Posts Tagged ‘Annual flowers’

Nancy’s Tomato Chronicles – Week 7 of 2010

(Week 7 is Feb 15th to 21st)

Timely Tip: Sweet peas are cold tolerant and should be planted early in spring. To keep the seed from rotting before it sprouts, pre treat it by soaking for 24 hours and pre-germinate it indoors before planting.

If the magic garden genie ever appears in my dreams and grants me three wishes, my first wish would be that every gardener through out the land would be compelled to grow a few plants from seed.

It wouldn’t have to be a big deal. Those who are short on time might begin by dusting the seeds of sweet alyssum between the cracks in their sidewalks and scattering lettuce seeds among the petunias.

Folks new to gardening might start with easy growers like sassy sunflowers, Cosmos or bachelor buttons.

Flower gardeners would be driven to search out new varieties and veggie gardeners would reap a three-season harvest.  American seed houses, currently hounded by flat sales will halt the downsizing of their inventories; there would be lots of extra food to feed the hungry and our world would be a prettier to live in.

Growing plants from seed is not difficult and starting seedlings indoors in March and April helps to stave off the late winter ickies that plague so many of us this time of year.

Johnny’s Selected Seeds catalog (www.johnnyseeds.com 207 437 4301) has a great selection of seeds and seed starting supplies for growing a great garden. Start by ordering Nancy Bubel’s “New Seed Starter’s Handbook’ (Rodale $15.95), a thorough easy to read how-to on gardening from seed.  Bubel also gives lots of tips on how to grow a garden without spending a fortune.

But like all hobbies, once you get into it you may want to invest in some tools that will help you garden smarter.

Also from Johnny’s there’s the Hydrofarm Seedling Heat Mat. Professionals know that bottom heat is the secret to fast starts and quick growth. This easy to use waterproof mat will give you the grower’s edge. Easy instructions and growing tips are imprinted right on the mat. It’s available in two sizes to fit one or two standard seed trays, priced at $36.00 and $50.00.

Johnny’s also carries the Hydrofarm Green Thumb Grow Light System, an award winning new and improved grow light stand for starting seedlings that is lightweight, easy to assemble and a snap to adjust for height. It’s also quick to disassemble for easy storage. Priced at $128.50, the unit includes two Argosun full spectrum fluorescent tubes that can also be used for growing flowering plants, such as miniature roses and African violets, as well as seedlings.


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If you read a lot of gardening books and magazines you’re probably familiar with the term mixed border. If not, don’t despair, it’s simply a term used to describe an elongated plot of land filled with flowering plants mixed with shrubs, possibly grasses and maybe small trees.

The issue of Fine Gardening magazine published several years ago featured the article Design a Border with Strong Plant Shapes by Sydney Eddison, that I think does a nice job explaining the visual impact of combining these plants and how one might begin go about putting together a mixed border.

The interspersing of shrubs and grasses among the flowers adds more than texture and color. Shrubs come in a variety of interesting shapes – cones, globes, mounds, spikes and fountains that add substance, depth and structure to the garden.

A before photo of the author’s garden depicts a sea of daylilies in full bloom. Though the area is awash with color, the garden lacks definition. And what will that space look like a month later when the lilies have bloomed out?

The after photos show a far more interesting scene, a garden packed with glorious blooming flowers framed with fountains of grasses, mounds and pillars of purple foliaged shrubs and a variety of interesting shaped evergreens. The added contrast of these strong shapes and lines turned a pretty garden into a fabulous garden that will carry the landscape through the four seasons

As I looked over the plant list Sydney Eddison provided I realized that, as is often the case, some of the recommended varieties will not work in many Michigan landscapes.

The gorgeous thread leaf Japanese Maple that thrives in Eddison’s Long Island, New York full sun border, that provides a large and graceful mound of mahogany colored foliage, could not handle that kind of exposure here in Michigan. And even if it could, it’s far too large for most yards. Flower lovers tight on space are not about to give up large chunks of plantable land to a tree, no matter how lovely it is.

But all is not lost. With a little detective work it’s not hard to come up with substitutes, downsized shrubs that are hardy and offer a stunning array of shapes, textures and colors for use in mixed borders.

For instance, let’s just take a look at some possibilities for globe and mound shaped shrubs.

When we think of globes, Arborvitaes quickly come to mind. But common varieties burgeon to 5 to 6 feet in but a few years. However, Thuja occidentalis ‘Danica is a true dwarf Arb that grows to only ten to fifteen-inches in height. ‘Golden Glove’, with its soft yellow foliage will stay within the 2 to 3-foot range and is hardy to a frigid zone 3.

Boxwoods are another classic choice for evergreen globes and they are on the list of deer resistant shrubs. Buxus ‘Green Velvet’ at 2 to 3-feet in height won’t require shearing to keep it from overtaking the garden.

