamens grace the center. The buds on this rebloomer just keep coming; mine has been blooming for 40 days at this point and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. The princess seems pretty happy in her part-shade (sun in the afternoon) situation in my garden.I swear there's a lovely wire tuteur under there...

I swear there’s a lovely wire tuteur under there…

 

Some catalogs/sites describe ‘Princess Diana” as reaching only 8’ in length; mine’s wrapped up and down a 6’ tall tuteur/trellis thingy at least 4 times. Guess I need a bigger tuteur (doesn’t everybody?). Cold hardiness seems to be up for discussion – some sources state USDA Zones 6 to 9, others 4 to 8 (I’m a solid 6a here in the mountains of SW Virginia, recently warmed-up from 5b).

Various pruning strategies are associated with different groups of clematis. This one dies back to the ground and blooms on new wood, so I just cut it back in early spring to clean last year’s vines out of the wire supports.

Clematis xdiversifolia ‘Blue Boy’
Herbaceous/Integrifolia GroupClematis 'Blue Boy' scrambles through a deciduous azalea.

Clematis ‘Blue Boy’ scrambles through a deciduous azalea.

‘Blue Boy’ is one of the herbaceous clematis, resulting from a hybrid of Clematis integrifolia and C. viticella. Multiple stems arise from the crown and scramble, flop, and otherwise meander through and over anything in the vicinity. Lovely blue-violet blooms festoon the stems from early June through frost (“festoon” is one of my favorite words – need more opportunities to use it!)

Nice contrast to the ornate foliage of Ligularia japonica.

The rosy stems contrast nicely with the ornate foliage of Ligularia japonica.

Despite its delicate appearance, this is a very tough and cold-hardy (Zone 3!) clematis. Enjoy all summer, and then chop ‘Blue Boy’ back with the rest of your die-back perennials in winter.

Linked is a wonderful, detailed piece by Julie Lane-Gay on the herbaceous clematis group:
http://www.pacifichorticulture.org/articles/better-in-relationship-herbaceous-clematis/

 

You think YOU had a bad day…!?!

I'm itchy all over.
I’m itchy all over.

Just downloading some photos from the end of the summer, and found this. Rarely can I work up sympathy for a tomato hornworm (Manduca quinquemaculata). Though the moth is quite lovely, the caterpillars really did a number on my tomatoes (and two spindly eggplants) this year, and I recall joyously taking this photo in August.

However, I’ve had a rough Monday, and can kind of relate to being covered in Braconid wasp pupae. The larvae have chewed their way through the caterpillar, to spin their grisly cocoons of death (would have made a great post a couple of weeks ago) and dangle there in the breeze until emerging. I know it is nature’s way, but, dang.

Digging these wasps!

After writing about the unusually bad scourge of Japanese Beetles earlier in the month, I thought I’d continue on down the “garden bugs” path. The Japanese Beetles have died down, but now we have oodles of these pretty black and yellow-spotted waspy things around. They’re everywhere, and in large numbers. I planted some buckwheat over our potato garden bed, and it is covered up with them. The point of the buckwheat was as a primo late-season nectar source for our honeybee hives as they prepare for winter. Blooming for the last week or two, I kept checking it expecting to see happy bees, feasting away. Nada. Just the wasps.

Intriguing. A brief googling revealed the wasp to be Scolia dubia, one of the “digger wasps.” They rarely sting, and better yet -their larvae are parasites of Japanese Beetles! All that swooping around over our so-called lawn is apparently the mating dance, then the female digs into the soil to find the grubs. After stinging the grub, she lays an egg…and you see where this is going. Cozy winter grub cocoon for the pupating larvae!

Blue Wing Digging Wasp on buckwheat.
Blue Wing Digging Wasp on buckwheat.

Back to the bed of gourmet buckwheat. I’m thrilled to see all those wasps feeding on the nectar. Eat, dig, and be merry, ladies! But what about the honeybees – seemingly ignoring this glorious patch of buckwheat planted just for them? I don’t need any more picky eaters…aren’t our two dinner-snubbing dogs enough? So I asked Dr. Richard Fell, legendary Apiculture faculty here at Virginia Tech, about this mystery. “Honeybees only work buckwheat in the morning” sayeth Rick. Went out this morning and observed that buckwheat is indeed the breakfast of champions. The entire patch was literally humming with multiple species, including loads of honeybees. I’d only been checking in the evening.

