June 2010

Justin W. Hancock

Guerrilla Gardening

I just read a news story that made me feel really good, despite all the crumminess that seems to be going on in the world (oil spills, floods, etc.).

In Chicago, a group of folks came in overnight and planted a vacant lot with flowers. The group calls themselves guerrilla gardeners and they’ve basically called a war on ugliness.

Happily, guerrilla gardening seems to be a growing trend. In fact, there’s even a Web site devoted to it that includes tips on how to get started.

The Chicago guerrilla gardeners have inspired me to want to beautify my neighborhood — not just my backyard. I’ve already started a bit by putting a rose garden in a park across the street from my house (with permission from my city’s Park and Rec department, of course). But I think I just might give them a call this afternoon and talk to them about adding to it…

How about you? What do you think of the idea of guerrilla gardening?

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Justin W. Hancock

Quick Shot from the Test Garden

Stachys 'Pink Cotton Candy'

One of the great things about perennials is that there’s such a wide variety — it seems like there’s always something new to discover!

Take this plant: It’s common name is betony (Stachys ‘Pink Cotton Candy’ for those of you who love plant names in Latin). It’s closest common garden relative is lamb’s ears. Like lamb’s ears, it has great foliage — though it’s dark green and quilted instead of soft and silvery. Betony’s blooms are prettier, too — a delightful shade of soft pink.

The ‘Pink Cotton Candy’ variety blooms from June to August and grows 2 feet tall and wide. It loves full sun, tolerates poor soil and droughty conditions, and deer and rabbits pass it by. I’ve not tried it as a cut flower, but it seems like it would make a good one.

I’m thinking it would make for a great groundcover, too — the foliage stays relatively low so if you cut the dead flower stalks off you’d have an undulating carpet of those dark green textured leaves.

If you’re in the area, come by the BHG Test Garden on Fridays to see it in bloom for yourself!


James A. Baggett

Bee Happy

By now, most of us have read the reports that attest to the mysterious and troubling decline in honeybee populations worldwide, partly to do with the syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder, which can erase healthy colonies overnight and about which little is known. Over the last century, beekeeping farms went from numbering 5 million to just over 2 million in the United States—and are still spiraling downward.

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Thank goodness for Susan Brackney and her charming new book, Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures On the Planet (Perigree). A passionate beekeeper from Bloomington, Indiana, Susan wants everyone to grasp the extraordinary importance of the culture of the honeybee, a tiny non-native insect that contributes enormously to the health and wealth of our planet. The book is much more than the history and biology and behavior of the honeybee; it’s a guidebook full of tips on how anyone—whether an urban, suburban, or rural dweller—can don the protective gear, build a nesting box, and start beekeeping in their own backyard.

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Speaking of backyard beekeepers, we will be featuring John and Peggy Thodos’ rural garden retreat in a northwest suburb of Chicago in the Fall 2010 issue of Country Gardens, which hits newsstands this August. Not only do “heirloom tomatoes, buzzing beehives, and clucking chickens cozily coexist” here (in the words of writer Marty Ross), they boast certified organic soil so they can produce truly pesticide-free fruits and vegetables. Are you a backyard beekeeper? Share with us your closest honeybee encounters.

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Justin W. Hancock

Cool Plant of the Day

Leptinella 'Platt's Black'Do you know what this plant is? If not, don’t worry — you’re not alone.

It’s a super-cool groundcover called brass buttons (Leptinella squalida ‘Platt’s Black’). Hardy in Zones 4-10, I have it thriving in my garden on the east side of the house, where it’s protected from the afternoon sun. The plant grows about half an inch tall and creates a delightful spreading carpet of purple-and-green foliage that looks kind of ferny. When friends visit my garden they’re almost always fascinated; many say “it looks like little worms!”

Brass buttons is a low-care plant that does best in moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. It doesn’t like drought, and can be walked on a little bit without harming it too much.

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Justin W. Hancock

Grow Carrots in Containers

CarrotsI think that, with the exception of watering, container gardening makes growing most plants easier than trying to cultivate them in the ground.

This applies to vegetables, too: In my experience, tomatoes don’t get as diseased in pots than in the ground (maybe because they’re up higher where air flows better or because a good potting mix is free of disease spores), eggplants become even more ornamental, and carrots are easier to harvest.

Yes, you read that right: carrots. If you have a deep enough container, you can grow really lovely carrots in a pot. They’ll typically grow straighter, especially if you have rocky ground, and are a cinch to pull from loose potting mix as compared to the ground. And the ferny foliage looks great, too — either in a mass by itself or as an accent to your favorite flowers or herbs.

Want to give it a try? There’s still time this year to plant a batch of carrot seeds!


Justin W. Hancock

For the Love of Lavender

LavenderI have a bit of an odd relationship with lavender (Lavandula). On one hand I love it: The plant looks good, smells great, and has attractive foliage that fits in well with just about everything I’ve ever tried to plant around it. Plus you can cook with it; try strawberry-lavender ice cream for a tasty summer treat or lemon-lavender cookies any time of hte year. Yum!

But sometimes lavender annoys me. Why? because it gives so many of you (my readers) trouble. The other BHG garden editors and I get a ton of reader questions through Garden Doctor about this beautiful plant.

The most common mistake most people seem to have when growing lavender is that they grow it too wet. This herb wants full sun and likes to stay on the dry side, especially in winter. I’ve actually had great luck with it on the edge of the rain shadow created by the eaves of my house.

Lavender is also a perfect choice for containers; they give you the advantage of being able to move it around, so if you’re having a party on your deck you can place pots of lavender where your guests can easily brush by to release that wonderful, relaxing fragrance.