Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Had to add another blanket to the bed. Temperatures are dipping into the 40's at night and yesterday they never climbed above the mid-50's. Still, I can't bear to close the windows. I'm in denial. Wrapped up in my cocoon of quilts I can refuse to admit summer is over but when my feet hit the floor on these brisk autumn mornings, I question my stubbornness and consider turning on the furnace.

The summer was unusually cool and wet. A real gift for gardeners, like gardening in the Pacific Northwest. Not a happy summer for water skiers, swimmers, and sun worshiper, but to me it was very nearly perfect.

Several new perennials joined the collection this year. Mostly late season bloomers to provide color into autumn. With a few exceptions, all the plants preformed well and I'm pleased with them. Among these new plants, two surprised me with their beauty and length of bloom periods.

Hybrid geranium Rozanne, I had heard was not reliably hardy to zone 4 but this year she was given a chance to show what she could do. A six inch plant just beginning to bloom when she arrived here in June, she crawled and sprawled among the foliage of taller plants carpeting the ground at their feet in blue. Four solid months and still no sign of stopping. In late September she blankets an irregular oval more than three feet in diameter, every inch covered in bright blue cups. Fingers crossed the winter will not defeat her.

The second outstanding performer was a tiny plant without a name bought at a local plant sale. Finally identified as a native rudbeckia, but one I'd never tried--rudbeckia triloba. What a charmer when it finally burst into bloom in early August. In the evenings, just before the sun sets, when the garden is darkening and colors blur, some trick of the light makes the yellow flower petals reflect the sun's last rays and the blooms seem to be illuminated from within. Of course this inner glow doesn't photograph, but it is something to marvel at every evening. Triloba continues to bloom and looks almost as good now as it did in August. The length of bloom exceeds that of old faithful Goldstrum.

Of course this is the secrete, this is why gardens are never really finished. Every year it becomes a challenge to find just one more plant that will exceed our expectations and give us so much pleasure.

I hope this year brought you a plant that surprised you with its beauty. Have a wonderful week and don't admit summer is over yet. Hope to see you here next Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Of butterflies, beads and busses

I have been sharing the garden with this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly since early August. He must have sustained sever damage fairly early in his life. You would be amazed at how well he flies considering the amount of wing he has lost.

Now in mid September, his color has faded to dull brown with cream and the edges of his wings are tattered. Still he continues to visit the Volcano Phlox everyday.

A black swallowtail is another visitor to the pink Volcano phlox. This phlox has turned out to be the hands down favorite of swallowtail butterflies for the last three years.

Another interesting note, hummingbirds prefer the species tall garden phlox to any of the hybrids.

Jewelry Making

a new hobby

Went to my first jewelry making class last Saturday. I love polished stones and wanted to make something casual to wear this fall with denim jackets and jeans. I chose turquoise colored stones and silver beads for my first necklace.

Also attending the class was a music teacher who wanted earrings to go with each of her outfits and two young ladies who made bracelets of glass beads.

I ended up making a bracelet of translucent stones and silver beads in addition to the necklace.

Taking photos of jewelry is more difficult than expected. To get good shots without a lot of indoor lightening equipment, I will need to set up a display area outside. Much more work is needed to improve my skills.

"Move That Bus"

We had celebrities in our area last week. The team from
Extreme Makeover: Home Addition

were here helping the Scott family whose home burned several months ago. The Scotts had recently moved to Lena, Illinois to become organic farmers.

(Rockford Register Star Photo)

The new home, built by volunteers from recycled materials, is a classic farmhouse design with yellow trim and shutters. It also has a few 'green' features like a three-kilowatt windmill for electrical supply, a geothermal heating/hot water system, and a rain water collection system.

Actor David Duchovny, former X-file star, was here Wednesday promoting the eco-friendly additions.

(Rockford Register Star Photo)

The build went very well and the house was finished in record time. Several thousand locals showed up at the finish to shout "move that bus".

(Rockford Register Star Photo)

Date and time for this episode is not yet scheduled but it will probably air in December. Without a doubt, this program has brought a lot of joy to many families down on their luck.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Mish Mash Monday Post

Saturday morning dawned warm but foggy. There were a lot of Add Videothings planned so I got an early start.

First I stopped at my favorite greenhouse for a tomato tasting event.

The late blight that wiped out most of the areas tomato crop was the main topic of conversation. The U of I is saying it was caused by some kind of fungus but that’s the best they can do. Disappointing. Their advise, pull up the plants, roots and all and burn them. Never compost tomato plants. Always practice at least a three year rotation when planting new tomato plants. It’s a good possibility the unusually wet and cool summer contributed and allowed the fungus to become wide spread. We will see next year if it returns.

The hostess had managed to round up ten or twelve heirloom tomato varieties but not nearly as many as she wanted. Still it was fun visiting with other gardeners and looking at the fall mums on display. Three Rozanne geraniums came home with me for just $3 each. Love a bargain.

Next on the schedule, shopping for clothes for Mom. Generally I hate shopping but Saturday was such a perfect day, even dreaded tasks could be cheerfully done. Ended up with a nice selection of fall cloths in a minimum amount of time.

On a whim I stopped by a bead shop and spent an hour just looking at the lovelies. Of course there was a string of turquoise stones I couldn’t resist. Before leaving I signed up for a jewelry making class next Saturday morning. I’m excited about this and wish it wasn’t such a long wait till next week.

Next a late lunch with Dad and then stops at various hardware stores.

Late afternoon was all mine so I took a relaxing walk with my camera and snapped some lovely wild flowers.

The garden is just about finished for this year. Always a bitter sweet time. By mid September, most of us are tired of the constant demands of a large garden but we will miss those blooms waiting just outside the back door, lifting our spirits every morning.

