Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

April 2011

Pea tendrils curling around a twig trellis

I planted my garden peas this week, along with beets, spinach, lettuce, onions, mesclun salad mixes, corn salad, and kohlrabi. I was out of town all last week, or I would have planted these cool-season veggies then. It’s important to get them into the ground early so they’ll mature before hot weather hits.

I grow only edible podded peas in my garden. I like the idea of less waste and less labor in shelling out peas. (I leave the shelling to commercial canners and freezers.) This year I’m growing Sugar Ann, a dwarf type that needs little staking and Sugar Daddy, a stringless variety. (Everyone could use a Sugar Daddy, right?) I also usually grow  Super Sugar Snap or Sugar Snap, the variety that started the snap pea craze when it was introduced back in 1979.

It will take a week to 10 days for the peas to germinate. That gives me a little time to prepare the trellis the taller types need. I like to use a twig trellis for the peas. This time of year I cut back to the ground my butterfly bushes, chaste tree, and beautyberry, which provide plenty of brushy twigs for the peas to climb. To make the trellis, I insert the base end of branches that are about 3 to 4 feet long 6 to 8 inches into the ground so they’ll stand firmly upright. The peas are planted in two rows spaced about 6 inches apart so the twigs are stuck between the two rows, and make a framework for pea plants from both rows to climb on.

The twig trellis holds up well for the entire season, and is easily removed when I pull the pea vines in midsummer. The brush gets recycled into mulch at the end of the year when it’s run through the chipper/shredder.

I’ll have to wait until June to reap the harvest from the peas, but I’m looking forward to the fresh taste of snap peas in salads and stir fries. I always freeze some for use the following winter, too.

It’s Wednesday…that means time to show off some fantastic photos from the BHG Share My Gallery.

Coneflower (Echinacea)

A beautiful coneflower in the summer garden of reader lvs2grdn!


A gorgeous summer garden shot from reader englek1582889!


We love this charming, country-style garden shed from reader joyfrank821!


And see more great photos from our blogging friends Rob, Chris, Bren, and Saxon!

I spent last week in the Hill Country of Texas in and around Fredericksburg in Gillespie County in search of wildflowers, as well as beautiful gardens and culinary delights, all part of a press tour arranged by Geiger and Associates and the Fredericksburg Convention & Visitor Bureau. This part of Texas is renowned for its springtime fields of bluebonnets (Lupinus texensis), the state flower. Sadly, the extreme drought plaguing the region this year has diminished the show. But I still found plenty of gorgeous flowers to enjoy.

The close up shot of a bluebonnet, at left, was taken in the garden at the Fredericksburg Herb Farm where I stayed two nights in one of their delightful Sunday house cottage replicas. I didn’t indulge in one of their spa treatments, but did partake of a delicious salad sampler lunch in their restaurant. Owners Rosemary and Dick Estenson made certain that I was taken care of well.

One area attraction that was a must-see on my list was Wildseed Farms, the largest wild seed producer in the nation, and host to more than 300,000 visitors yearly. In addition to wildflower display gardens, John Thomas and his staff offer a great selection of landscape plants, gift items, and an on-site restaurant called the Brewbonnet Biergarten, where we had lunch.

Field of pink primroses at Wildseed Farms

Claret cup cactus blooming in display gardens at Wildseed Farms.

One bit of trivia: Not all bluebonnets are blue! Color can vary from pure white to pink to blue to near maroon. Wildseed Farms carries ‘Alamo Fire’ maroon bluebonnet in their online catalog, and has white forms of the plant on display.

The best display of bluebonnets that I saw, however, was at Torre de Pietra Vineyards, one stop on an afternoon Texas Winery tour that included Pedernales Cellars.

Bluebonnets at Torre di Pietra Vineyards

Hinckley's golden columbine

Wildflowers could show up almost anywhere in Fredericksburg. The Hinckley’s golden columbine pictured in this post was right in the middle of town next to the Vereins Kirche, a symbol of the town’s German Heritage, and an extension of the Pioneer Museum. Just down Main Street at the main site of the museum, I spotted some brilliant orange Indian paint brushes on the grounds surrounding the historical buildings on display.

Indian paintbrush at the Fredericksburg Pioneer Museum

Spiderwort growing in a crack at Enchanted Rock

One morning I took a trip to Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. This granite outcropping provides fantastic views of the surrounding countryside, but an inhospitable substrate for plant growth. But as you can see at right, some determined plants take root in cracks and crevices, providing color in this harsh environment. For those searching for wildflowers at the park, you’ll have better luck by taking the loop trail around the rock.

I have several seedlings of bluebonnets growing in my greenhouse at home. I’ll plant them in the garden this spring and fondly remember the Texas Hill Country when they send up their fragrant blue and white spires.

I had the opportunity to spend some time in the yard this weekend and enjoyed beautiful blooms right now from some favorite early perennials. If you’re looking to add a spot of color in your landscape, try these easy-growing plants!


