Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Shots from the August Garden #2 - Cosmos, Crabapple, Wall Germander, Creeping Raspberry, Sunflowers, Geraniums, Marigolds, Lavender, Lambs Ear and Lemon Balm!

Pink cosmos flowers floating over azaleas and Ajuga genevensis

Sugar Tyme crabapple. Can't say that I'm all that excited about this plant yet. Maybe it just needs some time to settle in. On the bright side, it hasn't died in a harsh full sun setting with rotten clay soil that alternates between sodden when wet and concrete when dry. 

Some (ripening?) crabapples on the Sugar Tyme tree

When I said back in June that folks should abandon the practice of annual crape murder, one commentator asked whether my crape would flower for a long time even if it was not cut back. Well...the Natchez crapes are still flowering. They're no longer flowering quite so profusely by mid-August, but there's a steady parade of blooms and if you look closely here you can see that the flowers still draw in bumblebee visitors. (For some reason, Natchez seems to be the only crape that the bees really like, at least in my yard. Not sure if the bees prefer white crape myrtles over the other colors or maybe the others have less pollen?)

This is Teucrium chamaedrys, also known as Wall Germander. It's recommended as a low (to 18 inches tall) evergreen drought-tolerant groundcover for full sun settings. I planted three tiny starter plants this past spring and they've all thrived reasonably well. They haven't flourished and multiplied in size like the Hyssop, but they flowered nicely and all look healthy through rain and drought. Now some folks say this can take clay soil and other people say it needs well-drained soil (the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but heavy clay often stays wet longer than sand or loam). Anyway, I think this needs a year or two to settle in and really take off (sleep, leap, creep), so I'm hoping (fingers crossed) that it survives the winter and thrives next year. Just in case, I may try taking some cuttings in autumn and sticking them in the ground. It's supposed to be super easy to propagate that way. We shall see. The only plant with which I've ever had success using that method is "Autumn Joy" sedum.

This is Creeping Raspberry and one sprawling Mexican Hat plant (grown from seed). I've had sort of a love-hate relationship with the Creeping Raspberry. I liked it last year, then it died to the roots and I was mad at it (because I had expected/hoped for an evergreen groundcover). But then I was pleased at the way it bounced back stronger than ever this year. As you can see, it does a great job of covering ground and suppressing weeds, but it seems to spread in a linear and predictable fashion so I haven't freaked out about it getting out of control (at least not yet). Sadly, I didn't see any flowers at all this year. Perhaps it flowers on old wood, and since it died to the roots, it didn't have a chance to flower and fruit? As for the Mexican Hat (Ratibida columnifera), my overall impressions are "Meh." The small flowers, drooping petals, sprawling habit and somewhat weedy foliage don't make much of an impression on me. So why don't I rip it out? I have seen some small bees visiting the flowers. Most likely native bees. And I do want to support those. And something (finches?) has been eating the seeds too, although I've bet to catch any bird in the act.

Bee on cucumber leaf sunflower (Helianthus debilis Cucumerifolius). These sunflowers have smaller flowerheads than the traditional typical annual sunflowers (H. annuus), but the flowerheads are borne in profusion over a longer flowering period, the spent flowerheads are less conspicuous and (just like the large-headed sunflowers) they still attract bees and birds.
Here's a massive "hedge" of Cucumber Leaf Sunflowers that has taken over the front border. As you can see, they reach about 5-6 feet tall, until/unless they fall over reaching for the sun. I've got to try to stake some of the ones in front so my lawn guys can mow that grass. These sunflower have been blooming since early June - two months as of when this photo was taken. Every day, the goldfinches hop among the flowerheads eating the seeds. Oh and I didn't actually plant any Cucumber Leaf Sunflowers this year -- these are all volunteers from last year! Hooray - free flowers :-)  Oh and they're native to the Southeastern coastal U.S. (despite the fact that they're native to sandy areas, they seem to grow just fine in my lightly amended clay soil garden beds) and I believe they're even perennial in warmer climates (zone 8? zone 9?)

I just like the combination of colors and textures here in a hot full sun bed at the corner of the driveway and the house. In the foreground, we've got Cucumber Leaf Sunflowers, in the background the leaves of the Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus), as well as some cosmos flowers, some spent flowerheads of the annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and some Liriope muscari "Big Blue" edging the sidewalk.

