Category Archives: Whimsy

Every Yard Needs a Berry Patch 

Chester began popping out flowers in early July. Now they’re turning into blackberries.

Chester’s pregnant!  After 22 months in the ground, my Chester dwarf blackberry is producing small pink flowers and baby berries.  I spotted this hardy, thornless darling at the Labor Day sale at Fort Collins Nursery in September 2017, bought it, and promptly stuck it in the ground.  Chester didn’t produce any berries during the summer of 2018.  But this year, he looks very promising.

Chester (Rubus fruticosus ‘Chester’) reportedly grows three to five feet high and wide.  Mine has reached five feet high by two feet wide, growing on a trellis.  However, I’ve pruned the tallest canes back to three feet.

Chester and his new friends hang out in the garden. He’s on the trellis. Strawberries are in front. Bright lights Swiss chard and winecraft black smoke bush are on his left. Zucchini is behind him on the right. If he doesn’t play well with others, I’ll relocate him.

Although Chester is a perennial, his canes are biennial.  For best performance, stake the canes.

According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, you should tip-prune new non-fruiting canes on established plants in the summer.  Then immediately after harvest, cut down all canes that fruited.  Finally, in late winter or early spring, prune away damaged canes and thin your way down to four or five well-spaced canes, trimming their laterals.

I should mention that it’s advisable to seal the tips of your pruned canes with carpenter’s wood glue to discourage borers.

I also note that one respected Denver garden center claims that Chester doesn’t play well with others.  He’s surrounded by strawberries, Swiss chard, cucumbers and zucchini in my berry/vegetable patch.  I’ll see what happens.  If he misbehaves, I’ll relocate him for a time out.

Chester isn’t my only berry provider.  I also grow the strawberries mentioned earlier—both June-bearing and ever-bearing.  My June bearer produced fruit through early July.  Now the ever-bearers are picking up the slack, generating white blooms that will soon turn into even more berries.

My June bearer is Honeoye, and my ever bearers are Ogallala, Quinalt, and Fort Laramie.

Besides providing fruit, strawberries help keep weeds down by serving as a lush, dense groundcover.

I like strawberries not only for their fruit, but because they make such lush, perky groundcovers.

Then there are the serviceberries from my regent and autumn brilliance varieties.  Yes, serviceberries are edible by humans.  They taste somewhat like blueberries and are great for snacking, mixing with other fruits, or tossing into salads.

Some gardeners avoid growing berries because birds eat so much of the fruit.  I’ve been picking my strawberries and serviceberries before they’re fully ripe and taking them inside to ripen.  I may have to do the same with the blackberries.  Or eventually I may have to break down and install bird netting.

If you have children or grandchildren, be aware that a berry patch can occupy them for hours and provide treasured memories.

Fortunately for us here in Colorado, we have one of the best climates in the country for growing berries.  Just don’t plant blueberries—they like acidic soil.  We have alkaline.

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Chihuly on View at Kew

Chihuly’s iconic Summer Sun brightens the walkway in front of the Palm House at Kew Gardens.

During a visit to Kew Gardens near London earlier this month, I was delighted to discover a Reflections on Nature exhibit by renowned American glass artist Dale Chihuly.

Some pieces, such as the iconic Summer Sun and Red Reeds, appeared at Denver Botanic Gardens in 2014.  Those and other familiar pieces showed up at Kew, as well, along with other, newer pieces.

Besides displaying Chihuly’s work among plants, Kew Gardens presented an extensive variety of additional works in its Shirley Sherwood Gallery.

The show runs from April 13 to October 27, 2019.

Chihuly expertly weaves his Green Hornets and Gold Waterdrops sculptures among palm fronds in Kew’s Temperate House.

Blossom-shaped bowls delight visitors at Kew Gardens’ Shirley Sherwood Gallery.

 

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Keep Your Flowers Fresher Longer

What’s the #1 longest-lasting cut flower? Zinnia. These pollinator-attracting plants reach about 1 to 4 feet tall and are available in many colors.

With Valentine’s day approaching, many of you may find yourselves with bouquets of fresh flowers.  And others of you may be cutting flowers from your gardens later this year.

Either way, you’ll want to keep those flowers fresh as long as you can.

Guess what’s the most effective method for keeping these lovelies in pristine condition.  Pennies?  No.  Bleach? Unh-unh.  Aspirin, hairspray, vodka, vinegar with sugar?  Not even close.

