Everyday Gardeners

Plant. Grow. Live.

August 2012

What would possess a person to creep into my garden under the cover of darkness and steal a single miniature hosta? That’s what happened a couple of weeks ago and I’m still fascinated by what I discovered when I awoke at 6 a.m to let my good dogs Scout and Finch out to do their early-morning business. The scene of the crime was self-evident, even in the first morning light. At the base of my front steps sits a handsome homemade hypertufa trough filled with miniature Solomon’s seal, miniature astilbe, and a handful of miniature hostas. These were hostas I admired and purchased from Flying Frog Farm in Indianola, Iowa, after a photo shoot for Country Gardens a couple of years ago. Guests to my garden seem to gravitate to this diminutive display and are charmed by the less-than-large versions of their favorite shade-loving garden plants. As I maneuvered my terriers down the crowded steps, I spied the hypertufa container, obviously disturbed from its base and slightly damaged, with a tidy pile of potting soil on the ground beside the pot and a mysterious blue metallic flashlight left behind—and an obvious hole in the container where miniature Hosta ‘Little Jay’ was thriving and blooming just hours before when I turned in for the night. Who on earth would creep into my yard, flashlight in hand, and remove a single miniature hosta that is easily attainable for less than $10 from a local hosta farm? Mind you, there are all kinds of much more desirable (and expensive) plants—cllvias, aspidestras, sanseverias, stapelias—and handsome containers filled with all kinds of new, rare, and unusual plants scattered around my front yard and porch in containers that could be easily snatched in less time than it would take to disengage that single miniature hosta from the root-bound confines of its hypertufa home. What’s more, anyone who knows me or has ever visited my garden or who lives in my neighborhood or walks by my garden knows very well that if you asked me, I would share any plant with anyone who ever bothered to ask to me. In fact, I particularly pride myself on my plant-sharing personality (after all, I’m bombarded with more new plants each spring than I could ever successfully tend in the not-so-big garden that surrounds my turn-of-the-century Arts and Crafts bungalow and the plants I’ve passed along now punctuate my street…so that when I take my good dogs on their daily walks, I am able to admire the habits and virtues—as well as the disappointments—of many more plants than I could ever experience in just my own over-planted garden). It seems the selfish gardener knew very well what he or she was looking for. Most disconcerting to me, the culprit seems to have been someone—a friend? a visitor from a garden tour?—who had visited me and knew their way around my front-yard garden and what specifically they intended to take and make their own. Most disturbingly, within 24 hours of the crime, the left-behind flashlight mysteriously disappeared from the scene of the crime. If anyone has any information about these hosta hijinks it would be most appreciated. I’ll keep you posted.

While in Virginia recently, Marty Ross, Rob Cardillo, and I spent a delightful afternoon catching up with our friends at River Farm, headquarters of the American Horticultural Society in Alexandria. David Ellis, editor of The American Gardener, and associate editor Viveka Neveln showed us around the André Bluemel Meadow (that’s David, me, Viveka, and Rob, above). The last time I visited, the meadow was a vast expanse of lawn overlooking the Potomac River. Between 2004 and 2008, however, the site was transformed into a meadow filled with more than 100,000 native plants. This beautiful and sustainable alternative to the traditional lawn has quickly become a haven for wildlife and a popular attraction for visitors to River Farm, the northernmost of George Washington’s five farms. I especially enjoyed visiting the oldest tree standing on River farm: the largest Osage orange tree in the country. Located in the shade garden to the north of the main house, it is believed to have been a gift from Thomas Jefferson to the Washington family. It is known that Jefferson received seedlings of Osage orange from the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-06. So the next time you’re in the D.C. area, leave some time to visit with this impressive champion tree in Alexandria.

Talking about invasive plants a serious subject. As gardeners in my home state of Minnesota know, purple loosestrife can be a horrific problem to native plant and animal species in waterways. The same goes for folks in the South who have seen kudzu smother acre after acre. Invasive plants cause harm to our environments and expense as we try to repair that harm.

Unfortunately, invasive plants (as with many things in gardening) aren’t always so easy to deal with. From time to time I receive angry comments from readers because we’ve highlighted an invasive plant. And that’s where things get a little tricky.

It seems a bit extreme to position ourselves and not write about any invasive plant that shows invasive tendencies, though that would mean no more burning bush (a problem in Connecticut), butterfly bush (Oregon), mimosa (Georgia), Norway maple (Connecticut), perennial sweet pea (Oregon), and wisteria (Georgia), among others (including lantana, for our Australian readers).

So instead, we do our best to make note that a plant may be invasive in some areas and to suggest you check with your local authorities about whether a particular plant is a good choice for your area (especially since lists are updated regularly).

What do you think? Would you like to see more emphasis put on the fact that some of the common garden plants we know and love may be aggressive invaders in other regions?

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Virginia at George Washington’s Mount Vernon with contributing editor Marty Ross and undownable photographer Rob Cardillo to produce a story for Country Gardens on the restored gardens. Here’s Rob, Marty and Media Relations Manager Melissa Wood.

George Washington’s carefully planned gardens featuring unusual 18th century flowers have been expertly restored and maintained by Peggy Bowers, Gardens and Greenhouse Manager, and her crackerjack horticulture crew. More than six acres are enclosed to create four separate gardens at Mount Vernon: the Upper Garden (originally a fruit and nut garden in 1762), the Lower Garden (a brick-walled kitchen garden), the Botanical Garden (a small space where George Washington experimented with plants), and the Fruit Garden and Nursery (George originally used this four acre garden to experiment with grapes). I can’t wait to share our hard work with you—look for it in the Summer 2013 issue of Country Gardens—but in the meantime, here are some more behind-the-scenes shots of us at work in the glorious gardens of Mount Vernon.

There are a handful of perennials that I consider must-haves for the garden. Phlox is one of them. In full bloom right now, it’s offering big heads of flowers reminiscent of hydrangeas in luscious shades of pink, purple, and red. During the day, the flowers are butterfly magnets; I often see hummingbirds visiting them, too. I have several varieties of phlox planted on the west side of my house; in the late afternoon the fragrance is almost overpowering.

While there’s a lot to be said for this wonderfully old-fashioned perennial, there are a couple of reasons some gardeners don’t love it. The biggest drawback is that many varieties, especially older ones, suffer from a disease called powdery mildew which can make them drop their leaves by midsummer. Happily, newer varieties of phlox such as ‘Grape Lollipop’, ‘Blue Paradise’, and ‘David’ do a stand-up job of resisting the disease. Or, if you don’t grow disease-resistant varieties, grow a medium-height perennial in front of your phlox to hide the foliage.

Another drawback is that phlox will create a lot of seedlings the following spring if you don’t clip off the faded flowers. But deadheading phlox will prevent this. And keep it reblooming through late summer or early autumn.

Do you grow phlox? Do you have a favorite variety?

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