Cranesbill Geranium "Rozanne". This is not a plant for anyone who likes neat and tidy gardens. It's a sprawler. And the foliage is far from pristine if you look closely. But why look too closely? Take a step or two back and admire the billowy mass of flowers that continues for months. Here in Middle Tennessee, the plants seem to do best with afternoon shade.

Now Geranium sanguineum may be my favorite species of Cranesbill Geranium. As you can see here, it doesn't have the continuous bloom of Rozanne, although you may get some sparse midsummer rebloom without any deadheading or cutting back. But look at that foliage! A symphony of greens, all looking clean and healthy with an adorable shape. Plus I've found that G. sanguineum, known colloquially as Bloody Cranesbill, can tolerate more sun than the other Cranesbill species I've tried (Rozanne and Biokovo). I'm not sure that I'd subject G. sanguineum to full-day blazing sun in the middle of a field...but then again, it might do just fine under such circumstances, especially once established.

Having a six-foot tall wall of sunflowers at the front of your garden  bed is not exactly a pinnacle of garden design! But peeping between the sunflower leaves, you can see that Hardy Blue Plumbago appreciates the extra shade and is throwing off its own long parade of pretty sky blue flowers.

I struggled for years to figure out what to plant on this harsh windswept corner at the front of my house where the sidewalk meets the driveway. I took out the overgrown and misplaced holly (Nellie Stevens should not be planted two feet from a wall). But the plants I tried here like Sarcococca confusa and Camellia sasanqua met a quick death at the hands of windburn, sunburn, desiccation and so forth. And then I hit upon this combo - Panicum virgatum Northwind with Creeping Raspberry at its feet and a nearby Salvia greggii (Rose Pink? Flame? Not sure which.)  Oh and there's a self-sown French Marigold (Tagetes patula) blooming its fool head off here too. All the plants have thrived on the corner this year. The Salvia (known colloquially as Autumn Sage, Cherry Sage or Texas Sage) has been blooming since I planted it back in April without any deadheading or cutbacks. It may not be the hummingbird's favorite plant (that honor probably goes to the much larger Coral Honeysuckle vines), but I have seen the hummingbird visiting S. greggii on several occasions. I've seen S. greggii hardiness described as everything from zone 6 to zone 8. It may depend on cultivar and provenance. Anyway, I'm keeping my fingers cross that my Cherry Sages return next year and/or self-sow (which I've heard is also a possibility). 

Here's a nice serendipitous grouping of Hyssop with French Marigold. It was totally unplanned. I planted three Hyssop plants in a row as a low border at the edge of bed and then this giant (biggest I've ever seen) French Marigold plant sprang up right in the middle of that scheme. It's mostly swamping the middle Hyssop and I feel bad about that, but the French Marigold is so gorgeous and covered in blooms that I don't have the heart to rip it out or even prune it back.
Still impressed with Lamb's Ear "Helene von Stein". As you can see, the foliage looks great from spring to frost. It does sort of crumble and collapse in the wintertime, but the dead foliage (I believe) makes a nice mulch and soil amendment for the subsequent year's growth. It spreads into a thick weed suppressing groundcover. So far, the spread is steady, but not overwhelmingly fast. I think (hope) that it won't get out of control and in fact I'm planning to divide and try spreading some pieces around early next spring when it first starts to emerge.

This is Hidcote lavender (Lavandula angustifolia). The foliage has stayed pristine and the plants have grown a bit, but they haven't flowered at all this first year in the ground. Not sure if they're in too much shade or if they just need to settle in for a year before they flower. Hidcote is supposed to be one of the tougher lavenders - hardy to zone 5 - but like most lavenders, it reportedly prefers well-drained soil and yet it's planted in soil that is pretty heavy clay (as it is throughout my garden). So I'm hoping they'll survive the winter, but I'm not counting on it.

These are some of the top leaves of Lemon Balm - Melissa officinalis - a mint relative. Aren't they beautiful? It has a beautiful lemony scent if you rub the leaves. I tried to make "lemonade" by muddling this bunch of leaves in a glass of water, but unfortunately I couldn't taste much lemony flavor at all. Similarly, just eating a leaf raw did not present much of a lemony sensation. Pity that.

