Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Tenacious Tip - It's Just One Plant

I’m finally calling it quits in the garden for the season. It’s too late to dig things up and move them and all the easy weeding and mulching is done. All that’s left is to wait for the dreaded first freeze to dig up the dahlias, glads and cannas and close up the pond.
Recently, after we finished up one last project (mulching a new path), we were lounging in the sun by the pond and it struck me. There was no color left in my garden. Oh, a few late cannas are still out there, with their bright red spikes, and a few black-eyed Susans, but nothing that really jumps out. It was so surprising that I walked around and took inventory to see if my eyes were deceiving me. Here’s what I found blooming, in no particular order:
  • Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (aptly named) and other sedums
  • Golden Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium ‘Aureum’)
  • Some self-seeded phlox
  • Black-eyed Susans
  • Three-leaved Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba)
  • Echinacea ‘Pica Bella’
  • Canna
  • Butterfly bush, multiple varieties
  • Coreopsis
  • Geranium ‘Rozanne’
  • Gaillardia
  • Sunflowers
  • Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’
  • Roses
  • Balloon Flower
  • A very few re-blooming daylilies
  • Colchicum ‘Waterlily’
  • Several annuals, such as marigolds, celosia and salvia
What some of these fall flowers look like (because what is a garden blog without pictures?):

Butterfly Bush with companion


Geranium 'Rozanne'

New Garden Path (sorry about the shadow!)

That quite a list! So what’s wrong?  It seems I have finally reaped the results of being a plant collector. My philosophy for plant purchases is usually to check my database; if the plant isn’t listed, I must have it immediately. Does it matter whether it fits in my scheme? Not in the slightest. Do I even have room for it? Who cares? It’s just one plant.

It’s just one plant.
Perhaps you’ve heard/said/thought those words. These words are the downfall of many a gardener for a couple of reasons. If you have a small garden, those words signal the beginning of a more and more desperate search for space. Before long, every available surface is covered and the gardener is resorting to step-ladders and old bookcases to pile pots on. Every vertical post has plant hangers attached in all directions. Trust me, I’ve been there!
If you have a large garden, like me, these words mean real trouble. Trouble with your garden design, trouble with maintenance and trouble in your wallet.
Regarding design, I’ve noticed a lack of coherence, a certain air of chaos, even mayhem, in some places. Now I’m also seeing spotty seasonal color. Why? Too many individual plants and not enough unity. Yes, the singular plants and flowers are very beautiful, but can I appreciate them when they are only individuals spotted around the garden? Not so much. As the designers like to harp on, they would look much better in drifts and clusters, repeated throughout the whole plot.
So my project for the winter will be to pick out some favorites that I can use to make a theme and repeat them as I am renovating other areas. They needn’t even be fall-specific flowers; every season could use a bit of harmony. For example, many of my daylilies need dividing. Instead of replanting just one clump, I could plant several; just think what a statement a large mass of Strawberry Candy would make!

Daylily 'Strawberry Candy'

I’ll have to be careful to save space for onesies and twosies, though. I don’t think I could give up my collector impulses without therapy!

Just FYI, with the season closing in, the Tuesday Tip feature is moving to a more generic When-I-Feel-Like-It Tip feature, though I'll try to keep it weekly. Sorry for the lack of entries for the past few weeks - hubby and I both came down with colds! We're both feeling much better now and back to our usual foolishness!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - Nobody Cares Like You Do

A non-gardening tip this week, folks, and a bit of a rant. As I've mentioned in a previous post, I've been receiving cortisone shots for lower back pain. I have also been getting these shots for my left knee. The knee requires a little explanation so bear with me.

Long, long ago, when I was a little blondie of 4 years old, the doctors discovered a cyst on the back of my knee that was bad enough to require surgery. You can imagine the fun and excitement enduring knee surgery was for a four-year-old. Or for my poor mother who was a single working parent at the time, bless her. I had a grudge against doctors and a fear of needles for years.

So. These things happen. I got over it, but my knee was never right. (Yeah, I know, it was LEFT, yuk, yuk, yuk.) Other doctors said it was early on-set arthritis, take these anti-inflammatories, go easy on it, blah,blah, blah. So I did what any young person would do. Ignored it completely and played volleyball, racket ball and rock climbed. You know, ran about with tail aflame like any normal young person.

Fast forward to not very long ago. Gardening, as we all can attest, is not easy on your knees, any more than playing sports and more so in some ways. My left knee held up for a while, then went into complete revolt. About 2 years ago, a new doctor ordered x-rays and confirms, yes, your knee is very arthritic and I think you would benefit from cortisone therapy. Hence the shots. Based on x-rays as the only diagnostic - remember that.

The cortisone shots helped for a while but over this summer started wearing off after only 5 or 6 weeks, instead of 10 to 12. The doctor tells me there is not much else to be done as the shots can only be given every 3 months or they will start to damage the joint even further. Knee replacement at my relatively young age (I'm only 40-mumble) is a last resort.

