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Staking Plants

Lean on Me

staking plants, floppy perennialsIt would be great if all plants were self-supporting, but some of the most beautiful species strain under the smallest hardship. A brief rain might pull heavy blooms down into the mud or tear leafy branches away from a tightly columnar central leader. Some plants overindulge, pushing all their nutrients into flowers, leaving nothing for strong stems. Some are top-heavy in shape, and gravity simply takes over as they grow.

There are very few perennials that don’t need staking, and this is why they aren’t used on larger commercial landscape designs, with a few exceptions. When you look at photos of beautiful English garden-style perennial beds in magazines, know that those gardens have staff who have individually staked each and every bloom so they are positioned perfectly for the shot. I imagine there may be one or two poor souls lying prostrate during the photo session with one hand tilting a plant just so. The attendant gardeners watch as each stem grows and guide the growth carefully through expensive eyelet stakes or grid netting to artificially produce the perfect floral configuration. If you’ve read Gertrude Jeckyll’s Color Schemes for the Flower Garden, you’ve seen what it takes.

Are you more of a realist with a limited horticultural staff and no money to purchase thousands of Charleston-green-painted metal rods to support your prized perennials? No problem!

Plant Reversion

Has This Ever Happened to You?

reversion, plant reverts back to original, variegation changes

Have you ever seen a variegated plant spontaneously begin growing non-variegated leaves? It’s an interesting thing. A perfectly good variegated Sedum can begin morphing into a nondescript green plant. When a plant reverts back to its parent form, you must act right away. As cruel as it may seem, you need to cut out all the offending sports-in-reverse before they ruin your special plant. If you don’t act soon, the new green plant, like an evil twin, will quickly overtake and cannibalize the original plant. The multi-colored look is cool, but hesitation will mean loss. The reversion shoots are much more vigorous and fast-growing. If you wait for very long to pull out the rogue stems, there will soon be a disproportionately large amount of them relative to the entire plant. Then, removing them could result in killing the original plant! Act swiftly when you see your variegated plant turn green. The reversion can take place after just a few days of heavy rain. If left for a month, there might be no variegation left on your plant, so immediate, minor surgery is needed (see the before and after pictures).

Installing Annuals

High-maintenance Landscape Jewelry

Ah, color bursts made with flowers! What could be nicer? Public outdoor spaces graced with well-done, seasonal color beds make a local area special and improve the quality of living. They attract happy people, and happy people bring with them economic vitality. Beautiful annual beds make a visual statement about a community. They say an area is up-scale and alive with activity. Flower color is wonderful.

Public floral displays are prolific in places like Canada, New Zealand, England, and France as well as botanical gardens. Why not create more of these in the U.S.? Cost is typically the concern. The biggest cost is skilled maintenance. The second biggest cost is soil preparation. Everything else about it is pretty easy and fairly inexpensive. If your community can afford skilled crews three times a year for installation, someone to regularly water and weed the beds, and you can afford to purchase a good soil mix with slow-release fertilizer to freshen the bedding areas, your local floral displays can be prolific, too.

Asiatic Lilies

Reliable Wow!

orange asiatic lilyAsiatic Lilies come from bulbs and a reliably hardy most of the time. If you are looking for ways to provide pop in a perennial border, but you don’t have a lot of room, try them. Remove the blooms when spent, but preserve the foliage for a strong bloom next year. This one was purchased at a grocery store, and it has been a delightful surprise performer every year. I don’t know the cultivar name of this dwarf orange Asiatic Lily, but I just love it. It is probably a tetraploid hybrid. The upward-facing blooms are incredible! The footprint in the garden is negligible, so it can be tucked in comfortably between other perennials. Next to blues or green-flowering plants, it is outstanding. Asiatic Lilies are not fussy and provide bold color to the garden.



A Vine that Just Won’t Quit

wisteria seed pods

English Ivy is a bad weed and Chinese Privet is difficult to control, but the most tenacious, invasive plant of them all is Wisteria. So robust is the growth of Wisteria vines, they grow up and across the road on power lines and tree limbs. Once its roots establish a spot in the ground, it is almost impossible to eliminate it. Spraying with herbicides is relatively ineffective. Thank goodness it doesn’t cover territory as vigorously as Kudzu! It can easily grow to a size that can collapse a sturdy trellis, and will grow trunks the size of trees. My typical advice to homeowners with a Wisteria problem is to move.

You can make a floral arrangement container out of anything you can imagine. Where I live, the Wisteria grows in every empty lot. They call the streets in my area “the flower streets”, and one of them is named Wisteria Way for good reason. I made the one pictured above from Wisteria pods.