And here's a lush patch of Lemon Balm carpeting the shady understory in part of my front border. I suppose there's a chance it could get out of control in the border, but it's such a pretty (tall) groundcover at the moment that I don't think I'd mind. (Famous gardening last words that precede a lifetime of trying to corral some rampaging invader.) We'll see how it fares this winter and how far it extends its empire next spring... Melissa officinalis is supposed to have summertime flowers that are very attractive to bees, but I didn't see any flowers this year. Even though it seems very happy in the shade, I wonder if it needs more sun to flower? I do wish that were a bit more toothsome as an edible plant...

Monday, August 25, 2014

Shots from the August Garden #1 - Ajuga, Dead and Dying Viburnums, Aronia Berries, October Skies Aster, Coral Honeysuckle, Hyssop and Zagreb Coreopsis


These photos were taken in early-to-mid August in my Middle Tennessee garden. Hope you enjoy!

Ajuga genevensis, personally I find this much more attractive than the typical A. reptans. It's also much harder to find. This is in partial shade (morning shade, afternoon sun) and you can see that it's lush, happy and healthy with very minimal supplemental water. I have a patch growing pretty well in full sun too, but I think it's happier in partial shade.
 
I don't shy away from admitting my mistakes here at Garden of Aaron. I had the "brilliant" (not really) idea to pay a landscaper to install three substantial Alleghany Viburnums along the back of my property for privacy purposes. They were supposed to grow 10-12 feet tall and wide with broad evergreen leaves. Unfortunately, two died almost immediately (including this one). Not sure what went wrong? It's a tough spot - full hot sun, heavy clay that has some of the worst drainage in the yard. In any case, V x rhytidophylloides (whew - what a mouthful!) is a hybrid of two exotics (the Eurasian V. lantana and the Chinese V. rhytidophyllum) that reportedly became invasive in Virginia when two different cultivars were grown close together. Guess I should stick with the native viburnums, which probably are better suited for this climate and soil anyway...

Here's the one surviving Alleghany Viburnum. Not a pretty picture. What was I thinking? I know I've seen some good looking dense evergreen viburnums around town in inhospitable locations (i.e. highway offramps). Perhaps they're using a different species? Or perhaps they started with smaller plants that had an easier time adjusting to transplantation. Or perhaps they used container grown shrubs (I think these were balled and burlapped and I'm of the opinion that container grown typically works much better.) Whatever the case, I have some big regrets about using these viburnums in the landscape and plan to rip them all out this autumn and replace with something completely different.

Close up on Aronia melanocarpa berries. I have two kinds of Black Aronia berries - these are larger ones and I think they're the Viking variety that was bred for commercial uses (juice production?) in Europe. I also have an Autumn Magic A. melanocarpa, which going by the name, I'd guess was selected mainly for its autumn leaf color. In some ways, these are great plants. They seem very tough through heat and drought, they don't have any problems with our winter (they're hardy to zones 3-4) and as you can see they berry profusely. You don't even have to fight the birds for the berries. So what's the problem. They're bitter. Really, really bitter / astringent. These Viking ones actually aren't so terrible compared to the smaller and far more astringent Autumn Magic variety (presuming I've got my plants ID'd properly). But "not so terrible" is not exactly a ringing endorsement. Truth be told, I wish I'd planted something else. And even though they can take the heat here in Middle Tennessee, I think it stresses them out, which perhaps makes them more susceptible to the insects (I'm guessing lace bugs) that disfigure their leaves something awful and make them drop prematurely. Some folks on Gardenweb seem to think that hot weather makes the berries more astringent. That seems to dovetail with my own experience, so I think folks in more northern climates (like Michigan or the Pacific Northwest) might have better luck with aronia. That said, I'm not planning to rip mine out just yet. For one thing, I have too many other more pressing landscape concerns -- like replacing those danged viburnums shown above. But I don't think I'd recommend Aronia for the Southeast, at least not from an edible perspective. It is true, however, that I have not yet tried adding Aronia berries to the fresh fruit smoothies I make. If I try it and it's not too awful, I may yet change my tune.