Repetition of shape and color provide continuity that helps tie the mixed border together. And there are many deciduous shrubs that will not only repeat the globe or mound shapes, while adding season long color and interesting texture as well. The deer resistant Barberry ‘Rose Glow” with its lovely rose and pink mottled foliage that matures to a deep purple, is a colorful choice that might be used like book ends to anchor at the ends of the border. If you prefer green go with the 3 to 4-foot ‘Lime Glow’ Barberry. Burgundy colored Barberry ‘Crimson Pigmy’ will only rise to 18 to 24-inches. At the rear of the border repeat that globe shape and color with deep purple-leafed Weigela ‘Wine and Roses’. As a bonus, this stunner will produce oodles of intense rosy-pink flowers in June and flower sporadically on current season’s growth. At maturity ‘Wine and Roses’ will reach 4 to 5-feet in height, but it can be easily pruned to reduce its size after the initial blooming. And those prunings make fabulous foliage fillers for your cut flower arrangements. If you’ve a passion for purple, repeat that shape and yummy color in the front of the border with the low growing Weigela ‘Midnight Wine’.

Shrub roses also fall into the roundy moundy category. Conard-Pyle’s brilliant red ‘Kockout’ will flower non-stop from June through frost and make a stunning companion to those burgundy leafed plants.  The dainty pink polyanthus ‘Fairy’ rose is another possibility.

If bright lights turn you on, the glowing golden thread like foliage of Chamaecyparis ‘Sungold’ at a mature height of about 3-feet will give the garden a year-around shot of color. Bright yellow C. ‘Vintage Gold’ that holds to a height of 18 to 30 inches is another little treasure that will color up a full sun or part-sun border.

If you think of Spireas only in terms of the brilliant yellow harbingers of spring, get thee to a good garden center. ‘Dakota Goldcharm’ is a 12 to 15-inch dwarf gold leaf with bronze tips and pink flowers. ‘Pink Parasol’, topping out at 3-feet combines blue green leaves with big fluffy pink umbrella-like blossoms. Than there’s the vivid red 3-foot Spiraea ‘Neon Flash’. Keep these pretties dead headed and they too should re-bloom sporadically through out the summer.

When planning your new scheme, be sure to leave room for the vertical shapes in the form of grasses and shrubs.

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Timely Tip:

If the leaves of your indoor plants are turning brown at the tips, they are probably suffering from a lack of humidity. Placing the pots on a pebble tray filled with water or running a small room humidifier will add moisture to the air and help remedy the situation.

Okay, About Next Year

Now that winter has clearly moved in, for me it’s time to begin planning next year’s garden. One of the secrets to success is looking back at the previous growing season to see what worked and what bombed.

Like a lot of gardeners, the summer of 2009 was a real toughie for me. The cold wet spring followed by a cold wet summer took its toll on my pretties.

But all was not lost, there were some real stars in my garden last summer. Plants that endured in spite of the weather. Plants that flowered non-stop from the day I planted them right through to the killing frost.  Plants that provided entire season of drop-dead color.

It may surprise you that many of the stellar performers in my garden were annuals, plants too often shunned by perennial lovers. Gardeners who consider annuals to be passé are missing out big time.

Using annuals in a perennial border to keep season long color is not a new idea, it’s a technique used by many of the masters. World-renowned plantsman Christopher Lloyd relies on annual plants to infuse color into his famous and fabulous mixed border at Great Dixter in England and keep it colored up for the entire season.  Lloyd readily admits that relying on perennials alone to provide 3-seasons of color is wishful thinking.

Dan Hinkley, famed plantsman formally of Heronswood Nursery in Seattle and his partner also used flowering annuals to give their world-class plant displays real punch.

Annuals have always been a staple in container gardening, but the hot trend – if it grows it goes, allows gardeners to place fabulous accents, bursting with color, in the hardscape as well as the landscape.  A decade ago a pot of petunias or geraniums and a spike might suffice but today trendy gardeners are pushing the envelope when it comes to plant combinations.

To feed the frenzy, incredible numbers of new varieties of easy-care annuals are now introduced to the green market place annually.

Several years ago trend setting designers began using tropicals, tender plants that were once relegated to the indoor garden, in their containers and garden. Suddenly leaf size and texture as well as color became important elements in the designs.

Creative gardeners who choose to break out of the box often include edible greens such as lettuces, chards and decorative cabbages.

Today garden centers on the cutting edge, those who want to successfully compete with the big box and super stores, are offering their customers a selection of annual plants many gardeners may not be familiar with.

However, unlike clothing, one cannot simply choose plants according to size, color, pattern and texture. To create a winning combination that will not just look good but thrive in the garden, a gardener must make sure his or her choices are the right plants for the right places and that partners are compatible.

Sun lovers must be paired with other sun lovers and planted in a sunny spot. Plants that need moist growing conditions make bad bedmates with xeric plants.

Unfortunately some of the new introductions fail to live up to their hype, so wise gardeners test first and corner the market when they find a sure thing.


Choosing annuals that have been singled out by the All American Selections organization is a good bet (the 2010 winners are announced at http://www.all-americaselections.org). These plants have been trialed in gardens all over the country and not only thrived, but also displayed a significant improvement over older varieties. The zinnia on the right is one of the 2010 AAS winners.

Doing your homework now and beginning the planning of next summer’s garden will help you not only garden smarter, but create that dream garden you always wished for.

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