I mentioned it to a co-worker recently and we start comparing knee pain. She has the exact same pain in the exact same place on the exact same knee. Huh, how strange. So what, I ask, is wrong with your knee? A torn meniscus, she says.

No shit.

Now, I'm emphatically NOT one of those people who constantly second-guesses their doctors. I trust that their training and experience are sufficiently greater than mine that any guess of mine will be just that, a guess. It occurred to me, though, upon hearing my co-worker's reply, that she has just had an MRI on her knee, a test that was never performed on mine. Well, I think, why the hell not and tell my doctor I want one.

Today I got the results of that test I insisted on. Guess what? In addition to arthritis, I have a torn meniscus, a chronically sprained ligament and no cartilage left in the joint. Oh, and another cyst. And other stuff I didn't understand and couldn't pronounce. There were 2 PAGES of results.

All of a sudden, it's not just arthritis. I realized if it had been discovered sooner, there might have been therapies that could have helped. It's so bad at this point, my doctor offered to refer me to a surgeon to make an assessment for replacement immediately.

So we come to my tip for the day. My apologies for shouting, but I'm a bit riled up at the moment.


There are a million reasons why the MRI wasn't ordered till I asked for it. I'm not interested in discussing those in this forum, but allow me to say I don't entirely blame my doctor. He could have been more thorough, true. When it comes down to it, though, I could have been a more aggressive advocate for myself and made sure all avenues were explored.

I've seen this time and again when relatives have been in the hospital. My late father-in-law was over-medicated once when he had a stroke and we only discovered it when we insisted something was wrong to the nurses. They went over his chart more carefully and, sure enough, 2 meds were prescribed that interacted and caused his symptoms.

Nobody cares like you do. Take charge of your own care if you feel your doctors are not paying enough attention.

Author's Note: I am not looking for sympathy with this post. While the news was bad, I've lived with a bad knee all my life and this was truly no more than I expected. I only hope someone out there is inspired to take charge of their own care sooner that I did and has a better result. Be good to yourselves.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Ready to pop!
Low Maintenance Plants
Plant Name: Platycodon grandiflorus
Common Name: Balloon Flower
Overall Low Maintenance Rating:  4.7 Stars

Balloon flower is one of those plants that should be found in every garden. The delicate star-shaped flowers open from balloon shaped buds and both stages are quite beautiful.
Platycodon, flower and bud

They begin flowering in early July and continue until frost. Their soft colors mix well with most other garden flowers and foliage.
Balloon flower with Heuchera
They also are wonderful flowers for drawing different insects and pollinators. Bumblebees are constant visitors, as are hummingbird moths.

Bumblebee on Balloon Flower

Hummingbird Moth on Balloon Flower

Platycodon requires very little care, performs well in most soils and comes in both a tall and short variety. The colors include blue, purple, pink and white.  In all honesty, while the breeders list the blue and purple colors as separate, I have never been able to see a difference between them. It’s a fine, bluish purple, whatever they call it.

There is also a short variety called 'Fairy Snow' which is white with blue lines radiating from the center. It is shorter than most balloon flowers, only getting 12 inches tall, so put it up front! It can be a little hard to find, but well worth it.
The shorter variety only gets between 18 and 24 inches and is reliably hardy up to zone 4. One exception to that is a variety called ‘Miss Tilly’, a short blue variety, which is only hardy to zone 6. Look for the Astra series or ‘Sentimental Blue’ for colder zones.

The taller variety is also hardy to zone 4.
Disease                                                                         5 Stars
Planting balloon flower in wet, boggy soil can lead to fungal diseases and root rot. They prefer average to dry soil.
Pests – Insects                                                              5 Stars
None, unless you don't like a constant flow of bumblebees!
Pests – Animal                                                              5 Stars
Animals avoid this plant due to the bitter, milky sap. You won’t have a problem with Bambie or Thumper!
Invasiveness                                                                 4 Stars
Balloon flower only gets 4 stars for invasiveness because it can seed like crazy. I don’t find this to be a huge problem, first, because I love this flower and welcome it wherever it might sprout and, second, because the sprouts are very easy to pull if they hit an area I don’t want them.
General Maintenance – Water                                   5 Stars
With its large tap root, platycodon has its own water supply for drier times and doesn’t require extra watering. As noted above, too much water can cause rot and fungal problems.
General Maintenance – Fertilizing                             5 Stars
No extra fertilizer required.
General Maintenance – Pruning/Cleaning                4 Stars
Balloon flower loses a point on maintenance because it has a tendency to hold on to dead flowers and look a bit ratty as time goes on. There’s no real way to prune the plant either as it blooms all over the stem at once. 