"October Skies" Aster. Looking healthy and loaded with buds. Love the way that it's spread to form a tall, beautiful weed-suppressing groundcover.
Hyssop officinalis. I planted three of these earlier this year in the hopes I could trim them into a low informal hedge. That's still a work in progress, but they've grown very well in a hot full sun area next to the driveway. And as you can see, the bees like the blue flowers -- and so do I!

Coral Honeysuckle (native Lonicera sempervirens) still blooming strong on the front porch railing. The hummingbirds seem to love it. As you can see, they manage to fertilize the flowers, which leads to berry production, shown here as a green cluster right below the flowers . They'll ripen to red and then probably be picked off by other birds to be eaten and spread as nature intended).
Another shot of Coral Honeysuckle. Blooms from early spring right through summer and into autumn. One of my favorite plants! Yes, it's a little rampant, but you can cut it back hard at pretty much anytime and it will bounce back.

One more view of the Coral Honeysuckle flowers. I tried to duck down and get a pic from the hummingbird's point of view on its approach. Sure looks enticing...

Coreopsis verticillata "Zagreb". I've got two of these plants growing underneath a crape myrtle. They're probably getting a little too much shade and I might try transplanting them this autumn. That said, they're still blooming nicely and have probably increased in size by 3-4 times since I planted them early this spring. They bloom for months without deadheading and seem to attract some tiny critters (originally I just saw ants, more recently I've seen some small bees visiting the flowers too).

I didn't want to overwhelm with a cavalcade of photos. So I split up the bounty into multiple posts. Stay tuned for installment #2!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Learning from Cheekwood - Mahonia, Dianthus, Abelia, Ajuga, Aucuba, Baptisia, Lantana, Salvia, Vitex and more!


I love visiting botanic gardens when I travel. It's always fun to see the variety of plants that can grow in an environment very different from the one where I live.

But it's equally pleasurable - and in some ways probably more useful - to visit a botanic garden close to home. The plants growing in your hometown botanic garden probably face many of the same growing conditions - heat, cold, rain, drought, soil, wind, etc. - that you encounter in your own backyard.

So it was in that spirit that I headed off to Cheekwood Botanical Garden in Nashville one humid August morning to see how the plants were getting on. Here are my opinionated takeaways:


Mahonia looked pretty awful when I visited Cheekwood this past winter. I wanted to see whether the plants had bounced back. They had not. Some of the Mahonias at Cheekwood seemed to have died all the way back to their roots

Even where stems did survive, it looks the garden staff had to prune out a lot of tips, and some of the remaining foliage still looks dead/damaged. The end result looks pretty mangled. Personally, based on my first-hand observations, I wouldn't recommend planting Mahonia anywhere colder than zone 7b at a minimum. (When I say Mahonia, I believe that these are a mix of Mahonia aquifolium and Mahonia x media.)

Dianthus gratianopolitanus as groundcover
I've been thinking that Dianthus gratianopolitanus (Clove Pinks) might make a decent weed-excluding groundcover. Looks like there could be some merit to that idea...

Abelia x grandiflora with bee. I've been toying with the idea of adding some of these to my landscape for their reputed toughness, long flowering season and ability to attract bees and butterflies. I don't remember what the foliage on this plant looked like when I visited Cheekwood in wintertime (it can be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous depending on the climate), but it looks gorgeous now. And I've got photographic proof that at least one bumblebee likes Glossy Abelia!

No sign on this groundcover, but I think it is Ajuga tenorii "Chocolate Chip", a thin-leaved Ajuga species that gets great reviews on the Dave's Garden website.  Looks like it should do a pretty decent job as a weed-blocker -- plus gotta love those spring Ajuga flowers!
Ajuga reptans. The sign didn't list a cultivar, so perhaps this is the straight species. Not sure about the other lighter green plants in the mix. 

No sign on this, but it seems to be some sort of diseased / damaged Arborvitae. Maybe Thuja occidentalis? Or perhaps Thuja "Green Giant"? Either way, it's a sobering reminder that Thuja (if I've got the ID correct) can have some issues in the long-run...

