Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

July 2011

The recent heat wave has tested the worthiness of many landscape plants. In my own landscape, I’ve found that hardy hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutos) and rose of Sharon (Hibiscus syriacus) not only stand up to the heat, they thrive in it. And although hibiscuses love lots of moisture (one type has the common name of swamp hibiscus), they are surprisingly drought tolerant. Here are some of the hibiscuses that are blooming in my yard now.

'Brandy Punch' hibiscus has huge pink blooms with deep red centers.

'Brandy Punch' hibiscus has huge pink blooms with deep red centers.

I love the pink and red striping of 'Peppermint Schnapps' hardy hibiscus.

I love the pink and red striping of 'Peppermint Schnapps' hardy hibiscus flowers. They can grow up to 10 inches in diameter.

'Cherry Brandy' blooms retain their deep red color for the entire life of the bloom.

'Cherry Brandy' hardy hibiscus blooms retain their deep red color for the entire life of the bloom.

'Fiji' rose-of-Sharon is a compact shrub loaded with white blooms touched in the center with red.

'Fiji' rose of Sharon is a compact shrub loaded with 3- to 4-inch-wide white blooms touched in the center with red.

'Tahiti' rose-of-Sharon brings a taste of the tropics to the landscape with its lavender pink blossoms on a compact plant.

'Tahiti' rose of Sharon brings a taste of the tropics to the landscape with its lavender pink blossoms on a compact plant.

Part of my job as editor of Country Gardens is to nose around and find compelling stories and locations for the magazine. A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to spend some time with a group of writers exploring a very special part of our country, the Acadiana region of French Louisiana, composed of 22 of the state’s most southern parishes. Acadiana is unique primarily because of its strong French Acadian culture, language, and traditions. Many of the residents of Acadiana are Cajuns (the name comes from the Acadian settlers who, in 1755, were forced to leave their native Canada and find a home elsewhere). Their French-Canadian customs and language came with them as did their love for merriment, strong work ethic, and ability to live off the land. Here are just a few highlights from my too-short visit.


After checking into our immaculate cabins in Palmetto State Park (Vermillion Parish), we found our way to Dupuy’s Oyster Shop (established 1869) in Abbeville, where I devoured the best crab cake of my life, described as “a delicious blend of Louisiana crabmeat brought together by a Béchamel sauce, drizzled with crawfish, white wine, capers, and diced tomato cream.” The next morning we had a late breakfast of fried catfish and étouffée at Surie’s Grocery and Restaurant (above) in Kaplan. Rice farmers in these parts are also crawfish farmers, and we visited Travis Richard and his family’s Stansel Rice Mill in Gueydan, while workers were hauling in the last of the season’s crawfish. Lunch at Shucks! in Abbeville was notable for a truly phenomenal dish called candied oysters (oysters topped with feta and blue cheese and sugar cane pepper glaze and then char-broiled). Really. I can’t stop thinking about them.


Next up was Rip Van Winkle Gardens in Iberia Parish. Atop a coastal salt dome on Lake Peigneur, Rip Van Winkle Gardens (above) is 25 acres surrounding the Joseph Jefferson Home, built in 1870 by acclaimed American actor Joseph Jefferson. Jefferson purchased “Orange Island” in 1869 and built his winter home here to enjoy the fine hunting and fishing and relatively mild climate for 36 winter respites from the stage. Though Jefferson performed a great many roles in the theaters around the world, it was the role of Rip Van Winkle, as adapted by Jefferson from the Washington Irving tale that ensured Jefferson’s fame. He played the role more than 4,500 times. It’s easy to lose yourself in this wonderland of flora and fauna, a semi-tropical paradise where irises, magnolias, hibiscus, camellias, azaleas, and a breathtaking array of annuals paint a landscape across the Southern sky.


After an enjoyable evening spent in a very cool bousillage cabin—the walls were made of mud and Spanish moss—on the bayou in St. Martin Parish, we departed for the new “green” St. Landry Parish Visitor Information Center (above) for a tour. We were all impressed with the center environmentally friendly features: a wind turbine, reclaimed materials, a cistern, as well as a rain and drought tolerant garden. Way cool. And last but certainly no least was a too-short visit to Washington and Harbourage House, the home of Dennis Anderson and Dexter Stockstill. Their restored 1869 Acadian cottage (below) is surrounded by an acre of beautifully designed gardens and outdoor rooms. Southern hospitality is alive and well in southern Louisiana.