ProFlowers, the online florist, tested all of the methods above and then some.  The test results indicated these two methods work best:  One, refrigerate your flowers each night; and two, add ¼ cup of soda pop (preferably clear, such as 7-Up) to the vase water.  This reportedly works even better than flower food.

If you pick the flowers yourself, be sure to cut them with a sharp knife or bypass pruners in the morning or early evening rather than during the mid-day heat.  Then insert the stems in clean water right away.

Roses, such as the Fire Meidilands shown here, are stunning in cut-flower arrangements.

Whether you receive flowers as a gift or harvest them yourself, cut the stems at an angle for better water absorption, and remove all leaves below the water line to minimize bacterial growth.

Opinions vary concerning water temperature, but most sources recommend lukewarm water in the vase.  Add more water as needed, and clean the vase every few days.

Keep the flowers away from full sun, fruit, and hot and cold drafts.

Among the longest-lasting cutting flowers are zinnias, carnations, alstroemerias, delphiniums, daisies, peonies and sunflowers.  So plant your garden accordingly for bountiful blooms and durable arrangements.

 

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Unsung Heroes Brighten Winter Landscape

Japanese barberry feeds birds and the soul with its colorful winter berries.

Easy-to-grow plants with winter interest are Japanese barberry, Angelina sedum, creeping and upright Mahonia, color guard yucca, and ornamental grasses.

Yes, I know Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is somewhat overplanted in Colorado.  But there’s a reason for that.  This sun-loving shrub is extremely hardy.  The birds love the berries, especially in winter.  And people love the berries for their brilliant red color, especially in an otherwise-drab winter landscape.  The Kobold variety even resembles boxwood—a plus for gardeners who love the look of boxwood but don’t want to deal with its inherent problems in Colorado.

Angelina sedum explodes with yellow, orange-red, purple and green foliage in the winter.   This indestructible plant will gradually spread, and babies can be easily transplanted.  In warmer months, the foliage turns chartreuse.

Low-growing Angelina sedum generates explosions of color throughout the garden.

Mahonia aquifolium and Mahonia repens always have something going on.  They hold their leaves year-round, offering deep green foliage in warm months and reddish foliage in winter.  Each spring, Mahonia produces bright yellow flowers, followed by blue berries, which birds love.  Mahonia, like Japanese barberry, is tough and drought-tolerant, but grows best in shade.

Mahonia repens takes on subtle red hues when temperatures turn cold.

Color guard yucca displays yellow-and-green-striped leaves in warm weather.  When winter rolls around, the sword-like foliage becomes even more interesting by adding a bit of coral color to the yellow and green.  I’ve grown this non-patented beauty for about three years and have divided it to propagate three more plants.  The mother plant is 16 inches tall and 24 inches wide.  I’m hoping it’ll flower one of these years.

Hints of coral enhance Color Guard yucca’s yellow and green sword-like leaves in winter.

Ornamental grasses are stalwarts that provide architectural elements in the winter garden.  Don’t cut them back until late February or early March.

Other favorites for the winter garden are Harry Lauder’s walking stick, red twig and yellow twig dogwoods, yews, pines, firs, spruces, junipers and hawthorns.

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Bury Bulbs Now for Spring Surprises

Corydalis ophiocarpa’s yellow blooms brighten the landscape in early spring.

Some things in life are just worth the wait. Take spring-blooming bulbs, for example.

In autumn, you dig a hole, gently insert a small vegetative object and cover it with soil. Then you wait. Come late winter or early spring, vibrant little beauties start poking their heads above ground, and before long you’re looking at a lavish display of pre-season blossoms–an end-of-winter announcement.

October is prime time for planting spring- and early-summer-blooming bulbs in Colorado, but you can get away with planting in early November, as well.

If you haven’t bought bulbs yet, you probably can still find some at nurseries, hardware stores and even big box stores, such as Costco.  The ones from the hardware and big box stores may not be premier quality, but they’ll get you by—especially if you just want to experiment.

Siberian squill’s nodding blooms add a woodland feel to the garden.

If you want top-quality bulbs from, say, mail-order catalogs, you’ll have to wait till late April/early May for the best selection of spring bloomers.

Why bother with bulbs?  Because they extend your growing season. Some bulbs, such as crocus and winter aconite, bloom as early as February, long before most perennials start waking up in April or May.

On top of that, bulbs are cheerful, exotic and easy to grow.  And they come in a massive variety of shapes, colors and sizes.

Allium 'Globemaster'

Globemaster allium, with its giant head that measures 6 to 8 inches across, is astonishing. It blooms in late spring or early summer.