These Aucuba japonica shrubs (not sure which cultivar) look fantastic. Not sure what sort of irrigation they get (if any), but they're clearly able to take a zone 6b / 7a winter plus a typically hot Tennessee summer without skipping a beat
Baptisia australis, Blue False Indigo, a Tennessee native looking healthy, happy and bushy.  From my own experience, this is a tough, beautiful plant. I love plants whose foliage looks beautiful from spring through frost. You can see this perennial gets pretty big and bushy, so stand back and give it some room!
Salvia officinalis "Berggarten", Garden Sage, I tried growing this one year in a pot and it was not happy. But then again, I'm quite a bumbling container gardener. Perhaps I need to give Berggarten a fighting chance by planting it in garden soil?

Not terribly exciting looking, but this Blue-Eyed Grass certainly looks healthy. I'd just have to make sure that I didn't mistake it for a weed and shovel prune it accidentally!

Butterfly - a Red-Spotted Purple, I believe

Some sort of Camellia. The pruning indicates to me that this young bush suffered some dieback in the 2013-14 winter. Not too surprised as all my camellias - especially the younger ones - suffered damage last winter. Two were killed outright and another was killed back to within a foot of the ground. In my personal experience, it's dicey trying to grow Camellias in Middle Tennessee, even in protected microclimates.

Capsicum annuum, Pepper! These plants are very low-growing -- probably not more than 6-inches tall -- but I have to say the vibrant colors and gumball shape of the pepper fruits makes them very eye-catching. Not sure whether all peppers are edible, but these look as though they're just supposed to be ornamental.

This is an apple-sized fruit on an unnamed hybrid quince (Chaenomeles genus). I've heard good things about Chaenomeles - that it's super tough and able to tolerate heat, cold (to zone 5), drought, wind, etc. I've also heard that it can be susceptible to fire blight in places like Tennessee that have hot and humid summers. Still, this plant looked large (perhaps 8-10 feet tall) and totally healthy. I may need to give Chaenomeles another look. Plus, the fruit is supposed to be fragrant or even edible when cooked. 
Oh - but be careful! Chaenomeles can also have some vicious looking long thorns!

These are Ginkgo leaves in the foreground, but I really wanted to focus the camera on the tree in the background with the sparse / dying (?) canopy. That's Chamaecyparis obtusa, Hinoki Falsecypress. It does not look happy here. I've heard Hinoki trees have low drought tolerance. Perhaps this tree suffered one drought too many?


This is not the summer of the Cicada Invasion - you know, where they swarm in the millions. We had one of those a few years back, thank you very much. But of course there are still a few "off cycle" cicadas out and about. Here's a shell that one of them left attached to a crape myrtle tree. And if you're up for a little insect molting action, you can see some amazing cicada photos here.

Sorry this pic is slightly out of focus, but I was charmed by the bumpy fruit on this Cornus kousa var. chinensis. I've red that red, ripe Kousa Dogwood fruit may be edible (supposed to have a sweet pulp and a bitter skin) 
Here's another tree in the dogwood family - Cornus mas or Cornelian Cherry - that is supposed to have edible fruit. And here's a photo of one of these fruits. (I did not try picking and eating it, because I don't know what sort of chemicals (if any) the garden might spray on its plants. And also because I don't know Cheekwood's policies on guests harvesting fruit from its trees.

This is a little bit of a worrisome photo for me. The plant tag identified this as Thuja occidentalis DeGroot's Spire. Why is that an issue? I was under the impressed that DeGroot's Spire stayed super slim and narrow with a single leader. This clearly shows how the plant can birfucate (or trifurcate?) into multiple leaders so that it looks like several plants jammed together. Not awful, but not exactly the look I was seeking when I planted four of them on my front foundation. Ah well, we'll see how mine grow. Or perhaps secondary and tertiary leaders can be pruned off early in the game?

No plant tag here either, but I'm pretty sure this Ophiopogon japonicus Nana, a.k.a. Dwarf Japanese Mondo Grass. One problem I noticed here is that the 'grass' seems so short that weeds might be able to pop up right in the middle. Not a desirable trait in a groundcover.

Another obvious problem with Dwarf Japanese Mondo Grass is that a harsh zone 7a winter (or conversely even a warm zone 6b winter) may leave the Ophiopogon with some permanent dead leaves that persist in an unslightly fashion throughout the year. Not a good look. I suspect the plant is best-suited for zone 7b or warmer -- and even then, I'd be a little skeptical about the plant's ability to completely block weeds.

