June 29, 2008

Great Plant Photos

If you like browsing through gorgeous flower photos, here are a few links. Click on the small pictures to view a larger version.

Delphiniums: http://www.delphinium.co.nz/DelphiniumWallpaper.htm

Daylilies: http://www.designerdaylily.com

Siberian Iris: http://jpwflowers.com/introsiberiansJ-R.html

Bearded Iris: http://www.schreinersgardens.com/miva/merchant.mvc?Screen=CTGY&Store_Code=SIGO&Category_Code=TBI

English roses: http://davidaustinroses.com/american/Advanced.asp?PageId=2050

Fungus Gnats

My sister asks what she can do about the tiny flies on her indoor cactus plant. First of all, the tiny flies are called fungus gnats. These pesky insects pose little or no threat to plants, but they get annoying to us people. The best treatment/prevention is to avoid overwatering. So, little sis, just let your cactus dry out for a while in between each watering. For most houseplants, you should let the surface of the soil dry out before watering anyway. With a cactus you could let it get really dry in between waterings. If fungus gnats get too bad, some people recommend putting an inch-thick layer of sand on top of the soil. There are also sprays - like Gnatrol - to kill the little buggers.
I really should get some sand on all my houseplants. Last winter I grew about 100 delphiniums from seed in several windows around my house. I needed to keep the soil moist for the little sprouts, which led to an unfortunate increase of fungus gnats. The delphiniums are happily planted outside now, but the gnats live on in my numerous pothos, philodendrons and other houseplants. I really hate it when one flies up my nose when I'm falling asleep . . . and I'm embarrassed to think of what visitors must think if I don't explain the situation. I'll have to put sand on my next shopping list!

Hardiness Zones & Heat Zones

I was asked about hardiness zones, so here's some info on that topic. The USDA created a hardiness zone map to indicate the usual low temperatures for different areas. This is very helpful in determining whether a plant will survive winter in your area. Most plant tags will indicate the plant's hardiness zone. Lower zone numbers are assigned to colder areas. You can grow plants that are hardy in your zone and all lower (colder) zones. For example, I am in a zone 5, so I can grow anything listed as hardy to a zone 5,4,3,etc. Sometimes you can get away with planting something one zone higher than yours, if you plant it in a protected area (like on the south side of your home). You can find the USDA winter hardiness zone map at this link: http://www.growit.com/zones/.

Sunset magazine has also created a hardiness zone map. It uses different numbers and is much more specific than the USDA map. It considers factors like rainfall, length of growing season, humidity and summer heat, but it isn't as commonly used. You can find this map at:

The USDA has also created a heat zone map. This is important in areas that get quite hot in the summer, as some plants that laugh at severe Montana winters will cringe and die during an Arizona summer. You can find the heat zone map at this link: http://www.ahs.org/publications/heat_zone_map.htm.

These zones are very helpful, and I would strongly recommend that you figure out which zone is yours and always check plant tags before buying. My friends in Des Moines, IA and most of the Wasatch Front in Utah are in USDA zone 5. My lucky friends in Santa Clara, CA are in USDA zone 9. Oh, how I miss California . . .

June 4, 2008

Hooked On Iris

Bearded iris (also known as German Iris) are one of those plants that people go nuts over - like roses, daylilies and hostas. There are thousands and thousands of cultivars. I recently ignored my kids for a couple of hours so I could research some fabulous choices for my garden. A few of my choices are reblooming, so they should bloom once in spring and then again in late summer or fall. I generally prefer flowers of all one color, as I think they make a better show when mixed into the garden. These are called "selfs" in the iris world. All of the following are selfs. At first I tried to balance my color selection, but I was completely seduced by the blues. Blues are hard to find for the garden, so I went ahead and ordered a bunch of them!
All of these iris are available from schreinersgardens.com. If your order totals $80 or more, everything becomes half price, in which case you pay $40 (or half your total) plus shipping. That makes for a good deal, though the plants seem expensive if you buy them full price.

Reblooming yellow - 'Pure As Gold'

Reblooming white - 'Immortality'

Rosy pink - 'Coming Up Roses'

Short rosy pink - 'Pink Bubbles'

Cranberry - 'Cranberry Ice'

Dark purple - 'Titan's Glory'

Light Blue - 'Rapture in Blue'

Medium Blue - 'Full Tide'

Medium blue/violet - 'Rippling River'

Medium blue/violet - 'Mer Du Sud'

Garden Disasters to Avoid

There are plenty of mistakes to make in your landscape. Thankfully, most of them are easy to repair. The repairing process often requires some shovel pruning (that is, to dig up the plant and throw it away). The worse mistakes involve trees, because problems in big plants are big problems. Here are a few disasters to avoid.

