Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

July 2012

Lovely Lavender

Lavender is one of the most beloved perennials around: It offers beautiful looks, has an outstanding fragrance, is a good food source for bees and butterflies, and offers exceptional drought tolerance. It can also be one of the most challenging if you don’t have the conditions right.

I can’t tell you how many gardeners I’ve talked to who have asked me to reveal the secret to growing this plant. Happily, it’s an easy one: Pick the right spot. In order to thrive, lavender needs a spot that sees full sun and has very well-drained soil.

The first place a lot of gardeners go wrong is planting it in wet clay. That, unfortunately, is a death sentence to lavender. If you only have heavy clay, don’t despair, though — there’s still hope. Growing lavender in containers, raised beds, or even elevated mounds of soil will help increase drainage tremendously.

Lavender is a pretty low-maintenance plant, so be cognizant not to give it too much love in the form of water and fertilizer. Give lavender more water than it needs, especially if you live in a climate with humid summers like I do, and it will sulk. I’ve had good luck with lavender near the edge of the eaves of my house — it gets less moisture than other plants in my yard because of the overhang. It doesn’t seem to mind one bit.

So there’s my secret to growing lavender. Comment below and let me know if you have any special tips for success with this plant!

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outside the door

The long days of summer are great for getting outdoors and enjoying nature. Most mornings I take time to survey my garden, perhaps doing a little watering, weeding, or capturing Japanese beetles. Last week while friends and family suffered through heat and humidity here in Des Moines, I was enjoying the beauty and comfortable coolness of Door County, WI, as a guest of the Door County Visitor Bureau.

With more than 300 miles of shoreline, Door County provides easy access to water-related fun. A group of us kayaked with a guide from Bay Shore Outdoor Store putting in at Garret Bay and paddling around the cliffs of Door Bluff Headlands County Park. The trip back through whitecaps proved a thrilling experience! Cana Island Lighthouse, one of the most accessible of the dozen or so lighthouses in the county, provides a bird’s-eye view of the Lake Michigan side of peninsula. Also on the quieter eastern shore (that is, fewer shops and tourists) is The Ridges Sanctuary, which provides guided wildflower walks showcasing the amazing diversity of flora native to the alternating swales and sand dune ridges found in the park. Just down the coast is Whitefish Dunes State Park, home to the threatened dune thistle, and a lovely sandy beach.

Outdoor activities in Door County include cultural events as well as natural ones. The American Folklore Theatre performs under the stars at Peninsula State Park. And the Peninsula Players Theatre is a state-of-the-art, open-air performing venue with a green roof.

After days full of outdoor adventure, I rested up in well-appointed suites at the Ashbrooke Hotel in Egg Harbor, and at the Eagle Harbor Inn in Ephraim. There’s nothing like a soak in the jacuzzi to wash away the grime of the day and soothe overexerted muscles!

The Cana Island Lighthouse is accessible by a causeway from the mainland. Most of the time the Lake Michigan cooperates, but during severe storms, the road can become submerged, returning the lighthouse to its island status.

This swallowtail butterfly used the large maple-shaped leaves of thimbleberry (Rubus parviflorus) as a landing pad. Thimbleberry, a raspberry relative, bears red fruits prized for jams and jellies.

Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum) has bright orange-red petals with deep purple splotches. The bulbs were used as a food source by Native Americans.

Dune thistle (Cirsium pitcheri) grows only in the sand dunes around the Great Lakes. Whitefish Dunes State Park has the largest remaining population of this threatened species.

False solomon's seal (Maianthemum racemosum, syn. Smilacena racemosa) is able to grow in lightly shaded areas of the sand dunes near Lake Michigan.

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