On a winter walk, I heard popping sounds, and discovered the furry Wisteria seed pods were exploding overhead and dropping to the asphalt by the hundreds. It seemed like I was in the crossfire of tiny cannons. The seed pods are beautiful, furry, long, twisted fingers. The pods curl back as they release the shiny, black seeds. I returned the next day with a grocery bag and gathered up bunches of the felt-like spirals. Walking through this amazing tunnel of bursting seeds, I was inspired to make something useful from the pods. Look around to find items for your next floral arrangement.

Finding Plants

Happy Surprises Bring Joy to Gardening

hidden plants, finding plants for free

One of the happy surprises of gardening is finding lost and forgotten plants—plants that you thought had died—plants that somehow have managed to survive in spite of serious neglect on your part. In our move from our previous home, I hastily dug up anything small enough to carry and plopped those plants wherever I could get a shovel in the ground at the new place. That was several years ago, but recently, after a whirlwind of busy work, I found some extra time. It allowed me to finally focus on the new yard and see things typically unnoticed. I was delighted to witness the resurrection of some plants from the old home place! Happy surprises bring joy to gardening.

Tucked among the leaf litter and spreading Liriope grass, I spotted Geranium maculatum, the Wood/Spotted Geranium, quietly struggling to survive amid the competing foundation shrubs and ground covers. The Wood Geranium is not the same plant as the weedy Geranium dissectum or Geranium carolinianum, which are wild Geraniums that litter lawn grass in early spring. This one has flowers that are pretty—big, pale rose-colored blossoms with darker stripes radiating out from the center. It forms a nice mound of interestingly-lobed foliage and blooms.

I tried rescuing it today by relocating it to a partly sunny location out of the line of footpaths, in decent soil. I suppose it will be several years before it flowers, but it has sprouted new leaves. I hope it naturalizes and thrives in its new location. It is amazing to see it still alive. The ground where I found it was solid, compacted clay, having gone through at least four droughty seasons without withering away. Only two or three leaves were remaining, but it is obviously resilient and can handle difficult soils. It prefers and deserves better treatment.  I don’t see how it could have lived another year, so the rescue came in its last moments of life.

Some Interesting Seed Companies

The Magic of Trilliums


trilliums, woodland flowers, ephemerals

Each spring, the Trillium cuneatum rises from my woodland garden floor in camouflage colors and whispers that spring is here. It will quietly disappear a few weeks later and cause me a bit of concern. Will it return next year? I feel honored it has chosen to survive in the dry shade of my back yard. It seems so Appalachian to be growing in the Deep South! Little Sweet Betsy is an appropriate name. It causes me to slow down and appreciate the beauty of nature with quiet reflection.

Flower gardens are created and planted according to the will of the designer, but there are some plants that can’t/won’t be forced into an artificial design. Spring ephemerals are like that. They typically don’t like to be moved or bothered. If you have them, respect their location and work with their whims. Digging them up to transplant will probably kill them. Native spring ephemerals can never be used as part of a large-scale landscape project. Their place is with knowledgeable native plant gardeners, botanical gardens, and as protected volunteers in your landscape. They are special because they can’t be tamed.

Purchasing woodland ephemerals should be done with care. There are people who collect these treasures illegally, sometimes by poaching them from public parks. Do some research. Find out how the plants were propagated, and only purchase them from legitimate sources. 

Year-round Color with Bulbs

Plan for Spring this Fall

roadside flowers, ice follies, double smiles, narcissus

Old-fashioned spring bulbs keep giving and giving and giving. They come back year after year in spite of stress because they are dormant and store energy underground during the worst heat and drought of summer. They have very few insect pests and disease problems. Some are deer-resistant and can be very poisonous. Your childhood home most likely has a clump of German Iris still living, Spring Beauties in the lawn, and cheerful yellow Daffodils scattered randomly. Nothing lasts like self-reliant bulbs! I love them, because they are a connection with perennial gardeners of the past.

The time to buy spring bulbs is in the fall. It pays to know which bulbs can take clay soils, heat, drought, and humidity. If you live in the Southeast and purchased Daffodils from a wholesale nursery in Oregon, where they propagate their cold-loving bulbs in moist, well-drained soil, new bulbs may only last one year. Bulbs have a range of cold-tolerance, so check out the hardiness of each species before you buy. When you make your fall bulb purchase, choose varieties adapted to your area, and if possible, buy from a local or regional supplier. If you wait too long to plant in the fall, your new bulbs will dry out and mold, just like onions left too long in a refrigerator. Planting by Thanksgiving gives bulbs exposure to cold and improves the bloom.

In heavy clay, forget trying to grow Anemone sp., Camassia sp., Dahlia sp., Eranthus sp., Fritallaria sp., or Galanthus sp., unless you’re up for some disappointments. They’re not impossible, but they are a challenge for beginners. Here are some recommendations for bulbs and bulb-like favorites for heavy clay.