Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

May 2012

As barefoot boys growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, my brothers and I loved to spend our never-ending summer vacations catching bugs in great-big Miracle Whip jars. (I know.) Praying mantis. Cicadas. Lightning bugs. Crickets. Walking sticks. We’d be sure to pound holes in the lids of the jars with a hammer and nail so our entomological captives could breathe until we were done inspecting them up close and personal. I remember with great regret finding a Cecropia moth cocoon and stashing it in a not-quite-big-enough jar and leaving it on an out-of-reach shelf in the garage of our mid-century ranch. One day—too late—I discovered the spectacularly large and strikingly beautiful moth had unexpectedly emerged from its papery cocoon. Unable to properly unfurl its delicate new wings, they were permanently curled and crumpled up like a fist…even long after its untimely release. The mere thought of my mindless imprisonment still makes me shudder.

Despite my unintended cruelty, my interest in moths and butterflies has remained undaunted. Just yesterday I witnessed a female Monarch Butterfly as she miraculously located a stand of common milkweed in my front yard and carefully pressed the tip of her abdomen against the undersides of the leaves, leaving behind a single miniscule yellow-green egg the size of a single poppy seed. A pretty pair of Clouded Sulphur Butterflies flitted as high as a cottonwood tree in a private aerial pas de deux. A cheeky Red Admiral Butterfly suddenly alighted atop my good dog Finch’s shaggy head as he stood guard on the porch and it remained there nonchalantly opening and closing its wings for a delightfully long time. And then, in the waning evening light, I spotted a striking Sphinx Moth with a pair of chartreuse body stripes as it hovered and sipped the sweet nectar from my best friend and next-door neighbor Diana’s impressively pink and fragrant ‘Northern Lights’ azalea.

So it makes sense that I’ve always been obsessed with field guides, every field guide I can get my dirty hands on of flora and fauna near and far. I have a packed book shelf as pathetic proof. I especially treasure a 1903 green-bound reference to the moths of North America entitled The Moth Book by W.J. Holland, given to me for my birthday by my dear friend Candace. Sure, some of the pages are coming loose and the color-plate pages have faded a bit, but it’s definitely comprehensive…and desenigrating. Imagine my undownable delight when I recently discovered a new-and-improved field guide to our dusty-winged friends, the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2012). If you’ve ever stood outside on your front porch on a warm summer night studying the moths that have landed on your screen door—always hoping for the elusive Luna Moth—this is a reference book to keep within easy reach. Just like my beloved edition of the Peterson Field Guides to Birds passed along to me by my bird-loving father when I was not yet a teen, this impressive field guide is destined to become dog-eared by your bedside.

We love seeing pictures of your gardens. Those snapshots help us as editors see what’s happening throughout the rest of the country, give us ideas for our own home gardens, and help us identify yards to photograph that might possibly end up being published in Better Homes and Gardens magazine, Country Gardens, or on http:www.bhg.com/gardening!

If you love showing off your garden, we encourage you to enter our garden photo contest. It’s free and easy — and you could win one of four cool prizes. Three runners up, as voted by BHG readers, will receive gift certificates for the BHG Garden Store. And one grand prize winner (as picked by the BHG editorial staff) will win their choice of annuals, grown just for them by the folks at Proven Winners, a pair of self-watering planters from Lechuza, and watering equipment from Dramm.

The entry period runs until Friday, June 29th —- then come back and vote on your favorite runner-up photos July 9 to July 20th.

It’s all happening right here: The Your Best Garden Photo contest on Facebook. So come on in and show us pictures of your yard!

I love being a garden editor, but sometimes sitting at my desk day after day gets a little old. I am a gardener, after all, and my nature is to have my hands in the soil. Yesterday I had the fun opportunity to get out of the office—and do a little good at the same time.

Meredith Corporation (the company the Better Homes and Gardens brand is under) is a big supporter of a nonprofit organization called Rebuilding Together. Working with the New York  City Rebuilding Together office, about 70 Meredith volunteers teamed up to help renovate a nonprofit organization’s offices.

My part of the project was getting to help rework the deck. Starting with a blank slate (see the photo to the right), we transformed it into a comfy outdoor living space with new tables and chairs (plus umbrellas). My favorite part was the addition of two 20-foot-long, 2-foot wide raised garden beds we filled with potting soil and planted with herbs and vegetables (graciously donated by Bonnie Plants; thanks Bonnie Plants!! Thanks, too, to our friends at Loki’s Garden for their expert guidance in constructing the planters).

It took our team a full day about 7 hours to complete the transformation and it was fun the entire time. There was a lot of laughter and smiles as my colleagues spent the day outside in perfect weather constructing and planting.

I have to confess being a little tired and sore this morning, but that’s a small price for being able to get out  contribute to such a fantastic effort! 

Better Homes and Gardens is teaming up with the American Public Gardens Association to offer free admission to dozens of public gardens this Friday, May, 11. Just go to the bhg.com website to get a voucher for free admission to one of dozens of participating public gardens around the country. And if you’re in the Des Moines area on Friday, be sure to stop by the Better Homes and Gardens Test Garden from noon until 4 p.m. to see what’s in bloom and to get great landscaping ideas. If you can’t make it this week, regular summer visitation hours are from noon until 2:00 p.m. every Friday.

Here’s a preview of what you’ll be able to see in the Test Garden this week.

The rose garden is approaching peak bloom, several weeks ahead of schedule.

The Test Garden shed serves as tool storage and work center for the garden.

If you get tired of strolling through the garden, you can rest on a bench shaded by a pergola that supports a 'William Baffin' climbing rose.

Blooming baptisias dominate the prairie garden this week.

The shade walk features blue forget-me-nots, hostas, coralbells, boxwoods, and Itoh hybrid peonies.

I have a request of plant breeders: Please give us a reblooming peony! It would be guaranteed to sell. Just look at what’s happened in the past few years with Bloomerang reblooming lilac and hydrangeas that flower on new wood as well as old. Both of these traditional favorites with a new twist have taken off in popularity.

Reports of occasional late summer or fall blooms on yellow tree peonies such as ‘High Noon’ and ‘Kinto’ exist. But at best the return bloom is sparse and sporadic. I want truly reliable late-season flowers.

In the mean time, I’ll have to be satisfied with the glorious springtime display of colorful blooms that peonies provide. I manage to extend the season a bit by including early-blooming fernleaf peony, mid-season herbaceous peonies, and late-season Itoh hybrids in my yard. Which is your favorite variety of peony?

'Paula Fay' peony is blooming now in my garden. As the bud opens it changes in color from intense pink to salmon pink.


The yellow blossoms of 'Bartzella' Itoh hybrid develop on plants that are a cross between tree type and herbaceous peonies.

'Sarah Bernhardt' is a late-season herbaceous type with pink double blooms.

Fernleaf peony (Paeonia rubra 'Flore Pleno') is a slow grower that reaches just 18 inches or so tall. It unfurls its red double blooms early in the season at the tip of stems with fine, feathery foliage.

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