August 31, 2011

Garden lessons learned: summer 2011

Aside from a handful of extremely hot and humid days in July and a few dry weeks, Wisconsin weather has been near perfect this summer. I’m grateful for this.

Now we’re traveling down the path toward autumn, and it’s time to reflect on gardening lessons from the summer of 2011.

Among them (some personal and some universal):

1. Cover bulbs with lava rocks and plant onion sets among the annuals. I’ve tried so many techniques over the years to keep rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks out of my plants (with mixed results). I wondered why I kept finding lava rocks in a couple of the garden beds. And after my Hyacinth bulbs were upended for the fourth time, I decided to stack lava rocks on top of them. Lo and behold—no more digging! So I bought a bag of lava rocks and plan to top all my bulbs this way. And I’ve known for years that onion sets repel critters but I’ve never planted them in pots among annuals before. The pots looked a little silly at first, but as the annuals filled in around them the onion greens were barely noticeable. These two tricks—lava rocks and onion sets—really work!

2. Resist the urge to water plants every day during a dry spell. With the exception of potted annuals and bright sunny gardens, most plants survive just fine without water for a few days. Then when a drought hits, they've developed deeper roots to handle the shortage of rain. Granted, we didn’t have a severe drought in southern Wisconsin this year. But even if we had, the plants—especially the native perennials—fare better with staggered watering. Because of my hectic schedule this summer, I watered infrequently out of necessity. And most of my plants are fine, albeit slightly stressed.

3. Take stock of color. My garden has plenty of color except for a very short stretch in mid-August. My solution: I’m planning to plant annuals or perennials that will bloom during this time. I haven’t decided which ones yet, but thanks to all the great suggestions from gardeners, garden bloggers, and Blotanical members, I have some great ideas. I’m also adding a few garden decorations. I tend to be Spartan and naturalistic in my garden design, but these light touches will bring pops of color—even in the depths of winter.

4. Take time to simply sit on the porch or in a quiet place, suck in the fresh air, listen to the critters, and relax. Even if you’re extremely busy like I was this summer, you can spare at least 30 minutes a week to simply enjoy your garden without rushing around and toiling. I learned this lesson years ago, but I had to make a special effort to practice it during this particularly hectic summer.

To help me with Nos. 3 and 4 above, my husband made this sweet garden bench, which we placed at the end of our wooded path. It’s perfect for reflecting on nature’s beauty at any time of year.

What about you? What garden lessons have you learned during the summer of 2011? Please link a recent post about your summer advice, reflections, or ideas to the Garden Lessons Learned Mr. Linky meme below. Happy (almost) autumn!

August 23, 2011

Wordless Wednesday:
The circle of life

Polygonatum biflorum August 2011


Arisaema triphyllum May 2011

Arisaema triphyllum August 2011


Lycoris squamigera April 2011

Lycoris squamigera August 2011


(Note: I’m taking a brief break from blogging, visiting blogs, and Blotanical to move my daughter into her college dorm. I'll miss you all, but I'll "see" you in September!)

August 19, 2011

Plant of the Month: Lycoris

When I started writing this blog 10 months ago, I committed to highlighting one plant a month. And one of the plants I knew would be part of the mix was Lycoris squamigera, a member of the Amaryllis family.

Lycoris squamigera

Its beauty elicits a mix of awe and sadness for me every year in late August. Awe, because of its lovely shape, color, and growth pattern; and sadness because it blooms at the transition time between summer and fall.

 Some of its common names are:

  • Resurrection Lily, Surprise Lily, or Magic Lily: It appears out of nowhere and grows 2 to 3 feet tall in a few days.
  • Assumption Lily: It blooms near the Roman Catholic Feast of the Assumption.
  • Spider Lily: The flowers have petal segments shaped like spider legs.
  • Naked Ladies: The thick stems are straight, foliage-free, and topped with showy bright pink blooms.

    Here are before and after shots of Lycoris, taken Sunday, Aug. 14, and Friday, Aug. 19, from approximately the same locations. (Note: I pulled back the Hosta leaves in the first shot.)

    Lycoris is native to eastern and southern Asia. The Missouri Botanical Garden says it prefers sun to light shade, but Lycoris grows quite well in my shady garden. It’s hardy in zones 5-9, needs only moderate water, and it has no serious insect or disease problems. The flowers last in cut arrangements for several days and have a faintly sweet scent.

    Summer is ending—a transition I struggle with every year. One of the bright spots is Lycoris, which reminds us that new life, new beginnings, and new opportunities often appear out of nowhere.

    August 15, 2011

    GBBD: It’s not easy being green

    Shade gardens are cool and comfortable hideaways during the heat of the summer. But they can be challenging in many ways. One of the most frustrating challenges for me is finding colorful perennials that bloom from late July through August.

    No problem adding color on the sunny west side of the house:

    Zinnia elegans and Rudbeckia hirta

    But the perennial shade garden is green, green, and more green:

    I’m not really complaining, but I’d like just a little more color. The garden has plenty of vibrant hues from late April through mid-July. But then everything goes green.

    I just can’t seem to get Foxgloves going—I imagine they would be beautiful in waving swaths of color. Maybe I’ll try again next year. My Astilbes died off. I added another Astilbe this year, but it didn’t flower much. Again, there’s always next year. The purple Hosta flowers were lovely as always. But they’re done for this season.

    So, I can spend all my time on the sunny side of the house, or plopped next to the potted annuals. Or I can look closer and appreciate the green—in blooms, former blooms, seeds, and berries.

