July 2011

Everyday Gardeners

Attention Grabbers in the Summer Garden

Written on July 11, 2011 at 8:28 am , by

The following is a guest blog post from Chris Tidrick a gardener, writer and photographer.


Although we’re only a short way into the summer calendar, I have a good idea which plants are going to be the highlights in my gardens. Summer perennials are lush with foliage and starting to bloom, while the annuals planted in containers and garden beds no longer resemble those tiny plants I purchased in flats just a few weeks ago. There’s so much competing for attention in the summer landscape, it often takes the unique plant or combination of plants to truly grab our attention.

This year, a handful of new plants and a couple of garden veterans are stealing the show in my garden.

Solenostemon ‘Twist and Twirl’

I grow a lot of coleus (Solenostemon), but the one variety that stands out is ‘Twist and Twirl’. True to its name, its burgundy, yellow, and green, deeply lobed foliage appears to dance up the main stem. More upright and narrow than most coleus, ‘Twist and Twirl’ makes an excellent choice for a vertical element in containers. I have found that it combines best with other burgundy and green coleus, as the bright yellow isn’t the most complementary color with other hues.

Heuchera ‘Cherry Cola’

Heuchera has taken garden centers by storm in the past few years, but I have to admit that I still waver when asked my opinion on this diverse group of foliage perennials. Perhaps I haven’t given them the proper growing conditions, but most Heuchera I’ve planted seem to simply survive rather than flourish in my garden. I’d slowly been giving up on them, until planted H. ‘Cherry Cola’, a cultivar whose new growth emerges a deep cherry red and slowly fades to a darker brown-red as it ages. When backlit, the plant appears to have glowing embers under the foliage. The foliage color, combined with an above average vigor, definitely places ‘Cherry Cola’ on the short list of attention grabbers this summer.


Helenium ‘Mardi Gras’

From Rudbeckia to Leucanthemum and many genus in between, the choices for summer-flowering, daisy-type flowers seem endless. One plant that is often overlooked is Helenium, or Helen’s flower. A number of cultivars are available, ranging from yellow to orange to red. In my garden, ‘Mardi Gras’ is the cultivar of choice. Standing 30-36 inches tall, it is covered in yellow-orange blooms from June through September.

Salvia ‘Black and Blue’

I’ve also been enamored this summer by ‘Black and Blue’, an annual salvia (S. gauranitica). The true blue petals of ‘Black and Blue’, which resemble Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) in form if not color, emerge from a nearly black calyx attached to the stem. In full bloom, the flowers of ‘Black and Blue’ appear to be tiny pennants run up along a ship’s mast. The foliage is green and indistinct, but forms a solid base below these outstanding flowers.

Achillea ‘Strawberry Seduction’

I’ve never been that attracted to yarrow (Achillea), with its weedy foliage and tendency to fade in the summer heat and overwinter poorly during our Midwestern winters. But as I was browsing a clearance table at a garden center last fall, the name ‘Strawberry Seduction’ and a two dollar price tag convinced me to give it a try. So far, it’s been worth far more in my garden. Planted at the base of a large ‘Jackmanii’ clematis, my small clump of  ’Strawberry Seduction’ manages to catch my eye every time I walk through the garden.

Hemerocallis ‘Kwanso’

Any discussion of the attention grabbers in the early summer garden has to include Hemerocallis. I grow nearly 30 different varieties of daylilies in my garden. While my collection focuses heavily on red culivars, including  ’Angel Fire’, ‘Ivory Edges’, and ‘Christmas Carol’, there is one I wouldn’t do without: H. ‘Kwanso’. A close, yet cultivated, relative of the much disparaged “ditch lily” H. fulva, ‘Kwanso’ commands attention with its double-petaled orange flowers and vigorous (almost aggressive) growth habit. While many of my other Hemerocallis specimens may get overlooked at first glance, ‘Kwanso’ in full bloom is undeniably a starring member of my garden.

Clematis ‘Rouge Cardinal’

While I’d be remiss to ignore ‘Jackmanii’ clematis that forms the focal point of my front border,  ’Jackmanii’ is so well known that it seems redundant to give it more attention. Besides, another clematis in my garden may actually be outperforming ‘Jackmanii’ this year. ‘Rouge Cardinal’ is finally coming into its own after growing on the corner of my home for several years, is covered with dark red-purple, velvet-textured blooms from June through July. After the petals fade, the seed heads that remain are beautiful in their own right.

Calibrachoa Cabaret ‘Hot Pink and Pelargonium ‘Happy Thought’

Often plants form an attention-grabbing combination in the garden. In this container that grows near the end of our driveway, Calibrachoa Cabaret ‘Hot Pink’ and Pelargonium ‘Happy Thought’ (zonal geranium) combine to form a trailing base below a dark pink tropical Hibiscus. The yellow variegation in the Pelargonium foliage offsets the orange-red flowers and forms a clear transition between the solid green foliage of the Calibrachoa and Hibiscus.