Japanese beetles feeding on Knock Out rose

Japanese beetles feeding on Knock Out rose

Every morning for the past week and a half, my day has started by making the rounds of the garden in search of Japanese beetles. These voracious pests prefer the roses in my garden, but I’ve also found them on raspberries, hydrangeas, asparagus, and hibiscus. And I’ve seen evidence of their feeding on chokeberries and cannas, too. They can feed on more than 300 species of plants, so they may choose others in your yard. At other locations I’ve seen extensive leaf feeding on grapes, golden rain trees, and  lindens. Most feeding injury occurs on plants in full sun. Damage can quickly mount up because as the beetles feed, they give off a pheromone that attracts other beetles to the site. That’s why you’ll often find clusters of them feeding as on the Knock Out rose pictured above.

Damage to foliage is characterized by leaf skeletonization. The beetles eat the “good stuff” and leave the tough veins behind. Lower on the same rose plant I found the skeletonized leaves pictured below.

Leaf skeletonization from Japanese beetle feeding on rose

Leaf skeletonization from Japanese beetle feeding on rose

Rather than allowing the beetles free reign of the yard, I fight back with a bucket of soapy water. The beetles have the curious habit of dropping off their feeding site when disturbed before flying away. This trait makes it fairly easy to hold a small bucket with several inches of soapy water (I use liquid dish detergent) under the flower or foliage being devoured, and with a light brush of the hand, sweep the beetles into the bucket where they meet a quick demise.

In the grand scheme of things, collecting Japanese beetles every morning during their month-long feeding cycle may not put a noticeable dent in the population (unless you can convince enough of your neighbors to join the attack), but it feels better to be doing something to thwart their actions than to give in to their appetites. And I have to think that eliminating hundreds of hungry beetles at least does a little good. If nothing else, I get the satisfaction of seeing a bucket full of dead beetles!

A morning's harvest of Japanese beetles

A morning's harvest of Japanese beetles

For a list of plants that Japanese beetles tend to avoid, and more control tips, read our online story about Japanese beetle control.

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

A tropical tung tree flower (Vernicia fordii) from reader blrsmith!


Delightful daylilies from reader kristanbarclay


A stunning passionflower from reader ncognito88

Today is the day for the garden tour at La Ventose (the name of our home and garden), appropriately enough on Bastille Day. Last week I posted photos of the backyard. This week it’s the front yard.

The only shade garden we have is on the north side of the garage where hostas and astilbes thrive.

The hot, dry south-facing slope along the driveway is filled with Midwest native prairie plants and xeric Southwest perennials.

Hot colors from coleus, Flower Carpet Scarlet roses, potentillas, rudbeckias, daylilies, and California fuchsia fill the bed surrounding the mailbox.

The parking strip is filled with pink and purple annuals (petunia, gomphrena, vinca, and nicotiana) punctuated by daylilies, sweet flag, penstemon, and tradescantia.

New last year, this corner border uses a red maple as a focal point and backdrop for a garden bench.

This rock wall terrace faces southwest, so it contains drought-tolerant perennials.

The small waterfall into the front pond creates soothing sound when you rest on the front porch.

The entry garden disguises the walkway to the front door.

Tomatoes in vegetable gardenI admit that I’m a follow-the-rules kind of guy. I was raised with the belief that rules largely exist to help us know what kind of decision to make when we’re confused, to keep the world in order, and to prevent us from falling into deep, inescapable chaos.

But when I read the story of Julie Bass in Oak Park, Michigan, I silently gave her a thumbs up.

Julie Bass’ story is an interesting one: According to what I’ve read, she’s being threatened with a misdemeanor crime for violating city code and having a front yard vegetable garden instead of more traditional lawn and shrubbery.

Personally, I don’t find the pictures I’ve seen (view for yourself here) particularly unattractive. It’s not the most traditional approach to front yard landscape design, but it’s certainly not bare earth. And it’s not the first time I’ve heard of growing vegetables out front; in fact, you can see a picture of a front yard that incorporates herbs and vegetables in a front yard right here on BHG.com.

So what do you think? Is this brouhaha over nothing — should she be fined and forced to move her vegetable garden out back and replace it with lawn? Or should she be cheered for doing something a little different? Share your comments!

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