Seasonal

After years of yanking the pervasive (and invasive) red roots of bittersweet from my garden beds, I am highly paranoid about the re-introduction of this noxious weed.

But I can’t deny that it is simply beautiful this time of year.  I’m constantly seeing it grace all sorts of stylish tables,  and long strands are regularly used to drape over doors and wind and twist into beautiful seasonal arrangements.  I usually snort at the editor who commissioned this and how he or she clearly has no idea what a nightmare this plant can be if it takes hold.

bittersweet vineBut, I can’t deny the lure of those orange berries with their papery yellow casings and I can’t help but lust after those pretty twisty branches.

With a quick bit of reasearch, I’ve confirmed what I already knew –  it is not compostable (unless you relish that battle).  Disposal recommendations include sending it to the landfill (this is logic I don’t fully understand and I am not going to follow this recommendation) or burning.  Dilemma solved, I can decorate with abandon, and when it is time to take it down I can safely burn it in the wood stove.

So, before the snow hits later today, I will bring my pruners with me as I walk the woods and gather the makings of lovely decorations for the long holiday weekend.

In the first issue of PITH + VIGOR,  Joanne Neale shared four great planting combos for fall-blooming bulbs – but a couple combos hit the cutting room floor.  They were pretty great – but we just didn’t have the space to print them all, so here are the other two – for even more inspiration.

Fall- Blooming True Crocus (USDA Zone 4-6)

Crocus speciosus at www.studiogblog.com and www.pithandvigor.com

This is indeed a relative of the common spring crocus (you know, the one that looks great until the squirrels eat the flowers), with both flowers and foliage similar in appearance. Most autumn crocuses come from Mediterranean climates and are only hardy in Zones 7–9, but those from the European continent can survive in Zone 5. The most widely available is Crocus speciosus (very large violet flowers, there is also a white form). Also Zone 5-hardy are c. nudiflorus (very large violet, tolerates moist soil and naturalizes in thin grass), c. kotchyanus (purple with a gold throat)  and  the pale lilac c. pulchellus (October bloom with spring foliage; a white-flowered form is ‘Michael Hoog’).

Read the full post

Redbor kale

From this title, “Traffic Stopping Kale,” you may be imagining a major traffic incident in Los Angeles or Santa Barbara where a truck loaded with kale turned over on the interstate. Then tons of drivers hit their brakes and start grazing right off of the roadway. No, that is not what I am implying at all.

Although the idea of a kale wreck causing tons of health food loving and fad craving masses to mob the scene may be slightly humorous (no one was hurt during this visual introduction), that is not what I meant at all. I am talking about kale literally stopping traffic, be it by automobile, foot, or bike. The particular kale that will cause disruption in others’ daily routine is the Redbor kale. In case you have not seen it, Redbor kale (Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’) is a 3-4 foot tale kale with deep purple, crinkly-edged leaves. This plant is such a striking presence in the garden that as it matures, it takes on the size of a small shrub. Not only is it beautiful and striking but yes, the leaves are completely edible. Add Redbor kale along a sunny sidewalk, and watch the Lululemon-clad hordes congregate in salivating awe.

Kale Redbor La

The specifics on growing Redbor kale are: it can be grown from seed or plugs, plant in late spring in a sunny, well-drained garden bed, it is ready to harvest from plugs in about 55 days, from seed it would be ready to harvest in 75 days. Redbor kale leaves can be harvested and eaten while they are young so a few plants in your garden will provide a summer full of purplish, healthy kale smoothies. In case you do not get around to harvesting all of the leaves, the older leaves will soften if left until a light autumn frost. Some of the plant sources cite that plants will come back if covered and mulched over the winter. We are going to test this notion at our USDA zone 6a gardens at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens this winter.

The leaves and stems are beautiful and sturdy so another great use is in floral arrangements. If you are having a dinner party, make a Redbor kale centerpiece so if your guests are still hungry, they can nibble on the decoration.

Add Brassica oleracea ‘Redbor’ to your list of must grow plants. I know you will love the appearance, you will have passers-by stopping to ask about the plant, and if you have kids, Redbor kale chips are the best snack food. Especially if you throw out all of the other snack food and leave kale chips laying on the kitchen table. Not that we would do that.