The leaves are turning, the first frosts could come any day now… Since fall and winter are quiet times for me, I’ve decided to change my blogging schedule to once a week. Effective next week there will be one posting each Wednesday.

Hoping everyone has a wonderful week.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The greatest generation

The migration begins. In some places in Nebraska large numbers can be seen in the waning hours of daylight. Farmers say entire trees turn orange as resting butterflies spread their wings to catch the last warm rays of the sun. What a wonderful sight that must be.

Somehow this generation of monarchs knows it is time to leave the place of their birth and make the seemingly impossible journey to the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.

Normally monarchs only live a few weeks but the generation born in the fall will travel as far as three thousand miles to Mexico and wait there through the winter. In the spring they will return to the United States. Their offspring will then finish the trip and repopulate the areas where their parents were born.

One of nature's most amazing stories. These tiny creatures with tissue paper wings will fly thousands of miles to a place they have never been before. Nothing but the whispers of a million ancestors to guide them there and back.

The caterpillars above (five total) spent a week or more eating my ascelpias tuberosa (butterfly weeds) and then left the plants hopefully to form a chrysalis in which to be transformed into beautiful creatures. This is the stuff fairy tales are made of.

The greatest adventure lies before them fraught with terrible dangers. The future of the species rests on their tiny wings. Good luck and safe journey.

Monday, September 7, 2009

By September of last year my garden was completely done. Poor planning on my part, I ran out of blooming plants before I ran out of sunny, late summer days.

This year I made a big effort to add late bloomers to carry me through to at least the middle of September when nights get cold and sometimes early frosts put an end to the gardening season.

Today's featured plant is the Michaelmas daisy, New York aster or novae-belgii, call it by any of these names, it's the same perfectly lovely little plant. This is my first year growing them and so far I'm delighted. They are very like the little Jim Crockett boltonia I featured previously. Compact, neat, only about two feet tall and covered in blooms.

I love the bright electric magenta color. I also have a bluer toned version planted later in the summer and not very big yet.

I had made a note this time last year to look for aster Blue Bird, symphyotrichum laeve but so far haven't been able to find it. Next spring I will order it from Blue Stone much as I hate mail order for most plants.

This last photo is very poor and I apologize. I wanted to show the tiny Pearl Crescent butterfly on the bloom. Wish there was such a thing as a shade loving butterfly. They are always active during the sunniest hours and photos tend to wash out badly in strong sunlight. Also, I should have cropped it more. Anyway, you can trust me, the Pearlies like this plant a lot.

I'm hoping these asters do well in my garden and return next spring. I purchased these at Home Depot and highly recommend them.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The autumn stonecrops

I didn't used to like sedums. It isn't completely clear to me why they have become a favorite in more recent years. Like anyone, I appreciate the easy, no care quality of these plants. Maybe I've just come to enjoy the autumn bloomers more because they are so few. Then too, hybridizers are introducing new plants every year with very appealing and unusual colors and shapes.

Sedum ‘Frosty Morn’ is new to me. Apple green foliage with creamy white accents. Flowers are pale pink when new, maturing darker and persisting through the winter.

I've heard some gardeners complain Frosty Morn throws non-variegated stems. If mine does this, I will be sure to remove these green stems promptly or the plant may revert to its all green ancestor. Hardy in my zone 4 and up to 9, full sun is best for good color. Well drained soil will keep the plant healthy but it should not be too picky. I will cut back at least once in spring to create a fuller, more compact plant and to produce additional cuttings to root for my garden.

Sedum 'Autumn Joy' is everyone's dependable old friend. It's been around forever and with good cause. AJ grows well in almost any soil and tolerates shady situations if pinched back to prevent it from getting weak and floppy. This year has been a hectic one for me and I failed to cut back several Autumn Joy plants. Now as they begin blooming they are opening up in the center and the stems are splayed outward in an unattractive manner. Next year I'll try not to be so lax about pruning.

Autumn Joy is useful over the course of several seasons. In spring the little rosettes emerge like clumps of tiny cabbages. The flower buds form in late summer and progress through several color changes. In winter the brown stalks add interest.

Sedum ‘Matrona’ with grayish/green leaves and wine colored stems. In my garden it blooms a few weeks earlier than 'Autumn Joy'. Other than the stem color, I don't see a great improvement in appearance between Matorna and its parent Autumn Joy. Matrona seems to suffer more leaf damage and sunburn, has weaker stems, and isn't as robust and trouble free as Autumn Joy.

The blooms go through several shades of pink from pale, apple blossom pink to a rusty raspberry and finally maturing to a chocolate brown that carries through the winter.

Matrona will be hardy in zones 4-9, full sun for best color and upright growth. I prune exactly as I do with Autumn Joy for a better shape, upright habit and to get new plants.

Sedum tetractinum ‘Vera Jameson’ has very relaxed stems that allow it to droop gracefully over a wall or the side of a pot. The leaves are a watered burgundy color and contrast nicely with other plants. VJ will not grow very tall so I prune for propagation and fuller branching.

Butterflies and bees love sedum. Since they are one of the latest garden bloomers, it would benefit these insects to pinch back a few plants late in the summer to delay blooms up to and beyond frost.

Sedums are perhaps the easiest plants in the garden to propagate. Simply cut a 4-8 inch piece of stem in late spring/early summer and stick the cuttings. I drill holes in the bottoms of plastic cups and fill with potting soil. I remove all but 2 or 3 top leaves and place the stems in potting soil kept barely damp, not wet. You can also stick directly in the garden, just don't forget you have a tiny new plant growing there. Few weeks, new plant.