King of the early-spring shade garden, hellebore (Helleborus) is a deer- and rabbit-resistant perennial that opens up beautiful blooms in shades of white, cream, pink, red, and purple. Many have dark green, leathery leaves that are evergreen and look great in areas with winters a little more mild than what we see here in Iowa. Some hellebores offer foliage that bears a beautiful silvery overlay; others show off fancy double blooms with two or three times the normal number of petals.

Need another reason to love it? The sepals stay looking good even after the petals fade, so hellebores look as thought they’re in bloom for months.

Note: The reason hellebore is deer and rabbit resistant is that all parts of this plant are highly poisonous.


Also called periwinke, vinca (Vinca minor) often blooms alongside the crocus. It blooms of shades of purple, blue, and white — and many varieties bear attractive white- or gold-variegated foliage. One of my favorite varieties is ‘Sterling Silver’, which grows a little more slowly than the other varieties under my big sugar maple, but is worth the patience because its dark green leaves are edged in bright white — and contrast beautifully with the soft violet-blue flowers. I’ve also seen a very fun variety  that offers violet-purple flowers with extra petals, so they almost look like miniature roses or camellias. Vinca is very hardy, resists drought well, and is rarely browsed on by deer or rabbits.

Note: This low groundcover can be aggressive when it’s happy, so be sure to plant it where it has room to roam. Also, in some areas, vinca is considered an invasive species and should not be planted. Check local restrictions before adding this spring-blooming perennial to your yard.


One of those great plants a lot of gardeners have never heard of, Bergenia is also evergreen. In fact, most winters the foliage takes on tones of red and purple and is quite attractive. The pink, purple, or white flowers come in early spring, on stalks well above the foliage. This is a particularly nice perennial to plant with early bulbs such as Chionodoxa or Scilla.

Surprisingly, bergenia has never been nibbled on by deer and rabbits in my yard. The leaves are thick and rubbery, so the texture may turn off the pests. Or perhaps I’ve just been lucky….

By the way: Bergenia also sometimes goes by the name pigsqueak because if you fold a leaf in half and rub the two flaps together, the rubbery texture makes a cute little squeaking sound!


One of the charming woodland wildflowers I grew up with in northern Minnesota, bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is ultra-hardy does a great job of spreading without being a pain. The white, daisy-like flowers appear right away in spring as the leaves unfurl. That fun foliage is deeply lobed, and as a child, I thought it looked like some kind of monster’s footprint.

I know the common name bloodroot doesn’t make the plant sound so appealing, but it earned that moniker because the roots have an orange-red sap that can stain your fingers.

Wood Poppy

A charming woodland wildflower, woodland poppy (also called celadine poppy — Stylophorum diphyllum) shares bright yellow blooms with us. It blooms longer than most of its early-spring companions; I’ve seen the yellow flowers appear as late as June. The yellow blooms are a great contrast to the blue-green foliage, and to other cool-color spring flowers such as Virginia bluebells, lungwort, and white bleeding heart.

Doug and I had an early start Thursday morning — very early. We left our comfy hotel at 4.45 a.m. in an attempt to pass through the giant writhing mass of traffic that is Los Angeles during the morning rush hour. Happily, our mission was successful — we zipped down the California freeway from Ventura in the dark and hit LA around sunrise.

Once we were well out of the threat of spending hours sitting on the road in an endless line of other cars, we stopped and had a very delicious breakfast (which I believe was my first meal at an IHOP). And being the plant lovers we are, Doug and I couldn’t help but check out the garden departments of the Lowe’s and Home Depot right across the street. All of those Southern California plants made me wish I’d brought an extra suitcase (and had an unlimited credit card)!

Eventually, 170 miles after leaving our hotel, we made it down to Bonsall where we were met with great hospitality by the Proven Winners team (shout out to Danielle, Marshall, Chris, and Doug!). They always have an exceptional line of plants to show, and Doug and I were not disappointed.

We loved this idea --- placing a window box at the back of the fence so you can have a lush floral display spilling out over the top.

My favorite variety at PW was Calibrachoa Superbells Grape Punch, a delightful chamer that offers rich purple flowers kissed by a darker purple center. I can see using that in all sorts of fun combinations — with airy Euphorbia Diamond Frost or Gaura Stratosphere White; with rich coleus Dark Star or colorful pepper Purple Flash.

The star of the PW show, though, was Calibrachoa Superbells Cherry Star. We’d seen a lot of calibrachoas on this trip, but this one really stood out because of the gold star pattern on the hot pink flowers.

Imagine how much fun this variety would be if you planted it with some golden-yellow osteospermum or arctotis!

Proven Winners does more than just show off plants: They do a great job of giving ideas how to landscape with them!

Additionally, we were treated to the sights of their other outstanding annuals — plus shrubs (watch for pearlbush — it’s a stunner in the May landscape!) and the new line of perennials Proven Winners will be adding next year (including heat- and drought-resistant baptisias).