– Rodney

Images: Annie’s Annuals, LSU Ag Center

Viridflora tulip

Have you started planting your spring bulbs? We started planting last week at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens and hope to be finished by early next week. This year, we are going all out and planting close to 35,000 spring flowering bulbs, most of which are tulips. We began designing our tulip displays in June and July when we had to get our orders into the major bulb wholesalers. Digging through all of the catalogs with the bulb pictures and descriptions can take quite a while and paring down a list to just the tulips you need is difficult because we want to try them all! We want to have color in the spring for our guests while at the same time, introduce some new and out of the ordinary plants to the gardens. In years past we have used solid-colored tulips, multiple-colored tulips, and even some color blended tulips (a planting mix where several shades are mixed together into one bag or box for a multi-color flowering mass). After researching new and unusual tulips, I came across a really cool group with green in their flowers. Any of the tulips that have green in their petals are classified into the group Viridiflora. The Viridiflora or green tulips come in yellow, red, pink, yellow, orange, and various shades in between, all with some green in the flower.

tulip viridflora mix

I have never really been fond of fancy or frilly tulips like the parrots but I am over the moon for the Viridifloras. The various colors contrast nicely with the green stripe. Along with being eye-catching, the flowers are reported to be one of the longest lasting of cultivated tulips. Some of the cultivars that we are planting this week include: ‘China Town’ (pink, white, and green), ‘Golden Artist’ (yellow, red/orange, and green), and ‘Spring Green’ (white and green). One tulip that I really wanted to add this year was ‘Brooklyn’ but we were not able to find it available in the United States. ‘Brooklyn’ is one of the new all-green tulips whose flowers spiral up into a cluster, thus resembling an artichoke. I am guessing that some people will love it and some will hate it but at least it will catch people’s attention and get them interested in the diversity of tulips and this group.

Let us know which tulips you are really excited about planting this fall. Which ones are you looking forward to seeing come out of the ground and flower in the spring of 2015? Also, do you know where we can find ‘Brooklyn’ tulips?

– Rodney

Images: The Frustrated Gardener, Jardins Sans Secret

It feels so good to have the pergola mostly finished (we still have to stain it but we’ve relented…that just isn’t going to happen until spring).  We had a little gathering of friends and hastily put up some lights so that we could see at night and so that we had a little ambiance.

by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

Without a doubt these lights did the trick, but we found them to be incredibly fragile and in the course of stringing them up and despite our extreme care, quite a few broke.  These will continue to serve the purpose until they have to be taken down for the staining….but I worry that they will look even more shoddy by spring and I am certain they will not fair well in the taking down and putting back up.  by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

So I am shopping for something with the same warm light and that imparts light that is helpful for evening activities, but isn’t too harsh, isn’t too bright or not enough, and is just a little different.   I love little white twinkle lights, but I’m desiring something else.   by rochelle greayer www.studiogblog.com

So, I’m excited to find these:

lighting for the patio

1. Brown Edison Bulb String Lights – These will I hope be much more durable and interesting than the fragile balls that I used.  I think a few diagonal swags across the width of the structure will be perfect.
2. Black Chandelier String Lights  – Can I wrap more lights around this fixture (I really want to beef up the base)?  I hope so — would be so cool to hang two of them.
3. Copper Wire String Lights – I discovered these last winter and they are great for decorating plants that can’t otherwise hold lights (without damaging them).  FWIW, it isn’t a good idea to wrap trunks (like in this product photo – unless it is for a short period of time).

I’m debating if this will all be too much?  And if it is, which would I cut? hmmm….

Images by rochelle greayer

This post is sponsored by Lowes.   I am not an employee of Lowes and all opinions are my own.  See the other posts in this series. 

Fall-14-Blogger-Badge-200x200

 

Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Patrick Dempsey, Jennifer Aniston, and Sandra Bullock. I started naming random actors whose names relay beauty and attraction. If you were to do the same exercise with plants, which might come to mind? Coneflowers, roses, hibiscus, hydrangeas, and magnolias. What about Helenium or sneezeweeds? Maybe not the first plant to come to mind. Heleniums are like the Jude Law of the garden world. Almost all of you recognize the name. Some of you know exactly who he is while others of you think, “hmm, skinny British actor, right? I recognize the name but I can’t quite recognize the face.”
Helenium is a wonderful perennial with bad PR. Well, I am here to change that. The name Helenium is in honor of Helen of Troy, who in Greek mythology was Zeus’ daughter and the most beautiful woman in the world. Here is where you see the bad PR kicking in. How did a plant commemorating the most beautiful woman in the world become “sneezeweed?” I say we give it the new common name of Helen of Troy’s flower or Daughter of Zeus. Either way, it is way better than sneezeweed and since common names are colloquial, we can name it whatever we want.
Helenium hybrida 'Helbro' Mardi Gras with rudbeckia Goldsturm- lerner garden august 2013-DS7_1048
Now that we have the branding business out of the way, let us move on to the plants at hand. Any plant that can flower on sturdy stems from 4-5 feet in height from mid to late summer until frost is definitely worthy of consideration in the garden. Of the 40 or so species of Helenium, H. autumnale is the most common and garden worthy. This eastern US native begins to emerge from the ground each spring and continues to grow until it reaches its ultimate height in mid-summer. The plants maintain a somewhat uniform height and habit which makes a wonderful impact as it flowers en masse. The flowers can make quite an impact as a large group with their shades of oranges, yellows, reds, and even multi-colored flowers. Here at Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens, we grow the red and orange striped cultivar ‘Helbro’ or Mardi Gras, the orange flowered ‘Moerheim Beauty,’ and the red with some yellow ‘Red Jewel.’ They are just finishing their flowering now and we will begin cutting them back after our first frost. Speaking of frost and cold, they are hardy to USDA zone 3 or 4 depending on your soils and location. Helenium autumnale cultivars grow best in full sun with a rich and well-drained soil. They need adequate moisture as they emerge and start to flower. As for the common name of “sneezeweed,” this is an unfortunate moniker because the leaves were at one time made into a snuff and inhaled through the nose to force sneezing. This was believed to eliminate sicknesses. Now that we have modern medicine, it is time to drop the moniker of sneezeweed forever!
Helenium Moorheim Beauty 2
Did you know that Jude Law was nominated for two Academy Awards? Did you know that there are 12 cultivars of Helenium autumnale that have been awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit? This winter, as you plan your garden changes for 2015, be sure to add Helen of Troy’s flower to your garden designs while you are watching a Jude Law, Netflix marathon.
-Rodney
Images: William Cullina

Setaria palmifolia

*sort of

When I say sort of, I am alluding to the fact that this plant that looks like a palm is not really a palm. It is a grass that looks like a palm thus the common and not so creative name of palm grass. Palm grass or as is known in the Latin circles as Setaria palmifolia is a fast-growing annual grass. We brought our plants in as quart pots in late May of this year from Landcraft Environments, a wholesale nursery that operates on Long Island. June tends to stay relatively cool on the Maine coast and palm grass slowly starts to grow and stretch. By the end of summer, as temperatures reach the low 80’s on a daily basis, Setaria palmifolia plants are now over 3 feet tall and wide. The dark green leaves are around 3-4 inches in width, with ridges running along the leaf blades which make them resemble a palm leaf.

Having this texture in the mixed border is a nice contrast, especially in an area where palm trees seem to grow in various shades of greenish-yellow during the summer while taking on a perma-brown cast during the winter months. There is a good reason why palm trees have evolved not to live in New England. They hate the weather! That said, I love New England and I love palms so this is a seasonal compromise after our experiment growing needle palms this past winter turned into a mushy disaster.

The leaves and texture of palm grass are coarse with the plant forming a slightly upright clump. The palm grass makes for a nice backdrop for finer textured plants such as kangaroo paws, salvias, and foxgloves. Here in New England, I would grow the plants in full sun, with adequate moisture and ample nutrition. We mulch our plants early in the season with compost and then give them an extra boost with organic liquid fertilizer as soon as the temperatures start to reach their summer highs.

Setaria-palmifolia

We are planning on digging up a couple of clumps this winter and storing them in our greenhouse for safe keeping for next summer. I am looking forward to seeing how large this clump will become next summer from an established plant. If you live in a warmer climate where palm trees grow extremely well outside, year-round (USDA zones 8 and above) I would caution you to consider sticking with your palms over the palm grass. Setaria as a genus has a tendency to be a weed grass in southeast Asia and India. There are reports of palm grass self seeding in warmer parts of the United States so I would advise against its use in these warmer climes. For us here in New England who do not have the luxury of growing palms outside, year round (maybe it is the 3 to 4 months of snow and cold that do them in as it does in most people), palm grass is a wonderful annual to provide that tropical texture in mixed plantings.

– Rodney

Images: Rodney Eason, Lifestyle Home