Addendum:
So my post apparently isn’t breaking news. Just came across this as I checked my Scolia spelling. Sounds like they had beetles galore in Maryland as well this summer.
If you’re not familiar with Dr. Michael Raupp, Entomologist and Extension Specialist at University of Maryland, he’s awesome, and his “Bug of the Week” blog is a must. His September 1 post reviews the digger wasp/japanese beetle relationship as well, with more factoids and a lovely video featuring writhing grubs. http://bugoftheweek.com/blog/2014/9/1/white-grubs-beware-the-blue-winged-digger-wasp-iscolia-dubiai-has-arrived

Beetlemania

File this under “if it’s not one thing, it’s another.”
Which may be, upon further reflection, the most profoundly absurd statement ever when it comes to gardening. It’s nature! Of course there’s always something!
Here in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia, we’ve had insect pests come and go, with each summer featuring something different.

Two years ago? Chewing up everything in the vegetable garden plus lots of perennials… Blister beetles!

Last year we had record rainfall, which brought out the gnats in gnumbers we’d never seen before. While not plant pests, they managed to take a lot of the fun out of gardening, hell-bent on clogging every facial orifice and nibbling on exposed flesh. Then the stinkbugs came. And stayed all winter long, keeping us company in the house.

This season goes down as the summer of Popillia japonica, the Japanese Beetle. Holy cow. I’m no entomologist (let’s ask Dr. Jeff!) so I can’t speak to how we got to this lowly place. But in any gathering of two or more local gardeners, The Beetle Issue will come up immediately.

Orgy in my beans! (NSFW)
Orgy in my beans! (NSFW)

There’s a ton of literature out there on life cycle, control, etc. They are a noted pest of turf, as the larvae munch away at the roots before emerging in early summer. I am not personally familiar with that aspect, as we don’t really have turf at our house; it’s a mix of white clover, orchard grass, broadleaf weeds, and some kind of fescue that that still make a decent green substance when mowed to 3.25″ (and viewed from a distance). If I come across grubs while pulling weeds or planting, I’ll call over a couple of hens to take care of business. Biological controls such as spores of bacterial Milky Disease and insect parasitic nematodes have been only marginally successful.

For adult control, the debate continue regarding the efficacy (and wisdom) of traps baited with floral or pheromone lures. “Hey there, neighbor! Mind if your Japanese Beetles come over to my place?” Most of the pesticides recommended in the literature are broad spectrum (pyrethroids, carbaryl, etc.) so, heck no on that count. Hand-picking them into a cup or bucket of soapy water to die a bubbly, fragrant death is an option for a small garden (and extremely patient gardener). Note chickens also enjoy the crunchy outer coating and creamy center; spiny, thrashing legs and all.

Back to our regional plight – they attacked the usual suspects – favoring anything in the Rosaceae family including brambles,apple, etc. Any kind of Hibiscus now looks like a lace doily. Veggies were indiscriminately perforated – the beans were especially hard-hit. All that beetle poop is especially unappetizing on chard. A big surprise was the Japanese or Fall-blooming Anemone. They took mine down to the stem. I am currently enjoying flowers on a stick.

There's an "Anemone" pun here somewhere..
There’s an “Anemone” pun here somewhere..

Both the Anemone and I will live, of course. But here’s the thing. One of the mantras that got us all through one of the coldest winters on record was “At least the bugs won’t be as bad this summer!” Ha, ha! If it’s not one thing, it’s another! Aargh.


Go here to download a PDF of the exceedingly-informative 20-page USDA APHIS Homeowner’s Guide to Managing Japanese Beetles

Spring = really?

You've got to be kidding...
Bebe the Wonder Dog says “You’ve got to be kidding…”

I’m sorry I’ve been so quiet, but I am not feeling SPRING. Here in the Blue Ridge of Virginia (Zone 6), March is averaging 10 F below average. Snow and ice is piled up on the north side of buildings. My Herbaceous Landscape Plants class is not impressed by the inch-tall Mertensia and the fact that the only thing we can call a cool-season annual (pansies/violas) is brown mush. All the delightful Zone 7 things I’ve been pushing on people for several years here – er, whoops. This is as far north as I’ve ever lived (please don’t mock me Bert). I’m tired of bales of laundry. Flannel sheets, corduroy, fleece…I am NOT good with winter. I admit I am at my best with only one layer on. And if one more person says “at least we’ll have fewer ticks”…
*snap*