1. Planting trees with weak wood. Poplar (also known as cottonwood), willow and tree of heaven are examples of fast growing trees with weak wood. Beware of any tree that grows 5 feet in a year - they're usually weak! This leads to messy twigs all over your lawn after a breezy day, and huge branches all over your lawn after a heavy snow or ice storm. Other trees with breakage problems are Norway maple and Bradford pear.
2. Planting trees too close to your home. All big trees start as little trees! Cute little Christmas trees of blue spruce will eventually get 25 to 30 feet wide at the base, so don't plant them 5feet from your home. Maples and other large shade trees will eventually develop big roots that buckle sidewalks and driveways, so don't plant them right next to concrete.
3. 'Lawnmower Blight' on trees. Lawn mowers and trimmers damage tree bark, which can kill a tree. The live tissues in a tree trunk that suck water up and transport sugars down are just inside the bark. Damaging those tissues hurts a tree just like hardening arteries hurts people - and can eventually be fatal. Prevent this problem by planting trees in beds or leaving a ring of bark around the trunk.
4. Buying a plant without checking hardiness. Of course this doesn't matter for annuals, but you should check the tag on everything else. We're a zone 5 here in Spokane, as is Des Moines, IA and most of the Wasatch Front in Utah. That means I can grow anything hardy to a zone 5 or lower (lower equals colder). Home Depot is full of plants that are hardy to just zone 6 or 7, so beware.
5. Planting a large vine on a small trellis. Wisteria, Boston ivy, climbing hydrangea and many types of honeysuckle are huge, vigorous plants. Wisteria grows 25 to 30 feet or more. Climbing hydrangea can get 80 feet long. Vigorous means that these plants will work really hard to reach their full potential, so you're in for a lot of pruning if you try to keep them to 10 feet. Choose a small vine (like clematis) for a small area instead.
6. Allowing vines to climb up the sides of your home. Yes, it's beautiful. I love it, too. But having a vine on the side of your home is like laying out a welcome mat for insects. It also increases the humidity right next to the wall, which can lead to mildew. The tendrils or suckers that vines use to hold themselves up can pull apart your brick or siding. English ivy and others will leave brown marks behind if you ever pull them off. So put your vines on a trellis or the fence.
7. Planting aggressive groundcovers in your flower bed. A plant makes a good groundcover if it spreads quickly. That's bad news for its neighbors if they're less vigorous and you're not willing to referee frequently with a shovel. Use groundcovers with care.
8. Planting old-fashioned shrubs that require lots of pruning. Grandma didn't have a lot of choices, so she had to plant shrubs with gangly shapes and huge sizes. But there are many shrubs available today with smaller, more compact shapes that are appropriate for small or medium-sized yards. Check the tag. Shrubs in the 3 to 5 foot range are very useful in today's yards.

Plan now to avoid headaches later. Happy planting!

Scheming in the Garden

Walking through a nursery or flipping through the pages of a catalog to buy plants can be very overwhelming. Where to start? What to buy? One thing that helps to guide your choices is a color scheme.
Color is the aspect of your garden that people will notice first. A simple color scheme can tie many different plants together into a cohesive picture. Too many different colors can look chaotic. Big blocks of color are most effective in large gardens or areas that will be viewed from far away. Small areas or those that will be viewed up close can be planted with smaller areas of each color.
Color also influences the mood of the garden. Warm colors such as yellow, orange and red feel cheerful and invigorating. Cool colors like blue, purple and green feel calm and restful. With all those green leaves around, it's no wonder that gardens are relaxing places. Of course there are exceptions to these catagories: cool pale yellows, warm lime green or turquoise, etc.
Colors that oppose each other on the color wheel often look great together. Purple and yellow are one example. Or think of how wonderful deep red roses look with deep green leaves surrounding them. Orange and blue would create an adventurous garden. The primary colors - red, yellow & blue - make up a bold scheme. Perhaps a more common garden scheme is a pastel version of the primary colors - pink, pale yellow and pale blue (which often ends up lavender in the garden). Personally, I love combining the deep jewel tones of red, magenta, purple and blue. The famous English gardener Gertrude Jekyll was known for combining a hue with its pastel version and white together - ie. purple, white and lavender.
Don't forget leaf color when desiging. New cultivars of many shrubs and perennials come in maroon, grey-blue, lime green, pink, orange, etc. Heucheras are an excellent example of a plant with leaves in a huge range of colors.
I'm currently helping a friend with a design in the following scheme: white, blue-violet, and accents of maroon leaves all set against the dark green leaves of otto luyken laurels and candytuft. It should come out very sophisticated. A few touches of magenta would really add some pop - perhaps she can try that in her pots.
There are a few color combinations that really don't work, in my opinion. I especially dislike pairing two similar but clashing colors together. For example, mauve next to salmon pink is just ugly. As is light neon yellow next to golden-orange or turquoise next to dusty country blue. Blech.
And what is the best way to choose your color scheme? Think of flower arrangements, or even go and visit a floral shop. It's easier to see which colors move you when they're placed close together in an arrangment. When you find something that takes your breath away, translate it into your garden.