Epimedium x versicolor Sulphureum looks like it makes an incredibly lush, thick, healthy groundcover despite last winter's cold and this summer's typical heat and humidity. I've been eyeing this Epimedium for a while and might try adding some to my garden this autumn.

A lovely thick patch of Hellebores. Often praised for their evergreen foliage and winter flowers, you can see that Hellebores can make a nice-looking groundcover even during the dog days of summer.

Here's a hops vine that has covered some sort of pillar. It's my understanding that Humulus lupulus, hardy to zone 3, dies back to the roots in the winter, which would mean this is all new growth. It's astoundingly lush and healthy looking, even rampant. Not sure whether it gets any supplemental water. My only concern is that I didn't see much in the way of flowers, it looked like almost all foliage. I believe some people grow hops vine as a seasonal screen and I can certainly see how it could serve that purpose. 

Uh oh. No sign on this one, but from the dead foliage, it looks like it might be Cephalotaxus harringtonia "Fastigiata". Why does that worry me? Because I planted one of these shrubs this past spring. Originally it looked quite healthy, but now a number of the needles are turning brown. I hope it doesn't end up like this specimen! Not sure what's going on with mine (or what happened with this one), because I thought that they were supposed to be quite tough.

Lantana camara, no sign, ergo not sure what variety. The colors look different from the Miss Huff variety, which is the one that I'm planning to add to the garden next spring due to its reputed heat tolerance, drought tolerance, ability to attract butterflies (though I didn't see any on this lantana). Also, while most lantana are only supposed to be hardy to zones 9-10 and reportedly can be invasive in tropical areas, I understand that Miss Huff may be hardy into zone 7 (ergo it has a chance of behaving like a perennial in Middle Tennessee). Miss Huff is also supposed to be sterile, which should prevent it from becoming a menace in the local wild areas.

I thought this might be Liriope, but the thin foliage makes me think it could be Ophiopogon japonicus, Monkey Grass. What do you think?

This is Melissa officinalis, a.k.a. Lemon Balm. According to the identifying sign, this is a variety called Lime. I've got to say, it seemed rather stressed and stunted by the heat and the mostly sunny setting. I don't want to brag, but I've got a patch of (spreading) Melissa officinalis in my own garden this seems much happier and healthier in a mostly shady setting. 

Clearly Cheekwood does not have a rabbit problem. How do I know? Because this is Portulaca grandiflora, a.k.a. the Moss Rose. I had a (smaller) patch of this in my garden --- until the rabbits (I'm blaming them anyway) nibbled it down to the nubs. It's hanging on, but only as a shadow of its former floriferous self.

Wow! Now this is what Russian Sage should look like! I have a patch that doesn't look nearly as healthy as this. Wish I knew what I'm doing wrong or what Cheekwood is doing right... You can't tell from this photo, by the way, but this probably had more bees visiting than any other plant I saw at Cheekwood during my visit.

This is Salvia leucantha, Mexican Bush Sage. Most sources list it as being hardy to zone 8, but Armitage says it could be hardy in zones 6-7. It's supposed to flower from late summer into autumn, so presumably it hasn't started yet. I was just enamored with its healthy-looking elegant grey-green foliage.

Finally we have the Chaste Tree - Vitex agnus-castus. It's being grown like a shrub here at Cheekwood. I've heard it likes full sun best (grows faster, has more flowers), but even in a significant amount of shade (as shown here), it seems to be lush, healthy and fairly dense. This is definitely a tough plant. If it had any dieback last winter, you couldn't tell by August. I'm going to say that Vitex agnus-castus is thoroughly hardy in zone 6b. I'm guessing it would survive in zone 6a too, though perhaps as a die-back shrub. And I wonder if anyone has tried it in zone 5?! (Warning to zone-pushers, it does leaf out late in the spring even in zone 6b/7a, so I wouldn't give it pride of place in your zone 5-6 garden unless you enjoy looking at bare stems for six months. But it could work well in the background or as part of a mixed evergreen-deciduous hedge. I suspect that Vitex agnus-castus truly reveals its full potential in zones 7b-9.