Lobelia ‘Crystal Palace’ and Impatiens Tempo ‘Cancun Mix’

Sometimes breaking the rules of gardening can lead to a unique plant combination. While putting my containers together, I had three leftover plants: Lobelia ‘Crystal Palace’, Impatiens Tempo ‘Cancun’ and a small division of a variegated Hosta. While the light needs of these plants are on opposite ends of the spectrum, I decided to push the growing conditions for all the plants involved because I loved the combination of the blue and salmon, with a slight interruption of the yellow variegation in the Hosta.

Those are just a few of the attention grabbers growing in my garden. Please feel free to use the comment feature to share those plants and plant combinations that are starring in your summer garden. Please join me at my blog, From the Soil, on Facebook, or on Twitter.


Everyday Gardeners

garden tour

Written on July 8, 2011 at 10:33 am , by

Last winter I agreed to place my garden on tour in mid-July. At the time I didn’t think that it would take any extra effort. After all, I’m usually photographing in the garden every couple of weeks, so I try to keep it in good condition. And I always enjoy sharing my garden with those who are interested. But this spring, it struck closer to home that the beds better be fully mulched (300 bags worth!), garden projects completed (a new water garden in the backyard), gaps in beds filled in (hurray for garden center shopping trips!), and plants fully groomed (a weekend of deadheading ahead) by the time the tour arrives next week.

I think that we’re just about ready for the group. The photos below take you on a virtual tour of my backyard. Next week I’ll show you the front yard. What do you think? Will it pass muster?

Herbal knot garden with lavender, germander, marigolds, and mealycup sage

New formal water garden

Firepit seating area

Boxwood knot garden with marigolds and ageratum

Mixed shrub and perennial border

Raised bed vegetable garden and compost bin screen

Drought-tolerant border

Potager, kitchen garden

Deckscaping

Terraced vegetable beds


Justin W. Hancock

Lovely Living Walls

Written on July 7, 2011 at 5:52 am , by

Des Moines may be the largest city in Iowa, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s pretty small.  That’s one of the things about traveling to larger cities exciting: You get to see more trendy new things.

I recently added another item of my list of things to see: The new living wall at the Embassy Suites in downtown Chicago. Installed by Ambius interiorscaping, it’s a 720-square-foot wall that features some 3,800 plants, including ‘Neon’ pothos, rabbit’s-foot fern, and Rex begonias.

It’s a perfect solution for a hotel lobby — the plants help cut down on noise, help cool the air in summer, and add valuable humidity in winter. Plus, it cleans the air as many indoor plants are great scrubbers of indoor air pollutants.

It’s also perfect for a home (though not quite on this scale!). By using systems such as Bright Green trays, you can create your own vertical work of art. Imagine how much fun it would be to have a living wall like this hanging in your living room, or growing herbs in this manner in your kitchen!

Image courtesy Vorticom, Inc.


Denny Schrock

first tomato

Written on July 1, 2011 at 11:13 am , by

It’s finally happened. I succeeded in getting ripe tomatoes to add to summer salads before the spring-sown lettuce, spinach, and snap peas melted out in summer’s heat. (After two successive days with 100-degree F plus heat indices, that may soon change!)

The successful tomato variety? It’s ‘Lizzano’, an All-America Selections winner for this year. It certainly gets my vote as a keeper. Never mind that it’s “just” a cherry tomato. I don’t care about the size of the fruits as long as they’re flavorful and productive. So far, ‘Lizzano’ fits the bill. It’s certainly earliest of the 20 varieties of tomatoes that I’m growing this year. And unlike some cherry tomatoes, the plant is staying compact (less than 2 feet tall). It also reportedly has excellent disease resistance.

I’m especially celebrating the early harvest because not only has the tomato harvest coincided with the bounty of salad fixings, I have ripe peppers to add to the blend! ‘Sweet Heat’ pepper, from Ball Seed Company grows a compact 12 inches tall, and is bearing 1- to 2-inch long red fruits with a nice blend of sweetness and mild heat–somewhere between the flavor of a bell pepper and a hot pepper. Last year I grew it in a container with some herbs, but this year it’s growing in the ground. It has done well in both locations.

Local growers tell us that because of cool spring weather we won’t have ripe Iowa sweet corn this July 4th, but I can gloat a little and say that I have ripe peppers and tomatoes to enjoy. Summer has arrived!


Katie Ketelsen

Sharing the Pinterest Love

Written on July 1, 2011 at 9:54 am , by

Apparently Pinterest has been around now for quite some time.  I however didn’t jump on the bandwagon until recently. Not to anyone’s fault other than mine: I just wasn’t aware of it! So I’m doing you a favor by introducing you to Pinterest.

Say hello.

Pinterest is about sharing–’pinning’ to be exact. Pinning what you admire. Pinning what you’re doing. Pinning what you’re envious of. Pinning what you’re aspiring to be.

Pin anything. Well…almost anything.

Pinterest to me, is like picking up my favorite magazine filled with images of inspiration tailoring to all my facets: vintage, burlap, gardening and so much more.

Pinterest is also about sharing goodness. If you find something interesting and think the world might also find it interesting this is your platform. That’s what I love the most (other than of course the inspiring images). This closely coincides with my love for Better Homes and Gardens.

What better platform than Pinterest to share the BH&G love! Here’s a sneak peek at what I’m particularly enjoying pinning these days:

To see more of my Better Homes and Gardens favorites…check out my board. Or make a board of your own! Happy pinning!

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