June 3, 2008

A Pretty in Pink Front Yard

Your front yard is the face you present to your neighborhood. Ideally it should be beautiful, tie into the neighborhood, and enhance your home's appearance. Often the front yard is more formal than the back.
A riot of color in the yard draws your eye away from the house, which is good if your house is boring or downright ugly. My home is kind of blah right now, but I'm hoping that it will eventually be lovely (after a few home improvement projects). So I chose a limited color scheme of light pink and white for the flowers in my front yard. I incorporated a lot of dark green leaves as a backdrop for the flowers, with a few variegated plants thrown in for some pizazz.


I inherited a pink dogwood tree from the previous owners, which is nice most of the year and fabulous when it blooms for a few weeks in spring. Eventually I plan to add a couple of 'Shademaster' honey locusts or 'Kwanzan' flowering cherry trees.


For the evergreen backbone of my yard, I chose 'Otto Luyken' laurels and 'Emerald Gaiety' euonymus. The laurels have small white flowers in spring, but their greatest beauty comes from their glossy, dark green leaves that stick around all year.

The euonymus have white and green variegated leaves that take on a pinkish hue in the winter. Thus my color scheme is present all year long! Both shrubs stay fairly small (in the 3 to 5 foot range), which is appropriate for my medium-sized front yard.
The only other shrubs in my front yard are 'Eglantyne' english rose bushes, with light pink old-fashioned blossoms (available at http://www.davidaustinroses.com/).

Unlike the awkwardly upright hybrid tea roses commonly found in gardens, english roses are bred to form a bushy, rounded shape. And once they get started flowering - in June at my house - they keep going until heavy frosts send them into dormancy. Few shrubs offer flowers over such a long period.


I planted a white-flowering 'Clara Mack' wisteria along the porch railing. I also plan to plant a couple of 'Henryi' clematis (white) to grow up the drainspouts.

My love for perennials is always in danger of overwhelming the ordered, restrained look that I'm going for in my front yard. To keep things under control, I limited myself to perennials with tidy shapes, planted them in groups, and repeated them in several places throughout the yard.

Upright perennials: these were placed in the center or back of beds.

I planted the siberian iris 'Rolling Cloud' (white flowers in summer) in several places because I like both the dainty flowers and the upright, spiky clumps of leaves.

I included the bearded irises 'Pink Bubbles' (pink flowers in spring) and 'Immortality' (white flowers in spring and fall) in areas where I could surround their informal, sword-shaped foliage with neat, mound-shaped plants.

I also included 'Casa Blanca' white oriental lilies for their delightful fragrance and beautiful summer flowers.

Mounding perennials: these plants keep things hemmed in around the edges of the beds. The daylilies

'Hush Little Baby' (pink),

'Big Smile' (pink/white),

'Joan Senior' (white),

and 'Jean Swann' (white)

flower at different times through the summer. Their fountain-shaped foliage frames my rose bushes nicely.

'Green Spice' heuchera was included mostly for its silver/green/plum variegated foliage, though the little creamy-white flowers are dainty and nice.

Snowdrop anemones add dark green foliage and elegant white spring flowers in areas where they can get a bit of shade.

White candytuft (Iberis) is smothered with white blooms in spring, then covers the ground with glossy green foliage the rest of the year.

This spring I enjoyed purple crocus (my only break with the color scheme - after a long winter I just needed some color). Also blooming were white 'Mount Hood' daffodils (though they opened pale yellow and took a few days to fade to white), pink hyacinths, 'Upstar' pink tulips, white peony-flowered tulilps, and finally white and green striped 'Deidre' tulips.

The only annuals in my yard are in hanging baskets - pink zonal geraniums and pink/white verbena. I prefer to spend my budget on plants that will come back each year.

Although I'd like to include a lovely picture of my yard, it just isn't possible right now. We just moved in last summer, which isn't much time to put in a landscape. For budget reasons, I planted gallon-sized shrubs; bareroot roses, daylilies, and iris; tiny starts of perennials; and I even grew the candytuft from seed. Needless to say, everything is really small right now. I also planted just one perennial plant in many areas where I eventually want three. After the single plant gets large enough to divide, I'll have my three for the price of one. I expect the yard will look quite nice in about 3 years. In 5 years it should be completely filled in (except the trees will still be small, of course). I'll definitely post a picture. Until then we'll just have to imagine it all . . .