Some of my favorites are Corydalis ophiocarpa with its ferny leaves and bright yellow flower stalks; Siberian squill with its delicate, nodding blue heads; and allium with its dramatic drumstick-like demeanor.  If you can’t find Corydalis ophiocarpa, you can find its darling cousins, such as C. solida or C. lutea.

Then, of course, there are ever-popular tulips and daffodils.

When planting bulbs, be sure to dig the hole two to three times as deep as the bulb’s height.  So if you have a tulip bulb that’s one-inch tall, for example, make your hole two to three inches deep.  Also, make sure that you insert the bulb so the pointy end faces up.  Otherwise, you’ll never see blooms.

I’ll admit that bulbs aren’t the first plants that I install in a landscape.  I want to get the trees, shrubs and perennials in place first.  But once that’s done, I like to tuck bulbs into small openings here and there in the garden.  They create such a nice surprise.

Try a few bulbs.  You’ll see what I mean.

 

 

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Hyssop—A Magnificent Must-Have for Your Garden

There are some perennials that simply scream, “Plant me in your garden!  You’ll love me!”

Hyssop (Agastache ssp.) is one of those plants.

Why is this drought-tolerant stalwart a must-have perennial?  For all kinds of reasons.

Brian, my resident hummingbird, visits my hyssop several times daily for his latest dose of nectar.

It attracts hummingbirds and other pollinators.  At 5:40 last evening, I spotted Brian, my resident hummingbird, chowing down on nectar from my sunset hyssop.  Brian visits several times a day.  A couple of days ago, Brian even brought a friend with him.  I have two clusters of three hyssops in my back yard.  If you add orange carpet hummingbird (Zauschneria garrettii) ground cover to the mix, you may entice even more hummingbirds.

It adds vibrant color to your garden for at least two months.  Hyssop delivers not only purple, orange and pink blossoms, but blue ones, as well.  My favorites are sunset hyssop (Agastache rupestris) and Sonoran sunset hyssop (Agastache cana ‘Sinning’ Sonoran Sunset).  They begin blooming around mid-July and keep supplying flowers until frost.

Hyssop adds a stunning backdrop to lower-growing plants in the garden, such as dwarf broom (Genista lydia), Pawnee Buttes sand cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes) and blue avena grass (Helictotrichon sempervirens). The fuchsia beauty in the back left is Sonoran sunset hyssop. To its right, you’ll see the orange-and-purple sunset hyssop.

It provides dramatic sprays that act as a backdrop to lower-growing plants in the garden.  In my garden, both the sunset and Sonoran sunset hyssops grow about 42 inches tall.

It’s a long-lasting cut flower.  I never thought hyssop would be a viable cut flower because the blooms look so delicate.  But I tried it as a background for zinnias and coneflowers in a simple arrangement, and the hyssop lasted nicely for four or five days.  I typically add half a teaspoon of sugar to the vase water to help flowers stay fresh longer.

Hyssop offers a lively background to this informal arrangement of zinnias and coneflowers.

It provides fragrance.  As a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family, hyssop imparts a pleasant, minty aroma.

It offers food and drink for people.  You can add sunset hyssop’s edible blooms to salads and fruit dishes, or mix it with cream cheese or butter to make a tasty spread, according to medical herbalist Tammi Hartung in her blog, Desert Canyon Farm Green Thoughts.  You can also use the blossoms to make herbal tea.

The only downside to hyssop is that it’s not a long-lived perennial.  I lost two of them after three years.  But the other seven that I planted at the same time are still blooming reliably.  So I’ll simply replace these lovelies as needed.

 

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Spring Creek’s Garden of Lights Emblazons Winter Sky

Oversized watering cans and sparkly trees greet visitors as they enter Garden of Lights at The Gardens on Spring Creek.

In Fort Collins, we have a small jewel of a garden (18 acres) called The Gardens on Spring Creek.  Designed by Lauren Springer Ogden, author of The Undaunted Garden and other books, this garden does an excellent job of demonstrating practical, creative ways to incorporate tough, xeric plants into residential landscapes.

A plethora of simulated blooms light up the sky. Dormant ornamental grasses (front right) get into the act, as well.

Trellised “tomato vines” glitter in front of a cobalt tree as it’s pelted with icicles.

Each winter from early December to early January, the garden dons its holiday finery for Garden of Lights.   This year, the lights will shine at 5 to 9pm from December 1, 2017 through January 7, except for Christmas Eve and day, and New Years Eve and day.  Admission is a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $2 for children, or free for garden members.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in at 2145 Centre Avenue.

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