After lunch, we jumped on the road after a quick 10 miles, we arrived at Plug Connection, where that company was displaying, as well as Suntory (which is the company behind such outstanding plants as the Sun Parasol series of mandevilla, Senetti line of pericallis [aka cineraria], Surfinia petunias, Tapien verbenas, and Million Bells calibrachoas).

Suntory put on a show with all of its lovely varieties!

Our friends at Benary were also there and in top form. Benary is known for its begonias (think Nonstop tuberous begonias, as well as the Cocktail series of bedding begonia), Denver Daisy black-eyed Susan, and a host of other great varieties. The company was showing off some gorgeous new pansies in their Inspire line, as well as 2011 All-America Selections award winner Gaillardia Arizona Apricot.

Benary also did a great job of showing how to use their plants in a home garden!

The last stop of the day — and of California Spring Trials for us — was Ecke Ranch, where we were delighted by a gorgeous display of plants. Ecke had a little of everything — gorgeous new osteospermum, coleus, sweet potato vines, petunias, and more. It was a great way to wrap up the trip!

Look at all the color at Ecke Ranch. That orange Crossandra was awesome!

Ecke Ranch also showed off lots of great ideas for garden centers --- how much fun would it be if your local garden center looked like this??!

Like what you read and missed our first three days? Check them out here!

Day 1!

Day 2!

Day 3!

Doug and I arose early Wednesday morning eager to get on the road and see more great new plant varieties. Our first stop was in Lompoc — UK plant breeding company Floranova and its exceptionally cool brand of vegetables, Vegetalis. It was here we got to see such plants as beautifully variegated ‘Field of Dreams’ corn, adorable ‘Whispers’ nicotiana, and sweet little Royale salpiglossis.

And one of the coolest thing is that Floranova set up displays in their greenhouse that looked like planting beds (very nice ones at that!) and they a fantastic job of mixing vegetables and herbs right in with their flowering annuals. Floranova even had a movie-set-style house facade in their greenhouse to help show off landscaping ideas with their products.

'Field of Dreams' corn on the ends of this bed with 'Whispers' nicotiana running in a line down the middle. Great plants!

Look at how easy it is to mix veggies with your flowers in a home landscape setting!

After taking in the sights at Floranova, it was time to jump back in the car and we drove 50 miles south to Santa Barabara where, at Imagination Canyon Greenhouses, we were able to meet with three companies in one stop. The first was European plant breeder GGG, a company which I’d love to see more of their plant varieties around the US. One standout product was Velox Pink — an unusual, mildew-resistant cross between annual phlox and verbena.

Also on board was Skagit Gardens from the Pacific Northwest. A great company that supplies many fine perennials to retail garden centers across the country, one of its stellar offerings was the Gold Collection of shade-loving, deer- and rabbit-resistant, drought-tolerant hellebores. Salvia ‘Wendy’s Wish’ was also a fun one!

Next up was Florist De Kwakel, a Dutch company that almost exclusively breeds gerbera daisies. They have such interesting varieties, including ‘Midi Bicolour Double’, ‘Patio Everglades’, and the semi-hardy Garvinea series.

Plus we got to see what’s new in the world of plant tags from the John Henry company and snack on delicious chocolate croissants.

It was back in the car…and another 20 miles later we hit gorgeous Island View Nursery, where we had the opportunity to meet with wonderful folks from three more companies.

The first was Plant Haven, a company that helps bring some of the coolest plant varieties around to the market. You’re probably familiar with a lot of the plants they’ve handled — Black Scallop ajuga‘Fanfare’ gaillardia, and new-for-2011 ‘Ruby Falls’ redbud.

But this time they were showing off a ton of outstanding dianthus, including the Dessert series, the Star series, and more. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it smelled in there!!

In greenhouse right next to Plant Haven, we found Hort Couture — a group of plants you’ll only find at finer retail garden centers. They had so many topnotch varieties — some stellar calibrachoas, lobelias, petunias, coleus…and the list goes on!!

With them was wonderful European plant breeder Westhoff, known for their lobelias, verbenas, and calibrachoa. How can you not fall in love with a variety like ‘Superstar’ lobelia, double Roccoco Peach verbena, or Estrella Voodoo Star verbena?

Then it was off to Ball Horticultural, where afterward, all we could say was “wow!” They had a ton of new varieties, including ‘Wasabi’ coleus that really caught Doug’s eye last month when he was at Costa Farms. One of my favorite new varieties for next year is the Archangel line of angelonia (the purple, pink, and white flowers in the first picture below). The blooms are so much bigger than any other angelonia I’ve ever seen!

Not only did we see rock-star plants, but we also had a lovely visit with old friends and make some new ones. Plus, they gave us lunch and it was amazing!

Golden 'Wasabi' coleus...Wow! Especially with purple Archangel angelonia.

Did you see the first two installments? If not, check them out!

Day 1

Day 2

Day 4

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