    Spiraea blooms were bright pink at their peak. But the seed heads are just as fascinating—even though they’re green.

    Spiraea japonica

    Sedum was a more dramatic bright yellow in full bloom, but it still holds a touch of chartreuse in its star flower/seed capsules.

    Sedum kamtschaticum

    Hydrangea was a pretty blush pink just a few weeks ago. Although I think the paper-white/greenish hue is just as fascinating, again it’s—green.

    Hydrangea macrophylla

    Jack-in-the-Pulpit’s berries are bright and shiny, and soon will be bright red. But now they’re bright…green.

    Arisaema triphyllum

    Lamium’s showing a bit of pinkish purple—surrounded by plentiful shades of green.

    Lamium maculatum

    I don’t have long to wait for color, though. Summer is waxing and waning now, and pigment is showing in Maple leaves, Sumac, Burning Bush, and many others. But before the autumn color takes over, I have one more beauty to look forward to. In a couple of days, the Lycoris will transform from buds on a stick:

    Lycoris squamigera

    To the stars of the late summer stage:

    (Thanks to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day.)

    August 13, 2011

    Truly a Better Boy

    I can’t stand it. When I have a nearly perfect organic Tomato in the garden, I face a dilemma.

    Solanum lycopersicum ‘Better Boy’

    Pick it when it’s fully grown, but still green? Or leave it in the garden to potentially be ruined by squirrels or spoiled by blossom-end rot, late blight, or wilt?

    Will the rabbit fence and overarching branches protect it from damage?

    It's a Better Boy hybrid and resistant to many diseases. But it’s so beautiful and nearly perfect now.

     What would you do?

    August 06, 2011

    Fun with fresh cut flowers

    The other day, I created a fresh flower bouquet. I gathered Lilac branches…

    Dill and Queen Anne’s Lace*…


    Miscellaneous filler flowers…

    Brown-Eyed Susans and Purple Coneflowers…

    And Gladiolus*…

    I lined them up…

    And started building...

    I added some Zinnias just beginning to open...

    Then I was just about done, but this Delphinium didn't fit the color scheme...

    Ready for display…

    And the Delphinium was perfect on its own in a small bud vase.

    For more fun with fresh cut flowers, check out Amy’s weekly flower arrangements at Get Busy Gardening.

    (Note: All photos on this post were taken with my camera phone.)

    *Dill and Queen Anne’s Lace were supplied by a fellow gardener. Glads were purchased.

    August 01, 2011

    Fred’s ‘Sweet Mary’

    Fred and Mary Buffham (c. 1903)
    In most marriages and committed relationships, love blooms, then fades, then blooms again. If you’re very fortunate and you work at it, the cycle repeats itself several times throughout life.

    The same can be said of many plants, which bloom, fade, and then bloom again in the same season. Others go dormant, but bloom again the next season.

    With this particular post, I have Roses on my mind. And in particular, a certain Rose cultivar created by my paternal great-grandfather, Fred Buffham, and named for his wife (my great-grandmother), Mary (Ressler) Buffham. I never knew Fred (an Englishman by birth) or Mary (an American of German ancestry), but I have a feeling their love bloomed repeatedly throughout their long marriage.

    They settled on a farm in southern Minnesota, and raised a family. One line of the family still manages the farm, and the rest of us haven’t strayed too far—most of us living in the upper Midwest.

    Through the years, my family came to call this particular cultivar the ‘Grandpa Buffham’ Rose. But I found out recently Fred’s original name for it was ‘Sweet Mary.’

    Fred's ‘Sweet Mary'

    We think ‘Sweet Mary’ is a cross between a tea Rose and a wild Rose. We don’t know much more about the science behind its creation, except that it was one of Fred’s many grafting experiments.

    But those of us who have cuttings planted in our gardens do know it’s one of the sweetest-scented Roses around. My father recalls that ‘Sweet Mary’ was planted around the wide perimeter of a screen porch on the family farm in Minnesota. The scent must have been incredible, because just one of these Roses fills the air with a sweet tea aroma that makes me swoon.

    The blooms aren’t spectacular, but they are pretty—a delicate shade of powder pink. But while “delicate” aptly describes the look of ‘Sweet Mary,’ the plant is anything but. Like all Roses, it’s susceptible to thrips, aphids, and various other minor annoyances, although it doesn’t seem to be bothered too much by fungal diseases—and I don’t use systemics or chemical foliar sprays.

    Given the right conditions, ‘Sweet Mary’ thrives and takes minimal care. I deadhead the plants after blooming and trim them back by half in the fall. The main blooming time is in June, but sometimes ‘Sweet Mary’ reblooms in the same season.

    Old World Wisconsin's Raspberry School

    This past May, ‘Sweet Mary’ was planted at the Old World Wisconsin living history museum in Eagle, Wis.—just outside the “Raspberry School.” All photos shown at Old World were taken by my father, Jim Richards, who volunteers as a living history interpreter there.

    Marcia Carmichael, Old World's historical gardener, prepares ‘Sweet Mary’ for planting.

    Marcia explains planting techniques to Old World visitors.

    ‘Sweet Mary’ in her new home near the Raspberry School.

    I’m certain Fred and Mary Buffham would be happy to know their legacy lives on at the family farm in Minnesota, in their descendants’ gardens, and at a public historical site that welcomes visitors from around the world.

    (‘Sweet Mary’ bloomed in my garden this season from early June through early July. I’ll let you know if it blooms again in August.)