Platycodon with both current and past flowers
One other problem is the tall variety often requires staking. I find it easier to encourage the plant to grow near shorter plants which can support it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Beauty in Odd Places, or Fun on Labor Day Weekend

One thing I find about gardeners is their willingness to see beauty in odd places. How many normal people, for example, would look at a well-built compost heap and exclaim in awe and delight? Or look at the caterpillar merrily chewing on their tomatoes and admire the markings before pitching it in the woods?

We've had quite a bit of rain lately, what with Hurricane Irene passing by, and all the moisture has brought out a plethora of fungus. This past weekend, Brian noticed a lovely yellow mushroom on the edge of our spruces so out we tramped to check it out. Here's what we saw.

After consulting with the Audubon guide, we concluded this mushroom is a Yellow-Orange Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria var. formosa). Not deadly, but definitely poisonous. According to the guide, this mushroom may cause sweating, deep sleep and disorientation. Hubby looked at me, shrugged and said "Sounds like a normal Sunday around here."

We had also found a large puffball mushroom a few days before this and took a few shots. The puffball is one of the few wild mushrooms that is both easily identifiable and edible.

Puffball growing next to Paperbark Maple sapling.
After our adventure with the Amanita, we wandered over to see how the puffball was doing and found this:

Good grief! The thing looked like a burnt souffle! Presumably at some point in the near future, the top will split open and allow the spores to escape. I think this one is a Purple-spored Puffball (Calvatia cyathiformis), based on the fact that, when Brian hit one with the lawn mower, he got a cloud of purple spores.

We try to take Gracie the House Monster for a good long walk on the weekends and fortunately there is a great park not too far from our place. Lots of nature trails and it borders the river for a beautiful view. We even found a few shrooms on our walk!

Not sure what any of them were, so we assumed they were all poisonous. Gracie took one sniff then backed away with a look of disgust. Personally, I think all mushrooms should be admired but not eaten, even the ones in the grocery store, so I completely sympathised with her.

In addition to mushrooms, we found some other local wildlife.

Painted Turtle
 I haven't seen a turtle in the wild around here since I was a child. He was a little shy but agreed to have his photo taken. Gracie could not understand the fuss over a moving rock. She was much more interested in reaching the river for a cool off!

River Monster
While she was splashing around, Brian took this shot which shows just how high the river flooded when Hurricane Irene came to town.

The flood waters coated everything with mud!
All in all, an interesting time was had by all. The last thing we found was the stump of a tree, about 5.5 feet tall by the side of the trail. It was a perfect perch for Gracie!
Gracie and me
OK, Mom, let me down now!

Hope everyone had a safe and fun Labor Day weekend!

(thanks, Indie, from Red House Garden, for inspiring this post!)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tenacious Tip Tuesday - The Roses of Autumn

I seem to be on a philosophical kick with my Tips the last few weeks. As the season ends, I have a tendancy toward melancholy and introspection. I hope you can bear with me. Today's tip is simple - be true to your gardening self, no matter what.

As you know, I've been trying to simplify my gardens to better care for myself. Many plants are being re-evaluated and some are hitting the compost heap. If I'm being honest with myself, most of my roses should be shovel pruned. Many of them are hybrid tea roses, which are notorious for disease problems and generally are the prima donnas of the garden.

This year, they have gotten no love whatsoever. No fertilizer, no spraying; they were lucky to have gotten pruned this spring (in fact, some didn't). I wrote in an earlier post that I would have to toughen up and get rid of the worst of them. The ones that survived my new Darwinian care program would stay; all others would be banished forever. I really meant it, too.

Then they go and do this:

Rose 'Playboy'
'Playboy' is one of those roses that looks fabulous when well cared for. It gets covered with those orange/yellow flowers, has glossy green leaves and stays a reasonable size. It's a blackspot nightmare when not sprayed, at least in my garden. I thought it had died over the winter and spared me the necessity of digging it out. But no, it not only recovered, it started sending out little clusters of its beautiful flowers.

Or how about this one?

Rose 'Sunstruck'
This rose is what we who grow roses call a "one-cane wonder". It literally has only one cane coming up out of the dirt. Excuse me, out of the soil. Yet, it has still managed to have at least one gorgeous flower and a few buds on it all summer. How can I rip it out when it's giving me presents like this?

So I've decided to modify my earlier, tough-love stance on my roses. They still get no special care, but if they keep blooming, I'll keep enjoying them, even if all their leaves fall off. My true gardening self simply isn't as hard-hearted as my renovation self. And I don't care! The joy I get from a single rose blossom is worth a few weeks of blackspot or Japanese beetles.

Here are some more roses currently blooming in my garden. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

Rose 'About Face'

Rose 'Autumn Sunset'

Rose 'Chrysler Imperial'
Rose 'Cinnamon Spice'

Rose 'Falstaff'

Buds on Rose 'Mother of Pearl'