June 2010

Justin W. Hancock

Keep Your Petunias Pretty

Petunias are among the most popular of annual flowers — and for good reason. They’re easy-care and long-blooming, and come in just about every color you can imagine.

If the plants have a downside, it’s that they’re heavy feeders, just like a hungry teenager. After all, it takes a lot of nutrients to keep producing all those big, beautiful flowers!

Consequently, some gardeners find the plants tend to slow down in midsummer. Prevent this by keeping your petunias well fed with a balanced, general-purpose fertilizer. Follow the directions on the packaging for a guide on how much to use and how often to use it. (Tip: Fertilizer is not one of those things where you can say if some is good, more is better; too much fertilizer can harm or even kill plants.)

You may also find it’s helpful to give your petunias, especially older varieties, a haircut. It’s simple — just snip off the top two or three inches of new growth from the plants. It causes them to bush out more, producing more branches along the plants so there’s an even distribution of flowers instead of all the blooms being at the ends of the stems.

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James A. Baggett

Fragrant Feast

Take a cue from our upcoming Fall issue of Country Gardens and plant an herb box that spills over with exuberant textures, flowing forms, and contrasting colors drenched in sweet and stimulating scents. With a box full of fresh herbs, culinary success is always with arm’s reach.

Here’s a 37-inch square box filled with roses, pansies, and culinary herbs such as basil, sage, and flat-leaf parsley. This container will thrive in a sunny spot and it will fill the sir with delicious herbal fragrances. Most herbs like lots of sun and moderate watering. So fill a sturdy planter with drainage holes with fluffy, well-drained sandy loam, and you’re well on your way. After all, herbs are the spice of life. These images as well as those that will appear in our Fall issue, were taken by my friend Pete Krumhardt at Rosemary and Dick Estenson’s Fredericksburg Herb Farm in Texas.

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Justin W. Hancock

Meadowsweet Rocks

Filipendula rubra 'Venusa'Meadowsweet (aka queen of the prairie, or in Latin, Filipendula rubra ‘Venusta’) has long been one of my favorite perennials.

This beauty features fluffy flowers that look like cotton candy in June and early July. It’s great for attracting butterflies, too! And it’s native to North America.

The foliage has a fun texture — the leaves are divided and toothed, so even when meadowsweet isn’t in bloom it looks great.

I took this picture in the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden® this morning — you might be able to get a sense of size if you look at the arborvitae in the background; this meadowsweet can grow to 6 feet tall!

It grows best in full sun or light shade and moist soil. It’s handled drought okay in my yard, but performs best when kept moist. Like many perennials, meadowsweet forms a clump as it matures, so it’s easy to divide and share with friends or create more summertime pink exclamation points in your yard.


Justin W. Hancock

Who Needs Flowers?

Variegated CallicarpaFlowers can be flighty things — plants seem to go in and out of bloom all the time and delicate petals are often damaged by heavy rain or fade quickly in hot temperatures.

That’s why I tend to use a lot of plants with fun foliage when I do garden designs. Here, for example, is a variegated beautyberry (Callicarpa) — it’s a knockout now and I can’t wait for fall when the stems are adorned with its stunning purple fruits.

So next time you go shopping for plants at your local garden center, pay more attention to the leaves. You can create some amazing plant combinations by playing off foliage.

For example, try mixing a pool of white-edged hostas with some with white centers. The effect is subtle, but smashing. Or make a shrub like this beautyberry stand out by pairing it with the rich purple foliage of a dwarf ninebark or dark green rose of Sharon.

Or mix some plants with chartreuse foliage in with those that are more silvery-blue in nature. They’ll look good spring to autumn.


Justin W. Hancock

Hot – Hot – Hot

I was walking through the Test Garden the other day when I came across this beauty in full bloom. Do you recognize it?

A number of our Test Garden visitors are suprised to know it’s a coneflower! The variety is ‘Hot Papaya’ and it’s a showstopper, eh?

‘Hot Papaya’ offers blooms in a bright shade of orange-red, and wiht a frilly cone. It bears all the other attributes of coneflowers: A long bloom season, it attracts butterflies, and it holds up well to heat and drought. Oh and one other thing? ‘Hot Papaya’ is also fragrant.

It’s part of a new generation of coneflowers. Plant breeders have gone far beyond the traditional purple; you can find doubles like this in shades of orange, orange-red, white, and pink — and we’ll no doubt be seeing lots of other cool ones at our local garden centers in the future.

Stop by the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden this summer to see other cool varieties like ‘Coral Reef’ and ‘Milkshake’!


Eric Liskey

Feeling Bleu

Just a quick plant promo. This is Marie Bleu ceanothus. West Coasters know this genus well, but east of the Rockies, ceanothus is a little more obscure, mainly because most garden varieties are not so hardy. Marie Bleu is from Spring Meadow nursery, and they list it as hardy to Zone 6, possibly 5.

We had tons of snow cover this year, and buried beneath was this Marie Bleu. It came back beautifully, and you can see what a cool little plant it is. I’m not so sure it would have made it without the snow cover, given our season low temp of -19. (Nearly Zone 4!)  But anyone in Zone 6, or maybe the warmest part of Zone 5 should give it a try. There’s nothing quite like the blue of a ceanothus in bloom.

Marie Bleu ceanothus

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