Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

May 2012

AngeloniaAs a horticulturist, I often find myself recommending plants to people. I feel bad when I get asked for the impossible plants; something like an evergreen that flowers all year long, is hardy in Zone 3, loves deep shade, and deer won’t eat it.

There is one incredible flower that I frequently recommend, though, because it does cover so many bases. I absolutely LOVE it! The plant is called angelonia, and despite how wonderful it is, not a lot of gardeners have heard of it.

What does angelonia have going for it?

  • It blooms nonstop all summer long.
  • It comes in blues and purples (my favorites), as well as pinks and whites.
  • It holds up well in hot spots.
  • It handles drought like a champ.
  • It can grow in wet soil. I hear (never tried it myself, though), that you can even put it in a water garden.
  • It attracts butterflies.
  • Some varieties are fragrant.
  • Deer and rabbits usually leave it alone.

Because it’s so versatile and wonderful to work with, plant breeders have come out with a number of series. Upright versions like the Angelmist or Carita series can get 2 (or more) feet tall. Spreading varieties, such as Serena and Carita Cascade, are perfect picks for hanging baskets. And new-for-2012 Archangel has exceptionally large blooms that really stand out in containers or the landscape.

There’s a spot for angelonia in virtually every sunny garden. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

I hear from lots of readers who want their container gardens to look a little different than the norm. Petunias and geraniums are fine, they tell me, but this year they want something a little “more than fine.”

One way to do this is to look beyond the usual plant palette of annuals and consider perennials. They’re more expensive up front but what many gardeners don’t realize is that you can pull them out of your containers at the end of the season and plant them in your garden. That way you can enjoy that same perennial for years to come. The example shown here uses columbine to wonderful effect with petunias, dianthus, euphorbia, and bacopa.

Some of my favorite perennials to use in containers include:

Coralbells: Their colorful foliage is a showstopper from spring to fall and are perfect for partly shaded situations. Dark-leaf varieties such as ‘Mocha’ are fun alternatives for sweet potato vine and won’t overgrow the space. (Get the same effect from chartreuse varieties, such as ‘Citronelle’.)

Ajuga: Another type with fun foliage for the shade, ajuga bears great foliage and creeps over the container, covering the soil and softly spilling over the container edges. ‘Burgundy Glow’ is a particular favorite; the leaves are variegated with silver, white, and purple.

Switchgrass: Varieties such as ‘Northwind’ offer fantastic upright structure in containers. They offer a very contemporary feel and are fun alternatives to cannas.

Blanketflower: This native prairie plant doesn’t mind it hot and dry, and blooms on and off all summer with yellow, orange, or red flowers. It’s a prime pick for attracting butterflies!

You may not have millions to spend on your landscape as did George Vanderbilt, the first owner of Biltmore estate and mansion in Asheville, NC, but you can follow some of the same principles that noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted used in laying out the grounds of this popular tourist destination. I was able to visit Asheville and Biltmore last week and came away with these impressions about the gorgeous grounds:

Provide a grand entry. Olmsted and Vanderbilt wanted to wow guests on arrival with an impressive view of the mansion. Allees of trees line the exanse of lawn in front of the home. In your own landscape, frame your home and provide an open, unobstructed view of the entry to welcome visitors.

Borrow the view. You may not be able to afford an estate with thousands of acres, but you, too, can take advantage of "borrowed" vistas. This view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the back patio at Biltmore is spectactular.

Use masses of color. Whether your gardens are formal, such as these annual flower display beds at Biltmore, or informal, don't skimp on the number of plants. To have a big color impact, plant masses of solid colors.

Use native plants. A major feature of the gardens is the azalea and rhododendron walk. Here native flame azaleas, Cumberland azaleas, and Catawba rhododendrons provide splashes of spring color with few maintenance needs because they are native to the region.

Lead the eye through the landscape. A path past a weeping atlas cedar beckons strollers to see what's beyond the bend. You can do the same in smaller landscapes by creating winding paths that flow around shrub borders.

Frame the view. This glimpse of the south wing of the house from the shrub garden creates a permanent living picture frame to highlight the architecture of the home.

There are a ton of cool new plant varieties on the market this year and one of the most striking is Verbena Lanai Twister Pink. I think it’s cool because of the fun color combo — it’s unlike any verbena I’ve ever seen before and it kind of feels like you’re getting two plants for one because of the bright pink and white.

I also like it because I think it’s easy to mix:

  • The pink/white combo works really well with rich blues and purples (Lanai Twister Pink is fabulous with the spikes of Angelonia).
  • Go high-impact by mixing it with some rich burgundy foliage (such as sweet potato vine).
  • Or if you want to go really contemporary, pair it with a bold orange such as dwarf zinnias, French marigolds, or spiky celosia.
  • Play off the rounded heads and get a soft, romantic look by integrating it with pink geraniums and Euphorbia Diamond Frost or Euphoric White. Or add a touch of pink with Euphorbia Breathless Blush.

Thinking of all these combos makes me want to go out and pot up a bunch of new containers!

What do you think this plant would look the best paired up with? Comment below!

Harvest strawberries when they have fully colored to the tip of the fruit. Keep them refrigerated until use.

Have you made plans to celebrate all of the Big Three May holidays? Those, of course, would be Mother’s Day (May 13), Memorial Day (May 28), and Pick Strawberries Day (May 20). Yes, the third one in the list is an official holiday, and many of us get the day off since it happens to fall on a Sunday this year.

As a former pick-your-own strawberry patch owner from Minnesota, selecting May 20th to celebrate these delectable fruits seems to be jumping the gun. We typically picked our first berries in June. After all, the most common type of strawberries are called Junebearers! But for those of you in more southerly climes, May is indeed strawberry month. This year I would have had some berries by now in my Des Moines garden if I had taken precautions to protect the blossoms from a late April freeze. Instead, the potential early fruits succumbed to cold, so I’ll have to wait until next week to harvest the first fruits of the season. (They’re beginning to show a tinge of color.)

My favorite strawberry for flavor is ‘Earliglo’. It’s deep red, sweet and firm. I also grow ‘Tristar’, a day-neutral type that bears throughout the summer and fall. My Grandpa Schrock had a saying, “God could have made a better berry than strawberries, but He didn’t!” Which variety is your favorite?

Berry picking is an activity that the entire family can enjoy. Half the fun is sampling the sumptuous fruits right from the plant.


Driving around town I see a lot of homes that decorate their front steps with a pair of lovely container gardens. It’s a classic look, but if you would like to amp it up a notch, try a group of containers.

While the example shown here is a little over the top, it may be easy to imagine how two groups of three containers flanking your door brings on more impact than just two pots — especially if you use containers of different sizes to add varying heights.

One lesson I do really like in this example, though, is the study in contrasts. You have rich dark foliage from Alternantera ‘Black Varnish’ with black mondo grass artfully playing off yellow calibrachoa and lantana (and the gold in the edges of the coleus in the background). The shades of lavender and blue from calibrachoa, verbena, and scaevola offer a contrast, too.

Another way to make it extra special? Add sweet scents from plants such as heliotrope, lemon verbena, and stock.

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